La Serenissima

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The last leg of the Mediterranean: Taormina, Sicily to Rome

Taormina Sicily

 Taormina was founded around 350 BC by Greek invaders, and is perched on
very high cliffs between Messina and Catania. Some four hundred years later,
the Romans arrived and after the fall of the Roman Empire, there were many
skirmishes until about 900 AD Taormina fell to Muslim control. The multi cultural
theme continued with successive waves of Normans, German Lombards, French, Spanish, English, Austrian Hapsburgs and Popes (yes, Popes!).


We tendered ashore. The bus trip to the old town centre took quite a while, as the
bus driver negotiated steep S-bends, where on many, there were traffic lights.
Nevertheless, it was very entertaining as the bus horn, sounded frequently before
some of the blind bends, and played a jaunty tune announcing our presence!
Once there, I was treated to gorgeous cobblestones streets and wonderful views.
There is a very well preserved Greco-Roman theatre and views of Mt Etna – still
an active volcano. 

I just enjoyed hanging out really; looking at the shops – many touristy but also lots of local handcraft places (I bought some cotton waffle hand towels for Christmas gifts). And there were some lovely fresh fruit and vegetable stands just begging to have their photo taken …

The highlight was lunch (so, what did you expect??!!) at a local trattoria, yummy pasta and a VERY good red wine, rather like Australian shiraz. Yes … it was another of those “feeling no pain” situations. So much so in fact, that I made menu recommendations in my limited Italian to some local businessmen who arrived, looking very business-like! Giggles all round.


 # I am trying to add photos to this story, but the blogger website is being difficult. Will update once the system is working

Sorrento Amalfi Coast
Whilst not quite so high as Taormina, this is still quite elevated and there are
 gorgeous views of the sea. Piazza Tasso (named after one of the eminent early
founders) is very elegant. Many roads fan out from the piazza. My butler Ivan,
had given me the complete low-down on leather shopping here – he was a star! –
and I had great fun buying a bag (desperately needed, of course! Not!) and black
sandals. Got some lovely silk ties for Julian too. One of the most amazing things I
saw was a shop devoted to wooden toys and clocks, with a life-size big
motorbike made entirely of wood. Only in Italy.

Civitavecchia – Roma

We disembarked at Civitavecchia and I had arranged transport from there to my
hotel In Rome. The process worked quite smoothly and I got a chance to catch
up with some friends I made during the journey. Earlier, while I was actually
going down the gang plank to shore, I heard a womanʼs voice behind me asking
someone, very earnestly, “What is a minaret?” Gasp! Had this person been in a
coma during the voyage? Was their eyesight THAT bad? I was itching to say
“Well madam all those tall structures with strange songs emanating from them
sure werenʼt ornamental chimneys with singing chimney sweeps!” But, decorum
prevailed and I did not.

The ride into Rome takes about 1.5 hours and was very good. We passed along
Via Aurelia (new surface of course but actually an old Roman road and one of the
main ones they used to say “all roads lead to Rome” about). Ended up right
beside the Vatican and had a great view of the dome of St Peterʼs. Not bad for a
commute into town!

The driver took me to the same spot where Julian parked in June 09 to unload
the car. What am I talking about? Going back to the Colonna Palace hotel, of
course. Just like coming home. Familiar faces, smiles and welcome, a seriously
upgraded room. Bliss. I unpacked and went straight round the corner (ok, 3
corners) to the Pantheon; where else should I be on a Sunday? Walked around
and marvelled for the umpteenth time at the beauty of the architecture; the
wonder of the oculus in the dome; the people whose tombs are there, Raphael to
name one; the height and splendour of the columns. Then I walked a few steps
down one of the side streets to Café Rienzo, where Nita and Julian became
morning regulars for coffee and people-watching in June and where I had joined
them a few times. I was treated royalty; given extra little mini pizzas to have with
my remaining wine after my pasta and then a Baccio with my coffee … ah … la
bella Roma …

I stayed for 5 nights before coming home and what follows is a taste of some of
the wonderful places I saw and experienced, as you do in Italy. Everything is an
experience to be savoured; there is no such thing as just scoffing something and
off! Even if youʼre in a hurry!


I strolled down Campo Marzio – a gorgeous narrow street lined with lovely shops
– specialising in hand made shirts, cashmere sweaters and pashminas, a
specialty pen and leather stationery (a personal favourite); Via di Frattina – the
next street on from Via Condotti – with almost as many brands on display). 

I ducked and wove my way up Via del Corso (named from the horse race from
Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venetia and came upon the most beautiful church,
the Basilica Abrogio e Carlo, which has many clear glass windows high in the
domed ceilings, which infuse all of the architectural features with a lovely soft
light. Of course I returned to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva to inspect the Lippi
paintings again and also to St Ignazio, which I discovered is easily viewed from
the rooftop garden at the Colonna Palace! I returned one evening for a wonderful
choir performance at St Ignazio – turned out it was a choir from Washington
State in the US!!

I had a few memorable meals (keeping up the family tradition!), starting with
dinner around the corner at Taverna Antonina; lunch at a bar in Piazza dei Pietra,
where I met 2 lovely American women from San Francisco and LA; coffee and
people watching at an outdoor café in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina. I shopped
for gifts in Campo di Marzio, Piazza dei Pietra, and via Frattina. I was fortunate
too, as there was a choir concert In St Ignazioʼs one evening. It was gorgeous to
see the place again at night and in action!

I had another memorable excursion to Campo dei Fiori, which I had never visited.
With my usual confidence, I set off, thinking I was going the right way, when in
fact I was heading slightly south on via Funari Campitelli. My good luck was that
that when I got to Piazza Eustachia, I met an old lady sitting at a bus stop. We
conversed in my broken Italian; turned out she was Greek!! I walked on, via
Campo Cairoli to Campo dei Fiori. What a treat for the eyes! Beautiful, mouth
watering fresh produce of every kind. I did my best to capture some of it on film.
Home via Piazza Navona (saw a great jazz trio doing some Latin stuff – very
good) and Via del Governo Vecchio (where I enjoyed soy gelati – chocolate and
hazelnut) and late lunch at bar Chigi around the corner – roasted vegetables and
a vino rosso for 7.5 euros.

I went to several of my favourite places the next day and another late lunch at
Chigi, followed by a last look around Piazza Maddalena and the gorgeous rococo
church of the same name. I wiggled my way through a major demonstration to
take a picture of the Christmas tree in the restored Galleria Alberto Sordi across
Via del Corso; take away tuna panino, packed, took a bath and read my book .
Between things, I went back to the Pantheon and found a café there with
gorgeous Christmas decorations – all in white lights. 

Arrivederci Roma … … a domani … …

Post script: Azamara

This cruise line is fabulous; smaller ships (700 compared to 2000 passengers);
service excellent. Six days in, they sent around a questionnaire about peopleʼs
experience so far – they wished to correct anything early rather than at the end. I
gave lots of compliments. But mentioned 3 things that could be better. Within 24
hours, the managers of the 3 areas phoned me to discuss my thoughts and to
see what I thought about proposed solutions. Then, within half an hour, Guest
Relations phoned to make sure that I had heard from each area and that I was
satisfied with proposed solutions. I
The dining choices were very good and even the upmarket restaurants were very
reasonably priced and the service and ambience such that you would be pleased
to go to them here.
I had full butler service and 5 star hotel treatment – eg room serviced twice a day;
turndown service at night; fresh fruit, flowers, robe and slippers. All of the staff
were good and participated in things. Eg, the Guest Relations people went on
some of the tours to get a feel for how guests were responding and how the local
guides were shaping up. I would strongly recommend this cruise line to anyone

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

More Marvellous Mediterranean: Rhodes to Mykonos


There are no marks left of the Colossus of Rhodes, built by the Greeks and noted as one
of the seven wonders of the ancient world. However, the Old Town is a gorgeous
medieval walled city with a network of pebble and stone streets crammed full of
souvenir, gold and clothing shops and lots of cafes. 

There are a host of buildings dating from the 1300s when the Knights of the Order of St John took the city from the Genovese (who took it from the Byzantines, who took it from the Venetians …round up the usual suspects … and not forgetting the Romans, Goths and Greeks

Rhodes old town has a number of beautiful museums – the Archaeological
museum, housed in the Hospital of the Knights (completed in 1489) and the
Palace of the Knights of St John; itʼs 300 rooms home to icons, manuscripts and
mosaics. Of course, Iʼve only read about these, as the museums were all closed
the day we were there!! However, I saw said places from the outside and just
walking around did not disappoint. 

I stopped at a café and downed a coffee and baklava in the sun, while watching 3 cats stake each other out and perform acrobatic feats on a low stone wall … who needs museums anyway? During my peregrinations I managed to buy a very lovely pashmina (heaven
knows Iʼm down to my last dozen!) I returned to the ship via Platia Martyron
Evreon, the square of the Jewish martyrs, commemorating local Jews who were
taken to concentration camps in 1943 – only 50 of the 2000survived.


We practically pulled up in the main street of Chios (pronounced “hios”). 

There is an esplanade, which follows the coastline in the town centre; I could have jumpedoff the boat straight into a café and not got my feet even remotely damp!! Chios is not a touristy island despite being in the eastern Aegean Sea and it is just 5 miles off the coast of Turkey. Homer and Hippocrates are allegedly from Chios – you
can see thereʼs not a hint of tourism there! 

However, the day we were there appeared to be a non-school day, even though it was a weekday, and young people of secondary and tertiary school age were crowding the cafes and shops, all talking excitedly, pretty much all at once. 

I visited the Archaeological Museum (donʼt say I donʼt have a cultural focus, no sir-ee!!) and enjoyed the wonders of it; itʼs quite remarkable to see such things in a regional museum.

View from the ship – you can see what I mean about close!


Well, welcome to tourist island! Despite being a hugely tourist dependent place,
Mykonos is actually very beautiful – itʼs white cube buildings, bougainvillea,
painted door and window frames of aqua, ox blood, yellow and pink, and
windmills all a delight to the senses. I walked through the narrow paved lanes
past private homes, trendy shops (and tourist shops), restaurants and cafes and
fellow passengers browsing! 

I made my way to the famous windmills, but not before stopping at a lovely taverna and sat outside to drink my coffee and lose myself in the beauty of a huge pink bougainvillea which had a trunk like a tree.

After the windmills, I wondered about – bought some gifts – and made my way to
the beachfront. En route, I managed somehow to strike up a conversation with a
shopkeeper (Iʼm sure this attraction stems from my parents being wholesale
grocers!). He asked me where I was from. I said “Australia”. He said “yes, thatʼs
where you were born, but where do you live now?” I said "Australia – I live there."
He said “But you donʼt sound Australian”. I said, “Well, there you go. I can do
broad Australian if you like” (does impression of broad oz). He laughs –“ yes, you
can do it! “ So, I ask –“ are you from Mykonos or some other part of Greece?”
Answer: “I live half the year here and the other half in Brunswick!” (Thatʼs a
suburb of Melbourne, where Iʼm from). Amusement all round. Then he proceeds
to test me on my Greek, which is 5 words in all, but everyone seems to be
pleased that I have a go, and he declares the language test acceptable.

I decided I was a bit peckish after the linguistic and residential tests, so made my
way back to the beachfront where there were several very nice looking outdoor
 cafes with views of brightly coloured boats and fishermen cleaning up after the morning's fish sales. Picked one, ordered eggplant salad, crusty bread, washed down with a very fine chilled rose … … felt no pain at all … …