A September 2003 trip
to Amalfi Coast by hagnel2
Quote: Continuing my review of port stops in this beautiful part of the world. On this trip, I visited the Amalfi coast, lovely Menorca, and Malta. All the ports are easily explored independently, except for the Amalfi drive.
Attraction | "Simply Sumptuous: Bardo Museum"
The outside appearance is unimpressive. As we approached the entry, I thought we would be hard-pressed to spend an hour here. I should have remembered that many Muslim buildings are deceiving; there is always an inner courtyard enabling the occupant’s perfect privacy. That proved to be the case here. Once we entered the palace itself, it was a time of oohing and ahhing - it was simply sumptuous.
The artifacts are housed in a series of rooms that begin on the ground floor, comprise three floors in total, and outline the history of Tunisia from the Stone Age down to the Islamic era. We spent 1 hour here and only skimmed the surface. Whilst our tour guide was knowledgeable, friendly, and spoke excellent English, he was long-winded and spent far too much time in the ground floor rooms, which hold artifacts from Punic sites and Carthage. There are a myriad of statues, including on of the ancient god Baal. The terracotta statue from the 1st century is in excellent shape. Also worth seeing is a Byzantine baptismal font and a magnificent statue of Apollo.
This part of the museum was my favorite; with its inner courtyard and fountain, it was no surprise that it once housed the harem. The walls and ceilings are exquisitely tiled in delicate arabesque patterns, and the floor and wall mosaics are equally stunning. The Roman Carthage room showcases mosaics from the Roman Peace. The mosaics here tell a story of peasant farmers and showcase pastoral scenes of harvests, hunting, and family time. Bacchus is bestowing the vine to a peasant while King Attica looks on.
The Virgil room, with its beautifully carved plaster roof, was once the main entrance to the Bey’s apartments. Here you will find the 3rd-century Virgil mosaic said to be a copy of a portrait of the poet. The mosaic shows Virgil flanked by Clio, muse of history, and Melpomene, muse of tragedy. My photo turned out dark and does not do it justice.
In the Sousse room, take note of a vast and beautiful mosaic depicting the triumph of Neptune. I was also delighted with the stunning green-and-gold ceiling. Amongst so many mosaics, you will undoubtedly find your own favorite. The magnificent Islamic art collection, medieval pottery, jewellery, and beautifully illuminated pages from sacred texts are all to be found on this floor.
Times: 9am to 5pm summer, 9:30 to 4:30pm winter and closed Monday
Admission: approximately $3 and a $1 camera fee
Limited toilet facilities and a small snack bar.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 25, 2005
Cite El Habib
Present-day Carthage is an upscale suburb of Tunis. Ancient sites are dispersed throughout the tarmac roads. Six main sites are to be found beside these suburban French-colonial-style villas. It is impossible to see all the sites in the time we were allotted. We covered Tophet, Amphitheatre, and the Antionine baths.
Our first stop was Tophet. There is little to see in this somber place, apart from a few excavated pits, groups of undecipherable grave markers, funereal urns, and a vaulted cellar. This place dedicated to the God Baal and Goddess Tanit was the site of child sacrifice from the mid-8th century to the 2nd century BC. In 1921, a French archeologist uncovered thousands of burial urns containing charred remains and milk teeth of children. These grave markers bore inscriptions representative of the Goddess Tanit. The site is overgrown with weeds, a discomforting spot with an aura of evil.
Don’t miss Antoinine Baths (no comparison to Rome or Ephesus). Here you will find a 7th-century underground funereal chapel, many Punic graves, Roman columns, headless statues, and impressive carved stones around 6 to 7 feet high. The presidential palace is here, and we were warned not to point cameras toward it. You cannot enter the Baths, but there is a viewing platform equipped with diagrams and information. To aid imagination regarding the size of these baths, archeologists reconstructed a couple of the bath columns. The Mediterranean Sea laps gently against the old bathing area, and one can imagine the Romans sunning themselves in their togas. Skip the rest and visit this site; it is by far the best.
Entrance to all Carthage sites is $4, camera fee $1
A train runs frequently to and from Tunis.
Toilet facilities limited
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 25, 2005
In 1530, the King of Spain gave Malta to the Knights- Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, a religio – military order that cared for pilgrims in that city from the 11th century. They had their headquarters in Rhodes but were ousted from there by an ottoman invasion in the year 1522
In 1565, Knights of St John withstood another siege by the Turks but this time they held the enemy at bay. Control of the island passed to the British Empire in 1814. Malta served as a Naval base in WW2 suffering through a blockade and five months of bombing raids. King George recognized the bravery of the Maltese people by awarding the George cross to the island; the cross is eight pointed and can be seen on the islands flag. Malta became an independent democratic republic in 1974.
Today’s port Valletta is the country’s capital. It is named after a heroic knight who successfully led resistance against the ottoman fleet.
Valletta contains superb architecture and fortifications and interestingly the town’s layout was designed to allow natural breezes to waft through it. One of the unique aspects of this town is the fact that at the end of almost every Valletta Street or Side Street, there is a glimpse of bright blue water eloquently framed in golden stone. To savor this town to the full wander its streets, squares and gardens. Everywhere you walk, you can’t help but absorb its historic atmosphere, beginning of course with the encircled honey coloured wall fortifications.
We walked from the port to the town. There are many taxi touts waiting to whisk you to the center but we always feel we can acclimatize ourselves by walking. The narrow sidewalks and the steep climb to the town gave us quite a work out but we enjoyed seeing the ancient buildings along the quayside. Many of the buildings were being used as small workshops, wine bars, storage, and cafés. The area is gritty and shabby. Most of the doors are small but the crumbing stone facades give the place character certainly one can feel the areas history. It took about thirty minutes of negotiating the steep sloping streets before we reached Merchants street where a daily flea market was in progress. We didn’t linger at the packed market and continued to stroll.
As we were climbing more steep steps we met a friendly Maltese gentleman who greeted us in English, in the course of conversation, he advised us to check out the gold in the jewelers and cautioned us to buy only from the accredited shops. Up to that point, we did not intend to buy, but on our walk, we peered in windows and saw some exquisite filigreed work and some beautifully crafted chains. We ended up buying two 22k gold necklaces, one medallion and a pair of earrings for a fraction of North American prices. They accepted Amex. I must add we never buy costly jewelry when abroad but this stuff was a steal; our subsequent Canadian appraisals bore this out.
The cities main shopping area is Republic Street it is also the historic center. The central area is the only place that is flat - a respite from climbing. We stopped at one of the many cafes for a coffee and pastry, browsed for souvenirs for our grandchildren then continued along to St Johns Square to visit St Johns Co Cathedral definitely Valetta’s jeweled centerpiece.
The plain unremarkable façade belies its outstanding interior and if like us you only have the time to visit one church, I strongly recommend this one. Those people who may not relish the ornamentation of ecclesiastical buildings will find it impossible not to admire the craftsmanship and artistry. The cathedral was built between 1573-1577, some additions were made into the 18th century but the ceiling painted in 1661 by Mattia Preti an Italian artist is a masterpiece depicting the life of John the Baptist.
The sense of contrast with its plain façade is definitely overwhelming. Arabesque intricate carving covers every inch of the wall space. The floor studded with inlaid marble tombstones in green, red, and yellow gleam and shine. Each stone is imprinted with the coat of arms of the person beneath and inscription of their valor. There are many side chapels dedicated to each of the seven nations. National sections of the order had their own chapels in which they prayed and heard mass all the chapels are masterpieces of art. Twelve of the grand masters are entombed in the crypt.
In the cathedral’s museum, you will find Carravaggio’s painting of Saint John the Baptist. The colours of the painting and the expressions on the faces are awesome; most chilling is the young girl waiting with outstretched arms holding a bowl for the head of the saint. Also in the museum are beautiful Flemish tapestries and exquisitely illustrated manuscripts.
We left the cathedral reluctantly, there is too much to see in this cathedral the mind and spirit are overwhelmed. But time was pressing on and we walked back to the ship via the city gates. We didn’t have time to wander the lovely gardens to the right of the gates but we hope to remedy that on our next trip. Valetta is an easy port to explore independently and the Grand Harbour is simply awesome; do get up early in order to experience its majesty from the sea.
Cathedral St John: admission. One Maltese Lira. Open 9:30-12:30. -1:30pm-4: 30pm Mon- Fri. Sat.9am: -2pm
Tourist Info. Freedom Square. Open. 09:00-17:00 Mon- Fri. Sat.-09:00-1700. Sun 09:00-12:30. Phone. 21 2377 47. Bus Station. Located outside City gates. Visit Malta bus tours the island and costs in the region of two Maltese Lira.
Ships Tours: Mosta & Rabat half day tour$40
Malta Panoramic tour half day $39
Fernandes 6hour cruise along the coastline on a Turkish Gullet. $90
Menorca’s attractions were enough to catch the eye of the British in 1708. In 1713, The Island was ceded to Britain as part of the treaty of Utrecht. Menorca, which was fortified for thirty years, was a strategic point as important as Gibraltar or Malta. The island remained in British control until defeated by the French in 1756. But from 1763-1783, Menorca was again under British control. Following The treaty of Amiens in 1802 the island was returned to Spain.
The British were not the first visitors. The island possesses a large number of Bronze Age megalithic monuments of several types. The Taula, sort of stone tables standing on vertical pillars similar to those at Stonehenge but on a lesser scale.
Talayots conical shaped piles of rocks which may at one time have served as watch towers, and tomb structures known, as Naveta. The Naveta are roughly pyramidal in shape, one at Es Tudons is over thirty feet long. The interior consists of one room and would have served as a burial chamber for over forty people. These accumulations give rise to the idea that this island must have been of some importance during the period when these monuments were built. Es Tudons is located at the western end of the island. Other Stone Age remains can be seen at Trepuco just outside of Mahon.
Mahon is an astonishing place, seen from the sea it is simply a cliff topped by a row of houses. As we approach, we become aware of the fantastic shapes eroded in the rock: a very picturesque passage through one of the largest natural harbours in the Med. We view many lovely coves and inlets and majestic villa’s dotting the coastline, suddenly we see the monumental flight of steps of L’ Abundancia, which leads up to the town from the port. If you follow the Abundance ramp, it will lead you to the town’s largest square Placa de Espana. Carry on to view the 17th century neo-classical town hall and the Church of Santa Maria, this 18th century church holds a Swiss made organ noted for it having Over 30 000 pipes. For anyone who likes Gin there is a 200-year-old Gin distillery beside the pier and they do give out samples.
We vacationed in Menorca five years ago, therefore we decided to hike up to the church, wander around the town and have lunch. It is not necessary to take the ships tour if all you want to see is Mahon, however, if you want to see a little of the Island then a tour is the best way to get a feeling for the place and to observe the wonderful landscape. Taxi drivers at the port will offer you better rates than the ship and it is well worth seeing this lovely island. There are no outstanding buildings or monuments in Mahon but restaurants and cafes line the picturesque harbour, a great place to linger taking in the atmosphere and sensational view, while dining or sipping on a cool drink. Parts of Mahon resemble Georgian England particularly in the design of the tall houses with their sash and bay windows. It is an attractive town dominated by the church of San Francisco, accessed by climbing steeply sloping streets, which will take you beneath lovely archways and narrow passageways. The view from the top is sensational your gaze will certainly linger on the blue sea and the whitewashed terraced houses. The city museum situated inside an old cloister takes a more detailed look at life under British rule. It was a former monastery, has been beautifully restored, and holds a good collection of artifacts telling of Menorca’s ancient past.
There are tons of shops and if you are looking for excellent leather this is the place. Every Saturday there is a craft and clothing market. We had a lovely lunch at the Club Maritimo, which has glorious views across the harbour. They serve fresh fish and have an extensive menu. We had huge salads, vegetable soup, fresh rolls and delicious Mahon cheese. Along with wine and beer, our bill came to 20 euros the view alone was worth more.
Museum of Menorca Monistir de San Francisco Placa des Monestir. Mahon. Phone: 971 350 955
Open April-Sept./ Tue-Sat 10:00-14:00. 17:00-21:00 Sun.10:00-14:00Admission 2Eu
Club MaritimoMoll de Llevant 252 Port of Mahon. Phone 971 368 400
Taxi to Cituidela takes 45 min. All taxis are metered. Bus is unreliable nearest beach to Mahon is six miles away at Es Grau
Tourist office: Calle Sa Rovallda de Dalt 24 Phone: +34 971 363 790 Open: 10:00 1400/ 16:00-18:00 friendly, will provide maps and information on tours and transportation.
Ships tours: Monte Toro& Fornells half day .$42
South coast. $44
Open: 10:00 1400/ 16:00-18:00 friendly, will provide maps and information on tours and transportation.
Ships tours: Monte Toro& Fornells half day .$42
South coast. $44
Naples is one of the ports that is easily explored independently, but the ships tours are well worth the money, except for Capri, which you can do alone because the ferry is a few minutes’ walk from the port. We had visited this port previously and took ships tours to Pompeii and Herculaneum. We have also visited Naples, and so we opted for a full-day tour of the jaw dropping scenery of the Amalfi Coast. We left the port at 8:30am and returned at 5:30pm.
What we Saw
We were one of the first to board the bus, and so had a good vantage point from a forward seat on the right side of the bus. We had looked forward to this drive having heard that it was stunning – it was all that and more. When you think you have seen the most stupendous view in the world, the next bend proves to be better. There are sheer drops plunging into an incredibly azure sea, tiny villages nestled upon craggy hills, and wonderful fishing coves along the bay.
Our lunch stop was Sorrento, a touristy town perched on a rock high above the sea. The bus parked about a 10-minute uphill walk from the main square Piazza Tasso. Our first stop was to a handicraft store where the famous inlaid woodwork in which Sorrento craftsmen have long excelled was displayed and for sale. The crowd was so huge that it was impossible to even see the craftsmen or hear the spiel, so we just wandered around the shop and admired the exquisite workmanship. Afterward, we wandered for an hour through the town before meeting for lunch.
Most of the beach area in this town is privately owned, and the harbour and sea are not visible from the center. We wandered up to the church of San Francisco, but unfortunately it was closed. However, the public gardens behind the church are a great place for viewing Mt, Vesuvius and the surrounding area. I do think this area is one of the hidden charms of the town - a relaxing spot.
Lunch was in a trattoria nestled above the harbour, but it was a set menu of undistinguished pasta, salad, and a pastry dessert that was instantly forgettable. The best part of the meal was the excellent red wine that accompanied it. I noted the staff was very rushed, and because this is an area swamped with tourists, indifference and boredom prevailed; it was not a place we would have chosen had we been on an independent tour. Next time we will skip the meal with the tour group and find our own place.
We continued our ride and marveled at the bus driver’s skill negotiating the perilous bends. Olive trees were everywhere, and huge nets crisscross beneath them to catch the harvest. Some of the dwellings were actually built right into the rock. As we passed these homes, we noticed that the car park was usually located upon a roof. As we approached Positano, I noticed houses built upon terraces and rock ledges almost like a mini Kasbah in pastel shades. The town itself is small, with a tiny pebbled beach, and the Amalfi drive is linked with the lower levels by two steep one-way roads. We stopped here for a 40-minute stroll, the tiny main street lined with upscale shops. The Majolica dome of the Chiesa Madre Church stands out from the surrounding buildings. It dates from the Middle Ages and is fascinating to view. We only had time for a coffee, and then it was time to board the bus.
Amalfi - tourist town worth a peek
From Sorrento and on through Positano to Amalfi, the Corniche Road and its serpentine bends continued to skirt the dramatic seacoast. At one bend, our driver had to back up to allow an oncoming tour bus room to pass. This was not a road for the inexperienced driver. We passed through a few tunnels and saw lemon and olive groves and grapes grown on narrow rock ledges, not an inch of space wasted. Finally, we came to Amalfi, once ruler of commerce and shipping in the mid-6th century and the first of the independent Italian maritime republics. The marine compass is said to have been invented here by Flavio Gioia. In 1343, a catastrophic tidal wave engulfed one-third of the city, destroying its harbour. Two halls and pointed arches near the waterfront are all that remain of the arsenal where merchant vessels, huge galleys, and warships were built. Amalfi’s main monument today is its cathedral, St. Andrews. The church was rebuilt several times, and its facade is a 19th-century reconstruction of the medieval original. A high stairway leads up from the town’s small piazza. The facade and portico are in black-and-white marble, and the inscription on the bronze doors indicates they were built in Constantinople around 1066. The interior of the church is baroque and stunning. Although we didn’t have time to really explore the interior, we did check out the chapel that leads to the Cloisters of Paradise, said to have been the patio of a mosque. Roman sarcophagi and fragments of the cathedral’s original facade are on view here.
The crypt of Saint Andrew contains part of the body of the saint. It was brought from Constantinople at the end of the fourth crusade, but his head is in Istanbul. His feast day is a cause for great pomp and ceremony. Every June 27, his statue is paraded to the beach commemorating victory over Barbarossa in the 16th century.
Amalfi’s narrow streets and stairways of the town lead under charming arches, linking the colorful old houses. Its shopping area displays all kinds of goods. It is almost bazaar-like with its collections of souvenirs and postcards. We found a lovely patio café overlooking the pebble beach and treated ourselves to the best ice cream ever. This area is definitely lovely, but it must be a nightmare visiting in the high-season. We were at the end of the tourist season and it was crowded, but the drive was wonderful and not to be missed.
Sorrento and Amalfi Tour - Adult $125
Capri - Full-Day Tour - $120 (includes lunch)
Herculaneum - Half-Day - $40
Pompeii – Half-Day - $40
No ship tour was offered for Naples, but despite its rough reputation, we had no problems exploring this city independently last year. Just take the precautions you would take visiting any city.