Civitavecchia/Orvieto, Montefiascone, and Bolsena-April 17, 2017

Easter Monday, the day after Easter, is a holiday in Italy. Not only are museums closed, but also banks and many shops that normally cater to tourists. That requires avoiding the crowds in Rome, where many locals are celebrating a holiday and Italians from outside the city are using the day off to travel to leisure destinations.

Again, we chose to sponsor a private tour outside the city into the countryside of Umbria. On Cruise Critic we found 5 others interested in sharing our agenda.

We found “Driver in Italy”, a company we had used for our previous tour of Rome with Katherine and Jim, willing to provide a driver and van to visit Orvieto, Montefiascone and the Lake Bolsena region of Umbria. As we disembarked the Rotterdam in Civitavecchia, the closest port to Rome, Alberto was waiting right at the gangway as promised. Our vehicle, however, was a Fiat van, not a Mercedes, which proved to be less than satisfactory. The roads in the Italian countryside could use a large dose of infrastructure investment and the Fiat was lacking the suspension system necessary to minimize the bumpy ride. Space for the 7 of us was not an issue, but comfort during the 10 hour day was definitely a problem. Having accepted what could not be changed we found the day to be as promised – a day to remember in Umbria.

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Arrival at sunrise to the port of Civitavecchia, a bit over an hour from Rome. The port is a large commercial port and, in addition to all the working ships, we shared dock space with 4 other cruise ships. Another reason not to be going to Rome today.

Our first stop was Montefiascone, a beautiful small village an hour and a half east of the port and somewhat north. The view from the old town was memorable.

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The old section was narrow streets, some only as wide as a single car. An attempt to view the local church from above was a hair-raising experience.

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Approaching the dome of the church to see it from an unusual perspective, our tour could have ended in disaster. Just beyond the curve to the right was a locked gate. No room for a turn around. Our only option was to back down the way we came, with the wall on our right and a guardrail with a sheer drop off on our left. Alberto hugged the wall on the right, but neglected to see a concrete divider, about 2 feet high, on the left. Minus the left tail light, we backed down the hill, white knuckles all around. In retrospect, getting out of the van while he backed down the hill might have been a better idea, except the wall on the right prevented opening the door to exit. The door on the left opened to the drop off. Neither choice was a good option. The good news¬† is …………………………………………………….. we’re still here to continue the blog.

We found the church on a narrow street below and it was, indeed, worth the search. It was a 400 year-old church in the round. Actually, a half-round is a better description.

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The main altar is ornate with the side altars almost as much or more.

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Here’s the inside of the dome that almost ended our tour/cruise/lives.

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We eventually exited the town, but it required waiting for 2 parked cars to move to give us enough space to pass. Narrow streets in Italy can be REALLY narrow streets. A short side-trip, not on our itinerary, gave us an up close look at Civita di Bagnoregio, an Italian hill town. The entry is through a cut in the rock made by Etruscans 2,500 years ago. Civita is a traffic-free community of 45 inhabitants, totally dependent on tourism. We chose not to make the walk into the village (it’s about a half-hour each way) because of time constraints, but the view from our vantage point was sufficient. I doubt any community could be more isolated.

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Alberto drove another 45 minutes on the same unimproved roads and we finally reached Orvieto, and it’s cathedral, parts of which date from 1350. The stone was obviously quarried from the same area as the cathedral in Siena (or the architect should sue for copyright violation).100 4708

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The interior main altar is beautiful, but the two side altars (which form the arms of a cross), are stunning. The one on the right, however, was visited by Michelangelo, and served as inspiration for this work in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. The frescos date from 1406-1444.

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Christ in Judgement

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The Apostles

The ceiling is easy to translate into the views seen in the Sistine Chapel.

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What amazing artwork, painted in a most difficult location, over 600 years ago!!

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The left cross arm is more ornately carved in stone, the frescos less detailed.

We found lunch in the square outside the duomo. The eggplant parmesan was the best EVER!

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Can you guess why we chose this spot?

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Jacqui and Paul agreed with Judy that the wine was excellent.

We left Orvieto to head for Bolsena, a village on Lake Bolsnea, and my personal choice for retirement in Italy. It had everything, minus the tourists.

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Our group assembled for a pic before heading back to the Rotterdam, an hour and a half away, and a most welcome sight after a very full 10 hour day.

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Judy, Claudia, Ken, Jacqui, Paul and Jose. Bottom photo: add Michael.

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Our weather remains the biggest surprise of the trip. We have been blessed with calm seas, blue skies and temperatures between 65 and 75. If we were to be packing now for this trip, I’d bring more shorts, more short sleeves and fewer socks. Another beautiful day in Italy!

Cagliari, Sardinia, April 18, 2017

After two days of intensive touring in Livorno (Siena and San Gimignano) and Civitavecchia (Orvieto, Montefiascone and Bolsena), our half day in Cagliari, Sardinia, looks to be a day of rest. Our dock time is to be 12 noon, all aboard is set for 5:30P, and departure is planned for 6P. In addition, dirty clothes are piling up and with Rotterdam being relatively quiet and empty, Tuesday looks to be an onboard no-brainer.

Captain Marco Carsjens has predicted a temperature of 72 degrees and sunny weather in Gagliari, continuing our unbroken string of fabulous days since leaving Fort Lauderdale on March 30. The posted cruise log as of our arrival in Barcelona on Thursday, April 13, shows we had traveled 4,559 nautical miles since Fort Lauderdale, with the sun and warm temperatures accompanying us all the way.

From a distance as we approach, Sardinia looks inviting, and even more so as we get closer.

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The hilly terrain is the determining factor today, and the distance from the port into the center of the old city measures some 9 miles.

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We have docked near a ferry which carries cars and commercial trucks to the Italian mainland, but provides overnight accommodations also. Not sure what the advertising message of Tweety Bird painted on the side is supposed to convey, except maybe SPEED!

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is a day at sea. It will be welcome after 9 consecutive port days since Cadiz.

At Sea April 19, 2017

Our day at sea proved to be a needed respite from the exhausting multiple days of touring. Captain Carsjens gave his usual update at noon and it proved to be quite interesting. Our next port tomorrow, Thursday, April 20, was to be Gibraltar. He advised us, however, that the winds there are expected to be 40 to 50 knots, which would make docking difficult and make staying docked with a gangway to the pier even more difficult. He has decided, for safety reasons, to change our port tomorrow to Malaga, Spain.

Those of us who boarded in Fort Lauderdale have already visited that port, but those who boarded in Barcelona have not. It will be a safer port for exitiing the ship. I surmise that he has more information, but is keeping it close to his vest as of now. Suffice it to say, our calm seas may be about to change.

Meanwhile, the menagerie of animals continue to inhabit our cabin and a new one appears every night.100 4484

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Another advantage of today’s sea day: Mah Jongg in the King’s Room!

Malaga, Spain, April 20, 2017

Our second visit to Malaga, having skipped Gibraltar, U.K., because of high winds in port, brings still delightful weather. Despite an onboard prediction of 64 degrees, the day was sunny and mid-seventies. Still hauling jackets for no apparent reason. Malaga is Europe’s southern-most city and the second busiest port on the Iberian peninsula. Because of it’s location it boasts a subtropical Mediterranean climate with one of the warmest winters in Europe.

The sea had been a bit choppy overnight (who cares-we were sleeping), with swells of 9 to 12 feet, but the whitecaps near the break wall today are minimal and docking was not an issue. Rotterdam continues to provide a very smooth ride, especially considering it’s relatively small size. At 60,000 tons, it is about two-thirds the size of Holland America’s newest ship, the Koeningsdam, which grosses a bit less than 100,000 tons. Small, however, is a relative term, considering that out first cruise was on the Song of Norway, MANY years ago. It was less than 30,000 tons and carried less than 700 passengers. As you might guess, sailing in the Caribbean is quite a bit different than crossing the Atlantic.

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From the port, the beach and waterfront apartments attest to the popularity of Malaga as a European vacation destination.

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Again it is obvious that, leaving the shore, an uphill climb begins rather quickly. This part of Spain has it’s share of mountains, yet very close to the coast. In the summer, the higher elevations will provide relief from the heat in the city itself. In April the water is cold and wet suits are the garb of choice for the surfers.

Malaga, Spain, is the birthplace of Picasso, and boasts the Picasso Museum. If we were fans of his, a visit there would be a must. However……………………….

Huelva, Spain April 21, 2017

Huelva, Spain, is also a port for travel to Seville, especially for those not on the first 14 day transatlantic portion of our back-to-back 30-day cruise. As much as we loved Seville, our next port of call will be Lisbon, Portugal, for 2 full days, during which we have planned private tours for both days. We expect a busy weekend ahead. The city of Huelva is some 9 miles from the port and didn’t offer a different experience than the Spanish ports we had already visited. With the temperature at 77 and sunny skies, we opted for a day by the pool and lunch at the Dive-In, which serves burgers or tacos poolside. We’ll save the pizza served by the aft pool for another day.

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After an on board day preparing for the weekend, we experienced a clout of reality when departing the dock. Our dining room seating is a table for 2, next to the window, facing aft and enjoying fabulous views as we depart our port, or just enjoying watching the wake of the ship. We had dropped our lines, and had moved perhaps 20 feet from the dock, when we suddenly engaged our side thrusters and returned to cast the lines and tie up again.

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The captain soon announced that we had a medical emergency on board and would await medical transportation for the passenger who would be disembarking and seeking medical care. After a few police cars and three ambulances, our last view, as we cast off a half-hour later, was of an ambulance, a lone accompanying passenger, and a pile of 4 suitcases remaining on the shore as we again dropped our lines and headed out to sea. Someone’s vacation took an unexpected turn and their future plans would be terribly different than what had been anticipated.

Lisbon, Portugal April 22, 2017

Our Saturday would be an easy start, as our arrival at the pilot station at the mouth of the Tagus River was scheduled for 8AM. We would sail 2 hours on the Tagus before docking at the St Appolonia pier somewhat east of the center of town at 10AM.

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The best view of the Placa do Comercio, with the statue of King Jose I, is from the water. The entire waterfront is a capsule of Portugese architecture, some old, some new, some restored. Our berth at the pier was just aft of Sea Cloud II, a true sailing passenger ship, that arrived just before the Rotterdam.

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The blue building behind Sea Cloud is the Lisbon train station for easy transportation throughout the city and beyond. Lisbon has roots dating back to 1200 B.C., making it older than London, Paris or Rome. The Age of Portuguese Discovery, in the 15th century, led to Lisbon attaining a “golden age” when it was the center of commercial trade, especially with India, and it’s dominance lasted until 1755, when an earthquake and tsunami killed some 30,000 residents. Lisbon has evolved into a hub for finance, commerce and international trade.

Our private tour today with Pedro of Sintra Magik Tours will take us outside the city to the western mountainous coast and the suburb cities of Sintra, Cascais (Kas-KAY-eesh), and Estoril, Cascais served as a refuge and gathering spot for European monarchs displaced during World War II, as Portugal was able to maintain neutrality and avoid the destruction that engulfed so much of Europe. In thanksgiving for escaping the war, high above the city and across the Tagus, Lisbon erected a statue of Christ the King (Christo Rei), patterned after a similar statue in Rio de Janeiro. We will visit that site tomorrow during our tour of the city.

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In Sintra, the architecture reflects Moorish influence and tiles appear everywhere and decorate most every important building. The palaces of Sintra reflect an earlier time of construction of homes by the very wealthy high in the mountains above Lisbon.

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Many are very ornate with carvings and very decorative windows and, of course, towers which add to the appearance of wealth.

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Some have become 5 star hotels, with views overlooking the city below and magnificent gardens.

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We traveled to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of the continent of Europe. Fortunately, the wind and seas were calm, and the views were memorable.

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Pedro captured our arrival at this geographic point.

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Lunch was shared at Pedro’s favorite Friday night hangout, where we enjoyed the Portuguese specialty of grilled sea bass with sea salt, a local commodity still in high demand. It was served with boiled potatoes and garlic green beans, and of course, a bottle of local wine.

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Jamon, cheese, olives and Portugese bread.

We ended our day in Cascais, whose obvious charms made our day complete.

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Pedro’s favorite restaurant, however, took first honors on day one in Lisbon.

Lisbon, Portugal April 23, 2017

Our overnight in Lisbon provided beautiful views of the city at night, but an early start for our Sunday morning tour required a light dinner and an early to bed.

Again, we had contracted for a private tour of Lisbon to see the city and learn more about the culture of the Portugese people. Our driver/guide was Paulo, from Tours by Locals, and he provided a most interesting peek into the daily lives of the people of Portugal.

We made a few stops at mandatory tourist sites, the Belem tower and the Jeronimos Monastery, and then headed out of the city to see the Christ the King statue across the Tagus and high above Lisbon.

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Jeronimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on a Sunday morning

The Cristo-Rei (Christ the King) statue sits across the Tagus river on a hilltop 436 feet above sea level. The statue and monument rise another 300 feet above that and command outstanding views of the city. It was completed in 1984 to fulfill the request and promise made during World War II to keep Portugal out of the conflict. It was modeled after the statue in Rio de Janeiro and although the statue is smaller, the total monument size is larger, allowing both Lisbon and Rio to claim superiority.

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The inscription over the door reads “I am the Way”

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From across the Tagus River at the monument site, is a great view towards the 25 April bridge, which commemorates the revolution in 1974 overthrowing the dictator Salazar. Built by the same company that did the Golden Gate bridge, this bridge has a second, and lower level for the trains.

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Stations of the cross surround the perimeter of the monument, and the chapel under the statue is small, but artfully done.

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After leaving some prayerful requests, we found our way to the Lisbon cemetery, which is quite unique, but important to the religious Portuguese.

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In the center of Lisbon, the cemetery is laid out like a city with streets lined with family mausoleums, very ornate and individualized.

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Each has space for a ladder of caskets on each side and just enough space for a chair between. During holidays like Christmas or Easter, the interiors are decorated with a Christmas tree or other home decorations to include the deceased in the holiday celebration. Family members often visit, inside the building, to bring the loved ones up to date with family news and events.

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This one, door knocker and all, was designed by the architect who designed the La Scala opera house, which I believe is in Milan.

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The door knocker is superfluous, I believe, for obvious reasons.

The cemetery is VERY large, with streets lined on both sides for blocks, right in the city. At the entrance, a map provides direction for visitors.

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Lisbon streetcars are everywhere, with some dating back to the 1920’s and still in use.

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On the way back to the Rotterdam I was able to catch a “Kodak Moment”, the Christo-Rei statue tightrope walking the 25 April bridge. Priceless!!!

It was another full day, but our departure was scheduled for 4P to allow photos of the Belem tower dating to the 16th century, when Portugal and Spain both searched for alternative trade routes to the Far East. The “Silk Road” overland was long, time-consuming and frought with hazards. The Belem tower was the last view of Lisbon as the sailors left by sea, and the first to appear as they returned home. Similar to Judy as we returned to the Rotterdam, exhausted, but enlightened.


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Monument to the Discoveries is also best seen from the ship as we depart Lisbon, depicting Henry the Navigator and 44 other brave, seafaring souls who launched Portugal into the 16th and 17th centuries with their adventurous journeys.

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