Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An Italian Escapade

The beautiful Marina is waiting in Civitavecchia

We were looking forward to re-board the beautiful cruise ship Marina, just waiting for us in Civitavecchia (the seaport to Rome). The journey from Florence to Rome and on to Civitavecchia went without a hitch - Italian rail efficiency! Once again we enjoyed the comfortable first class service on both trains and arrived at the port of Civitavecchia around lunch time. Having sat on the trains for a few hours, we were more than happy to walk the distance from the station to the port. It was a bit tough getting off the platform to the exit as there were no lifts. For many older and less mobile passengers, this was quite an ordeal and was the less enjoyable part of our travel experience.

It did not improve when we arrived at the entrance to the port where we were advised to wait for the Marina shuttle to take us, along with other passengers and their luggage, to the ship. It was hot! There was no shelter, no seating and many older folk were most uncomfortable. Many buses turned up, but none for the Marina. There must have been a couple of hundred passengers waiting to transfer. To make things worse, when a bus finally arrived, passengers waiting to  board other cruise ships jumped on as well. It was a shambles! But, in the end we all managed to get to the check-in, where it took no time getting on board. We were welcomed in our suite with a bottle of champagne. Cheers!!
 It felt like 'Home sweet Home'!
 Civitavecchia is a busy port with many cruise ships. 
No wonder it took time to get to our ship!
Farewell! We are slowly sailing out to sea.

Talk about glittering sapphires, rubies, diamonds and other jewels! Our Italian Escapade was all those and more as we sailed the Mediterranean along the Italian coast. The weather was outstanding! The views magic! The colours clear and vibrant! We loved the company of others and soon made friends with fellow travellers.

Our first port of call was Livorno, which for us was an opportunity to catch-up with ourselves! We had been on the move for over a month and were looking forward to just being on board, rest, eat & drink, and say g'day to others. Livorno is a destination port to visit places like Florence & Siena. Having just come from there and travelled through Tuscany, we did not have the urge to see more of the same so soon, even though they are great places to revisit.

The map following gives some idea where we were heading. While I marked the coastal road from Sorrento to Amalfi and Sicily, it is only to remind ourselves of this amazing coastline. These three destination are unbelievably beautiful and are true jewels in the southern Italian crown (or is it the Italian Boot?).
Our route (on water - of course!) from Sorrento to Sicily.
Nearing our first destination - Sorrento.
Scenery along the way.
Getting close.
Arriving at Sorrento, other cruise ships had already dropped anchor.
This five-master looked magic!


What a gorgeous place and how different in every way, including the terrain, the architecture, the roads etc. First impressions lasted throughout our visit. To assist me in remembering the details of our visit to Sorrento, I will use our Cruise Vacation Guide, issued by Oceania. It contains some great information which I will use selectively.

Sorrento is situated on  an escarpment, overlooking the splendid Almalfi Coast, and is imbued with charm and echoes of the ancient past. Its position is perfect, 'affording a stunning panorama of the Bay of Naples. Curving along the coastlines, erosion has carved the rock-face over the centuries into the majestic crags that climb to the skyline, forming the world-renowned beauty of the Amalfi coast. Amalfi's legendary origins derive from the word 'sirens' or 'mermaids', mythical creatures with celestial voices and a hideous aspect, whose hands and songs lured unsuspecting sailors to the terror of the rocks, breaking ships and wreaking romantic and tragic havoc.'

The clifftop town of Sorrento - with its alfresco cafes, 19th-century villas-turned-hotels, warrens of old city shopping streets and coastal views is indeed a picturesque place to spend a relaxing day ashore - or perhaps not so relaxing as one wishes to see it all!

Sorrento wears its history on its sleeve - 'a 10th-century church here, a 14th-century cloister there, a 15th-century loggia across the way. It is said that Europe's elite came here on their Grand Tours and sang the praises of this seaside spot.'
The easiest way up is by bus on a road with hair-pin bends!
Charm & Simplicity! The qualities needed for simple pleasures!

Or simply, to share in or observe a game of cards.
Quaint and  restful!
With produce fresh from the country.
Not to be left out. These gorgeous ceramic gifts.
The variety of goods offered made our time here too short!
Lemons mean LIMONCELLO! Bring it on!
Stunning panorama of the Bay of Naples
We soaked it all up. Loved it!
Sorrento's 'sun-drenched' rustic simplicity!
Churches remain a constant focus, carefully watched over by the statue of the late.......
Pope John Paul.
With reverence and quietness.

And what better way to conclude a great day at Sorrento.


Waking up the following morning, we were already at anchor. It isn't far from Sorrento. Once again, we were struck by the beauty of this region and quite understood why it has been a popular destination over many years. The coast is surrounded by dramatic cliffs and outstanding scenery. 

Early morning in Amalfi. Colours vary so dramatically!


That five-master cropped up several times. Looks the part in this setting!


Once again, the ship used its tenders to get guests to shore.

We were ready to explore this place which, our Cruise Director told us, was 'the capital of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi and was an important trading power in the Mediterranean between 839 and 1200.' Obviously, it is a popular destination with cruise ships calling in during the tourist season. We believe it is a place that deserves a lot more than a day. If we had the opportunity, we would stay for a fortnight and explore both the town and its surroundings and enjoy the food & drink, the people, delving more into its history. Alas! This was not our lot on this occasion.

We chose to walk  towards the high peaks first and in so doing, passed and photographed many delightful buildings.
Let's head for those hills. 

But not before stopping in our tracks to look at the stunning Cathedral of St Andrew:
"St. Andrew's Cathedral is steeped in history and believed to originate from as far back as the 10th century.  Over the years, the Cathedral has been rebuilt and remodeled a number of times, the most recent being in the latter part of the 19th century. Inside, it is claimed that the cathedral's namesake, St. Andrew, is buried in the crypt. His remains were reportedly brought to Amalfi from Constantinople in 1206 during the Fourth Crusade by Cardinal Peter of Capua.

Sixty-two steps, wide and steep, lead up to the doors. Cast in Constantinople before 1066, and signed by Simeon of Syria, the cathedral's bronze doors are the earliest in Italy of post-Roman manufacture.
The front facade was rebuilt in 1891 after the original one collapsed. It is of striped marble and stone with open arches that have lace detailing not commonly found in Italian sacred architecture while the tiled cupola is quite common amongst churches of the area. The tympanum's mosaics portray “The triumph of Christ” in a work created by Domenico Morelli."
The above pic is quite amazing showing the cathedral tower,
 plus the ruins of Torre dello Ziro. (see below)
The mosaic facade is really eye-catching and quite stunning!

Our walk took us up the steps (very tiring), through Amalfi suburbia:

A different way of life and very charming!
Heading to the hills!
Passing beasts of burden. Four-wheel drive in a different form!
Very essential!
And along the way, beasts from another world we know so well!
Perhaps, not quite so useful!
How far do we go? Me-thinks, enough!
But how idyllic!
Now, up there is a location! Torre dello Ziro.
"Torre dello Ziro - the Dukedom of Amalfi, is an ancient watch tower, halfway between Ravello and Amalfi which, according to local legend, was the theatre for the most sinister of events. 
Locally produced brochures tell us that in the early 16th century, Giovanna D'Aragona, the Duchess of Amalfi, and her children were locked up in the tower. Giovanna was accused of having an affair with the court butler, soon after her Duke husband died. The relationship caused such a scandal that the Duchess's brothers decided to imprison their sister and her children in the tower, where they were murdered." Not nice!
While we did not get up that far, we have no doubt it has the most magnificent views and would have been ideal as a watchtower to guard against attack by Saracen pirates.
Apart from an occasional local, we had the place to ourselves, enjoying the quietness and the ambience of a place so far from home in Tassie. We felt very blessed, especially when we came across this idyllic garden resplendent with a waterfall.
Most beautiful, sharing it with a special person!

Contrasts everywhere!

Finally, back where we started with art and history all around us. Bring it on!!
By now, as you can no doubt imagine, we were ready to sit down, have a well-earned drink.
Amalfi ice cream was just the thing!  

Amalfi is a seafaring town and fishing was obviously a big part in its history. The following scene in one of the streets is testimony to that:
Beauty and activities of the past!

Could we have asked for a better day? Enjoy with us the beautiful coastline of Amalfi!
Torre dello Ziro, dominant on the hill overlooking the town
Some idea how steep it is! Excellent road engineering that allows for modern traffic.
With the five-master, it makes for great photos!

I am sure that the locals enjoyed the ambience as much as we did. 
Not sure about the pebble beach.

It is time to say goodbye to this wonderful place. Would love to come back and explore it more thoroughly and enjoy other delights of the Amalfi coast. But for now, it's time to set sail in company with the 5-master.

And set sail we did (or they did)!

Along with another brilliant sunset!

Naxos (Taormina)

The final in this trilogy is our visit to Naxos (Taormina) in Sicily. Another most interesting and historical town with far too much to see in a few hours. But that did not stop us from enjoying this stop.

Taormina is a small town that has a history dating back to about 740 BC and is settled on a lofty hill along the coast of Cape Pelorus. The old town is about 250 meters above the sea. Going up further by another 150 meters or so is the Saracen castle, which would have been nice to visit, but regrettably that was just a little too energetic to attempt in the short time available. Instead, we relaxed and explored this town with its amazing views, old churches, Italian outdoor eateries, shops and, of course, limoncello. So, come along with us and share our experience .

As viewed from our ship - 250 meters to the town and 400 meters to Saracen castle!
A beautiful villa in a fantastic position overlooking the Ionian Sea

This delightful church felt like a small parish church.
A close up of the bell tower.

The interior is so different from most churches. Love it!

By contrast, San Giuseppe church on the Piazza IX April. 
Note the lovely patterned paving.
Another 150 meters further up, like Golgotha, a cross that points to Jesus Christ!

It does not matter where you look, architecture and history in a fantastic setting!

Mount Etna - only 42 kilometers away, beckons me to stay much longer.
It is Europe's largest active volcano and is only 45 minutes drive away. 
Curses, we have no time!

It is time to get close and intimate with both the town and its people!

Like this lovely elderly lady, watching all the tourist go by!

Or perhaps, becoming chummy with these new friends!

The inevitable shops in a great setting!

Just have to love this town!

Time to leave and catch a taxi back to the waterfront.

The lady near the tree above, compliments the scenery so well. Cool!
As the T-shirt says, 'With a great moustache come great responsibility!'
That looks like a cruise with a difference. Something for the future?!

Time for the pilot to leave us. 

Back on our own and on the way to Corfu in Greece. See you there!