Mediterranean Voyage – Fall 2022

November 27th, 2022

We spent a month traveling across southern Europe from Croatia through Italy and across the Mediterranean Sea to Spain. Thursday October 6th, we flew from New York City to Bologna, Italy. Because of a long layover in Amsterdam, we arrived in Bologna Friday night October 7th and checked into our hotel, just steps away from the 15th century Piazza Maggiore.

Piazza Maggiore at Night

Bologna is a charming medieval university town where, according to a local taxi driver, “All the Italians come to eat.” Many of the medieval buildings have been restored and are well maintained. The city is home to the University of Bologna established in 1088 AD. It is the oldest university in the western world.

The Torre dell’Orologio in Piazza Maggiore

The Clock Tower was built about 1250 on top of the Palazzo d’Accursio. The clock was installed inside the tower in 1444. Today, Palazzo d’Accursio houses the public library and the town hall of Bologna. The tower is open to visitors to climb to the top for wonderful views of the city and to see the clockworks. We stayed at the lovely Art Hotel Orologio which is located near the famous clock tower.

Typical Bolognese Street

Bologna is known as the “porticoed city” because there are 25 miles of covered walkways throughout the city. Porticos were common in the Middle Ages because they provided more living space above the first floor. Bologna’s porticos are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Beautifully Decorated Portico

It was fun to walk around the city along narrow medieval streets. Many of the alleyways were lined with shops and outdoor restaurants on the ground-floor level.

People were out strolling or riding bicycles at all hours of the day and night. The commercial center of the old town, named the “Quadrilatero,” is comprised of several narrow streets near the Piazza Maggiore, filled with small shops selling meat, fish, cheese, bread, and pastries.

Paolo Atti & Figli was founded in 1880 and is famous for their traditional fresh hand-made pasta. Tagliatelle, tortellini, and lasagna are said to have been invented in Bologna. The city is nicknamed: “la dotta, la grassa, la rossa” – the learned, the fat, and the red – referring to its university, its cuisine, and the red-colored roofs and bricks of the buildings.

Paolo Atti & Figli

Bologna is located in northern Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region, between Venice and Florence. For more information about Bologna, I recommend the website: www.bolognauncovered.com

We spent three nights and two full days in Bologna before taking a taxi to the nearby city of Ravenna to board the Azamara Pursuit to cruise the Adriatic Sea and visit towns along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.

The Azamara Pursuit

Monday October 10: The morning was cloudy and cool when we boarded the Azamara Pursuit. With less than 600 passengers, the ship was the smallest cruise ship we had ever sailed on. We arrived early and had time to explore our new accommodations for a “7-Night Croatia Intensive Voyage.”

Azamara had recently severed ties with its parent company, Royal Caribbean. The new independent company was attempting to be a part of the luxury cruise business by offering free gratuities, a free basic drinks package, on-board credits, as well as free laundry!

Full Moon on the Adriatic Sea

“Intensive Voyage” means a new port every day! The ship sailed at night and early the next morning we arrived at a new city. At dawn on October 11, the Pursuit anchored off the Croatian town of Opatija.

Golden Sunrise Over Opatija, Croatia

The lovely seaside town of Opatija located on the Kvarner Gulf has a population of apx. 5,700 people. It is a popular summer and winter resort with several grand hotels dating from the late 1800s. The most popular activity in Opatija is to walk along the 7.5 mile seaside walkway known locally as the Lungomare.

View from the Lungomare

The tender put us ashore near the promenade and since it was a beautiful sunny day, we walked along the gorgeous coast. The Lungomare was finished in 1911 after Opatija was declared a “climatic health resort.”

We passed through Angiolina Park which has been known for its rare plant species since the late 1800s. The exterior wall of the Open Air Theater is decorated with portraits of famous people who were either born in Opatija or who visited the coastal town.

The Wall of Fame

My favorite site along the Lungomare was the Maiden With the Seagull, which is a statue of a young girl with her arm outstretched to a fluttering seagull. The statue was made by the Croatian sculptor Zvonko Car in 1956. For more information about this charming coastal town see: www.visitopatija.com

Maiden With The Seagull

Wednesday October 12: Zadar, Croatia: Life aboard any ship becomes routine rather quickly. The crew aboard the Azamara Pursuit was friendly and helpful; the small size of the ship made it very manageable. The ship docked early in the next morning at the edge of the old town of Zadar, Croatia. After a leisurely breakfast outdoors on the aft-deck, we were ready to explore a new city.

Azamara Pursuit Docked at Zadar, Croatia

On the dock next to the ship were two multi-sensory art installations created by the Croatian architect Nikola Basic. The Sea Organ was made of concrete steps leading down to the water. The waves interact with a cavity built under the steps creating random but harmonic sounds. The sounds are emitted from holes made in the concrete. People sit on the steps to relax and listen to the soothing groans of the sea.

The Greeting to the Sun and The Sea Organ

The other artwork built into the promenade was called the Greeting to the Sun. Also designed by Nikola Basic, it was a large circular work embedded in the concrete. During the day panels absorb energy from the sun and light up at night with random patterns and colors. Both artworks were impressive and amazing!

The Roman Forum and St. Donatus Church

After spending some time enjoying Nikola Basic’s creations, we walked along the promenade to the ruins of a Roman Forum. Beyond the ancient columns was the 9th century Church of St. Donatus.

The Clock Tower in the People’s Square

Modern high-end shops line both sides of Siroka Ulica (‘ulica’ means street in Croatian) and we were immediately thrust into the 21st century. The street ends at Narodni Trg or People’s Square which was filled with many tourists eating and drinking under restaurant umbrellas. A clock tower was built in the early 19th century and mounted on top of a 16th century Venetian era building. Today it is a museum.

We returned to the ship via small back streets which were lined with tourist shops selling everything from gelato to t-shirts. The stone pavement was very clean and shiny and looked like it had been polished. Later after dark, we went ashore to experience the lights of the Greeting to the Sun.

Azamara Pursuit at Night

Local people and tourists lined the promenade to see, hear, and experience the two wonderful artistic creations. We sat on the steps to listen to The Sea Organ which emitted a variety of sounds due to increased waves. The sounds were like a soft low-pitched fog horn.

The Greeting to the Sun & The Sea Organ at Night

Thursday October 13: The Pursuit arrived at the dock in Split, Croatia early in the morning. Split is a big city spread along the Adriatic coast. White limestone mountains were visible beyond the city buildings. Split was founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC and it has a long history of invasions and conquests.

View of Central Split From the Ship

The site was chosen by the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, as his retirement home in 305 AD. He ordered the construction of an opulent fortified palace to be built on the coast. The palace was designed like a huge Roman military fortress. Interestingly, over many centuries, the townspeople inhabited the palace and the city of Split grew and developed in and around it. Today the palace is part of the city.

A Corner of Diocletian’s Palace Wall

We entered the old palace through one of four gates called the Brass Gate and found ourselves under thick ancient arches. We climbed up high stone steps to the Peristyle (courtyard). This was the central square where Emperor Diocletian made appearances to greet his subjects.

The Peristyle Square

The Cathedral of Saint Domnius was built and consecrated in the 7th century and houses Diocletian’s tomb. The Bell Tower of the Cathedral was built in the 12th century and looms over the Peristyle Square.

The Bell Tower of St. Domnius Cathedral

It was fun to wander the ancient narrow streets of the palace. Today, about 3,000 people live within the old palace walls and it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Roaming the Back Alleyways of the Palace

After wandering for a while, we discovered the Golden Gate of the palace wall and passed through it to see the great statue of the Protector of Split: Gregory of Nin or Grgur Ninski.

The Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace

Bishop Gregory of Nin was a medieval bishop who encouraged the use of the Croatian language in Catholic religious services instead of Latin in 926 AD. The 28 foot tall statue was erected in 1929. People are supposed to rub the statue’s toe to obtain good luck.

Grgur Ninski

The palace was a hodgepodge of architecture which reflected many centuries of invading cultures and waves of dominant groups along the Dalmatian Coast. We walked through the Iron Gate to the People’s Square which was another attractive area for people to gather at the restaurants.

Narodni Trg – People’s Square

We returned to the ship and prepared for an Azamara White Nights Party held on deck around the pool.

Bar-B-Que on the Pursuit

The party was a lot of fun with good company and tasty food outdoors. Everyone was supposed to wear white and we did the best we could, but no-one really cared. It was a fun enjoyable social evening.

White Night Party on the Pursuit

Friday October 14: Early the next morning, the ship anchored in a tiny harbor near the old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. The city is known for its distinctive massive stone walls which were erected in the 16th century. Dubrovnik has become a very popular and crowded tourist destination in recent years.

View of Dubrovnik From the Sea

We rode a tender to the small protected dock just outside the sea-gate entrance into the city.

Dubrovnik Harbor

Dubrovnik, historically known as Ragusa, was founded in the 7th century by the Greeks.

Entrance to the Rector’s Palace

We walked along the Stradun to one of the stairways to the top of the wall. Dubrovnik has become such a popular tourist destination that the city charges 25 euros per/person to walk on the wall.

Stairs to the Top of the Wall

I could have taken a million pictures from the top of the wall. There seemed to be beautiful scenery and spectacular views everywhere and at every turn.

I love walking on ancient city walls and we have experienced quite a few from Lucca, Italy to Xian, China. It gives me an appreciation for how insecure and afraid the residents must have felt before they built a wall in an attempt to keep out invaders.

Sea Views From the Wall

Back on the ship that evening, we heard a performance given by a Croatian cellist, Ana Rucner. She played several jazzed-up short pieces which we recognized as composed by Orff, Vivaldi, and Beethoven and she also played and sang several Croatian folk songs. Her cello looked like a white metal outline of a traditional cello and sounded more like an electric bass guitar played with a bow. Thankfully, it was a short performance.

Azamara Pursuit at Anchor

Saturday October 15: The Pursuit cruised to the island of Hvar, Croatia and dropped anchor just off the town of Hvar. The island was listed as one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world by a travel magazine. It is known as ‘the island of sunshine, beaches, wine, olive oil, and lavender.’

Town of Hvar on the Island of Hvar

High on a hill above town is the Fortica Fortress. The Venetians began construction of the fortress in 1278 but the current structure was completed in 1551. Today it is a tourist destination for its spectacular views and it supposedly houses a collection of amphoras. We did not climb up to visit the fort.

The weather was perfect: crystal clear cloudless blue sky and a warm sun with 70 degree temperatures. Hvar was another summer resort with inviting hotels and a seaside promenade and gorgeous scenery.

We passed many large cactuses and hardy succulents among the umbrella pines and palm trees as we strolled along the coast. I could understand why the island is so popular.

Lighthouse at Sibenik Harbor at Dawn

Sunday October 16: The captain had recommended that we watch the ship navigate through the very narrow St. Anthony Channel at sunrise and I happened to be up and took pictures from our veranda. I felt like I could reach out and touch the rocks and I was impressed by the captain’s ability to maneuver the ship through the narrow channel. The strait connects the Adriatic Sea to Sibenik Bay and to our next port of call which was the city of Sibenik.

We had elected to go on an excursion to another historic city, so we didn’t really see much of Sibenik. We were told that there is an old town center with an old church, but we had other plans.

The 12th C. Cathedral of St. Lawrence in Trogir

A charter bus drove us to the historic town of Trogir, Croatia which is located on a small island and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Venetian architecture. It was founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC and was ruled by the Venetians for almost four centuries.

13th Century Wall Around Trogir Facing the Sea

The historic town and harbor of Trogir is said to be the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex in all of Central Europe. According to UNESCO, “Its beautiful Romanesque churches are complemented by the outstanding Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period.”

A Local Trogir Resident

Trogir was a small compact medieval town with narrow alleyways opening to small plazas. A wide promenade along the shore was lined with large palm trees and tourist restaurants.

At the end of the island was Kamerlengo Castle. The fortress was built in the 15th century and today is used for outdoor performances during the summer.

Kamerlengo Castle

This was the last day of our “Azamara Intensive 7-Day Croatia Cruise” – and it certainly was ‘intensive.’ We both longed for a ‘sea day’ sometime during the week to take a break and process all the sights. In the afternoon, we joined our Trivia Group for a final successful win. By now, we were a group of nine, so it really was an easy win – and a lot of fun! Later, we enjoyed dinner and conversation with four of our new friends. We shared two bottles of a California favorite and recommended wine. A real treat!

Monday October 17: The Pursuit docked at Ravenna, Italy in a very thick fog. Our driver picked us up and drove us back to Bologna. The plan was to stay one night in Bologna and take the high-speed train to Rome tomorrow. It was actually fun to return to Bologna, which was now a city we knew and enjoyed.

Fuente de Neptuno – Fountain of Neptune

We arrived at Piazza Maggiore early enough to have cappuccinos at an outdoor cafe overlooking the Fuente de Neptuno. The bronze statue of Neptune was installed in 1566 and is a famous city landmark.

One of the most interesting sights in Bologna is the Biblioteca Comunale dell’ Archiginnasio which became the university’s main academic building when it was constructed in 1563. Today it houses a public library – with 850,000 volumes – and the old Anatomical Theatre.

Anatomical Theatre

The Anatomical Theatre was constructed in 1636 for medical lectures and displays. The building suffered extensive damage in 1944 and the theatre was reconstructed using original materials.

Tamburini: Antica Salsamenteria Bolognese

Tuesday October 18: Rome, Italy: We caught an afternoon high-speed train from Bologna to Rome. Under a bright blue sky, we zipped through the beautiful farmlands of Italy at speeds up to 288kms per hour. Rome was a beehive of tourist activity and, surprisingly, the temperature was 80 degrees. We checked in to our hotel near the Campo de’ Fiori and explored the neighborhood.

Statue of Giordano Bruno in Campo de’ Fiori

We had been to Rome twice before so we knew our way around the glorious city and we had planned what we wanted to do during these two days. To me, it’s fun to return to a place and experience it again and see how it has changed, like visiting an old friend. Rome was definitely an “old friend.”

Piazza Navone

Wednesday October 19: We set our alarms for 5:45am because we had pre-arranged tickets for early morning access to the Vatican Museum before it opened to the public. The tickets were called “Breakfast at the Vatican” and we had to be at the entrance at 7:15 for our small group tour.

Vatican Museum Entrance at 7:00am

The tour was well worth getting up at such an early hour. The group was comprised of about fifteen adults and we were the first people to enter the museum that day. It was glorious to be able to look at the art and treasures of the collection without the distractions of throngs of people.

Vatican Museum
Map Room at the Vatican Museum

Fortunately for us our tour leader was excellent and, as she slowly progressed through the galleries, she explained the highlights of the most important elements in the galleries.

One of the Raphael Galleries

Although no photography was allowed in the Sistine Chapel, we were able to sit down under the famous ceiling for a long period of time and listen to the tour guide explain the history and stories of the panels and describe Michelangelo’s process of creating the beautiful frescos. She also described the other frescos around the walls of the Chapel, which are often overlooked but were created by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and other well known artists of the time. This was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Crowd at Vatican Museum 9am Opening

Our tour finished about 9:30 and we enjoyed an “American Breakfast” in a covered outdoor area set aside for tour ticket-holders. Afterwards, we had to plow our way through the crowds entering the museum. Pre-arranged timed tickets are necessary to gain admittance to all the museums nowadays.

Line of People Waiting to into the Museum

We thought it would be interesting to revisit St. Peter’s Basilica. We walked around the Vatican wall to the main square to discover that access to pedestrians was blocked by police and other security forces. On one side there was a very long line of people waiting to get into St. Peter’s. So, we changed our minds! A taxi driver told us that the pope has his audiences on Wednesdays so there is more security.

Saint Peter’s Basilica
Hostaria Romanesca in Campo de’ Fiori

Thursday October 20: We had only two full days in Rome on this trip so we planned to visit one special place each day. Today we had timed-tickets to the Galleria Borghese. This is a wonderful art gallery housed in the Villa Borghese surrounded by a beautiful city park high on a hill in Rome.

The Galleria Borghese

The villa was built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1633 to house his collection of antiquities, sculptures, and paintings. The building is a work of art and it is the best place to see some of Bernini’s magnificent statues. The Galleria also owns a large number of Caravaggio paintings.

Bernini’s Abduction of Proserpina
Boy With a Thorn

We walked from the Borghese Gardens to the Campo de’ Fiori passing several of Rome’s most famous sights: Piazza Spagna, Fontana di Trevi, Pantheon, and Piazza Navone. Everywhere we went was crowded with too many tourists. I guess we weren’t the only people in the world who wanted to travel!

Neptune’s View of Tourists at the Trevi Fountain

Friday October 21: Our time in Rome was ending so we checked out of our cozy hotel and hired a car to take us to the Port of Civitavecchia. We boarded the Azamara Onward and began a “7-Day Intensive Mediterranean Cruise” from Rome to Barcelona with island stops along the way.

Saturday October 22: We had settled into our cabin and explored. The Onward was identical to the Azamara Pursuit so we felt right at home. The ship arrived at the city of Portoferraio, Elba as the sun was rising. The city was built on steep hills on a narrow peninsula surrounded by the sea.

Portoferraio, Elba, Italy

Elba is a small island which is part of the region of Tuscany and is located six miles off the Italian coast. The population is about 30,000 residents and it is primarily a summer resort destination. The island became internationally well known when Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to Elba from 1814 to 1815.

We signed up for an excursion because we wanted to visit the Villa de San Martino which had been Napoleon’s summer residence. It was a small unassuming stone building decorated with characteristic capital “Ns.” We entered through a back door and walked through unimpressive small rooms which were furnished with a few period pieces.

Villa San Martino

Afterwards the tour bus drove us to the other side of the island to the fishing village of Porto Azzurro and we had an hour to walk around and explore on our own. It was a pretty town with tourist shops, restaurants, and two gelato bars. The small harbor was filled with fishing boats.

Porto Azzurro

After lunch on our ship, we went out to explore Portoferraio on our own. It’s the largest city on the island of Elba and it was well fortified historically with three separate 16th century fortresses.

Portoferraio with a view of the Medici Fortress

Impressive sailboats lined the U-shaped harbor but most of the shops and restaurants were closed. We guessed that it was an active port during warmer seasons.

Sailing Yachts Along the Quay

Sunday October 23: During the night, the Onward moved westward and docked at the large commercial port of Olbia, Sardinia, Italy. I looked out to see inter-island ferries offloading trucks and cars. We had a leisurely breakfast at the Windows Cafe and prepared to go exploring.

Port of Olbia, Sardinia

There were no signs of a shuttle bus or directions to one at the disembarkation door so we went through a gate on the main thoroughfare across from the commercial port. A guard who was standing there pointed toward town. We walked for about 20 minutes until we reached the old town of Olbia.

Museum of Archeology and a Ferris Wheel

We passed the Archeology Museum which looked interesting, but it was closed today. We found Corso Umberto I, which was the main pedestrian street in the historic center of Olbia. The street was lined with tourist shops and restaurants but there were few people since it was Sunday morning.

Corso Umberto I

Following a sign, we turned into a small side street to see the church of San Paolo. The building was built on the ruins of a pagan temple from the Roman era and the church dates from the 15th century. The tiny church is noteworthy for its colorful majolica dome which was constructed in 1939.

Church of San Paolo

We walked several blocks up to a main cross street and decided to sit at one of the local restaurants and have a snack. Since it was lunch time, the restaurants was crowded with locals and tourists.

Eventually, we went back to the ship to relax and catch up on our journals. Some of the large Mediterranean ferries were painted with cartoon characters.

Monday October 24: Porto Vecchio, Corsica, France: The island of Corsica is only eight miles north of Sardinia and a 50-minute ferry carries passengers between the islands. The fact that Corsica is a French island and Sardinia is part of Italy, reflects the long history of conflicts among the Mediterranean countries.

Sunrise Over Corsica, France

The ship docked near the town of Porto Vecchio early in the morning. It was another beautiful sunny day. We quickly learned that the town was built in two parts on a steep hill and it was a strenuous walk to get to the upper area. Fortunately for us, the French government provides free shuttle-bus service.

Porto Vecchio, Corsica, France

Restaurants lined the small harbor but didn’t have many customers. The jitney bus was full of local people, not tourists. We had the feeling that the summer season was over in Porto Vecchio. The bus left us off at the old town center which had a kiddie merry-go-round in the middle.

Carousel Porto Vecchio

The Citadel of Porto Vecchio was built in 1539 by the rulers of Genoa. It was destroyed and rebuilt three times from 1540 to 1589. The Republic of Genoa finally gave the island to France in 1768. We paid a small admission fee to climb the stone stairs to see wonderful views from the top of the fortress.

Citadel of Porto Vecchio
View of the Harbor of Porto Vecchio, Corsica

We sat in the little square to have soft-drinks and people-watch. Later, rather than wait for the jitney, we walked down the hill and back to the ship. The weather was warm and sunny – a real delight for this time of year. We returned in time for a late lunch onboard and relaxed for our next port-of-call.

Cruising Into Mahon Harbor, Menorca

Tuesday October 25: Mahon, Menorca, Spain: The distance is 288 miles across the Mediterranean Sea from Porto Vecchio, Corsica to the island of Menorca. This is one of the Balearic Islands which are part of Spain. The Azamara Onward crossed at night and was due to arrive at the port city of Mahon at one o’clock in the afternoon. We went out on deck to watch the ship cruise into the beautiful harbor.

Cruise Ships Docked at Mahon

Mahon (or officially Mao in the Catalan language) has one of the longest natural harbors in the world. It was a gorgeous three mile journey from the mouth of the harbor to the dock. We enjoyed a ship-board bar-b-que lunch outdoors on the pool deck before going ashore.

Mahon Harbor

The historic center of the capital city was built on top of high cliffs. Fortunately, there are steps and an elevator up to the top. We arrived just outside the Carmelite Cloister which has been converted to a covered market selling everything from local produce to shoes, jewelry, clothes, and speciality food.

Entrance to the Carmelite Cloister

The outdoor courtyard of the cloister is also used as a performance space. An escalator leads down to a large supermarket built under the cloister. It was an amazing use of space. Near the cloister, in the Prince’s Plaza, is the famous Fish Market known for its fresh fish and prepared tapas and other goodies.

Placa de Princep (Prince’s Plaza)

As we walked around the plazas and streets, we were surprised that many shops seemed to be closed and there were very few tourists. At first we thought is was a local holiday or “siesta” time, but realized that tourist season was over. Menorica, like the other islands on this trip, were closing for the winter.

Main Pedestrian Street in Mahon

The central part of Mahon was fashionable and clean with many interesting shops housed in pastel stone buildings. There were small plazas with charming outdoor cafes at the ends of every street. We enjoyed walking around the town and eventually returned to the ship.

Jeff and Me

Tonight was Azamara’s White Night Party. The pool deck was transformed to an elegant outdoor bar-b-que with white tablecloths and candles. It was a fun evening and the weather was perfect.

White Night Party on the Azamara Onward
Mahon Harbor at Night

Wednesday October 26 Palma, Mallorca, Spain: I was so excited to finally get to Mallorca that I awoke early, just as the Onward approached the harbor of Palma. We had breakfast outdoors on the aft deck as the ship docked. The weather has been unseasonably warm – up to the mid 70s – but good for us.

View of Palma From the Ship – Bellver Castle on the Hill

Palma is a large city of over 400,000 people and the capital of the Balearic Island of Mallorca. It has been an international resort city and holiday island for decades. We had a 10 minute bus ride from where the ship was docked to the city center. The massive 13th century Santa Maria Cathedral (locally referred to as La Seu) overlooks the Bay of Palma.

La Almudaina (left) and Santa Maria Cathedral

The Gothic cathedral was built on the site of a Moorish mosque beginning in 1229. The adjacent Royal Palace of La Almudaina was originally an alcazar or Islamic castle built during the time of Muslim rule in Spain between 902 and 1229. Almudaina has been modified over the centuries and today is a museum and also serves as the official summer residence of the King of Spain and members of the royal family.

Royal Palace of La Almudaina

We waited in line to see the interior of the cathedral. Sunlight poured in through the stained glass windows and cast rainbow hues of light on the tall Gothic columns. It was very impressive!

Interior Light in the Cathedral

We explored the narrow streets of the old town with thousands of other tourists. We walked up to the Placa Magor (the Spanish version of Piazza Maggiore in Italy) and found a small tapas bar for lunch. What fun! I have to return to Mallorca soon to see more!

Pedestrian Plaza
Tourists in The Old Town
Tapas Restaurant

Thursday October 27: Valencia, Spain: Another day and another wonderful city. This time it’s Valencia Spain. After the ship docked in the busy harbor, we took a shuttle to the center of the city and entered the “old town” through the Torres de Serranos. The tower was a defensive structure built in 1392 and was part of the original medieval wall surrounding Valencia. Fortunately, it was saved from demolition when the city walls were knocked down in 1865.

Torres de Serranos

We crossed a bridge over the Turia Gardens and looked down at the lovely green space. The city government diverted the River Turia, which frequently flooded, and created a beautiful urban garden. The seven mile park has a zoo, an arts & science museum, sports fields and facilities, foot paths, performance venues, as well as riverbed gardens. It is a real asset to the people of Valencia.

Narrow Street in the Old Town

We had read about the famous market in Valencia, so we walked through the old town to the Mercado Central. The building was completed in 1928 and decorated in Valencian Art Nouveau style. The Central Market is one of the largest public markets in Europe.

Mercado Central
Food Stalls in the Market

We decided Valencia was another wonderful city to explore but we didn’t have enough time to see and experience everything we wanted on this trip. Valencia was added to our “must return to” list.

Friday October 28 Barcelona Spain: We’re almost at the end of the 7-Day “intensive” cruise. The Azamara Onward arrived in the huge international port of Barcelona before dawn. The cruise company gave everyone an extra night aboard the ship, so we could explore the city during the day, spend the night in our cabin, and disembark Saturday morning. We had already made plans to stay in Barcelona until Monday November 7th.

La Rambla

Barcelona is one of our favorite cities, so it was wonderful and exciting to be there again! We know our way around; we have favorite places to visit; food and restaurants to try again; new sights to see. On our first day in Barcelona, we walked up La Rambla, the main pedestrian street that runs from the port up to the always busy Placa de Catalunya.

Typical Small Plaza in Barcelona

Saturday October 29: Barcelona Spain: We disembarked from the Azamara Onward and checked into the Hotel 1898 located on La Rambla. We stayed there before and like the location because we can walk or take the Metro to anything in the city. It’s also a quiet comfortable hotel with a roof-top sitting area. We had nine days in Barcelona so I took a zillion photos. Below are highlights of this wonderful city.

Art Nouveau Former Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

We discovered the former Hospital de Sant Pau which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex was built between 1901 and 1930 and is composed of 12 pavilions connected by underground tunnels. It was designed by a well-known Catalan architect and functioned as a hospital until 2009. After extensive restoration, today it is a museum and cultural center.

Sagrada Familia

We walked past Antoni Gaudi’s cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, to see the progress of its construction. It is supposed to be finished in 2026 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the famous architect. We revisited a few other Gaudi designed buildings on this trip. They are amazing structures!

Casa Vicens
La Pedrera – Casa Mila
Casa Batllo
Park Guell
A Room Inside Casa Batllo

One day, we took a train out of the city to visit the Benedictine Abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. After an hour train ride, we took a Rack Railway up to the abbey. The Monastery of Montserrat was founded in the 11th century and rebuilt between the 19th to 20th centuries. It was a very interesting day-trip.

Monastery of Montserrat

Barcelona is full of good restaurants serving tapas, paella, and pintxos – Basque or Catalan finger foods.

Taverna Basca Irati

One day we took a taxi up Montjuic hill to visit the National Museum of Art of Catalonia. The impressive building was built in 1929 and houses a wonderful collection of ancient Romanesque and modern art representing the Catalan region. Behind the building was a large arena or performance space.

Lobby of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
View of Barcelona From the National Museum

Jeff discovered that visitors can take an elevator to the top of the Christopher Columbus monument located near the harbor. There is a small entrance fee to ride in the tiny 3/4 person elevator.

The 60 Meter Mirador de Colom
Mercat dels Encants – Huge Flea Market
Bubbleman Outside the Cathedral
Beautiful Laribal Gardens

Monday November 7 Barcelona to New York: We flew home after staying in Barcelona for 9 days. I encourage everyone to go to Barcelona as soon as you can and stay as long as possible. It is a wonderful fun city; full of things to do and see; great food; friendly people. We had a fantastic time! We discovered new places to see and experience and we revisited sites we saw on a previous trip. Antoni Gaudi’s creations are thrilling to see every time. Barcelona is an easy city to walk around and the public transportation system-Metro and buses-are modern and efficient. BRAVA BARCELONA!!

Rhode Island – August 2022

September 3rd, 2022

My niece, Jenn, and I drove north to visit our cousin Marie in Westerly, Rhode Island. We had a great time seeing many coastal beaches and eating delicious fresh lobster rolls and just-caught seafood! Our first stop was George’s of Galilee with fabulous views of Block Island Sound.

Point Judith Lighthouse

Watching the sunset on the beach was a community celebration enjoyed by many groups of families and friends. They brought supper and set up tables and chairs to watch the end of the day.

Breakfast at The Cooked Goose in Westerly, Rhode Island was a yummy fun time with fresh goodies!

We drove to Watch Hill and explored the lovely affluent coastal town.

Posing with Ninigret, the “Guardian of Watch Hill”
Flying Horses Carousel, oldest platform carousel in the United States has been operating since 1884.

We went up the hill and walked out to explore East Beach which, according to a sign, was “one of the most beautiful beaches on the eastern seaboard.”

The other attraction in Watch Hill and right above East Beach is Taylor Swift’s impressive house built on top of a high hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean:

The Three Musketeers!

“The Towers” is a historical landmark in Narragansett. The impressive building is a remnant of the Narragansett Pier Casino built in the 1880s. Today The Towers is a venue for public events.

Jenn and I enjoyed delicious lobster rolls for lunch at the Coast Guard House overlooking beautiful Narragansett Bay before driving home.

Home-made ice cream at Brickley’s for dessert

Boston Strong & Vibrant 2022

July 14th, 2022

The last time we went to Boston was in 2013 shortly after the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. The city was shaken by the horrendous act, calling it a “domestic terrorist attack.” Three people died and 264 people were injured. Banners declaring, “Boston Strong!” were posted everywhere in consolation. Now nine years later, the city was bright and sunny and optimistic despite two plus years of the Covid-19 pandemic and confinement.

The Back Bay neighborhood where we stayed was filled with students, joggers, strolling Bostonians, dog walkers, and tourists like us. We came to Boston because I wanted to visit two of my favorite museums: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Boston Fine Arts. The four hour drive from Westchester to downtown Boston was pleasant and easy.

I had read about the Central Library in Copley Square constructed in 1895 which was full of artwork by Daniel Chester French, John Singer Sargent, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. There are excellent photographs and descriptions of the architecture of the building and interior galleries on the library’s website: www.bpl.org Here are few of my cell-phone photos:

We walked to the famous Boston Public Garden which was established in 1837 as the first public botanical garden in the U.S. The pontoon Swan Boats have been taking people for cruises around the pond since 1877.

The MTA – or Metropolitan Transit Authority – is a fast and reliable network of trains and buses. We took a “T” tram everywhere we wanted to go. Of course, we sang the famous Kingston Trio song, The M.T.A. about the poor man named Charlie who is stuck in the Boston subway system and rides the trains forever! Boston riders call their transit card “The Charlie” in honor of the 1959 song.

Isabella Stewart Gardner had a magnificent Venetian palazzo built to house her incredible art collection.

In 1990, thirteen works of art were stolen from the Museum and never recovered. Empty frames mark the places where the paintings once were. A couple of my favorite works: a Rembrandt self-portrait on the left; John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo from 1882 on the right:

We had time to take the MTA to Faneuil Hall to walk along the stalls and outdoor tents. A street performer on a pogo stick provided ‘bouncing’ entertainment for a crowd of tourists.

The Boston Fine Arts Museum was a short tram ride away. I wanted to see the J. M. W. Turner retrospective before it closed next weekend. The exhibit was very good, but unfortunately the galleries were so crowded it was difficult to really appreciate the paintings, but I’m glad we went.

There was an interesting exhibit on “real photo postcards.” A large portable camera was invented by Eastman Kodak in 1903 which printed directly on a blank card and made it possible for people to make actual postcards to send to family and friends. It was somewhat like today’s “Instagram” or taking photos with smartphones and sending them out to people. We posed for an iPhone picture:

The BFA museum was like a maze of galleries, and we explored and saw many interesting exhibits:

On our last evening, we walked to the Charles River which separates Boston from Cambridge. We strolled along lively Newbury Street which is lined with restaurants, bars, and trendy shops.

In Memoriam

July 9th, 2022

My brother Bob: February 26, 1948 – June 26, 2022

His wife, Joan: May 2, 1948 – March 14, 2018

Gallivanting to Italy – May 2022

June 27th, 2022

After being stuck at home due to the Covid-19 Pandemic for two years and four months, Jeff and I decided to travel to two of our favorite cities in Italy: Florence and Venice, to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary. One million Americans have died from the terrible virus since January 2020. We were fully vaccinated and had two booster shots and over 85% of the Italian population was vaccinated. We packed N95 & KN95 masks, plenty of hand sanitizer, packs of wipes, courage, and a dash of moxie.

We flew out of JFK Airport on an overnight flight and arrived at the beautiful city of Florence, Italy on Friday April 28, 2022. For me, it was a great sigh of relief to be traveling again: gallivanting the world; flying far away from home; feeling liberated and being FREE!! Free as a bird soaring in the vast sky!!!

We arrived in Florence on a brilliant crisp sunny spring day and explored the neighborhood around our hotel, the Palazzo Bernini. Covid regulations across Italy required everyone to wear N95 masks indoors. Fortunately for us, recent laws in Italy had relaxed so we didn’t have to wear our masks outdoors.

The hotel was located in the Centro Storico or historic center of the city so we could easily walk to all the important sights we wanted to visit. Florence is dominated by the gigantic Santa Maria del Fiore or “Cathedral of Florence,” simply called “the Duomo.” The church was completed about 1367 and the famous dome was built in 1436. There was always a long line of tourists at the entrance to the cathedral.

May 1st is a national holiday in Italy – Primo Maggio. It’s the Italian Labor Day to celebrate worker’s rights. Outside, at the Piazza Vecchio, there were crowds of people in regional costumes cheering for politicians giving speeches. Major museums and some stores were closed, but we had pre-reserved tickets at the Palazzo Strozzi to see a special exhibit of works by the great Renaissance artist, Donatello.

The Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, is the most famous of the 12 bridges that cross the Arno River. It was built in 1218, and rebuilt in 1345 after major flood damage. During World War II, it was the only bridge that was not bombed by retreating Nazis. Today it’s still lined with small shops selling gold jewelry.

Jeff had read about the best panini sandwiches in Florence, so we were happy to discover that the most popular shop, All’antico Vinaio, was right around the corner from our hotel. There were three separate entrances for the popular sandwich shop on Via Neri and they all had very long lines of local people and tourists from morning until night when they closed. The fresh-made sandwiches were huge and tasty!

One of the smartest things we did was to pre-order reserved tickets online from home for the museums and important sights. We planned to visit one historic site or museum a day, so we could have leisurely days exploring or relaxing as we wanted. One day we had timed-tickets to see the Palazzo Vecchio aka “the old palace.” Built as a fortification, the oldest part of the palazzo dates from the 13th century.

Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici moved into the palace in 1540 and it became the official seat of Medici wealth and power in Florence. Impressive statues decorate the piazza in front of the palace.

The interior of the Palazzo Vecchio is huge and magnificent. A lot of stairs, but definitely worth visiting.

“The Duomo” was just a short walk from the hotel. There are three buildings which make up the cathedral complex: the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, il Campanile (bell tower), and the Baptistery.

The Baptistery was consecrated in 1059 and is one of Florence’s most important religious buildings. The octagonal building was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and served as the city’s cathedral from the 11th century through the 14th century. There was some restoration work going on inside.

The sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti, won a competition to design a set of doors for the Baptistery in 1401. The ten bronze panels depict scenes from the New Testament. The doors, which Michelangelo called The Gates of Paradise, are recognized as a major masterpiece of the Early Renaissance.

One day, we found a quiet outdoor restaurant for lunch away from the crowded city center. We enjoyed salad and pizza near Piazza San Marco then continued to Ospedale degli Innocenti. During the 15th century, Filippo Brunelleschi was commissioned by the Wool Guild to design and build the hospital. The orphanage provided care for infants and children for more than five hundred years. On the left side of the loggia there was a window which held a rotating platform onto which unwanted babies were placed and taken safely indoors without mothers having to reveal themselves. This system was used until the hospital closed in 1875. Today the Ospedale is an art museum.

People today with the surname of Innocenti are said to be descendants of those orphaned children.

Later we had a delicious traditional Tuscan dinner at a wonderful little restaurant called Ristorante Il Caminetto. I had ribollita soup and tortellini and Jeff had veal with thin slices of potato with sage. Yum!

Early Wednesday morning we felt our room shaking! The lamps and vases on tabletops vibrated for a few minutes. Troubling because the hotel was a solid ancient stone building. We learned later that an earthquake had occurred about 25 miles outside of Florence. The local people we spoke to were very upset because they said it was a rare occurrence in this part of Italy. There were no aftershocks. After breakfast, we walked over to the famous Uffizi Gallery to see their impressive art collection.

The Uffizi is a wonderful place to see works of the important painters and sculptors: Botticelli, Giotto, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, etc. Later, we stopped to rest and have a snack at the Uffizi’s new outdoor roof-top cafe. Very civilized. After we left the museum, we walked to the Mercato Centrale – the original Central Market. Fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, mushrooms, etc. are located on the first floor and a large multi-ethnic food court takes up the second floor. It’s a lively place for locals to do their shopping.

The second part of the special Donatello exhibit was in the National Museum of the Bargello. The museum is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Florence dating to 1255. Among the treasures in the exhibit were three Davids: an early marble sculpture (1409) and a later (1440) bronze David both created by Donatello and another bronze statue made by Verrocchio who was Donatello’s teacher and mentor. Leonardo Da Vinci was supposed to be the young model for Verrocchio’s David in 1475.

Verrocchio’s David is on the left and Donatello’s bronze David is on the right:

There were always long lines to get into The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, but again we had reserved tickets to see the Santa Reparata Crypt so we entered, literally, by a side door quickly and easily.

Santa Reparata was the name of the original cathedral that stood on that site. The church was named for a 3rd century Catholic martyr. The crypt and the early foundations under the cathedral were very interesting. The interior of the Basilica is quite plain, but, under Brunelleschi’s dome is magnificent.

The Duomo dominates the city of Florence and is visible at the end of many streets from everywhere.

We also visited the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo to see the treasures and original works of art created for the basilica. There was a special exhibit of three Pietas sculpted by Michelangelo.

His Bandini Pieta, on the left, was made between 1547 and 1555 when Michelangelo was in his 70s. It is believed that he sculpted his own image on the top hooded figure. The sculpture on the right is Michelangelo’s famous St. Peter’s Pieta from 1498-1499 completed when he was just 24 years old.

One rainy afternoon, we went to a restaurant that offered small portions of Bistecca Fiorentina. The famous dish is usually served in 2+ pound portions and that’s simply too much food for our senior appetites. We sat outside under umbrellas at Ristorante Natalino and shared a perfectly cooked steak.

One other day, we visited the Basilica di Santa Croce which was completed in 1385. The tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Galileo, Dante, and others, are located inside. There are also three lovely cloisters open to the public. Beyond a side door of the basilica is the Pazzi Chapel, which was designed by Brunelleschi and considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

On a drizzly Friday afternoon, we walked across one of the bridges over the Arno River to Oltrarno – literally “the other side of the Arno.” This was historically where the craftspeople and workers lived. Today, there are small shops and galleries away from the touristy city-center. When we turned off the main street, we passed a shop where two young women were making custom leather shoes by hand.

Further down the street was the shop of Simone Fiordelisi who is a craftsman of mosaic firoentino or the ancient art of marble inlay. He works with small pieces of stone. First carving a design in a larger piece of stone, then setting tiny pieces of colored stone into the carved design. Examples of his artistry decorated the walls around his workbench. His website is: www.tavolidimarmo.it

We watched him as he worked on a delicate piece. He showed us a pair of earrings with tiny purple stone violets embedded in small grey oval stones. They were beautiful, so we bought them to support a very talented craftsman and to remind us of our wonderful week in beautiful Florence.

As we walked through narrow alleyways of Oltrarno, we looked into several craftsmen’s shops. There were metal workers, and a handmade paper shop, and a man carving wood to make an intricate frame.

A light summer rain kept the number of tourists low and it was fun to walk the narrow streets in the rain!

We had reserved timed-tickets to get into the Accademia Gallery one afternoon and we were surprised that we had to wait in a “ticket-holders” line. But, the line for people without reservations was much longer. Of course, it was worth the wait to walk into the long room lined with Michelangelo’s unfinished stone sculptures and look down to see his majestic statue of David. Forever incredible and impressive!!

Walking around Florence, I noticed many little sealed niches embedded in the thick stone walls of old buildings. The buchette del vino were created during the outbreak of bubonic plague in the 1630s as a safe way to distribute wine. There are supposed to be more that 150 of these little “wine windows.” Ironic to think of them as an ancient solution to our modern-day pandemic ‘curb-side delivery.’

The week passed quickly and we returned to one of our favorite restaurants, Trattoria del Bargello, for our final delicious dinner in Florence. Below are a few extra photos of this wonderful city.

Sunday May 8th, Bernini Palace Hotel arranged a taxi to take us to the Santa Maria Novella train station. It was a short fun ride through the quiet streets of the city. The car drove through familiar walkways and passed monuments. It was a perfect postscript to a delightful week in beautiful Renaissance Florence.

Jeff had made reservations for Italy’s high-speed train from Florence to Venice on the Frecciarossa, Italian for “red arrow.” After a short and interesting wait at the station, we boarded the modern train. We had very comfortable seats in a spacious car with only a few other passengers. Masks were required in public transportation by Italian law, so I felt reasonably safe during our two hour trip.

We both had window seats and it was a lovely calm ride through the Italian countryside. After we were underway, an attendant served cookies and bottles of mineral water. Onboard screens gave information about the stations and told us that Frecciarossa was speeding along at 248 km/h or 150mph!

Two hours and fifteen minutes later, the train arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia terminal in the amazing city of Venice. The station was crowded with tourists, like us, carefully rolling our suitcases over bumpy cobblestones, out into the bright sunshine. There were several vaporetto (Venetian water bus/boat) choices in front of the terminal. As we were looking at a large confusing transportation map, a workman directed us to the vaporetto which stopped at Piazza San Marco/San Zaccaria near our hotel.

This was our third time visiting Venice. Our last trip to the incredibly beautiful city was in 2011 – seemed like a lifetime ago – and we arrived by boat from the airport. That’s a much better way to get to the heart of Venice. There is nothing like a water-taxi threading through the channel markers across the smooth blue lagoon with seagulls soaring overhead and salt-air wind blowing on your face. The boat sweeps past small islands as the towers of magical Venice come into view and grow larger as you approach.

We had made reservations to stay at the Hotel Danieli on the Grand Canal near San Marco because it was our 20th wedding anniversary and after Covid-confinement at home for two years, we felt we deserved a treat and a really good celebration! The Danieli is comprised of three palazzos (palazzi?) the oldest of which was built in the 14th century. The interior of the hotel was very elegant and impressive. My photos really do not capture the palatial grandeur illuminated by Murano glass chandeliers:

The Hotel Danieli is centrally located next-door to the Doge’s Palace, so was perfect for us to sightsee and take vaporettos everywhere. Also, there’s a rooftop restaurant/bar with a magnificent view:

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Venice and if I took a gazillion pictures, I could never capture the mood or spirit of the city. You just have to go and experience magical enchanting Venice!

“Water, water everywhere…..” Cars and motorized vehicles are not allowed in Venice and certainly aren’t practical in the narrow spaces between buildings and across the hundreds of bridges connecting all the small islands that make up the city. In order to get anywhere, everyone has to take boats. There are all different sizes and kinds of boats from gondolas to fire & ambulances to commercial ships.

Just a few words about Gondoliers: Since our last trip to Venice 11 years ago, there seemed to be many more gondolas plying the canals and therefore many more Gondoliers hanging about at formal “Gondola stations” waiting to take tourists out for their 80-Euro 30-minute rides on the canals. I noticed that many of the stripe-shirted Gondoliers were looking at their smart-phones while they waited:

Characters: Venice is full of interesting locals and visitors. There are gondoliers and Venetians hurrying about and a slew of foreign tourists. Photos below: on the left are two women in costumes during a break from filming a new movie. On the right was a young woman playing a song for tips using tuned water glasses. She was really good!

We saw fresh fruits and vegetables for sale on open-air boats along some canals. There’s also a large produce market and the famous fish market on the the other side of the Rialto Bridge. Outdoor markets are always great fun to explore, watch the vendors, and see what fresh foods are available.

We had pre-purchased timed-tickets for the Doge’s Palace and later for the Basilica San Marco, so we avoided long lines. The interior of the church is lined with gold mosaic pieces and is truly magnificent.

We had fun finding small ancient wine bars that have been selling cicchetti for hundreds of years. The tasty morsels are fish, hams, or fish paste on fresh circles of Italian bread – similar to tapas in Spain.

A big part of the fun of Venice is riding the boats everywhere. The city is built on more than 100 islands and everyone has to get everywhere by boat! Venetians have their own little power boats, but the rest of us rely on “public transportation” aka vaporettos and traghettos and water taxis and ferries. We bought weekly passes to ride vaporettos. A one-way traghetto ride was 2-euros on this trip.

A traveler can’t go to Italy without talking about food. In one simple word, Italian food is “delizioso.” It’s really impossible to have a bad meal in Italy because everything is made fresh.

A week in Venice flies by, and after walking through narrow alleyways, crossing endless little bridges, riding on vaporettos and traghettos, resting at cafes to have a bottle of water or a small spritz, and eating sumptuous meals at outdoor cafes, it was time to catch a plane to go home.

As I wrote before, the best way to arrive in Venice is by boat. Well, the best way to leave my favorite city is also by boat! A water taxi picked us up at the hotel. First, it slowly moved through the narrow canals to get to the northern part of Venice. When we reached open waters, the driver ‘stepped on the gas’ and we sped across the lagoon creating a huge wake behind us, all the way to the airport!

Arrivederci Venezia…. Arrivederci Italia….