Category Archives: Italy

Docking in Portofino

Cruise ships cannot dock in Portofino, but some, like the Celebrity Constellation will drop anchor outside the small harbour and use tender boats to transport passengers from ship to shore. Other ships will dock at Genoa and use local ferries to bring people to this port. However you get here, it is a charming place to visit but be prepared for walking up hills. There are numerous cafes, a castle and churches to explore, nature trails and a sculpture garden. Of course, there is gelato and shopping!

For me, this trip has been a bit of a challenge as my knee has made walking up and down stairs very hard. Fortunately,  I did find a way up the hill that did not include stairs,  just a steep slope behind the main street that included souvenir shops, a champion gelato store and a family-run shop with embroidered linens and scarves.

Short stay in Rome

I think the phrase all roads lead to Rome describes my latest trip Rome. I wanted to share all the “hghlights” of Rome with a dear friend and my traveling companion for this adventure. But the crowds were worse than any other visit I have made.I do have some suggestions for future trips.The Vatican Suites hotel is nice and the location is good, especially if you plan to visit the Vatican. It is a short walk to two bus routes that are useful for touring Rome, the 46 and the 64.Omni Vatican tours and cards can make some things easier, however there are some drawbacks. You can order these online and one of the offices for pickup is 9 San Pietro, very easy to find at the Vatican. They have a hop on, hop off bus that goes to all the same spots as other companies, but was rarely full. You also get a pass for use on metro services in Rome, which was very helpful. The reservation system for Vatican museum tours, however, was not my favorite. I thought I would have a simple time to go, thus avoiding crowds. However, we were expected to be part of their tour group, and this put us in a mass of people all going to the same place. My suggestion would be to order tickets directly from the Vatican website for “skip the line” tours of the museum, Sistine Chapel, and Basilica. We got so tired of being “herded like cats”. This was not necessarily Omni’s fault. There seemed to be more people everywhere!Our favorite dinner in Rome was at Papa Rex. It was a short walk down the hill from the Vatican Suites hotel, the staff was amazing, food was excellent and we just really enjoyed our evening there. Be sure to ask for their suggestions for the day for the best experience!In the plaza in front of the Pantheon, there is a great place for buying items for a nice, Italian picnic. It is called Antica Salumeria. The staff is friendly and willing to take time to assist you, no matter how busy. Many types of meats, cheese, olives and wine to choose from. And, of course, you can taste items before making your purchase.Next to this shop is the Acquisto Restaurant. It has a selection of freshly made pasta daily. It is also a nice place to sit and watch the crowds of tours visiting the Pantheon. This picture really sums up how I started to feel with all the crowds.If you are using Rome as a stop before heading out on a cruise, taking the train is a way to save money. The cost is 4,60 euro from the San Pietro station and it takes around 45 minutes. However, there are stairs, making hauling luggage problematic. Once in Civitavecchia, you can take group taxis for 5 euros per person to the port.

Continue reading Short stay in Rome

N = Naples

A to Z Ports = Naples, Italy

Where you dock in Naples really couldn’t be any better. You are docked at Stazione Maritima with quick access to Naples city centre. There are several choices — fast ferries can take you to the Isle of Capri, and a short walk will take you to the Metro Station. Or head to the large castle on the left of the port and you will find the central stop for the hop on, hop off buses. You can also head to the train station to go to Pompeii. There will be all sorts of tour guides at the front of the port terminal. This is a port with a lot of options.

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The other thing you can be certain of is construction — it will be everywhere! Many people take off for the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii or Capri, but there are some wonderful things to see in Naples, even if all you do is get lost wandering its narrow streets. And, if you want to see the treasures of Pompeii, but don’t want to make the trip, go the the Archaeological Museum, as it is the home of some of the best of Pompeii.

Here are some of my previous posts about Naples

#atozchallenge

 

 

A day on Mount Etna

Sailing into the port of Catania, Sicily was interesting because we could get a great view of Mount Etna and really appreciate the size of this volcano. When I was there in May 2017, it was not erupting, but there were some interesting cloud formations. It also seems that Etna truly is the heart of this land, down the very plants that grow on its slopes.

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Since I had never been to this part of Sicily before, I joined a small, private tour group – and was very happy with this experience! We were met by our driver and eight of us shared a van. Our driver was from the area and knew a lot about where we were going. He also knew about the current traffic conditions because many roads were blocked or restricted because of preparations for a G7 Summit meeting later in the month. With very few roads in and out of the area we were going, I felt sorry about how much this meeting was going to affect the local population.

Our first stop was a fishing village of Giardini Naxos. This was the first Greek settlement in the area and is celebrated with modern a statue of Nike. It has a beautiful sandy beach and many places to eat and drink along the coastline.

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We then headed up the slopes of Mt. Etna and started to see the views from a different perspective, from snow at the top of Mt. Etna, to the coastline of the fishing village.

We also got our first look at the town of Taormina and its magnificent Roman amphitheatre. For this part of the journey, we made two stops, one at a chapel that was built in a cave and one at the village of Castelmola. This is a charming village with great views and access to an Arab fortress.

We then headed back down to the town of Taormina – and what a zoo!  Everyone seemed to be converging on this town and there was construction and preparations going on every where for the Summit meeting. There was limited access to visit the Roman amphitheatre, with one of the major streets blocked.   However, I would love to go back and spend more time here, as it has charming streets to walk through and lots of shops and restaurants along with more great views of the coastline.

Our next stop was for lunch at a winery on the slopes of Mt. Etna. We visited the Gambino Winery, which is the highest winery on the volcano. We were greeted by a member of family who started our wine-tasting adventure. We had a delightful lunch that included tasting four wines with some typical Sicilian food: dried tomatoes, Etna area mushrooms and olives, local salami, several types of cheese, sausage in white wine, and salad. The views were spectacular and I took some interesting photos on the way (and I should mention that the wine was also quite good and plentiful!).

After lunch, we made our way back to Catania and the ship. It was a very nice day!

Cruising to Naples

Cruising into Naples means your are docked very close to the city centre, as well as close to ferries that can take you to islands such as Capri. For people with mobility issues, if you can walk a bit, there is an elevator to the main floor of the port terminal.

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Next, however, is walking past all the taxis lined up to offer you tours of Naples and the surrounding area. The tours offered did seem to be reasonably priced and included Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Naples (although most drivers did not understand that you might really like to see Naples). They really did not understand that I might just want to see things like this castle — and easy walk from the ship and where you can find the main stop of the hop on, hop off bus. If you can make it to the end of the port area, the hop on, hop off bus may run a shuttle to their main stop, Castel Nouvo. You can see this castle from the ship and the walk is not bad, but is slightly up hill. There was also a lot of construction when I was there.

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For me, I was ready to just explore the city. The tourist information centre in the cruise terminal provides a good map and directions. But, by the time I’d been bombarded by tour offers, getting on the hop on, hop off bus seemed to be an easy solution.

This bus has two routes — one along the coast and one up the hill that winds through the older part of Naples. I took both — but stopped along the way to try to find a specific church. The directions the bus operators gave me were a bit off, but I did see some other interesting churches and wandered through the old streets.

The Archaeological Museum is also a great place to visit in Naples. From the cruise terminal, walk to the Metro stop and get off at Museum — it is very easy! While I did not go to the museum this time, I always like to recommend it. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) had an exhibit from this museum recently. The exhibit highlighted their Pompeii collection.

I do not recommend walking around Naples if you have mobility challenges. The streets are narrow and uneven, traffic is bad, and directions are not always the best. But do find some time to visit Naples before heading off to Capri or down the Almafi coast. There are some interesting things to see on hidden streets.

 

Vatican Museum and how to dodge tour groups

One of the hardest things to do when visiting the Vatican Museum is dodging the tour groups. They are everywhere and always blocking the photo you are trying to take. Fortunately, photoshop can take care of some of those photos where a person’head or smartphone popped into the frame at the last minute. But, if you walk with a cane, well, the crowds become more than annoying. My first word of advice, order your tickets before you go in order to avoid the lines.

Then, there are all the stairs –and these are everywhere! The best thing to do? Ask one of the many guards for a way around. There are hidden back ways, elevators and long corridors that can help you get through the museum and to the Sistine Chapel. Thesee hidden jewels show more parts of the museum with less crowds. 

Eventually, you do catch up with the crowds but you can use this to your advantage, especially if you can negotiate some stairs. Sereptiously join a group as they exit through the back door! This brings you to St. Peter’s Basilica without standing in the long line outside.

Of course, the tour groups are still there, but you have saved time from walking back through the maze of the Vatican Museum to the official exit, then walking along the wall to St. Peter’s Square, then standing in line to enter.

Of course, you can enter and stand in yet another line to climb to the top of the dome, bit I think I will pass on that experience.

eUtruscans #AtoZChallenge

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Sometimes, in doing this challenge, you find yourself needing to get “creative” with the alphabet. That is my challenge for “U” this year. So, I am cheating a little with this post about the Etruscan Museum in Volterra (I always seem to pronounce the word as “eu-trus-can”.

The museum has a collection of Etruscan funeral urns organized chronically. The earliest examples look like large jars. The latter ones were ornately carved.

There is also a garden at the back of the museum that gives a great overview of Volterra and had some modern pieces displayed.

Pisa #AtoZChallenge

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Pisa is known for its Leaning Tower — but there are many other reasons to visit Pisa, such as winding streets and hidden plazas. We had our pre-dinner place for wine, hidden patios for dinner, and back to the original restaurant for late night. It is a lovely place to spend a relaxing few days.

First, some of the streets…

Then the Piazza dei Cavalieri which I loved because there is a connection between the buildings on this plaza and the Knights of St. John — and two of my favourite places, Rhodes and Malta (notice the St. John’s crosses that decorated the buildings)!

And, of course, the Field of Miracles and the Tower of Pisa.

And a rare selfie of a very hot traveler…

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