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.

100 4684

 

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.

100 4689

100 4691

 

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.

100 4694

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.

100 4696

100 4700

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

100 4699

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

100 4702

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.

100 4704

100 4705

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

100 4707

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.

100 4712

100 4717

100 4723

Christ in Judgement

100 4726

The Apostles

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

100 4725

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

100 4730

100 4728

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!

100 4735

100 4741

Can you guess why we chose this spot?

100 4736

100 4737

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.

100 4752

100 4757

 

100 4756

100 4764

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.

100 4762

100 4763

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

100 4766

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.

100 4770

100 4773

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.

100 4777

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

100 4679

100 4769

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.

100 4788

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

100 4793

100 4785

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.

100 4428

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.

100 4778

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.

100 4805

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.

100 4809

100 4807

 

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.

IMG 20170422 075321 hdr

IMG 20170422 075050 hdr

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.

IMG 20170422 080003 hdr

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

IMG 20170422 081505 hdr

IMG 20170422 081543 hdr

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

IMG 20170422 081237 hdr

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.

IMG 20170422 091733

IMG 20170422 091845

Pedro captured our arrival at this geographic point.

IMG 20170422 092144

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.

IMG 20170422 094717

IMG 20170422 095218   IMG 20170422 093739

Jamon, cheese, olives and Portugese bread.

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

IMG 20170422 113842

IMG 20170422 113852

IMG 20170422 114028

IMG 20170422 104922

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.

IMG 20170422 061036 hdr

IMG 20170422 061044 hdr

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.

100 4862

100 4874

 

100 4882

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

100 4870

100 4865

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.

100 4869

100 4868

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

100 4883

100 4886

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

100 4887

100 4900

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

100 4910

100 4902

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.

100 4895

100 4898

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

100 4896

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.

100 4889

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

100 4918

100 4918

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.

 

100 4963

100 4920

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.

100 4958

100 4952

Vigo, Spain April 24, 2017

Monday morning dawned as we approached Vigo, Spain, still on the western coast of the Iberian peninsula, north of Lisbon. The day is to be sunny and warm and sunrise is beautiful, as it always is at sea, on a clear and promising day.

100 4983

Our plan for the day was to travel on a Holland America excursion, transportation only, to Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of St James, the Apostle. His remains are buried there and it is the destination of the Camino, a 500 mile pilgrimage across the northern border of Spain with France. Pilgrims have made this walk for centuries, and although there are other caminos from other origins in Spain and Portugal, and throughout Europe to this site, this route dates to the early 800’s. St. James made this walk himself as a missionary from the Holy Land to the northwest corner of Spain, which at that time, was the end of the known world. The route became so popular that in 1130 a French monk named Aimery Picaud chronicled his journey, and included tips on where to stay, the best way to get from place to place, and how to pack light (and use a money belt). Called the “Codex Calixtinus” (Latin for Camino Through the Back Door) it was the world’s first guidebook (and you thought Rick Steves had a novel idea).

Our plan was altered when Judy announced she was still worn out from the two days in Lisbon, and would be unable to make the trek. This destination was to be one of the planned highlights of our cruise and one of the reasons we chose this itinerary. We have at least three Jims in our lives battling through serious medical issues, and our “modified Camino” was to pray in this Cathedral of St James for the success of their fight. Judy decided to stay on board while I made the journey and completed our petition for our friends. I’m sure I will not be the first to complete the Camino utilizing a bus!

After a hour and a half bus ride, I started my Camino with the Cathedral in sight.

100 5007

100 5002

The interior is filled with pilgrims and visitors from everywhere and I arrived just minutes before the Cathedral was closed to all, except those who would be attending the noon Mass. The Cathedral is not the most ornate, nor the largest we have visited, but knowing it’s history and significance as a religious destination, it has a draw all its own. Mass was in Spanish, but was concelebrated by priests from Italy, Germany, U.K. and the U.S., each of whom added prayers in their own language.

100 4993

100 4991

Right of center in the close-up picture above is the Botafumeiro, a huge silver-plated incense burner weighing 120 pounds, suspended from the ceiling. At the conclusion of Mass, six men in red robes, called tiraboleiros, pull on the rope suspended from the ceiling attachment and cause the Botafumeiro to swing in a wide arc, left to right in the wide cross arms of the cathedral, spewing its sweet-smelling smoke. The tradition had its origin when pilgrims, having completed their 500 mile journey, needed the incense to counteract the stench acquired during so many days on the road.

100 4999

Note in the photo above, the rope can be seen bisecting the pillar to the left in front of the altar. In its full arc, the rope would be completely out of the picture. It is not done daily, and I considered it a good omen that we were able to witness this unusual custom.

The ride back to Vigo was an opportunity to enjoy the countryside of northwest Spain, which is usually cold and rainy. The day was mild and sunny and Spain is indeed a beautiful country.

100 5016

100 5015

As we neared Vigo, we encountered a most unusual site. 100 5018

These are man-made oyster beds in the bay. I believe I prefer the natural beauty of the oyster beds in South Carolina.

100 5030

We arrived back at the Rotterdam by 4P, in plenty of time for our 5P departure. Mission accomplished. Our petitions on behalf of our friends have been sent and heard.

At Sea April 25, 2017

Reality has begun to set in as we head north today from Vigo to our next port in Portland, U.K. We are crossing Biscay Bay, known for relatively rough seas and gale winds. Fortunately, the seas are moderate and the winds minimal, but the temperature has begun to drop – like a ROCK! Our high today will be 50, and a walk around the promenade deck requires a sweatshirt for warmth AND a rain jacket to cut the wind. The roof over the Lido deck pool has been closed overnight, so it remains warm around the pool area, but swimming is out of the question as the pool water is sloshing fore to aft as we ride the 8 to 10 foot waves heading north. Our moderate temperatures are history until we get back to South Carolina. It was GREAT while it lasted.

100 4427

Fortunately, the King’s Room on deck 5 is set aside for the Mah Jongg players, so the day will not be a total loss.

As for me, I have a second chance to see the movie “Hidden Figures”, the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program, and before computers. I missed it first time around and have heard nothing but positive comments about this true, but comparatively unknown story. Turns out to be one of the best films I have seen in many moons. I highly recommend spending the couple of hours to understand this amazing history lesson. It was all new to me.

Sometime overnight we expect to enter the English Channel and the wind and moderate seas should subside even more. Temperature in Portland tomorrow is expected to be 48, however. Not very hospitable of the U.K., and neither is the requirement that all passengers show up tomorrow AM in the Showroom at Sea with their passports. That should delay any plans for leaving the ship early tomorrow. Checking passports for 1250 passengers may take a bit of doing.

Meanwhile, our cabin mate for tonight is a bit less scary.

100 5033

Portland, U.K. April 26, 2017

The port of Portland, U.K., it turns out, is a peninsula of commerical activity, 9 miles from Portland, and much further than that from Weymouth, the closest city of importance. Many of our passengers are planning on visiting Stonehenge, a 2 hour drive each way, which did not seem attractive on a blustery day with a high temperature of 48. The shuttle to Portland had a lineup of passengers with a 45 minute wait in the cold and wind. NOT TODAY!!

Tomorrow we will be in Le Havre, France, with a planned tour to Hanfleur and Rouen. The cool temperature we can handle, ………….the wind, not so much!!

The ship must be taking on water. Our cabin mate tonight washed onto the bed from somewhere onboard.

100 5035