Sorrento, Italy

We arrive in Naples, the 3rd largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan.  Like many seaside ports, Naples built fortresses to defend herself, but not much is left as this was one of the most bombed Italian cities during WWII.  Naples is a very industrial town, a stopping off port to the primary destinations of Pompeii, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast.  Hmm…which destination should we head to?

After a short walk to see a few sites within walking distance of the boat harbor, we decide to go to one of our favorite cities…Sorrento!  Coming into the port puts you at sea level where most of Sorrento is up on the cliff’s edge.  You can spend the first part of your day trying to hike to the top, or for a couple of Euros,there is a lift to take you up above.

Piazza Tasso is the main and central square, named after the famed Italian poet Torquato Tasso.  This center of town is like a spoke of a wheel, with many roads coming in, cars circling round, and then spinning off to side streets.  Restaurants on all sides make it a perfect place to dine and people watch.  Down the side streets you’ll find many gelato shops and shopping streets to satisfy all those looking for the perfect Italian souvenirs.

Wandering down the side streets is full of surprises.  There are stores for both the locals and visitors.  We found a charming place to have lunch, complete with Italian serenading and the best spaghetti and roasted clams I have ever had.  How do they make such a simple dish taste so delicious?  I certainly will be trying to see if I can make this dish once I get home.

Lots of photos of Sorrento…it’s just sooo picturesque, it’s difficult to stop the shutter of my camera!

Sorrento doesn’t have much of beach but that hasn’t stopped them from enjoying the crystal blue waters on a sunny day.  Man made piers jut out into the water.  Nearby eateries and the picturesque vista make this place worth a visit.  Just choose a sun chair, an umbrella, and you’re set for an afternoon of relaxation, swimming, and sun.

This is the last stop on our Adriatic Sea journey with Celebrity Cruises.  I hope you’ll join me on another adventure to a new destination on this beautiful and wonderous place we live called planet earth.  I can’t wait to discover what’s next!

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Catania, Sicily, Italy

Catania is the second largest city in Sicily, and is known for it’s seismic history!  Yikes!!  Our tour guide said that in her lifetime, she has seen the city rebuilt five times.  All of the citizens live beneath the active eruptions of Mt. Etna volcano, never knowing if the next eruption is going to take their house.  It is one of the most active volcanos in the world and is in a constant state of activity.  It has been designated as a decade volcano by the United Nations, and is also a UNESCO world heritage site.   Of late, it has erupted in 2001, ’03, ’05, & ’08, with summit eruptions in 2006, ’08, and 2012.  Interesting to see, but I sure wouldn’t want to live here!

About forty-five minutes away is Taormina, a charming little village perched high overlooking the sea.  The narrow pathway is for pedestrians only and is flanked on both sides my old churches, lively bars, restaurants, and shops.

Handpainted pottery as been a part of the Italian landscape for hundred of years with the ceramists producing extraordinary pieces for tableware, decorations, and for kitchen and bathroom back splashes.  Oh, if only my suitcase were a little bigger.

We discovered a little traditional Sicilian staple, arancinas, the Italian word for “little oranges.”  It’s a little rice ball covered with bread crumbs and stuffed with meat, and often served with ragu.  We grabbed one of those at a sidewalk cafe, along with a gelato later, and meandered through the sidewalks soaking up the atmosphere.  There was no more charming way to pass the afternoon in this quaint and picturesque city.

 

Valetta, Malta

As we sailed into Valetta, Malta, it was like seeing an ancient Biblical city that time had forgotten.  Most of it’s buildings were constructed in the 1600s during the rule of the Knights Hospitaller, or the Order of St. John, one of the most famous Western Christian military orders of the Middle Ages.  They were dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

Their mission was to follow the crusades, which were widespread military expeditions by the Roman Catholic Church to regain the Hold Lands that were taken by Islamic conquests who imposed their Muslim religion.  The Knights were successful in regaining possession of the Holy Lands from the Turks, freeing the people from Muslim rule.  Grandmaster, Jean de Valette led the siege, from whom the city then took his name.  To date, Malta is 99% Roman Catholic in great thanks to the Knights.

This city is absolutely mythic.  The narrow meandering streets are crowded with ancient buildings and ancient Renaissance cathedrals and Baroque palaces with 2,000 years if history.  The entire city was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1980.  The old and historical building have now been filled with little shops and eateries but there is still plenty of old world charm to take you back in time.

They don’t say much on the cruise ship about St. John’s cathedral, but it’s so that we can be surprised when we see it ourselves, and holy mackerel, what sight to behold!  The church was build by the Knights of Malta and is considered of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in Europe and of the greatest cathedrals in the world.

The interior is over-the-top ornate, with intricately carved stone walls, painted vaulted ceilings, and side altars decorated with scenes from the life of St. John, each dedicated to a patron saint.

I was totally fascinated by the marble floors, which are an entire series of tombs, housing 375 knights and officers of the order.  The exquisite workmanship is interwoven with the knight’s coat or arms, his victories and traits, lions and trumpets to represent valor, and skeletons and skulls symbolizing death and eternity.  The detail and intricacy is just breathtaking to see.

This entire church is such a miraculous work of art, such a glitter of gold, such exquisite detailing of which we have never seen the likes.  This church will long be in our memory.

 

 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Called the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik is a city rich in history and natural beauty.  It’s a city surrounded by a series of defensive stone walls, built to protect it’s people.  They are among the great fortifications of the Middle Ages and were never breached during this time period.  In 1979, the old city of Dubrovnik and it’s ancient walls join the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.  Build mainly during the 12-17th century, the walls encircle most of the old city and have long been a source of pride for it’s people.

The main street, called the Stradun, is a long, polished limestone paved pedestrian walkway which runs through the old town.  Both ends are marked by 15th century fountains and bell towers.  Many of the historic buildings and monuments are situated along the Stradun, which is a popular destination for tourists.  One of our neighbor’s father was born right off the Stradun, so we walked up the side street to the front door of his old home.  Wow, he sure got his exercise walking up and down the steep steps everyday!

For a few euros, you can climb to the top edge of the wall, and walk the perimeter of the city.  It’s a great way to get a bird’s eye perspective, and get some stunning views.  They said that we might run into a filming crew…they were shooting scenes for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” while we were there.  What a perfect setting for a show like that.  It takes about two hours to make your way around, but I’d put it on your list of “must-do’s” when you come to visit Dubrovnik.

In going up the side streets, Chuck found us a great little restaurant down one of the side streets with the best fresh fish.  We had a grilled sea bass and spinach and seasoned potatoes and it was fabulous!

 

Kotor, Montenegro

I became aware of Montenegro while watching Daniel Craig’s turn as James Bond in his movie Casino Royale,  so I was very excited to visit this city.  It is located up one of the most indented fjords of the Adriatic Sea which ends right at the center of the town.  With it’s charming homes along the waterfront, its perfect weather, its natural beauty, and its historic old town, it could not be more scenic and captivating which may be why it is so popular with tourists these days.

Kotor has one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the Adriatic, recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.  The ancient walls around Kotor were built during the Middle Ages, constructed in 1420.  It was part of the Venetian
Republic for four centuries, giving the city its characteristic Venetian architectural look.  The ancient walls stretch for three miles up, directly above the city.

Hiking up along the ancient walls was no easy task.  The road is steep and uneven, with many loose rocks along the path.  Make sure and have some good walking shoes.  A charming church sits at the halfway point, where I took a rest to take in the spectacular view, and Chuck kept going to the top.  You could hear the church bells from all over the hillside.  The breathtaking vistas make the hike all worthwhile.

This was a delightful city with great hiking, fabulous views, old world charm, great restaurants and shops, and a magnificent, natural setting.  This was one of my favorite days so far during this trip.

 

 

 

 

 

Split, Croatia

What a beautiful entrance into Split, the second largest city in Croatia.  It lies along the seashore and is centered around the Royal Palace of the Emperor Diocletian, which was built in 305. It was intended to be the retirement home, half for the Emperor, the rest to house the military.  Now the palace is home to many residences within its walls, along with numerous restaurants and shops.  UNESCO declared the palace and all of its surrounding buildings as a world heritage site as one of the most famous and complete architectural Roman palaces in the Mediterranean.

The outer wall of the palace is lined with rows of seafood restaurants and sidewalk cafes on a wide boardwalk all along the shoreline giving patrons wonderful place to sip coffee and dine beneath rows of shade umbrellas, bask in the warm sun, and watch the world go by.  This is certainly a lovely seaport city with a lot of boating activities with a shoreline life that supports the lifestyle.

To our surprise, we are here on a day when beautiful vintage automobiles from the 1930s are lined up and on full display along the boardwalk, each one more beautiful than the next. They are all on their way to a road rally through the former Yugoslavian countryside, along some of the most scenic roads in this area.  We hardly had time to take a few photos before the drivers and owners appeared, hopped into cars, and we heard the roar of the engines as they slowly parted the crowds with their vehicles, and we watched the rear of the cars disappear down roads into the unknown.  It sure was difficult to know which one of these cars I would love to own!!

Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna is a city situated right on the Adriatic coast (Italy’s east coast), and has ties back to at least 90 BC.   Amazingly, there are five of the eight UNESCO World heritage sites in Ravenna within walking distance of the harbor.

Although rather simple on it’s exterior, some of the most amazing Byzantine mosaics in all of the western world are held within these walls.  The church is of extreme importance in Byzantine art, as it is the only major church from the period of the Emperor Justinian I to survive virtually intact to the present day. It is amazing to see how someone can make a design come alive with pieces of stone and glass less than a centimeter square. Construction of this beautiful church took place in 526.

The splendor is in it’s Bible story telling combined with the beauty and art of the brilliant and colorful mosaics.  Seeing these amazing works of art is certainly an unforgettable experience.

 

Koper, Slovenia

It’s our first time on board the Celebrity Silhouette Cruise ship.   The vessel is fairly new, built in 2011.   Even though the ship is large, holding approximately 2500 guests and a staff of 1200, you don’t feel the crowd. They really have things figured out to make sure that everyone is having a great time.  Great accommodations, great food, and great entertainment!!

Our first stop is Koper, Slovenia. It’s a small city of 50,000, so it’s easy to walk to the center of town to Tito square to visit the Praetorian Palace, a 15th century gothic Venetian palace which serves as the location for both the military and civil authorities of Italy at the time. It was the residence for many of the Venetian captains for a time.   In 1797 during the fall of the Venetian Republic to Napoleon, this castle lost it’s importance, and it sat in gradual decay until it became a restaurant in 1968.  In 1991, a further restoration took place until, as it had in past history, it once again serves as the local city hall and Koper’s tourist office.

A hike to the top of the bell tower gives a great view of this port city. The city’s Cathedral of the Assumption was built in the second half of the 12th century and has one of the oldest bells in Slovenia (from 1333), cast by Master Jakob in Venice. The upper terrace is periodically open and offers a great view of the Bay of Trieste.

 

 

 

Buongiorno Venezia!

After a four hour drive from Varenna, we arrive in one of our favorite cities in the world…Venice!   Funny that we are here the same weekend that George Clooney is getting married.  Can you imagine the clout one must have to close down the Venice Grand Canal for your wedding party? This beautiful city is a group of islands separated by canals and linked together with bridges.  It is known for the beauty of it’s setting, it’s architecture, and it’s artworks, all so precious that the entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site, preserved for future generations to enjoy.

No wonder so many artists use Venice as their inspiration for their paintings. Riding a gondola was such a touristy thing to do, but it certainly was fun to drift on the river, and have a gondolier sing in Italian as you float past the ancient buildings. If you’re on a cruise ship, make sure and get on deck to view the magnificent sail away.   It is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  I hope you get a chance to visit some day.  We never tire of visiting this colorful city.

A Little Village

We’ve travelled to the European continent and find ourselves in a small little village in the town of Varenna, Italy on beautiful Lago di Como. This little town is only about a mile long, most consisting of restaurants, hotels,  and high end exclusive homes, all along the water. Life is quiet here, and people come to relax and unwind by the lake, swim in the cool crystal waters, and enjoy boating. The lake is not very wide, which makes it oh so nice to look across at all the cute little other lakeside towns, but it’s long, so there are many car ferries taking autos from one side to the other.

Hotel Royal Victoria, where we are staying, in right in the center of town next to the village’s charming church, which chimes the dawn of the day at 6am with its ancient bells resonating through the town.  Our room overlooks the lake and is a perfect spot to enjoy the serenity and color of this place.

They have constructed a walking path all along the water’s edge, with restaurants sprinkled in between to give you the perfect setting for dining.  We had a ham and mushroom crepe covered with Parmesan cheese and a béchamel sauce, and I have to say, that was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten for breakfast. One can see how artists, such as Howard Behrens, were so inspired by the little villages of Italy.  They are so picturesque and colorful.  This is definitely a place to revisit to just unwind and soak up the beauty…and Chuck jumped into the lake with me not having to tell him to…