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Mediterranian Cruise 2010

10/29/10 - We arrived at Nice's airport near Cros-de-Cagnes, France at about noon where we were met by the Oceania shuttle which drove us for 22 km along La Corniche Moyenne (N7) clinging to the cliffs of the Maritime Alps as they plunge into the Cote d' Azur waters. We drove past Nice to Saint-Raphael, where I am told that King Leopold of Belgium had built a regal state that was complete with mistresses and a private priest confessor who could give him absolution on demand after his nocturnal frolics. The home of this priest (Villa Mauresque) was later purchased by the English novelist and playwright, W. Somerset Maugham. It was a writers' Mecca, its pampered pilgrims including T. S. Eliot, H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Arnold Bennett, Ian Fleming and Harpo Marx.

Approaching Nice Airport Cros_de_Cagnes ice, Frace (Villa Mauresque

We then whizzed past Villefranche-sur-Mer, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, and the hilltop village of Eze hanging at a dizzying angle above the sea, once the fortress of Ligurian brigands. When he stayed in Eze, Friedrich Nietzsche lived in Eze Bord de Mer rather than in the perched mediaeval village. However, he would apparently walk up the steep mule path to the village every day - which is a considerable hike. Here he wrote in 'Thus Spake Zarathustra', "I draw circles around me and sacred boundaries; fewer and fewer men climb with me on ever higher mountains,—I am building a mountain range out of ever more sacred mountains." After spotting our ship from the cliff side at about 1:00 PM we wound our way down into The Condamine and then turned right along the harbor to reach the pier of the Insignia off Monaco Villa in the harbor.

Villefranche-sur-Mer Beaulieu-sur-Mer Eze, France Insignia in Monaco Harbor

There, to the accompaniment of a beautifully attired string quartet, we checked in at the Deck 5 reception desk and received a magnetic card which would serve as a charging licence for alcoholic libations, a room key for accessing our cabin on Deck 4, and a sort of monitoring device for determining who was off the ship and who had returned to it's many pleasure venues.

Insignia Bar Insignia Theater Tapas Insignia's Pool Deck
Insignia Library Formal Dining Informal Dining Our Humble Cabin

After hugging each other about the size and luxuries of our cabin we divided its drawers and closets, unpacked our transported possessions, and made initial use of our wondrous toilet facilities. The idyllic moment was harmed only by the vacuumed authority of the flushing toilet. At first glance it appears that if someone would sit on the device and activate it for a courtesy flush, it would not only evacuate the stool but take half of the production facility as an unintended consequence. We then rode the forward elevator to Deck 9 to walk aft past the pool and hot tubs and then around the continuous serving of hot dogs, hamburgers, and deli sandwiches at the poolside Waves food venue. There the doors to Tapas are opened by liveried foot-people and we walk into the gentle clinking of silver place settings and crystal goblets, through a gauntlet of greetings and welcomes from a United Nations assembly of lapel labels indicating names and home countries, and out onto the open deck arcing its way completely across the Deck 9 stern where we see that Elaine and George have secured a rail side table overlooking Monte Carlo and its beautiful, sun-sparkled harbor. Still humbled by our surroundings, I left the open deck through the self opening glass doors and tried to deduce the protocols for accessing hundreds of different consumables within the traditional categories of soups, salads, antipastos, entrees, desserts etc. As I try to get close enough to read the menu and the little cards describing the offerings I set off many proximity switches among the minions and arouse a chorus of wonderfully phrased "How may I help you sir?" but I am not able to phrase an understandable response and began to feel rude in my silence. Finally I reached the end of the line of offerings and secured a large plate. Carrying the plate out beyond the range of the proximity sensors, I reviewed the situation and arrived at the decision to try to obtain a bowl of the cream of endive soup that I have now been able to see in the possession of other passengers. Seeing no identifying cards nor any lineup of bowls from this distance, I deduced that the soup must be coming from a large silver chaffing dish where I raised the lid, selected one of the four bowls contained within, and begin to walk back to our table. My action initiated a cacophony of objections from the serving staff. It seems that I am now trying to walk away with a bowl of bernaise sauce intended as one of the adornments for the slices of prime rib being served at this station. Forty years after my last "Social Usage" class at Penn State, I am flushed with shame as I return the bowl and its ladle to the chaffing dish and try to stammer my interest in some cream of endive soup. I have now gotten close enough to the source of the soup but the last of the tureen has been served to another passenger who has lowered his eyes so that I cannot see that he has been a witness to my embarrassment. The soup serving person announces that he will bring a bowl of the soup to my table when his supply has been restored so I showed him where I am sitting and offered my empty plate to the man who is slicing the prime rib. I then adorn the prime rib with the bernaise sauce as if I could not get enough of it and had actually had the real intention of drinking the entire bowl.

Map of Monaco

After lunch and the first of many much enhanced bowls of exotically flavored ice creams, we left the Insignia to walk around the harbor toward the casino where, with any luck at all, we hoped to be able to win enough money to pay for the cruise. There are three regions in the Principality of Monaco--Monaco Villa, the hill where Prince Rainier's palace dominates and the Insignia was docked, the valley of the Condamine, and another hill, Mount Charles--Monte Carlo The whole place owes its existence to Grace Kelly who successfully provided Prince Rainier with a son (Albert II), thus maintaining the Grimaldi line. Otherwise , a clause in Monaco's treaty with France asserted that Monaco would be absorbed into France if Rainier did not somehow produce an heir. On 2 April 2002 Monaco promulgated Princely Law 1.249 which provides that if a reigning prince dies without surviving legitimate issue, the throne passes to his siblings and their descendants of both sexes, according to the principle of male-preference primogeniture. Until Albert II produces legitimate descendants born of a dynastic marriage, Caroline's eldest son, Andrea Casiraghi, is second in succession to the throne.

The Grimaldi family, said to be the oldest monarchical line in Europe, is--like most of those families--royally disfunctional, filled with stressful and unsatisfying relationships, though Grimaldi self-esteem is not in short supply. They are well aware that there home was a dump until the mid-nineteenth century, when Prince Charles III built a casino. He did it in much the same spirit that the Pequot Mashantucket Indians intrduced gambling to Connecticut, because it was forbidden everywhere else. So Monaco got rich, as the Pequots got rich, on suckers being encouraged to throw their money away. Most of the residents of Monaco seem to be anal-retentive tax exiles with a death grip on their cash and a horror of spending, never mind gambling. Tax havens are by their very nature boring or else actively offensive; if they were pleasant, everyone would want to live in them.

Astern the Insignia Monte Carlo Harbor Place du Palais Place du Casino

Walking astern of the Insignia, we first passed through the shreakings of young people in a very fancy collection of vintage amusements at The Condamine in the apex of the harbor. We then walked to the opposite side of the harbor from our ship where we were able to ride an elevator to the level of the casino and I could snap a picture of the great Linda with our ship in the harbor background. The Place du Casino is considered to be the masterpiece of the famous architect Charles Garnier and is capable of taking our breath and our money away. Built in 1863, the Casino has been designed around an atrium surrounded by 28 onyx columns, behind which is the Salle Garnier, an Italian theatre decorated in red and gold which is the veritable miniature replica of Garnier's Paris opera house.

Next we made observations of some carefully constructed and much blinged young women as they presented themselves for each other's amusement and later for the attention of their designated young men. Linda and Elaine soon began to manifest some concern about the required lifeboat drill which was scheduled to be held on board the Insignia at 5:00 PM and they used a cross harbor launch to return to the ship. George and I, however, were undaunted by worry or by any reduction of our walking speed so we wandered to the back of the casino and then crossed the city higher up in the tiers of streets so that we could look more closely at some handsome buildings that we had seen from our walk along the quay. The steep, rocky hills and narrow coastline have influenced architecture and urban planning in Monaco. Streets are narrow and steep, and buildings must be constructed into the hills in limited amounts of space. The architecture in general St. Devote reflects a Mediterranean influence, and local materials, including granite, marble, and terra-cotta tiles, are common. Recent-twentieth-century residential construction includes numerous high-rise apartment buildings. Like many Mediterranean communities, Monaco has public squares, and its mild climate is favorable to outdoor living. Many buildings have balconies or terraces that face the sea. My favorite building was the little Church of St. Devote nestled in a tiny triangular rock cleft in The Condamine near the lifting and spinning amusement rides.

George and I returned to the Insignia gangplank just as the instructions for the lifeboat drill are being announced to the passengers. I join Linda in our cabin and we don our stylish orange life jackets to hurry forward to our designated assembly point in the Insignia Lounge on Deck 5. There, in hushed silence, each lifeboat's contingent is announced, directions are given for activating signaling devices, and we are marched to the side of our designated lifeboats where we are given instructions for getting into them in the unlikely event that we hit an iceberg or are torpedoed by terrorists. With the final instruction to wear our lifevests back to the cabins rather than joyously swinging them about and injuring or annoying other passengers, we are freed to return to our cabins to repair ourselves for an evening of meeting the Insignia Crew and dining in the Polo Grill. Captain Giulo Ressa is a dashing fellow from the Adriatic coast of Italy and he seemed to perform all of his boat steering and flesh pressing responsibilities without flaw. Later in the cruise, however, Elaine took notice of the fact that he was dining one evening in the unchaperoned company of a young woman and sought vainly to get to the bottom of the matter. General Manager Thierri Tholon was born in Lyon, France and now choses to live in Perth, Australia. He flawlessly choreographs the appearance and behavior of something like 450 staff members as they gracefully respond to the beck and call of something like 670 passengers. The handsome, never windblown, David Peterson from California is honored to be our Cruise Director and Bruno Haag from Zurick, Switzerland is our Concierge and ship troubleshooter..

The Oceania literature promises that in the Polo Grill we will have access to the finest cuts of dry-aged prime beef, chops and fresh seafood as signature items. Seating just 96 guests, this classic steakhouse features floor-to-ceiling windows affording views of the Monte Carlo harbor and is warmly decorated with dark woods and elegant furnishings. We have long held reservations to celebrate Linda's birthday and our arrival in Europe After deciding to pass up the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail, I choose a Lobster Bisque topped with morsels of roasted lobster to begin my oral pleasure, and follow with a Caesar Salad prepared at the table and then a first course of Ostrich. With this initial palate cleansing, my mouth was now well prepared to receive a magnificently grilled Florida Lobster Tail followed by the most tenderly aged Filet Mignon washed down with a Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon first flowered in California's Napa Valley in 2001. It is a lot of suffering to celebrate the anniversary of my wife's birth but I am able to carry it off well until I begin to argue with Elaine over the concept of redundant speech. I have somehow found reason to claim that Elaine has reused an earlier expression and she has given voice to the expression that the ones who love us are charged with the responsibility to "bear witness to our existence" and that this charge includes hearing multiple expressions of our earlier doings. In a sort of huff, I declare that I am not making a personal attack on Elaine for her redundancies and that Linda has often received the sharp edge of my tongue for her use of redundancies in attempting to correct the worst of my character flaws. I go beyond the edge of decent dinner conversation when I climb up on my high horse and declare that "I am not much interested in nostalgic reviews of one's earlier existence, but am inclined to "Live and celebrate the moment we are living within." Linda advises me that I am beginning to have a certain tone of disrespect in my voice, and I don't really want the discussion to go on any further; but I am very curious about expanding the idea of "bearing witness" so that I can see whether such a responsibility overrides what I consider to be my own "Prime Directive" of becoming more aware of this existence into which I appear to have been born. I always consider redundancies of all the senses to be like a skipping record in my limited life so that I don't even enjoy returning from a hike on the same path that I went out on, even when the alternative path is strewn with obstacles of some sort.

I am inserting an aside to say that I have a sort of lifelong obsession with the idea that each of us may have some upward ratcheting responsibility toward some of the people that we know and love. The term "Bearing Witness" if it is held to be true, means that I would be finally free from trying to correct misconceptions that I detect in people that I care about and that I will be off the hook for trying to "help" people who I have egotistically found to be in some kind of error that may reduce the overall quality of their existence. In other words, this might be a way for me to achieve nirvana and become a Republican during my Golden Years. How I long for such serenity and so I ask for my readers' foregiveness when I find a clue to unraveling the thread of my existential distress. If we are just passive personal movie makers for the others, I can relax completely for most of the time unless I am being paid to teach.

Cannes from Harbor Cannes Le Suquet Le Suquet Le Suquet
Cannes Cinema Mural Cannes Festival Theater Me and George in Cannes George and Wookie in Cannes


10/30/10 - After leaving the Monte Carlo harbor at about 11:00 PM we glided elegantly north past Nice in the night and woke next morning in the harbor off Cannes, France. Cannes is synonymous with nouveau-riche high life, frivolity, stardom and glamour. The city of Cannes is centered around the old port, with the central part quite compact. The famous "Croisette" is the boulevard and the beach that extends around the bay to the east of the port, in the protected "Rade de Cannes". The wide, palmy, flowery boulevard is one of the most luxurious, prosperous, and beautiful avenues in Europe. Out around the point at the west side of the port, the Boulevard Jean Hibert runs along the coast to the west, with even more fine sandy beaches. The Rue d'Antibes is the main street running east-west through the center of the city, becoming the Rue Félix Faure at the bottom end, past the Allée de la Liberté and the port. The Boulevard Carnot runs north out of the city, through residential-shopping areas, to the A8 autoroute, and inland towards Grasse. The closest thing to an "old town" is "Le Suquet" overlooking the west end of the port. The 12th-century Tour de Mt. Chevalier, ramparts and 12th-16th-century church Notre-Dame-de-l'Espérence give a touch of medieval flavor to the city. The Le Suquet area has narrow streets climbing up and around the hill, with a fine view from the top. Standing on the ancient rampart wall in front of the church, you can see east across the city, the port and the bay to the Cap de la Croisette, and to the west across the Gulf of La Napoule to the Massif de l'Esterel mountains.

French Riviera

In 1936 Cyril Connolly wrote of the French Riviera that "It has a terrible melancholy; the dinginess and the corruption are likely to overwhelm you. You feel the breath of centuries of wickedness, and delusion; how many civilizations had starled out on that bright promontory! Sterile Phoenicians, commercial minded Greeks, destructive Arabs, Catalans, Genoese, hysterical Russians, decayed English, drunken Americans, had mingled with the autochthonous gangsters--everything that was vulgar, acquisitive, piratical, and decadent in capitalism had united here, crooks, gigolos, gold-diggers, and captains of industry through twenty-five centuries had sprayed their cupidity and bad taste over it. As the enormous red sun sank into the purple sea the pathos of accumulated materialism, the Latin hopelessness seemed almost to rise up and hit him. Like Arabic music, utterly plaintive, utterly cynical, the waves broke over the guano-colored rocks. (The Rock Pool)

Map of Cannes

We bickered with some fellow travelers over who had the rightful claim to the name "The Bickersons" as the Insignia's tender took us to the port of Cannes where we followed some upward winding streets and climbed a series of steps to reach Suquet Hill to visit the church of Notre-Dame-de-l'Espérence. Completed in 1648, Notre-Dame d'Espérance is a beautiful Provençal Gothic church. Its charm lies in its wood paneling, which dates back to the 14th and 15th Century. Also worthy of a look is the collection of 19th-century paintings, which includes a fresco by George Roux that portrays the baptism of Christ. Statues of Saint Anne and Notre-Dame d'Espérance (both in gilded wood) from the 15th and 18th Centuries are worth a photo op. Situated on top of Suquet hill in old Cannes, the church offers us a fabulous view of the town and its bay. One of fishermen's favorite saints, Notre-Dame d'Espérance is also called upon to heal the sick. According to legend, the "Man in the Iron Mask" escaped from Sainte-Marguerite island (the famous prison of the Bastille) and spent the last years of his life in Tour de Mt. Chevalier on Suquet Hill.

Suquet Hill Notre-Dame d'Esperance Notre-Dame d'Esperance Notre-Dame d-Esperance St. Anne Cannes Kitsch David Lynch Handprint at Cannes

From here it was all downhill as we headed for the Croisette past the bus station with its wondrous mural called Cannes Cinema. We then visited the Plage du Festival to look at the handprints of movie notables from the past and present while George and I seized the opportunity to be photographed with famous movie stars. Badly dehydrated and weakened we were able to spend the remainder of the afternoon at the table of an outdoor cafe where we ogled people and dogs over bottles of beaujolais. Upon returning to the ship we headed to the casino bar to refuel and listen to Mario Grymuza as he tickled the ivories with some familiar tunes.

La Spezia Vernazza Vernazza Vernazza
Manarola Vernazza Church La Spezia Vernazza

La Spezia and Cinque Terra

10/31/10 - The area of La Spezia has been settled since pre-historic times. In Roman times the most important centre was Luni now located in the vicinity of Sarzana (city near La Spezia). Capital of the short-lived Niccolò Fieschi Signoria in the period between 1256 and 1273, inevitably linked with the Genoese vicissitudes until the fall of the Republic of Genoa, it grew and changed to develop following the lines of the Ligurian capital. This Ligurian influence is still visible in the urban layout as well as in the types of buildings and decorations. It can be seen by going along the carrugio, the narrow street dividing the Old Town into two, called via del Prione taking its name from pietrone or large stone, in local dialect prione, from where public announcements were read. Going up from the sea it is possible to see partly hidden but evident traces of past history: engraved stones, capitals and portals in 14th century sandstone, double lancet windows vaguely reminiscent of the future renaissance style, mannerism and baroque pediments and decorations similar to those adorning the portals of the palaces once belonging to the Doria family and the Princes of Massa.

La Spezia knew an extraordinary development starting from the second half of the 19th Century, when the great Naval Arsenal commissioned by the Savoys transformed the best part of its fate and aspect. At the end of the Second World War, La Spezia became the point of departure for the survivors from the Nazi concentration camps. From the summer of 1945 to the spring of 1948 over 23,000 Jews managed to leave Italy clandestinely for Palestine. After lengthy torment, the ships Fede, Fenice and Exodus managed to take away everyone from the Spezia gulf, so that on the Israeli geographical maps La Spezia is called 'Schàar Zion', (Door to Zion).

The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast to the west of the city of La Spezia. "The Five Lands" comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cinque Terre is noted for its beauty. Over centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible "modern" development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach it from the outside. It is a very popular tourist destination. In 1998 the Italian Ministry for the Environment set up the protected natural marine area Cinque Terre to protect the natural environment and to promote socio-economical development compatible with the natural landscape of the area. In 1999 the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre was set up to conserve the ecological balance, protect the landscape, and safeguard the anthropological values of the location.

Map of Cinque Terre

I took an early tender to La Spezia where I was met by three witches stirring a cauldron of troubles glistening with eye of newt. One of the witches gave me instructions for the 15 minute walk to the train station so while I waited for my friends to come ashore on a later tender I walked to town and back so that when they arrived I could give them the comfort of knowing the proper way. When they arrived we decided to ride a little blue tourist train to the station so that we could avoid the torrential downpour. The trails have been deemed by the authorities to be overly treacherous in the rain so we purchase a round-trip ticket to Vernazza in the hope that we can at least see one representative village without drowning ourselves on the open train platforms. The local train from La Spezia stops at each of the Cinque Terre villages so that we can give them a quick once over on our 15 km way to Vernazza.

From the train station in Vernazza we walk quickly along Via Visconti through a maze of tiny streets that eventually lead down to the town's bustling main street, and its adorable main square. Everything from its historical attractions and manageable size to its somewhat chic vibe make this port arguably the most agreeable of the five towns. In the pouring rain Vernazza at first seemed a little rundown. The paint on the buildings around the beach area is peeling off in large sections, but we didn't let that put us off. Vernazza is lively and boisterous and has two clock towers, a beach, boats, and a large public space with umbrellas and tables. We made our way into a perfect little church to take some pictures and keep dry, then headed for the Pizzeria Fratelli Basso to sample their wares and rehydrate with some wine. The wind and rain tore at our umbrellas as we climbed back up to the station to wait for our train back to La Spezia. When we finally arrived back at La Spezia, we were met by a throng of umbrella wielding people who were trying to get on the train without getting wet and in the resulting melee, Linda fell to the ground and hurt her back against the train. As a result our long walk back to the tender port was wet, windy, cold, and painful for her. But the worst was yet to come because the sea had violently risen and our return to the ship had no tenderness at all. Linda developed much sympathy for those who had landed at Normandy as our 100 passenger tender rose high and smashed against the Insignia's receiving dock. Multiple "Double Jacks" were required during happy hour in the Horizons Lounge to repair my torn nerves and prepare me for the Champagne Welcome Reception hosted by our captain.

Travels in Italy


11/1/10 - After departing La Spezia at 8:00 PM on the previous evening, we continued south through the Ligurian Sea to arrive at Livorno at 7:00 AM the next morning. Livorno is spread across a series of rocky out-croppings, quite unlike the wide, sandy beaches that we have seen to its north. Livorno, sometimes called Leghorn by the English, is the third largest port on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast of Italy, after Genoa to the north and Naples to the south.  Historical documents refer to a cathedral that was built here in about 891 AD, but until the 15th century, it was a small fishing village and port of very little consequence.  The main Tuscan port at this time was Porta Pisa a little to the north and further inland along the Arno River.  Livorno's status and fortunes changed when the Medici rulers of Florence  made it the principle Mediterranean port for Tuscany.

Livorno Lighthouse Insignia at Livorno Livorno from Port Fortezza Vecchia
Livorno Canal Livorno Canal Il Duomo Portico Piazza Mascagni

Livorno's harbor is irregularly shaped, and a number of canals penetrate deeply into the old part of the city, a kind of ersatz Venice, but with a charm all its own and not one at all reminiscent of that other, older city.  Indeed, the heart of the city is called Venezia Nuova, or Porto Mediceo, and was built in the 16th century under orders from the Medici, Cosimo I, Grand Duke of the Duchy of Florence. The harbor, canals, waterside fortress - the Fortezza Vecchio - and the centro storico were laid-out and built to a comprehensive design done by Bernardo Buontelenti who had much of the building work done by Venetian craftsmen.  The fortress was designed by Antonio de Sangalla, and incorporates an older Pisan fort, an 11th century tower, which pokes out the top, and a Roman castrum.

Map of Livorno

George and Elaine had an early departure on a bus excursion to Florence and Linda was still suffering from her previous day's wounds and from the promise of daylong rain. She decided to recuperate with an afternoon excursion bus to Pisa and I set out to catch a 5 km bus ride to the Livorno Centrale station on the landward side of Livorno. My intention was to walk to the square where I could catch the bus but four other passengers were trying to find a cab to share and we searched in vain until I finally led us to the bus stop and we got on board an express to the train station. There we parted as they were headed for a lunch reservation in Pisa, and I served other travelers with directions to ticket purchases, ticket validation stamping machines, and proper platform choices.

There I caught a 9:10 AM train that will take me to Florence in about 90 minutes. It arrived in the train station in the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella at about 10:42 AM where I found my way to the MacDonalds that marked the entrance to a long underground, store-lined tunnel to the piazza. In August, 1944, this station was precisely bombed by the Americans in one of the most successful bombing raids of the war, the train station was eliminated without corollary damage, and the German army had no way to receive critical supplies. After a year of occupation, the Germans left Florence. Before they did, they set about destroying all of the cities historic bridges over the Arno river in an attempt to slow the Allied advance. The Germans decided not to blow up the Ponte Vecchio. Instead, they leveled the historic medieval buildings on either side of it, creating a mountain of rubble blocking the bridge.

The beautiful green and white marble facade of Santa Maria Novella, with its classical pediment and elegant scrolls, was designed by the Florentine humanist Leon Battista Alberti, one of the most brilliant men of the Quattrocento. The spacious Gothic interior is a treasure house of Renaissance art. The finest works of art are Masaccio's monumental and somber fresco of the Trinity with the Virgin and St John halfway up the left aisle, Brunelleschi's Crucifix in the left transept, and Domenico Ghirlandaio's charming frescoes of the Lives of St John the Baptist and the Virgin in the chancel; where the scenes are transposed into the streets of Florence in the 1480s. I was only able to gain entrance to the Chiostro Verde (Green Cloister) adjoining the church where I saw Uccello's extraordinarily powerful fresco of the Deluge, dating from the 1420s.

Map of Florence

It was Monday on All Saints Day and I couldn't visit most of Florence's museums so I opted to walk about 500 meters east to visit the Piazza del Duomo with a stop along the way to look at the doors of the Battistero di San Giovanni. The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in Florence although it is impossible to exactly determine the period during which it was built. In the Middle Ages, it was believed to be a Roman pagan temple dedicated to Mars. Its balanced geometrical layout and decorations in white and green marble from Prato originate from the harmonious integration of Romaneque and Paleochristian architecture developed between the 11th and 13th centuries.

The external sculptures and bas reliefs above the doors and on the doors themselves are the most important works ever made in Tuscany. The gilded bronze doors were made respectively by Andrea Pisano in 1336 (the door now facing south) and by Lorenzo Ghiberti in 1427 and in 1452 (the two doors facing to the north and east). The latter door is known with the name of Gate of “Paradise” and represents one of the best artistic results ever achieved by the artist, who combines the rhythms of the late Gothic period with the newly learned classical language. The original gate has now been removed for restoration and replaced with a copy. The restored panels are exhibited in the "Museo dell´Opera del Duomo". The marble sculptures above the doors were sculptured by Francesco Rustici (1474-1554) ("Preaching of the Baptist") and Vincenzo Danti (1530-1576) ("Beheading of the Baptist") and by Andrea Sansovino (the "Baptism of Christ", which is a copy, since the original work is exhibited in in the "Museo dell´Opera del Duomo").

In addition to the inlaid floor (end of 12th century and beginning of 13th century), the interior displays some large mosaics on the apse and ceiling. All the mosaics have a gilded background and were made between 1266 and the beginning of the 14th century by Byzantine artists from Venice, with the collaboration of vigorous Tuscans like Meliore, Coppo di Marcovaldo and above all Cimabue (1272-1302), the master of Giotto. Other works of sculpture include the tomb of Giovanni XXIII, the Anti-Pope who died in Florence in 1426, which was designed by Donatello and Michelozzo. The beautiful and ascetic wooden "Magdalene" sculptured by Donatello and originally exhibited in the Baptistery is now displayed in the "Museo dell´Opera del Duomo".

Santa Maria Novella Interir of Santa Maria Novella Baptistery with Il Duomo Interior of Baptistery

Leaving the Baptistery I walked into Piazza del Duomo to stare from many angles at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and the long line of umbrellas waiting to go inside. Under an awning I had a great talk with with an architecturally knowledgeable couple from the UK. The cathedral (Il Duomo) of Florence, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and it has an elaborate 19th century Gothic Revival facade by Emilio De Fabris. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Il Duomo Il Duomo Interior Il Duomo Bargello Museum

Leaving the Piazza Il Duomo I walked south toward Piazza della Signoria and found that the Bargello Museum was open. The museum is housed in the former Palace of the Capitain of the People which was the city's oldest seat of David by DonatelloDrunken Bacchus by Michelangelogovernment. From the late 13th century to 1502 the Palace was the official residence of the Podestà, the magistrate who governed the city and who, by tradition, had to come from another town. Around 1287 the balcony was built, a beautiful loggia overlooking the courtyard where the Podestà often held meetings with the representatives of the guilds and corporations. The tower, which predates the rest of the building, held a bell known as La Montanina, which rang to call the Florentine citizens to gather in case of war or siege. In 1502 the palace became the headquarters of the Council of Justice and of the Police, whose head was known as the Bargello. In 1786, when the grand duke Pietro Leopoldo abolished the death penalty, the torture instruments were burnt in the courtyard. The prison remained in use until 1857, when it was moved to the former Murate convent and the palace underwent complete restoration.

I wander to the loggia of Piazza della Signoria where I stay dry for a while and try to capture the Rape of the Sabine Women and the Perseus with my video camera. While this work is in progress I felt a tug on my coat and greeted Elaine who had just finished lunch with George and was enjoying free time from their excursion. I burdened her with the responsibility of reporting my current safety to Linda and then follow their directions to walk through the courtyard of the Uffizi Museum to have a look at the Ponte Vecchio. After walking down the bank of the Arno to the Ponte Delle Grazie I made my way back to Piazza Santa Croce to view with sorrow the restoration of the Cimabue crucifix and pay respects to the earthly remains of Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Michelangelo.

The Piazza della Signoria evokes centuries of greatness and power! It was already a central square in the original Roman town Florentia, surrounded by a theatre, Roman baths and a workshop for dyeing textiles. Later there was a church San Romolo, a loggia and an enormous 5th c. basilica. This was shown by the archaeological treasures found beneath the square when it was repaved in the 1980s. Even remains of a Neolithic site were found. The square started taking shape from 1268 on, when houses of Ghibellines were pulled down by the victorious Guelphs. The square remained untidy and full of holes for a long time . In 1385 it was paved for the first time. In 1497 Girolamo Savonarola and his followers carried out on this square the famous "Bonfire of the Vanities", burning a large pile of books, gaming tables, fine dresses, and works of poets. In front of the fountain of Neptune, a round marble plaque marks the exact spot where Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned on May 23, 1498.

Piazza della Signoria with Neptune Palazzo Vecchio Loggia dei Lanzi Copy of Michaelanelo's David

The Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) is the town hall of the city. This massive, Romanesque, crenellated fortress-palace is among the most impressive town halls of Tuscany. Overlooking the square with its copy of Michelangelo's David statue as well the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy. The various eye-catching statues in this square include: a copy of David. a bronze equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna (1594), the Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1575), The Lion, referred to as "il Marzocco" with a copy of the "Florentine Lily", originally made by Donatello, a copy of "Judith and Holofernes" by Donatello, "Hercules and Cacus", by Bandinelli (1533), the Rape of the Sabine Women", by Giambologna, and the "Perseus with the Head of Medusa" by Cellini (1554). In total there are more than a dozen portrayals of penises that greet visitors to the palazzo.

Hall f the %00 Herculesand Diomedes Genius of Victory Copy of MBattle of Marciano

With the departure of the tour bus, the line into the Palazzo Vecchio was much shorter and I was able to get inside. At one time the Hall of the Five hundred was the largest room in the world. In an exceptional feat of engineering Giorgi Vasari had raised the original roof substantially and permitted natural light to flow in through high transoms on all four sides of the room, resulting in an elegant showroom for some of Florence's finest architecture, sculpture, and painting. At the far end of the room were six--Labors of Hercules--including "Hercules and Diomedes" whose naked bodies were locked in an awkward wrestling match.

Michelangelo's Genius of Victory dominates the central niche in the south wall. At nearly nine feet tall, this scupture had been intended for the tomb of Julius II. It depicts Tommaso del Cavalieri, the young man with whom Michelangelo had been in love for much of is life.

Santa Croce on 11/5/1966 Basilica of Santa Croce Grave of Galileo Grave of Michelangelo
Palazzo Vecchio from Uffizi Courtyard Ponte Delle Grazie from Ponte Vecchio Ponte Vecchio Ponte Santa Trinita

Then I returned to the Arno and walked westward passing the Ponte Vecchio to Dante and Beatricemake a right turn on Via Tornabuoni at the Ponte Santa Trinita, famous as the point where Dante at 18 was greeted by Beatrice at 17, nine years after he first fell in love with her. On 8 August 1944, the bridge was destroyed by retreating German troops, but reconstructed in 1958 with original stones raised from the Arno or taken from the same quarry.

After making the turn on to Via Tornabuoni, I hurried past many many high fashion boutiques and ogled the 15th century Palazzo Buondelmonti (in Santa Trinita square) before crossing the street to get a closer look at the Basilica of Santa Trinita. Santa Trinita ("Holy Trinity") is the mother church of the Vallumbrosan Order of monks, founded in 1092 by a Florentine nobleman. The church is famous for its Sassetti Chapel, containing notable frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio, ranked among the 15th century's painting masterworks.

I arrived back in the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella at about 3:30 so that I could catch the 3:45 train to Pisa for some quick snaps before going on to Livorno. Arriving in Pisa at about 5:00, I hurried to cross the Arno and reached the cathedral and its tilting campanile as the sun went down in the west. Pisa was a wonderfully preserved medieval city until the war, when much of it was destroyed by bombing and fire. The leaning tower and famous cathedral in the center of town survived allied bombing during the war, but not all historic structures were so lucky. Right next to the cathedral is a cemetery called the Camposanto. In the 12th century, knights of the fourth crusade brought back loads of soil from Golgotha, the place of Christ’s crucifixion in Jerusalem, and created a sacred burial space in Pisa. Over the centuries, the Camposanto became the cultural center of Pisa and the region. Many were buried there, and priceless Roman sarcophagi and statues, along with biblical relics, were housed there. The walls were completely decorated in immaculate frescos, and were beautiful beyond description. In short, the Camposanto was the one of the most important and priceless historical structures in all of Italyand fell victim to allied bombing on July 27, 1944.

Pisa/Arno 5:02 PM Pisa Cathedral Pisa Campanile Pisa/Arno 5:40 PM

I then hurried back to the train station at 5:47, two minutes after the train left for Livorno. Fortunately the 5:10 PM train was delayed by an hour until 6:10 and I was able to get back to Livorno Centrale and catch a bus to the port by 7:00 PM. I still had a half hour to get back to the ship, but the canal bridge had been lifted for the night and I finally slide unto the gangway with seconds to spare. George, Elaine, and Linda greeted me with all the appearances of relief.


11/02/10 - After leaving the Livorno harbor at about 8:00 PM we made our way past the famous island of Elba and into the Tyrrhenion Sea where we woke the next morning in the harbor at Civitavecchia, located 80 kilometers west-north-west of Rome, across the Mignone River. The city was almost completely destroyed in the second world war, but it has been rebuilt since. The most important sights are the sixteenth-century Fort Michelangelo, built to the order of Pope Julius II Della Rovere. Begun by Bramante and continued by Sangallo the Younger and by Giuliano Leno, it was completed by Michelangelo, who was responsible for the imposing keep. In regard to its power and grandeur, it was one of the greatest of the period. Around the fort lies the port itself, partly following the layout of the one of Trajan's time. Here you find the old city walls built under Pope Urban VIII, as well as a fountain designed by Vanvitelli. A bit further on there is fish market, the remains of Porta Livoro, what is left of the Horrea (the big Roman warehouses) and then the Roman harbor, the refuge of a finely equipped fishing fleet. In 1462 alum was discovered near the town of Tolfa a few miles inland and its mining became a very important source of revenue for the papal Ponzi scheme in its defence against the Ottoman Empire and its much dreaded Islamism.

Insignia in Civitavecchia Fort Michelangelo Exit from Civitaveccia port Civitavecchia Train Station

Like Livorno, Civitavecchia served mostly as a launch pad to rocket us into Rome. The Oceania shuttle bus dropped Linda and I off at the Michelangelo Fortress - a large stone fortress inside the port area. We then received instructions to exit the port entrance, cross the street with a crosswalk and a news kiosk on the corner, and to proceed about 300 meters to the Civitavecchia Centrale. Inside the station we milled about a little before purchasing our B.I.R.G. tickets which allowed us to have unlimited train for 24 hours and also included unlimited use of the underground in Rome, as well as the city buses. The cost per person was about 12 euros. We made sure that we wrote our name on the back of the tickets and validated them in the little yellow validation machines at the train terminal.

ap of Rome

Since Linda and I had both explored the Vatican City in the past, we stayed on the train to the "Termini" at Rome's main station. There we are given directions to the Via Cavour, where after some momentary directional confusion, we had a short walk to the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Parts of the church date back to the 5th century and in most other cities it would have been a main attraction. But in Rome it has to “compete” with so many other amazing buildings that there were hardly any tourists there. According to one source the church has been decorated with some of the first gold that Christopher Columbus brought back from America. We couldn't find any open door so we were unable to verify this little factoid.

Next we continued along the Via Cavour toward the Coliseum that we could now catch glimpses of. On our right a series of steps and an arched entry way led us into the courtyard of the St. Peter in Chains Church (San Pietro in Vincoli). The basilica was first built in the middle of the 5th century to house the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem, given to Pope Leo I by Empress Eudoxia (wife of Emperor Valentinian III). According to legend, when the pope held them next to the chains from of Peter's first imprisonment in the Mamertine Prison in Rome, the two chains miraculously fused together. We reviewed the chain display with some curiosity before going on to view the Moses (1513–1515). It is a masterpiece of High Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti. The sculpture was commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb and depicts the Biblical figure Moses with horns on his head, symbolic of wisdom and enlightenment. Michelangelo felt that this was his most life-like creation. Legend has it that upon its completion he struck the right knee commanding, "now speak!" as he felt that life was the only thing left inside the marble. There is a scar on the knee said to be the mark of Michelangelo's hammer.

Piazza di Spagna Santa Maria Maggiore Santa Maria Maggiore San Pietro in Vincoli
Vincoli Interir San Pietro in Vincoli Chains San Pietro in Vincoli Moses Moses

We then walked down the hill to the Coliseum (Collosseo). Emperor Vespasian, founder of the Flavian Dynasty, started construction of the Coliseum in AD 72. It was completed in AD 80, the year after Vespasian's death. The elliptical building is immense, measuring 188m by 156m and reaching a height of more than 159 ft.. The Coliseum could accommodate some 55,000 spectators who could enter the building through no less than 80 entrances. Above the ground are four stories, the upper story contained seating for lower classes and women. The lowest story was preserved for prominent citizens. Below the ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena. The Coliseum was covered with an enormous awning known as the velarium. This protected the spectators from the sun. It was attached to large poles on top of the Colosseum and anchored to the ground by large ropes. A team of some 1,000 men was used to install the awning.

After surveying the long lines for entering the Coliseum we walked to the Arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch, erected in 315 to commemorate the triumph of Constantine I after his victory over Maxentius in the battle at the Milvian Bridge in 312. The arch is located in the valley of the Colosseum, between the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, along the road taken by the triumphal processions. Our visit was plagued by swarms of aggressive, non-Italian venders convinced that our moment should not go unpunctuated with the purchase of some odd trinket or a scarf richly decorated with scenes of Rome.

Colosseum from Cavour Colosseum Arch of Constantine Colloseum from Arch

It is thought that Rome has its origins on the Palatine. Recent excavations have shown that people have lived on the site since approximately 1000 B.C. According to Roman mythology, the Palatine hill was where Romulus and Remus were found by a female wolf that kept them alive. After which, according to this legend, a shepherd named Faustulus found the infants, and with his wife Acca Larentia raised the children. Later when they were older, Romulus chose this site to build the city of Rome. With the development of Rome and the continued embellishment of the Forum, the Palatine, due to its close proximity to the seat of power, became "the place to live". Here the air quality was much better. It also has the benefit of splendid views. So it became the place where the very powerful and wealthy chose to build their homes. The future emperor Augustus was born on the hill in the consulate of Cicero. Eventually the emperors took over the hill completely. Domitian had his architect, Rabirius, radically re-landscape the hill and had many new buildings constructed.

Palatine Hill Palatine Hill Palace of Flavius on Palatine Palatine Hill

Again dodging persistent vendors, we walked along the Via Dei Fori Imperialli Roma passng three hugh arches of the Basilica of Constantine (Basilica Maxentius). Construction began on this basilica under the emperor Maxentius in 308, and was completed in 312 by Constantine I after his defeat of Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. The building consisted of a central nave covered by three groin vaults suspended 39 meters above the floor on four large piers, ending in an apse at the western end containing a colossal statue of Constantine.. The lateral forces of the groin vaults were held by flanking aisles 75 by 56 feet. The aisles were spanned by three semi-circular barrel vaults perpendicular to the nave, and narrow arcades ran parallel to the nave beneath the barrel vaults. The nave itself measured 83 by 265 feet creating a 4000 square meter floor. Like the great imperial baths, the basilica made use of vast interior space with its emotional effect. At the near east end of the main square are the foundations of a temple now capped with a peaked wood and metal roof. There is a plaque on this building that is titled Ara di Cesare - Altar of Caesar or commonly called the Temple of Caesar. In this dark little alcove is a rough pile of rocks that is usually decorated with bundles of flowers. This altar was built to the deified Julius Caesar and is believed to be the site of his cremation. Behind and to the left of the Temple of Julius Caesar are the tall columns of the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina. The temple was begun in 141 by the Emperor Antoninus Pius and was initially dedicated to his deceased and deified wife, Faustina the Elder. When Antoninus Pius was deified after his death in 161, the temple was re-dedicated jointly to Antoninus and Faustina at the instigation of his successor, Marcus Aurelius. The building stands on a high platform of large peperino blocks. The later of two dedicatory inscriptions says, "Divo Antonino et Divae Faustinae Ex S.C." meaning, “To the divine Antoninus and to the divine Faustina by decree of the Senate.” The ten monolithic Corinthian columns of its pronaos are 17 m. tall. The rich bas-reliefs of the frieze under the cornice, of garlanded griffons and candelabri, were often copied from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. In medieval times the building was pillaged as evidenced by diagonal cuts high on the marble columns in a failed attempt by scavengers to cut through the pillars to pull them down for their precious stone.

Next we spot the three tall Corinthian columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. This temple (Templum Castorum or Aedes Castoris) introduced the Greek cult of the dioscuri into Rome. The foundation of the temple is closely related to an ancient myth. The last, deposed king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, and his allies, the Latins, waged war on the infant Roman Republic. It came to a battle near the Lake Regillus in 496 BCE. The legend says that two able, but unknown horsemen helped the losing the Roman troops to victory, and immediately afterwards they were seen watering their horses at the Spring of Juturna in the Forum Romanum. They were identified as the Dioscuri, and the dictator, Aulus Postumius Albinus, vowed to build a temple in their honor. The temple was finished by his son in 484 BC. The archaic temple was completely reconstructed and enlarged in 117 BCE by L. Cecilius Metellus Dalmaticus after his victory over the Dalmatians. This second temple was again restored in 73 BCE by Gaius Verres. In 14 BC the temple was destroyed by a fire that ravaged major parts of the forum, and it was rebuilt by Tiberius, then heir to the throne. Tiberius' temple was dedicated in 6 CE. The remains visible today are from the temple of Tiberius, except the podium, which is from the time of Metellus. In republican times the temple served as a meeting place for the senate, and from the middle of the 2nd century BCE the front of the podium served as a speakers platform. During the imperial period the temple housed the office for weights and measures, and was a depository for the State treasury. The temple was peripteral, with eight Corinthian columns on the short sides and eleven on the long sides. There was a single cella, which was paved with mosaics. The podium measures 32×49.5m and 7m in height. It is constructed in opus caementicium and was originally covered with slabs of tufa, which were later removed. According to ancient sources the temple had a single central stairway to access the podium, but the excavations have identified two sideways stairs.

Basilica of Constantine Altar of Caesar Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina Temple of Castor and Pollux

At the end of the low lying Forum we climbed a steep set of external steps and then another set of internal steps to emerge on a cafe terrace midway up the Victor Emmanuel Monument for a sweeping overview of the city. The Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele is one of Italy's most derided landmarks, but one of the least deserving of this scorn. Architecturally, locals compare it to a wedding cake, a Victorian typewriter, or even a set of dentures. Some think it looks out of place because its marble is too white and looks too new amid all the great ancient artifacts that surround it. But it is possible that the critics fail to realize that this is what all of Rome once looked like, and that five-hundred years from now it will be seen as a cultural landmark and a national treasure, not just a colossal symbolic social Band-Aid on a fractured country.

Victor Emmanuel Monument Victor Emmanuel Monument Victor Emmanuel Monument View Victor Emmanuel Monument  View

After deciding not to take our lunch on the Victor Emmanuel Monument we descend past the steps to the Santa Maria in Aracoeli Church and find our way to the Shewolf statue at the left of the Capitoline Museum on Capitoline Hill. In ancient times, the Capitoline Hill was the nerve center of the Roman Empire. The great Temple to Jupiter and the Capitoline Triad (Jupitor, Juno, and Minerva) was constructed under Rome's last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, and was considered one of the largest and the most beautiful temples in the city. When the Celtic Gauls raided Rome in 390 BC, the Capitoline Hill was the one section of the city to evade capture by the barbarians. The Capitoline echoes with famous events in Roman history. It was here that Brutus and the assassins locked themselves inside the Temple of Jupiter after murdering Caesar; here that the Gracchi plotted and died; here the triumphant generals overlooked the city for which they fought; here that the Gauls, creeping to the Citadel, were let in by the infamous Vestal Virgin Tarpeia. Political criminals were murdered by being thrown off the steep crest of the Capitoline Hill to the dagger-sharp Tarpeian Rocks below. When Julius Caesar suffered an accident during his Triumph, he approached the hill and Jupiter's temple on his knees as a way of averting the unlucky omen. Apparently not successful, he was murdered six months later. By the Middle Ages, Monte Caprino (Goat Hill), as the hill was called, had fallen into ruin. But in 1536 Pope Paul III (1468-1549) decided to restore its grandeur for the triumphal entry into the city of Charles V (1500-58), the Holy Roman Emperor. He called upon Michelangelo to create the staircase ramp, the buildings and facades on three sides of the Capitoline Hill, the slightly convex pavement and its decoration, and the pedestal for the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli Church The She Wolf Temple to Jupiter and the Capitoline Triad Tarpeian Rocks
Statue at Capitoline Museum Mayoral Palace with Staircase Marcus Aurelius Marcus Aurelius Statue Detail

There we think that we have sighted the route to the Pantheon and we walk through some exquisite little back streets along the left side of the Piazza Venetzia to walk inside the Chiesa Il Gesù. The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus is the Jesuit Mother Church. It occupies the site St. Ignatius chose for his headquarters shortly after he founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. That year Pope Paul III Farnese gave the Society a small neighborhood chapel, Santa Maria della Strada (Our Lady of the Wayside), which although conveniently located, soon proved much too small for the expanding order. Ignatius' dreams for a large and appropriate church-headquarters were not realized in his lifetime. It took over 40 years, three foundation-stone ceremonies, and six architects (Nanni di Baccio Bigio, Michelangelo, Vignola, Giacomo della Porta, and Jesuits Giovanni Tristano and Giovanni de Rosis), before Il Gesù was consecrated in 1584. The most striking feature of the interior decoration is the ceiling fresco Triumph of the Name of Jesus by Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Gaulli also frescoed the cupola, including lantern and pendentives, central vault, window recesses, and transepts' ceilings.

Il Gesu Altar of Il Gesu Il Gesu Interior Triumph of the Name of Jesus by Giovanni Battista Gaulli

Needing profane sustenance to balance all this sacred indulgence, we found an umbrella sheltered table in a corner cafe called Ducati's Caffe where we ordered lasagna and spaghetti bolonese with a carafe of wine to wash it down. Restrengthened we walked along the right of the four temples collectively called Largo Argentina. Although it is usually accepted that the temples date back to the period between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD, they are still the object of study. They underwent many reconstructions over the centuries and these are shown in the different strata, one above the other. Because these temples have still not been clearly identified, they are simply called by letters of the Alphabet. Temple A, the most northerly, at the Corso Vittorio end, was turned into a Christian church in the 9th century; there are still some visible traces of frescoes and a small altar. The tower itself has been fully restored. It is named the tower of Papitto because, in the 12th century, it belonged to the Antipope Anacletus II. Teatro Argentina, the theater which is on the western side of the piazza, was one of the leading theaters in Papal Rome and was the site of the first performance of Rossini's Barber of 1732.

Juturna Temple in Larga Argentina Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Bellini's Elephant Interior Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Minerva Ceiling Catherine of Siena Fra Angelico Micheangelo's Christ the Redeemer

Next we take a long adoring look at the basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The Basilica of Saint Mary Above Minerva is a titular minor basilica and one of the most important churches of the Roman Catholic Dominican order. The church is considered the only Gothic church in Rome. It houses the tombs of St. Catherine of Siena and the Dominican painter Fra Angelico (Blessed John of Fiesole). The father of modern astronomy Galileo Galilei, after being tried for heresy in the adjoining monastery, abjured his scientific theses in the church on the 22nd of June 1633.The basilica gets its name because, like many early Christian basilicas, it was built directly over (sopra) the foundations of a temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, but erroneously assimilated to Minerva. Behind a self-effacing facade, its arched vaulting is painted with brilliant red ribbing, and blue with gilded stars, a 19th century restoration in the Gothic taste. Two talented Dominican monks, Sisto and Ristoro, who had worked on the beautiful Gothic cathedral of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, began the present structure in 1280, during the pontificate of Nicholas III (1277-1280). It was completed in 1370, transformed in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and then restored in the nineteenth century to its former medieval state.

Pantheon Pantheon Interior Pantheon Trevi Fountain

Finally we arrived at the glorious Pantheon, one of the great spiritual buildings of the world. It was built as a Roman temple and later consecrated as a Catholic Church. Its monumental porch originally faced a rectangular colonnaded temple courtyard and now enfronts the smaller Piazza della Rotonda. Through great bronze doors, one enters one great circular room. The interior volume is a cylinder above which rises the hemispherical dome. Opposite the door is a recessed semicircular apse, and on each side are three additional recesses, alternately rectangular and semicircular, separated from the space under the dome by paired monolithic columns. The only natural light enters through an unglazed oculus at the center of the dome and through the bronze doors to the portico. As the sun moves, striking patterns of light illuminate the walls and floors of porphyry, granite and yellow marbles. The dome has a span of 142 feet, the largest dome until Brunelleschi's dome at the Florence Cathedral of 1420-36. The dome is constructed of stepped rings of solid concrete with less and less density as lighter aggregate (pumice) is used, diminishing in thickness to about 1.2 m (4 feet) at the edge of the oculus. The dome rests on a cylinder of masonry walls 20 feet thick. Hidden voids and the interior recesses hollow out this construction, so that it works less as a solid mass and more like three continuous arcades which correspond to the three tiers of relieving arches visible on the building exterior. Originally, these exterior walls were faced with colored marbles.

There is no way that the Pantheon can be topped as a touring experience so we merely pause at the Trevi Fountain to throw a coin on our way back to a Metro stop where we get a quick ride back to the Termini for our return to Civitavecchia. The Fontana di Trevi is the most famous and arguably the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome. In 1732, Pope Clement XII commissioned Nicola Salvi to create a large fountain at the Trevi Square. A previous undertaking to build the fountain after a design by Bernini was halted a century earlier after the death of Pope Urban VIII. The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. On the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, the statue on the right represents Salubrity. Above the sculptures are bas-reliefs, one of them shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain.

During an evening happy hour fueled by triple-double Jacks, Elaine is describing their days on the QE II when the British townspeople would gather to cheer the arrival and departure of the ship as it made its last cruise through the British Isles. She ascribed the large turnouts to the history of the British Isles as a sort of nation of shipbuilders and shiplovers, and I began to develop a contrarian position that people who had grown up in post-war Britain were not of such a Romantic twist. I felt that they had gone through a hectic and greedy metamorphosis similar to that of Americans in which they had torn up whatever had remained of their pre-war infrastructure. They had gone on to cut great swaths of highways through hills and forests, they had licensed the commercial principle in everything from television to elections, and years of Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher had made them contemptuous of tradition. Linda pointed out to me that I was taking a tone, and after going on and on a bit about the importance of tone, undertone, and nuance in establishing conversational perspective, I was sent off to bed without any supper.

After taking to my bed, I began to develop my Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) of middle class behavior. My models of American middle class behavior had been improved by my discussions with Elaine. The biggest change was my discovery that the shared cultural mores of the bourgeoisie are strongly influenced by their belief that they were conceived and educated by their parents for a significant purpose. My previous observations had led me to believe that children were conceived as a by-product of a parental interest in sexual congress. The bourgeois children seem to matriculate at dinner tables where "no idea is a bad idea" and their observational injections are received and developed with advanced "Peter Panisms' such as "of course, children can fly if they believe that they can." In the case of the less washed children, even though they are post-natally loved and intellectually groomed for survival, they don't often consider that their observations have any kind of empirical accuracy until they are carefully cross-checked by reading or Socratic inquiry. This confidence of observation may well give advantage to the children of the bourgeoisie in our struggle with each other for status and stuff but "What do I know?"

Insignia at Sorrento Mt. Vesuvius from Insignia Sorrento from Harbor Sorrento


11/3/10 - After leaving Civitavecchia at about 8:00 PM we sailed south past Rome's ancient port of Ostia to anchor in the Bay of Naples at Sorrento, a small town in Campania near the Isle of Capri with some 16,500 inhabitants. The Roman name for Sorrento was Surrentum. Legends indicate a close connection between Lipara and Surrentum, as though the latter had been a colony of the former; and even through the Imperial period Surrentum remained largely Greek. The oldest ruins are Oscan, dating from about 600 BC. Before the Roman supremacy, Surrentum was one of the towns subject to Nuceria, and shared its fortunes up to the Social War; it seems to have joined in the revolt of 90 BC like Stabiae; and was reduced to obedience in the following year, when it seems to have received a colony. Numerous sepulchral inscriptions of Imperial slaves and freedmen have been found at Surrentum. An inscription shows that Titus in the year after the earthquake of 79 AD restored the horologium of the town and its architectural decoration. A similar restoration of an unknown building in Naples in the same year is recorded in an inscription from the last-named town.

The arrangement of the modern streets preserves that of the ancient town, and the disposition of the walled paths which divide the plain to the east seems to date in like manner from Roman times. No ruins are now preserved in the town itself, but there are many remains in the villa quarter to the east of the town on the road to Stabiae. Remains of other villas may be seen, but the most important ruin is the reservoir of the (subterranean) aqueducts just outside the town on the east, which had no less than twenty-seven chambers each about 270 by 60 cm. Greek and Oscan tombs have also been found. According to the Roman historian Diodorus Siculus, Sorrento was founded by Liparus, son of Ausonus, who was king of the Ausoni and the son of Ulysses and Circe. The ancient city was probably connected to the Ausoni tribe indeed, one of the most ancient ethnic groups in the area. In the pre-Roman age Sorrento was influenced by the Greek civilization: this can be seen in its plant and in the presence of the Athenaion, a great sanctuary, also, according to the legend, founded by Ulysses and originally devoted to the cult of the Sirens, whence Sorrento's name.


The day begins with a early morning meeting in Horizons where we survey the beautiful Sorrento harbor and I debrief George, Elaine, and Linda on their debaucheries after my dismissal of the previous evening. It seems that they had lingered long over their dinners in the Grand Dining Room and then repaired to the Ship's Lounge where they had witnessed a Ship's Crew Talent Show One of the highlights of the show had been the careful selection of an unaccompanied woman from the audience who was then serenaded by a member of the serving staff named Omar. After learning that the woman was a widow, Omar announced his intention to "channel" her dead husband and knelt to render "You Are So Beautiful" while the audience members shifted nervously in their respective seats.

I then briefly outlined my "Grand Unifying Theory" to Elaine and the ways in which my behavior would now be corrected so as to reduce the intensity of any future conflicts that we might have. She received my explanation gracefully and we began to discuss our plans for the day. She and George were taking the first available tender to begin an excursion to Pompei and Linda and I were headed for the romantic "Isle of Capri." The Insignia is anchored at a "roadstead" outside the port of "Marina Piccola" so our land ventures begin with a ride on the ship's tender.. After landing we rode a minibus to the port where we purchased our round-trip tickets on a fast moving boat. Capri (/kəˈpriː/ in English) is an island off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples. Features of the island are the Marina Piccola, the Belvedere of Tragara, which is a high panoramic promenade lined with villas, the limestone crags called sea stacks that project above the sea, Anacapri, the Blue Grotto, and the ruins of the Imperial Roman villas.

Approaching Capri Harbor Capri Base of Funicular Circumvesuviana Riding the Capri Funicular
Capri HerculeLong Winding road to Capri Port Sea Stacks PriapView from Capri

After landing at the end of a long pier in Marina Piccola, Linda purchased tickets to ride the funicular while I looked for photo-ops. After learning that the sea was too rough for boats trying to go to the Blue Grotto, we rode the funicular to the village far above where we walked the winding streets in search of a garden that Linda remembered from an earlier visit to Capri. For the cynics, Capri is a shopping mall with spectacular views, but the views are well worth the cost of getting there.

Insignia in Naxos Naxos Harbor l Duomo of Taormina Elaine and Linda Look Down on Me
Taomina Duomo Fountain in Taormina Theater at Taormina Clock Tower in Taormina

Naxos and Taormina

11/4/10 - At the first light of dawn we passed through the Strait of Messina between the Italian mainland and the island of Sicily. A change in the water surface and the color marked our transition from the deep part of the Tyrrhenian Sea into the shallower part of the Ionian Sea where we anchored in the harbor of a town called Naxos that was probably inhabited by the Siculi even before the Greeks arrived on the Sicilian coast in 832 BC to found the town. The theory that Tauromenion was founded by colonists from Naxos is confirmed by Strabo and other ancient writers. The new settlement seems to have risen rapidly to prosperity, and was apparently already a considerable town at the time of the expedition of Timoleon in 345 BC. It was the first place in Sicily where that leader landed, having eluded the vigilance of the Carthaginians, who were guarding the Straits of Messina, and crossed direct from Rhegium (modern Reggio di Calabria) to Tauromenium. The city was at that time still under the government of Andromachus, whose mild and equitable administration is said to have presented a strong contrast with that of the despots and tyrants of the other Sicilian cities. He welcomed Timoleon with open arms, and afforded him a secure resting place until he was enabled to carry out his plans in other parts of Sicily. Andromachus was not deprived of his position of power when all the other tyrants were expelled by Timoleon, but was permitted to retain it undisturbed until his death. Little is known about Tauromenium for some time after this. It is probable that it passed under the authority of Agathocles, who drove the historian Timaeus into exile; and some time after this it was subject to a domestic despot of the name of Tyndarion, who was contemporary with Hicetas of Syracuse and Phintias of Agrigentum. Tyndarion was one of those who concurred in inviting Pyrrhus into Sicily (278 BC), and when that monarch landed with his army at Tauromenium, joined him with all his forces, and supported him in his march upon Syracuse. A few years later we find that Tauromenium had fallen into the power of Hieron of Syracuse, and was employed by him as a stronghold in the war against the Mamertines. It was also one of the cities which was left under his dominion by the treaty concluded with him by the Romans in 263 BCE.

Arriving ashore via tender, we learn the location of a bus that will take us up a meandering series of switchbacks from the Naxos harbor to Taomina. We walk along the edge of the water ogling the majestic Insignia in the morning sunlight until many inquiries finally reveal the bus stop. As we ride through the switchbacks the driver must almost bend the bus through the tight turns. Leaving the bus at the top we make our way through the narrow streets to a pretty piazza facing the side of Taormina's Duomo. George, Linda, and Elaine descend the steeply slanted sidewalk to a little central balcony park while I go down to get a closer look at the church and its piazza on the top of a seaward facing cliff. Words never come anywhere close to describing these little jewel box towns and their perfect settings hanging from the mountainsides. We have missed the bright sunlight so long that we are bedazzled by it as we walk through the little squares toward the ancient Greek theater. It's hard to choose from among all the perfectly positioned little outdoor cafes but we find one that provides pizza and wine to accompany its unparalleled people watching. After an extended lunch we return to our bus for another harrowing ride back to Naxos. On the bus we meet Peter and Jenny Sloyan from Newcastle-on-Tyne and I pepper them for a description of Geordies. It seems that Geordie is a regional nickname for a person from the Tyneside region of the north east of England, or the name of the English-language dialect spoken by its inhabitants. While the senior Sloyans came relatively late to Newcastle and speak very properly, they maintain that their youngest son is bilingual and quite able to have discourse with his friends in Geordie.

Having now satisfied myself that I will be able to answer a question in the Geordie category if I incur it during my "Final Jeopardy" round, I try to provide them, in trade, with some understanding of the "tea parties" in the US and how they are giving a bad name to a once glorious English tradition. I think that I failed to get across to them how after a fair period of paying homage to intelligence, we are now very much bent on giving at least equal time to ignorance regardless of earlier negative experiences observed with the National Socialists of Germany.

Travels in Corfu

11/5/10 - After departing the Naxos harbor early on the previous afternoon, we sailed through the Ionian Sea around the toe of Italy's boot then along the sole and the boot heel to the city of Kerkyra on the Greek Island of Corfu. At the big forward windows of Horizons, the four of us assemble to watch as we majestically cruise past Palaio Flourio glowing in the morning sunlight and make our way to the New Port located along the north side of the city.

Old Fortress from the passing Insignia Rounding the Kerkyra bend Shore near New Port Entrance Neo Frourio from New Port

Corfu is the second largest of the Ionian Islands with its northern part lying 2 to 15 miles off the coast of Sarandë, Albania and its southern part near the coast of Thesprotia, Greece. The island is part of the Corfu Prefecture and includes the communities of Ereikoussa, Mathraki, Othonoi, and Paxoi, which are all separate islands. The principal town of the island is also named Corfu, or Kérkyra in Greek.

The island is connected to the history of Greece from the beginning of Greek mythology. Its Greek name, Kerkyra or Korkyra, is related to two powerful water symbols: Poseidon, god of the sea, and Asopos, an important Greek mainland river. According to myth, Poseidon fell in love with the beautiful nymph Korkyra, daughter of Asopus and the river nymph Metope, and abducted her. Poseidon brought Korkyra to the hitherto unnamed island and, in marital bliss, offered her name to the place: Together, they had a child they called Phaiax, after whom the inhabitants of the island were named: Phaiakes. The island's history is laden with battles and conquests, indicative of Corfu's turbulent position in a historical vortex lasting until the modern period. The legacy of these struggles is visible in the form of castles punctuating strategic locations across the island. Two of these castles enclose its capital, which is the only city in Greece to be surrounded in such a way. As a result, Corfu's capital has been officially declared a Kastropolis (Castle city) by the Greek Government.

The Old Town of Kerkyra is located in a strategic position at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea, and has its roots in the 8th century BCE. The three forts of the town, designed by renowned Venetian engineers, were used for four centuries to defend the maritime trading interests of the Republic of Venice against the Ottoman Empire. In the course of time, the forts were repaired and partly rebuilt several times, more recently under British rule in the 19th century. The mainly neoclassical housing stock of the Old Town is partly from the Venetian period, partly of later construction, notably the 19th century. As a fortified Mediterranean port, Corfu’s urban and port ensemble is notable for its high level of integrity and authenticity.

Map of Kerkyra

The Insignia is parked in the new commercial harbor of Liman very close to the New Fortress or Neo Frourio, a huge complex of fortifications dominating the northeastern part of the city. From here we sieze the opportunity to catch a waiting bus that takes us from the New Port to the town. After getting our return bearings at a large statue we climb stairs to a square in front of the Sts. Jason and Sosipater Church. I took a quick look inside the church and then walked to the right of the church onto what I thought was the right path to the Old Fortress. I exchanged greetings with a woman feeding pigeons and then returned to the church front to recover my companions who were nowhere to be found. Chiding myself for having lost them, I returned to the square at the right of the church thinking that I would find them when I reached the Old Fortress. After rushing down many streets in the market, I found myself at the new citadel where I paid my 2 Euro entry fee to wander through the maze of medieval corridors and fortifications. The winged Lion of St Mark, the symbol of Venice, can be seen at regular intervals adorning the fortifications. At the very top I captured a shot of the Insignia through the fortification walls.

Tour Start Climbing to the Old Fortress Corfu Feeding the Corfu Pigeons
Corfu Campanile Neo Frourio Sculpture in Neo Frourio Insignia from Neo Frourio

After descending from the Neo Frourio I walked through the tunnel to emerge in the town market. At the end of the market I turned left, crossed the road and walked into a small street (called Garaz Markara). I followed this street, turned right at the top and went down the slope onto the main road at the bottom where I turned left and walked on Kerkyra's main drag. I then meaendered to the church bell tower at the end of this street and found myself at the edge of the sea where I could see the Old Fortress in the distance.

Overview of Kerkyra Corfu Kerkyra Market Liston
Coffee Spot in Kerkyra Kerkyra Old Fortress Stoa in Kerkyra

While I was taking some pictures at the entrance to the fortress, I was serendipitously approached and soundly admonished by Jen and Peter Sloyan who had recently come upon my wife and friends and were intent on delivering me into their hands for further admonishment. In turn, when I did rejoin friends and family, they seemed only slightly taken aback by the period of my absence and were very much enjoying themselves in the Old Fortress without my witty company. We debriefed over wine and ouzo before George and I ventured forth to climb to the highest point in the citadel where we had hopes of displaying our silhouettes against the deep blue of the Adriatic Sky to enrich the visual fields of our splendid wives.

Palaio Flourio Moat Old Fortress Entrance Old Church in Palaio Fourio Old Fort
Walking the Old Fort Old Fort from Old Fort Insignia from Old Fortress Old Fort Moat

Montenegro Travels

11/6/10 - The use of the name Montenegro began in the 15th century when the Crnojevic dynasty began to rule the Serbian principality of Zeta; over subsequent centuries Montenegro was able to maintain its independence from the Ottoman Empire. From the 16th to 19th centuries, Montenegro became a theocracy ruled by a series of bishop princes; in 1852, it was transformed into a secular principality.

Map of Montenegro Map of Kotor Bay Bay of Kotor Eastern Shore of Verige Strait

After World War I, Montenegro was absorbed by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929; at the conclusion of World War II, it became a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When the latter dissolved in 1992, Montenegro federated with Serbia, first as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and, after 2003, in a looser union of Serbia and Montenegro. In May 2006, Montenegro invoked its right under the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro to hold a referendum on independence from the state union. The vote for severing ties with Serbia exceeded 55% - the threshold set by the EU - allowing Montenegro to formally declare its independence on 3 June 2006. Roughly the size of Northern Ireland and with a population of around 660,000, Montenegro is one of Europe's smallest countries. The population is ethnically diverse with 43% Montenegrins , 32% Serbs, 8% Bosnians, and 5% Albanians. In terms of religion, 75% are Orthodox, 18% Muslim, and 4% Catholic.

Bay of Kotor

The Bay of Kotor ( Montenegrin, Serbian, Croatian: Boka Kotorska, Cyrillic script: Бока Которска) in nouth-western Montenegro and south-eastern Croatia, is a winding bay on the Adriatic Sea. The bay, sometimes called Europe's southernmost fjord, is in fact a submerged river canyon of the disintegrated Bokelj River which used to run from the high mountain plateaus of Mount Orjen. The Verige Strait represents the narrowest section of the bay and is located between Cape St. Nedjelja and Cape Opatovo; to separate the inner bay east of the strait from the remainder. The bay has been inhabited since antiquity and has well preserved medieval towns. The picturesque towns of Kotor, Risan, Tivat, Perast, Herceg Novi and Budva along with their natural surroundings, are major tourist attractions.

Kotor Wall and Moat Fountain and Wall Orthodox Church and Wall Serbian Orthodox Church
Venetan Pima Palace Kotor View from Wall Perast on Kotor Bay Kotor Port


The Old Town of Kotor lies in the shadows of the fearsome St. John’s Hill and the walls protecting this town are a fortification masterpiece at up to 15 meters wide and 20 meters high each. These walls are skillfully crafted into the natural steep slopes of the hill and the view of this town on approach is one of the amazing sights, not only of the Mediterranean, but of the world. While there is no accurate information regarding the founding of Kotor, archaeologists believe that it rose on the foundations of the ancient city of Acruvium. Legend has it that Alkima, a fairy, advised the Serbian king, Stefan Dusan, not to build his town in the hills “where boats don’t have a harbor and where horses run about”, but to instead build near the sea. In Phoenician myth, the town was founded after Argonauts’ conquest for the Golden Fleece. Whichever story might be correct, it is believed that the roots of Kotor stretch back before Homer (10-12 BCE), a time when Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean. This means that Kotor is an ancient city, as old as the sea trade in the Adriatic.

The town was demolished by the Visigoths in the 5th century AD and later became a part of the Byzantine Empire in 476 AD, and remained under this power for more than 400 years. Kotor became the capital of Boka Kotorska Bay in the 7th century AD after the former capital at Risan fell to attacks by the Slovenian tribes. The Slovenian tribes also dominated Kotor around the 10th and 11th centuries AD when the area was ruled by Doklea and Zeta. Kotor was at its most prosperous as a Serbian state during the Nemanjić dynasty of 1185-1371. During this time, Kotor was an independent state that lived by its own bylaws. The Serbian ruler, Stefan Nemanja established a palace in the town.
When the turks defeated Nemanja, Kotor fell into crisis as the people recognized three different rulers: the Hungarian king, the Venetian Republic and the Bosnian King Tvrtko. And from 1391 to 1420, Kotor was once again an independent state, with a duke serving as its head master

In World War I, Kotor was one of three main bases of the Austro-Hungarian Navy and homeport to the Austrian Fifth Fleet consisting of pre-dreadnought battleships and light cruisers. The area was the site of some of the fiercest battles between local Montenegrin Slavs, and Austria-Hungary. After 1918, the city (called Cattaro until then) became a part of Yugoslavia and officially became known as Kotor. Between 1941 and 1943 Italy annexed the area of Kotor to the Italian "Governorship of Dalmatia", but after 1945 it became a part of the then Socialist Republic of Montenegro within Yugoslavia's second incarnation. In 1979 (April 15) a major earthquake hit the Montenegrin coastal area. There were approximately 100 casualties. Half of Kotor's Old Town was destroyed and St. Tryphon's Cathedral was partly damaged. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, Catholics constituted the majority around the Gulf of Kotor. Kotor is still the seat of the Croatian Catholic Bishopric of Kotor, which covers the entire gulf.

Map of Kotor

I head for the Horizons Lounge at about 6:30 AM and look out on a fogscape pierced only by the sunlighted tops of the mountains on both sides of the Bay of Kotor. Elaine has risen earlier and she makes me envious by telling me how the ship progressed from the sunny Adriatic into a wall of fog marking the entrance to the bay. Upon entering the ship just disappeared into the thick fog like it does through the technical contrivances of science fiction movies. We occasionally hear the blasts of the Insignia's foghorn as they echo off the nearby cliffs. Even as the fog lifts the bay remains shadowed until we gently nestle against the harbor pilings. My fellows are delayed but I head for the Western Gateway where I take a picture of the Gate Guards before going on to Saint Tryphon Square. Old Kotor was built like a maze for protective purposes and it is very easy to get lost here. In fact, even the locals get lost. Even if I take one wrong turn I could wind up far from my destination. The doors of Saint Tryphon are still closed so I return to the Insignia in the hope of meeting my companions and to take some more pctures in the beautiful morning light. Failing to find them I return to what I think is called October Square while I look for photographic subjects. While composing, or perhaps decomposing, I am hailed by my faithful friends from a table where they are already disregarding the "over the yard arm" rule. I join them and order a breakfast "rakia" Rakia is the national drink of Serbia and is said to be made by Serbians for Serbians. One shot is enough to raise your forehead temperature several times. Some of the known side effects are::
- You may start to sing.
- You can't find your way home.
- It's possible you may forget your name and/or get lost in your own home.
- If you drink more than 1 liter you may collapse. The Serbian term for this condition is "Ïèÿí íà ñâèíÿ" (transcription "Pian na svinia", meaning "Drunk like a pig").

Stopping well short of being "Ïèÿí íà ñâèíÿ" I non-the-less achieve a certain oneness with my Montenegron brothers before assaulting the wall of Kotor with George.

Kotor Guards Rakia Elaine and George in Kotor George Up Against the Wall

I developed certain concerns while was climbing up the wall such that I had to descend very quickly from the top so that I could return to the Insignia and achieve some designated goals. Glowing with the success of this effort, I returned to explore Kotor a little more before our afternoon departure. I joined a guided group for touring through the 12th century St. Tryphon Cathedral where many relics were housed in the silver reproductions of the limbs they had once been a part of. It was a little more difficult to find the Maritime Museum located inside the Grgurina Palace, or finding public squares with funny names such as the Lattice Square, Flour Square, Milk Square and Cinema Square. I took some pictures of the Pima Palace built in the 16th century in both Renaissance and Baroque styles. Although the Pima Palace dates from the 17th century, recent research has revealed the existence of an old medieval street, later modified, that used to pass by the rear part of the palace. In this part of the palace the remains of earlier phases of its construction with Romanesque and Gothic windows have been discovered.

From here I walked counter-clockwise to the Grgurina Palace and then straight on to the square housing the Churches of St. Luka and St. Nikola, then a few steps to the right to get a glimpse of St. Mary's before walking left along the north wall to the main square of Trg Oktobarske Revolucije with its Clock Tower and Western Gateway to return us to the waiting Insignia for our afternoon departure.

Cathedral of St. Tryphon St. Tryphon Ceiling Pima Palace Grgurina Palace
St. Luka St. Nikola Kotor from the Wall Trg Oktobarske Revolucije

Preview of Croatia

11/6/10 - The lands that today comprise Croatia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the close of World War I. In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929 as Yugoslavia. Following World War II, Yugoslavia became a federal independent Communist state under the strong hand of Marshal Tito. Although Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it took four years of sporadic, but often bitter, fighting before occupying Serb armies were mostly cleared from Croatian lands. Under UN supervision, the last Serb-held enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998. In April 2009, Croatia joined NATO; it is a candidate for eventual EU accession. Roughly the size of West Virginia, it is inhabited mostly by Croats (89.6%), while minority groups include Serbs (4.5%), Bosniaks, Hungarians, Italians, Slovenes, Germans, Czechs, Romani people and others (5.9%).

Map of Croatia Croatia Coast near Dubrovnik Satellite View of Dubrovnik Insignia at Dubrovnik

During the last decade of the 20th century the population of Croatia has been stagnating because of the Croatian War of Independence. During the war, large sections of the population were displaced and emigration increased. In 1991, in predominantly Serb areas, more than 400,000 Croats and other non-Serbs were either removed out of their homes by the Croatian Serb forces or fled the violence. During the final days of the war in 1995, more than 120,000 Serbs,and perhaps as many as 200,000 fled before the victory by Croatian forces. Only a small fraction of Serbs have returned to their homes since 1995. Croatia's remaining Serbs do not live in the highlands and inland of Dalmatia but in the Croatian heartland and major cities. Serbs have been only partially re-settled by the Croatian Government in the regions they previously inhabited. Many of the towns previously settled by Serbs were settled by Croat refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, mostly from Republika Srpska.

Dubrovnik from the sea Cathedral Prince's Palace Southeast Tower


Ragusa (Dubrovnik) situated on the Dalmatian coast, became an important Mediterranean sea power from the 13th century onwards. Although severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Damaged again in the 1990s by armed conflict, it is now the focus of a major restoration programme co-ordinated by UNESCO. Dubrovnik is thought to have originally been established by Greek sailors. Ships in ancient times travelled about 45-50 nautical miles per day, and required a sandy shore to pull out of water for the rest period during the night. The ideal rest site would have a fresh water source in its vicinity. Dubrovnik has both, and is situated almost halfway between the two known Greek settlements of Budva and Korčula (95 NM is the distance between them). After the fall of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, the town came under the protection of the Byzantine Empire, although it was essentially an independent city-state that actively interacted with the surrounding Serbian littoral. After the Crusades, Ragusa came under the sovereignty of Venice (1205–1358), which would give its institutions to the Dalmatian city. By the Peace Treaty of Zadar in 1358, Ragusa achieved relative independence as a vassal-state of the Kingdom of Hungary. Between the 14th century and 1808 Ragusa ruled itself as a free state.

In 1991 Croatia and Slovenia, which at that time were republics within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, declared their independence. Despite demilitarization of the old town in the early 1970s in an attempt to prevent it from ever becoming a casualty of war, following Croatia's independence in 1991, Serbian-Montenegrin remains of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked the city. The regime in Montenegro led by Momir Bulatović, which was installed by and loyal to the Serbian government led by Slobodan Milošević, declared that Dubrovnik would not be permitted to remain in Croatia because they claimed it was historically part of Montenegro.This was in spite of the large Croat majority in the city and that very few Montenegrins resided there, though Serbs accounted for six percent of the population. Many consider the claims by the Bulatović government, as being part of Serbian President Milošević's plan to deliver his nationalist supporters the Greater Serbia they desired as Yugoslavia collapsed.

On October 1, 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked by Yugoslavian National Army with a siege that lasted for seven months. There was an almost mystical belief in the sanctity and inviolability of the Old Town. Because of the enormous walls, ten feet thick and four stories high; because of the beauty of the old town; because of its historical importance--its association with Venice, its great trading history, site of the oldest apothecary in the Mediterranean; because, most of all, of the town's religious connections--St. Blaise had lived and died here, St. Nicholas was the patron saint--for all these good reasons, the Old Town was a refuge.

Map of Dubrovnik

After an early evening docking in Grus Harbor we raced through dinner in the Tapas Dining Room and then headed for the gangplank to catch a cab to a location offering a great view of the city's north wall and the nearby island of Lovrijenac. From there we walked a short ditance down the hill to Dubrovnik's Pile Gate entrance crossing the former moat into the old walled city. As we came through the wall we found an almost empty Luza Square with the Fountain Onofrijia (Big Onofrio) on the left of the entrance to the Stradum bisecting the city. I had read about an Orlando Furioso statue in the square so after snapping a picture of the Onofrio I looked for it. This statue, chiseled into a stone column in the center of Luza Square, represents the legendary knight from Ludovico Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso," an Italian poem immortalizing the warrior, who reputedly was Charlemagne's nephew (and also the subject of the French epic poem, the "Chanson de Roland;" Roland is the French form of Orlando). The column was erected in 1419 and once served as the city's forum for public proclamations, notices, rallies, and punishments. According to legend, Orlando helped the people of Ragusa fight off a Saracen attack in the 9th century. Since the Orlando of poetic lore died in battle in 778, the legend defies plausibility. Other free cities also erected statues of Orlando, with the knight's image representing a city's status as a free-trade city-state. It is likely Dubrovnik's Orlando statue had a similar purpose. In 1990 a flag with the city's LIBERTAS motto was flown above the column, which became a rallying point for Dubrovnik's freedom fighters. Today the Libertas banner is flown here each year to herald Dubrovnik's annual summer festival.

We then walked directly across the city, enchanted by golden light on its magnificent white stones. At the harbor on the far end of the Stradum I snapped a picture of the young Wilsons before we were attracted by the sound of wonderful piano playing to a small cafe near the north wall where we sat to add an audio dimension to the visual enchantment. There is no description for our next bedazzled wanderings because we didn't know or care where we were, we just followed our senses through the multi-dimensional hallucination of Dubrovik's shining streets until we found ourselves back in Luza Square where I could slurp a couple rakias before our return to the Insignia.

Dubrovnik Debarkers Dubrovnik Taxi Stop Dubrovnik's Pile Gate Fountain Onofrio
Dubrovnik Stradum Orlando and his Protectorate Dubrovnik Harbor George and laine in Dubrovnik
Geeorge in Dubrovnik Dubrovnik Detail St. Blaise in Dubrovnik Arches and Columns

11/7/10 - Next morning we again took a taxi to the Pile Gate where we purchased the necessary tickets for walking the city's walls. After a photo-op to take a picture of a model of the city in the window of a shop, we walk past the front of the Church of Sveti Spaso to climb to the top of the city walls. Walking counter clockwise along the city wall we look to our right and see the Sveta Klara Convent below us as we walk toward the Bokar Tower. After climbing down from the Bokar we continue our walk toward Dubrovik's Old Harbor and then walk the south side of the wall back to the Pile Gate. A taxi took us back to the Insignia in time for basking in the sun and listening to the Mark Dance Band as we left the harbor at 3:00 PM.

Model of Dubrovik Pile Gate of Dubrovnik Onofrio Fountain Church of Sveti Spaso
Minceta Tower Wall Bangers Mrs. Reynolds Dubrovnik
Old Harbor Dubrovnik Linda Tebbs George and Linda

Slovenia Travels

11/8/10 - Setting sail from Dubrovnik on the previous day at 6:00 PM we traveled overnight past the Croatian city of Split, the Bay of Rijeka (formerly Fiume), and around the Istrian Peninsula to anchor in Slovenia's new port at Luka Koper, north of the old city and only 12 km from Trieste. Slovenia is at the eastern end of the Alps bordering the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea, between Austria, Italy and Croatia. The Slovene lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the latter's dissolution at the end of World War I. In 1918, the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new multinational state, which was named Yugoslavia in 1929.

Map of Slovenia Istria by Satellite Bay of Trieste by Satellite Koper from Satellite

After World War II, Slovenia became a republic of the renewed Yugoslavia, which though Communist, distanced itself from Moscow's rule. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power by the majority Serbs, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 after a short 10-day war. Historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and a stable democracy have assisted in Slovenia's transformation to a modern state. Slovenia acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004. The population is 83.1% Slovene, 2% Serb, 1.8% Croat, 1.1% Bosniak, other or unspecified 12%.


The Istrian Peninsula lies across from Venice at the head of the Adriatic Sea and is tucked between the Gulf of Trieste and Kvarner (Quarnero) Bay. What little is known of Istria's early history is that around the 11th century BC a colony was founded here by the Histri, an Indo-European people who were kindred to the Veneti and Liburni. Histria was mentioned for the first time in the 6th century BC by Hecataeus of Miletus (560-490) in his Tour Round the World where he described its inhabitants as "a people in the Ionic Bay" (i.e. the Adriatic). Claiming that they were pirates, the Romans initiated the first war with the Histri in 221 BC. then in 177 BC, the Roman consul Caius Clodius Pulcher subjugated them after a two-year seige. Around 45 BC, a Roman colony was then established in the Histri's place which later became part of the tenth region of the Roman Empire known as Venetia et Histriæ. The Roman rulers were followed down through the ages by the Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Avars, Langobards, Slavs, Franks, Venetians, Genoese, Romanians, Magyars and Austrians, and in the 20th century by Italians, Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. While Attila's Huns seemed to have skirted around the Istrian peninsula, the Knights Templar built stations in Istria and even Napoleon Bonaparte's French monarchy briefly ruled, all leaving behind a diversity of peoples who blended into the complex fabric of this uniquely historic and beautiful place. After being subjugated by five different rulers in the 20th century, Istria is today undemocratically subdivided by three nations: Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. Despite this, abundant traces of her past civilizations remain, including the fabric left behind by people who lived in Istria for centuries but who have been scattered all over the world in the 20th century by a series of conflicts and tragic events of two world wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia. 

Approaching Koper Koper Waterfron Detail of Cathedral Koper Cathedral and Town Tower
Koper from Town Tower Venetian Architecture Venetian Loggia Praetorian Palace


Koper rose from an ancient settlement built on an island in the southeastern part of the Gulf of Koper in the northern Adriatic. In the time of ancient Greece, the town was known as Aegida, later it became known by its Latin names Capris, Caprea, Capre or Caprista, from which the modern Slovenian name stems. In 568, Roman citizens of nearby Tergeste (modern Trieste) fled to Capris due to an invasion of the Lombards. In honour of the Byzantine emperor Justinian II, the town was renamed to Justinopolis. Later, Justinople was under both Lombard and Frankish rule and was shortly occupied by Avars in 8th century. Trade between Koper and Venice had been registered since 932. In the war between Venice and Germany (Holy Roman Empire), Koper was on the German side, and as a result was awarded with town rights, granted in 1035 by the emperor Conrad II. From 1232, Koper was under the Patriarch of Aquileia, and in 1278 it joined the Republic of Venice. It was at this time that the city walls and towers were partly demolished. In 1420, the Patriarch of Aquileia ceded his remaining possessions in Istria to the Republic, consolidating Venetian power in Koper.

Koper grew to become the capital of Venetian Istria and was renamed Caput Histriae, "head of Istria" (from which stems its modern Italian name, Capodistria). The sixteenth century saw the population of Koper fall drastically, from its high of between 10,000 and 12,000 inhabitants, due to repeated plague epidemics. When Trieste became a free port in 1719, Koper lost its monopoly on trade, and its importance diminished further. According to the census of the year 1900, 7205 Italian, 391 Slovenian, 167 Croatian and 67 German inhabitants lived in Koper. Assigned to Italy after World War I, at the end of World War II it was part of the Zone B of the Free Territory of Trieste, controlled by Yugoslavia. Most of the Italian inhabitants left the city by 1954, when the Free Territory of Trieste formally ceased to exist and Zone B became part of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1977, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Koper was separated from the Diocese of Trieste. With Slovenian independence in 1991 Koper became the only commercial port in Slovenia.

It was much too rainy to spend much time looking at Koper in the morning so Linda, George, and Elaine opted to stay aboard the warm, dry Insignia while I walked the plank and climbed the stairs toward the old city where I waited for the arrival of a desolate looking tourist train. When it arrived, the only passengers departed at my stop and I got aboard a car that was separated from the socially and geographically distant engineer so that I was not going to be able to confirm my intended stop at the railway station. After shivering along for three stops I intuited that I had arrived on the far side of the city from the Insignia and I made good my escape. In the pouring rain nothing shouted out the direction to the railway station so I went into a super market in the hope of finding someone who spoke English enough to point me to it. I love these traveling moments when you truly feel that you have stumbled and and fallen into nowhere. Cruises make such moments quite rare but I now found myself staring out of the broken confines of my Oceania umbrella into the dark grey rain that blocked any visual clues beyond a 30 ft. radius, among unreadable signs stripped completely of vowels, in what I must say was a somewhat belittling and joyless city, trying to get to what they call "Trst" and not knowing whether I could put together a sensible request for directions in any language including Serbo-Croatian. As Paul Theroux has said, "Travel is often a sad and partly masochistic pleasure, the arrival in obscure and picturesquely awful places is one of its great delights."

While waiting in the super-market check-out line in the hope that speaking elemental English was a hiring requirement of the checkout girls, I took the opportunity to slowly, carefully, and loudly announce my wish to "ride train to Trieste." I response the two women behind me were able to successfully communicate to me that while the train station was relatively close, it would take me only to some inland places where my distress would only be increased. Instead I was given directions to the bus station where I found the appropriate platform, purchased a round-trip ticket to Trieste and relaxed into the warm dry comfort of my bus.

Trieste from Muggia Trieste from Hillside Miramare Castle Roman Theater
Lighthouse in Trieste Grand Canal Piazza Unita San Giusto


Trieste's setting is particularly beautiful with the combination of the shining whiteness of its rocks, the blue sea and the green hills that surround it. Approaching the town on the rainy road along the coast road from Muggia, it appears nicely inserted in the surrounding territory, irrespective of the boundaries separating it from Istria, the formerly Italian territory that now belongs to Croatia and Slovenia. Its ancient history can still be seen from the Roman ruins on Capitol Hill, the Basilica San Guista and the Roman theatre. The dark ruins of the first Castellieri stand like guards on the hills, as if it was still there for its defense. Memories and images of the past live on in the streets, from the little alleys that wind through the ancient suburbs with their old houses and ruined walls to the wide central streets that cross the new part of the town with its elegant neo-classical buildings.

After carefully noting the coordinates of the bus station for my return, I made my way carefully along the "Corso" paralleling the harbor thinking that most of the sights would converge there. There was a conspicuous absence of tourists on the streets even though the rain had not deterred them in the other cities that we had visited. While it does not rate high as a charm on the tourist bracelet I had thought that its historical and political importance would have attracted a few hardy souls. But there is no centering attraction beyond the Roman amphitheater and a broken Roman arch so its Venetian and Austrian architecture are being passed by because for so long Trieste was a sort of entry gate for the desperate countries of the former Yugoslavia.

Downtown, Trieste is laid out in blocks of rather pompous nineteenth-century buildings of great weight and stature, behind whose walls smug insurers and ship owner's agents once thumbed through bills of lading, totting up their percentages, and then sent the office boy out for a celebratory cigar. The shops, like the buildings that host them, are overwhelmingly matter-of-fact, selling the likes of letterboxes, medical equipments, and Chinese wine, with very little attempt at presentation. Tarnished brass plaques announce the presence of several consulates, including one for Columbia, suggesting that this is a place where people get into all sorts of trouble that requires adept diplomatic maneuvering to get them out again.

Between the pompous blocks the streets run in canyons down them to smash into the facades at the end, facades which are handsomely but conservatively presented for just such moments of glory. For a pedestrian emerging from the side streets around the bus station into the full opening of the rainy square is like suddenly finding yourself on a stage, but not quite sure which play it is your are to perform, or which language you are meant to speak.

The biggest stage of all is where the canyons come to a sudden stop, and the lugubrious blocks stand to attention in a respectful semi-circle. As I emerge I find myself on the waterfront, in a wide panorama of stone and sea. This was once the epicenter of Triestine life, smelling of salt, oil and hawsers. A few rusting steel hulks loomed over the empty harbor. It is a waterfront without boats, and there's no trace of the sacks of spices, coffee, cotton and coal that were once piled by the water's edge. Trieste is still a port, but most of the port activity has long been relocated to the southern side of the city. So walking out here, into this open and somnolent space, is like emerging into a giant auditorium where the audience is waiting for a performance which has already happened, long ago, and will never happen again.

The pivotal point of the empty waterfront is the Molo Audace, a broad and bosomy mother of a wharf which drives straight out at the heart of the harbor. Behind it stands the Piazza deli'Unita d'Italia, the grand cobbled ceremonial city square, flanked on three sides by three Viennese-designed neo-classical palazzos, with bare-breasted ladies playing in their fountains and Atlas figures supporting the lintels of their giant wooden doors. The Palazzo Communale, a clock towered rathaus straight out of central Europe, takes pride of place at one end, being the Fountain of the Four Continents. It is flanked on one side by the Governor's Palace and on the other side by the flamboyant former headquarters of Lloyd Triestino, which is now the office of the President of the Giunta.

I was cold and wet so my first priority was to have a cup of coffee in the Caffe dell'Unita d'Italia. The Caffe, supposedly where Rainer Maria Rilke and James Joyce hung out, was highly polished and smart, with a large enclosure of linen covered tables and dapper multi-lingual waiters. Its menu listed goulash and strudel, its prices were steep, and there were very few other customers.

James Joyce lived in Trieste off and on for about seven years, wrote most of Ulysses there, gave English lessons, and fell in love with one of his students. Sir Richard Burton, one of the world's greatest travelers, was British consul here in Trieste toward the end of his career, and while his wife Isabel worried about the welfare of the city's stray cats and overworked donkeys, Burton had worked on his books. The Burtons liked Trieste so well that they eventually colonized seventeen rooms in one of its large apartment blocks. I also learned that Richard the Lionhearted had been imprisoned in Trieste on his return from the Crusades.

Venice Travels

11/9/10 - From the ninth to the twelfth century Venice developed into a city state, the other three being Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi. Its strategic position at the head of the Adriatic made Venetian naval and commercial power almost invulnerable. With the elimination of pirates along the Dalmatian coast, the city became a flourishing trade center between Western Europe and the rest of the world (especially the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world). In the 12th century the foundations of Venice's power were laid: the Venetian Arsenal was under construction in 1104; the last autocratic doge, Vital II Michele, died in 1172.

Tower and Doge's Palace St. Mark's Bridge of Sighs Rialto Bridge
Grand Canal Ca' d'Oro Venice Color Venice Water and Sky

The Republic of Venice seized a number of locations on the eastern shores of the Adriatic before 1200, mostly for commercial reasons, because pirates based there were a menace to trade. The Doge already carried the titles of Duke of Dalmatia and Duke of Istria. Later mainland possessions, which extended across Lake Garda as far west as the Adda River, were known as the "Terraferma", and were acquired partly as a buffer against belligerent neighbours, partly to guarantee Alpine trade routes, and partly to ensure the supply of mainland wheat, on which the city depended. In building its maritime commercial empire, the Republic dominated the trade in salt, acquired control of most of the islands in the Aegean, including Cyprus and Crete, and became a major power-broker in the Near East. By the standards of the time, Venice's stewardship of its mainland territories was relatively enlightened and the citizens of such towns as Bergamo, Brescia and Verona rallied to the defence of Venetian sovereignty when it was threatened by invaders.

Venice remained closely associated with Constantinople, being twice granted trading privileges in the Eastern Roman Empire, through the so-called Golden Bulls or 'chrysobulls' in return for aiding the Eastern Empire to resist Norman and Turkish incursions. In the first chrysobull Venice acknowledged its homage to the Empire but not in the second, reflecting the decline of Byzantium and the rise of Venice's power. Venice became an imperial power following the Venetian-financed Fourth Crusade, which in 1204 seized and sacked Constantinople and established the Latin Empire. As a result of this conquest considerable Byzantine plunder was brought back to Venice. This plunder included the gilt bronze horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople which were now placed above the entrance to St Mark's cathedral in Venice, where they remain to this day. Following the fall of Constantinople the former Roman Empire was partitioned among the Latin crusaders and the Venetians. Venice subsequently carved out a sphere of influence in the Mediterranean known as the Duchy of the Archipelago, and seized Crete. The seizure of Constantinople would ultimately prove as decisive a factor in ending the Byzantine Empire as the loss of the Anatolian themes after Manzikert. Though the Byzantines recovered control of the ravaged city a half century later, the Byzantine Empire was greatly weakened, and existed as a ghost of its old self, struggling on with the help, among other things, of loans from Venice until Sultan Mehmet The Conqueror took the city in 1453.

After 1,070 years, the Republic lost independence when Napoleon Bonaparte on 12 May 1797, conquered Venice during the First Coalition. The French conqueror brought to an end the most fascinating century of its history: during the Settecento (18th century) Venice became perhaps the most elegant and refined city in Europe, greatly influencing art, architecture and literature. Napoleon was seen as something of a liberator by the city's Jewish population, although it can be argued they had lived with fewer restrictions in Venice. He removed the gates of the Ghetto and ended the restrictions on when and where Jews could live and travel in the city. Venice became Austrian territory when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio on 12 October 1797. The Austrians took control of the city on 18 January 1798. It was taken from Austria by the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 and became part of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy, but was returned to Austria following Napoleon's defeat in 1814, when it became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. In 1848-1849 a revolt briefly reestablished the Venetian Republic under Daniele Manin. In 1866, following the Third Italian War of Independence, Venice, along with the rest of the Veneto, became part of the newly created Kingdom of Italy. During the Second World War, the city was largely free from attack, the only aggressive effort of note being Operation Bowler, a precision strike on the German naval operations there in 1945. Venice was finally liberated by New Zealand troops under Freyberg on 29 April 1945.

Map of Venice

The Insignia has docked very close to a vaporetto station where we purchase a 12 hour ticket and hop aboard to ride ride to the Piazzale Roma on the Canal Grande. There we leap onto a #1 vaporetto which quickly passes under the new and much criticised Calatrova Bridge to give us a view of the little bridge across the Rio Nuova excavated in 1932-33 and the leafy haven of twittering sparrows and flowerbeds called Giardino Papadopoli. These French-designed gardens date back to the 1800s when extravagant parties for the nobility were held here among exotic flowers and rare animals. Site of a demolished convent, it belonged to Corfu-born entrepreneurs, hence the Greek name.

After another block we pass the unattractive front of the church of San Simeon Piccolo with its porch is in the form of a Greek temple. One of the four columns was replaced following the destruction of the original by enemy bombs on the night of February 26th-27th 1918. The triangular pediment contains a relief showing The Martyrdom of St Simon and St Jude, the church's name saints, by Francesco Penso. The statue on the lantern on the dome is of The Redeemer by Michele Fanolli. As we go under the Ponte degli Scalzi we try and find a favorable angle for vewing the church that inspired Napoleon to say " I have seen churches without domes before, but I’ve never, until now, seen a dome without a church." We also admire the Chiesa degli Scalzii on the other side before the vaporetto makes our first stop at Venice's main thoroughfare of Riva de Biasio where we get a quick look on our left of the Cannaregio Canal winding its way into what used to be the Jewish Ghetto. The word "geto" came from a copper foundry located here.

Calatrova Bridge Rio Nuovo Giardini Papadopoli Ponte degli Scalzi
San Simeon Piccolo frm Scalzi Chiesa degli Scalzii Riva de Biasio Cannaregio Canal

The next stop is San Marcoula where we get a look at the unfinished Chiesa San Marcuola.and then, on our right, the famous Fondaco dei Turchi, one of the oldest houses in Venice. The palace was constructed in the first half of the 13th century by Giacomo Palmier, an exile from Pesaro. The Venetian Republic purchased it in 1381 for Niccolò II d'Este, the Marquess of Ferrara. During its early history, the palazzo also served as a residence to many visiting dignitaries. Now the building houses the Museum of Natural History. Soon we arrive at the Church of San Stae with a baroque facade by Domenico Rossi. It sits on the right side of the Grand Canal, northwest of the Rialto Bridge.  

Just ahead, jutting out a bit on the right is the Ca' Pesaro, a baroque marble palace facing the canal.. Originally designed by Baldassarre Longhena in mid-17th century, the construction was completed by Gian Antonio Gaspari in 1710. The heavy use of columns contrasts with Longhena's more elegant Ca' Rezzonico Palace. Next we pass the lacy Ca' d'Oro (correctly Palazzo Santa Sofia) regarded as one of the most beautiful palazzi in Venice. At the Rialto Bridge stop we leave our vaporetto and venture afoot to have a look at the hotel that George and Elaine will be staying in after they leave the Insignia tomorrow. A major landmark of Venice, the Rialto Bridge, lined with shops and other tourists, was until the 1850's the only bridge crossing the Grand Canal. When this new bridge was completed much of the Grand Canal was closed to shipping and became a canal of palaces. A winding street called the Mercerie connects this business and commercial center with the religious and governmental center of San Marco.

Chiesa San Marcuola Fondaco dei Turchi San Stae Ca' Pesaro
San Simeon Piccolo frm Scalzi Chiesa degli Scalzii Riva de Biasio Fondaco dei Tedesci

After getting back on the vaporetto we enter a long stretch of important merchants' palaces, each with different facades. Because ships could not go beyond the Rialto Bridge, the biggest palaces all line this last stretch of the canal. Palaces like these were multifunctional: ground floors for the warehouse, offices and showrooms upstairs, and the living quarters above the offices on the "noble floors" (wth big windows designed to allow in the maximum light). Servants lived and worked on the top floors (with the smallest windows). For fire safety, the kitchens were also located on the top floors. From the vaporetto stop of San Silvestro we get a good long look across the canal at the Palazzo Sant' Aview ngelo. Fifty yards beyond the stop we the Palazzo Balbi with its twin obeisks on the rooftop signifying that it was once the home of a Venetian five star admiral. Just past theadmiral's digs we look up a side canal on our right and see the arches of the Fire Department with its four arches hiding fireboats packed and ready to go. Across the Rio di San Barnaba from the Fire Department we catch a quick glimpse of the Ca'Rezzonico.

While at the Ca'Rezzonico vaporetto stop we get a good long look at the Palazzo Grassi across the canal with the campanile from San Marco peaking over its shoulder. Next we get a beautiful view of the dome of La Salute Church framed by the Accademia Bridge. Generally referred to as "La Salute," this crown jewel of 17th-century baroque architecture proudly reigns at a commercially and aesthetically important point, almost directly across from the Piazza San Marco, where the Grand Canal empties into the lagoon. The only great baroque monument built in Italy outside Rome, the octagonal Salute is recognized for its exuberant exterior of volutes, scrolls, and more than 125 statues including the lovely ladies lounging over the cental doorway. During the bitter plague of 1630, the Virgin Mary took pity on Venice, miraculously allowing only one in three (46,000 souls) to die. The Venetians then built this church in honor of Our Lady of Health. Her statue tops the lantern, and she is dressd as an admiral, hand on a rudder welcoming ships to the Grand Canal. As the canal opens into the lagoon, the last building on the right is the 17th century Customs House with its golden ball.

Palazzo Sant' Angelo Palazzo Balbi Fire Deprtment Ca'Rezzonico
Palazzo Grassi Accademia Bridge with La Salute Church of La Salute Customs House

St. Mark's Square

Arriving at the St. Mark's Square vaporetto stop we see that many of the streets, including the famous St Mark's Square, are submerged and a system of elevated wooden walkways has been set up for visitors. We walk past the bold white facade of the Old Mint (where Venice's golden ducats were made). Dodging the rain we look up at the twin columns of St. Theodore and St. Mark stolen from Tyre in 1125 by Doge Michieli. The Doge actually brought three columns back, but when they were being unloaded one of them fell into the sea and sank to the bottom of the lagoon. The other two were set up on the Molo. One of them was crowned with the Lion of St Mark - probably an early medieval mythical animal from Persia that had been given wings and a book between his paws. Until the 18th century the lion was gilded. St Theodore was set up on the second column; he was the first Patron Saint of Venice until superseded by St Mark. The gleaming white statue has been skillfully assembled: the head belongs to a Roman Emperor and the rest, including the dragon, to an early St. George.

Next we catch a glimpse of St. Mark's Clocktower which displays the time of day, the dominant sign of Zodiac and the current phase of the moon. On a terrace at the top of the tower are two great bronze figures, hinged at the waist, which strike the hours on a bell. One is old and the other young, to show the passing of time and, although said to represent shepherds (they are wearing sheepskins) or giants (they are huge figures of great mass, necessary so that their form can be recognized at a distance) they are always known as "the Moors" because of the dark patina acquired by the bronze. The bell is also original and is signed by one Simeone who cast it at the Arsenal in 1497.

To build St. Mark's Basilica, Venice brought the spiritual and material heritage of Byzantium to the West.
The Greek cross plan stands on a structure which in the longitudinal nave has basilica architectural motifs: the vertical arm of the cross is greater than those of the transepts and the altar is in the apse area. Above the cross are five cupolas, according to the eastern model, as a symbol of God's presence. The Doge's Palace has facades which date from 1309-1424, designed by Giovanni and Bartolomeo Buon. The palace, started in the ninth century, several times rebuilt, and completed in the Renaissance period, forms part of that great scheme of town-planning which was carried out through successive centuries. The facades, with a total length of nearly 152 m (500 ft), have open arcades in the two lower storeys, and the third storey was rebuilt after a fire in the sixteenth century, so as to extend over the arcades. This upper storey is faced with white and rose-coloured marble, resembling ornate windows and finished with a lace-like parapet of oriental cresting.

Well rested from our ride on the vaporetto we savor the elegance of the Caffe Florian and try to grasp any ambiance remaining from illustrious visitors of the past such as Casanova, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, and Woody Allen. Then counting our remaining Euros we walk over to the shadow of the Campanile to the Caffe Aurura where we can do some people watching before returning to the Insignia by way of the Mercerie.

Canal Mirror View St. Theodore St. Mark Clock Detail
St. Mark's Square Watery Square Musketeers Mercerie

Preview of Paris

11/10/10 - We arrive at the Charles De Gaulle Airport, collect our bags, stow them in our room at the airport Hilton in Roissypole and quickly head for Paris on the RER (Réseau Express Régional) the network of five suburban train lines that pass right through the city center, connecting outlying towns in the Ile-de-France with the capital. The RER seems to be a handy way for us to travel within the city: RER Line C follows the Left Bank of the Seine for most of its length, with stops at Saint-Michel (Latin Quarter and Nôtre Dame), the Musée d'Orsay, Invalides, and Pont de l'Alma (Eiffel Tower) that are just a few minutes apart.There are also several connections to the Paris Metro to get us to places on the right bank.

Charles de Gaulle Arport Charles de Gaulle Arport Interior De Gaulle Hilton Réseau Express Régional

Paris is located in northern France on both banks of the Seine River, 90 miles from the river's mouth on the English Channel. A total of 2,300,000 inhabitants live in Paris proper, and almost 11 million persons live in greater Paris (the Ile-de-France region), which is one of Europe's largest metropolitan areas. A city of world importance and the business, historic, intellectual, diplomatic, religious, educational, artistic, and tourist center of France, Paris owes its prosperity in large part to its favorable position on the Seine, which has been a major commercial artery since the Roman period.

View of Paris Place de la Concorde Evening in Paris Evening in Paris
Eiffel Tower Louve Mseum and Pyramid Notre Dame Arc de Triumphe

In about the sixth century BCE the Greeks had sought a more direct route to Britain than sailing by Gibralter and up rough open seas. They needed English tin and copper to make bronze, buying it with Mediterranean wine. Greek traders followed the Rhone to the Saone until they ran out of river. Crews then humped there cargo overland to the headwaters of the Seine. From there it was only water to the Thames. Germans meantime, carried there heavy metals from Spain, in exchange for honey, amber, and furs. That required crossing the Seine. Wagoners settled on the Parsii's village, where flat rocks on either bank flanked an island made of silt. For much of the year, horses could ford the river. It was twice as wide then and a whole lot shallower. When the water was high, Gauls ferried the wagons across for a price. Seven thousand strong, the Parisii ran a bustling market and a mint that stamped gold coins.

Since those first Greeks in boats, what happened along the Seine has shaped much of the Old World. After Caesar conquered the British Isles he realized that he had to fuel his legionaires there with home-grown olive oil. Like all other roads, he decided the Seine should lead to Rome His armies seized everything along the old Greek route. Eventually, Julius Caesar's army took over the city in 52 B.C. and the Roman influence lingered well into the fifth century A.D.

Then Europe's course was set by the Mad Merovingians, the Capetians, Francois I, a pile of Henris and Louis, and a pair of Napoleans. The parade was led by an axe wielding, forked-tonqued, mass murderer named Clovis, the father of France, who made Paris his capital. Clovis and his Franks ran off rival Germans. He then used brute force and poison in the family goblets to build a kingdom from the Rhine to the Pyrenees. His wife Clotilde, a noble Catholic, steered him to the church. No fool, Clovis saw the power Christianity represented. He defended it fiercely without reading the fine print. When a warrior smashed a holy chalice, he did the same to the guy's head. Needing a well-situated base, Clovis moved into the Parisii's island in 508. Over three centuries, Merovingian kings fortified the island into a citadel. One of them, the redoubtable Dagobert, strung abbies down the Seine, the castles of God, to extend his reach to the English Channel.

In 855, the Vikings redecorated Paris. They returned the next year to sack and burn what was left. Charles the Bald got fed up. His masons and carpenters swarmed over fourth century Gallo-Roman walls, already reinforced by Merovingians. The Grand Chatelet and Petit Chatelet loomed at either end of Notre-Dame Bridge. Pilings barred the main channel like stone sentries. When the Vikings returned in 861, pillage was damned hard work.

In 987 A.D. when Hugh Capet, Count of Paris, became the King of France, Paris' position as the hub of French government was secured. The Middle Ages were a time of both prosperity and discontent. Work on Notre Dame Cathedral was started in the 12th century (and finished 200 years later). The Sorbonne, that bastion of learning, welcomed its first visitors in 1253; and the Louvre Art Museum began life as a riverside fortress at the start of the 13th century. The North side of the Seine River, around Marais, was drained and made habitable; today it is known as the Right Bank. During this period, Scandinavian Vikings, also known as the Normans of England, had been persistently battering at the coastal regions of France, and by the 1200's, had their eye on Paris. The ongoing conflict eventually led to the Hundred Years' War between England and France, which resulted in English forces seizing the city of Paris in 1420. In 1429, partly because of contributions by Joan of Arc, the French rallied and expelled the English from most of France. In 1355, under the leadership of radical Etienne Marcel, the people of Paris declared themselves to be an independent entity, not part of the rapidly growing patchwork of cities and regions of France.

The temperament pot of Paris simmered all during the Renaissance, when Paris once more experienced a burgeoning of trade, culture, and fine architecture. However, late 16th century Paris was witness to another uprising, this time pitting Huguenot Protestants against Catholics. For two centuries after these events the city continued to prosper —sometimes despite the best efforts of kings such as Louis XIV. Although he managed to reign for almost 72 years, Louis XIV almost beggared the country with his penchant for fighting, or sponsoring new buildings, like the Palace de Versailles. Napoleon Bonaparte swept to power on the heels of the French Revolution in the late 1700s, holding a good portion of Europe in his grasp, from his seat of power in Paris. However, his zealous expansionism would be his downfall, and after his exile, the city of Paris, like the rest of the country, suffered the fluctuations of politics. In the mid 1800s, Napoleon's nephew pulled off a coup d'état and became Napoleon III. During his 17-year rule, Paris flowered once more, and there were several aesthetic and functional additions to the city, including wide boulevards, sculptured parks, and (most importantly) a sewer system. However, Napoleon III was also dethroned, and the people rose again, demanding the creation of a Republic. With that metamorphosis of France as a whole, Paris went on to become a cultural centre, rich in the arts, and boasting a hotbed of intellectuals. Today, Paris is still one of the most cosmopolitan centers in Europe, hosting millions of tourists every year, who come for the arts, the wine, and, simply, the ambiance of the City of Lights.

Map of Paris

Arriving at our stop at Notre Dame we climbed up the steps to street level where we looked at the lighted front of the cathedral on the opposite side of a quiet street. As we approached the cathedral we were able to hear the sound of a soprano voice chanting Gregorian as an accompaniment to a high mass. We walked around the interior of the cathedral listening to the mass as we looked at the sculptures and consruction models. Then stopping only to purchase a commemorative coin, we ventured off into the night to serve our profane intention of finding a warm cafe for our dinner. Finding many with appropriate ambiance, we opted for a place on a corner where we could ogle as we ate. After dinner we returned to the rail stop and discovered the impossibly wonderful "Shakespeare and Company" bookstore before taking additional wine at another cafe looking out onto Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Mass at Notre Dame Cross in Notre Dame Model of Notre Dame
Statue in Notre Dame Joan Shakespeare and Company Bookstore Paris Cafe

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