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Kristina Trowbridge

Age: 50ish

Occupation:Travel Professional

Number of Cruises: 12

Cruise Line: Silversea

Ship: Silver Whisper

Sailing Date: NOT FOUND

Itinerary: Byzantium to Cantalonia

This was my first NACTA cruise. I have cruised very similar itineraries before on the Seaborn Spirit in 1995 and the Radisson Navigator last Oct. 2001. I had never before seen a Silversea ship, so I was extremely pleased to be invited by NACTA to participate in this adventure. I was somewhat familiar with Silversea cruises, but extremely curious to experience the product for myself. I specialize in small ship cruise adventures and exotic itineraries, so this a Golden Opportunity, seemingly too good to be true. I was thrilled, a dream come true. This review does not compare the different cruise lines, but I give my full attention to this cruise only and the excursions I participated in. This is only my opinion.

April 28 Sunday - Depart Seattle via British Airway for London

April 29 Monday - Arrive Istanbul from London BA 680 at 10:45pm

The flights were uneventful and we arrived very tired. Our private transfer to The Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 29th was arranged by Lutfi Atay. It was so nice to see Lutfi there to meet us and not have to haggle with a taxi driver for a price and whatever else you’re supposed to do. Lutfi is an old friend and a guide to Istanbul. We had decided to splurge and stay at the Ritz Carlton. It was a good choice. We received a beautiful corner room with views of The Bosphorus and the Dolmabahce Palace. We were within walking distance of Taksim Square

April 29 Monday 3 nights at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Askerocagi Caddesi, No. 15 • Elmadag / Sisli, 80200 • Istanbul, Turkey Telephone: 90-212-334-44-44 • Fax: 90-212-334-44-64

RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL ISTANBUL

Since October 2001 Istanbul added one more beautiful five star hotel to its already impressive collection. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company opened a new property in the middle of Istanbul's business and shopping district.

The hotel is situated in a modern building designed by Mr. Doruk Pamir, a famous Turkish architect. The interior decoration has been the responsibility of Mr. Sinan Kafadar. By using beautiful Turkish carpets, dark mahogany wood, and other luxurious fabrics Mr. Kafadar has successfully tried to bring a historical and intimate touch to this otherwise modern building.

The hotel counts a total of 244 guest rooms, including 21 executive suites, 1 Ritz-Carlton Suite, and 3 floors of Ritz-Carlton Club level rooms and suites. The Ballroom can seat up to 800 people in theatre style, or 300 people for a sit down dinner. There are 10 more function rooms of various sizes, available for break out sessions, board meetings and the like. The hotel has 2 a la Carte restaurants, which serve casual in- and out door dining. For the Ritz-Carlton tradition of Afternoon Tea, however, the lobby lounge is the place.

This hotel offers many nice features, but is probably most proud of its Spa & Fitness Center, which they claim to be The First Real Spa and Fitness Center in Istanbul. Whether correct or not, the Spa offers a wealth of therapies, treatments and simply enjoyment. Needless to say, a Turkish hamam is one of them….

From its strategic Dolmabahce location overlooking the waters of The Bosphorus, the famous straits that divide Europe and Asia, The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul with its dramatic contemporary design soars above the fabled city's landmark mosques and centuries-old Palaces. The hotel offers an atmosphere of privacy and refinement created through the luxurious fabrics and unique works of art in the lobby and restaurants that is carried through to the accommodations. The influences of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods of Turkey have been used to instill a distinctive ambience allowing guests to submerge themselves in the rich history of the land. With a balance of colors, a blending of beautiful woods, unique handmade Iznik tiles in the bathrooms, spectacular views over Istanbul, Bosphorus, and the ancient neighborhood of Sultanahmet, The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul accommodations offer guests the opportunity to experience the elegance of the Ottoman era within a beautifully handcrafted Turkish décor created by the country's leading interior decorator.

April 30 Tuesday -orientation tour

- Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays - Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are closed on Sundays - St. Sophia Museum is closed on Mondays - Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts is closed on Mondays

Lutfi came for us at 10:00 am for our orientation walking tour of Istanbul. We started by walking up the hill from the Ritz Carlton to Taksim Square and continued down Istiklal Caddesi, the walking street of the “new” section of Istanbul called Beyoglu. Here we encountered a grand parade of shops, many churches and embassies that were turned into consulates when Ankara became the capital city of Turkey in 1923. We sidestepped through Cicek Pasaji, the former flower bazaar, turned into bars and small restaurants, and strolled through Balik Pazari, the fish market. We observed lots of activity here and many interesting wares for sale. Back on Istiklal Cad., we passed the Swedish Consulate.

At Tunel Square, we took the cogwheel train to the bottom of the steep hill to Galata Bridge. Lutfi informed us that before the train was put in through the mountain, merchants had to push the wares up the steep hill from the Golden Horn to sell on the square above.

We wandered past the New Mosque into the Egyptian Spice Market an L-shaped market where you can also find household goods, toys and clothes. The square between the 2 arms of the bazaar is full of stalls selling plants and pets. This market is mainly for the local people to shop for their daily necessities and prices are cheaper than at the Grand Bazaar, which mainly caters to tourists, according to Lutfi. He treated us to some delicious baklava at a small shop here. We were wondering about the blue thing for sale everywhere? Lutfi explained it this way:

Protected? or just proud to be Turkish?

Whether you are superstitious by nature or not, in Turkey there is no getting away from 'Nazar Boncuk', the famous blue bead that is believed to ward off evil power. Let's say you are traveling to Turkey for a holiday.

It may be dangling from the rear view mirror of the cab, or from the driver's key ring. It may be at the restaurant where you are going to taste your first kebab, or behind the reception of your hotel. You may even recognize it in some of the jewelry the ladies wear. This blue/white piece of glass, also called Nazar Boncuk, is as much a tradition as a superstition. Many people believe that wearing a Nazar Boncuk will protect them from the forces of the evil eye. However, it may also indicate that the wearer is Turkish and proud of it!

At the waterfront by the New Mosque is a tram stop where we got on and rode to the Blue Mosque, where we picked up the tickets for the Orient House dinner show that Lutfi had arranged for us. This is also the place to catch a ferry up The Bosphorus. After picking up the tickets, we went to the airport, driving along the ancient city walls and the outskirts of Istanbul to pick up Jan and Don Milligan, our friends from Bellevue, who would cruise with us.

Back at the hotel, we took a very short nap and decided to walk down to Dolmabahce Palace, which was closed for the day. We walked along the busy street along The Bosphorus all the way to the Galata Bridge. We observed people getting together for tea at the many cafes along the way and also for a smoke of apple tobacco from very elaborate water pipes. We walked up the steep hill to the Galata Tower, a distinctive silhouette 200 feet high round tower with a conical roof built in 1348.

We had dinner at one of the small restaurants at the old flower market, where Lutfi had taken us this morning. Now it was crowded with people having tea and snacks. The waiters showed us all the different dishes and we picked several small appetizers to share. Then we quickly walked back to the hotel. At this time the street was crowded with people and full of activity. We were really tired from jetlag.

The Ritz Carlton offers heavenly, comfortable beds and sleep came quickly, but due to jetlag didn’t last long. What a drag!

May 1 Wednesday is open for exploring - Dolmabahce Palace is closed.

Lutfi says: "we have no holiday on May 1st and the day is like one of the usual days. All ferries and shops are open but be careful around Taksim Square, Grand Bazaar and Sultanahmet Square. It is safe but sometimes the extremist left side groups demonstrate on the main squares. There is no action aiming at tourists or local people. The only action is between the cops and the groups. Anyway, I suggest to be careful, perhaps some people will join the demonstration to protest against the Israeli government." We did not notice anything unusual or any demonstrations. At NO TIME did we feel insecure or threatened during our visit to Istanbul.

We took a taxi to Topkapi Palace to save time. Topkapi was the residence of the Ottoman sultans and the women of the harem for 400 years. It sits on the Seraglio Point where the Marmara Sea meets the Bosphorus Straights and the Golden Horn. The fine art collections, opulent rooms, and leafy courtyards are among the highlights of a visit to Istanbul. They double the entry fees on May first every year. We paid 15 million lire to get in and 15 million more to see the Harem. Oh well, it was well worth it. You can hire a guide offering their services at every turn, but we had a good guidebook along and decided to go it alone. The Harem is always visited on a guided tour. We headed over there and got our tickets and time. The wait was short today. This is a must see.

After spending many hours exploring the Topkapi Palace on a gloriously beautiful day, we stopped at Haghia Sophia church, an outstanding example of early Byzantine architecture and still one of the world’s most remarkable churches and more than 1400 years old.

Then we proceeded to Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque located opposite Haghia Sophia on Sultanahmet Square. The Blue Mosque gets its name from the mainly blue iznik tile work decorating its interior. It’s a humble feeling entering this structure through the visitor’s door and carrying ones shoes in a plastic bag. The magnificence and total beauty is indescribable.

We wandered past the Egyptian Obelisk of the ancient Hippodrome, which is all that is left of it to the Grand Bazaar. Nothing could have prepared me for the thousands of small shops and labyrinth of streets in this covered complex of cafes, restaurants, carpet, jewelry and leather shops, banks and even a mosque, which can be found inside the Grand Bazaar. I felt like I would never see daylight again! If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist. Once, we found an exit gate we kept on going, walking downhill to the Spice Market and crossing the Galata Bridge, where people were fishing. We decided to climb to the top of the Galata Tower and were rewarded by a magnificent panoramic view from the balcony surrounding the roof, of all of Istanbul with it’s mosques and palaces and ships going up and down The Golden Horn, The Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea. Again we spotted the Silver Whisper. We decided to walk back to the hotel and take a nap before dinner and see if Jan and Don had recovered from their jetlag.

The dinner place is called Orient House. They serve dinner and each of you will get 2 beers or small bottle of vine or some other local drink with dinner. They display some sample of Turkish folk dance show and different belly dancer perform belly dancing as well. They will pick you up at hotel at 19:45. You will get a ride on the way back to hotel. Orient restaurant is in Beyazit area. We enjoyed the dinner and the belly dancing was absolutely outstanding. It was a very fun evening. By the looks of this picture, we got carried away!

May 2nd Thursday, -guiding and minibus for a visit to the Asia side: Lutfi will pick us all up at 11:00 am and drop us off at the ship between 3-5:00 pm. Jan and Don are also going today. After a leisurely morning, we checked out of the Ritz and Lutfi picked us with his driver for our visit to the Asian side of Istanbul. We crossed the Bosphorus Bridge, a.k.a. Ataturk Bridge, completed in 1973 for the 50th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. It’s more than 5,000 feet long and 200 feet high.

We drove towards the Black Sea past many elegant villas, called Yalis. These served as summer residences of the grand viziers and other distinguished citizens of the Ottoman Empire

It was a glorious day and the sun was bright and warm. We returned to Uskudar and visited this busy city on foot, exploring the markets and the Iskele Mosque, after enjoying a cup of Turkish coffee at a café along the water looking across to Leander’s Tower on its own island and the Topkapi Palace on the other side. The tiny white Leander’s Tower is a well-known Bosphorus landmark, known in Turkish as the Maiden Tower. Lutfi told the legend of the princess said to have been confined here after a prophet said she would die of snakebite. Of course, the snake was hid in a basket of figs that were brought to the princess and was able to administer the fatal bite to her anyway.

We returned to Europe on a ferryboat across The Bosphorus. The driver met us there and took us the ship. The check-in was painless, even before we had our first glass of Moet & Chandon champagne, which only took seconds after boarding. We have arrived on a once in a lifetime experience. Check-in is a breeze on the Silversea. You show up and that’s it. Your cruise starts right there. You really feel welcome. Life will never be the same again. Silversea offers the most comprehensive all-inclusive product in the industry. Silversea Cruises has set a new cruise industry standard in the ultra-luxury market by bridging the gap between ocean-liner and small-ship cruising. Its all-suite ships, all-inclusive pricing, imaginative global itineraries and genuine hospitality distinguish Silversea. The Veranda Suite includes a teak veranda with floor-to-ceiling glass doors and patio furniture. Our suite is beautifully appointed with a queen size bed, which can be closed off with drapery from the “living area” with a sofa, chair and table, a big hardwood desk with a bookcase and several lamps and end tables. Caviar and shrimp to hold us over 'til dinner. There is a walk-in closet with a private safe. The cocktail cabinet is continuously stocked with your preferences of drinks; all you have to do is ask. Monica, our diligent suite stewardess, fluffs our feather-down pillows each evening. At 345 square feet, every suite features a marble bathroom with double vanity sinks, full-size bathtub, separate shower and toilet. 2 shelves with mirrors are found in the hallway, but the side mirrors did not swing out, so I couldn’t figure out how to see myself from the back, since none of the mirrors were aligned properly. The closet door had a mirror, which didn’t help in this regard. This was a surprise, that nobody thought of that in designing the suites. A vanity mirror would have been helpful. The lighting was excellent everywhere and the hall mirrors had their own light. Luxury is found in every detail: cut crystal, crisp Frette linens, personalized stationary, Bvlgari soap, shampoo and lotion. And yes, the Silversea signature teak verandas, did I mention that? Kenneth Bach, Silversea Cruise Manager and April Yeandle, Cruise Consultant and Venetian Society Representative invited our group to a private cocktail party and dinner at the Terrace Cafe that first evening. The evening begins in the Le Champagne Bar with an introduction by the maitre d’ Rene Rasile, the Fine Dining Chef, of the menu in detail followed by the sommelier Leonardo de Vries and his description of the wines he has chosen to go with the meal. It's a set menu for dinner and every night is different. The service is impeccable. It’s just wonderful to be pampered. Late night music and dancing is offered in the Bar and the Panorama Lounge.

What a sight, leaving Istanbul at nightfall, sailing out of The Bosphorus as the city lights up. I can’t describe it.

If I died and went to heaven, I must have been really good all my life! I pinch myself. Ouch, I'm still alive.

This is real. Life is good.

May 3, Friday Cruising the Aegean Sea

This morning we are cruising the Dardanelles, the narrow passage between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. It’s so beautiful today, not a cloud in the sky, just a wee bit hazy. At 8:00 am we’re entering the Dardanelles close to Galipoli. Captain Corsaro had intended to enter at 9:30 am, but because we were in front of a bigger than us, commercial ship that needed to get through quicker, we had to speed up or anchor. Captain Corsaro had a surprise in store for us this afternoon that he didn’t want to miss, so he had to speed up. A couple of dolphins are playing right in front of us for a short time, maybe 10 or so. This was the only time I saw any wildlife at sea.

During the First World War there was a battle of Galipoli and many soldiers lost their lives here. First Lord of the Admiralty; Winston Churchill, searching for alternative theatres of operations and a more aggressive role for the British Navy, proposed a naval 'demonstration' using obsolescent battleships to force the straits of the Dardanelles and subdue Constantinople (present day Istanbul).

The straits of the Dardanelles are a strategically vital waterway linking the Mediterranean, through the Bosphorus at Constantinople, to the Black Sea ports of the great rivers of heartland Russia and Eastern Europe. The Galipoli Peninsula forms a natural gateway protecting the straits and their access to Constantinople. Churchill's plan was based on the premise that Turkey would quickly surrender once British warships stood off Constantinople. Turkey's defeat would present many strategic rewards at little risk: it would assure the security of the Suez Canal; the capture of the Dardanelles would open a warm-water supply route to Russia; and a British victory would draw the unaligned Balkan nations into supporting an Allied advance against the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary; on a new southern front. Despite some reservations about the plan and the imprecise nature of the objectives, the naval assault began on 19 February. Within a month it had failed utterly. The fleet was unable to overcome the Turkish defensive minefields and concealed artillery batteries, which protected the straits. One third of the Allied warships were sunk or disabled on a single day, 18 March 1915. Many Australian and New Zealand troops called Anzacs died that day. This is a special place for them. It is difficult to understand that so much blood has been wasted in this small and beautiful area in one single day. Today it seems so peaceful.

After sailing past Troy, we headed for Greece. It wasn’t very far. Some of the Greek islands are much closer to Turkey than to mainland Greece, which has been a source for controversy in the area. This brings me right to the next topic. Special guest lecturer was Dr. Dieter Galler from Louisiana State University, my original Alma Mater. I spent 1 year there, when I first arrived from Sweden, studying French history and languages. The topic today: “Greece & Turkey, Can they co-exists in peace?” Dr. Galler is funny, knowledgeable and interesting to listen to. I almost remember one of his jokes:

“One way to make sure you’re flight is free of terrorists, is to hum the Iraqi national anthem as you board the plane and if anyone stands up and salutes, get off the plane immediately!” Something like that! We enjoyed his talks throughout the cruise.

We skipped the wine tasting and went to the Ballroom Dance class, where Brendon and James, the Gentlemen Hosts were teaching the Rumba. We learned a new variation. Then it was time for lunch. The dining room is elegant and the service impeccable, but …. The weather was so splendid; we opted for the buffet in the Terrace Café and choose a table outside in the aft. I live for these moments: To sit at the very aft of a luxury ship, with a glass of champagne, on a sunny day when I’m not cold and with a light warm breeze, calm seas, looking at the wake we make, barely noticeable, just a ripple of our "tracks", straight back in the deep blue sea! Life is Good.

There was always plenty of seafood and sushi to satisfy me. Wine is poured generously at each meal and it tends to make you a bit sleepy. We had no trouble finding a teak deck chair with a thick cushion and thick blue cotton towels by the pool to relax the afternoon away with a book and some shut-eye.

Soon it was time to get ready for formal night, but first we are going to cruise by Athos Peninsula, one of three “fingers” hanging down from the northern mainland of Greece. This was our surprise from the Captain, not on the itinerary. He spoiled us this way a couple of more times during our cruise. This is a rugged, pristine, unspoiled, most beautiful area of the world I have seen. Mt. Athos is located in the entire third, eastern and most beautiful peninsula of the prefecture of Chalkidike, which belongs to Macedonia, which in turn is found in Northern Greece. It stretches as a long thin finger into the Aegean Sea to a length of approximately 57 kilometers, being between 7 and 10 kilometers wide and having an area of 389 square kilometers. Inaccessible mountain crests, thickly wooded slopes that plunge down into the deep sea, secluded coves, rocky headlands, broad bays fringed by sandy beaches and buildings of former centuries form one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It is the only place in Greece that is completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. For this reason, it is called the Holy Mount. Only bearded monks are allowed here. The natural beauty of the peninsula is extraordinary. Mount Athos is a huge cone of 2.033 meters in height. It’s a naked, treeless crest that seems to lance the sky and its slopes are fully covered by ancient evergreens. The area is cut off from the outside world. Monastery on the Athos Peninsula. The area has been divided into twenty self- governed territories. Each territory consists of a monastery with its cloisters, cells, cottages, seats, and hermitages. All the monasteries are communes, which means that there is common liturgy, prayer, housing, nourishing and work among the monks. The Superior of the monastery is elected by the monks for life and is responsible for the affairs of the monastery. To come face to face with God, in the special way that a monk is called upon, he needs solitude and quiet, with no external distractions. Monks that need this special solitude do not live in communes, but in solitary isolation as hermits. Mount Athos has the largest collection of Christian art in the world. Almost all buildings were constructed thanks to the ministrations of the Byzantine Emperors. The monasteries and their foundations were endowed with works of art which can only be described as masterpieces. We cruised the area for an hour and luckily it was on our side of the ship, so I was able to get ready at the same time.

At 6:45 this evening, Captain Angelo Corsaro is hosting the Welcome Aboard Cocktail party in the Viennese Lounge. This is also the show lounge, beautifully and comfortably arranged with ample seating for everyone and lot’s of room. For dinner we’re having Sevruga Caviar and fresh Maine Lobster.

Life is Good!

The evening performance by the sensational Jean Ann Ryan Production Team is called “La Belle Epoque”. The main dancers, Wendy Ann Mason and David Gouldie are from South Africa. After that, we were too tired to go dancing, or was it the wine that made us sleepy.

May 4, Saturday Mykonos, Greece 8:00 am – 6:00 pm

The arid, rocky island of Mykonos is the most easterly of the northern Cyclades. At one time it was one of the most important trading centers in the western Aegean. Its many captivating attributes make it appear as if it came straight off a tourism poster; it is one of the most celebrated Greek holiday islands (along with Santorini that we visited last time). Its main village of the same name as the island is a colorful maze of narrow, paved streets lined with white-washed houses with bright blue, red or yellow doors and shutters. During the 1960s, the bohemian jet set discovered Mykonos; many old houses along the waterfront are now restaurants, bars and discos. Its harbor is a preferred anchorage for international yachtsmen. The tiny town of cube-shaped houses extends in a semi-circle around the bay. As an attractive backdrop, the famous windmills are lined up like toy soldiers on the hillside, vestiges of a time when wind power was used to grind the island's grain. Mykonos has some 365 churches and chapels scattered about the island; quite a number of them are located right in town. Radiant flowers spill over white-washed walls and shady courtyards. In addition to swimming, sunning, water-skiing and surfing, visitors find endless shopping opportunities. Artists have relied on Mykonos’ beautiful setting to inspire them. This enchanting place no doubt is one of my favorites on any cruise holiday.

Our Shore Excursion: The island of Delos is visited for its archaeological site; exploration is entirely on foot. The walking tour is about two hours; some of it is on uneven ground. We recommend wearing flat, sturdy shoes. There is little shade; you may want to bring a sun hat and sunscreen.

It’s a gloriously sunny day, but it’s always windy in the Greek Islands and today is no exception. Our guide met us as we stepped off the ship and took us for a short bus ride to the ferry, which took us to the Sacred Island of Delos, at one time the political and religious center of the Aegean. Ferry from Mykonos to Delos.

I was very impressed and pleased to see everything I had studied in my Latin classes 35 years ago. Lots to see here. Delos was the most important Panhellenic sanctuary, and, according to mythology, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The declaration of Delos as an "international" harbor by the Romans led to an influx of foreigners who became a significant element of the island's population. The absence of taxes resulted to the concentration of trade activity on the island and subsequently, to its economic prosperity. Delos was a sacred place with splendid buildings and sanctuaries and as such, it was never forgotten. The wildflowers were incredible in fields of purple, red and yellow.

Excavations on Delos started in 1873 by the French School of Archaeology at Athens. They still have their ugly square houses sitting around. Intensive excavations were conducted in the years 1958-1975. In 1990 Delos was included in the World's Cultural Heritage, protected by the UNESCO.

The most important monuments of the site are: The Agora of the Competaliasts, The Temple of the Delians, The Minoan Fountain, Terrace of the Lions, The Establishment of the Poseidoniasts from Beirut, The Stoivadeion, The Theatre, Temple of Isis, The Temple of Hera, The "House of Dionysos", The "House of Dolphins", The "House of Trident", and The "House of Masks".

Delos has an interesting archeological museum with lots to see, among them some very erotic statues. Six rooms contain the statues and reliefs found in Delos, one of the best collections in the world.

We stayed behind when our tour was returning to Mykonos and climbed to the top of Mt. Kythnos.

From here we could see many of the Cyclades islands: Mykonos, Tinos, Syros, Paros , Naxos and of course Big Delos, Riuea. It was on Big Delos that the women and children lived, where the hospitals were located, etc. after the purifications that took place on Delos to keep it “holy”. There was a land bridge across to Big Delos, the remains of which is still visible at both ends. On our way back to the harbor, we visited the Dolphin House, which got it’s name from the beautifully preserved dolphins on the floor mosaic.

We also stopped at the House of Masks, the Greek Theatre, and at Cleopatra’s House. The return on the ferry to Mykonos was very windy. Mykonos is famous world-wide for its chalk-white beauty and its vibrant night life. We walked up and down the narrow streets, admiring the white square houses with blue balconies and flower baskets. We decided to walk the 2 miles back to the ship, since the weather was so gorgeous. The wind was a bit too strong, blowing sand actually hurt a bit.

We sailed at 6:00 pm past Tinos and Syros. I love the Greek Islands and would love to spend more time exploring here.

This evening we are eating in the Terrace Café, which starts with drinks and introductions in the Champagne Bar at 7:30 pm. Chef Norbert Ruhrdorpher will introduce the “Mediterranean Dinner”, theme of tonight’s creation. Bertie Pierce, a comedian, magician and ventriloquist, tonight presents the entertainment in the Viennese Lounge. Then off to some after dinner and show dancing in the Bar and the Panorama Lounge. We requested that the Silver Whisper Quintet play a Viennese waltz and polka for us. This became a nightly event to our delight. They never did figure out how to play a shottis or a hambo, however.

May 5, Sunday Cruising the Ionian Sea, Another wonderful day at sea!

Life is Good!

I love these days at sea. I always think “ How Wonderful! Nothing to do!” It never works out that way, believe me. There is always too much to do. This is such a great ship for days at sea, I like to do an ocean crossing with her one day. Again, we’re so lucky to have beautiful weather and calm seas. First of all, Tom Ogg requires my presence at 9:00 am at the NACTA seminar, which is why I’m on this cruise. I’m looking forward to hear his ideas and suggestions for a successful business plan. I’m also eager to network with the other agents onboard. My business has been very slow since September 11, also due to the Internet and the airline commission cuts, I’m sure. Tom Ogg presents a very informative seminar and I learn a lot of new ideas to try. Silversea is treating us very well and made their small conference room available to us. Ken, April and Captain Corsaro also addressed us. After the seminar, we had lunch outside at the Terrace Café, at my favorite table in the aft, overlooking the Ionian Sea, where the Silver Whisper made a small and straight trail in the water. Today is the Seafood Buffet, my favorite. As always: Life is Good!

Lunch is also offered in the dining room and the Pool Grill, but we never had lunch there. The Terrace Café was my favorite and we also had lunch on shore when on excursion. Unfortunately, we missed the ballroom dance class today. It’s offered only on sea days.

This was my opportunity to really get to know this ship in every detail before the visit to the Bridge. I always take pleasure in being invited by the captain to visit his domain and see what he does and how it’s done. Captain Corsaro is very friendly and always available to us as is his entire staff. The Silver Whisper is very well run ship. We enjoyed the Bridge tour.

There are 3 bars on the Silver Whisper, including the Grappa bar. It’s a small intimate place that stays open after the main bar closes at night. There is a casino, but I never went there. It’s fairly small and seemed to be popular at night. I heard it paid out generously. The Humidor is located adjacent to the Champagne bar. Here you can pour yourself your favorite brandy from the cart and enjoy a Davidoff cigar. There is a Library and Internet Café, a favorite place that always seemed to be busy. Everybody gets his or her own personal email address while onboard. Receiving and sending email is very reasonable. I paid $1.50-2.00 for most transactions. There are Internet connections and a small fee is charged for surfing the net. It’s very inexpensive.

On deck 10, at the very top of the ship is the observation lounge with a small library and self serve coffee bar. This lounge is practically connected to the exercise room, a small dark room that I didn’t feel like using. Duh! I’m on a cruise.

Then there is the Mandara Spa from Bali. I wanted to try the hot stone massage therapy, but couldn’t get a time. The spa is very popular, so make reservations early. There is also a very nice beauty salon up here. There are 2 shops onboard, the Boutique selling upscale jewelry and logo wear and a Bvlgary signature shop. Tom bought me a nice hat here.

There are self serve laundry facilities on several decks, but I forgot to peak in there. I sent Tom’s white sweater to the dry cleaning service after an unfortunate encounter with some red wine. Looked like the sweater had the measles! The cost was only $4.00 and all the stains were gone. Tom Ogg cruises often, and he brings his tux from the previous cruise and has it cleaned for the current cruise as soon as he gets onboard. Then it’s always clean and fresh. What a great tip, thanks Tom.

I have a concern about smoking: it is allowed in the Humidor, and at certain areas in the bar, the Panorama Lounge and the Viennese Lounge. The restaurants are smoke free. When we opened the veranda door in our cabin, we often had stale air with heavy smoke drawn into our cabin, which disappeared when we closed the glass doors. This was not good, as I love to have the veranda door open and enjoy the sound and smell of the sea and the fresh air. I mentioned it to Monica, but all she could do was offer to bring a fresh air spray. I heard that other people had the same problem in their cabins. We had dinner in the dining room with Jan and Don Carole and Tony who we met on the ship and enjoyed spending time with every day. If you want caviar and it’s not on the menu, order it anyway and it appears for you. Rex, our waiter, whose table we usually asked for because we liked him so well, always found a wine to our liking. And we always liked different wines from each other. He often had 6 bottles going for us and kept track of who liked what. He was great. This evening, our cruise Director Ray Solaire, puppet master extraordinaire, puts on a very interesting show with his puppets. He dresses like the background and becomes invisible, so the puppets look very much alive. Clever! After dancing, we slept very well again that night. Life is good.

May 6, Monday Catania (Sicily), Italy 8:00 am – 6:00 pm

Sicily’s second largest town after Palermo lies at the foot of Europe’s most famous active volcano. The prominent cone of Mount Etna reaches almost 11,000 feet, its slopes covered by hardened lava and scores of cones and craters - tangible evidence of its ever-threatening presence. At first sight, Catania does not seem overly impressive, but a closer look reveals one of Sicily’s most intriguing and vibrant cities. Settled by Greek colonists as early as 729 B.C., Catania became so influential that their laws were eventually adopted by all the Ionian colonies of ancient Greece. During the Roman occupation Catania grew into one of the largest towns in Sicily. Some of its importance diminished in the early medieval period, but prosperity flourished anew under Aragonese rule in the 14th century. Destroyed several times by the eruptions of Mount Etna, many of Catania's attractive buildings date from the reconstruction that followed a devastating earthquake in 1693. It was the design of architect Giovanni Vaccarini that gave the city its lofty, noble look. One of Catania's most handsome squares is the Piazza del Duomo. In its center stands a fountain bearing the city’s symbol, an elephant carved from lava and bearing a granite obelisk. The square is surrounded by fine baroque structures and dominated by the 18th-century cathedral. Granite columns from Catania's Roman amphitheater are incorporated in the church's structure. Inside lies the tomb of the city's famous native son, composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835).

Closer to the seaside stands the Castello Ursino, which was built for Frederick II about 1240. In the 14th century the castle became the residence of the kings of Aragon. Thereafter, it served as a prison and since 1934 has housed the Civic Museum. The city's main street, Via Etna, runs north for two miles, interrupted by a series of spacious squares and Mount Etna as an imposing backdrop.

Shore Excursions:

Syracuse. Exploring the archaeological site requires extensive walking, some on steep, uneven ground. We recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes and wearing a sun hat. The price of the tour is based on keeping the group small for the walking part: Neapolis, Syracuse - Ortygia. 8.5 hours

The most rewarding excursions from Catania, may be to the storybook village of Taormina, or Syracuse or up the slopes of Mount Etna. We did the Taormina & Castelmola excursion when we came last October, so we choose to travel thirty-seven miles south to Syracuse, site of one of Sicily's most important archaeological remains of its splendid past. I’m so glad we did. Again, I got to re-live what I had studied in college back in Sweden in my Latin classes.

Our excellent guide was Nunzio. He was so enthusiastic and just LOVED telling us about Syracuse. He talked all the way in the bus and I just ate it all up. He noticed and it made him even more enthusiastic. He was wonderful. Silversea gets the best guides. First we stopped at the old lime stone quarry with its caves. Founded by the Corinthians in 733 BC, Syracuse was the richest Greek city in Sicily primarily because of its shipping position. The Island of Ortygia was the heart of the colony. Beyond Ortygia in the Archeological Park of Neapolis, are the limestone quarries, and what is known today as Paradiso with the Ear of Dionysius, a cave carved from limestone. Dionysius Ear. It has incredible acoustics, and we had fun listening to our echoes, magnified 16 times. There were singers in there and children on school outings, yelling and laughing.

Remains of both Greek (472 BC) and Roman theaters survive. The caves of the Greek theater and half of the Roman amphitheater were carved from the bedrock. This is the 3rd largest Grecian theatre on earth after Ephesus and Megalopolis. A fascinating summer season of ancient plays is still presented here each year. They were getting ready for the annual play and were building the stage and seats, very carefully as to protect the limestone. This year it’s going to be about how Prometheus stole the fire from Zeus. Prometheus was punished for his theft of fire by being bound and having his liver pecked out by an eagle. Five tombs of the ancient Sicles have been uncovered in the area of the Greek theater. The artifacts from these tombs are on display in the Regional Paolo Orsi Archeological Museum. This excellent museum chronologically traces the history of Sicily from prehistoric times to the Magna Graecia. We did not have time to visit this excellent museum. At the Roman amphitheater is an altar, where 450 cattle would be sacrificed at one time. We drove to Old Syracuse on the island of Ortygia.

In the course of the 5th century B.C. the wealth, cultural development, and political power of Syracuse rivaled Athens itself. Syracuse continued to better the Carthaginians in battle and in the 3rd century B.C. became allied with Rome. Later the city attempted to reject the alliance and at ca. 212 B.C., after a two-year siege, the Romans conquered Syracuse. The Roman plunder and looting of art from Syracuse is said to have created the first appreciation of Classical Greek art in Rome. Syracuse declined under Roman rule and was finally destroyed by the Saracens in A.D. 878.

We walked through the archway and visited Archimedes Square. He was born in 287 BC in Syracuse, Sicily, and died: 212 BC in Syracuse, Sicily. Archimedes, the greatest mathematician of antiquity, made his greatest contributions in geometry. His methods anticipated the integral calculus 2,000 years before Newton and Leibniz. Stories from Plutarch, Livy, and others describe machines invented by Archimedes for the defense of Syracuse. These include the catapult, the compound pulley and a burning-mirror. The achievements of Archimedes are quite outstanding. He is considered by most historians of mathematics as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. Archimedes was killed during the capture of Syracuse by the Romans in the Second Punic War. Plutarch recounts this story of his killing: As fate would have it, Archimedes was intent on working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed both his mind and eyes upon the subject of his speculation, he did not notice the entry of the Romans nor that the city was taken. A soldier unexpectedly came up to him and commanded that he accompany him. When he declined to do this before he had finished his problem, the enraged soldier drew his sword and ran it through him as Archimedes shouted “Don’t disturb my angles”. He rarely if ever spoke to anyone.

We then proceeded to the cathedral, built on the ruins of an ancient temple of Minerva (Athena) with thirty-six columns of which only twenty-two remain. What a great surprise for me: This is where Santa Lucia was born, I had totally forgot about that. And this was the week, except on December 13, that they bring her out of the locked cabinet to celebrate her. She was standing there on the altar of the cathedral, a beautifully ornate silver statue. The Italian Santa Lucia (d. 304, Syracuse, Sicily; feast day December 13) was a virgin and martyr who was one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, having a widespread following before the 5th century. She is the patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Sicily. Because of various traditions associating her name with light, she came to be thought of as the patron of sight and was depicted by medieval artists carrying a dish containing her eyes.

A thousand years ago in Sweden, King Canute declared that Christmas would last a month, from December 13, the feast of St. Lucia until January 13, or Tjugondag Knut (St. Canute's Day). No one is quite sure why Lucia, a 4th century Sicilian saint, came to be so revered in Sweden. Some say she once visited the country, and others believe missionaries brought stories of her life, which entranced the Swedish people. Or it could just be because it’s so dark in Sweden in December, and the patron of light is celebrated with candles in her hair. That’s my theory.

Also associated with this period is perhaps Siracusa's most unique attraction, the Fountain of Arethusa. A sunken pond adorned with a bright green shock of papyrus and inhabited by myriad white ducks, it offers one of several opportunities here to actually see Greek mythology incarnate. This particular legend was that the river god Alpheus mercilessly courted a nymph named Arethusa, who lived in the Peloponnesian Mountains. To escape his ardor she jumped into the sea, but Artemis saved her and transformed her into the source of a stream, which flowed to Ortygia and gathered in this spot before emptying into the bay. Surrounded by sea walls and a host of pleasant outdoor cafes, the pond is now a favorite hangout of the local youth. There is so much history here.

We had a wonderful lunch on the roof top restaurant at the Grand Bretagne Hotel. The views of the perfectly round harbor were breath taking. On the way back to the bus we observed the local canoe water polo team practice in the harbor.

We also visited the Sanctuary of the Weeping Madonna of Syracuse on the way back. The church dedicated to her is in the shape of a teardrop. On November 6, 1994, Pope John Paul II visited this sanctuary and gave a sermon on the meaning of the Blessed Mother's tears.

We made it back to the ship in time for our sailing at 6:00 pm for Salerno and the Amalphi Coast. Captain Corsaro is from Catania and had not been home for 3 years. He was able to visit his sick mother for a few hours and he sailed past her house and blew the horn 3 times. It must have awakened the entire village. The Captain ordered a sail away party on pool deck for the occasion. We were all out there on deck, enjoying the Jacuzzi, munching on hors d’oevres and drinking champagne, again. This time, we did not see eruptions from Mt. Etna as we pulled away. It was still light out, but she was puffing smoke, a sign that all is well.

This evening, we were dining with Tom Ogg. We had such a great time and lively discussion that we missed a great show in the Viennese Lounge by the Jean Ann Ryan Production Team, called Sussurro.

As we left the dining room it was time for the Stromboli show. Stromboli is one of the Aeolian Islands of Italy. The island is about 3 miles (2 km) in diameter and 2,900 feet (900 m) above sea level. It rises 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Stromboli is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. This time, she did not disappoint. The volcano kept spewing rocks and lava high up in the air every 5-10 minutes for as long as we hang around.

It was fun to see, especially since the time we went by her last October was the only day in 5,000 years that she did not erupt. Violent eruptions are rare at Stromboli. Most eruptions at Stromboli consist of small gas explosions that hurl incandescent blobs of lava above the crater rim. several explosions occur each hour. Larger eruptions and lava flows are less frequent. When this type of eruption is observed at other volcanoes it is often referred to as a Strombolian eruption. This was a great ending to a very busy day full of activities. Sleep came quickly. Tomorrow is another busy day exploring.

May 7, Tuesday Salerno, Italy 8:00 am – 6:00 pm

Salerno is situated at the northern end of the Gulf of Salerno. The old town, rising up the slopes of the hill on the site of the ancient Salernum, still bears evidence of its great days during the medieval period. It had the oldest medical school in Europe, which flourished from the 11th century until it was closed down by Napoleon's brother-in-law, Murat, in 1812. Today, Salerno's main attraction is an imposing Romanesque cathedral, built in 1085 and remodeled in the late 18th century. A flight of steps leads up to an atrium with 28 columns from Paestum and fourteen ancient sarcophagi. The magnificent bronze doors were made in Constantinople in 1099. Inside you will find the ornate tomb of Margaret of Anjou and the tomb of Pope Gregory VII, who died in Salerno in 1085. In the richly decorated crypt under the alter lies the remains of the Evangelist Matthew, brought here from Paestum. A 45-minute walk from the cathedral leads to a hilltop crowned by the old Lombard Castello, from where extensive views are available. Along the seafront, to the east of the harbor, extends a fine promenade lined with impressive modern buildings. The Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi is the town's principal traffic artery. Travelers coming to Salerno mainly use the port as a starting point for visits to the Greek temples of Paestum. Other favorite excursions from here are to Pompeii and to visit the popular resort towns of Amalfi and Ravello. We visited Pompeii last October when our cruise ship anchored off of Sorrento. At that time we also took the ferry over to Capri, but did not have enough time to make the drive along the famous Amalfi Coast.

Shore Excursions:

Ravello & Amalfi. Sightseeing at Ravello and Amalfi requires a good amount of walking. Price is based on keeping groups small for the walking part of the tour. 6 hours.

This is a beautiful drive that we always wanted to experience, but not driving it ourselves. It’s best done on a small tour bus. Our guide was young and inexperienced and spoke poor English. This was a disappointment. However, the views were magnificent, so how could we complain. She tried very hard. Some people were unhappy, however and complained to Silversea. Driving north, the village of Vietri Sul Mar lies right next to Salerno. This is where the famous Amalfi Coast ceramic factories are located. Every church tower in the area has a beautifully decorated ceramic roof. Driving along the winding roads of the Amalfi Coast sounds like a fairy tale as we passed little villages with names like Torre de la Marina di Albori, Punta e Lanterna Fuente, Cetara, Erchie, and around the bend at Capo d’Orso lies the Belvere from where we could see the island of Capri. Driving along, we pass Maiori and Minori, both villages hanging onto the cliff side. The Amalfi Coast is truly breathtakingly beautiful. For centuries poets have sung its praises while artists, inspired by its stunning coastal scenery, have captured its golden light, dark blue waters and timeless mountain villages.

At Atrani, we turn up the 5 km. narrow winding road that leads to Ravello. I ’m sure glad that I wasn’t driving! Cars had to back up around very steep hairpin curves to let us pass. I have to say NO THANKS to driving here. We visited the church with its copper door made in Constantinople in 1066. The six lions holding up the ceramic pulpit and the ceramic confession stand are unique. We then visited the Villa Rudolfo dating back to the 13-14th century. This villa inspired D.D Lawrence when he wrote his masterpeiece "Lady Chatterley's Lover", and provided Richard Wagner with the setting for "Parsifal". Verdi and Grieg also stayed here for inspiration. In the summer, the Ravello Music Festival takes place here on the terrace overlooking the Amalfi Coast. High atop a promontory above the sea, Ravello is the most romantic spot along the Costiera, frequented by intellectuals and artists from Gore Vidal (ask anyone to point out his villa "La Rondinaia") to Tennessee Williams. The town's secret lies in the subtle intertwining of nature and culture, best witnessed by the many splendid gardens and historical villas. We drove back down the 5 km to Atrani and continued to Amalfi. Amalfi has always been the capital of the Divine Coast, its origin is part of the legend, perhaps Roman or Greek, or chosen by Hercules himself for his beloved nymph Amalfi, as her last home because the color of her eyes and the sea were exactly alike. The marvelous Cathedral and its Duomo tower are devoted to St. Andrea. Returning from Amalfi to Salerno was just as exciting. It looks different going the other way. The views are so marvelous I cannot ever get enough. Every curve is exciting. The driver took us on a sightseeing tour of Salerno before dropping us off at the ship.

We departed at 6:00 pm and cruised up the Amalfi Coast all the way past Positano, almost to Sorrento. It was difficult to get ready for tonight’s dinner. Fortunately, we had the coast on our side, so that helped. I could sit on the veranda and dry my hair, etc. Then we headed over to Capri. Vesuvius was looming in the background and the Bay of Naples was very blue. It’s a magnificent part of Italy and the whole world. We reached Capri at sunset. My oh my! Life is so good. Faraglione rocks, Capri

May 8, Wednesday Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy 8:00 am – 11:00 pm

Sprawled across seven legendary hills, romantic and beautiful Rome was one of the great centers of the ancient world. Although its beginning is shrouded in legend and its development is full of intrigue and struggle, Rome has always been and remains the Eternal City. Rome enjoyed its greatest splendor during the 1st and 2nd centuries when art flourished, monumental works of architecture were erected, and the mighty Roman legions swept outward, conquering all of Italy. These victorious armies then swept across the Mediterranean and beyond to conquer most of the known world. With Rome’s establishment as capital of the western world, a new ascent to glory began. Today’s Rome, with its splendid churches, ancient monuments and palaces, spacious parks, tree-lined boulevards, fountains, outdoor cafés and elegant shops, is one of the world’s most attractive and exciting cities. Among the most famous monuments is the Coliseum.

As you walk its cool, dark passageways, imagine the voices that once filled the arena as 50,000 spectators watched combats between muscled gladiators and ferocious animals. Stop to see the remains of the Forum, once the city’s political and commercial center. In later times, Rome’s squares were enhanced with such imposing structures as the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and grandiose fountains like the Fontana di Trevi. Join the millions who stand in awe of Christendom’s most magnificent church and admire the timeless masterpieces of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

Rome jars the senses and captures the soul. Grasp all you can during the short, precious time you have available in the Eternal City when on a day tour. With so much to see and do, a day or two will only allow you a sampling of the city's marvelous treasures. Big Caution: As in many big cities and tourist destinations purse snatching and pick pocketing is common.

Shore Excursions

Rome - the Eternal city. Guests should be aware that Rome suffers from horrendous traffic and renovations all the time. When it rains, like today, everyone drives a car not a scooter, which makes traffic even worse than usual. This causes frequent traffic jams and obstacles throughout the city. The order of sights may therefore differ from the one in the tour description. The visit to St. Peter’s Basilica requires ladies to have their shoulders and knees covered. Most sites will be seen from the coach, others involve some walking: Piazza Venezia, The Forum and Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Borghese Park, St. Peter's Square, St. Peter's Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo, 10 hours.

Silversea had arranged for a private visit for a small group to the Vatican Museum in the afternoon. It was a tempting thought, but we choose another great tour.

Nero's Golden House

This was added in the last minute to our choices of tours and I grabbed it up right away. It’s very difficult to get tickets, as they only allow small groups at a time. I read about Nero and his Golden Palace in my Latin classes, so I was excited to get to see this. The Palace is just a shadow of its former golden self today. The Domus Aurea was the ultimate in luxury when this crazy house was built, practically bankrupting the state of Rome. This unique archeological site of Emperor Nero's Golden Palace reopened in summer 1999 after nearly 20 years of restoration work and it quickly became one of Rome's most talked about historical sites. You have to enter with a guide and the tour takes about an hour.

The 'Golden House' was built after the fire that destroyed Rome in 64 A.D., as the emperor's ultimate status symbol on the Apian Hill. Its size was an estimated 25 times larger than the Coliseum, whose ruins occupy the space that was Nero's artificial lake.

Inside the palace, Nero is said to have hosted lavish parties in rooms adorned with gold and ivory under ceilings, which dispensed perfume and flowers. One room even rotated. Look for the octagonal room, which is unique.

Little of that remains today. After Nero's death, subsequent emperors wasted little time in dismantling the spoils of his excess. In the underground ruins, imprints of the building's decadence remain in rich but crumbling frescoes and mosaics that were long forgotten until Raphael and other Renaissance painters went in and borrowed the style for their work in St. Peter's Basilica and elsewhere. The Trajans Baths were later built on top of Nero’s House. Before seeing this impressive site, we toured around Rome by minibus. We drove by St Paul’s Basilica, Via Ostense, the Pyramid de Cato Cestia, the Aurelian Walls, the Baths of Caracalla, Circus Maximus, Palatine Hill where Rome was born, the Palaces of the Ceasars, Theatre of Marcello, and Victor Emmanuel Monument.

We drove Corso Vittorio Manuele to the Vatican and St. Peters, the Castello D’Angelo, where Emperor Hadrian is buried, Piazza Argentina with the ruins of its unknown temples is across from where Ceasar was stabbed, Via del Fori Imperiale to the Forum shops, Colliseum and the Arch of Constantine. Nero’s Golden House and Gardens is located in this area. After the tour we drove around some more to Santa Maria Maggiore church, Terme de Diocleziano, Piazza de la Republica. We were dropped off close to the Spanish Steps and Via Veneto for 2 ½ hours on our own.

Even though it was raining and cool today we enjoyed walking around. We found a little pizzeria to have a snack lunch. I also found my favorite glove store, so I needed a few more pairs. As we were walking along I felt a tug on my purse, which was snug in my shoulder bag. Then I felt it again and turned around to see what it was. I figured out it was these 2 nice looking French-speaking young girls with the baby carriage causing a commotion. One of them was pushing the baby and pretended to be interested in something in a store window. She blocked the pedestrians with the baby carriage. This way everyone had to slow down to go around. That’s when the accomplice had a chance to lift wallets or purses. We followed them around for awhile, which made them very uncomfortable. They would disappear up the side streets, but we found them and followed them again. I think I saw one of them showing a wallet to the other and also unload it later at a storefront. Hold onto your stuff around the Spanish Steps. The police will not help you.

We drove through Borghese Park, Piazza Popolo, Ponte Mattetotti, and left Rome via Viale della Milizie. Everyone napped on the way back to the port at Civitavecchia.

We had another wonderful dinner of seared ostrich appetizer, avocado and tomato gazpacho terrine with asparagus, zucchini creamed soup with saffron, and a choice of grilled whole Dover sole with artichoke, or crisp Long Island duckling in orange sauce, or roasted pork tenderloin in creamed Morel sauce, or braised Kobe beef and a side dish of soba noodles with caviar and chives for the main dish. We made new friends tonight in the dining room.

Tonight was Jazz night in the Panorama Lounge, but we didn’t stay too long. The day’s activities and dinner wines made us very sleepy. We sailed for Livorno and Florence at 11:00 pm.

May 9, Thursday Livorno, Italy 8:00 am – 8:00 am Friday May 10

It’s still overcast and raining this morning, which is a big change from the gorgeous weather we were having before getting to Rome, the Italian mainland. Oh well, being from the Pacific Northwest, we can handle it. The weather doesn’t stop us from doing anything.

Livorno is Italy’s second-largest port after Genoa; it also serves as a convenient gateway to the Tuscany region. Venturing into downtown Livorno, be sure to explore the local market and a variety of fine shops. There are plenty of excellent restaurants in this busy commercial city.

Tuscany is known for its classic landscapes of gently rounded hills with clumps of slender cypresses and lush vineyards, famous for the dry, dark-red Chianti wines. Visitors come to see the great art centers of Florence, Lucca and Pisa, to name but a few.

From this part of Italy the national language evolved with Dante and other great Tuscan writers of his period. Even more important is the impact this area had on the culture of the rest of Italy and all of Europe; the flourishing of the Renaissance added a vast wealth to the architectural and artistic heritage. The Italian Renaissance, with its most active center in Florence, lasted from the 1400s to the 1700s. Its greatest support came from the all-powerful Medici, the multitudes of religious bodies and the guilds, whose merchants laid the foundation to the city’s prosperity. They commissioned Italy’s most talented painters, sculptors and architects to create some of the most important works of art. Names such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Giotto, Vasari, Boticelli, da Vinci, Donatello and Dante come to mind, all of whom worked and lived in Florence at some time in their life.

We had a great tour of Florence on a previous visit, so we decided not to opt for this tour.

Pisa is known for its brilliant ensemble of monuments, which include the 11th-century Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Bell Tower with its pillared galleries. The tower achieved additional fame because of its tilt, having been built on unstable, alluvial land. Galileo, who was born in Pisa, made use of the tower’s inclination in his experiments on the law of gravity. Over the years, successions of architects have attempted to correct the tilt, which by now measures over 15 feet.

We decided on the tour to Lucca and were hoping to get to see Pisa on the way. We did see it, but only from the highway. Because of the very heavy traffic on these narrow country roads and regulations for tour busses, it would take too much time to make a stop here. At least we know it’s there.

Our shore excursion is Lucca & Lucchese Villas. Sightseeing in Lucca is entirely on foot. We recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes. Price is based on keeping groups small for the guided walk: Lucca, Piazza di San Michele, Casa di Puccini, Basilica of San Frediano, Piazza Anfiteatro, Villa Visit, 8.5 hours. Lunch included.

Lavinia is our excellent guide to Lucca today. She knows everything about Tuscany.

Our first stop after one hour’s drive is the Villa Torrigiani in Camigliano, Lucca. It’s one of 13 villas owned by the same family, made wealthy by the silk trade. Villa Torrigiani is situated on the lovely hills surrounding the town of Lucca.

In its garden there are many ponds and many beautiful trees. The villa and the park date back the beginning of the 16th century. The owners then were the powerful Buonvisi family. It was the meeting place between Marquise Lucrezia, the wife of Lelio Buonvisi, and her lover (Arnolfini) who seems to have been captured right in front of the gates of Camigliano, having been accused of the assassination of Marquis Lelio, which had taken place in the city. During the first half of the 17th Century Villa di Camigliano was purchased by Marquis Nicolao Santini, the ambassador of the Republic of Lucca to the court of Louis 14th (the sun King), who wanted to transform it into a sumptuous dwelling, with a garden of flowering parterres and grand basins, into which the facade would reflect. The garden was to be built according to the plans done by Le Notre for the royal home of Versailles. The villa now has a baroque facade. The stairs in the garden are called "di Flora". The Grotto of the Winds has 17th century statutes. The water works exist according to the 17th-century, original system. There is a one-km long Valley of Cypresses. These trees are over one hundred years old. It was raining hard at this point and the trail was a bit muddy. We entered the villa from the back of the garden. As we enter into the villa there are decorations of frescoes by Pietro Scorzini on the walls. They have been perfectly conserved and show the seasons in the bedrooms, mythological scenes in the sitting rooms and Emperor Aureliano in the main drawing room all of which creates a frame for the original furniture which is still there.

It’s raining pretty hard and we were glad to get back on the bus for the drive to Lucca, the provincial capital of Tuscany, is one of the most handsome Romanesque cities in Europe. Lucca is one of the most ancient towns of Etruria with its rich cultural and mercantile heritage and boasts a unique town center. It is especially known for its medieval ramparts, which date back to the 15th century, allowing one to walk, jog or bike around the whole circuit.

Just as interesting is its historic center featuring several fine old churches and lovely squares. Lucca is also known as the home of composer

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