La Serenissima

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mediterranean cruise, Rome (Civitavecchia) to Santorini

Civitavecchia  – Rome sea port

There were heaps of tour choices, but I knew Rome a little, and opted for the “Rome on your own” option. The drive from Civitavecchia takes about 1.5 hours to the centre of Rome, so you need transport to get there. We had a lovely Italian guide/courier on the bus who told us a million things – none of which I remember … oh, except that for some time before we got to the outskirts of Rome, right through to the centre, we were on Via Aurelia – the original Roman road that took Hadrian and like folk, to the English Channel.

All Italians, and Italians-in-training, such as myself, begin a serious morning’s work with a coffee. So that’s what I did immediately, to find myself sharing a laugh with guide from the bus!
The hop-on hop-off bus left right outside the door, so that was my next thing. Ah, la bella Roma!

First stop for me, Piazza di Spagna. Yes, I know it can be touristy (although there are lots of Italians there too) but it is also quite lovely. First, an errand to Amex for a few more euros, then off exploring. I love the languidness of people lolling in the sun on the Spanish Steps; then down Via Condotti to look at goodies I’ll never own, watching a discreet limo driver looking the part in a dark grey suit – with matching BMW 7 series – and Armani sunglasses, parked outside Bulgari; into the little cross-streets like via Mario di Fiori, where vintage and new Vespers zoom past; then back via Frattina to via de Propaganda (love these street names) where I love to look at the glove shops and the myriads of soft kid gloves in every imaginable shade. (On a trip to Italy last year, Julian bought me 2 pairs of said gorgeous gloves, one in aubergine, the other in bright watermelon pink! Wonderful.)

Further down via de Propaganda, I follow my policy of stopping to look down driveways to see if the doors to the inner courtyard are open. I’m rewarded with the view of a beautiful wall fountain, set in a beautiful archway artfully draped with ivy.

I take the bus from via del Tritone, up past the Forum, Colosseum, the Palatine and Circus Maximus back up to Piazza Navona. I love this spot, especially by November when the summer hoards are gone and you can have a peaceful view of the fountains and palaces that fringe the piazza. So, second rule for Italians, after the coffee one, is lunch of course! La pranza. Rule three, NEVER pick the places with zillions of plastic tables and chairs and menus in English; for preference, pick one with Italians eating there. I chose a place at the end opposite the tourist trade, had a wonderful lunch, people-watched, enjoyed the soft sunlight and strolled a bit. 

There are many streets that join Piazza Navona. One of them, via del Governo Vecchio, is worth a look. There are some lovely shops, including one that does hand made wooden toys, cafes and ambience – oh, and quite a few bikes!!

Then back on the bus to the Vatican to join our tour bus back to the ship. All in all, a day well spent.


Now, I had good intentions of springing off to brekky early, catching   during the morning and taking the ferry to Capri in the afternoon. Well, my spring had lost it’s springiness, and by the time I was good to go, I deleted all reference to the hop on/off buses and decided I’d just go to Capri. After buying my ferry ticket, I heard the unavoidable ringing of the collective twelve o’clock bells of Napoli to signal “down tools – time for pranzo!!” So, my plans for Capri were set, no time to waste, the venue for lunch was decided.

The ride across the bay is stunning; the Isle of Capri itself outlines by steep volcanic rock cliffs with little sandy bays at their base. We got off the ferry, onto a lovely marina – Marina Grande, Porto Turistico – and walking through Piazza Vittoria I saw ahead the unmistakable incarnation of Rule 3!! … scooting past I noticed lots of tourist shops too … but then more regular stuff. 

A market was in full swing, mainly apparel, and the shops and cafes more stylish. I kept walking, with the sea, little beaches and colourful fishing boats to my left, until I reached a place I thought was my speed. I stopped at a restaurant right on a tiny beach, white umbrellas, palms and yellow tablecloths. A group of what seemed to be Scandinavian women, having a wow of a time!! The waiter was in his fifties I’d say, but was totally into his role as waiter/Casanova, and thrilling his new Scandinavian friends with increasingly romantic gestures, culminating with the dessert course, with lots of hand kissing! The food – and wine – were great though, and he treated me to lots of winking each time he passed from their table. One of the courses they had (I counted about 42 in all!) was, he assured them, a famous local dish and was the speciality of the house. It was a whole fish, baked in a thick crust of sea salt – so thick, it sounded like a brick as he smashed it open and then lovingly boned the fish, keeping it intact and worthy of a fine photo in a cookbook.

By the time I finished a leisurely meal, and got back to the marina to catch the ferry … well … it was almost time for an aperitivi before dinner!!

Athens, Greece

We berthed in Piraeus, which is quite an attractive place. The port itself is large, accommodating lots of ships.

Having been to Athens before and done the BIG climb of the site of the Acropolis, I opted this time to do a half day tour around the city and sites. The tour included stopping by the Olympic Stadiums – the one in Maroussi, Athens, that hosted the 2004 Olympic Games and also the Panathinaiko Stadium, built in 566 BC and renovated in marble in 329 BC (see where we get our urge to renovate from??!!) and further renovated in the 19th and 20th centuries for the Olympic Games. Panathinaiko Stadium was also used for the 2004 Olympics archery.

We also stopped at the temple of Olympian Zeus, the Ancient Agora, the Acropolis, the Parliament and the Plaka. The Acropolis looks spectacular, even from ground level.

Note: on a previous occasion I visited the National Archaeological Museum. It’s definitely worth it. Standing so close to works of art and sculpture that are around 4,000 years old is quite staggering and very humbling. The piece that amazed me was the Horse with the Little Jockey – it would pass as an example of modern sculpture now, no curlicues at all! The Museum also includes extensive collections of the even older Cycladic and Mycenaean periods. And the New Acropolis Museum is something else … you can read more about that in a future segment in Adventures in the World.


Well, lots of places don’t quite live up to the hype and luminous photos that rave noisily about the place … Well, not so for Santorini. It IS every bit as enchanting as the pictures lead you to believe. AND it has a long and interesting history. The name, by the way, comes from “Santa Irini” and this group of islands – the Cyclades – are the most visited of all the Greek islands.

It was colonised by the Minoans in 3000 BC and got its distinct crescent shape about 1500 years later when the volcanic island erupted! The main tourist destination is Fira, which is more or less in the centre of the crescent and was settled in the late 1800s. Our tour ended here, with free time to do what you pleased and catch the tender back to the ship throughout the afternoon until sailing time at 6pm. The island itself clings around a huge water basin – the caldera or volcanic core – with cliffs ranging from 150 – 300 metres high! It should be said that the ships anchor in the caldera, as there is no port to berth such enormous vessels … I think the volcano is extinct … maybe not? …

According to Wikipedia “In 1707 an undersea volcano breached the sea surface, forming the current centre of activity at Nea Kameni in the centre of the lagoon, and eruptions centred on it continue — the twentieth century saw three such, the last in 1956. At some time in the future, it will almost certainly erupt violently again. Santorini was also struck by a devastating earthquake in 1956. Although the volcano is quiescent at the present time,” (very assuring to us all!!) “at the current active crater (there are several former craters on Nea Kameni), steam and sulphur dioxide are given off”.

My tour started at the other end of the island, Akrotiri, where the climate is dry and quite harsh. Not surprisingly it is a good wine growing area and we were able to sample some whilst taking in the breath-taking views.

Then we went to the opposite end of the island, Oia (pronounced Eeya) which is more verdant and also packed with ultra scenic views. Yep, it’s the end that is sooo photographed, especially the blue-domed church (seen here in an original pic by moi!) which I am sure you will have seen. We took a pleasant stroll around Oia (along with a cast of 1000s – but that didn’t matter, it is just lovely anyway). There are lots of boutiques and craft/sculpture/art galleries; the streets are tiny, narrow cobbled affairs.

I got back to Fira for free time and stopped for coffee and something to eat at a lovely café I visited previously, sitting almost in the same spot ( the photo below was taken from this café – the view of the steep cliffs and the buildings hanging on to them is quite dramatic). Last time I sat here, I was travelling independently and had come from Athens by air. As I sipped my coffee then, and gazed out into the caldera, I was secretly scoffing to myself about the enormous cruise ships lying at anchor, and the hoards from them that assaulted Santorini’s tiny streets … well, look at who’s scoffing now, eh? … 

After roaming said streets for a while longer, I took the gondola ride down the cliff to sea level. But here's a last shot of the beauty of Oia's bougainvillia clad white buildings. What's not to like?

1 comment:

  1. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well..
    Ciampino airport transfers