I recently got back from a 12 Day Mediterranean Cruise on Holland America Line, and I'm excited to share my experience with you. This was a "working holiday" as we were accompanying Matt's mom on her first overseas adventure in decades. It's pretty challenging to take a 90 year old across the globe, I've got to say. On top of that, before leaving, I was so nervous about all the history that I didn't know! Byzantines, Etruscans, Italian, Spanish, Atilla the Hun and Alexander the Great - I felt like I knew nothing about anything. Finally, I decided that I travel to experience those things, not because traveling is a test of my knowledge. Here is what I experienced.
Dubrovnik was lovely, but if you don't find it on an older map it's because the previous name was Ragusa. Amazing medieval walled city. While in Dubrovnik, we visited an Orthodox Church, and I was able to sight-read a few words in Russian, which was a thrill for me.
In Albania we took a taxi to see the Butrint Ruins, a small and almost complete Roman town discovered in 2005. We felt like we were explorers discovering everything for ourselves. It was a Greek town first, then a Roman town in 44, B.C. On our taxi drive we were stopped by the police. The Albanians have my passport information, so I'm sure I'm on their radar as a trouble maker now!
Katakolon and Olympia, Greece
In Olympia, it was amazing to see how little that remained from the structures, compared to other ancient sites we visited. They had used local limestone in their constructions, and it was so porous it looks like bones with osteoporosis (an analogy from my RN background - sorry!) The fallen pieces showed actual shells and fossils embedded in the stone, so no wonder it didn't stand up over time. We spend a long time in the museums, then our tour group had a lovely authentic Greek lunch at a villa.
As we passed between Italy and Sicily, we took a group photo of our whole family. My husband's great-grandfather came from one side, and great-grandmother came from the other side. After passing though, we were shocked to see lava from a perfectly cone-shaped island volcano. Stromboli was erupting in the dark, and we could watch it from our patio! Stromboli is a small island between Italy and Sicily, containing one of the three active volcanoes in Italy.
Naples and Pompeii, Italy
After watching a volcano explode above a modern city, it was a little disconcerting to visit Pompeii. It was an amazing city, but with both a wheelchair and a stroller on cobblestones, it was slow going. It included some shocking, ancient drawings and directional street signs that caught us all off guard. It's easy to forget that ancient civilizations had their own issues of immorality.
In Rome, our visit to the Colosseum was amazing. This huge sporting venue had a numbering system for gates, levels, and seats. They even had a retractable roof of tarp-like material. It was as large as a modern stadium. Used for years as a garbage dump and quarry for limestone, it's totally falling apart. In contrast, the Pantheon had been used as a Christian church, so it was in mint condition, but approximately the same age. Trevi Fountain had just been cleaned and really sparkled in the sun. When it was built, a local barber complained constantly about the construction noise and inconvenience. To defy him, the builders installed a huge blog of nothing to completely blog the view of Trevi Fountain from the barbershop. They said it was to punish the barber's "Lack of faith"
It was more challenging to visit the Vatican with a wheelchair. Because of the tightly crowded conditions, I missed much of the Sistine Chapel as I was pushing the wheelchair. I would have loved to spend more time in the Map Room (I didn't even know it had such a thing!) What I do remember is that every inch of every room is covered in the most amazing artwork that I have ever seen.
Livorno, Florence, and Pisa, France
In Livorno, we mostly helped my mom do some shopping, her favorite activity. We had only 3 hours in Florence, and the line to see Michelangelo's David was two hours long, cost many euros, and was a long walk away. We decided to skip it, and instead enjoyed the lovely town.
Later a tour bus took us to Pisa, and we had lots of fun looking at it, but didn't get close enough to look inside. They do allow people to walk up and around the top, but with a wheelchair and a stroller, we just didn't have the time. It was fun to see the Alps out the window - I was sure shocked that we could see them from Florence.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
In Monte Carlo we realized we had visited the two smallest countries on earth: Monaco and Vatican City. We saw amazing views from the steep terraced cliffs of the rich and famous. All the plants had been brought in - even the topsoil was important. Sand was imported from the Sahara Desert for the beaches, and palm trees imported from California (along with many rich people.) We visited a perfume factory and shopped for table linens while the rest of the group walked steep streets to learn more. I loved the coffee, and speaking my high school French a bit. We were shocked and surprised to hear an explosion while shopping. Apparently a midday cannon is fired each day. In 1860 a man became frustrated by his wife and began to fire his cannon each day at noon, signaling his wife was needed to come and prepare his lunch, and that tradition continues to this day.
In Toulon, my grandson had a fever, so we adapted our plans. We took a tiny train tour around the city, had coffee at a street cafe,, and bought a French-English book for toddlers. Then we located baby Tylenol at a French pharmacy - every exciting. I was glad to recognize the days and hours the store was open, sight-reading the little French I remembered from teaching it in high school.
In Barcelona we visited Montserrat Abbey Monastery in Catalonia, and saw the statue of the "Black Madonna," Patron Saint of Catalonia, believed to have been made during the early Church, in Jerusalem. We watched their "Funicular" train that looked scarier than any roller coaster. After a terrifying bus ride to the abbey, none of us dared the Funicular, with it's 65% grade up the mountai
Baby on Board
We had our 1 year old grandson along for the ride, and he did WONDERFULLY! He was very patient for the 2-hour formal 3-course dinners, and loved trying all the new and different foods. We kept small toys that he could play with just during dinner. All the other passengers loved having a baby around. His favorite thing was climbing the stairs to his 6th floor stateroom. The long bus rides between towns were the most fun, so I could hold Aiden while he slept.
Top Travel Tips
In both Pisa and Rome, the women in our group found their purses randomly unzipped, and the men sometimes found their ship ID card on the ground. Extremely adept pick-pockets were everywhere, and we were thankful they got nothing of any value, due to our RFID locking purses. Air travel and jet lag were serious issues, but I managed to get past it after about 5 days of feeling pretty crummy. My big tip, learned form my daughter-in-law, is to always plan for "jet lag days" after a holiday overseas.
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