Saturday, December 26, 2009

Livorno, Lucca...Heard of either?

12th October 2009- Livorno, Italy
Overnight, on predominantly north-westerly courses we transited the northern part of the Tyrrhenian Sea, passing by the Island of Giglio and on towards the Island of Elbe. Leaving Elbe to port, we left the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and entered into the south-eastern part of the Ligurian Sea and continued to parallel the Italian mainland. Prior to entering the port confines, we boarded the local harbour Pilot off the breakwater at 06:10. Shortly before 07:00 we were alongside our berth with both gangways ready for use.

Not a pretty docking area again. When choosing a shore excursion for this port, we took into consideration that many attractions in both Florence and Pisa were closed on Mondays, the day of our visit. We did drive by these cities on the bus and glimpsed the famous leaning tower. We had a wonderful guide, an English and Italian history teacher, who gave us a great deal of information as we traveled to Lucca.

Livorno is Italy's third-largest port, serving as a gateway to Florence and Pisa. It replaced Pisa, which had silted in. It is that whole silting process that made the ground under Pisa so unstable. Towers were build as fortification for defense, and most were built with stone walls, but wooden interior structures. The most famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, however, was built entirely of white marble, including all interior staircases and structures. Thus, it was incredibly heavy, and built on unstable, silt-produced ground. Result? Leaning!

We disembarked our bus at the entrance to Lucca, where we were greeted by vendors offering omberellis . No umbrella for me! Oh, no! I whipped out my trusty emergency poncho! Ahhhh, nothing like walking around a foreign country in a trash bag. At least it was our only day ashore in rain.

Until the late 18th century, Lucca was a small, but totally independent state. It was able to withstand the ambitions of the Florentines and the Medici largely due to the earthen, brick encrusted fortified walls. The walls are over 12 meters high and about as wide. The city is on flat ground with the old grid of Roman streets making it fairly easy to navigate, even in the rain,

Among Lucca's claims to fame is the house where Giacoma Puccini was born. He is honored with a small museum and an annual festival.

In addition to the honors afforded those who made civic and artistic contributions, it's easy to once again appreciate the wealth, power and influence of the Church. One of my favorites was not necessarily the largest, but so gorgeous!

The church facade is remarkably ornamented. During Lucca's golden age, the finest silk and woolen fabrics in Tuscany were produced here. The varying designs on the many pilars represent fabric patterns.
Another 12th century cathedral features Tintoretto's painting of the "Last Supper," a wooden crucifix with a folkloric history, and decorative and educational exterior facades. Bible stories, months of the year, and historical events depicted on the outside of the cathedral served as educational aids for poor people who lacked books.

At the conclusion of our walking tour, we had 45 minutes of free time, enough time for a bit of refreshment...
Found a nice, little outdoor cafe, and a break in the rain. Wandering around after we finished, we came across a bit of American influence.... First, fancy dancing in Rome; now, "Dukes of Hazard" in Lucca. The General Lee was never so surprising!

We may have done a bit too much wandering... had to run for the bus. Actually, we were 5-10 minutes late getting back, and other happy tourists weren't too happy with us. OOOOPS! Almost broke one of my two rules, the one about making it back to the boat. Anyway, we made it and had a lovely bus ride through the Italian countryside back to the ship.
The afternoon was free to do laundry. Yea!!! On vacation, but clothes still get dirty. Washers and dryers aren't plentiful, and I think we made a good decision not to wait for an at-sea day. It cleared off around 4:00 P.M., and I spent some quality time reading on our balcony. The balcony is well worth it for a long cruise; might not be for three days or so, although it would still be nice. In addition to being a fairly private outdoor area, last night when we couldn't get to sleep, we went out on the balcony in jammies to look at the stars, the distant lights on the shoreline, and the water passing by. Surprisingly, there were some little, twittering birds flying around. I don't know what they were, but I didn't expect them.
With confirmation of all passengers and crew onboard and all the pre-departure checks complete, Ruby Princess let go all lines and maneuvered slowly off the berth. Once clear of the breakwater and with the Pilot disembarked, the ship turned to the west-south-west and commenced her fast passage across the Ligurian Sea towards Marseille.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sailing, sailing... postRome

Made it back to Civitavecchi on the bus. Once more...didn't get arrested, made it back onto the boat. Yea!!! After dinner, we thought we'd try "Movies Under the Stars" up on deck 15/16 by one of the pools.

Movies are shown on this big ol' LCD screen in the afternoon too, but at night it's special. Reminiscent of the drive-in, but much more comfortable. Thick cushions are put on the lounges, and toasty warm, plaid wool throws are distributed. Wait staff will take orders for drinks and bring popcorn. When I went up to see Angels and Demons, they also brought warm cookies and milk. Nice! On this particular night the movie was I Love you, Man. Could not get into it; glad I didn't pay to see it. Back to the room; jump into the shower; sudden knock on the door. I figured it was the steward bringing the night's Princess Patter outlining the next day's activities. Nope! Roomie Janet informed me that brother Mikey had signed up for Karaoke at Club Fusion, and we had to get down there. Throw on some clothes and dash down to deck 7. Mikey did two numbers! It was great! I loved seeing him have a good time. He works so hard, and he used to be such a serious young man. I worried about him. One must have FUN! His second number was "Twist and Shout," so three of us got up to be his girl (?) dancers. Twistin', twistin', twistin' the night away.... Well, OK not the whole night, but 'til 10:30. Problem was with a 6:30 A.M. wakeup call, I needed to get some sleep. Didn't happen 'til about 1:30 A.M. as we sailed toward Livorno, another Italian city I had never heard of.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....

I'll get back to the cruise news after I recover from losing the entry for Rome. I had worked on it two different times, getting pictures uploaded and arranged with exposition, when POOF! It disappeared! GRRRRR! I will do it over, just not right away.

Both the "wild boys" in the woods and the "white guys" in the yard are happy to have passed Turkey Day without being consumed in holiday ritual. We had a great day hunting (some of us), cooking (others of us), and eating (all of us). Much to be thankful for in this year of Our Lord 2009.

Brian got this bad boy bright and early Thanksgiving morning.
Note the drop tine (funny looking antler thingy) by Brian's right hand--makes this buck special, but still dead. He had already gotten a doe on opening morning, so he is set for the year with two in the freezer. Yes, we are carnivores and eat what we kill. Larry had gotten a doe, and he got this guy during primitive firearms season.
Each guy has a lovely just-take-the-picture expression on his face. The trail cameras still show lots of activity on the place, more corn-fed squirrels than you are likely to find anywhere else. These were interesting shots...

I believe owl met rabbit or some other rodent here, and these two guy seem to have some sort of dispute going on....
The wild things are active, and we have added another domestic critter. Oz, Larry's retriever, has gotten too old to hunt, so we have added a female black Lab puppy. Talk about active! Ahhhh, the joys of housebreaking and other pleasantries. We have named her Sioux, the little black spot in this photo...
She is a whirling dervish for sure! At least they aren't wild puppies for long. I was also able to get a good picture of handsome son and lovely granddaughter over the holiday.

Well, gotta get out and take care of the manure goes on.
Next time, "Roaming Rome!"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Roaming Rome

11th October 2009- Civitavecchia, Italy

In the early hours we navigated to the east of the Island of Ponza and continued our track parallel to the Italian coast through the eastern part of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Shortly after sunrise the ship turned to the northeast to approach the breakwater. We embarked the harbour Pilot at 06:03. On entering the harbour the ship was turned 180 degrees at rest before berthing port side alongside.

A quick breakfast then hustle on down to catch the bus for "Rome on Your Own." We had a tour guide on the bus to point out interesting sites passed by the bus. She had a thick accent (yep, Italian---Surprise!) and was a bit hard to understand at times. I didn't realize it would be so far from the port to Rome. Apparently there was a closer port at one time, Ostia, but it became unusable due to silt and sediment. Emperor Trajan built Civitavecchia as a new port, guarded by a renaissance fort completed by Michelangelo in 1557. The bus route passed through more modern parts of Rome before arriving at our drop off just outside of St. Peter's Square.

Our guide told us the time to report back and the
place to assemble for the return trip. She also warned us to be aware of our belongings and to watch out for "pickapockets-uh" and "gypsies-uh." Had never been warned about gypsies before. How do ya know one if ya see one? Do they wear costumes or badges or something? Anyway, I considered myself warned.

We were told that the Basilica at St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel would not be open until later in the day because there were ceremonies cannonizing five new saints. OK, so no standing in line to see something of which there are pictures in books. A bit disappointing, but Onward! There was an abundance of statuary everywhere...must have been sculptors everywhere. A priest gave me a rosary, and I saw the Pope on a large screen delivering a speech. No idea what he said or why he appeared to be green in the picture I took of the screen.

I wonder how far stone had to be hauled for all of this construction and sculpture. I heard that sometimes materials were "borrowed" from older buildings to construct new ones, and that some structures were significantly modified over the years. One such structure was the Castel Sant'Angelo, built as a tomb for the Emperor Hadrian and later fortified as part of the walls of the city. Loved the Archangel Michael at the top!

Next stop... the Pantheon, built in the first century. How in the world did they build these structures with no equipment? My simple little house would have been a trial without a tractor and power tools.
It was actually smaller than I expected it to be--not too sure where the expectation came from. Yet one would think a "Temple to All the Gods" would have to be big for lots of gods to be included. On to the Forum, which really wasn't too very far away.

No funny things happened on the way to the Forum.... (get the allusion?) However, on the way to the Colosseum, I could swear I heard Native American flute music. There were some street performers along the thoroughfare, including (drum roll, please) Fancy Dancers!

Suddenly it seemed as though I were back in Oklahoma. Didn't expect them in Roma, Italia.

The remains of the Colosseum were really awesome. Many obvious steps were taken to preserve the structure and prevent its further degeneration. Too many tourist dollars at stake to allow it to crumble, aside from the historical significance.

And how in the world does one sculpt something so massive as this?
Can you see the size of the people at the base of this horse and rider? Amazing!
Wow! I can't even imagine translating a model into a sculpture of that size. We went to the Forum Museum where displays explained the process of restoration--interesting. Time for lunch. Lots of street vendors, but nowhere to sit. Mike suggested we get off the main thoroughfare to find somewhere to sit down and eat. Lead on, Macduff! As previously mentioned, I must attach myself to someone with a chance of getting me back to where I need to be when I need to be there. We found a little place with sidewalk seating, well, practically in the road, but seemingly well patronized. Janet seemed less than impressed with her sandwich, but my chicken salad looked tasty. No dressing? Hey, I'm American! Where's the fat?

We taxi'd back towards St. Peter's and Hadrian's Tomb.
Lots of activity back at St. Peter's. There was a parade with drums and piping and flag tossing guys performing. I turned to see people in bright yellow T-shirts leading burros, followed by similarly clad folks on horseback. There were Bavarian looking girls too.

I suppose all of this was not necessarily the usual thing, but it must have been tied in to the beatification of five new saints. Maybe these groups of costumed people were from the home regions of these new saints. I don't know.

We got back on the bus, where a guide continued to give us information about the city in heavily accented English. She kept stressing that one needed at least a week in Rome to do the city justice. I'm sure that's true, but one must also take what she gets. It's life: roll with what you've got! She was explaining the significance of the colors on the uniforms of the Vatican Swiss guards. The uniforms were designed by Michelangelo.

"Yellow is for the sun-uh; blue is for the sky-uh; red-uh is for the bloooood-uh."

"What is bluedah?" came from beside me.

Um, I believe that's "blood."

Arrivederci, Roma!

With confirmation of all passengers and crew onboard, we struck our gangways at 18:45, and our local Pilot boarded seaside at 19:03. Shortly after we let go all our lines and maneuvered off our berth and exited Civitavecchia harbour en-route to Livorno.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cruisin' Day 5-- Naples/Capri

Up at the crack of 6:45 A.M. today. The breakfast buffet provided fuel for the day's activities. We met the rest of our troop of 8 at 8:00 A.M. to set out for the fabled Isle of Capri.

Step 1: Obtain a ticket for the hydrofoil. Fortunately, the weather was calm, although cloudy. 32 euro bought a round-trip ticket and the opportunity to board along with a few other adventurous souls for the half hour or so sail. It was actually a bit boring; the ship was not set up to be anything more than transportation: lots of seats, small windows, but a snack bar and a guy trying to sell donuts and caps (not many takers for either). We snapped a few photos in the harbor area...

Next, we bought tickets for the funicolare to go up to the center of the city. Either walk for thirty minutes or ride the tram-like thing up the hill in a few minutes--no brainer. We planned to explore the city of Capri, but spent more time tying to figure out how to relocate Janet's mom, Vicky's husband, and brother Mike, who had all strayed. Of course, they weren't all together; Mike and camera were off on their own. This was where we saw them last...
W e decided to return to the funicolare station, get a yummy lemon slush, and wait. I guess Capri is known for lemon everything. The owner of the slush stand ran us off because Janet and Janice tried to sit there and eat pizza that they had purchased elsewhere. "Non permisso! Non permisso!" Yeah, yeah, whatever. Took a few more pics....

Vicky located hubby and Janet's mom around the corner having a beer. Well, we were up to 7 of the 8 and knew that Mikey would turn up eventually, so we set off to get bus tickets to Anacapri, another town farther up the hills. Funicolare and bus tickets were 1,40 euro each way. That's when I figured out that these folks use a comma where we use a decimal point in the prices of things. They also sometimes use three places to the right for whatever reason. It was somewhat of a relief to figure out that lasagne was 12 euro, not 12,000 as the sign seemed to indicate. Oh, and in case you were wondering why there would even be mini-trucks like those turning up here and there, I have seen the reason. The "streets" are about as wide as sidewalks, and these little vehicles are about all that could run down them. Main thoroughfares are a bit wider, but accommodate two-way traffic. We got on a little orange bus wide enough to seat one person on each side and allow two people to stand between them and hang on. Off we went up a steep, serpentine road with hairpin turns, missing sideview mirrors of oncoming traffic by inches. Little guard rails separated traffic from a steep cliff. Janet had to look away or close her eyes. Yet we made it safely to Anacapri.

This time we set a time and place to meet, in case we got separated, which, of course, we didn't. We did a little shopping ( would have done more with a more favorable rate of exchange). No major purchases, just some lemon chocolate. After the bus back down, we got on the funicolare back down to the harbor. There was Mikey waiting to catch the boat back to Naples! He had been on his own adventure to some ruins of a fortress. Can't wait to see some of his pictures. Once again, didn't get arrested; made it back to the ship!
After dinner at the buffet, I went up to the very top deck at the back of the ship to watch the sun set over Naples and the sailaway. I had a nice conversation with a couple from Maine. Being a retired teacher brings up all sorts of topics relating to education. Everyone has stories to tell. I got some nice pictures.

Naples is a bustling, modern city--not really my cup of tea. Maybe if I were incredibly wealthy...
Extract from the Deck Log
10th October 2009- Naples, Italy
Overnight, Ruby Princess continued her transit of the Tyrrhenian Sea and in the early hours our track took us by the active volcano island of Stromboli. Just before sunrise we transited into the Gulf of Naples passing close by the beautiful Island of Capri, before turning to the northeast towards the breakwater. Prior to embarking our pilot at 06:06 and entering the harbour we left the historic city of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius on our starboard side.
Once we slipped our lines and thrusted off our berth we exited the port of Naples. Ruby Princess then eased back into the Gulf of Naples and after rounding the Island of Ischia to the southwest to port, northwesterly courses were set towards Civitavecchia, the port for Rome.