A June 2003 trip
to Europe by hermion
Quote: This was a wonderful cruise on the best ship we have ever been on -- good food, good company, good weather, and fabulous places to see.
Hotel | "H10 Raco del Pi"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 18, 2003
H10 Raco del Pi Hotel
C/del Pi, 7
Barcelona, Spain 08002
(34) 93 342 61 90
After boarding the ship, which was made extremely easy for us by Celebrity Lines, we sailed to Dubrovnik in Croatia and had a day's excursion there.
Then we sailed for two days to the magnificent island of Santorini, named after Saint Irene. We had visited there before and quickly enriched the local merchants in Fera, Oia and Akrotiri.
Next we sailed to Piraeus, the seaport for Athens. It was too hot to spend much time in Athens, where we had been a couple of years ago. We had a quick ride to the Acropolis and in the afternoon we went on a bus tour to see the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. We left Piraeus in the evening and sailed for Naples.
The ship sailed through the Strait of Messina at night and while looking toward Sicily, we saw a fantastic sight. In the distance, there were three long red streaks running down a mountain, Mount Etna, which has been spewing pyroclastic material for several months. The next day the sight of the isle of Capri brought fond memories to my wife and me -- we had spent two weeks there some years ago. Naples was very hot, but we managed to take a nice walk through the city and in the afternoon had a delightful bus tour of the highlights of the city and went up one of the hills behind the city where we saw a wonderful panorama of not only Naples, but of Capri and Ischia, not to mention Mount Vesuvius, which is still active and one can see steam rising from many fissures.
The next port was Civitavecchia, the seaport of Rome. Having been to Rome many times and it being in the 90s, we decided to stay aboard and enjoy the wonderful swimming pool and the aqua spa on the top deck, not to mention the excellent food and cold drinks and ice cream. (I will tell more about the ship later.)
From here, we sprinted for Livorno, which is a very old city and a major port. It is also the gateway for the sailor to Pisa and Florence. After another day at sea, we arrived on the French Riviera, specifically Villefranche-sur-mer, a lovely town located between Monaco and Nice. We chose to take the bus to St. Paul de Vence, a 15th-century mountain top walled town. It is a major artist colony, virtually every second house had a gallery.
After another day at sea, we finally landed in Barcelona, our first time on Spanish soil. What a magnificent city this is. Having spent three days there, we only know that we must return some day to see and enjoy more of it.
From there, we boarded the Alilaguna water shuttle to Piazza San Marco, dragging our luggage behind us. If you go there don’t take the water taxi from the airport, it costs about $120, whereas the Alilaguna shuttle is $15. Venice is a wonderful place to visit, but travel lightly. There are of course no taxis and one has to walk to the hotel.
The Hotel Gallini, where we had made reservations on the internet is a good walk from San Marco and with luggage to drag over three bridges it was utterly exhausting for two old folks. The hotel is located in a very old building but is completely refurbished. There are no elevators, but a boy will bring your luggage to your room. The room was reasonably large, spotlessly clean and while not airconditioned a fan kept us comfortable. For about $140, we had the room and a generous breakfast.
After a good afternoon's rest, we hopped out for a modest dinner at one of the open air restaurants away from the tourist area. For about $12, one can get an entree. It is best to drink bottled water unless you have a strong stomach.
The next day we went out and bought a 3-day pass for the vaporetto (that’s the water bus) for about $26. If you are in Venice for more than a day it pays to get the pass because it allows you unlimited travel not only on the Grand Canal but also to the various islands such as Murano and Burano and the Lido. Each single ticket costs about $5. After paying our respects to Piazza San Marco and St. Mark's church, we followed well worn footpaths we had traveled on in our previous four visits. The Theatro de Fenice unfortunately had burned down and was being rebuilt. Fortunately we soon found a gelato store and gorged on Italian ice, necessary in the 96 degree heat. It was only a five minute walk from the hotel to the Rialto Bridge, which is always a wonderful sight.
From there one takes the Vaporetto #1 to the Academia and to the Guggenheim Museum. Probably the best way to see Venice and the Venitians is to take Vaporetto #1 and get off at various stops and walk around. While on the other side of the Grand Canal, be sure to visit the magnificant Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute.
Of course one of the nice places to walk on is the Riva degli Schiavoni which starts right in front of St. Mark's Place. Here one can sit and sip hot or cold drinks (at a small premium) and watch the foot traffic and the very busy boat traffic. In fact, while we were sitting there we saw a large ship move up from the lagoon towards the Grand Canal and then into the Giudecca channel -- low and behold, it was the Millenium, bringing cruise travelers from the trip from Barcelona. She would dock in the Bacina Stazione Marittima, where we would board her the next day. What a magnificent sight that was.
At this point, I would mention that we had some difficulty finding out where to go to board the ship. We were told to take a water taxi (estimated cost $70). Being careful with a buck, I decided to explore other means. Here is what you do if you take a cruise from Venice. Take the Vaporetto #82 to Piazzale Roma, go up the ramp( which makes pulling a suitcase easy), at the top of the ramp take a left turn and go to the end of the Piazzale. There you will find several courtesy buses from the different shipping lines which will transport you to the Pier. Just ask any driver, it makes no difference which ship he is from. The ride is less than five minutes. Once at the pier there are lots of people who will take charge of you and your luggage and you usually board quickly.
On the second day we decided to take the vaporetto to the San Zaccharia stop and from there it is a very short walk to one of our favorite restaurants, the "Al Giardinetto da Severino" on Ruga Giuffa. We had a delicious full course dinner, I had Coteletto ala Milanese (Wiener Schnitzel to you) and Miriam had lamb roast. With soup the bill came to less than $35.
While we didn't go there this time, and if you are interested in lace and similar items, go to the island of Burano.
One is instantly transported into the breathtaking medieval world of StariGrad. Facing you is the main street called the Stradun. There are cobblestones to walk on but the squares are flat marble stones. Momentarily you come to the 14th century Franciscan Monastery in which one can find the oldest working pharmacy in Europe. A short walk brings one to the 15th century Rector’s Palace, formerly the seat of the Dubrovnik Republic. Continue on and you will come to the Cathedral, one of very few Baroque buildings here. On the return walk, you can view the Sponza Palace, St. Blaises Church, and finally Onofrios fountain just before you return to the Pile gate. For those much younger than we and full of pep and energy, they can then climb the 200+ steps to top of the city wall. I am told the view from there is magnificent and the whole city is laid out before the hardy climber. One can traverse the city wall, which was built between the 8th and 16th centuries, completely; it is a little over one mile in circumference, returning again to the Pile Gate. In between, one can visit several Forts which dot the countryside and some are part of the wall.
After a little rest, a brief stop at the local cafe for a cold drink (temperature: 92 degrees) a quick hand-wash at the Onofrio fountain, one returns to the shuttle and back to the coolness of the ship and more libations.
The courtesy bus took us right into the center of Livorno and dropped us off just around the corner from the Piazza Grande. It should be remembered that much of the city was destroyed by allied bombing and has been neatly rebuilt into a quite charming little city. The center has many buildings with arcades covering the sidewalks making walking excursions quite pleasant. Near the harbor there is an imposing five-sided ancient fortress dating back to the Medicis. Livorno is also known as the birthplace of the artist Modigliani.
As we turned the corner on a large street we suddenly were confronted by a lively and very interesting street market. A large square was covered with booths and stands selling fruits, vegetables, clothing and any odd thing imaginable. The dealers all were very friendly and tried to sells us different items, but we were not in a buying mood. Soon we returned to the bus -- after taking two or three wrong turns -- and went back to the ship for a late lunch, some ice cream and a dip in the pool -- ah, the comforts of home.
The ship displaces 91,000 tons, is 965 feet long and 105 feet wide. Its draft is 26 feet, she'll do 24 knots cruising (a knot is 1 nautical mile per hour or 1.15 statute miles per hour) and she can carry 1950 passengers. On this trip, there were only a few suites left, the rest of the cabins were filled with happy travelers. We occupied a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Veranda. The cabin was 170 sq. ft. and the Veranda 38 sq.ft. Each stateroom is fully equipped including color TV, hairdrier, air conditioning, minibar and two complimentary bath robes.
The ship has 12 decks. Deck 2 has only cabins both inside and oceanview. Deck 3, forward of midships, has inside and oceanview cabins and the mid section has the Grand Foyer where you will find the Concierge, Guest Relations, the Bank, and the Excursion Office. Aft of this is the Olympic Restaurant as well as the Cinema and Conference Center. On Deck 4, there is the Celebrity Theater followed by the Michaels club and the Photo Gallery directly forward of the Casino. Midship again is the upper section of the Grand Foyer and its elegant staircase. Aft of the Foyer is the Rendez vous Lounge followed by the lower entrance to the Metropolitan Dining Room. On Deck 5 forward, there is the upper section of the Celebrity Theater and as you move towards the stern you will pass a variety of stores in the Emporium including our favorite Jewelry Shop, J.Stern.
Immediately after you come to what we considered the highlight, the Cova Cafe Milano, where from 3-5pm a lovely young lady serves the most delicious deserts imaginable. I admit it, I am a chocolate freak. Passing through the Platinum club where good music is heard, you come to the upper entrance of the Metropolitan Dining Room.
Decks 6-9 are all cabins. We particularly liked our deck 6. We had a most obliging cabin atttendant who catered to my wife's every whim. Deck 10 is wonderful. Here you find the swimming pools, the whirlpools, the aqua spa, the gym for aerobics and cardiovascular equipment, as well as a variety of little places to get pizzas, ice cream, etc. Towards the stern, you find the Ocean Cafe and the Ocean Grill -- more food for the hungry. Here one gets informal breakfast and lunches (self-service) with standard foods such as salads but also daily specialties.
On the 11th Deck you find the Cosmos Bar, where the Captain holds his receptions. There is also the Conservatory, the jogging track, and toward midship there is the Golf Simulator and then the Video Arcade and places for Kids to play. We never ventured to the abbreviated 12th deck which is simply called the Sports Deck. I forgot to mention that on Deck 8 you will find a well stocked library with books arranged by the first letters of the author's last name.
Having taken you through the whole ship and eleven decks, we were exhausted from pushing the elevator buttons, so we retired to the aqua spa. Here is a good-sized pool of hot water -- I estimate at 120 degrees or more -- and on two sides, there are a series of metal tubes about 3inch in diameter which conform to a reclining body and between these there rise large pump driven bubbles to massage your weary body. One can really only stay there for about 15 minutes. Then we repaired to the regular swimming pool and enjoyed the cooler water and the hot sun -- time to eat again? Well, let's go then.
From the harbor, the town rises up the side of a mountain with many attractive homes and much greenery. One readily sees the three Corniche Roads, the lower, middle and upper Corniche. The town overlooks the Cap Ferrat peninsula, home to the very rich and spoiled. The town dates to the 14th century and is still home to many fishermen and their small craft. The arcaded Rue Obscure is most interesting to walk through and enjoy the sunshine and the flowers and the people. Near the harbor and overlooking it, the crooked house’s wooden shutters come in all different colors. For those wishing to see Monte Carlo or Cannes and Nice, there is a Railroad station not far from the harbor and a bus stop in the center of town. While taxis are always there to meet the ships, they tend to be rather expensive.
It clearly was a post card town. High on the hill and surrounded by a thick wall. The streets were steep to climb and all cobble-stoned. The houses were all of stone and in excellent repair. Nearly every other house had an art gallery on the first floor, interspersed only by attractive restaurants. The two ladies in the party were particulaly interested in the art (my wife is a succesful watercolorist) and our friend was looking for an unusual piece of art for her house. At least this way the men could rest in a cool place every few minutes without admitting all the climbing was getting to us. At lunchtime we found a nice Crepery with a delightful outside terrace overlooking the whole valley and enjoyed a wonderful repast. We climbed a part of the wall prepared as a lookout point and saw a beautiful panorama of the landscape with its many trees and vineyards. The town even has a small cemetery, it is impossible to dig deeply into the ground so the tombs and graves are all above ground.
We were lucky when it came time to return -- one of the tours from our ship had an half-empty bus and, when asked, offered to let us board and return us to the ship. Thus ended one of the nicest excursions we made during the whole trip.
The bay of Naples is indeed a wondrous sight. In a sweeping arc, one can look from Pozzuoli (birthplace of Sophia Loren) to Naples to Mount Vesuvius and further to the Isles of Capri and Ischia. While we had been to Naples twice before, we never stayed there or looked at its sights, but promptly took the ferry to Capri, which I have described in a previous report.
After the usual lavish breakfast, we took the courtesy shuttle to the harbor entrance and leisurly walked to the town. One immediately comes to the Castello Nuovo with it’s pleasant gardens, where the Kings of Aragon amd Anjou lived, and then made our way to the Royal palace passing the Piazza del Plebiscito, a rather large open area, and then turned right to look at the San Carlo Opera House. Not to be overlooked is the Teatro San Carlo near the opera house. The Castello, built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 15th century, houses a nice museum. It is also known for the triumphal arch at it’s entrance, considered to be one of the finest works of its kind. The Royal palace dates from the 17th century. The original structure designed by Domenico Fontana was rebuilt after a disastrous fire in the 19th century and again after heavy damage during WWII.
The San Carlo Opera House dates to the 18th century and is a most imposing building, particularly its insides with the beautifully adorned boxes and the fabulous fresco on the vault. Looking up the hill behind the city one can see the magnificent Certosa di San Martino. While in the city we observed many Policemen and many firemen and their gear on the Piazza del Plebiscito. It seems they had a great celebration for the 100th (?) anniversary of the fire service. The dignitaries were seated on a great dais with a red awning. Very picturesque. On the way back to the ship we discovered a large, very lovely and cool arcade with many nice stores, the Galleria Umberto.
We avoided the other tours. It was too hot to go on a tour of either Pompeii or Herculaneum, especially since we had been there some years ago. If you have not been there, it is something truly spectacular to visit. Remember, Pompeii was buried in hot ashes and was incinerated, while Herculaneum was swept over by a tidal wave of mud, therefore is better preserved. This general area is also known for its artisans who carve beautiful cameos in nacre from local shell fish.
Barcelona is divided into several districts, the oldest one being the Gothic Quarter. We had chosen a hotel in this quarter because most of the interesting sites are located there. We stayed at the Hotel Raco del Pi on Carrere del Pi, a very narrow street with many stores, restaurants and ice cream parlors.
After settling in at the hotel, where, unfortunately, we had to wait over two hours because of our very early arrival, we decided to take a little walk to get acquainted with the neighborhood.
A very short walk down the street took us to Placa Nova in the shadow of the towers of the ancient Roman Wall. There was a nice outdoor restaurant, where we had a sandwich and cold drink. A few steps around the corner brought us to the cathedral. Here we were fortunate to see the worshippers come out of the Cathedral after mass. There was a small band sitting on the steps of the Cathedral, playing native songs (I presume) and gradually people began a slow dance while forming a circle and holding hands. After a short while, more and more people joined and enlarged the circle. Eventually a second circle was formed and it too began to grow as not only natives but some daring tourists danced. It was a most moving display of reverence and friendship.
We sat on one of the stone blocks, which were all along the periphery of the Pla de la Seu in front of the 14th century cathedral. The cathedral complex also comprises three palaces, the Cases del Canonges, the Casa del Dega, and the Casa de l’Ardiaca. Time was passing and we went back to the hotel for a rest and to contemplate dinner.
We saw a very nice tapas bar almost across the street from the hotel and decided to try our luck there. The owner spoke good English and made interesting recommendations about the food. We each had a Catlunyan salad which consisted of a large platter with several green vegetables, lots of tomatoes and other vegetables and the whole was ringed with a selection of different Catalunyan sausages sliced very thin. With this, we had Catalunyan bread, which was two large slices of rye bread covered with a red (tomato? plus herbs) sauce. It was excellent and we both polished our plates. With it, I had a bottle of Spanish beer which was very tasty.
I should mention that our movements were somewhat restricted because my wife had fallen and twisted her ankle, as a result, we walked rather little and then only very slowly. Most of our travel in the city was, therefore, by taxis, which were very reasonably priced.
The next morning we left the hotel and turned left this time and shortly came to the La Rambla. The La Rambla starts at the Columbus lookout at the harbor, a statue of the discoverer, and goes all the way to the Placa de Catalunya - quite a long distance. La Rambla is a pedestrian zone set between the roadway, it is about 50 feet wide and has many stalls, restaurants and sellers of a variety of products. Most stunning were the flower displays.
It should be pointed out, that there was a gathering of about 5000 motorcycles to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davison. Contrary to what one reads in the local papers, these bikers were very well behaved, came from all over the world and rarely made a nuisance of themselves. About the only complaint was that once in a while someone had a pass-through muffler, thus making lots of noise. After we became too tired to go on, we returned to the Placa Nova and had more of the delicious orange sorbet being sold in the ice cream parlor and then returned to the hotel for a much needed rest.
The church, about 100 years in building, still has many years to go to be finished. It has three main facades. The one on the east represents the Nativity, the one on the west the Passion and Death and Glory is planned for the south. Each facade has four towers to represent the twelve Apostles, while the dome over the apse is meant to be symbolic of the Virgin Mary. Since Gaudis death a number of people have been working, raising money and arranging for a continuation of the structural work to finish the Masters original design.
There is a nice park directly opposite the Sagrada Familia where on can sit in the shade under the trees and admire the building from afar. Having satisfied ourselves that we saw the most important aspects of the building, we returned to the hotel, had a rest and went for lunch at an outdoor cafe off the La Rambla. The half roast chicken was well prepared and very tasty.
In the afternoon we took a taxi to the Passaig de Gracias where we admired the building designed by Gaudi, known as La Pedrera. 0n the way back towards the center of town we ambled down the Passaic de Gracias, admiring the broad avenue and the many great buildings. We spent some time walking in the vicinity of Carrer d’Arago where there are three exceptionally interesting buildings. One designed by Antoni Gaudi, much in the style of La Pedrera and two others, Casa Amattler and CasaBattlo, each with a unique and characteristic style (see pictures).This small section is known as Mancana de la Discordia (loosly translated as "city block of discord) because of the vast difference in architectural styles of the three buildings in this block. First one sees the classic work of Antoni Gaudi, clearly resembling the work seen at La Pedrera; next is Casa Amatller which was designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, a neogothic structure which is decorated with polychrome ceramic on the facade; finally there is Casa Lleo Morera with its modernist floral facade, designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner.
The city blocks here tend to be fairly long and soon we were tired enough to return to the hotel get rested and prepare for supper at the Tapas bar, and pack the bags, for the next morning we had to get up at 5:30 to make the 8:30 plane to Munich, with a one hour connection to Boston.
The island has an interesting history. Homer described a continent he called Atlantis which was never found by modern archeologists. More recently it was proposed that what Homer described was the island of Santorini only then it was very much larger and was an active volcano. In the 15th century, the volcano erupted and most of the island disappeared into the sea leaving only the edges of the crater which now represent several islands - Thira, Thirasia and Aspronisi. Thira was renamed in the 13th century after Saint Irene to become Santorini. The enormous tidal wave from the eruption wiped out the whole Minoan civilization on Crete.
The ascent to the top of the island can be made by a series of about 600 steps (ugh), on donkey back, or very quickly by cable car. One of the appended photographs shows the three routes of ascent. Once on top, one does very well just walking and when you wish to visit the other towns (Oia or Akrotiri) a cab for four people is about $10 each way, or you can take a public bus. The main city is Fira which was pretty well destroyed in 1956 by an earthquake but has been charmingly rebuilt. Of course there are many shops geared for sales to the tourist, but interestingly, many items for sale are very nice, particularly gold jewelry, and the prices are more reasonable than we found in most other cities and in the U.S. It being the week of our 56th anniversary, I bought my wife an 18 carat gold Grecian Key bracelet at a very reasonable price.
There is quite a nice store across from the cable car landing with many cloth goods. My wife had bought some hand embroidered pillow covers in Greece several years ago and wanted two more. After some digging around, she bought two matching ones she liked very much.
Nearby is the Archaeological Museum which contains a number of Cycladic figurines and several artifacts dug up in the general area of Akrotiri. It makes a worthwhile,albeit, brief visit. Another museum across the street is the Megaro Ghisi Museum. It is in a beautiful restored 17th-century mansion; it contains many photos of Fira before the earthquake.
Making your way several blocks toward the town center brings you to the Orthodox Cathedral, a very pretty building in classic Greek style. A bit further on is the church of Agiou Mina with its distinctive blue dome and white bell tower. It is on the edge of Agiou Mina street and faces the caldera.
The food, of course, is plentiful and good. Many different restaurants beckon the weary traveler. Naturally one expects much seafood on an island, but also try pseftokeftedes (meatless meatballs) they are native to the island and quite good. Since it is always hot here, be sure to bring or buy a container of bottled water -- don't drink the tapwater.
The beauty of the town surely lies in the perfectly kept white painted houses cascading down the upper part of the hillside. The streets are narrow but very navigable. A comfortable pair of shoes is strongly recommended. The center of town is Theotokopoulou square. This is a relatively modern area with restaurants, bus station and taxi stand nearby.
Attraction | "Oia (pronounced ee-ah)"
There is also a local bus every 30 minutes, but who has time to wait. Oia is a lovely little town with a number of streets one can enjoy walking through, although much of it is up and downhill. The village was almost completely rebuilt after the awful earthquake of 1956 and today is very picturesque with many barrel-roofed cave houses as well as flat roofed, white painted houses. The main square is of course approachable by car, but all the rest is strictly walking.
Santorini Villages: Fira and Oia
Santorini, Greek Islands
Attraction | "A brief visit to Akrotiri"
Akrotiri Village and Archaeological Site
Island of Santorini
In the early part of the 20th century, German archaeologists worked diligently to reconstruct the Parthenon and other buildings, which had been destroyed during the fighting between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, when gunpowder was stored there and a cannon ball hit the powder seriously damaging most of the buildings. In order to hold many of the stones for the columns and transverse pieces together, steel rods were placed in their center. Unfortunately, over time the rods began to rust and the stones became rust-colored. Now the Greek government is slowly taking these structures apart and replacing the steel rods with titanium rods. Obviously this is a very slow process and requires the constant presence of scaffolding, clearly seen in the pictures.
After a look around, we returned to the ship and then took an afternoon tour to Cape Sounion on the Aegean Sea to view the temple of Poseidon, a very impressive structure, worth the two hour trip from Piraeus.