Adriatic Voyage

INTRODUCTION

The Adriatic Sea, northernmost arm of the Mediterranean, separates the Italian  peninsula from the Balkan peninsula .The earliest settlements on the Adriatic shores were Etruscan and Greek coming under Roman control by the second century BC. In the Middle Ages both sea and land were part of several states:the Byzantine Empire, Serbian Empire, Republic of Venice, the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. After the Napoleonic Wars, Austria played a dominant role with Italy expanding eastward following unification.More recently Yugoslavia gained control of the eastern coast succeeded by four new countries which replaced that state.

Our first exposure to the Adriatic came with a Balkan trip when we visited Dubrovnik, Kotor and the Istrian peninsula . This time we started in Ljubljana, Slovenia, a return visit to this beautiful town with its historic riverside center dominated by the hilltop castle. The nearby Postojna Caves in Croatia with dramatic deep mountain caves of spectacular rock formations was a memorable experience.

Trieste at the northern Adriatic tip is a fascinating city with a unique history . Long part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire it became part of Italy at the end of WWI and the residual political effects of its changing status involving German speaking, Italian and Slavic populations still echoes today.

Venice continues its special charm in spite of many tourists and the longer term threat of a rising Adriatic Sea. Our hotel on the Grand Canal and the dramatic impact of St. Marks Square and Cathedral provided a great experience.

Ravenna has long been for us a destination not to be missed and this major center of the easter Christian Byzantine Empire which flourished and dominated for a thousand years after the fall of Rome certainly lived up to its reputation. The famous mosaics of Basilica di San Vitale together with the baptistery and Saint Apollinare Nuevo are among the most outstanding in the world. More recently, the tomb of Dante provides an interesting history.

Continuing south on our cruise starting in Venice and beyond Ravenna we visited the fifth smallest nation in the world.-San Marino. With its 30,000 residents and its special form of democratic government it sets a fine example. Urbino retains its Renaissance university town character where Raphael was born. In Ortona most of us learned for the first time of the epic Canadian WWII battle in December 1943 against a fierce German defense with thousands of casualties. The castle and town walls of Manfredonia were testimony to its conquest by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Slavs, Byzantines, Normans and Turks over its tumultuous history.

Monopoli presented a bustling city with a large commercial center. It retains its fishing tradition and long history as a thriving port town. Near there we visited Alberobello with its famous cone shaped houses called Trulli. We reached the southern tip of the Italian boot at Otranto to enter the Ionian Sea. In the late 15th century an Ottoman Turk military force of 70 thousand invaded Otranto destroying the Byzantine culture and killing nearly 12,000 people. Siracusa was our only docking in Sicily. Its small island of Ortigya contained Greek and Roman ruins as well as medieval and baroque architecture.

Malta was a fascinating destination in every respect. Valletta is one of the world’s most beautiful port city settings with its dramatic cliffs overlooking two large harbors. The Knights of St. John created a fortified city to oppose the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

Our final days of the trip were spent in Rome. We enjoyed long walks in different parts of the eternal city. Some time was spent revisiting famous sites seen during our first visit years ago. Most of the time we explored areas new to us with historic ruins, beautiful architecture and interesting people. Great food and superb coffee enhanced the experience.

July 24/25

Our 22nd OAT/Grand Circle trip began on July 24. Our flight to Frankfurt was delayed due to weather in Miami so our connecting flight to Ljubljana, Slovenia needed to be rebooked. A call to Grand Circle and the Lufthansa service representative were very helpful and after a 4 hour wait we arrived in  Ljubljana to be met by the GC representative and were on our way to our hotel.

The late afternoon walk about the city was memorable. We love Ljubljana from a past visit and were happy to be back. Our dinner that evening was an enjoyable meal at Rio Mormor near the hotel. We shared two goulash, vegetable and pork, both of which were delicious. Cake and ice cream for dessert topped off the evening. After dinner we walked to the Old Town Center and across the triple bridge  – a beautiful sight. The original bridge was built in 1842 while the two side bridges were added in 1931. Early to bed was in order after a long day.

July 26  Thursday

This morning an excellent local tour guide took us on a 2 hour walk about the Old Town. Included were the triple bridge P1070587.JPGand a walk along the Colonnade that runs along the river and includes a variety of market stalls.  Another bridge called the “dragon bridge” was built in 1901 and guarded by two whimsical verdigris dragons which have become the city’s mascots.P1070588.JPG The statue in the center of the old town is a lovely replica of the original now located in a museum. The beloved poet, France Preseren,is depicted in the statue and gazes longingly across the square to the bust of his unrequited love and poetic inspiration, Julija Primicova , who gazes out of an artificial window.

After our walk we boarded a wooden boat for an hour cruise along the river with lovely willow trees dipping their branches into the water. Our lunch was a Ljubljana speciality – Carolinean sausage- which was delicious. We then spent time continuing to wander about the city and then returned to the hotel for a rest before dinner. This evening we were treated to a Slovakian dinner and entertainment. We were greeted at the door with the traditional bread and salt and then led to our table where we enjoyed tendra wine, a local speciality.  Delicious traditional Slovenian foods and wine including a starter of dried fruits and homemade liquor followed by a variety of typical cold cuts and delicious house bread began the meal . The entree was pork with peasant style sauce and “flying” chicken with Slovenian style potatoes. The seasonal salad with buckwheat kasha was seasoned with pumpkin seed oil dressing. Pear in a Teran sauce with cream was a delicious dessert. The meal was accompanied by local wine., As we enjoyed our meal, Slovenian dancers accompanied by an accordionist demonstrated many traditional Slovenian dances in native dress. The whole evening was a delight and a great beginning to our trip.

July 27  Friday

Today we drove to the Postojana Caves along heavily forested highways. Alessandro told us that the Slovenian people are very dedicated to the land. Most residents grow their own vegetables and spend time in nature ; hiking, camping and walking are common pastimes. The people are also very conscious of maintaining their natural heritage and preserving the landscape.

We arrived  at the caves and boarded an open train which would carry us under ground.This was an unforgettable experience. The caves were first discovered during the 17th century but graffiti found in the caves date back to 1213. In 1819 Archduke Ferdinand visited the caves which initiated the area as a tourist destination. During WWI Russian prisoners were forced to build a bridge across a chasm in the caves. This bridge still exists and is called the Russian bridge. The stalagmites and stalactites found in this remarkable cave system were formed by stone carved out by the Pivka River over millions of years. The formations of both stalagmites and stalactites produce some structures appearing to be folded curtains. We have never seen such spectacular cave sights.P1070633.JPGP1070654.JPGP1070665.JPG

After the cave experience we enjoyed a mushroom soup filled with a variety of mushrooms. We continued on to Trieste where we entered our hotel, a former palace with numerous preserved chandeliers and wall decors. We had our usual orientation walk with tour leader Allesandro and marveled at the location of our hotel on the waterfront. The Grand Plaza down from our hotel is a favorite meeting place for residents and tourists alike.P1070747.JPGFor dinner we chose a local restaurant along the water down near our hotel called Martinato’s where we both enjoyed a plate of the best fried calamari we can remember. This was accompanied with a fresh lettuce and tomato salad and black bread.  We then enjoyed another walk along the waterfront to the Grand Plaza which was busy with European tourists and families enjoying the evening.

July 28  Saturday

Today we enjoyed a city tour. Our first stop was the Roman theatre of 1 AD which would have seated 8,000 people. The city has been populated from 8 BC. The early populace were Iliac people or early Croations. From the top of a hill we could see 3 countries: Slovenia,Croatia and the Austrian alps. This geographical proximity contributed to the successful growth of Trieste. The Roman forum overlooked the city . Trieste is renowned for its coffee going  back in history to when it was introduced into Europe from the East through this port. Warren’s research identified Caffee Torinese as the most well-known. We visited this simple setting twice and enjoyed superb espresso.

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In the evening we had a discussion about Trieste’s painful past history and the foiba massacres. A foiba is a type of sinkhole formed when karst limestone absorbs water and forms a depression in the earth. The history of the use of these foiba is separated into two pasts.

From September to October 1943 the Germans occupied the Austrian literal. Tito occupied the hinterland. He wanted to become head of the country. Uncontrolled killing of all opponents in which 500-800 people disappeared in one month was reported. It is believed the bodies were tossed into the foiba. In November Hitler occupied this area and Tito retreated.

From May to June 1944 the allies began to move into this area trying to reach Trieste. Partisans came down from the mountains and liberated Trieste. Tito began an escalation of terror deporting individuals to concentration camps and the foiba slaughters continued. It is estimated that 1,000-2,000 people were slaughtered.

After much more killing and  negotiation the Paris Treaty of 1947 declared Trieste a  free territory.

That evening we enjoyed dinner at Angelina’s. This small, intimate restaurant on a Trieste side street is well known in the area. Warren had breaded anchovies and Marilyn had orchette with squid, tomato and olives. Both meals were delicious . Dessert was a lovely orange cake. After dinner we walked to the Grand Plaza and then out to the “mall”, a projection into the bay, where Warren took night photos.

Sunday July 29

Today was a tour of the Istra villages in Croatia. Passing though customs took some time since Sunday is a time for weekend visits. The villages we visited were Motovun and Groznjan. This area is called the Tuscany of Istra and with its hilltop villages it certainly is reminiscent. We first visited Motovun, a town of 531 persons, where we enjoyed an espresso and photo time. We then drove to a home where the family is known for its production of truffle products. The “truffle dogs” were thrilled to greet us and we settled down to hear all about the family and their produce. The mother was a bustling woman who was busily preparing a meal for another group when we arrived. She greeted us and welcomed us to be seated in an outside area. Her husband and the dogs gather truffles on a regular schedule. P1070767.JPGShe explained to us about the summer and winter truffles and the values of each. We were then treated to a variety of truffle products including cheeses and sausage as well as spreads, all of which were delicious. She then prepared scrambled eggs with truffles for us all which were divine. P1070768.JPGDessert was a cake with honey and truffles drizzled over the top. A most unique and tasty experience.

We then proceeded to Groznjan, another hilltop village, where we walked about and continued to take photos. P1070764.JPGThe drive back was long due to traffic but another opportunity to enjoy the scenery. After a rest we walked back to Martinato’s where we split a pizza and enjoyed a local beer. Of course this was followed by gelato.

Monday July 30

Today was the transfer to Venice and the beginning of the main tour. We enjoyed driving along the Strada del Vino with its acres of vineyards. We stopped to visit a vineyard. This region is noted for its white wines.  Many white wine grapes originate here and are exported throughout the country. This region is located near the Slovenian border and the Southern Alps. Originally the area was at or below sea level and the soil contains important minerals. The consistency of the soil allows the roots of the grapes to grow 4-5 meters into the rich soil. All the vineyards in this region are small family owned plots unlike California where there are larger scale productions. This local process does not use any heat but all wines are cold pressed and fermented at about 60 degrees F.  After 8 months the wine is tasted. Reserve wine is produced from the higher elevation vines. The wine is stored in barrels for 2 years and then 6 months in the bottle. No pesticides are used in the grape growing process. Barrels are light charred. One plant can produce 4 pounds of grapes. We then enjoyed a tasting. We sampled Ribolla Gialla, Savignon and Schiopettino. Lunch included parmesan and goat cheeses, prosciutto, beet root, melon, and ham and then pasta with sea bass, peas and tomatoes. Dessert was pie with cream and a fruit mousse followed by espresso. A great treat.

We then proceeded to Venice where we took a water taxi to the hotel, Palace Giovanelli, located on the Grand Canal. From our hotel room we had a view of a side Canal. P1070783.jpg We were met by Ilaria, our tour manager, whom we enjoyed immensely.

In the early evening we met the rest of the 24 people on our ship and then walked about the area of our hotel exploring the small calle and squares. For dinner we shared a clam pasta with draft beer. Gelato was enjoyed as we walked back to the hotel.

July 31 Tuesday

Today began our tour of Venice. After taking a water taxi to Rialto Mercado we began our walking tour.

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Rialto Bridge

We met our local guide, Marco, who had a great sense of humor and knowledge of the city. There are currently 51,000 residents in Venice. This number is declining each year due to the cost of living and the crowds of tourists which numbered 26 million last year. There is currently 1 resident to 7 tourists in the city.

Marco pointed out the Bridge of Sighs and explained that this was the sight that prisoners would last see as they moved from the prison to the Doges Palace and execution. We then moved on to St. Mark’s and a visit to the Basilica. P1070809.JPGThe ceiling mosaics and the 24 carat gold decorations are breathtaking. P1070813.jpgThe buildings along the Grand Canal were covered with frescoes some of which have been damaged  due to the humidity . P1070827.JPGP1070907.JPGWe then went to the top of a commercial building for a panoramic view of the city. After our tour we enjoyed an espresso and a sandwich and then hopped on a water taxi to ride to the end of the canal and back to  the hotel stop.

This afternoon we had a presentation about the MOSE project. This project was begun a number of years ago to address the rising waters and the flooding of Venice. In 1966 there was a flood that totally closed the city for 1 week. The Venetian lagoon receives waters from rivers flowing from the Dolomites to the Adriatic Sea. From 1925 to 1965 there were 21 floods in Venice. From 1966 to 2010 there were 191 floods. Today Venice floods about 100 times per year. There are many factors that contribute to these floods: astronomical effects, geophysical, meteorological, human intervention such as construction fills and deepening of channels to allow huge cruise liners to enter, global warming which increases the water levels, and land reclamation. All of these factors contribute to water rushing into the canals. In 1966 a plan, MOSE, was developed to block the water entering the lagoon. This plan was to begin implementation in 2022 or later. A Consortium of Engineering was organized and construction began in 2004. As is often the result, the cost of money to pay for this project increased and due to corruption money disappeared. 78 individual floodgates were designed to be placed on a moveable barrier at 3 inlets from the lagoons. The hinges of the gates have already rusted on these colossal structures requiring over a million dollars in repairs.  In 2013 there were arrests of officials who had squandered $266 million dollars. In 2014 a National anti-corruption authority was appointed . The current MOSE project is identifying worrisome erosion in the lagoon as well as an increase of an estimated 6 billion 700 million dollars to complete the project. Our speaker although very pessimistic believes that this project is the only current plan which may be able to save the city.

After our welcome dinner, we rode the water taxi with friends to take night photos of the canal and St. Mark’s. P1070876.JPGP1070891.JPGTomorrow we leave Venice to board our small ship, Arethusa.

Wednesday  August 1

Today we boarded a private boat to visit Torcello and Burano islands in the Venetian Lagoon. The boat ride was a delight with panoramic views of the lagoon, fishing boats and small islands some inhabited and many too small for any activity. We first visited Torcello, a small island with only 30 residents. The 7th century mosaics in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’Assunta were breathtaking. We then visited Burano which is part of an archipelago of 3 islands connected by bridges.

P1070932.JPGThis town of 16,000 inhabitants was a delightful experience with multi-colored homes nestled together along a busy thoroughfare offering many shops displaying lovely lace work, the handicraft of the area. We purchased a small framed piece of lace. Lunch was a delicious pasta carbonara for Warren and pasta bolognese for Marilyn at a local restaurant.

After our visit to Burano, we boarded the Arethusa, our small ship for the next 11 days . Our stateroom with a balcony was much bigger than the cabin on the river cruises and we were happy to leave the high temperatures behind for lovely air conditioning. After unpacking and relaxing we went up to the sundeck for a briefing by the safety officer and the safety drill. Then down to the lounge where we met the captain and staff of the ship. This is going to be a fun trip. The delicious welcome dinner included starters of parma ham and hot mushroom squares, the entree of veal and onion cake and a dessert of creme brûlée. We then went up on deck to enjoy our sail along the coast.P1080184.JPG

Thursday, August 2

Today we docked in Ravenna where we were bused into the center of town. Ravenna was the fifth-century seat of the Roman Empire and later a major city during the Byzantine era. We first drove through an industrial area with both natural gas and oil production. Ravenna is one of the most productive areas in Italy with many employment opportunities. The area receives 3 million tourists per year. Built on a lagoon, the city has  8 UNESCO sites. We began our walking tour of the city viewing the tomb of Dante with its mausoleum . P1080013.jpgDante finished his Divine Comedy here in 1317 after being exiled from his hometown of Florence in 1302 , Dante’s story about Hell and the first of his three-part Divine Comedy include references to the men who exiled him from Florence. We saw where the monks hid his body when  200 years later a papal order demanded that his remains be returned to Florence. Instead the monks sent an empty casket to Florence. Ravenna is the mosaic capital of Italy and we were able to view many of these masterpieces in the church of San Vitale. It took 25 years to build this structure completed in 476 AD and 15 years to complete the mosaics found within.

Ravenna has a population of 90,000 within the city. We also visited the St, Francis Church built in the 15th century with its original flooring. The crypt which is below seal level exhibits goldfish placidly swimming in the pool. The water level rises 1 inch per year. Dante’s funeral was held here and the flooded crypt reminds us of Dante’s words in the Divine Comedy of meeting his friends in the Afterworld.P1080016.JPG

Our next stop was to the Orthodox Baptistry, the most ancient monument in the city. It was partly erected over a Roman bath from the end of the 4th to the beginning of the 5th century AD. The mosaics we viewed were added at the end of the 5th century. In the 1400 year old Basilica di San Vitale appears some of the most outstanding mosaics. Byzantine Emperor Justinian conquered Spain, North Africa and most of Italy. His powerful, Empress Theodora, essentially acted as co-regent substantially increasing the rights of women.

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Emperor Justinian
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Empress Theodora

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Our lunch was at a local restaurant where we sampled an amazing cheese spread called squagarone and a delicious salad. We then returned to the ship for a rest before meeting with our shipmates. This was a meeting to recognize Inner Circle Members. Warren and I were recognized for our completed 21 trips and received gifts from Ilaria. We then had a demonstration by our tour managers, Ilaria and Mirza showing us how to make Limoncello.P1080042.JPG

Friday August 3

Today we docked in the port of San Marino. San Marino is the fifth smallest nation in the world after Yalu, Nauru, Monaco and Vatican City. It is also the third smallest country in Europe with only 30,000 resident. This tiny nation was founded in the first half of the fourth century. It is a mountainous micro state surrounded by north-central Italy. Its  capital, also called San Marino, is well known for its medieval walled old town and narrow cobblestone streets. The population of the city is 33,000; it sits at an elevation of 1900 feet. The center of the city is a UNESCO site selected due to its independence and neutrality during the wars, Its settlement began in 301 AD . The city has a unique political system. Two individuals are elected from the parliament to be presidents for 6 months. Currently one of the presidents is 28 years old and female. After 6 months the individuals return to their former status in parliament. During their presidency they cannot handle any money and cannot drive a vehicle. Any person elected president has to wait 3 years before serving again. In 1918 Ernest Hemingway was hospitalized here at the field hospital. In the Basilica we observed a large seat within the narthex where the 2 presidents sit during services. There is no presidential palace since those elected live in their own homes. As president they receive 4,000 euros per month. After 40 years of working, a citizen’s pension is the same as their previous salary. Although not part of the EU there is a San Marino representative as part of the UN and the European Parliament. After a walk around the town we enjoyed a lunch of salad, bean soup, pork with mushrooms and chantilly cake for dessert.

Saturday, August 4

Today we stopped in Urbino 1500 feet above sea level. We observed the Ducal Palace which has 300 rooms. P1080058.JPGThis is where Renaissance artists and intellectuals shared ideas and talents. Raphael was born here in 1483. The active sharing of ideas and talents in this city has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. We were able to view  Titian and Raphael paintings. P1080090.jpgP1080077.JPGP1080076.JPGduring this visit.

For lunch we were driven up into the mountains passing by acres of sunflowers which are processed for the oil. Arriving at a farmhouse we were treated to an amazing lunch seated at outside tables. Starting with deep fried zucchini blossoms our lunch continued to artichoke quiche, bruschetta , artichoke lasagna, pork, grilled tomato and zucchini then followed by watermelon and apple strudel .Of course the whole meal was accompanied by red wine and then ended with limoncello. What a feast enhanced by spectacular views into the valley.

Sunday August 5

Today we docked at Ortona. Ortona was the site of one of the worst battles during WW II. In December 1943 Canadian and German armies clashed resulting in thousands of deaths among the soldiers and civilians  as well great damage to the city.  This is called the Forgotten Battle in which 1375 men under age 36 are buried in the cemetery.  The battle lasted 3 weeks from December 1st until the 28th. The city of Ortona received a gold medal by the Italian President for the 1314 civilian victims of the aerial and land bombings.P1080105.JPG

After walking about this now peaceful town we returned to the ship to prepare for our Home Hosted Lunch. Our hostess was Cinzia (Cynthia), a young Italian woman who was excited to tell us she had just been hired by Grand Circle to train to be a tour guide. We were driven to her home in two cars, our hostess and her friend. Mama and Papa were at the house to greet us. The lunch was spectacular. We began with appetizers of cheeses, pepperoni, pizza flore, and marinated vegetables. Just when we thought we were done, Mama served heaping bowls of homemade pasta with tomato sauce. Dessert consisted of fruit, cookies and cake. Delicious white wine was served throughout the meal. We had a great time conversing with Cinzia and her parents who did not speak English but were eager to communicate through body language and great smiles and laughs.P1080112.jpg

Returning to the ship  we were treated to a BBQ on the sundeck. An enjoyable musical performance capped off the evening.

Monday August 6

Today we departed for the Salt Flats of Margerita di Savoia. This is an agricultural area where we viewed many greenhouses growing tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. We walked out onto the salt pans. The clay in these pans is used in spas for clay masks. We were fortunate in this area to see numerous wild flamingoes in the shallow waters. As we have learned previously, flamingoes eat the krill found in the area. Krill contain carotene which gives these birds their spectacular pink colors. We also observed oyster catchers which appear to be called Knights of Italy in this area – they have long beaks and red legs.P1080128.JPG

We then drove to the area where the salt is collected. In 1979 conservation efforts  created a natural area of  11 acres. The whole area of evaporation in the salt pans is 9,000 acres. The salt zone is the largest in the world. The water in this area is quite pink and contains 4 1/2 feet of crystalized salt when evaporation is complete. When the salt is removed the remaining water is called “mother water” and is used in medical treatments for psoriasis and respiratory conditions. According to our guide it rarely rains in this area so the salt piles are not affected. 40% of the salt sold is bought by Scandinavia to use on roads while the rest is consumed in Italy.P1080135.JPGP1080142.JPG

We next visited Manfredonia to view the castle fortifications. This area was settled in ancient times by the Greeks. In 189 BC it was conquered by the Romans. In 1042 the Normans made it the seat of one of their twelve counties. The modern city of Manfredonia was built by King Manfred between 1256-1263. In 1620 it was destroyed by the Turks and only the castle and  parts of the wall were left.P1080165.JPGP1080161.JPG

Tuesday August 7

Today we visited a special Italian city, Alberobello. This city is filled with the famous Trulli homes which date back to the 14th century. In the 15th century , taxes were imposed upon the citizens by the King of Naples. The Counts of Conversano  ordered the peasants to build more trullis whose roofs could be removed thereby appearing to be sheds or animal shelters and therefore not taxable homes. On the roofs of these current trullis are painted symbols which may represent mystical, pagan and religious symbols. Many have crosses, evil eyes, stars and hearts. Once again we enjoyed walking the narrow hilly streets of this town. The trullis are recognized by UNESCO as a unique architecture.P1080168.JPGP1080172.JPG

We then drove to a typical Masseria or local farm where we observed antique olive presses and learned how olives were pressed in the early days. We also viewed one of the ancient olive trees on the property- about 500 years old. P1080181.JPGWe then tasted two types of olive oil, extra virgin and a later press. A lovely lunch was enjoyed including bread, a fava bean mix and bruschetta.

After our visit we walked about Monopoli and observed the Santa Maria della Madia Basilica. In 1107 this structure was begun but work was halted due to a lack of roof beams for the dome. In 1117 it is reported that a miracle occurred. A raft carrying an icon of the madonna drifted into the harbor. Using the boards from the raft the roof was completed. This was an amazingly beautiful structure which we spent time admiring and photographing.

Wednesday August 6

Today we spent on our own since the optional tour was to Matera which we had visited previously. We took the shuttle in to Monopoli and spent more time walking about the old streets, harbor and admiring the many historic buildings. P1080186.JPGWe went inside the Santa Maria del Suffragio church where we observed in a side corridor glass cases containing skeletons which appeared to be earlier bishops.P1080200.jpgP1080201.jpg A rather gruesome sight. We then enjoyed coffee and pastry at Cafe Roma{the best and most popular coffee shop} visiting with a grandmother{Nono} and her grandson who was fascinated with these people who spoke a funny language. A great morning.P1080204.JPG

In the afternoon we had a lecture by a Professor of Agronomy who is studying and reporting on a most upsetting topic. The olive trees of this region are being affected by killer bacteria called xylello fastidious which blocks the tubes within the tree carrying nutrients to the leaves and fruit. The tree eventually dies. Thousands of trees in Puglia are being infected. Olive oil production in Italy is 37% of the world output. More than 300 different species of trees are being affected. The tree dies within 5 years of infection. The disease began in Gallilope and apparently was carried from Costa Rica by ornamental plants shipped to nurseries. The bacteria is transmitted by sucking insects. The only control at the moment is to remove all infected trees plus all trees within 100 meters of the infected trees. Soil must be tilled in the spring to kill the larvae of the insects. At the moment 3 provinces are affected by the bacteria with more than  28% of the olive production at risk. This could result in a loss of more than 1 billion  dollars to the Italian economy.

Thursday August 9

Today we visited Otranto, a city of 5,000 people. On August 9, 1480 Ottoman Turks attacked the port of Otranto killing nearly 12,000 people They launched huge stone balls hurled with catapults against the city. 800 men were taken by the Turks and martyred when they refused to convert to Islam. After a year the Ottomans left. Our tour took us to the Cathedral of Otranto where we viewed the 12th century mosaic floor. P1080217.jpgThe mosaic which encompasses the whole main floor and side aisles of the cathedral is a depiction of the Tree of Life. It took 2 years to build the masterpiece and was intended to be a tool to teach the theological itinerary of salvation from original sin to redemption. Images include iconography from the Old Testament as well as medieval myths and figures. The bones of martyred knights are interred behind the altar. A statue of the Madonna found washed up on the beach is still worshipped by local fishermen. We then returned to the ship where we will sailing out of the Adriatic Sea into the Ionian Sea.

This afternoon we had a guest speaker talk about the Meridion and the Mafia. The Mafia in Italy began as a vehicle for lords to protect their land and collect taxes. Called gabelloti these men were to oversee estates and insure imposed taxes were paid. As time went on these gabelloti began to take over lands of those not able to pay taxes. They later began to be seen as as a criminal organization. The US military utilized Mafia leaders in WWII to facilitate the invasion and occupation of Sicily. In the 1970’s the dealing of heroin had become a popular Mafia money maker. In 1980 the Corleone family began to consolidate power. They are still very powerful. Our speaker commented that many countries contain Mafia type organizations.

Friday  August 10

Today we sailed around the boot with reasonably calm seas ( 3 foot waves). A discussion was held this morning on the topic of Immigration here in Italy. Italy has a population of 60 million people. In 2017 119,247 immigrants arrived, 34% less than the previous year. Italy, Croatia and Greece allow pass through by immigrants to other EU countries. The EU provides funding of 35 euros daily for immigrant support some of which goes to individuals and some to reception center facilities. In 2015 65% of Italians favored accepting immigrants while today it is down to 16%. There exists abuse of immigrants by paying them as low 2 euros an hour for difficult agricultural work. There is currently 35% unemployment among young Italians resulting in insufficient funding of the national pension system.

After lunch and our docking in Siracusa, Sicily, we left the ship for a guided tour of the historic island  of Ortigya connected to the city of Siracusa by a narrow bridge. This is the historic heart of Siracusa. In 400 BC the city had a population 150,000. They defeated a mainland Greek invasion and became the most important city of Magna Grecia. It was the home of many powerful Greeks including Archimedes. At the end of the Duomo Plaza we were able to visit the church of Santa Lucia all Badia where we observed the painting of the Burial of Santa Lucia by Caravaggio. It was a most interesting visit to the heart of this ancient city. That evening we had entertainment on board by a flutist and an accordionist who were most enjoyable.

Saturday  August 11

Today many of us went up on deck early to watch the ship approach the beautiful Grand Harbor of Valletta, Malta. What a sight! P1080275.JPGIt was certainly worth the early wake-up. We left the ship immediately after breakfast to walk to the elevator which would take us up to the Bastions of the Old City. The fortifications on the old wall provided a breathtaking view of the harbor.P1080279.JPG Valletta was founded in the 16th century as a protective fortress for the Knights of St. John against the Ottoman Empire.The official name of the Knights of St. John is Hospitallier Order of St.  John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta.This order was created in Jerusalem and was continuously forced westward by the success of the Ottoman Turk invasions of the Holy Land and Rhodes. Jean de Valette, the Knights’ Grand Master had fought off an Ottoman invasion of Malta in previous years and ordered the creation of the fortified city to maintain his control. Walking about the city we enjoyed viewing the painting of the beheading of St. John by Caravaggio in the magnificent St. John’s Cathedral P1080320.JPGand visiting the 16th century palace of Casa Rocca Piccola with its many antiques and beautiful tapestries.P1080283.jpgP1080293.jpgP1080297.JPG The family of the prince still reside in private apartments within this lovely palace.

In the afternoon we had a discussion led by Dr. Roberta Lepre, a local lawyer, on gender equality in the country of Malta. She explained that in preparing to join the EU, Malta has examined the role of mothers and the prejudice which exists in the country towards pregnant women. An institution of Human Rights in Malta has been established to define gender equality, recognize and value the differences between men and women and the diversity between and among the genders. Education, health care, decent working conditions, representation in politics and economics are issues in which the country is making progress. The issue of abortion is a primary concern in which up to 400 women yearly go abroad for the procedure. A female journalist was recently killed after writing about controversial topics concerning gender equality. Education is the most important issue for improved gender equality. In contrast she stated that  LBGTQ acceptance is the best in the world.

Tonight was the Captain’s Dinner.  Warren and Marilyn were invited to sit at the Captain’s Table which as always was a treat. The Captain is a delightful gentleman from Croatia and spoke with each of us during the dinner. The meal was delicious with tenderloin followed by the customary Baked Alaska. In the evening some of us went up on deck to view the harbor lights and continue our visiting with good friends.

Sunday August 12

Today we disembarked our ship saying good-bye to the great crew whom we have enjoyed throughout our trip. After leaving the ship, we traveled to Mdina whose nickname is “the Silent City” since its thick fortifications limit access by vehicles. P1080342.JPGWe walked among the narrow streets lined with old palaces now private homes . Mdina’s history can be traced back 4,000 years. This was the former capital of Malta until a siege in 1566 moved the capital to Valletta where the Knights found easier access to the harbor for their ships.The chapel of St. Agatha is a small chapel dedicated to Saint Agatha who was tortured and had her breasts cut off. She is the patron saint of breast cancer survivors. St. Pauls Church was built here in 1600. It is believe that Paul was shipwrecked on Malta and spent some time on the island.  During WWII Malta accepted Jews who had no passports or visas and refused to deport them to Germany.

Monday August 13

Today we continued our tour of Malta’s cities. We first visited the enormous temple complex of Hagar Qim, “free standing boulders”. This World Heritage Site is believed to be older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids, dating back to 4500 to 3500BC. We spent time wandering about these massive ruins and marveled at the fact that this prehistoric site is still able to be viewed 6,000 years after its creation. It is believed that originally a colony of Siracusans came to Malta during neolithic times. In a 2nd group of dwellings they have found remnants of chambers underground where the dead were buried.  An awareness of Mother Nature seems to be indicated by obese fertility figures found dating to 4,000BC. Within the temples it is believed that fertility rituals and healing rituals were held. The temples were oriented to the solstices. In a final 3rd wave of discoveries, bronze age pieces have been found.P1080405.JPGP1080402.JPG

Tuesday August 14

Today we flew from Malta to begin our post-trip in Rome. As we prepared to land in Rome we were informed that the airport was closed due to severe storms. Our plane was diverted to Naples where we landed at the airport and proceeded to remain on the plane while the weather cleared. We arrived in Rome 2 hours later. After going to the hotel, we had a short walk around the area with our tour manager here in Rome, Daniella. Dinner was a delicious fettuccine with mushrooms. Our hotel Dei Mellini, is fine and our upgrade accommodations were a suite including a living room, 2 bathrooms and a large bedroom. Quite a treat.P1080431.JPG

Wednesday  August 15

Today we had a walking tour of the city with our local guide, Mara. Although this was reminiscent of our visit in 1961 it was good to see the sights again. We visited the Spanish Steps,P1080435.jpg walked by the Parthenon which was too crowded to wait in line and on to The Trevi Fountain. This magnificent sculpture is so beautiful. Mara pointed out the two horses, one calm and one angry to represent the two faces of man. Neptune standing in the shell in the center is believed to represent God. The stones for this marble masterpiece came from Tivoli. Mara related to us an interesting story. During the construction of this fountain, a cobbler whose shop was beside the fountain complained about the noise and dust created by the work. When the work was completed a large untouched slab of marble was placed in front of the cobbler’s shop window so that he was unable to view the fountain.P1080441.jpgP1080448.JPG

In the afternoon we were able to return to the Parthenon and enter this amazing Roman temple first commissioned  by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. It was rebuilt after lightening destroyed the original. It is now a Catholic church.The amazing dome is breathtaking and worth a long visit. P1080512.JPG We next walked to Piazza Narvona which was built over the Dominican, a Greek sports stadium. The center piece of this square is the Fountain of Four Rivers designed by Bernini. Sculpted on this massive fountain are four statues representing four great rivers – The Ganges in Asia; The Danube in Europe with the figure touching the symbol of the Vatican and coat of arms of the family funding the fountain; Rio Plata in Argentina representing the Americas with a statue on a pile of golden coins and the Nile River representing Africa with cloth covering the face of the figure signifying the unknown source of the river.P1080467.JPG

After lunch with our friends, Larry and Molly, we walked back along the Tiber river which was a lovely shaded walk giving relief from the heat. After a rest we spent time in the lounge with the rest of our small post trip group. . We then found a great new fish restaurant that Danielle had not known previously. She shared a beer with us while we decided on our orders. Warren and Marilyn shared a crepe with lobster and shrimp in a creamy vodka sauce – spectacular.

Thursday, August 16

Today we were on our own to continue exploring Rome. We first took a taxi to Venezia Piazza with the massive Victor Emmanuel Monument. P1080470.JPGThis monument was begun in 1885 and inaugurated in 1911 in honor of Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, the first king of a unified Italy. The king is depicted on a equestrian statue oversized like the monument itself. It is apparently not particularly popular with the citizens of Rome and is called by some the “wedding cake” for its massive white marble columns and stairs. We then visited the Capital, the citadel of ancient Rome. We walked up the great staircase designed by Michelangelo which leads to the Piazza del Campidoglio. The geometric paving and the facades of the building were all designed by Michelangelo. From the Capital we walked to the Forum to view the immense ruins .

P1080476.JPGThe forum was the center of of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome. As the population increased the original forum became too small and in 46 BC Caesar built a new one . This precedence was repeated by emperors to follow. Triumpal arches were built in each emperor’s honor and nearby Vespasian built the Colosseum. Today we can still view many of the remains including the Temple of Saturn, basilicas and arches.P1080492.JPGP1080505.JPGP1080510.JPG

We then walked back to the Parthenon and then to the Eglise Saint Louis des Francais which we had not been able to visit the previous day. Here we were able to view 3 Caravaggio paintings. Then  to Plaza de Poppolo to visit Santa Maria del Popolo commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV in 1472. This is one of Romes greatest stores of artistic treasures. Here we viewed two more Caravaggio paintings,  The Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter.P1080522.jpgP1080523.jpgP1080529.JPGP1080534.jpg

It was lunch time and we enjoyed a salad at a small cafe off the square. We then walked back to the Corso Condotti, a familiar street at this point in our wanderings, to visit Caffe Greco, opened in 1760 by a Greek thus the name. It was a favorite haunt of famous foreign artists and writers including Keats, Byron and Goethe as well as musicians Liszt and Wagner. We entered and were ushered to a table in a large room covered with paintings and etchings. Tuxedo attired waiters waited on the numerous customers. Our double espresso was not elegant but the surroundings and delicious chocolate cake made up for the coffee.P1080544.JPGP1080547.JPG

We walked back to the hotel after a full day of visiting Rome. We walked 4.4 miles today and saw superb ruins and architecture as well as 5 Caravaggio works of art – quite a day.

This evening was our farewell dinner with a starter of ravioli with ricotta followed by chicken with peppers and tomato sauce. Straticelli ice cream was the dessert. Throughout the meal we were entertained by a trio of musicians who were delightful.

Friday August 17

Today was our last day in Rome and we were once again on our own. We began by visiting Largo Argentina with the ruins of 4 temples and  Pompey’s Theatre from 3 BC. this is the spot where Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC. The ruins were discovered in 1920 and are now home to a large number of cats who are fed daily by dedicated women of the area. The temples are named A,B,C and D since it is not know to whom they were dedicated. It was amazing to us to view ruins from the 3rd century BC still standing for us to view.P1080564.JPGP1080566.JPG

We then moved on to the ruins of the Theatre of Marcellus and the Portico of Octavio. The theatre is a massive amphitheater built by Emperor Augustus in 27 BC to 14 AD who dedicated the building to his nephew Marcellus who had died at the age of 19 in 23 BC.P1080584.JPG The Portico of Octavio next to the amphitheater was built in honor of Octavia, the sister of Augustus and the abandoned wife of Mark Anthony. The rectangular portico had enclosed temples dedicated to Jupiter and Juno. P1080579.JPGAfter walking back to Victor Immanuel we walked to the Parthenon and to Tazze d’Oro for coffee, top rated in Rome.The cafe was a serious coffee shop roasting its own blends with no frills but excellent espresso which we enjoyed sitting on the only bench in the busy establishment. P1080598.JPGAfter a lunch of pizza we walked to the Piazza di Sant’Ignazio and the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj both of which represent the height of the Rococo Period in Roman architecture.  In the church of Sant’Ignazio was an incredible creche designed by a Naples artist in porcelain expanding the traditional manger scene to include common people at work. P1080607.JPGWe began walking back when the approaching thunderstorm convinced us to hail a taxi as soon as possible. We entered the cab just as the skies opened up .

After meeting up with our group in the lounge we waited for the rain to stop before venturing back to the fish restaurant, Baarbi, for our final dinner together. The owner and waiter of the restaurant welcomed us back and put on quite a dinner for us all. We started with an antipasto of salmon, fish cake, fried anchovies, mussels and tuna with marinated onion. Both Warren and Marilyn repeated the previous meal of crepes with lobster, salmon and shrimp in a creamy vodka sauce. We were then treated to fresh cannoli, best ever, and Marsala. What a great finale to another wonderful trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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