Tag Archives: Italy

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.

 

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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Mystery Cruises #AtoZChallenge

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So, why would someone pay to go on a mystery cruise; get on a ship and head to ports unknown? Since I love to cruise, this sounded like an interesting opportunity to sail into, well, mystery! I’ve now done two of these cruises and both on the Braemar.  I really like this ship. It is a smaller one and feels like family. It is very easy to sail solo and meet lots of friends on this ship.

On the first cruise, we sort of knew where we were going. The passengers were given a choice and we voted for one port or another — but we did not know where we were going until we got there! Here are the ports we visited:

Porto, Malaga, Barcelona, Valencia, Cartegna, Cadiz, La Coruna

The second mystery cruise was truly a mystery — one that would include only maiden ports (ports where our ship had never visited). It was very strange not to be able to plan or research the ports we were going to, nor to be able to know exactly what to pack — for warm or cold! The cruise was early May, so it was hard to plan for everything. It started in Dover and we waited to see if we would turn to go north … or south (or if we could even trust that, in the night, the ship would change directions!). As it turned out, we continued North and thus we began a cruise that went to Norway, Denmark, Germany and Sweden.

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The ports included:

Larvik, Hundested, Nyborg, Fredercia, Wismar, Lyskil

Would I go on another one? It would be hard to keep me away!