Almost Out of Italy – Part 2
Part due of our summer travels…
Since nearly everyone who can afford to gets out of Rome in August, we figured we best act like the natives and leave too. We considered vacationing in Sardinia or on the coast in Italy somewhere, but soon realized it wouldn’t feel like much of a vacation eating Italian food, getting indifferent restaurant service and being squished on a crowded beach by lots of nearly naked, but somehow overly dressed, loud Italians and their screaming children. (Sorry to sound so bitter…but hey, I live here and YES women even wear high heels at the beach!) So after weighing our choices, we opted for a cruise on an American owned cruise line, Celebrity. Granted, I don’t think any of the staff on the ship are American, but it offers American “style” service and that’s what we were craving.
We sailed with Celebrity a few years ago on a cruise to the Caribbean in early December. It was full of adults, like us, who could afford to vacation when they wanted to, and there were few to no children on board. My kind of vacation. Silly us for not realizing that if you cruise in August when all the bambini are out of school, you’re likely to find them all onboard your ship. Crying little ones in stollers, running and jumping medium sized ones, and bigger older ones who travel in packs, like dogs. Along with their mommas, pappas, aunts, uncles and assorted grandparents. You’ll also find cruising in Europe in the summer that you’re likely to encounter a veritable Heinz 57 of nationalities on board (41 different countries, actually, which Michael learned from watching the ship’s TV info channel while on the elliptical trainer at the well equipped and very clean gym, something we’re not used to having in our neighborhood in Roma.
Our cruise stopped for one day in Messina, Sicily where we disembarked and ate a very over priced pizza lunch. Not so much.
Next day we landed in Piraeus, the port city for Athens. We visited the Acropolis, took lots of photos, wandered down staired streets into the Plaka neighborhood and admired how clean everything was. (I swear I am not some kind of clean freak. It’s just that I’m so used to the pigsty we lovingly call Rome, that when a place is clean, we’re overwhelmed.) We ate really delicious Greek food at Anafiotika, one of the little restaurants we found on the staired street. I’m a huge fan of taramasalata, a dip made from potatoes and fish roe, sounds kind of icky, but when it’s good, mama mia, it’s the best, and theirs WAS the best.
Unfortunately it was going to be wicked hot the next day when we landed in Kusadasi, Turkey, home to the Roman ruins at Ephesus. I’d toured Ephesus many years ago when I was backpacking mostly in the Mediterranean area after college. Michael isn’t such a big “ruins fan”, so we skipped going and found a nice beach. On the cab ride back into Kusadasi, we asked the driver to take us to a more local Turkish restaurant, and he did. The food tasted good, but it took the rest of the trip for my intestines to forgive me for that lunch. I had also been looking forward to wandering around the well advertised Turkish market area in the port, but was terribly turned off my the aggressiveness of the shop owners. I felt bad, knowing they needed the business, but they were so pushy that it made us run away.
We experienced a lovely time on the Greek island of Rhodes. In contrast to Kusadasi, Rhodes Town was charming, set inside the walls of the ancient city. Shop keepers were helpful but not in your face and they were rewarded by the purchase of a lovely ring and bracelet for me, handmade and designed by a Greek jeweler, Sarina.
Santorini was next on the agenda and we got off the ship and found our own tour once at the port. The island doesn’t have a dock so the ship drops anchor off shore and you’re tendered to the port area, which sits below the main town of Fira, high above you on the top of the volcanic island. We took a boat around the island to the town of Oia but only had a short time there before we took a bus to the black pebble beach at Kamari. The waters of the Aegean sea are SO blue. I’m a rock lover, and almost had Michael convinced that it made sense to lug a bunch of volcanic rocks home, but his level head won out and I just made some “art” and took a photo of it.
Our big adventure on Santorini was getting back to the boat. After the beach at Kamari, a bus took us to Fira. There are three ways to get from the town back down to the port area…by cable car, which takes 36 people at a time; on the top of a donkey, which walks up and down a steep, slippery stepped walkway; or on your own two feet next to the donkeys, praying the whole way that you don’t slip and fall into a pile of their poop. Of course, the electricity to the cable car was out and so we walked. Me in my Birkenstocks, in the blazing sun, surrounded by the horrifying reek of donkey pee, down the 538 stairs to the port. I found it even more amusing that the ship in their daily bulletin, warned us that more people die each year from riding the donkeys, than die in plane crashes. Comforting.
Mykanos was the next stop and we were blessed to catch one of the ship’s excursions to a dazzling beach. A few couples we had met on board from northern California joined us and a fun day was had by all!
After a day at sea, we landed back in Napoli (Naples). If we didn’t know we were back in Italy, the ship made sure we were well informed by it’s repeated warnings on the TV and in the daily bulletin to beware of pick pockets and thieves. Welcome to Italia. They should also have warned us about the crazy chaos to be found at the ticketing area on the dock where you purchase tickets to go from Naples to the sights on the Amalfi Coast area. OMG. No signs. No schedules. No prices. By the time we changed lines 3 times, we finally found the boat to Sorrento, our destination of choice for the day. Not until after we purchased the tickets, sold to us for 50€, but costing only 49€ on the face of the ticket, did I realize they were warning us about this thief, too. Nice side business the ticket seller has going.
Sorrento was quaint and lovely. The “beach” area in the town is actually a series of docks with chairs if they’re private, or just throw your towel down, if public. Tired after lunch but with a few hours to kill before our hydrofoil back to Napoli, we lounged undisturbed on the terrazza of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano, famous for hosting literary giants such as Goethe, Byron, Scott, Shelley, Keats, and Longfellow. We saw a dog pee in the lobby and the hotel staff walk around it. Nice.
All in all…it was a lovely 10 days at sea. The service was generally great. The food delicious, varied and plentiful. It was divine to work out at a “proper” gym. We got more tan than I’ll admit to my dermatologist. We got to see some of the world. Life is good.