March 29, 2016 Civitavecchia, Italy

Views of Tuscania

Views of Tuscania

Burial Tomb Murals

Burial Tomb Murals

Burial Urns

Burial Urns

Civitavecchia is the gateway to Rome and is about 50 miles to the west of Rome. Many cruise ships and ferries from surrounding ports come in and out of here. Having been in Rome previously, we chose a tour titled Etruscan Treasures: Tarquinia and Tuscania. Our first stop was in the town of Tarquinia, founded in the 7th Century BC, about a thirty-minute drive from the port. We visited an ancient burial ground or necropolis containing thousands of tombs dating from the 6th to the 1st century BC, many of which have yet to be explored.

At the necropolis we were able to visit a number of tombs that have been excavated and turned into a museum of sorts. The tombs are rooms built underground to house the remains of the deceased. They believed that after they died they would need to live underground so they wanted to have whatever useful items they needed for the afterlife. Most of the tombs were rooms about twenty feet by twenty feet, elaborately decorated with murals on the walls. They have excavated and built enclosed staircases down to these rooms so that you can view them through a glass door to preserve them. The contents of the tombs have been removed to a local museum, so all that remains at this site is the room with the murals. These tombs would have been built by the living to include murals of things of interest to themselves. In some cases the murals contain angels and flowers while in other animals, hobbies or sexual acts are depicted. The colors in some of these tombs are vivid in color and still very well preserved, while others have faded or been damaged by water intrusion.

Also at this site we saw another type of tomb for those who had fewer financial means. These other tombs were round hollowed out stone bases about thirty inches in diameter with a large lid resembling a mushroom cap on top. These vaults would be filled with urns of the deceased’s ashes, jewelry, money or favorite possessions, before being sealed and buried underground.

Our next stop was the Palazzo Vitelleschi, an early renaissance home now converted into an archaeological museum housing the remains of the Etruscan population. This museum is located in the charming medieval town of Tarquinia. Inside the museum we saw all types of stone tombs, burial urns, and artifacts found inside some of these tombs. The urns were elaborately decorated while other items included gold or metal coins, jewelry, figurines and more.

We then headed to Lake Bolsenae for a traditional Italian lunch including a salad, lasagna, tiramisu, wine and espresso. The restaurant was called La Pirata and had a commanding view out over this gorgeous and vast volcano-made lake. The lake is fed by rainwater and on its shores are forests of oak and chestnut trees as well as farms growing olives, grapes and vegetables. The lunch was not so spectacular but the setting was beautiful. Kent had two pieces of tiramisu!

After lunch we headed to Tuscania village located on a nearby plateau above the River Marta. This is one of the oldest villages in Italy and was the cradle of the Etruscan civilization from 900 to 700 BC. We took a walking tour through the old medieval village to admire the architecture including two Paleo-Christian basilicas from the 9th century. The village, including the ancient walls, is well preserved and it was a treat to have a chance to visit.

Back onboard, we enjoyed a special show this evening by the ships violinist and pianist who perform nightly in the Explorer’s lounge. Also performing was one of the Rotterdam singers named Laura McCulloch and her boyfriend Alex Gates who is the bass player in the Rotterdam Band. Laura sang songs from her favorite stage and screen shows. It was their first solo show and they were a bit nervous but they did a nice job.

March 28, 2016 Naples, Italy

Naples Church

Naples Church

Naples Church

Naples Church

Naples, Italy

Naples Pizza

Naples Pizza

With one million people, Naples is the third largest Italian city after Rome and Milan. It is located on the west coast of southern Italy. Its historic city center is the largest in Europe, covering 4,200 acres and is a UNESCO World Heritage Center. The city has many important museums and is home to some 448 historic churches. The city of Pompeii, destroyed in 79 AD by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, is located a short drive to the south.

We had planned to take a tour of the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento, but due to the public holiday of Easter, busses were not allowed to drive on the coastal road. We instead headed out on foot with our friends Michael and Joey from Canada to explore the city on foot. Our first stop was a church with a plain looking exterior as we searched for a church, which housed a spectacular marble statue we had heard about. This church was not the one we were looking for but turned out to be quite spectacular inside. Not only was the main cathedral filled with beautiful statuary, marble and paintings, but there were multiple side chapels and rooms that were equally as beautiful. One chapel in particular had a gorgeous hand painted ceiling, wood paneling with marquetry inlaid wood panels, and hand carved and painted wood statuary. It was artistry at its best and to think that this chapel was hundreds of years old and these items had withheld the test of time beautifully. We did finally find the church we were looking for, but due to the Easter holiday, which is celebrated on the Monday following Easter, there was an enormous line to get into the church to see it and we decided not to wait.

We then found a street called Spaccanaoli Street or Via Dei Tribunali Street where the locals eat, shop and live. Our friends Steve and John, who had been on the ship earlier in the cruise, had recommended this street as one of their favorites in Naples. Due to the holiday, many of the shops were closed but the street was filled with local families of all sizes out celebrating Easter by being together, eating and exploring the city. Above the shops where people live, you find the laundry blowing in the breeze drying. Even though the narrow streets are filled with pedestrians, cars and motorcycles are slowing make there way through the streets as well.

We stopped at a local family owned pizzeria with photos of Bill Clinton having eaten there when he was president. Naples is known as the home of the pizza so we thought that we should check out the local pizza. We each had a fairly large pizza but none of us thought the pizza was very special. The crust is fairly thin and was cooked in a wood-burning oven, but the taste was rather bland and unexciting.

Our next stop along the way was to visit the National Museum where artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum are housed. Unfortunately by the time we reached the museum it too had a very long line and was extremely busy. We decided to give it a pass given our limited time in port.

We visited a couple of other churches along the way. One church that was enormous in size had gold and sterling silver statues, a lower level crypt, several side chapels and ostentatious ornamentation everywhere. There were paintings, statuary, candles, multiple altars and chandeliers everywhere. This particular church could easily hold thousands of parishioners. I cannot not imagine that any church in the US could compete with this church, but here in Europe it is much more common to see. The other church that we visited was quite the opposite in that it had a very plain interior, but was still beautiful. The city as a whole is like many other European cities in that it is filled with gorgeous architecture. Some of the buildings are in pristine condition but many of them are in need of restoration and many have graffiti on them. The streets are narrow and mostly lack any trees or greenery so it often seems like a concrete jungle. There are many plazas and public spaces around the city that have some greenery but many of those are only concrete as well.

We then stopped for gelato on our way back to the ship. There are some things that one must do while in Italy and gelato is one of those things not to be missed.

Back onboard the ship we were entertained by a British couple that called themselves Epic Moves. They were incredible dancers who had put together a show with clips from famous movies that included dancing. After showing a short clip of the movie they would perform a dance using the same style of dance as was in the movie. They also did a bit of the quick-change costumes. She changed outfits eight times in a very short amount of time. Each change only taking a few seconds behind a screen.

March 27, 2016 Sea Day

Easter Sunday! This was a sea day with a Sunday mass in the main showroom followed by the broadcast of the Pope’s Easter service from the Vatican. In the Lido restaurant they had large chocolate rabbits on display along with some small chocolate eggs that were quickly snapped up by the guests. I’m missing my See’s chocolates that we normally have at home for Easter. Maybe next year.

The afternoon included a lecture by professor William Morris Welch on how a young man from Scotland drew the world’s attention to the struggle for Corsica’s independence. He discussed some of the history of the Corsican people and how Italy ruled them prior to being ruled by France.

Location guide, David, gave a lecture on things to see and do in the ports of Ajaccio, France and Ceuta, Spain. Then there was a shore excursion presentation on the upcoming three ports of call in Spain. Mark attended the watercolor class while Kent had an ice cream.

The entertainment for the evening was a performance by the Rotterdam singers and dancers titled Dance. We had seen the show twice before but enjoyed seeing it again.

March 26, 2016 Sea Day

This morning the weather was much cooler since we had reached the Mediterranean Sea. People were once again wearing sweaters and complaining about how cold it was, a big change from the heat and humidity of Asia.

We attended a lecture by Professor William Morris Welch on Italy and the circumstances that led it from a monarchy to a republic. The time period in history that he discussed covered the late 19th Century until the 1930’s. It was a very interesting lecture with a variety of interesting Kings and rulers, murders and wars. Some things change but history always seems to repeat itself in so many ways.

The afternoon included a lecture by Martyn Green on the port of Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the North African coast of the Mediterranean. Martyn always has wonderful slides to accompany his lectures and lots of practical information.

In the evening we attended a showing of the movie titled Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane and Helen Mirren. The film tells the story of Dalton Trumbo in 1947 that was Hollywood’s top screenwriter and how he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. After dinner we attended a variety show featuring Hilary O’Neil and Andy Bunger, both of whom performed earlier this week.

March 25, 2016 Transit the Suez Canal

About 4:30am we pulled up the anchor and began our convoy through the Suez Canal along with a number of other ships. Since we were transiting the canal for most of the day there were no scheduled activities planned. Most folks were out on deck or in the crow’s nest to take photos as we transited the canal. By 2:00pm we had completed our passage through the canal and were then in the Mediterranean Sea.

In the afternoon we attended a shore excursion lecture for several upcoming ports. Mark attended the watercolor class and then we enjoyed a movie titled The Big Short in the movie theater. The movie was about four denizens in the world of high finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble of the mid-2000’s and starred Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

The evening entertainer was a man by the name of Andy Bunger from Germany who is a multi instrumentalist who played several horns, the drums, the flute and more.

March 24, 2016 Sea Day

This morning the location guide, David, presented a lecture on the ports of Naples and Civitavecchia in Italy. A new lecturer by the name of Dr. William Morris Welch presented a lecture on Alexandria, Egypt and the influence of the Greeks in ancient times, as well as in modern times. Many Greeks have lived in Alexandria over the years including poets, artists, doctors, scientist and more. He gave a detailed description of many of the accomplishments of these Greeks in Alexandria.

In the afternoon lecturer Martyn Green presented a lecture on the port of Adjaccio, Corsica owned by the French. Kent went to tea and Mark attended his watercolor class. In the early evening we attended a movie titled Joy with Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper. Joy is the story of the title character who rose to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty. The evening’s entertainer was a comedienne, singer and impressionist by the name of Hilary O’Neil.

About 11:00pm we anchored at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal in preparation of our daylight transit tomorrow.

March 23, 2016 Aqaba, Jordan

Aqaba, Jordan - Israel across the bay

Aqaba, Jordan – Israel across the bay

Aqaba, Jordan - Wadi Rum

Aqaba, Jordan – Wadi Rum

Aqaba, Jordan - Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp

Aqaba, Jordan – Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp

Our tour on this day was titled Aqaba Highlights and Wadi Rum Lunch. Our first stop was at the Aqaba Museum and Fort near the city center, built in the Mamluk era. At the museum we saw a collection of ceramics from all over the area, many of them showing both Egyptian and Chinese influences. We then drove through Aqaba where many new hotels are located as well as a large shopping area filled with everything from fruits and vegetables to butcher shops and handicrafts. In the heart of town near the Movenpick Hotel you can still see ruins of the old city of Ayla built here in the year 610 as a trading port between India and the Mediterranean. Portions of a church, the city walls and a mosque still remain. The city of Ayla succumbed to an earthquake and attacks by the Crusaders around 1116. It was then only a small fishing village until World War I when T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, along with local forces took the city from the Ottomans. On summer weekends, many Jordanians from Amman and other towns in the north retreat to Aqaba to escape the extreme heat.

We then drove south of town where the container port and an industrial area are located. Further south towards the Saudi Arabia border there is a very well developed waterfront called Marine Park with a boardwalk, beach umbrellas and white sandy beaches. In this area there are many hotel resorts and condominiums owned by foreigners from all over the world who come here to vacation. This area is popular for diving, snorkeling, swimming and water sports.

We then drove about an hour north and east to the area known as Wadi Rum or valley of the moon. Geologists believe that Wadi Rum was created by a great crack in the earth’s surface causing an enormous upheaval. Some of the ridges in this area are a thousand feet tall and are topped with rounded domed peaks worn smooth by the desert sand storms. This area has been inhabited since prehistoric times as is proven by scattered slabs of rock in the area with inscriptions of early Thamudic writings. Underground, enormous aquifers of fresh spring water have made this area a meeting center for nomadic caravans heading from Arabia to Palestine and Syria. This area has been used to shoot many films including Lawrence of Arabia. Today many Bedouin tribes live here and many have set up campsites for visiting tourists. The area is a government protected natural reserve.

The rock formations in this area are very dramatic in their shapes, red colors and rich textures. On this day there was a sand storm off in one direction filling the air with small particles of sand causing the landscapes to look as though they were in a sea of fog. It might remind you of a visit to the Grand Canyon although this area of Jordan is much larger and vast in size.

We had lunch at a modern day version of a Bedouin camp called Captain’s Desert Camp. This modern day camp had many small tents for rent by the night as a hotel, as well as community bathrooms and a large community tent for entertainment and dining. We enjoyed a buffet lunch of barbecued lamb and chicken, a variety of salads, fresh made bread, stuffed pita pockets, tea and cake. During our lunch they had a blind gentleman playing a local instrument similar to a guitar but with a very short neck. As he played, he would also sing some local songs but the sound was not very appealing to us and we just wished he would stop.

As we returned to Aqaba after lunch they dropped us in town where we explored the shopping area on foot. Kent stopped at a tourist office which recommended a Turkish bath house for a massage. The cost of a one-hour Turkish massage was only $35. While Mark was waiting on Kent to finish his massage, a Saudi man was inviting Mark to Saudi Arabia to his ranch where he breeds camels and horses. He claimed he was also in the petroleum business and wanted to give Mark his mobile phone number. Luckily Kent returned before Mark could be whisked off to Saudi Arabia for a visit.

About half of the people in Aqaba were dressed in western style clothing while the others were wearing local dress. The majority of the women were wearing something on their heads like a scarf. There are several beautiful mosques in town including one named after the late King Hussein.

The evening’s entertainment was another performance by Marco Romano of Italy. He sang a variety of songs from the classical to the modern and we thought he gave a better performance than his first show a few nights back.

March 22, 2016 Aqaba, Jordan

Aqaba, Jordan - Shoubak Castle

Aqaba, Jordan – Shoubak Castle

Aqaba, Jordan - Shoubak Castle

Aqaba, Jordan – Shoubak Castle

Aqaba, Jordan - Shoubak Castle

Aqaba, Jordan – Shoubak Castle

Aqaba, Jordan - Neighborhood

Aqaba, Jordan – Neighborhood

Jordan is slightly smaller than the state of Indiana, located to the east of Israel, West of Iraq, north of Saudi Arabia and south of Syria. The country has a population of over 8 million, including more than one million Syrian refugees.

Aqaba is a small coastal city of about 80,000 inhabitants at the northeast tip of the Red Sea and is Jordan’s only port city. Tourist arrive here for newly developed seaside resorts, as well as for access to the 2,200 year old city ruins of Petra about a two hour drive away. This region of the Red Sea is also a haven for Scuba divers, snorkeling and beaches. The Red Sea contains some 250 coral reefs and 1,000 species of fish. Aqaba was recently designated a trade free zone and that has increased foreign investment in the area. There are many new hotels, housing developments and new roads being built.

Our tour on this day took us to the Shoubak Castle located about 2.5 hours north of Aqaba by bus. The drive to Shoubak includes mile after mile of scenic desert landscapes. The terrain is made up of sandstone, granite and limestone with hills and mountain peaks in every direction. We passed many Bedouin tents, shepherds out in the barren land with flocks of sheep and goats, as well as camels roaming the landscape. Even in these conditions and limited water, farmers are able to grow crops to feed the animals and sustain themselves. The weather today was very pleasant in the 70’s but in summer it can get to be over 120 degrees.

Shoubak Castle is the best-preserved Crusader castle in Jordan dating from early in the 12th-century. The castle sits on a prominent conical mountaintop some 4,265 feet above sea level. King Baldwin I of Jerusalem built it in 1115. The castle was originally named Krak de Montreal and its purpose was to guard the road from Egypt to Damascus. It successfully resisted many sieges before falling to Saladin troops in 1189.

There is a visitor’s center located below the castle where we began our walk up a paved road to the castle entrance. The castle is quite large in scale, built with three floors, a chapel, a water storage system, storage rooms and living quarters for the soldiers. Not only has the entire castle withstood time, but there are a significant number of rooms still fairly intact to explore. Our guide took us through the castle explaining about the use of each of the rooms. In all we spent about 90-minutes exploring the castle before heading back to the ship. It was a long trip (2.5 hours each way) but since we had been to Jordan previously and seen Petra we thought we should explore some of the other sights.

Back onboard the ship there was no live entertainment as we were in port for two days and so they showed the movie Macbeth. We skipped the movie and retired early.

March 21, 2016 Sea Day

It was another lazy day at sea. Bill Crews presented his last lecture before he disembarked. His lecture on this day was a brief background of the construction of the Suez Canal and the subsequent challenges and wrestling for control over this strategic waterway. After several shut downs of the canal, it is now under the control of the Egyptian people, and they have recently invested billions of dollars to enlarge the canal. This new enlarged canal will allow ships to pass in opposite directions at the same time, allowing many more vessels to transit each day. This is expected to increase revenues by more than 100% annually.

For lunch we invited two of the young men who work in the shore excursions office to join us. Antonio is from Holland and Adriano is from Brazil. Antonio has worked on cruise ships for several years as a librarian and then in the shore excursions office. Adriano has worked for several cruise lines at both the front desk and then at the shore excursions office. They both love the opportunity to travel and see the world while working, but at the same time miss some of the things that are happening on land while they are away. They work seven days a week for six months and then have two months of vacation, so it is a busy life.

The afternoon lecture by Martyn Green included practical information on our upcoming port of Civitavecchia, Italy, not far from Rome. With so many things to see in Rome, he narrowed the list of best places to see to just twenty, not including Pompeii, the island of Capri and a few other locations nearby. We are only in port for one day so it will be difficult for people to choose what to see and do in such a short time.

For dinner we met our friends Kathy, Carol, Tom and the Italian entertainer, Marco Romano, for a special cellar master dinner in the Canaletto. The dinner consisted of a six-course meal accompanied by a glass of champagne, a white wine and two red wines. The meal was excellent and we had a wonderful time together.

After dinner we attended a variety show featuring Stephen Clark the flute player and Izabella Zebrowska the violinist. They put on another excellent show featuring songs from movies and musicals.

March 20, 2016 Sea Day

We sailed north in the Red Sea and the water was extremely calm and smooth. The temperature had cooled to the high 70’s making it more pleasant to be outside on deck.

The morning included a lecture by Bill Crews on the British legend, Lawrence of Arabia. He gave a detailed explanation of his life his military achievements and his influence on the Arab world. He was an officer in the British military stationed in Cairo early in the 20th century when he befriended many leaders in the Arab world. He wore local clothing and was able to help unite the Arab world, allowing them to create self-governing regions that now make up Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan and Syria. He only lived to be 46 years old but his books continue to be popular to this day as is the movie Lawrence of Arabia.

For lunch we were invited for a delicious collector’s voyage lunch in the dining room. A collector’s voyage is when you travel multiple segments back to back on the same ship. In this case our voyage is broken into six smaller segments and guests have been embarking and disembarking at each of these segments.

The afternoon included a lecture by Martyn Green on an upcoming port of call, Naples, Italy. He gave an excellent presentation on things to see and do in and around Naples. Mark then attended the watercolor class where he created calendars and Kent went to the gym and sauna.

The evening was a gala night where they ask you to dress up for dinner and the show. The entertainment was the show called Iris by the Rotterdam singers and dancers. This was our third time to see this show this voyage but we still enjoyed it.