Western Mediterranean Cruise- April 2004


Sat. April 3rd, 2004- Amherst, N.Y.


          We were up early. It was rainy and 40 degrees out. We had finished packing the evening before, so we had time to stop at a nearby restaurant  and had bagels and coffee, while reading the paper.  At 11:30, A.M. Theresa Miceli called. The Limo that was to pick all of us up had not arrived yet. Further calls to the business evidenced that they did not even have us on their schedule. Ai caramba!


        A few phone calls, and a hurry up shift on the Limo companies part, and we were all in the stretch limo headed for Toronto. I hope this wasn’t an omen of the trip to come. Traffic was light, at the peace bridge and on the Queen Elizabeth Expressway, so we breezed into Toronto’s Pearson airport in 90 minutes, well in time for all of us to relax and check in for our afternoon flights. The Miceli's were headed for Milan and then on to Positano. We were headed for Roma. We made our goodbyes, wishing each other a hearty bon voyage.


      We were leaving from terminal #3 and found the BOAC counter there to check our bags in. We were early and had time for coffee and muffins in an airport kiosk. The pedestrian traffic was brisk for a mid Sat. afternoon. The Caribbean flights all fly out of Toronto in the early hours of the day and the European flights in the early evening hours. At 4:45 P.M. we boarded our BOAC flight for London’s Heathrow airport and promptly off lifted at 5:10 P.M., as scheduled.


     The flight lasted seven hours and was uneventful. I was reading “Gold Coast” by De Mille. The plane was “sro,” every seat was filled.A few of the piccolo mostro (little monsters) squawked a bit during the flight but it went quickly enough. We touched down in London at Heathrow and deplaned at terminal # 4. We then had to shuttle to terminal #1 for the continuing flight to Roma. It was here that we encountered the curious version of what we were to call “beat the clock.” Terminal # 1 is the jump site for many of the shorter European flights from London. We bought a cappuccino and sat down, trying to figure out what gate we would leave from. No one yet knew, as we were to find out.


     You sit in a large bull-pen, surrounded by shops and eateries. All passengers casually look up at a large electronic tote board that lists gate assignments. About 30 minutes before your scheduled departure, your plane is assigned a gate. At that instant, the entire passenger compliment, for that flight, drops what they are doing and sprints for the assigned gate, some as far as a 15 minute walk away. The entire herd races to that gate and stands breathlessly in line waiting to board. How the heck the luggage guys can figure this out and bring the right baggage to the quickly assigned gate appeared to be problematic, as we were to find out. (sometimes they couldn’t)


     The two and one half hour flight to Roma was pleasant enough. I could see the white cliffs of Dover as we crossed over the English channel and flew across to France. The neatly outlined farms, of the French country side, flashed below us in a well ordered array. Then, the Italian Alps crowded the skyline.They are hills of the craggy and black granite variety, much like our own Rocky Mountains. The hills were laden with snow beneath us as we soared over them.They looked cold, jagged and forbidding. Then, the Mediterranean and the Italian coast hove into view. The Apennines extend down the spine of Italy, appearing like some great skeleton on an exhibit, in a natural history museum. We were approaching Roma’s Fumincino airport from the sea. Touchdown was easy. We followed the crowd to a bus that took us towards the customs area. Unfortunately, we delayed a bit and were over run by the arriving hordes. Three hundred people descended upon three customs agents at the same time. It was pushy-shovey for 30 minutes until we managed to get our passports stamped. Then the real fun began.


     The luggage carousel came up short by about 100 bags or so from London. It seems that they had left an entire baggage cart,  from our flight, at Heathrow during one of the “beat the clock “ scenarios. We shrugged and headed for the BOAC office to make a claim for our bags. The line was long and passengers were annoyed,some engaging in delightful histrionics, replete with loud voices and wild gestures. Tired as we were, we enjoyed the theater. We waited resignedly for our turn and then filled out the appropriate forms, with the besieged agent at the desk. I wouldn’t want his job on this day. We had had the foresight to pack some essential in our carry-ons and weren’t too disturbed at the loss of our luggage. It is one of the pitfalls of travel.The airlines are usually pretty good about getting your lost bags to you in the next 24 hours.


     We found the second-story, enclosed  passageway, that leads from the three airport terminals to the Airport Hilton.We walked its length, passing the rail terminal, where we found an ATM and got some needed Euros.  We were fast tiring with the day and were glad that a bed was nearby. We checked in with little effort into the Hilton. They were charging us 160 Euros for the first night and NCL was paying for the two nights after that. We showered, cleaned up and enjoyed the relaxed feeling of no where to go. We were dead tired and trying to stay awake. We dressed and hiked back to the airport, enjoying the sun and 58 degree temperatures.The exercise felt good on cramped muscles. An overlarge, bronzed statue of Leonardo Da Vinci stands nearby, welcoming arrivals to the airport. We admired it for the temporal juxtaposition of then and now.


    Back at the Hilton, we discovered the hotel pool and decided to go for a swim. The place has fully equipped exercise rooms and saunas as well. It felt wonderful to exercise and float in the water after a long trip. We showered after the swim and then dressed for dinner. We had decided to eat at the Hotel’s “Taverna,”  rather than risk ramming around the area when we were this tired. The restaurant was pleasant enough. We had some decent Chianti, very tasty caesar salads and bread, with cappuccinos afterwards. The tab was a hefty 75 euros. It would be our last meal at the Hilton, too pricey for us.


       It was still light outside at 7:30 P.M.,  but we were “stanke morte” (dead tired) so we retired to the room to read and crash. About 10 P.M. a bell boy brought Mary’s luggage to our room. At least one of us would be dressed well on the morrow. We collapsed into a dreamless sleep of crowds, noisy children and the other bugaboos of travel crowding our heads. We were happy to have returned to the Eternal City, whatever it took us to get us here.


Monday-  April 5th, 2004- Rome, Italy


     We arose early, the differences in time zones not yet acclimated into our circadian rhythms. It was cloudy, 52 degrees and cool outside.At 7:30 A.M. the bell boy brought my missing luggage to the room. That was a pleasant surprise. We dressed for the day and walked the half mile over to the airport terminal.Throngs of people were scurrying about. We recognized the bleary look in some of their eyes and knew that they had just flown in from far away.


      We bought some cappuccino and croissants, in an airport restaurant, and watched the giant aerial behemoths land and take off in this busy airport. Sounds of French, Italian, Spanish and several other languages swam around our ears as we sat musing about where we were. Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome lay some 5 kilometers from us. My minds eye could picture the parade of legions and cornucopia of other traffic that had passed this way before us in the 2700 years of Rome’s history.


     The Hilton runs a regular shuttle into Rome, so we caught the first available at 10:00 A.M.. The 40 minute ride into Roma was instructive. Most of the surrounding land is under cultivation with food crops. We saw no dairy farms at all. The remaining spaces are crowded by large brick apartment complexes, stretching all along the train line that runs from the airport to Rome. Traffic was predictably heavy. We watched amused at the scores of “smart cars” and compacts scurried in and out of the congestion, jockeying for position in the moving metal stream. The bus let us off on the Piazza Campodoglio, just behind the Vittorio Emmanuel II monument, that enormous “wedding cake” that seems to dominate all of the Roman skyline. We smiled, remembering the last time we were here with the Meads. We had momentarily mistaken the Capitoline steps for the “Spanish Steps,” until corrected by a friendly tourist.


      We climbed these ancient steps, enjoying the surreal experience of viewing the huge sculptures flanking the stairs headway and wondering at the many who had come this way throughout the ages. At the top of the steps, we crossed a small terrace and looked down into the elegant rubble that is the remains of the Roman Forum. Once, this small area had been graced with rows of gleaming white marble structures, the business, commerce and affairs of much of the western world had been waged here daily. Now, it took an active imagination to look into the dustbin of history and see what once was mighty Rome. We looked at the stone remains and were impressed at their antiquity. Throngs of tourists, from all over the globe, swirled around us in a multi-cultural sea that was dizzying to the ear. We walked along the Via Sacra, that cobbled path that runs from the Coliseum to the Forum. We wondered again at the many parades of conquering armies that had this way trod, dazed captives, strange animals and other trophies of victory shepherded before them, to the delight of the cheering throngs. The echo of this lay all around us in the sub concious.  I wondered what it must be like here at dawn and sunset, the time when ages and eras blur into one another.


    Just up the rise, behind the triumphant arch of Constantine, we could see the now familiar broken circle of the remains of the coliseum. Its several tiers, all filled with open arches, even now reminds me of the many sports arenas we had visited. The ground level arches were each numbered to facilitate spectators. The “cheap seats,” the “end zones of antiquity,” were on the upper levels. Not much of anything but ancient rubble lay inside. The Romans had staged sea battles, gladiator contests and all manner of spectator sports in these halls. I could picture the Romans arriving late, complaining of the heavy chariot traffic, as the sat in their assigned seats, waving at acquaintances and craning their necks to see what dignitaries now sat on the elevated dais. The Romans had even engineered a means of stretching a huge canvass across the top of the structure, when the high sun of summer was beating down on the arena. The screams of enthusiasm now lay embedded in the brown stone rubble. Scores of generations of Romans had stripped the gleaming facade of its white marble. Now, it lay like an ancient and broken sign post pointing faintly to a grandeur that once was Rome.


     All around the coliseum, a cadre of Africans were hawking cheap souvenirs of all sorts. They were the latest generation of immigrants that had come to the eternal city. We dodged their insistent sales pitches and walked out onto the Via Imperiali, walking towards the Vittorio Emmanuel II monument. The Coliseum looked majestic, as we looked over our shoulders, like some ancient mirage that would vanish the moment we stopped looking. At the V.E.II monument, we turned onto the Via Corso. Shoppers and all manner of tourists and natives crowded this boulevard. We walked along enjoying the sunshine, the cultural differences and each others company. We were following signs for the “Trevi Fountain,” a must for any visitor to Rome. The signs, on the corners of buildings, were well laid out and easy to follow. We soon found ourselves standing before Bernini’s masterpiece. Throngs of other tourists from everywhere stood around us, as we too pitched coins backwards over our shoulders in hope of returning to Rome yet again.We had done this twice before and returned each time, so maybe the magic works. We watched and enjoyed the tourists, from many countries, snapping pictures of the fountain and each other. The buildings all around the piazza are replete with papal insignia and looked impossibly old to us, pilgrims from a land where three hundred years is a long time.


     Hunger was gnawing at us, so we stopped at a cute little trattoria labeled “planet pizza.” We ordered two slices of pizza and continued on, walking the narrow streets as we munched on our pizza. We stopped to admire “Trajan’s Column” from across the via Corso. The fascination of Rome is that you stumble upon these grand and ancient monuments so casually when you turn a street corner. We were headed to the most famous meeting spot in all of Rome, The “Spanish Steps.” They are a series of broad stone stairways that lead from the Piazza Espanga to the five-star Hotel Hassler, once the site of the Villa Medici, with its distinctive twin towers. The venerable hotel was now getting a much needed face lift. It’s facade was covered by screen netting. The Spanish Ambassador to Italy had once lived in a villa, just off these steps, giving them their name. The English poet, John Keats, had once lived here as well. Now, throngs of people from everywhere come by daily and sit on the stairs, admiring the view and enjoying the throngs that come to sit by them.


    We sat for a time, watching the tourists, and enjoying the sunshine and 62 degree temperatures. Then, we set out over the very pricey Via Condotti, browsing the windows of Bvlgari, Gucci, Ferragamo and a score of other trendy shops. We were headed in the distance towards the Fiume Tiber and  the Piazza Navona, another famous gathering place and site of three majestic Bernini fountains. We enjoyed the shops and the different language on the stores and signs along the way. We hung a left onto the Via Zannardelli and walked into the PIazza Navona. It is a long rectangle with fountains at either end and one in the middle. Restaurants, small hotels  and shops surround the periphery of the cobbled piazza. They set out their chairs, under awnings, and wait for the tourists to come and sit in the Roman sun, dining and watching each other. We sat for a time near the “Four Rivers” fountain and admired the artistry of the Master Bernini. People from everywhere walked, sat and cavorted in the piazza. We sought out and found the ‘Four Rivers” Trattoria. We had eaten there on our last visit. We were seated by deferential waiters and ordered, in our best Italian, Minestrone zuppa, pizza, with aqua minerale and cappuccino. We ate slowly and enjoyed our surroundings and each other, never forgetting who we are and how far we had come to be sitting here under the Roman sun.The tab was a reasonable 40 euros. They automatically include a 12 per cent service charge onto your bill. The custom is to leave a few per cent extra on the table as and added gratuity.


      After lunch, we walked about the piazza, enjoying the controlled tumult and browsing the artists with their easels  and the colorful souvenir vendors. We were tempted to enter the ‘Tre Scalini” and order “Tartuffo,” that wonderful roman delight that is “fried ice cream,” but passed on the opportunity in the interests of fitting into our clothes.


      We were becoming foot weary from the line of march, but headed southeast from the Piazza Navona, in search of the fabled Pantheon. We wandered the back alleys, consulting our trusty map and once asking a merchant for directions.The trouble with asking questions in passable Italian is that the hearer assumes you speak the language fluently and rattles off a response in rapid fashion. We smiled, strained to understand and thanked the man for “su aiuto” (his help) As a parenthetical, I don’t know that we have ever found a people as gracious, patient and willing to help as we have the Italians. They are as sunny natured as their weather and pleasant always to be around.


     Soon, we turned a corner and stood still for a moment, appreciating the classic lines of the Pantheon, a former pagan temple that had been constructed in 183 A.D. It is now a Catholic Church. It has classic greek columns in the front and a large dome that has at its center and open “occuli” that lets light enter the dimly lit church. The marble floors are in rather good condition for so old a building. The painted frescoes and saints statues had replaced the many ancient and pagan deities that had once adorned the niches in the walls. It is an interesting religious and cultural transition that we were viewing. We admired the smooth marble and artistic workmanship and pondered for a time the march of civilizations that had come here to worship throughout the centuries, each praying to a “god” that they held dear. I wonder if any of then considered the similarities of their exercise rather that the dissimilarities?


     From the Pantheon, we followed our map to the Via Corso and headed back towards that huge monument dominating the skyline, the Vittorio Emmanuel II, in the Piazza Venezia. The annoying buzz of those pesky little motor cycles, called vespas, was all around us. You got so your ear could hear them approach and you knew you had to run like hell to get out of their way. We sat in a small park on the Piazza Venezia and looked out over the monument with its huge Italian flags wafting in the afternoon breeze. The sky was an impossibly bright blue and the sun was shining brightly. It was one of those magical moments when you are very glad to be alive and with a loved one.


      We walked the small and narrow streets nearby, looking in on the small vegetable and food shops. We found a small grocery and purchased a bottle of decent Chianti for 10 euros. We were aging foot soldiers in the ranks of tourist warriors and tiring with the day. We walked back to the Piazza Campodiglio, where our bus would pick us up. We sat in the Antico cafe and enjoyed a cappuccino, looking out over the ancient Theater Marcello, another gracious ruin where the Caesars had enjoyed theater productions. Intrigued, we wandered over and walked amidst the ruins. It is shaped like a mini coliseum,but in much better shape. We ran into two elderly New Zealand women who were in search of the Circus Maximus. Sadly, I informed them that it existed now but in their memories from that classic chariot race scene in “Ben Hur.” What was left was now a large rectangular park area, overlooked by the ancient palaces on the Capitoline Hill. They thanked us for the information and directions. We were becoming old roman hands, giving directions here and there.


      At 4:15 P.M. we caught our bus back to the Airport Hilton. We relaxed in the room, wrote up our notes and then went for an invigorating swim in the hotel’s pool. We had eaten heavily at lunch and decided to forgo dinner this evening. We could even now sense the caloric tide of the coming cruise. After our swim, we read our books and soon fell into the arms of Morpheus, where we slept like dead alligators in a swamp, for a blissful eight hours.


Tuesday, April 6th- Roma, Italia


    We arose early, at 7 A,M, rested from the long sleep. We showered and prepped for the day.NCL was putting on a buffet breakfast in the hotel for the early cruise ship passengers. We walked down through the lobby. It was busy with flight crews coming and going and scores of other travelers from everywhere.The airport location is ideal for weary passengers arriving from all points of the globe.


     The buffet occupied two sides of an enormous dining room. Three hundred and fifty cruise passengers had booked a few days in Rome and were expected this morning. We walked down the trough, trying not to look and feel like horses with feed bags on. We sat down with a couple from Toronto and had a pleasant conversation.He is a retired fire fighter and she works in food service. We chatted for a bit, as we grazed, and agreed to meet for dinner later in the week. It was 62 degrees and sunny out. We were looking forward to another day in the eternal city.


     The ten o’clock bus into Rome looked like the Kowloon ferry at rush hour, so we opted to walk over to the train station to catch the express run into stazione terminal. For 9.5 euros each, we bought round trip tickets in and out of Roma. For another 4 euros each, we bought all day bus and subway passes for Rome. The clerk was patient, kind and helpful. The train was just about to leave the station,  so we sprinted down the track and jumped on board just as the conductor gave the engineer the wave off.


     The train was crowded with new arrivals to Rome. Luggage was stacked in compartments at the rear of each car. We found a seat and enjoyed the ride in. The scenery along the route in is pastoral and primarily agricultural. Complexes of brick condos and apartments signaled the arrival of the local stations, which we breezed through without stopping. We crossed over the Tiber River and smaller streams, noting the unique triangular, truss-supports on some of the more rural bridges. It was like sitting through a travelogue on a television channel.


     At Stazione Terminal, we detrained and walked through the large terminal that connects the surface railways with the two principal subway lines which crisscross underneath Roma. We sought out and found the “A” line that would take us up to the Vatican and the Chiesa San Pietro (St. Peter’s) The signage was well marked and intelligible. We found our way easily enough. The cars were filled with Romans going to work. We hung on to over head straps and looked out into the gloomy subway, eyes unseeing like the most veteran romans. At the Ottaviano station, we got off and walked up the stairs to the busy boulevard above. The street was awash with people going to work and throngs more, even at this early hour, headed to the Vatican.


     We drifted on the peopled flow, enjoying the sights and sounds around us. We could see the walls of  Vatican city up ahead of us and the huge dome of Saint Peter’s against the skyline. Four blocks over, we spilled into one of the most famous squares in the modern world.The Piazza San Pietro was already crowded with pilgrims by mid morning. Long lines waited to get into the Vatican museum and its moist desired visual prize, the Sistina Chapella (Sistine Chapel). We had already viewed this wonder on a previous visit and were not ungrateful that we didn’t have to stand in the two-hour long line.



      Even the entrance into St. Peter’s held a long line of pilgrims, school children on holiday and other penitents from the four corners of the globe. We walked about the piazza enjoying the semi-circle of the grand columns with their statues of popes and saints standing atop them. The appeared  for all the world like a semi circle of stone hawkers calling forth the faithful to come in and see what was cooking inside. Mary bought some souvenirs from the push cart vendors. We had purchased rosaries on a previous trip and wondered again at the whole “blessed at the vatican” scam. Now, I understood more fully the Nazarene’s notions about “throwing the money changers out of the temple.”


      The clouds had gathered above us and it was cooling off with the promise of rain. We were debating where we would head next, when we noticed that the line had lessened for St. Peter’s. We jumped into line and soon were admitted into the venerable wonder that is the church of St. Peter. The Pieta immediately caught our attention as we entered. We admired the mastery in stone of a mother grieving for her crucified son. We had been here twice before, but stood silently in awe of  Michaelangelo’s white-marble epiphany.


     The crowds had lessened for a bit, perhaps the lunch bell had rung? We ogled the monuments to popes along the wall, each  bas relief  grander than the next. A line was gathered near a tombed figure with an open, glass side, so we stood patiently in line to see what drew the attention. It was the very small and mummified corpse of Pope John XXIII. He had loomed large in my child hood and now I was here staring at his elegantly clad remains, like some rural Russian first encountering Lenin’s tomb in Red Square in Moscow.


       The four, huge  “pillars of St. Peter” stand in their wooded splendor, for all the world like an outsized throne for some race of giants. The frescoes on the walls, the gilded and painted windows and the wealth of two thousand years held us in awe. This place was meant to capture your attention and it did that in spades.


      Next, we came upon one of the ancient Italian Monsignors celebrating mass at one of the side chapels. We sat through the mass understanding much and received communion, saying a prayer for Brother’s Paddy’s repose. I figured a mass and a lighted candle at the Vatican might give him some juice in the far beyond. And if it didn’t,  it would at least give us and the family some emotional surcease.


      After Mass, we espied another anomaly. The line for the underground tomb of St. Peter was empty. We scurried over to the entrance to the underground crypt, thankful for the empty bellies of the many pilgrims who now donned the noon feedbag. The circular stairway leading underground is lined in marble and very narrow. A touch of claustrophobia reared its ugly head until I willed it away. Then, we were standing in from of a glassed-in sepulcher that reputedly holds the remains of the founder of the catholic church, the rock upon which Christ had built his earthly church, Peter, the fisherman.


      Even the sophisticated stand here quietly unsure of exactly what they are seeing, but respectful of the idea that the remains of so noteworthy a historical figure lay just a few yards away in plain sight. I said a brief prayer for all of those whom we had lost and moved on to the marbled hallway. Here, we encountered what the early egyptian explorers must have found. A long marble hallway, opened every few yards into a grotto with a marble sarcoughogus that housed the remains of another Pope. It was a funereal rota of some of the most powerful figures in modern history. I looked on amused and amazed at what i was seeing, as the temporal veil of two thousand years of recent history raced through my mind. Even the valley of the kings, in the upper Nile, did not hold so important a funerary. As in most situations, when you find yourself overwhelmed by what you see, it soon becomes normal. We walked the length of the funeral chamber to its end where thoughtful officials had provided restrooms for the throngs. We walked out into the Piazza San Pietro and immediately noted the colorful costumes of the Swiss Guard, with their razor sharp pikes, standing before the entrance to Vatican city. These hardy warriors are all trained infantrymen from the Swiss Army, who stand ready to rock and roll, with whatever comes their way, to protect the pope and Vatican City. In past ages, their duty had not been ceremonial in the many times that both Rome and the Vatican had been under siege, from some particularly surly invader bent on plunder and mayhem. In leaving St. Peter’s, it seemed as if a trance had been broken and we returned to the present day.


     We walked up the nearest boulevard to the Tiber, in search of one of the more storied edifices in Rome, the Castle San Angelo. It is a  circular and high walled fortress that has served in different eras as a castle for the Caesar’s, a prison, a church and now a stone monument to antiquity. For 5 euros each, we entered and walked around the inside periphery of this two thousand year old castle. The stone work had been mended throughout  the years, but reflected differing styles of stones and means of repair from the many eras of its menders. Jail cell doors, with their iron locks, stood out on the ground floor. Inside, we followed the circular walkway that rose gradually up the 90 some feet into the air, to the castles battlements high above us.The ramp was designed to carry popes and caesars in coaches ,high above us, where they could be walled in from besieging marauders. A tunnel even supposedly exited underground.It ran from the vatican, some blocks over, to the fortress where popes could retreat in times of attack. The edifice inside was dark and medieval.


    We emerged into a small courtyard, at the top of the castle, where a statue of St., Michael the archangel, stands ready to protect all with his sword and shield. A small pile of stone cannonballs lay next to what must have been the remains of a medieval catapult, used  to bomb the attackers with. Off the courtyard lies a circular verandah that overlooks all of Rome.We sat for a bit and enjoyed the view, then found a tiny cafe where we had a cappuccino with other pilgrims who visiting the fortress.


       On our way down, we espied several small exhibit rooms where huge “blunder busses” and small cannon of many sorts lay on exhibit.Their fired lead must have cut down many attacking marauders in ages past. Now, they were but museum oddities. We retraced our path, down the circular ramp, and exited onto the esplanade along the Tiber, replete with cadres of africans hawking all manner of souvenirs.


       We walked for a bit along the Tiber. A few tug boats and a single scull, powered by a lone oarsman, were all that broke the surface of this venerable and storied river. We were heading away from the touristed throngs. The ornate facade  of the Palace of Justice, just up ahead, looks like something from 19th century Paris, in its dirty-gray limestone majesty. Huge figures of a chariot and riders pirouetted on its roof. Everything in this city seems to be larger than life.


       We crossed the Tiber at the Ponte Cavour and walked three blocks over to the Via Corso.We were headed for one of the more spacious and beautiful Piazzas in Rome, the Piazza Del Poppolo. It is round in shape and runs about  two hundred yards across. A large stele dominates the the fountain at its very center. Part of the ancient wall of Rome, with its standing city gate, frames the North side of the piazza. A 60 foot high cliff, with grecian columned buildings,  marks the eastern edge of the Villa Borghese and frame much of the remainder of the piazza. Twin churches on antiquity, now banks, guard the entrance to the Via Corso to the South, and the rest of Rome. We sat by the fountain, listening to a musical group playing nearby, and enjoying the  whole panoply of activities that swirled around us in this huge meeting place in Rome. We always do a double blink when we find ourselves in places like this, to remind us that we are really here and not meandering in some day dream in a place far away.


       The Villa Borgese, and its surrounding parkland, looked interesting to us. We slowly climbed the winding steps, to its heights, noting the occasional bum sleeping in the park bushes. This was not a place I would want to find myself after dark. At its peak, we looked out over the Piazza del Poppolo and enjoyed the view of much of Rome. You can see much of the city from this ridge of parkland. Further down the parkway we knew lay the hotel Hassler at the top of the imposing Spanish Steps.



     The Parkland is well cared for and looks like a pleasant spot for Romans to gather on a spring or summer’s day. We walked along the parkway, dodging the odd service truck, and admired the imposing bulk of the Villa Borghese, sitting on a hill above us. It is a functioning museum, with a collection of intersting sculptures and art works, but we were tiring with the day and wanted to push on. The French National Academy sits along this roadway and is also impressive. Then, we came upon the top of the Spanish steps and the storied Hotel Hassler and a few other four star and elegant small hotels. We thought about stopping at the Hotel Hassler for coffee or a drink, but  were convinced that they would recognize me for a scoundrel and give us the heave ho. We walked about, enjoying the many artists who were painting alfresco portraits of the tourists, much like the Place du Tetre, behind Sacre Cour, in Paris. It was getting late in the afternoon and we were thinking about making our way back across the city to the stazione terminal and the train back to the airport Hilton.


       We walked down the Spanish step to the Piazza Espagna. A group of Spanish school kids were singing happy birthday to one of their group amidst much laughter. A swirl of languages provided an auditory bath for our ears, as we walked amid the crowds, enjoying the life and laughter of so many around us. We found the subway entrance nearby and walked down into the bowels of Rome, to catch the “A” train back to the terminal. The subway was crowded to the rafters. Musicians were playing on the train and circulating with cups. looking for donations. We hung  onto our overhead straps and tried to enjoy this slice of crowded roman life. A few stops up the line, and we were back in the terminal. A stop in the rest rooms proved amusing. They no longer asked for tips in the loo, they had sliding doors that only opened to admit one, if you inserted .60 euros in a slot . A change machine dispensed the correct change. We got some small coins and visited the loo. Every day here is a new experience.


       We stopped by a station restaurant and bought some wonderful vegetable paninis (sandwiches) for later. Then, we walked the length of the terminal to find the surface trains. The conductor was just getting ready to flag the engineer as we approached. He waved us on, and we again sprinted to catch the express train to Fumicino. It was sro (standing room only) with departing tourists and their luggage. We found a spot where we could hang from over head straps and enjoyed the ride back to the Airport.


      Tiring with the day, we relaxed in our room, while I wrote up my notes. I signed up for an hour with the hotels internet station ( 20 euros) and sent a number of messages to friends and relatives across the ether of cyberspace. We had to ask how the Italian key board works, to find the ampersand symbol that is used in e-mail addresses. It is different from US keyboards. That solved, I sent my messages forth.



       We enjoyed another swim in the hotel pool and then stopped by the hotel’s atm for another 100 euros. What the hell, this is Rome! The lobby was awash with businessmen, attending some conference or other, and hundreds of other cruise-ship passengers wandering about. This is a busy hotel.


        Back in our room, we packed our bags for our impending departure tomorrow. Then, we settled in with paninis, chips,acqua minerale con gassata and a good bottle of Chianti, while we read our books and got ready to join The  Norwegian Dream for an itinerary we had long anticipated.


Wednesday April 7th, 2004- Roma, Italia


       We were up early.The bags had to be placed outside of our door by 7 A.M. for shipment to Livorno and the cruise ship. We showered and prepped for the day. At 9 A,M, we walked through the lobby and again dined at the buffet breakfast put on by NCL in the hotel.  The group was chatty and animated in expectation of the coming cruise. We had some time, so we walked over to the airport to stretch our legs and watch the continuing drama that swirls there daily.


        Four buses arrived at 11:00 A.M. and ferried the waiting passengers for the 40 minute ride up the coast to Citavecchia, the commercial harbor for Roma and the waiting Norwegian Dream. The surrounding countryside was devoted mainly to agriculture, with many vineyards running along the coast. A range of hills lay just inland. The area was crisscrossed with drainage ditches. It had been a marsh land before being drained for agricultural use. The blue Mediterranean Sea was just in our vision, along the coast in the distance. It was cool and windy out. Waves were splashing over the 20 ft. seawalls, of the port area, in great white flumes of spray. This ride might prove interesting


       Cittavecchia had been established by the Roman Emperor Trajan around 108 B.C and named “Centumcellae.” It had at different times been the busiest port in the Roman Empire. Over the centuries, the Saracens, the French and other invaders had occupied the area. The papal states took possession of the harbor in the 14th century and it had evolved into the chief commercial port of Rome during unification in 1870. During WWII, the allies had bombed the port into rubble. There was no trace of the destruction here today.


      We retrieved our luggage from the bus and stood in line for a brief 20 minutes of check-in procedures. It was orderly and went quickly. Aboard the Norwegian Dream, a crew member escorted us to our room on deck 8, Room #8058. The cabin was compact, but included a small sitting area, sliding doors onto a balcony and a small bathroom and shower.It was to be our home for the next twelve days. The ship itself had been constructed in St. Nazaire France from 1991-1993 for $240 million dollars and originally named the MS Dreamward.  She had undergone  a major renovation in 1998, in Bremmerhaven,Germany, where she had been “cut in half.” An additional 133 feet had been added to her midsection. She is  50,000 tons, 734 feet long and 94 feet wide. Her twelve decks rise up 164 feet and she draws 22 feet of draft.  Her maximum speed capability is 21 knots. This nautical behemoth gobbles 1,100 gallons of fuel per hour when cruising.


      We walked the decks, exploring our ship and enjoyed the lounges, shop areas and the many other nooks and crannies of entertainment and activity spread around the decks. On deck #12, aft, we found the “Sports Bar” a small buffet-style restaurant that served all three meals daily. We entered, chose some salads and other victuals, and ate a pleasant lunch. The place was small and tended to get crowded quickly. Although the food was of decent quality, because of the crowded quarters and less than gracious dining experience, we were to irreverently lable the place “The Slop Chute.”


     We idled in our cabin until the mandatory life boat drill on deck #7, station K-2,  at 4:30 P.M. Like all liners, the boat is equipped with motorized, ocean-going tenders that are wholly enclosed and hold up to 128 passengers when full. We stood in our orange life vests, with whistle and water activated light, and listened patiently to the crew member assigned to us. If you ever needed this sucker, in an emergency, it might well pay to know how to hell to get on board the craft.


    5:30 P.M. found us topside, to watch the ship weigh anchor. It is our custom, when cruising, to have a drink at the topside bar and watch the ship leave port. The powerful tug “Eduardo Roace” helped nudge the dream in a 180 degree pivot, so she was bow first and able to steam more ably from the congested harbor area. The winds were freshening and the waves were splashing high above the seawall, as we glided from port, waving by to Roma until we could return once again. We warmed up with some coffee, watching the busy port drop to our stern. The ship was already wallowing from the wind and waves. We descended to our cabin, found that our luggage had arrived, and changed for dinner.


    Deck #11 aft holds a smaller restaurant called the “Trattoria,” and serves Italian food every night. We decided to try it this evening. We were seated at a small table for two and ordered a bottle of  Meridian Merlot from a Ukranian wine steward named ‘Igor.” We exchanged several comments in Russian and enjoyed the conversation with him. He was to be one of several of the mostly Phillipino and eastern European wait staff with whom we were to interact. We found them uniformly pleasant, gracious and helpful throughout our voyage. After dinner, the stewards would take whatever portion of the bottle of wine that you consumed and save it for you in a central repository where you could call for it from any of the several restaurants on board.


      Tomato Calabrese(with Mozzarella cheese) started this pleasant meal. It was followed with a nice spinach salad, a grilled tuna steak and a delightful cannolli and decaf cappuccino. We much enjoyed the meal and the dining experience. After dinner, we strolled the decks and now open shops (they close when in port) and enjoyed the comings and goings of the passengers in the lounges. The Stardust Lounge, on deck #10, held a nightly review with musical talent. We sampled it for several minutes before deciding that it was ambitious, but lame. We were tiring with the day and decided to call it a night. We repaired to our cabin and made ready to sleep while rocking in the rolling sea. It is always unnerving to sleep the first night at sea when there are high waves, until you got used to the rhythms of the ship. The vessel was enroute to Livorno, Italy. From this port, you can access Florence, Pisa and a bit further out, the medieval, walled city of Siena. It was Siena that we had chosen to see and much looked forward to the excursion. It had been a long day. We slept lightly, unused to the rolling of the ship at sea.


Thurs. April 8th, 2004- Livorno, Italia


        We were up early at 6:00 A.M. A light breakfast was delivered to our cabin at 6:45 P.M. We went topside to watch the 6:49 A.M. sunrise breaking over the nearby Pisamonte hills. It is from these small range of mountains that the world-famous Cararra marble is quarried. Michaelangelo had been a frequent visitor in the quarries,  to select blocks of marble for his sculptings. The Painter, Modigliani, had also been born, here in Livorno, in the early 1800’s. The mysterious Etruscans had established the port and ruled the area from 500 B.C. until the emergence of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. The Medicis of Florence had captured and ruled the port through the middle ages.


          We met in the Stardust lounge on deck #10 and got tickets for our 10-hour tour of the Tuscan Countryside and the fabled walled city of Siena. It is a two hour drive from Livorno. Siena is south and east of Florence, a beautiful city of art and culture that we had already visited and enjoyed on a previous trip. The Pisamonte range hemmed the flat coastal plain into a narrow strip of tillable  land, where farmers grew large commercial crops of grapes, sunflower seeds, olives and wheat. Sunny Tuscanny is divided into ten separate regions like, Pisa, Siena, Firenza and others. Elba and several resort islands lie just off the coast. Napoleon had landed nearby to set off on in his brief escape, from exile on Elba.


        Marco, our guide, was knowledgeable in the region’s history and commerce. He explained to us that this is in the “chianti” region for wine making. The wine is actually a blend of several types of San Geovese grapes. We were to sample and enjoy several varieties of chianti in the next few days. The olive trees took thirty years to mature enough to yield sufficient fruit for a pressing. This treasured fruit would yield 19 kilograms of oil from every 100 kilograms of olives pressed. The first pressing is the most valued and usually labeled “extra virgin oil.” A killing frost had destroyed much of the local trees in the 1980’s. The newer trees were only now approaching the proper maturity to deliver ripe olives for oil pressing.


       As the tour bus careened down the highway, we looked at the pastoral scenes, of groves of olive trees and vineyards, dotting the gently rolling landscape. We enjoyed the sun-dappled visage of a modern day land of milk and honey. It was restful to the eyes. Along the way, Marco pointed out small villages sitting on distant hilltops. Many were small walled villages from the middle ages, replete with castle walls, church and bell tower. I don’t think we, as Americans’ have much of an appreciation for this “quiltwork of principalities” that made up a region, each warring with the other over the ages. It gives rise to our fascination with castles, moats and the whole medieval mythology that surrounds such areas. On one hilltop, we espied the village of Monteregione, with its village wall and twelve turrets rising above the skyline.It is an outline much known in Italy and used on their former currency. We stopped at a road side rest station called “AGIP” where passengers used the facilities and sipped cappuccino for 3 euros each.


     Soon enough, we approached Siena. The Etruscans had founded the town in 500 B.C. It had developed and fell to the Romans with the rest of the area in 100 A.D. Siena sits along  a well used Roman road that ran from London to Rome. Nearby Florence and the beautiful walled village of San Gimiano also sit on this road and prospered from the pilgrims and commercial traffic that flowed along its length. The Monte Dei Pasche, a commercial banking syndicate of Siena, had also become the bankers for the papal states and collected  both interest on their loans and outstanding debts for the popes for centuries. The syndicate was so successful that in later years the Siena City council had mandated that 50% of their annual profits were to be turned over to the city for “public improvements.” The annual rebate now runs to $150 million a year and funds much of the restoration of the medieval town. Tour buses are charged a 100 euro fee to park here in Siena. In Florence it is 300 euros.Tourism is big business in this area.


     Marco walked us from the bus parking area to the Chiesa San Domingo where we met our local guide “Rita.” She launched into what was to be a colorful and informed narrative of the Siena’s history and development. Its most famous Saint, Catherine of Siena, had been a dominican nun who was a “close associate” of the reigning pope in Avignon. (Decorum in these matters is always thought polite in Italy.)  She had convinced him to end the Avignon reign of the papacy and return the see of the church to Rome. She had been so venerated by the church, that when the Sienese wanted her body interred in the Chiesa San Domingo, Rome had only sent her head and a finger to be buried there, retaining the rest of her remains for veneration in Rome. It all sounds a bit grisly to us now, but it was the time-honored custom of the medieval church in Italy.


     We walked through the narrow, cobbled streets and admired the well preserved walls and quaint shops that appeared around every turn. It reminded me of nearby Assisi. We stopped in the Piazza Tolomei, the home of the aforementioned banking syndicate, Monte Dei Pasche. Rita explained to us the significance of several items of interest. You could see the coat of arms of one of the families on the building facade. It held five crescents, symbolizing five separate crusades in the “holy land” that the banking family had fought in and/or financed. It was a mark of great distinction for these families in the middle ages. A column stood in this piazza, atop which is the form of a she wolf, with two infants suckling her. It is an emblem much replicated in Siena. Supposedly Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome who had been suckled by a she wolf, had fled Rome and sought sanctuary in Siena. No one had really ever substantiated the claim, but it made for great symbolism and interest both to the natives and the tourists. I much admire this type of revisionist History. The Russians were to make an art form of it during the twentieth century. Basically, he who writes the history indeed creates it in the image he wishes. It is a concept that gladdens a story teller’s heart.


     We walked slowly along the medieval streets, admiring the ancient framing and well preserved architecture. Then, we walked into the small piazza that holds the most prized treasure in Siena, the Duomo Santa Maria d’ Assumption. Finished in the late 1300’s, this Romanesque, white and green striped, marble epiphany, with roseate trim, is impressive. Our eyes feasted over the many statues that rested along its facade and skyline. One large center and two smaller flanking triangles, of painted Murano glass, project colorful scenes of the Virgin Mary. The sunlight, reflecting off of them, gave them a proper celestial appearance.  Behind us, in drab architectural counterpoint , was the plain facade of a functioning hospital that had been operating from 1090 A.D. It  closed in 1997.


     Rita gathered her charges for the inside tour of the Duomo. Michaelangelo had been commissioned (and paid) to create 14 statues for the interior. He delivered only one when the Popes had dragooned him to paint the Sistine Chapel. Even the one marble creation was now a bargain of incalculable value. Raphael had painted several of the interior murals we now enjoyed. On the floor, a series of 56 friezes details the history of Christ and the holy family. An enormous pulpit, of carved, red cedar dominates the central nave of the church. High above us, we could see the carved, marble heads of 156 popes looking down on us. The entire effect of the cathedral is to catch your breath, at the artistic array of creations inside.Each had been created to show glory to god. It sure did keep your attention, as Rita commented quietly on the many artistic and cultural aspects of the works that we were observing. Books have been written describing churches like this, Saint Peter’s and others. If they intrigue you, you will have to go and see them for yourself.


     Just next to the Duomo, Rita pointed out an entire area that had been laid out to expand the church. The exterior walls and one facade had already been created when they ran out of money. We walked down a small alley to the heart of Siena, the Piazza Campo. It is shaped like a huge sea shell, with nine sections, one for every town council man. The Piazza is cobbled, and slanted to funnel into a flat area just in front of the Siena City Hall. Around its periphery are a series of hotels, trendy shops and restaurants with awnings and chairs for tourists and Sienans to enjoy the Tuscan sun. Each year, on July 12 and August 16th, a colorful horse race is run around the periphery of this wide Piazza, with ten especially trained horses and jockeys representing parts of the city. It is held in honor of the Virgin Mary and the feast of the Assumption. The rivalry and revelry are considerable and much anticipated by Sienans all year long.


     Marco led us to the ancient “Spade Forte” ristorante, on the periphery of the Piazza, for lunch. We fell in with and enjoyed the company of two colorful residents of Celebration, Florida, Pat and John McGoldrick, former Beantown (Boston) residents and fellow Irish Americans. A lively lunch, well seasoned with several flagons of the local Chianti, consisted of pasta and mushrooms in sauce, asparagus risotto, (no carne for four), cheese, green beans and salad,finished off with a ricotta cheese desert that was wonderful and accompanied throughout with aqua frizzante. We enjoyed the McGoldrick’s company and were half lit from the Chianti when we emerged into the central piazza some 90 minutes later. It had been fun.


     We still had time left after lunch, so we walked back to the Duomo and, for 6 euros each, entered the Musee d’Opera, next to the Duomo. Ensconced within are all of the original statuary and murals from the exterior of the church.As the marble  became worn, throughout the centuries, artisans had replicated the original statuary and remounted them on the facade. Looking at these originals gives you an appreciation for the odd seven hundred years that the place had been around. I am not much taken by religious art, but had to admire the pure artistry in stone so casually laid before us.  We walked back to the Piazza Campo and browsed the small shops, enjoying the crowded square like we had all the other meeting places in italy, for the diverse array of people gathering there. Marco had set 3:00 P.M. as a meeting time in one corner of the piazza.


     We formed up behind Marco, no one wanted to be left behind. We found and boarded the bus and set off into the back roads of Tuscany. Olive groves, vineyards, quaint villas and bigger farm houses dotted the countryside. We were high in the hills and caught pictorial visages of the valleys surrounding Siena, San Gimiano and the nearby towns. It was a pictorial advertisement for living “under the Tuscan Sun.”


     The bus drove by the walled city of San Gimiano and we caught a glimpse of the open gates of what marco called a “medieval disneyland.” It looked like a great place to wander when the crowds were less intense. The ride back was quiet. Some of the older passengers were napping. others like us(not yet so old)  were enjoying the scenic countryside and mindful of the ancient cultural heritage treasures that we had just experienced. By 5:30 P.M., all of our heads were starting to nod as we arrived at the ship. We thanked Marco, tipped him and driver Sergio, for their services and then walked up the ship’s gangplank,using the antiseptic hand wipes provided and having our I.D.s “swiped in” to log us back on board. A welcomed nap claimed our attention for an hour.


     We dressed for dinner this evening in “business attire.”It was one of the two “formal nights” on the ship. We elected to choose again the Trattoria for dinner, where we were seated with Ray and Sarah from Atlanta. She was a belle from Mobile and a pleasant companion. He was a basic “pita” who had an over-bearing opinion on every subject under the sun. Oysters Rockerfeller, salad, lobster tails and peach cobbler, with merlot and cappuccino, were wonderful. It still couldn’t mitigate the noise this clown was making. We finished dinner and made a hasty retreat. That was to be the last time we agreed to ‘share a table” with strangers when asked by the various maitre-d’s.


     The seas were calm that night and we walked topside, enjoying the night air and each other’s company.We never lose sight of how fortunate we are to be with each other in these exotic and interesting locales. The long day had tired us. We retreated to our cabin to read and get ready for the sandman. I was reading “Sons of Fortune” by Jeffrey Hunter. The Norwegian Dream would motor 118 miles North, to Genoa this evening, arriving by early morning.


Friday, April 9th, 2004- Genova, Italia


         We were up at 7 A.M. and had breakfast in our cabin.The Norwegian Dream was just motoring into Genoa harbor. It was chilly outside, with a light rain falling. Topside, we looked out and viewed the amphitheater of Genoa, that surrounds the busy commercial port. The city is shaped like an alluvial amphitheater and carved from the surrounding mountains, like Naples far to the South. A series of large ravines, carved by glacial or ancient river action, were speckled with housing complexes and spanned by lengthy bridges, now loaded with morning traffic.


        We formed up in the star dust lounge at 8:45 A.M. and then walked down to deck # 4 to exit the ship. There, we met Christiana, our guide for the day, at bus # 8. We set off in the morning rain. The bus traversed several large tunnels, through the surrounding mountains, in our passage south to the Ligurian coast. It is rocky and erose along its length. I admired the sopisticated engineering of the tunnels and bridges that traverse the city. Along the many coastal areas, we noticed the old fishermen’s homes, that are painted in various bright Mediterranean pastels. Custom had dictated this as a means for the fisherman to espy their dwellings as they approached safe harbor and home. They were colorful. Christopher Columbus had been born and raised  in these environs before he sailed to the new worlds for  Espagna. Andrea Doria, a middle ages naval admiral, and figure of note in Italian history, had also lived here. The guide mentioned something about him negotiating a treaty with Charles V of Spain, but it was getting a little too deep in Italian history for me to follow.


       We passed through Recco, a Ligurian center for cooking, and then exited into the a sprawling town of Rappalo for the coastal ride into Santa Margarita, where we would take a small ferry to Porto Fino, the heart of the Italian Riveria. Geographically, the rocky headland of Porto Fino separates the gulfs of Tivuglio and Paradisio. Both are indentations in the Ligurian coastline, now  heavily populated.


      Santa Margarita has a lovely marina. We enjoyed the colorful front street of nice hotels, shops and restaurants, as we exited the bus in the rain. We walked to the harbor area and boarded small ferry for the 15 minute ride to Porto Fino. A land road now reaches Porto Fino, but in the early part of the century, it had only been accessible by boat, increasing its attraction for those looking to “get away” from it all. The coastal hills rose steeply, behind the narrow strip of road, as we motored past the Porto Fino headland and coasted towards the small harbor area that is Porto Fino. We could see Castello Brown high above the village.It looks like a medieval fortress, but later proved to be but fhe fancy digs of a former 19th century British ambassador. It had been turned into a 1950’s-era hostelry for the rich and famous. The yellow pastel expanse of the Chiesa San Giorgio (Church of St. George) also stood out on the promontory.


      Christiana cut us loose and we scattered like geese. The harbor area rings a small marina, with wonderful sailing yachts scattered amidst the smaller craft. A ring of shops and restaurants completes the semi circle of the harbor’s periphery. We saw a sign with an arrow for “Castello Brown” and walked the steep and terraced steps leading above the village. Bougainvillea and other flowers were in bloom here and gave an aura of color and warmth even in the rain. We stopped first at the pastel visage, of the Church of St. George, and lit a candle for Brother Patrick. Then, we hiked further up the hillside to the Castelllo Brown. By now, we were puffing with the exertion and wondering how the various workmen got up and down these paths every day. They must be in pretty good shape.


      The Castello Brown is everything your imagination could place it to be, sited on the high promontory over a picture book Mediterranean village.  For 3 euros each, we got to wander the compact grounds and building. Small terraces, with benches and cypress trees, were scattered about the grounds, each with magnificent views of the coast and sea below. Inside, the two story castle was interesting but unprepossessing. Pictures of the many movie stars who had stayed here, in the places 1950’s heyday, adorned the walls. Bogart, Monroe, Sinatra, Loloabrigida, Loren and an entire cast of Hollywood characters looked out at us from their youthful portraits. We enjoyed the view, from the upper terraces, and then set out for the path below. The rain was getting heavier as we descended.


     In the quaint village below, we browsed the pricey shops, like Gucci & Ferragamo, noting the breath-taking prices listed in euros. It made me smile to think of the huge numbers had they been listed in lire. 100,00 lire translated into $60 US. We stopped for a cappuccino, at the tiny Isolloto bar. It was  a welcome respite from the rain. Afterwards, we walked along the narrow harbor path, looking in the various shops and taverns facing the sea. Most of our colleagues were wet, bedraggled and looking forward to the 12:30 P.M. ferry back to Santa Margarita. Porto Fino would be a wonderful destination on a warm and sunny day.


     The ride back was short and uneventful. We boarded our bus, appreciative of the warm and dry surroundings. We were headed back along the coast to Recco, the center for Ligurian cooking in the area. “Manuelina’s” was to prove another of those “interesting lunches.” We sat again with John and Patricia McGoldrick, three women from Florida, Kim, Diane and Michelle and also were joined by Carmen and Mike Harchand, a pleasant couple from Australia. Flagons of Chianti and a soft, white wine accompanied fried mushrooms, pasta in pesto sauce, seafood lasagna, fried fish cakes (for the vegetarians.) Strawberries in lemon ice, with Decaf cappuccinos finished this tasty repast. It really was exquisite. We laughed a lot, enjoyed the food and each other’’s company and made a nice day from a soggy one.


       The ride back was slowed by the mounting rush hour traffic. Christiana took us through the commercial center of Genoa , stopping at the central “Piazza venti septembre, 1870” which commemorates the date of the Italian unification. A huge, victory-arch framed three floral gardens that are dedicated to Christobal Colon (Columbus) and his three ships on their voyage of discovery to the Americas in 1492. The traffic was jammed in the rain. 5:30 P.M. brought us back to the busy port area and the Norwegian Dream. We were happy to get in out of the rain. We boarded and I stopped by the deck # 9 internet cafe to send a few message into cyber space. Then, we repaired to the cabin to write up our notes and talk to Mr. Ozzie Nelson( nap).


     We arose by 7:45 P.M. and prepped for dinner. We had decided to try the “Terraces” restaurant this evening. It sits on deck #9, just above us. It is glass walled and occupies three terraces and the entire rear of the ship on deck # 9. Meridian Merlot accompanied a three-berry compote, a lemon fruit soup, salmon and risotto, with chocolate cake and decaf cappuccino. You really could effortlessly become a whale on these cruises, ending up with a “derriere the size of devonshire.”


     At 10:00 P.M., the Norwegian Dream weighed anchor.Powerful tugs helped nudge her from the narrow ways. A light rain and a 42 degree chill greeted us, as we stood topside to watch the Dream get underway. The lights, of the whole amphitheater of Genoa, were twinkling in the dark as we eased from the harbor and set off Westward along the Ligurian Coast. The ship was headed for Canne, France tomorrow. It would be a long day for us, so we headed to the cabin to read and retire from another hard day of touristing. Morpheus soon welcomed us to his embrace.


Saturday, April 10th, 2004  Cannes, France


    We were up later this morning and had breakfast in the Terraces. An omelet O’Brien was tasty. Topside, we viewed the Canne harbor. The city is a classic hillside, semi-circle, surrounding  a pretty fancy harbor. A mantle of snow-capped mountains provided a picturesque backdrop. Several eighty and hundred-foot power yachts lay at anchor in the upscale marina, attesting to the city’s glamourous reputation. We met in the star dust lounge at 8:45 A.M. and got our bus tickets for the Canne, Nice, Eze, Monaco tour. The name sounded like a fancy law firm. The ship lay at anchor just out from the marina. We were tendering into the harbor today. The ship had several of the motorized tenders shuttling passengers back and forth from the shore. We entered our boat and waited until the craft filled  with passengers, then slowly motored into shore, where our bus was waiting. We met our driver, Krista and guide, Mandice at the bus and set out for the day.


     The Canne waterfront surrounds the marina, a central square, filled with Sycamore trees, and replete with several cafes and their ubiquitous outside tables and chairs. It completed the portrait of a tourist-oriented playground. We drove down the grand  boulevard, Avenue Crossette and viewed the huge hotels, the site of the international film festival and even a statuesque column to the emperor, Napoleon.


     We entered the A-8 Autostrade and drove through Nice and on towards Monaco, some 90 kilometers miles further along the fabled Cote’ d’azur. The Mediterranean Sea sparkled a dazzling blue against the bright sun and lighter blue of the sheltering sky. A painter could not have created a more beautiful backdrop. Renoir had spent his last 11 years here. inspired by the light and the scenic vistas. The rocky Cap d’antib stood out against the skyline, as we drove along the coast. An interesting collection of brick-faced apartments, all shaped in the form of tan pyramids, caught our eye towards the shoreline. We were now on the “middle corniche (cliff) road.” Most of the coast, in this area, is a very steep hillside that slopes precipitously towards the Mediterranean. It is traversed, from East to West,  by three roughly parallel roads called appropriately, the “Lower corniche” (closer to the sea) the middle corniche ( which we now traversed) and the “upper corniche”, higher above us. The views are spectacular all along the roadway.


     As we entered the Principality of Monaco, Mandice gave us a synopsis of its history. Francois Grimaldi, the founder of the line, came to the area in 1297,  with a small army of soldiers, all disguised as monks. They attacked the surprised Genoese defenders and overwhelmed them, taking possession of the area and declaring it the Principality of Monaco. To symbolize this, you now see emblems of two monks, with swords raised, all over Monaco. The whole” country” is carved from the cliff’s side, with terraced sections up and down the mountain. A smaller section beneath and along the water, had been reclaimed from the sea. It now serves as  the center of the country’s business section. The population of the Monaco is comprised of 10,000 French, 10,000 Italians, 5,000 Monagasque (natives) and a sprinkling of other nationalities. There literally is a “waiting list” to live here. Residents pay no income taxes, thanks to casino revenues, and are generally well heeled, even by Monagasque standards.


    Krista parked our bus at a huge garage on the cliffside. We followed a nicely trimmed walkway to the “Roche” (rock) area, so named because it had literally been carved from the cliffside rock. We walked along the Boulevard San Martin, passing two pricey homes that housed the royal daughters, and stopped to visit the Church of the Immaculate Conception. It is impressive enough, but the real treasure, for Americans, is to walk by a simple grave stone, amidst ancient Monagasque royalty, embedded in the floor near the main altar. It reads “Gratia Patricia” and houses the remains of Philadelphia-born film star, Grace Kelly. She had been killed in a car accident, on the Upper Corniche Rd., some ten years ago.


      From the church, we walked over to the Palace Square. The  crenelated battlement of the original castle had been added to over the generations to produce an odd hybrid. Although it is distinctive, it  is not particularly noteworthy. The crowds were assembling for the noon changing of the guard at the Palace. The Prince was in residence. The police were cordoning off a route from the Palace to the Church, for the royal family, and clearing traffic from the streets. It was Easter Saturday and an afternoon mass was planned. The sun was shining brightly overhead, the Mediterranean sparkled blue in the distance and a fairy tale changing of the guard was in progress for a fairy tale prince. This was a Hans Christian Anderson day-dream flashing before us in the brilliant noon day sun. We admired the “Jardin Martin” that runs along the boulevard. It was an elegantly manicured parkland from which to stare out over the sapphire blue Mediterranean. Mandice also mentioned the “Cap Martin” nearby. Someone with our surname (Martin) must have either been on the ground floor founding this place or donated half of the land for its creation.


      Mandice rounded us up. We had much yet to see today. Reluctantly, we left the ”Roche” area, with its palace and fairy tales, and returned to the bus. We were having lunch in “La Chaumiere,” a picturesque, mountainside  restaurant with a killer view of all of Monaco and the mediteranean beyond. We sat with Stan and Marilyn, from 1,000 oaks, California and enjoyed their company. Several flagons, of  a decent , house, red wine, accompanied salad, pasta, cheesecake and cappuccino. These lunches, though pleasurable, were starting to be killers.


      After lunch, we boarded the bus and drove through the Principality. Along the roadside, at several intersections, sit scale, bronzed models of Le Mans race cars, denoting the world famous auto race that roars through the streets of Monaco every May. We parked at another huge garage and took the elevators and escalators up to a small plaza that houses the Monaco Opera house. It looked properly impressive for a principality. The formal nights here must be a pageant in and of themselves.  Parkland, with a view of the sea, lay all along the periphery of this area, even atop three-story apartment complexes. Why haven’t we learned how to do this yet?


     Mandice turned us loose, to roam for an hour or two. Next to the opera, lies something right out of a James Bond film, the Grand Casino. Parked out front today, were an Aston Martin, two lamberghini’s, several Jaguars, the odd couple of lesser Mercedes and a row of other luxury cars, with an attendant to watch over them. The grand staircase leads in to this fantastic palace to gaming. The Casino charged 10 euros each to enter,  and also wanted us to check our cameras. We passed on the privilege and watched for a time the ebb and flow of tourists walking in and out. Directly in front of the casino, and rising upwards to a level of the city some 50 feet above, are a series of terraced fountains and floral gardens all bedecked in colorful flags and pendants. We walked about the beautiful parkland, enjoying the flowers, the bright colors and the activity in and around the casino. It only added to the fairy-tale image we already had of this tiny principality. The American casino is kitty-corner to the grand casino and also impressive. We walked in and changed 20 euros for official 2-euro ($2.50 US) gambling chips. These, we fed into the video gambling machines with some effect. Mary and I won $150 in a short time and enjoyed the feeling of gambling in Monte Carlo. Bond we weren’t, but hey, who is? Fortunately, we had a very brief time to spend and had to leave before we put the money back into the machines. On the way out, we passed Stan and Marilyn. A double scotch at the bar for both had cost them 51 euros. Wow, that is some pricey scotch!


     From Monaco, we drove upwards to the “Upper Corniche” Road, along the cliff face. We passed by the broken guard rails where Grace Kelly’s car had careened off the cliff. I guess they keep it unrepaired as a tribute to mark her passing. This was pretty high up on the mountain. Anyone going over the side wouldn’t have much of a chance in surviving.


     We were headed to the nearby hilltop-village of EZE (ezze). From a distance, this remote village blended into the surrounding hillside. It had been designed to do so, to hide from the marauding Saracen pirates of long ago. We parked at a small bus area and hiked into the tiny village. The walk up the hill, over narrow, winding and cobble stoned alleys, was a breath taker. But, the quaint artist shops and medieval battlements were worth the hike. A colorful garden tops the small village. We wandered its narrow alleys, dodging other tourist who had been game enough for the walk. We found and entered an elegant hostelry called “Chateau de la Chevre d’Or,”  roughly, the “house of the golden goat. “ The bar was comfortable and clubby. A small terrace outside is the real attraction. As we sipped pricey cappuccino (18 euros),we gazed out over the sapphire blue of the Mediterranean far below. It would be wonderful to stay here for a few days to enjoy the view and the air. The walk up to the village discouraged most. Far below in the village, a small shed houses two donkeys who used to ferry people and luggage to this pricey Inn, in the mountains above Monaco. We enjoyed the scenery and each other’s company  in this fairy tale setting. It is here, in the village below, that we met and talked to Peter and Julia Martin for the first time. They are Brits from Brighton. We had noticed them on a few tours and decided to ask them to join us for dinner this evening. They agreed, perhaps wondering at the forwardness of yankees in soliciting social engagements. Manners got the better of them though and they agreed to meet us later in the evening for dinner.


      From quaint and medieval EZE, we descended to the Middle Corniche Road for the picturesque ride into nearby Nice. As we approached the tourist mecca, the vistas were fabulous. Czar Nicholas of Russia, and Queen Victoria of England, and scores of lesser roalty, had been frequent visitors to the area. Cap D’antibe, and the sparkling blue Mediterranean, are things you could look at all day. I smiled momentarily, remembering an episode from the Television series, “The  Sopranos.” The main character had unknowingly parroted a remark he hard from his shrink,  referring to “Captain Tebes” as an elegant place to visit. He was referring to Cap D’Antib, but didn’t know the difference. We noticed that many of the stately older villas,along the roadway,  were in some state of decline. No one gave any explanation. Perhaps urban decay even affects fairy tales? Elton John has a hillside villa here that the locals point to it with great pride.


      The harbor marina held several very large yachts at anchor. Nearby, three bums slept in a park area. Even fairy tales have a seamy side. Along the waterfront, pricey hotels dominate the grand boulevard for a stretch of seven kilometers. Across the roadway , from the hotel and along the seaside, run a similar lengthy of beaches. Above the beaches runs an elevated promenade upon which throngs of natives and tourists  were walking. The beaches sported colorful names like “Miami,”  and ‘Opera.” In the Summers, this place must really rock and roll!


       From Nice, we took the Lower Corniche Road back towards Canne. It was closing on 6 P.M. as we entered the crowded Canne waterfront and parked near the Norwegian Dream. A few buses had gotten there before us and the line for the tenders was long. Mary and I reversed course and walked along the marina and haborside, into the main square of Canne. Artists, and vendors of all sorts, were packing up their gear for the day. It was too chilly to sit in the outdoor cafes, so we walked the length of the area,  drinking in the sights and sounds of a place that we would never perhaps return to. It was getting late and cooling off, so we walked back to the dock and stood patiently in the long line for the tender ride back to the ship. It only took twenty minutes to get to the ship. The crew did a good job to get us all back quickly and safely. We repaired to our cabin to write up our notes, shower and prep for dinner with the Martins.



      At 9:00 P.M., we met Peter and Julia Martin, at the Trattoria on deck #11, for dinner. Tomato & mozzarella cheese (calabrese) started off the meal with a Mondavi Merlot. A mushroom pasta, Tilapia fish,Tiramisu and decaf cappuccino finished off the meal. We much enjoyed the Martin’s company and talked long enough for us to be the last ones in the Trattoria. The waiter was too polite to ask us to leave, but I had been thrown out of enough places already to recognize the imminent nature of the “bum’s rush.” We made our goodnights and returned to the cabin, to read and relax. It had been a long and enjoyable day, in a fairy-tale setting, that evaporated from our consciousness with the setting sun.


Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004 Marseilles, France


     We were up and around by 7:30 A.M. We skipped breakfast and had coffee topside, admiring the Marseilles harbor and the surrounding mountains, in the bright, Easter-morning sun. At 9 A.M., we met in the star dust lounge and got our bus tickets for the half-day tour of Marseilles. We had the option of a full day tour in Provence, but had decided that too many full day tours were wearing us a little thin.


      Marseilles had been founded by the intrepid Greeks in 500 B.C. It is now the second largest city and largest commercial port in France, with one million people living in the metropolitan area. It is a three hour GTV train ride from Paris. The harbor was full of containerized shipping. Eight other cruise ships were also berthed here on this Easter Morning.


       Philip, a diminutive Frenchman, was our guide for the day and Patrick was our driver. We set off from the port area, stopping first at  the “Old Cathedral” in the “vieux port “ area of the harbor. It is of green and white striped marble construction, like the church in Siena, but much less ornate. Byzantine in style, like sacre Coeur in Paris, it sits on the site of a much older church first established there in 1100 A.D. The guide wasn’t doing any hand flips over the architectural style and there didn’t appear to be any large crowds around on this, an Easter morning. We moved on, stopping near the old fortress in the harbor. A detachment of the French foreign legion had been stationed at this imposing stone edifice. It dated from the 1600’s. Across the river, on the rise of a hill, stands an old stone palace used by the French Royalty at differing times. It, like most of Marseilles, appeared gray and drab. Perhaps this was because the allies had bombed the port area back to the middle ages during WW II?


     Out in the bay, we could see the outline of a  fortress on a small island. It is the Isle d’Frioul. Francois I had built the complex in 1590, as a fortress. It had served both as a harbor defense and prison in its long tenure. Andre Dumas, a native of Marseilles, had written the “Man in the Iron mask” using these prisons as his locale. Small boatloads of tourists were even now motoring to the prisons for their morning tours. The sun was shining brightly on the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean. Looking out towards the fortress, on the very edge of the harbor, is a large stone arch built to commemorate French soldiers killed in the Orient. A smaller green-bronzed statue, of a maiden with her arms raised was erected, in front of the arch, to commemorate the French soldiers killed in North Africa. We forget now, but France has been embroiled in two major colonial wars. During the1950’s, In Viet Nam and during the 1960’s in Algeria. In both cases the results had been both bloody and disastrous for the French. The French Foreign Legion had figured prominently in both conflicts. WWI & WWII had also  been fought mostly on French soil. I guess it  becomes more understandable, of their recent posture towards conflict, in the middle east. They are probabaly a bit nation wearly of conflict, after fifty years of bloody warfare.


        We stopped briefly, near the old harbor, and walked the waterfront. A score or so of fishermen were minding stalls that sold fresh fish, everything from whole squid and lobsters, to eels. We watched as several fishermen worked around their small fishing dories, cleaning and mending nets. It was both interesting and colorful. Strollers, tourists and shoppers were already out and about the small “old harbor.” The restaurants were open, and the chairs put out, for the coffee drinkers. Some places were elaborately laid out, with formal tableware, perhaps in anticipation of Easter Brunches later in the morning.


        The bus collected us and we continued on our tour of the city. Phillip stopped at the Palais Longchamps, built in 1856. It sits on a small rise and is flanked by an art museum and a science museum. Elaborate gates , with decorative iron works guarded the palais.Three marble lions strode atop the impressive gates. Down the center of the front lawn, flowed a stream and flower beds. The site had been built to commemorate the arrival of water, in underground pipes, to Marseilles. It has an elaborate, baroque facade and looked impressive under the morning sun.


      From the Palais, Patrick threaded the huge tour bus through the narrow streets, fighting the Easter-morning, Mass traffic. We were headed for the highest and most picturesque point in Marseilles. the church of Notre Dame de la garde. It stands high on the summit of a hill, and features a huge gold tinted statue of “Notre Dame,” Mary, the mother of Christ. As the bus parked and we began to exit, disaster struck. I caught my right- hand, ring-finger on the top edge of the rear bus door. It shredded the skin on my finger and nearly tore the finger off. I was more in shock than pain as we asked for help. The bus driver and a colleague did a credible imitation of the three monkeys, pointing to the church above and saying “medicine.” We staunched the blood flow with tissues and a few antiseptic hand wipes. I had the presence of mind to think of the huge swelling of tissue to come, and managed to slip the large college ring, from my finger. Sliding it through the shredded tissue was a bit unpleasant, but seemed prudent. Seeing no help in site, we walked up a few long flights of stairs towards the cathedral. Mary espied Phillip, our guide,  and insisted that I needed some medical attention immediately. He walked me into the offices of the cathedral, turned me over to an elderly woman and skittled away, the weasel.


        I thought that I had a pretty good command of French, but at moments like these, it seems to desert you. The kind and elderly woman, perhaps a nun in mufti, helped clean the wound, put antiseptic ointment on it and dressed it in gauze. By now, I was recovering a bit and managed to remember enough French to thank her and say that she was “very kind for helping me.” I kept my hand elevated, in a position of “The french salute, but with the wrong finger,” as we walked around the grounds of the cathedral. These types of injuries happen often to basketball players who leave their rings on. I considered myself fortunate to have not lost the finger. The sight lines, from the elevated promontory, were gorgeous, but our attention was  a bit distracted. The crowds were considerable. After a bit, we gathered on the bus and I felt a bit better. The bus drove down and through the city, headed back to the ship.


      We had relaxed considerably by the time we boarded the Dream. I asked after the medical office and then walked to deck #6, forward clinic. No one was on duty. We got an emergency number and called for help. A young Phillipino nurse soon arrived and let us in. The doctor was away from the ship, so she further cleaned and disinfected the wound and wrapped it in sterile gauge. She was serious, helpful and very professional. I felt better now that the risk of infection was under control. We would deal with the tissue damage later in the day, when the doctor returned.


       The nurse had told me to return to my cabin and await a call. I knew better. Was this not the land from whence the phrase had originated “waiting for Godot?” We stopped by the “slop chute”  for a salad and then sat topside for a bit, admiring the harbor on such a bright and sunny day. By five, “Godot” had not yet called, so I walked down to the infirmary. The doctor was  a pleasant, mid-thirties South African, who cleaned the wound again. He didn’t think much of the tissue would survive, but put five stitches along the underside of my ring finger, disinfected the wound, wrapped it in sterile gauze. He told me to “ take two aspirins and gargle” and come back in a few days to see how it progressed. (no, he was very helpful)He was a pretty decent guy. Both he and his nurse were pretty capable. I was lucky to have them there to treat me. I had visions of sitting in an emergency room, at some French hospital, with the boat sailing away for Barcelona without me. The doctor offered me pain pills, but i advised that I would probably be drinking several glasses of wine for dinner. That should do the trick.


     

     At 7:00 P.M. we were scheduled to join the McGoldricks in the Bistro restaurant, an upscale and gourmet eatery on the ship. It charges an extra $15 each to eat there, but proved to be well worth the price. It was the McGoldricks 24th wedding anniversary and we had been looking forward to joining them. My hand was throbbing to beat the band, but hey, no one likes a whiner, so we went and were glad we did.


     Pat and John were accompanied by friend Joanne, a retired teacher, Al and his mother Cora, also from celebration Florida and the Two Australians,  Mike and Carmen Harchand.  A wonderful salmon appetizer was followed, for me, by an even more delicious Tuna Nicoise salad. A delightful Grouper entre and then cherries jubilee with decaf cappuccino made for an elegant meal. A few bottles of a decent Merlot also worked well. We laughed and enjoyed the meal. John gave a very nice toast, to his bride of twenty four years, and we all enjoyed each other’s company in a raucous and lively fashion.


     Revelry aside, the injury was throbbing insistently, so we returned to our cabin, with my hand elevated in the “French salute but with the wrong finger.”  The seas were running rough this evening, with ten foot swells and 25 knot winds. It was going to be a “porcelain hugging”  night for some of the poor passengers. Mary took over the job of transcribing my travel notes and agreed to take notes on the next few days tours, until I could manage to grip a pen well enough to write.


Easter Monday, April 12th, 2004- Barcelona, Spain


     We arose at 7:30 A.M. , showered and prepped for the day. It was sunny and cool out. My right hand was swollen, black and blue but felt well enough to get through the day’s tour. We had breakfast in the deck 12 “ slop chute” and then met in the star dust lounge, at 8:00 A.M., for our half day “highlights of Barcelona Tour.”


       Julio was our bus driver and Miguel our guide, as we set out on this bright sunny morning. Barcelona is a very large city. 500,000 Spaniards call the city home. Its metropolitan population soars to over 3 million. A former Roman outpost, from the first century, Barcelona is now the heart of the Catalonia region of Spain. The bus ambled up past a statue of Christopher Columbus on a tall column. The statue was supposedly pointing towards the West and the new world, but somehow, the statues orientation had been turned so he was pointing South. All manner of interpretations now arose for the direction in which he was pointing. My best guess if that the construction crew screwed up, at the installation, and it had been too costly to correct the error.


       We passed by the entrance to the Las Ramblas, the broad pedestrian promenade that extends into the city, and continued on. The city had erected three separate, exterior walls, for defensive purposes, as the city evolved over the centuries. Portions of all three still existed and had been added to architecturally over the years in something the guide called “architectural lasagna.” It is a nIce turn of phrase. We stopped for a time, near the old cathedral, and admired its huge proportions. It was under renovation again. Construction had started in 1298 and not finished until the end of the 19th century. They do things like that in Europe where centuries are relatively much shorter spans of time than in America. Across the small plaza, from the Cathedral, sits a more modern building with a huge painting by Picasso, on its facade. It is not one of his more intelligible works either. It is  a curious juxtaposition of the old and new, which typifies Barcelona completely. Barcelona had been an interesting melange of Moor, Jew and Spaniard until 1492, that pivotal discovery year. Internal religious strife had generated the expulsion of the Moors and the jews from Spain that year. Someplace there abouts, the famous Spanish Inquisition had started. It is a black period in the country’s history and one seldom mentioned. It is reported that Torquemada’s mother wore army shoes and was a camp follower.


       It was Easter Monday. Most shops and museums were closed. The bakeries were an exception. It is apparently the local custom for Godfathers to purchase ornate cakes for their godchildren on this day. The bakeries all competed for the most ornately decorated cakes.


       We cruised the old section of the city, with its narrow and winding streets, passing St. James Square with its Catalonia Government Center and Barcelona City Hall buildings. The “newer sections” of Barcelona are laid out in a geometrical grid, with broad boulevards and more green spaces. The impression we got was of a very clean and well ordered city, with little graffiti, litter or urban blight.


       The first wonder that we passed is Antonio Gaudi’s “Batlo House.” Built in 1906, it is several stories high and has a delightful facade of painted ceramic tiles. The roof area features  a flowing, tiled montage of  St. George slaying a dragon. The rounded and tile-faced balconies display tiled skulls, victims of the dragon. It is a flowing and colorful work of art in architecture. It could best be found today in the pages of a Dr. Seuss story book. We much enjoyed it. I had written a story about the Batlo House last year, not knowing we would one day visit.


      Next, we passed the Casa Mila, another Gaudi masterpiece, with its distinctive wavy and flowing, tiled facade. Now a museum, it had once been a residence. The streets in the area have ornamental wrought iron lamp posts and the buildings are adorned with ornate metal floral designs. Anyone studying to be an architect should visit Barcelona. Gaudi offers a unique marriage of art and architecture that is elegant in composition and a delight to the eyes. It is to me, a delightful Dr. Seuss in stone.


     Then, we came to the sanctum sanctorum of architecture, the Cathedral of the Segrada Familia. (Holy Family) Gaudi began construction in 1882. It is still unoccupied, unfinished and under construction. What Gaudi has attempted here is monumental. The front facade rises in four towering and conical spires of dark brown sandstone, that narrow into tapered and brown-stone, laced pillars. The entire front facade, beneath them, is engraved with images of the life of the Holy Family, the birth of Christ, the adoration of the Magi, the crucifiixtion and death of Christ and  the last judgment. They all give the busy eye time to wander. Reliefs of fruits and vegetables, animals and other symbols of nature display a pantheistic overview of God and creation. Gaudi intended his creation to have 18 spires, 12 for the apostles, 4 for the evangelists, one each for Mary and Jesus.


      The four seasons and many other symbols are represented in this flowing montage that is more enormous sculpture than architecture. Unfortunately , Antonio Gaudi was killed, in a traffic accident, at a young age and construction was interrupted. His plans for the remainder of the cathedral were also destroyed during a fire in 1936. The three other facades of the church are radically different in design, all reflecting the dynamics of the Spanish church and government in different periods of the cathedrals construction. I could write several chapters on this elegant sandstone epiphany, but suffice it to say that it is a conceptual marriage of architect Antonio Gaudi, and painter Salvatore Dali. It rivets the imagination of anyone who gazes upon it.


    From the Cathedral, we drove to another Gaudi masterpiece, the Park Guell. Now a Park, it was constructed  from 1900-1914. Originally planned as a 60 residence housing project for the wealthy, only two homes were ever built. The remaining parkland is criss-crossed by flowing and sculptured bridges. It features several small squares with tiled ceramic benches at their periphery. A few sets of stairways feature flowing tiled animals at their center. The homes, more Spanish style, Hansel and Gretel-type cottages, also feature elegantly tiled exteriors that are in the Dr. Seuss category of architecture. This hombre had one fertile imagination, that he was able to sculpt into brick and mortar in structures. They make the eyes smile as your gaze rolls over them. If you can’t ever get to Barcelona, look this guy up on line. He is genius and madness in harness.


       After the dazzle of Park Guell, we proceeded to the former Olympic venue for Barcelona. A huge,open air stadium over looks the city here. It is flanked by a lovely parkland that stretches along the edge of this hillside and looks out over the city and harbor. It was sunny out, with a brilliant blue sky overhead. Musicians were playing in the park and flowers were blooming all around us. It is no small wonder that we loved visiting Barcelona.


      Lastly, we visited the grand and elegant Plaza Espagna. Built for  a 1929  world exposition, this elegant structure and plaza is now an art museum. It is flanked on either end by huge bell towers in sepia brown sandstone. The middle portion is semi circular and palatial in its construction. A large fountain, floral gardens and a well-ordered square complete and compliment this lovely square. Tiled walkways and benches  display talented artisan’s workmanship. We were to better understand this poetry in tile when we visited Lisbon a few days later. Mary bought a few souvenirs and we enjoyed the bright and warm sun. All of our impressions of Barcelona are positive. Unfortunately for us, both the Dali and the Picasso art museums were closed on that Easter Monday. The bus drove us back to the ship. We had an opportunity to stay and visit the Las Ramblas esplanade, but were tiring from today's and the many previous tours we had taken. We lunched at the four seasons, on deck #9 ,and then repaired to our cabin, for a well earned conversation with Mr. Nelson.(nap)


        We were up and topside, for the 6:00 P.M. sailing from Barcelona harbor. We sipped coffee as we viewed the colorful expanse of Barcelona that lay before us. The ship gathered speed and we reluctantly waived farewell to a beautiful and unique city in Catalonia. We hope to return again one day.


       Restless, we wandered the decks, met and talked with the Martins and then found a nice photo of ourselves, taken in Siena’s main Piazza, in the photo gallery. Then, we returned to the cabin to prep for dinner. Mary and I dined with each other that night, in the trattoria. Calamari, risotto with shrimp, penne pasta, cannoli and decaf cappuccino all accompanied a Mondavi Merlot. It was a pleasant dinner. After dinner, we walked the decks for a while enjoying the comings and goings of so diverse a population of passengers. We sat for a time in the star dust lounge, but the entertainment was just as lame as our previous encounter. It was enough for us. We returned to the room to read and chill out. The sandman soon claimed us.





Tuesday, April 13th- at sea off Southeastern Spain


       We were up at 6:45 A.M., just as the sun was breaking over the Mediterranean Sea to the East of us. The seas were calm as the ship plowed through the waves, at a steady 18 knots.  It was 60 degrees and cloudy out. A whole fleets of container ships, freighters and other cruise liners trudged along the distant horizons, looking like small inch-worms crawling along the surface of the brightening sea. The eastern coast of Spain, some 58 miles to our west, appeared mountainous and Tolkienesque, in the clouds and mist. We read our books and enjoyed a lazier start to the day. We were starting to feel the impact of the caloric tide and decided to start mitigating its effect. We walked around the ship, on deck # 7, eleven times for a distance of three miles. It felt good to get a “good stretch of the leg.”


       Near 10:00 A.M., we ventured to the “slop chute” for breakfast. It was awash to the gunnels with other late morning foragers. We squeezed into a table with two charming Southern Belles from Kentucky, Sandy and JoQuetta. A mother and daughter from Dusseldorf Germany also shared space with us. I managed, in my best high school German, to tell the Germans that a set of my mother’s grand parents had come from Munich and that Buffalo has a sister-city relationship with Dortmund, a mid sized city near Dusseldorf. Her English was better than my German, so we talked for a bit about the usual pleasantries. The two Southern women were charm incarnate and we enjoyed meeting them. It is these chance encounters, with people from everywhere, that really make a cruise enjoyable.


       After breakfast, we ventured to the internet cafe and sent some messages skyward. This is a little appreciated phenomenon. We were bouncing messages off satellites, all over the world, and in instant communication with friends five thousand miles away. It must be magic.

We stopped for a time, in one of the deck ten lounges, and read our books, enjoying the quiet mode of the ship at sea. (Angels & Demons- Dan Brown) It ws sunny and bright out, but cool with a quartering wind. We saw the Aussies, Carmen & Mike, and exchanged pleasantries with them.




      We walked topside, enjoying as always the collage of sun, sea and sky, as we knifed through the rolling swells. It is invigorating to be at sea and feel the salt air in your face. We settled on coffee and cookies for lunch and then caught a brief conversation with Ozzie Nelson in our cabin.(nap)  At 5:00 P.M., I made my way to the deck #6 infirmary for the Doctor to inspect his tailoring work. The stitches and wound looked icky, but the tissue was already showing signs it might grow back together. He dressed and disinfected the wound and told me to come back Sunday. He would remove the stitches if it continued to show signs of progress.


       The Devonshire spread ( as in butt the size of)  still engulfed us, so we did another five laps around the deck # 7 promenade. It was sunny, 66 degrees and a beautiful afternoon at sea. We returned to the cabin to shower and prep for dinner. I uncorked a bottle of champagne, that the cruise line had given us, and we toasted our good fortune at being here with each other.


       For dinner, we chose the Four Seasons,on deck #9, at 7:00 P.M. The theme for the evening was “American Presidents and their favorite foods.” We chose a Gerald Ford, Norwegian, salmon appetizer. It was delicious. Richard Nixon’s crab chowder was very good and Jackie Kennedy’s champagne-poached sea Bass was exquisite. Good old Ronnie Reagan had a chocolate mousse that topped off the meal with decaf cappuccino and Mondavi Merlot. It was a wonderful repast. We felt fortunate to have put in so many laps walking earlier today, to help neutralize the caloric tide.


      The sun was not due to set tonight until 8:53 P.M., so it was still shining brightly as we walked topside. We watched that bright shining ball slip into the waves and enjoyed the golden glow that it cast over the coast of eastern Spain. Sunsets at sea are exquisite. Below decks, we stopped by the star dust lounge and watched four couples absolutely humiliate themselves,  in a ship-side version of the “newly wed game.” What would make normal people put themselves in a position of public mockery like this, is absolutely beyond me. To each their own, I guess.


      It was dark topside, when we returned. We settled in to a spot on deck 10, forward. We were approaching the  “Rock of Gibraltar” and then would soon pass through the Straits of Gibraltar. We soon espied the huge mass of rock that, for most of my lifetime, had appeared as the commercial symbol for the Prudential Insurance Company. I could immediately recognize the jagged and familiar shape of the rock, on the nearby Spanish coastline. Hundreds of passengers had gathered topside, and on the fore decks, to watch with us. Most were silent or quiet as we gazed upon the shoreline. I was already thinking of some outrageous tale, to send to a few nephews and nieces, about monkeys with battery operated miner’s helmets, running about the rock at night to illuminate it for passing ships.



    The winking channel markers, and lights from the Spanish coast south of the Rock, drew us towards the narrow Straits of Gibraltar. Just ten miles off to our South, we could see the  harbor lights of small villages on the Moroccan shores and those on the Spanish shore. A high speed ferry careened across our horizon, running cars and passengers from Africa to Europe. The space between continents is a virtual spitting distance as ships go. We watched our ship slide between the two continents and appreciated the experience. We would not this way soon come again. By 11:00 P.M., the wind was freshening and it was getting cooler out. The waves from the Atlantic were colliding into the seas from the Mediteranean in larger swells. It would be another roller-coaster ride this evening. The stars were twinkling above us, as we went below. We returned to our cabin to read and chill out.

 

      The Martins had graciously left us a note, inviting us to have dinner with them tomorrow evening, in the Trattoria at 9 :00 P.M. We would look forward to  the experience. We placed a “breakfast in the room” order, on our outside door, and settled in to read. The waves, as expected, bounced us around during the night. I would awake frequently and wonder why the bed was jumping all over the place. It felt similar to experiencing the  “roller type” of earthquakes, that we had felt in California , but many times their size and duration.


Wed. April 14th- Cadiz & Saville Spain


    We arose at 6:30 A.M. It was still dark out. The ship lay just off the Southwest Coast of Spain. We showered and made ready for the day. Breakfast arrived at 7:15 A.M. It was a cool 46 degrees out. The Dream made her way into the harbor of Cadiz, the oldest city in Espagna, with the help of a small pilot boat that had “practico” labeled on her side. A few aged miniarets, in the city around us, immediately caught our attention. The city, from our visage in the harbor, looked Moorish and very old.


      Founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 B.C., Cadiz was first called Gadir, “the fortress.” The Greeks, the Romans and later the Moors all used this strategically located port for commerce and defense. Copper, Silver and salt were the chief commodities shipped to and from busy Cadiz. Hannibal once lived here and Julius Caesar held his first public office, for the Roman Empire, in Cadiz. It is the oldest continually inhabited city in Western Europe.




     The Barbary Pirates, the English privateer Francis Drake, and other sea enemies of Spain, have all visited and sacked the city. Columbus set out, on his second voyage to the Americas, from Cadiz. Long a rival of Seville for commercial dominance, the enormous quantities of gold and silver from the Americas, and the silting over of the river entrance to Seville, made Cadiz the premier city in Andalusia throughout the middle ages. Cadiz now has 200,000 inhabitants. Sherry is now one of the principal exports from this region of Spain.


     We assembled in the star dust lounge at 8:30 A.M. to pick up our bus tickets for the all day excursion and  the 120 kilometer drive to Seville.  On land, we found our bus and met Rafael, our driver and guide Carlos.  Carlos was quick to tell us that Antonio Banderas, and wife Melanie Griffith, have a home here and that John Malkovitch owns a part of a local restaurant. Hollywood stretches even to ancient Cadiz.


     The terrain, all along the route to Seville, is simliar to that of Southern California, semi-arid, and dedicated primarily to agriculture, sheep and some greenhouse horticulture. The sun was  shining and the day was warming nicely as we approached Seville. It is one of the hottest cities in Europe. Temperatures can reach the 110 F range in the heat of the Summer. Once a medieval walled city, Seville is now a busy urban center, with 700,000 residents. We were approaching from the Southeast side of the city. We entered upon the very attractive Pasco de la Palmera. A whole series of attractive Spanish villas stretches along this wide and heavily treed boulevard. The majestic villas had been constructed, representing various latin American countries, for the 1929 Latin American Fair. The tiled mosaics on their facades , and red tiled roofs, are visually eye catching. The oranges trees lining the avenue are visual reminders of the climate. Their fruit is bitter and is used to make marmalade. Maria Louisa Park, all 100 acres of it, is beautifully kept and resplendent with trimmed vegetation, fountains and passive rest areas. Seville is beautiful.


      The bus let us off in a busy pedestrian plaza next to the Santa Maria Cathedral. Its twin spires soared high above us. It is, Carlos said, the “largest Gothic cathedral in the world.”  Construction began in 1482 and wasn’t completed for 65 years. Inside, there are over 1,000 carved wooden statues, all covered with gold leaf. Even in the dim light, they shined out at us magnificently. The vaulted ceilings, the many friezes and the gracious scale of the church are staggering. There are 44 separate chapels dedicated to different saints and patrons. A huge and ornate  silver monstrance, in the center of the church, weighs 800 pounds, all of it solid silver.


     The enormous pipe organ, ornately crafted by Cuban artisans and of solid Mahogany, has 8,000 individual pipes. It is so powerful that it is played at 70% volume, lest the sonic vibration shatter all of the windows in the church. Near the exit, stands an ornate stone carving, larger than life, of four medieval knights carrying a richly embossed coffin.  The work represents the four Kingdoms of Spain, Navarre, Castile, Leone, and Aragon, all carrying a deceased Columbus. Like “Washington slept here” signs in Colonial America, the “Columbus connection”  is well worked  by many localities in Spain. Custom had us rub the shiny metal foot on the Knight of Aragon, for good luck. The names of the Spanish kingdoms were pleasing to the ear and have the whisper of Tolkien about them.


      A few hundred meters from the Cathedral stands the expansive and attractive complex that is the Alcazar Palace. Crenelated battlements adorn the walls of this fortress. We stood in line to buy our tickets. Crowds of other tourist were also wandering the grounds inside and out. Built in 1284, it is resplendent with tiled walls, many friezes and six enormous and elegantly weaved  tapestries hanging on the ornate walls. The colorful arras  spell out the history of Andalusia. The Palace is still the official residence of the Spanish monarchy whenever they visit Seville.


     Carlos was both informative and justifiably proud of the grandeur that is Seville. He informed us that two Roman Emperors, Trajan and Hadrian had been born here when Rome ruled the area. The parade of Romans, Moors, Greeks, Phoenicians and Corsicans, who had traversed the area, give it color and vibrancy. Much history had been written in these environs over the last 3,000 years.


     Next, we walked through the narrow alleys of the Santa Cruz section, the old “Jewish Quarter.” Small shops, and hotels vie for space in the crowded alleys. Once a thriving  and prosperous Jewish Quarter, it is now a quaint touristy section. In 1492, that pivotal year of the discovery of the Americas, the Jews and the Moors  had been expelled from Spain in an orgy of internal Xenophobia. Torquemada, the chief inquisitor, had been a “scourge of God” in rooting out what they then perceived to be as “enemies of the Catholic Church.” The wrack and the pyre had claimed many in this very unattractive period of Spanish history. Like all tragedies, the Quarter, and its beautiful setting, had inspired much emotion. Two wonderful operas, “the Barber of Seville” and “Carmen” had been written with this quarter as a setting.


     Lunch was offered for us at a local tourist mecca labeled the “ Palacia Andaluz.” Several bus loads from the Dream met there, in the basement floor, of the large restaurant. We were seated with a very nice Chinese American Couple. They had their six year old son, Nicholas, and his Chinese Grandmother with them. They had come to America for college, some 15 years ago, and now lived in the Silicon Valley near San Francisco. Both are computer, soft-wear, chip designers. An older couple from San Diego, another Joe and Mary, also sat with us. Gaspacho soup, bread, fried fish and vegetables, a very light, semi-dry Andalusian white wine, coffee and a local torte completed the lunch. We were treated to an authentic Flamenco dance. A guitarist and flute accompanied a  traditionally costumed man and woman, as they danced the foot-tapping ritual that is the Flamenco dance. It is a stylized ritual that portrays love, conflict, a bull fight and other elements of Andalusian culture. We wished that a narration accompanied the dance, so that we could enjoy it more fully. It is probably the only authentic Flamenco dance that we will ever see. The audience clapped heartily for the dancers, appreciating both their skill and the beauty of the dance.


      Seville too has a Plaza Espagna. We drove around a well-ordered traffic circle, with a fountain and stele in its center. Off to our right, two huge bell towers serve as sentinels, flanking a small boulevard that leads up to an enormous Byzantine Palace sitting on a small rise. It is a beautiful visage, to leave in our minds, of an elegant Spanish and Moorish city.

The sun was bright overhead. It was getting warmer, as we sat aboard our bus for the two-hour ride back to Cadiz and the Norwegian Dream. The broad boulevards of this city, and its attractive parks and squares, make it eye pleasing and interesting for strollers. We hope one day to come again and enjoy its beauty, at a more leisurely pace. The ride back was uneventful. We were aboard the Dream by 5:30 P.M.


      The weather was still warm and nice, so we walked the deck seven promenade for 10 laps, hoping to help stem the caloric tide. Then, we stood topside, watching as the Dream slipped her anchor cables, at 6:30 P.M., and eased her way from the ancient harbor of Cadiz. We were to sail Northwest tonight, around the cape and then Northeast to Lisbon, Portugal. I stopped by the internet cafe, on deck #9, to send a few messages into cyber space. Then, we returned to our cabin to write up our notes and prep for dinner.


      At 9:00 P.M. we met the Martins at the Trattoria on deck #11. An eggplant parmesan appetizer led into a nice caesar salad. Then, a blackened cat fish entre made for another tasty meal. Mineral water and a Mondavi Merlot accompanied this repast. Decaf Cappuccino and an Italian desert concoction called a Montebianco finished off the meal. We talked again at length, with the Martins, and were the last to leave the Trattoria again. We were tired from the long day and retired to our room to read. The Atlantic rollers were heavy this evening. The winds were Southwesterly and blowing at a steady 25 knots. Tonight would be another bumpy ride. We were recrossing a time zone tonight and needed to set all of our clocks back one hour. Morpheus soon claimed us.


Thursday, April 15th- Lisbon, Portugal


      We arose later this morning. The ship was just arriving in Lisbon harbor as we walked 10 laps (3 mi.) around the deck 7 promenade.  We were having coffee topside as the Dream passed under a credible replica of San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. She motored into the broad harbor. It was sunny, cool and in the 50s out. We had skipped breakfast and decided to have a decent lunch in the Four season’s cafe on deck 9. Salmon salad and an artichoke fritatta were excellent. The boat might not look like much, but she sure feeds well enough. We walked topside for a bit, enjoying the sunny day and then met in the star dust lounge at 1:15 P.M.  to pick up our tickets for the half day “Lisbon Tour.” The option was a full day tour to the shrine at Fatima.


     Isabelle, our guide, was diminutive, lively and informative. She told us that the modern bridge, that we had sailed under, is the “April the 25th Bridge.” Its name had been changed to commemorate the founding of the modern Portuguese Republic and the fall of dictator Antonio Salazar in 1974. Portugal had been a dictatorship from 1947-1974 under the repressive Salazar. The city had evolved under a variety of cultures. First built by the Phoenicians, then conquered by the Romans, the Moors had ruled the city for five centuries from the 8th through the 13th centuries.


     The Tagus River splits this modern city of 150,000 souls. A huge statue of Christ the King, some 110 meters tall,  stands on the far bluff of the river, dominating the harbor’s entrance.  It is a copy of the statue standing over Rio De Janero in Brazil, and was built to commemorate the city being spared destruction during W.W.II Portugal was officially neutral during the conflict and was the site of much international intrigue on the part of all warring participants.  Broad parkland now occupies the River front area. A section of old warehouses, called the “docks,” has been converted to trendy boutiques and bistros. It is the center of nightlife, for the young, in Lisbon.


      The city had been razed by a mighty earthquake in 1775.  “Common Square” had been built to commemorate the city’s restoration. There is another bridge that crosses the Tagus, further down the river. Its span is 18 kilometers long. The Portuguese claim that it is the longest suspension bridge in Europe. It had been named for Vasco De Gamma, the famous Portuguese explorer, who had rounded the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and opened up the orient to European commercial interests.


      Our bus first stopped at a small parkland next to a four-story, turreted battlement called “Belem.” Built in 1517-1521, it is a small castle that had once occupied the center of the Tagus River and served as a means of defense. Siltation had filled in one side of the River. Now, it is an attractive tourist Mecca. A bronzed biplane stands nearby on a pedestal. It commemorates the flight of two early Portuguese aviators who had first flown across the Southern Atlantic, to Portuguese Brazil. We took photos of everything not moving, during the quick photo op, and then reboarded the bus. We were headed just several hundred yards down the Tagus, to the “Discoverer’s Monument.” The sun was shining, the day was warming and the sky was a bright azure, pleasing to look at.


      Built in 1962, to commemorate the fifth centennial of the death of Portugal's’ Prince Henry the Navigator, The Discoveries monument also pays tribute to the many classes of Portuguese who had aided in the discovery of new lands across the globe. The huge stone monument is shaped like the white marble prow of a ship. Along either side, are 20 foot stone statues of clerks, clergy, navigators, queens and kings, sailors, artisans and every other group of people who had supported the exploration. At the middle of the prow stands Prince Henry the navigator, the main force behind much of Portugal’s early discoveries. A stone relief map of the world lies in front of the monument, giving perspective to the distances that this tiny country had sent its explorers. It is all larger than life and impressive to see and experience.


     The waterfront portions of the city are dominated by broad tree-lined boulevards, with  immaculate park areas and monuments sprinkled along the way. As the bus threaded its way through the narrower back streets, of the older sections, we saw a seedier and more worn visage of this older city. Potemkin Village is the phrase that comes to mind.


      Next, we stopped at the massive,walled  edifice that is the monastery of St. Jerome.  Construction started in 1502 and wasn’t completed until one hundred years later. The massive stone walls and huge entrance portals showed signs of aging. It had been occupied by an order of monks until late in the 1800’s. Now, it is a world Heritage museum.


     The interior is what you might expect, a set from an old Hollywood movie of a medieval monastery. The chapel is both ornate and well stocked with religious icons and much gold-leafed statuary. The wealth of the new world had been poured into this property of the church. The interior, two-story courtyard is still well preserved. Around its periphery are many examples of skilled, tiled friezes, depicting pastoral scenery in the deflt blue tiles.It is a color and style that one usually associates with the Netherlands. Perhaps the artisans had been imported or trained the local counterparts in their craft. A large, carved-stone relief tomb is the supposed resting place of the explorer Vasco de Gama. Everyone now agrees that it is a “washington once slept here” type of claim, much like Spain's determined association with Christopher Columbus.


       From the huge monastery, we drove to the “Mother of God” Convent. We walked through this ancient nunnery and admired the many tile friezes that are crafted onto its interior walls. Blues, and golds predominated in the work until the introduction of cheap copper sulfate in the mid 1700’s. Then, we saw the evidence of Green-hued tiles make their appearance. The Flemish influence was readily apparent in the tile work, The characters and countryside looked decidedly Dutch. The chapel was ornate and replete with gilded statues like the monastery. The early Portuguese govt/church had poured a goodly portion  of their wealth, from the new world, into these venerable edifices. We were doing the  3 hour “museum glaze” by now and had had enough of churches of all types, however ornate or interesting. The waiting bus was blocking traffic on the narrow street, outside of the old convent. We boarded our chariot to the chorus of honking horns. Anyone late for this bus would be on their own. On the ride to our next stop, the “Alfama” or arab quarter of the city, Isabelle informed us that St. Anthony of Padua was Portuguese and born here in the Alfama, in 1195. It must be one of the great secrets of italy, much akin to St. Patrick’s Roman origins in Ireland.


       The “Alfama” is composed of extremely narrow alleyways that spiral up through very crowded multi-story and aging, stone apartment complexes. Isabelle told us of it's origins and the type of communal life that passes here. Proximity means that everyone knows everything that goes on with everybody, in every area of their life. It sounded like New York City  Immigrant, tenement life. Laundry was hanging from many windows. Several old fishwives were carrying on a loud and animated discussion, yelling over our heads at each other, as we passed through. The youngsters, long inured to ogling tourists,  sat by idly, watching us as we walked slowly through their ancient courtyards. Although sprinkled with quaint and impossibly small cafes and bars, I think it not the place for tourists and outlanders to be alight,  after the sun has set.


       Though charming and colorful, we had seen enough of this interesting and colorful seaside town. The tour was getting long in the tooth. The bus delivered us back to the Dream by 6 P.M.  Portuguese customs had set up a security screen and checkpoint, as we entered the boat area. It caused a line a mile long. We had talked to our two Southern Belles, from Bowling Green Kentucky, Sandy and Joquetta, on the tour. We had agreed to meet them for dinner in the Four Season’s lounge at 7 P.M.


      We all did a quick turn around and met at the Four Seasons Restaurant shortly after 7 P.M.  Caesar salads led into a gray snapper plate for me, turkey for the girls. We had some Mondavi Merlot to accompany the repast. We enjoyed Apple strudel and bavarian torte, with decaf cappuccino, for desert. The girls were the essence of Southern charm. Sandy’s husband had been deterred by business interests and Joquetta had filled in for him. They acknowledged, with appropriate smiles,  that all yankees are not to be trusted. Even those foreigners from Northern Kentucky, on the Ohio border, are suspect. We smiled at the silly differences that separate people. I mentioned that the differences got even sillier when you brought in the element of differing nationalities. They told us, laughing,  that in some of their circles, women would say the most awful things about a friend or colleague, as long as they included the tag line “bless her heart.”  (said with a smile and a Southern lilt.) We much enjoyed their company and were glad that we had a chance to dine with them.


        We stopped by the internet cafe, to send out a few messages,  and then retired to our cabin to read and relax. It had been another hard day touristing.  The winds had increased to a steady 35 knots, from the Southwest,  as we sailed North along the Portuguese coast. It was to be another roller coaster ride on the Atlantic tonight. The Lord Bless those intrepid souls who had “gone down to the sea in ships” to make their living. We spent another night “rolling with the deepening swells.”


Friday, April 16th, 2004- At Sea off the Portuguese Coast


      We arose later this morning, taking advantage of the “day off” at sea. It was cloudy, gray and cool out as we had coffee on deck #11. The ship was surging through the swells, her fore and aft rising and lowering some ten feet as she crested a wave. I gained new appreciation for the engineers and architects who had designed and constructed her. She is well able to resist the enormous strains, placed on her hull, in rough seas.


       A “disembarkation meeting,” in the star dust lounge, drew our attention. Monty Hall explained the procedures for the different call times for differing destinations, either Gatwick, Heathrow (us) or London, for those staying over a few more days. It all seemed pretty organized, as had been the embarkation procedures. NCL runs a tight ship. From the meeting, we stopped by the deck 12 health club and used the stationary bikes and treadmills for 30 minutes. It probably worked off the coffee we had this morning.


      We changed, cleaned up and then sat down to a very nice lunch in the Terraces restaurant on deck #10. Norwegian baby shrimp, leak and onion soup, a vegetable pasta and ice cream made for a wonderful lunch. It was a good thing we had stopped at the health club this morning. Devonshire dimples were forming. Topside, the wind was blowing at a steady 30 knots. It was gray and cool out, a good day to sit some place and read a  book. The ship was riding the waves like a cowboy on a wild horse. At 3 P.M., we rounded the headland and cruised into the Bay of Biscay. We would need to motor for 24 hours, across this Bay, to reach La Havre. I think that it is in these environs that English Admiral Lord Nelson won his climactic naval victory over the French, at Trafalgar. Nelson was killed during the fight.


      That evening, we stopped by the Captain’s farewell party in the stardust lounge. Luckily, he had already introduced the 500 crew members and asked for applause for each. We cadged a glass of champagne and then made our way to the Bistro Restaurant on deck #9. Mary and I were dining alone this evening in splendor. Ingrida, a very pleasant Lithuanian, made our meal a delight. We conversed in Russian. Hers was fluent, mine ancient and rusty. The escargot was wonderful, as was the salad Nicoise. Grouper with mango, and a peach ice cream specialty, filled out this exquisite repast. A Mondavi Merlot, and decaf cappuccino accompanied the meal. You can’t eat like this without growing to be the size of Iowa.


     After dinner, we returned to our cabin, to read and cap off a lazy day at sea. We had to turn our clocks forward one hour because we were recrossing a time zone in the Bay of Biscay. This must get confusing for the locals. The seas were calming in the Bay and we passed a much quieter night.


Saturday, April 17th At Sea in the Bay of Biscay


     We arose late again. The seas had roughened and we were riding like a slaloming hog in a wallow. We had coffee on deck # 11. It was cool, gray and cloudy topside. I changed in our Euros on deck #7. Ouch, the bandits charged a pretty stiff commission. Bankers the world over always do well. We idled in one of the lounges, reading our books and watching the surging seas course by the deck portholes. There is a quiet rhythm, to days at sea, that is slower and enjoyable, once you find its pace.


     The Terrace Restaurant, on deck 10, summoned us for lunch. White bean provencal soup, mahi mahi on skewers, with peppers and mangos, and a Lizer Torte, with cappuccino made for another comfortable lunch. We had taken to skipping breakfast to make room for these carbo loads, pleasant as they were. A conversation with Mr. Nelson was the best suggestion we had after lunch. We repaired to our cabin to read and nap for an hour. Days like this are both relaxing and enjoyable.


     Later in the afternoon, we strolled topside for coffee and to enjoy the sea air. The seas had calmed, but it was still cloudy, gray and cool out. The ship had entered the English Channel in mid afternoon. We were now steaming due east for La Havre, at a stately 18 knots. Rain was expected tomorrow all along the Normandy coast.


     We walked for two miles around the deck #7 seven promenade, enjoying the exercise. Yesterday, it had been a challenge to walk the decks. Sometimes it felt like walking up and down  a hill that also decides to move sideways on you. Even with good sea legs, it could be comical to walk the length of the deck, without careening into someone.


     After our walk, we showered and cleaned up for dinner, finishing the last of the Pol Clement champagne that NCL had provided for us.  We stopped by the star dust lounge to catch “Zoltan the Magician” and a dance act. Both were lame. 8:30 P.M. found us at the Four Seasons for dinner. The line was a little long. A few passengers didn’t show their best manners complaining loudly about the wait. We watched, amused and appalled as always, at these public displays of ill manners. They are the ‘frying pan people” of life, destined always for disappointment. Apple Calvados, bouillabasse and mushroom crepes were all wonderful. A chocolate fudge cake, with cappucino, finished the meal. Now maybe you see why we were hoofing it around the decks during the day?


     The casino attracted us after dinner. We played the video machines for a time, contributing some money back to the machines. The room was too smoky for our tastes. We retreated, along the crowded gangways, wishing small pox on the wildly cavorting urchins now running amok. We read for a time and surrendered to the sandman. It had been a slow and easy day at sea. The seas were calmer this evening and sleep was a lot smoother.


Sunday, April 18th- La Havre & Honfleur , France


     We were up early and had breakfast in our room by 7:30 A.M. We then met at 8:45 A.M., in the star dust lounge, for the half-day tour of Honfleur. The options were a 10-hour tour of the Normandy. D-Day beaches or a 10 hour run into Paris.That would entail being on the bus for three hours each way. The trip was ending, we were tired from traveling and decided to take the less onerous choice of visiting the small seacoast town of Honfleur.


      Michelle, our guide, met us at the bus. It was raining, cool and 42 degrees out, promising to be a wet and soggy day. The port area of La Havre is massive. Containerized freight lay all along the yard, in neat and orderly rows, of colored metal boxes. Much of the freight of Western Europe is shipped from here, to Africa and South America. Ham Jin-Chicago and Deutche-Africa are two of the container shipping lines prominently displayed. We had seen freighters, with both their names, all along the Atlantic coast.


      Le Havre itself has roots as a military post dating back to 1517. During W.W.II over 80 % of it had been bombed into rubble by the allied air forces. The 200,000 residents, who remain here, inhabit an industrial city that is gray, featureless and not very scenic. We crossed over the Seine River at the Normandy Bridge. It is an attractive, signature-style bridge with two huge sails atop the deck, formed by the metal suspension cables. The Seine separates upper and lower Normandy. The bridge, fairly new, had been built in 1995. Before that, ferries were the only means of crossing the Seine this close to the coast.


     Normandy produces apples in quantity. From them, they make cider of all types, Brandy and deserts like Apples Calvados, that we had enjoyed on the ship. The region also produces textiles (wool & cotton). The Romans had first colonized the region,taking it by force from the native Galls. Then, the Vikings had come and settled here for centuries. We would soon see traces of them in Honfleur. Finally, the English had taken possession of the region, in a series of wars of succession between the inbred French and English monarchies, many of whom shared the same blood lines, though they were and are loathe to admit the connection.


      Honfluer, is just a few kilometers across the Seine, yet its peace and serenity must have seemed light years away from La Havre. Honfluer was one of the very few towns to escape any destruction during W.W.II. Its isolation, across the Seine, must have made it too small a target for allied bombers. The town dates back to medieval times. It had originally featured  a defensive wall around the small seaside village. Remnants of it survive in a few of the older stone structures. A small harbor was filled with fishing boats and some pleasure craft. Surrounding the harbor, is a small village, of narrow cobbled streets, that is charm personified. Cafes, boutiques and all manner of small hotels and shops abound. The colorful signage, in French, is eye appealing.  The painters had discovered the area,  during the 1800’s, for its combinations of light, sea and sky. Boudin, considered the father of Impressionism, had painted here. So too, had Monet. The French poet, Baudelaire is also from Honfluer.


       Michelle took us on a walking tour of the village, pointing out the medieval salt museum. Salt had been a precious commodity in the middle ages. We stopped in front of the St. Stephen’s Church. It is of stone construction,first built in 1369. It is Norman in appearance and overlooks the small harbor. Remnants of the principal gate, through the village wall,  survive in one of its stone arches adjacent to the church. Just across the small harbor, lies another temporal apparition, much older in origin, St. Catherine’s Church. It is of dark, wooden construction, with peaked roof lines. It  looks like an apparition right out of 17th century Norway. The remainder of the village buildings are tall and roofed in slate as well. They too look like a photo from the old harbor section of Bergen, Norway. The Viking influence was everwhere around us. The Medieval Commercial Hanseatic League had been a far-flung conglomerate of merchants and ships . Perhaps this had been one of their ports. It was odd to see these Norse structures, on what must have been a remote outpost of their warrior culture. It looked even now somewhat medieval, but very picturesque.


     We walked with the Martins, enjoying the colorful environs, despite the rain. Peter, Julia, Mary and I ducked into the “Du Poissons” cafe for some welcomed cafe au lait. (5 euros) We were wet, chilled and bedraggled, but enjoyed each other’s company in this charming village. This small cafe was for use by the locals. The hosts tolerated our limited French and made us feel welcome. Many of the other cafes were set with starched linens, formal glass and table wear, perhaps ready for a more formal Sunday Brunch. Afterwards, Mary and I walked among the small shops, purchasing a commemorative spoon. On its face, is the emblem of a soldier, who looks like an W.W.II G.I.  Perhaps, it is a big seller with the tourists. We then walked back to St. Catherines. Sunday mass was just getting out. It looked like every aging woman in Normandy was in attendance. Many walked with the aid of canes. I wondered at the arthritis that must afflict the aging, in such a damp and cool climate. It is much like Ireland, where we had seen the same phenomenon.


     After the crowd had cleared, we walked into this venerable structure. It was dim amidst the wooden pews. Large colorful glass windows let some light shine in from the rear of the ancient church. But, I knew intuitively that this building had not always been a church. It was constructed like every image I had ever seen of a Viking long Hall. In my mind’s eye, I could see the hearty Norsemen gathered here, to feast and toast the many gods of their warrior culture, in centuries past. It must have also stored their trade goods and served as a general meeting hall, inside the gates of the walled village. How it had escaped the ravages of fire, over the centuries, was a mystery. It is a temporal anomaly that adds much color to the small village.


      We walked along the docks, enjoying the relative quiet of the damp day in Honfluer. It is colorful and eye appealing. It would be delightful on a sunny, summer’s day. We met up with the Martins again and walked back through town to our waiting bus, admiring the many sights and signs around us. We noticed a large, river,  tour-boat that advertised week long excursions up the Seine to Paris. It must be a slow and interesting tour. A stream of automobile traffic was now flowing into Honfleur. We were glad we had come early. Our best advice for travelers, is to take a taxi here, early in the morning, walk the village yourself on a sunny and warm day. We were glad that we had come. As difficult as the French can sometimes be in person, their language is beautiful, their country a pleasure to experience and their food exquisite. The bus carried us back to the Norwegian Dream, amidst the damp mists of Normandy.


      It was afternoon on a dreary day. We lunched at the Four Seasons on deck # 9. Conch fritters, garlic-potato soup, salad, with Tilapia fish and a slice of coconut creme pie,  made us somnolent from the carbo load. It was wonderful. We adjourned to the cabin to read and converse with Mr. Nelson for an hour or two. (nap)


     The sun even peeked out during the late afternoon. I walked down to the clinic and had the five stitches removed from my finger. The wound was feeling much better, though still looked appalling. We read for a time in one of the lounges. (Chasing the Dime- M.Connoly) The ship was quieter. Many passengers were either on the Paris or Normandy Beaches excursions. We retired to our room, to pack our bags for the return trip home. The bags had to be placed outside our room by 11:00 P.M. this evening. We left out clothes for the trip home, some small items for our carry-ons and stuffed the remainder into our bags. It was to be light out this evening until 8:40 P.M. We were to cross another time zone, on the sail to England, and had to remember to turn our clocks back. It had been a long and interesting tour, but we were ready to go home.

 

      We showered and prepped for dinner. We were meeting the Martins at 9:00 P.M. in the Four Season’s restaurant. We were early and walked topside for a bit. The air was chilly and damp. We wandered forward and sat in the Observation Lounge on deck # 12, as the Norwegian Dream slipped her lines and eased out of the La Havre harbor. The sun was setting, out over the English Channel, as we sipped a glass of Merlot and spoke of the many places and things we had seen during the last 17 days. We were glad that we had been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to come.


      At 9:00 P.M., we met the Martins and sat down for dinner. Mondavi Merlot, tomato soup, caesar salad, and trout made for a lovely dinner. Ice cream and decaf cappuccino were a nice finale. It was the end of a pants- stretching and gustatory onslaught that we much enjoyed. Conversation with the Martins was pleasant. We were again among the last to be escorted from the restaurant. We made plans to correspond with Peter & Julia during the year. They were traveling to Vancouver,Canada in late December and then on to Toronto for New Years. If we are not in Florida, we planned to meet up with them in Niagara on the Lake or Niagara Falls. We made our goodbyes, glad that we had met them. After dinner, we walked for a bit, before retiring to our cabin. We changed the clocks back, read for a time and then surrendered to Morpheus, mindful of our early rise on the morrow.


Monday, April 19th- Dover, England


     We were up very early, packed our things and made ready for the day. We breakfasted in the deck 12 Sports Bar (slop chute). It was only half -full. I had expected a much busier morning crowd. Perhaps because the departures were staggered over a 4 hour interval, from 5 A.M through 9 A.M, there was less congestion. Or maybe, it was just too darn early.

    

      Topside, it was cloudy and cool, in the lower forties. We looked around  and admired the Dover harbor. It looked and felt like coastal Maine on a late Spring day. There, off our port bow, we could see a portion of the famous ‘white cliffs of Dover.” Famous in song, these huge, chalk cliffs had also served as an emotional and much welcomed sign post for hundreds of thousands of allied airmen during W.W.II.Seeing them, when returning from a bombing run over nazi germany, meant that they might just make it home  and live for another day.


      As 7:00 A.M. approached, we ventured down to the deck # 7 gangway and sat in one of the lounges. We saw and talked to Julia Martin. She was settling up something at the Pursar’s office. The traffic was orderly an controlled. When our tickets were called, for Heathrow, we debarked from the ship into a large warehouse, where we identified our two bags. A cheerful, English porter trucked them for us to out # 6 bus, labeled “Heathrow.” It was a cool morning. The long rows of buses filled quickly with their sleep-tousled passengers and then peeled off, one at a time, for their varied destinations. A line of taxis stood by the curb. They offered transport, to the various destinations,  at about half the cost that the ship charged. But, we figured that the last thing you need is a transportation screw up, as you are hurrying to meet a plane, at an airport some two hours away. Like many of the other travel insurances, it was a fee that enabled you to sleep, without worry. It was worth the cost.


       The fields, of rural England, are as green as those in Ireland, from all the rain that they get. Sheep gamboled about the pastures, in a bucolic and sun-dappled setting, that any painter would envy. The M-8 motorway, the main artery from Dover to London, was predictably crowded with traffic. It occasionally slowed to a crawl. London is a city of seven million people. Traffic here , during rush hours, is inevitable.


       The ride was dragging on and the traffic slowing to a stop. The resourceful bus driver exited the motor way and drove across the less crowded  backroads. We passed through picturesque village of Hampton. It is well ordered and attractive. There, just off in the distance and along the banks of the Thames, we got a view of Hampton Court. It was the home of Cardinal Woolsey and long a seat of clerical power. This castle complex had witnessed many royals coming and going in their barges from London.


     Finally, the three-hour run came to an end. We were at terminal # 4 of Heathrow Airport. Though busy, it is airy and open. We checked our bags into the BOAC counter and then wandered the shops. We  stopped, for cafe au lait, in one of the canteens and watched the travelers scurrying hither and yon. Airports, like harbors, are always interesting places. Unlike terminal #1, this terminal actually gave us an hour’s warning for a gate assignment. We sat patiently, for the 3:10 P.M. flight. The boarding call was not buy row, but a general boarding call. It triggered the usual “last lifeboat” feeling among the passengers. We waited patiently. All pilots will tell you that the front of the plane gets to your destination at the same time as the middle and the rear of the craft.


     The flight aback across the pond was long, at 7 hours, but fairly comfortable. BOAC has television screen on the backs of the seat in front of you. We watched a few movies and read our books. Sooner than we imagined, we were circling Toronto’s Pearson Airport. The remains of a heavy rain and wind squall was just passing east of Toronto. We landed without incident. We recovered our bags easily. Canadian customs was pleasant and easily traversed as well. The Travel gods were with us. Outside the terminal, we called for the Giorgio’s limo and waited briefly for it to come from a nearby carpool.


     The driver, Dan O’Brien, had South Buffalo roots, like my own. He now lives in West Seneca, where Mary teaches. We chatted amiably during the 90 minute run into Buffalo. Though only 8:30 P.M. local time, it was early in the next morning by our internal clocks. We had been traveling for twenty hours, and were as tired as old logs in a swamp.


      We arrived in Amherst, entered the castle and sifted through our mail and messages. Morpheus soon summoned us and we surrendered gratefully. It had been a long and interesting trip, but we were glad to be home.


                                               -30-

                                     (24,823 words)


                                  Joseph Xavier Martin

                                     May 5th, 2004