Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Missing the End of My Vacation

By the time we woke the next morning in Barcelona, I could barely move myself from point A to point B.  We had to vacate our cabin before we were able to leave the ship, so Chrissy and I went up to the lido deck for breakfast.  For me, that consisted of a cup of tea.  Thankfully, I was able to keep it down.  When we were able to leave the ship, Chrissy led me out to the area where we would pick up our luggage.  Since they hadn't off-loaded our bags that they picked up in the middle of the night, Chrissy deposited me on the floor by a post.

When we got our bags, I decided I was too sick to mess with the shuttle and walking back to the hotel.  Thankfully, it was the same Hotel Gaudi that we stayed at initially, so there wasn't any real thought into where we needed to go or what to expect.  We caught a cab at the taxi stand just outside the doors where we picked up our bags.  The cabbie knew just where to go, including which sidewalks to drive on when the narrow street was blocked.  Chrissy brought the bags in and headed off for sightseeing.  We had planned to go back and see a few things in detail this time, but I just couldn't do it, and I saw no reason to hold Chrissy back.  She wasn't sick.

The hotel couldn't let me check in that early, but they stored our bags and let me upstairs on the rooftop terrace, where I took some pictures of the beautiful scenery and went back to sleep.

Chrissy sent me some awesome shots of La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell and a few other places.  They served to let me know everything was fine, and I could go back to sleep.  Sometime in the mid afternoon, a lady came up to the roof and let me know our room was ready and our bags had been delivered to them.  So, I went downstairs and checked in, texted Chrissy the room number, letting her know to pick her key up at the desk, and promptly went to bed.

Chrissy came in at some point, and we went to the restaurant downstairs.  I was able to keep a ham sandwich down, but I had to eat it slowly.  Just so you know, as of that morning, I was able to keep water down, too, and had been drinking water all day.  After dinner, we went back upstairs.  I took a shower, and guess what I did!!  I went to bed.

The next morning, I was feeling a little better, but still wasn't good.  We took a cab to the airport and found that our flight had been significantly delayed, and we had been booked onto a later flight on a different airline.  Except they didn't book it.  After a couple of trips back and forth between the desks trying to check in, I finally got a manager who did manage to get the tickets taken care of.  After we were taken to our gate, Chrissy walked back and got some breakfast and brought me a croissant.  When we landed in Heathrow, Chrissy headed out to get lunch.  I met her at the gate.  I survived the flight back to Seattle, though it was not fun at all.  With my fever and the sleeping on and off, I was, unfortunately, a little smelly by the time we got off the plane.  I also felt bad about the possibility of others catching whatever I had, but The airline wasn't going to put me on a new flight because I had a stomach bug.  After Chrissy gathered Grandkitty up where Bruce had been kitty sitting and headed back to her place, I took a shower and - what?  You got it.  I went to bed.  I felt better by the next day.  Not quite 100%, but enough to eat a real meal.

As for the after action on the cruise, I think this was my last canned trip.  The last couple of trips have been good, and I've enjoyed them, but I prefer to go back to setting my own time tables and schedules.  I want to do my own research for places to go and places to see instead of relying on someone else, and I want to have the option of spending more time in a place, I want the option to do that.  I don't want to be so focused on keeping up with the group that I can't fully enjoy the scenery.  The guided tours haven't been any better than what I've been able to get at a particular site individually.  These were fine when I was younger, but at this point, we'll be going on our own from now on.  No more keeping somebody else's schedule.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Misled in Marseille

Our last port of call was Marseille, France, a beautiful port city.  Our tour bus picked us up from the modern cruise port and drove us around the old port (currently used for smaller boats).

We also passed several painted cows, though I can find no indication that the Cow Parade was in Marseille at the time, and our guide did not mention it.

We also drove past Chateau d'If the island prison that was made famous in the Count of Monte Cristo (and takes credit as the blueprint for our Alcatraz).

We finally made it to the top of the hill to the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde.  This is a beautiful church.  Our guide told us it was the church in which Catherine de Medici and King Henry II wed.  I struggled up the 140 stairs, and Chrissy hustled me into the sanctuary.  It felt odd visiting the church and taking photographs while mass was being said, but apparently, the congregation and pastor are accustomed to this.  Those of us who were visiting were very quiet, some genuflecting upon entry.

As I struggled back down the stairs to the tour bus, I asked Chrissy to go to the gift shop and find something that signifies the royal wedding that took place there in 1533, but they had nothing of any historical significance.   Upon writing this blog, I learned why.  The royal wedding did not take place in this church.  This church's claim to fame is not the wedding of Catherine and Henry.  Instead, this is the only known church to be used both as a military fort and a sanctuary open to the public at the same time.  In fact, the fortress of Notre-Dame, which incorporated the small chapel on La Garde wasn't even completed until 1536, three years after Catherine married the Duke d'Orleans.  I knew they married in Marseille, so I kept searching until I could find out where.  Maybe the church and its historians just wanted to downplay that event for some reason.  Nope.  Catherine and Henry married in the Eglise Saint-Ferreol les Augustins.  In fact, if Google Maps, Wikipedia, trip advisor, the church's website, and various other sites are to be believed, we walked right past the church where Catherine and Henry were married by her uncle Pope Clement II.  It's the third prominent building from the left.  The white one that looks like a church with a bell tower.  You may have to blow it up to see it because I wasn't focused on it. We had time.  Had I known this was the actual church, I would have visited it on my own during our free time!  I tend to like Catherine de Medici.  She managed to do a lot for a girl who was basically used to purchase stature and ignored by her own husband.  She had her flaws, but thrived even after being thrust into a no-win situation at the age of 14.  I guess I have to go back to Marseille now.  Poor me (hehe).

Our next stop was back down the hill to the port and the Cathedrale de Marseille Notre-Dame de la Major.  Our guide explained (and I have confirmed) that there are multiple Notre-Dame churches worldwide with over 18 of them in France alone.  This one is the main cathedral in Marseille and is commonly referred to as "La Major" or just "The Cathedral."  The new part of the cathedral was built in the 1800s, after demolishing portions of the original cathedral.  It's a lovely church, as are most all Byzantine cathedrals and basilicas.

The choir and one bay of the nave of the original church is still standing next door.

After The Cathedral, we started our walking tour of Marseille.  Our first stop was La Vielle Charite, originally the poor house of Marseille.  Later, it was used as a hospital, and it currently functions as a museum.  We did not visit the interior.

We strolled along parts of La Panier, the historic district with narrow, cobbled streets.  It's the area in which new immigrants have historically settled, currently inhabited by a mix of mostly Corsican, North African, and French families.  While strolling this district, we stopped and had sorbets or ice cream topped with navettes, little cookies shaped like historical fishing boats.  As we walked along La Panier, I was too busy trying to successfully navigate the cobbled, worn, dipping, and cracked steps in my CAM boot to really get many pictures, but here are a couple that I did get.

When we got back down to the port, I took some more pictures of the general area, including the accidental picture of the church Catherine de Medici actually got married in, and this shot with the ferry and the Notre-Dame de la Garde.

The port is not very wide in this section.  In fact, to get from the cafe that is almost in front of this dock of the ferry to a cafe almost in front of the dock on the other side is a distance of 800 meters that takes approximately 10 minutes to walk, according to Google Maps.  On the other hand, taking the ferry from point to point is a distance of 350 meters, and it takes approximately 10 minutes from embarkation to disembarkation.  It seemed like a very busy ferry.

Chrissy and I were looking forward to some of the savory crepes I remember from visiting France when I lived in West Germany in the 1980s.  Unfortunately, they only had sweet crepes on the waterfront, so we settled for a grilled duck with salad and fries.  After getting back to the ship, Chrissy went to the cabin for a nap, and I spent another afternoon enjoying the lido deck on the bow of the ship.  I got a few nice shots of the port and took some pix of the seagulls.

I went back to get Chrissy for dinner, and as we were heading to our restaurant, I started feeling a little warm and nauseous.  By the time the waiter got there, I was ready to order crackers and other bland foods, and I ended up leaving the table and going back to the room before the first course arrived.  It couldn't be food poisoning because I didn't eat anything Chrissy didn't also eat, and she wasn't sick.  I was miserable all night, though.  I did toss my things in my suitcase before falling into bed, but I couldn't finish getting luggage ready to put out overnight, as required to disembark.  Thankfully, Chrissy was able to get our luggage and everything taken care of for us to disembark in Barcelona the next day.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Taking a Big Boat to a Little Boat

After such a busy day in Rome, I could have used another day at sea.  That was not to be, though.  The next morning, we made port in Savona, Italy.  For our shore excursion, Chrissy and I chose a trip to Genoa.  Our ship docking in Savona instead of Genoa was curious, though.  The Costa Diadema, the ship we were on, is a very large ship.  In fact, she's currently the largest cruise ship in the Mediterranean, though Costa has a larger ship soon to be christened. She is actually registered in Genoa, so Genoa is its home port.   Genoa Harbor is supposedly larger than Savona Harbor, though Savona Harbor was quite capable of handing her needs.

For some reason, there was difficulty clearing customs in Savona, though we had cleared in two prior Italian ports (Sicily and Rome) and had not left the Schengen Treaty area/European Union since taking on passengers at any port.  The ship makes this same circuit over and over, taking on new passengers and dropping off old ones at various ports.  This was the only time the ship seemed crowded.  Almost all shore excursions were scheduled to leave at the same time each morning, which was soon after the ship docked.  When customs took an extended period of time, everyone who was planning to disembark the ship for a shore excursion was held in that small section of the ship.  It was standing room only (with bodies pressed against each other) for two floors.  Customs did finally release the ship, and everyone spilled out to the excursion buses.  Chrissy and I boarded our bus for the short drive to Genoa.

While I'm curious why the Diadema docked in Savona instead of Genoa, I'm certainly not knocking Savona.  From what I saw driving through, it's a lovely city with lots of history, including a Medieval fortress just outside the port.

We really didn't get much background of things that we saw through much of the trip to Genoa until we stopped at Genoa Harbor.

Our schedule in Genoa was not packed at all.  We had, basically, two items on the agenda:  The aquarium and a boat ride around Genoa Harbor.  To get to the aquarium, we walked past the pirate galleon, Neptune, built by Roman Polanski for his box office bomb, "Pirates", and more recently starring as the Jolly Roger in the TV miniseries, "Neverland," another show of limited success.

The Genoa Aquarium is touted as the third largest aquarium in the European Union.  It was well put together with some unique exhibits, including having sawfish.  These guys were snoozing on the floor of the tank.  They tend to be a bit elusive in many aquaria.

They were hatching these egg sacs, or mermaid purses.  I forget which type of shark they were for.

I took loads of pictures.  Few of them turned out well, though.  I many areas, the lighting is high enough that the windows had far too much glare.  No, I was not using my flash.  Some of the areas, where the animals needed lower light, I was able to get some good results.  For enjoying the animals, it is a nice aquarium.  I just had trouble getting good pictures, which is really not uncommon for me in aquariums.

After the aquarium, I spent time just sitting on the docks, enjoying the sunlight and the water, resting my foot.  Chrissy took the opportunity to explore some of the waterfront area and artesan markets.  She brought us back a focaccia to share.  It was quite good.  Not being a fan of olives, I left those to her, but I did enjoy the bread.

After the bread, we boarded a tourist boat for a short spin around Genoa Harbor, which is very lovely.  She talked about the history of the harbor, capacity, and various restaurants and things around the harbor.  Here are some pictures of Genoa Harbor.

We had a few minutes to walk around the harbor before boarding the bus back to Savona.

After lunch on the Lido deck, Chrissy went back to the cabin for a nap while I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon on the bow of the ship.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

All Roads Lead to Rome

The next day was beautiful in the port city of Civitivecchia, Italy.  Chrissy and I were eating breakfast on the lido deck while the Captain finished docking the ship.

After breakfast, it was off to a full day of sightseeing in Rome.  It's pretty easy to tell when you're getting close to Vatican City...

Of course, drivers aren't overly careful. When lanes were merging as we got closer to our turn, a delivery truck got a little close to the front passenger side of our bus and side swiped us.  Only we bus passengers reacted, though our tour guide was brave enough to lean out the door in traffic to check the damage a little farther down the road. I promptly forgot about it and never looked as I was getting on and off.  Apparently, it wasn't too bad, as I didn't notice anything, and I used the front door to get on and off.

Our first stop was Vatican City and St. Peter's Square.  Coming out of the alleyway onto the street leading to the square, this was my first look at St. Peter's Square.

Okay.  My second look. The first one has some random topless dude in red shorts covering up that little piece of the Colonnades on the left.

On the boat, they had indicated we should take our passports if we were going to Vatican City, but no matter how hard I looked, I was unable to find anyone to stamp my passport.  Though, there was nobody there to stamp, though there were some Vatican police standing around the area where Vatican City begins.

The square is impressive.  Bernini's students added the statues of the 144 saints above the Colonnades after his death.  They are each 3.2 meters tall, so veritable giants of saints at over 10 feet tall.

On the facade of St. Peter's Basilica, 10 of the 12 apostles and John the Baptist flank Christ the Redeemer.  The statues of Peter and Paul are stand-alone structures inside the square.  It is interesting to note that Judas Iscariot is not one of these statues. He was replaced by the new apostle St. Matthias when Judas was kicked out of the club after selling out to the Roman soldiers.  Matthias was voted in by the remaining apostles after Jesus was arrested and before the descent of the Holy Spirit.

If you look closely at that picture, you can see the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul.  They're those tiny specks over the black squares on either side of the basilica.  We didn't get over to St. Paul's side, but I did get a good shot of St. Peter.  These two statues are also about 6 meters tall (the same height as the apostles on the facade of the basilica).  They are on pedestals, but there are announcement screens in front of the pedestals.

Because the basilica was closing early the day we visited, the lines to enter were more enormous than normal, and we were not able to tour the interior.

The obelisk was moved from the site of Peter's crucifixion to the center of the square under the orders of Pope Sixtus V.  It now functions as an hourglass around the square. Those open windows are the parts of the Pope's apartments from which he makes his weekly address.

While the Vatican and Italian police do most of the police work in the square, the Swiss Guard can be seen guarding the entrance to the barracks and presumably other locations where access to the Pope may be available. Historically, these were the best mercenaries money could buy.  Now, their function is primarily ceremonial, though they are still tasked with the Pope's safety, like a papal secret service. On the day we were there, they were in their doublets and berets, so we didn't get the full effect of the uniforms.  You could see some of the Medici finery peeking out under the doublets.

After wandering around the square, Chrissy and I took a break and had some gelato for a snack.  It was heavenly!

After seeing St. Peter's Square, we got back on the bus where we drove past Castel Sant'Angelo, AKA The Hadrian Mausoleum,

the Ponte Sistus over the Tiber River, and

the Supreme Court building

before disembarking at Piazza Navona.  The earliest history of this plaza was as a stadium for games, especially chariot races.  Legend has it that Agnes of Rome (then 12 or 13) was dragged naked through this plaza to a brothel when she refused to marry any of several suitors.  The legend says that every man who attempted to rape her during this fiasco was stricken blind.  There are multiple versions of the martyrdom of Agnes, but it is believed she was killed in this plaza.  While the church venerates her for protecting her chastity, I tend to praise her for attempting to protect her autonomy and to direct her own life instead of leading a life as a piece of chattel in a patriarchal society.  But enough with my proselytizing.  As time went on, three fountains were erected in the square.  The Fountain of Neptune is in the north end of the plaza.

In the center of the plaza is Bernini's Fountain of Four Rivers.  I simply could not get a good picture of this fountain, with or without the entire obelisk in it, but it is a very imposing and beautiful fountain.  But, then again, I am partial to Bernini works.

In the same general time period as Bernini was designing the Fountain of Four Rivers, Pope Innocent X ordered the design and construction of a church dedicated to Saint Agnes next to his family's palace.  It was supposed to be their family chapel.  The Pope hired his family's architect, Girolamo Rinaldi and his son, Carlos, to design and build it.  However, father and son could not agree, and after significant arguments, Francesco Borromini was hired to actually complete the project.  Several architects were hired and fired, and Carlos Rinaldi was ultimately the final architect on the church, though most of the work is attributed to Borromini.  Saint Agnes was entombed at a different church outside the city walls, and a church was erected there in her honor.  Most of her bones are still entombed in the catacombs of that church.  Apparently, her skull was moved from there to this church. Pope Innocent has a modest tomb inside, as well.  Unfortunately, time did not allow us to see the inside of this church, but the outside was beautiful.  Disregard our guide's head.

Time also didn't allow us to travel to the south end of the piazza to see the Fontana del Moro.  Instead, we turned west, toward the Italian Senate building with its pharmacy conveniently located right next door.  (Remember that I'm walking on cobblestones in a CAM walker.  I didn't get all the pictures I would have liked.)

Our destination in this walk was the Pantheon.

The Roman Pantheon is believed to have been completed during Hadrian's reign, perhaps as a private temple.  Upon arrival of the Byzantines, Pope Boniface IV converted it into a church consecrated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, a use that continues today.  It's one of the best preserved ancient buildings because it has been in continuous use (with that level of maintenance) since it was erected.  It's a beautiful building.  There is minimal lighting, as the hole in the center of the dome provides much natural light.

With an intentional hole in the roof, there must be a way to handle any precipitation that falls in that spot.  Therefore, the granite floor has holes drilled in various places throughout the rotunda.

Multiple leaders and artists have been entombed here, including Raphael.  I took some pictures and then sat in the pews to rest while listening to our guide, through the headphones provided to us.  It was a nice rest.  Here are some pictures.

When we left the Pantheon, we walked along many narrow cobbled streets lined with little shops and cafes.  In one area, Geppetto/Pinocchio shops were common.  We didn't stop, which was a good thing.  I might have ended up with a wooden Pinocchio if we had.

We also passed by the remains of the Temple of Hadrian.  These Corinthian columns have been incorporated into the building behind it to help preserve them.

We passed wider streets with multiple street performers, street artists, and others hawking their wares.

And we finally arrived at the Trevi Fountain, where we hung out for a period of time, including having lunch.  If you can get down to the fountain itself, you are to throw three coins in the fountain.  The first is to ensure your return to Rome, the second is for a new romance, and the third is for marriage. Of course, you must get down the steps to the fountain first.  I didn't even try it with my boot.

Chrissy and I went back a little alley with one of our tour guides to a cafe recommended by her.  As a group, our choices were limited, but the pizzas were delicious!  On our way out, we passed a restaurant that boasted higher views of the fountain.  That might be a better option if you're in good enough shape to climb stairs and aren't on a tight schedule.  I took this opportunity to take an extra 800 mg of ibuprofen for my foot.

Our walk back to the bus was strenuous.  It was a 30 minute walk, almost entirely uphill.  I could have sworn I took some pictures on the way, but I have none.  We passed Bernini's Fountain of the Bees, the wedding cake church, and the Spanish Steps that I can remember. The wedding cake and the Spanish Steps were in the distance, but we passed right by the Fountain of the Bees.

When we got back to the bus, we headed to the Colosseum.  On the way, we passed by another Bernini fountain,

the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, which was converted from the ruins of a Sicilian Bath house,

some random church that I thought was where Bernini was entombed, but I can't confirm as such because it doesn't like the one on Google, and

we finally turned the corner and saw the Colosseum.

The Colosseum was built over a lake made by Nero during the Flavian Dynasty using the spoils from the Siege of Jerusalem, including slaves.  It was used for games in which gladiators fought animals, prisoners, and other gladiators to the death.  It was badly damaged by fires, earthquakes, and other disasters, and was usually rebuilt or repaired after each.  With the arrival of the Byantines and the fall of the Roman Empire, it was used for several things, including a cemetery, until it was fortified and converted to a castle in the 1200s.  In the 1300s, it suffered major damage from an earthquake and was not repaired.  Instead, the stones were taken for use to build churches and other buildings throughout the city.  It was consecrated as a holy place where Christians had been martyred by Pope Benedict XIV.  Though the Catholic church made multiple attempts at restoring it, Benito Mussolini was the one who fully excavated and reinforced it.  Our tour didn't include skip the line tickets and the line was several hours long, so we only saw the exterior.  There is a gate on the grounds, and the Palatine Hill overlooks the Colosseum.  We did not go to the Palatine Hill, but many of the structures were visible from the grounds of the Colosseum.

After the last walk back to the bus, I needed a nap before heading back to the boat.  I definitely appreciated those ice packs the hospital on the boat sold me, even though they only lasted about 50 minutes.