A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

Sailing Through History VI-Naples, Sorrento & Pompeii

Beautiful Southern Italy and Visions of a Volcano's Distructive Power

The third day of our 12 day Eastern Mediterranean Cruise found us in the port of Naples Italy. Naples, Napoli in Italian, is the third most-populated city in Italy and the biggest city in Southern Italy. Its close proximity to many interesting sites, such as Pompeii and Sorrento, made it a good base for exploring the area. Naples is a lively and vibrant city, full of wonderful historical and artistic treasures and narrow, winding streets with small shops. With so much to see in the area, I made the decision to select a tour that would take us to the most interesting sites nearby, the coastal resort town of Sorrento and the Pompei ruins near the famous Mount Vesuvius.

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Sorrento, just across the bay from Naples and Salerno, is a resort town, with fancy shops, exquisite views and rock-strewn beaches as its prime attractions. The drive from Naples to Sorrento along the Amalifi coast was beautiful and somewhat nerve wracking. The two lane road along the coast was very narrow and there was lots of traffic and no discernible traffic control system in place. We had a very experienced driver, so I occupied myself with looking out the window of our tour bus at the stunning scenery.

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Our first stop in Sorrento was a lovely little farm up in the hills above the town. Our tour guide Massimo promised us a unique and different tour that would include sampling locally grown olives, tomatoes, hand pressed olive oil and freshly made mozzarella cheese. What a wonderful experience it was! The owner of the farm gave us a tour and then provided a demonstration of how fresh mozzarella cheese is made by hand. After the demonstration we were lead to a covered patio where we were offered samples of cheese and fresh tomatoes drizzled with the olive oil pressed at the farm. Wow, it was so good! I bought some olive oil to take home and then made my way back to our bus with the rest of the tour group.

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After boarding the bus, I had to laugh out loud when our tour guide approached me and Yolonda to inquire as to the source of our “accents”. “Where are you from?” he asked in his heavy Italian “accent”. “I love your accent, I have never heard it before” he said. We told him we were from the American south, Alabama and Georgia. “Ah” he said, “very nice, I like it!” We found him extremely funny and very charming (my husband did not).

Leaving the farm we made our way back into Sorrento where we stopped to do some shopping. I walked around the shop for a little while, not buying much, and then found a nice bench in the sunshine to wait for our group to meet up to go to lunch. We had lunch in a very nice restaurant that opened just for our group. The fresh pasta dishes, salad and wine hit the spot before we headed out again for our last stop of the day, the ruins of Pompeii.

Pompeii, an exclusive resort town prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, is a wonder to behold. All that is left are visions of lives cut short by the eruption of this massive volcano, still active, just 3 miles away. Historians suggest that warnings of the eruption were evident just before lava and pumice cut through Pompeii's streets. The remains of this vivid and effusive city show a place of wealth and splendor. It is believed that a portion of the bodies buried here were citizens caught in nature's fury while collecting their fortunes before leaving. Elegant villas buried for centuries feature rich courtyards, damaged paintings and other artifacts. Massimo gathered us all together before we climbed a hill to enter the site, and described in chilling detail the day the volcano erupted. I could almost see the hot ash in the air and the fleeing people as they tried to escape certain death. With a good hour of walking before us, Mom and Yolonda decided to sit this one out at a nearby café on the grounds of the site, while Reginald and I followed Massimo and our group up the hill and on the grounds of the lost city.

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The view from Pompeii was amazing, the weather was perfect to see the mountains in the distance and I was surprised at how vast the excavation was. The city was huge. As we walked along the paths, I tried to imagine what Pompeii had been like in its heyday. Of course, the things I will never forget are the bodies. Bodies carefully uncovered and preserved, frozen in death from the heat, ash and gas from the volcano. It was truly fascinating to see. The historian in me wanted to remain at the ruins a lot longer that we had to stay. Reluctantly with lots of photos and some video to review later, I slowly followed our group back down the hill to our tour bus for the drive back to Naples.

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To say that we were all very tired from 3 long days of touring Italy is an understatement. But what I had seen and heard would stay with me forever. That night as we sailed out of port we would be headed to our first port in Greece after a day at sea to relax and regroup. I was excited about our next adventure in the next port of call, but I intended to do a great deal of sleeping before we arrived!

Coming next, Mykonos, Greece and a visit to Turkey.

To be continued......

Posted by Gerriv 17:39 Comments (2)

Sailing Through History V-Florence and Pisa, Italy

A walking Tour into Italy's Past

If there is a city in the world that can be called a "work of art" in my opinion, it is Florence, Italy. Florence, the capital of the region of Tuscany, has a population of around half a million inhabitants. The city spreads on the banks of the Arno, between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian seas, almost in the middle of the Italian peninsula. It is a city known for commerce and culture, art and science. Florence is one of the most beautiful and ancient cities in Italy and the world. It gave to birth many of the men who have more profoundly influenced the course of human history in every field of knowledge, art, literature and philosophy. Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci all left their mark on Florence. Florence is known as the "cradle of the Renaissance for its monuments, churches and buildings. The best-known site and crowning architectural jewel of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo. Michelangelo's David stands behind the doors of the Galleria dell'Accademia, and works by da Vinci and other Italian masters can be found in the Uffizi Gallery.

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We began our day in Tuscany with a drive through the wine region. Mile after mile of vineyards and farm land could be seen through the large windows of our tour bus. On the outskirts of Florence I could see the bridge over the Arno river and then the buildings came into view.

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The tour bus dropped us off near the central part of the city, the streets were very narrow and there were lots of people milling around. Our tour guide gave us a few minutes to take photos in the plaza, so I took that opportunity to duck into a small restaurant to buy an espresso.
The weather was perfect that morning, sunny and warm and there were tables and chairs in the plaza where one could sit and drink their coffee and enjoy the views. The was even a carrousel there for children of all ages to enjoy.

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Our guide described the amazing history of Florence as we walked as a group down the street behind her. When we crossed a busy street and turned a corner, I stopped dead in my tracks on the sidewalk, totally stunned at what I was seeing. Never before had I seen such ornately constructed buildings in my life! The art work was breathtaking!

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When I had recovered my equilibrium, I started taking lots of photos as our tour guide led us to the Duomo and the Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) the principal Franciscan church in Florence, and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, just south east of the Duomo. I found the site totally fascinating because it is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians in history, Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. Our tour included entry into the Basilica, so I was actually able to see the tombs of these famous and infamous men.

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Upon leaving the Basilica we walked a few streets over to a small restaurant where we stopped for lunch. One of my goals on this trip was to sample the native cuisine of the area and I was really glad our tour included this fantastic meal. We all sat down family style to enjoy homemade lasagna and other pasta dishes with bread and lots of Italian wine. The food was so good! By the time lunch was over we were barely able to walk back to our tour bus for the trip to Pisa that would round out our day.

The drive to Pisa did not take long. Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Ligurian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa. Although Pisa is known worldwide for its Leaning Tower (the bell tower of the city's cathedral), the city of over 87,500 residents contains more than 20 other historic churches, several palaces and various bridges across the River Arno. The city is also home of the University of Pisa, which has a history going back to the 12th century. Because of time constraints in getting back to the ship before sail away, our time in Pisa was short. The tour bus let us off for the long walk to the site of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and we struggled along, really tired now after all the activity and food in Florence.

I must say that the walk to the tower was well worth the struggle. The sight of the Tower was really beautiful in the afternoon sun. I took photos and just spent time gazing up at the structure, once again pondering the winds of fate that had brought me to a place I thought I would never see in my lifetime. All to soon it was time to go. We slowly made our way back to the tour bus, taking time to buy some mementos to take home. Our visit to Tuscany had been wondrous, and now it was time to move on.

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Coming next, the lost city of Pompeii and the Almalfi Coast of Italy.

To be continued.......

Posted by Gerriv 17:47 Comments (0)

Sailing Through History IV- Monte Carlo, Nice & Cannes

The Delights of the French Rivera

The trip to the Italian cruise ship port of Civitavecchia took about an hour. Rome is not actually on the Mediterranean Sea. It is located on the Tiber River, and the Tiber is too small for cruise ships to sail on, so cruise passengers are transferred to this port to board their ship. It was a nice sunny afternoon when we arrived at the berth of the Emerald Princess and it surprisingly took only about 30 minutes to get our cruise cards and board the ship.

The Emerald Princess was brand new and it showed. This was only the second sailing of the luxury liner and I had booked two adjoining mini-suite accommodations for the four of us. The Emerald Princess Atrium and Piazza is the center of activity on the ship and as we entered this area on deck 5, I found the stunning brass, marble and glass decor a delight.

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Our mini suites had king and two twin beds with a separate seating area, two television sets and large bathroom with a tub. We would be more than comfortable for the next 12 days on the ship.

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After depositing our carryon luggage in our cabins, the next order of business was lunch in the Horizon Court buffet on deck 15 where we could look out through the wall to wall windows at the port.

Satisfied from a great meal for lunch, I explored the ship and then headed down to our suite for some rest and relaxation before sail away and dinner. The rest of the evening flew by and we turned in for bed excited about arriving at our first port of call, Monte Carlo, Monaco, the next morning.

In what seemed to be to me, the middle of the night, I woke up and looked at the clock. It was already 6:30 am and Reginald was getting ready to hit the gym. We had an early morning tour scheduled for that day so I got dressed and headed up to the Horizon Court for breakfast. As I got off the elevator and walked through the doors of the buffet area, my jaw literally dropped. There, laid out before me was the gorgeous port of Monte Carlo, looking just like a picture post card. We had docked in the center of Monte Carlo and Monaco.

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Monaco is located between the South of France and Italy, right on the Mediterranean Ocean. Monaco is country of monarchy with Prince Albert II as head of state. The country is only about two squared kilometers in area, but still boasts a population of over 30,000 people, making it the most populated country in the world. Monaco is made up of several areas; Monte Carlo, Monaco-Ville, La Condamine, Fontvielle and Larvotto Beach. Monaco is well known for its tax haven status, and has a great deal to do with its exclusivity and appeal. It is also well known for tourism as a playground for the rich and famous, with its renowned Monte Carlo Casino. The Grand Prix is another major part of Monaco too, but it does boast many other exciting sports and activities.

I quickly finished my breakfast and hurried down to my cabin to get ready for the day. Reginald, Mom, Yolonda and I met our tour group on the dock and set off for a tour of the French Riviera. Our driver took us through the streets and sights of Monte Carlo while the tour guide described life among the rich and famous inhabiting the country. I was not surprised to learn that crime was extremely low in Monaco (because almost everyone has money there). We left Monaco and headed into France and drove along the beautiful coast to the city of Nice, France. Here we stopped to stretch our legs and wander around to see the sights.

The capital of the Riviera and fifth largest city in France, NICE lives off a glittering reputation. First popularized by English aristocrats in the eighteenth century, Nice has all the advantages of a major city: superb culture, wonderful street life and excellent shopping, eating and drinking, all set against a backdrop of blue skies, sparkling sea and beautiful flowers and greenery. We walked down the narrow streets, looking at the lovely buildings and enticing shops. I was dying for some more coffee since it was still fairly early, so we stepped inside a small coffee shop where I used the few French words that I remembered from my college language courses to order an expresso.

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After we had walked a while and purchased a few gifts to take home, we started back toward the group meeting spot. On a side street I found the most wonderful thing, a small wine shop that was having a sale! Totally excited to death about my find, I bought several bottles of French wine to take back to the ship for enjoyment later on. Leaving Nice, we drove further along the coastline to the famous city of Cannes where we stopped for lunch. Cannes (French pronunciation: [Kan] is one of the best-known cities of the French Riviera, a busy tourist destination and host of the annual Cannes Film Festival. The city is also famous for its various luxury shops, restaurants, and hotels. The restaurant chosen for our group lunch was right on the waterfront, near the marina loaded with large boats and more than a few yachts. We were served a delicious lunch including wine, and then were given more free time to see the city on foot. I climbed a long set of stairs to a lookout point and took several photos of the marina and the surrounding area. It was all just too beautiful and once again, I could not believe that I was on the French Rivera, in Cannes, enjoying wonderful food, wine and French hospitality.

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As our lovely day in Monaco and France came to an end, I looked out at the stunning scenery on the drive back to the ship and I marveled that I had spend time in a place that I had only dreamed about ever seeing. It's a long way from Alabama, USA to the French Rivera, and it was definitely worth every mile!

Coming next, a walking tour of Florence and Pisa, Italy. To be continued.....

Posted by Gerriv 10:22 Comments (2)

Sailing Through History Part III- Rome and Vatican City

An Escorted tour of Vatican City and Historic Landmarks

The morning of our last day in Rome was somewhat hectic. We were up early to set our luggage out to be collected and transported to the cruise port in Civitavecchia, a one hour ride south from Rome. After another nice breakfast with our fellow cruise passengers at the Marriott, we all headed out on an escorted tour of the historic sights of Rome and Vatican City. Our first stop on the tour was in an area near the famous Roman Colosseum where we would continue from there on foot.

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Our Italian guide lead us to the nearby San Pietro in Vincoli, a minor basilica in Rome that houses St. Peter's chains and Michelangelo's famous Moses statue. The basilica was first built in the middle of the 5th century to house the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem, given to Pope Leo I by Empress Eudoxia (wife of Emperor Valentinian III). This Basilica was somewhat small and intimate and there were services going on, so we took a few photos and moved on.

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From San Pietro in Vincoli we walked down the hill land across the street to the Colosseum. This impressive structure is well known around the world and I could not believe that I was actually standing in front of it. Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction was started between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus. Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public events. I was surprised to see some scaffolding in place along one side. Apparently the structure was damaged over the years and there was a painstaking effort of repair going on. From the Colosseum we walked to the Arch of Constantine. Dedicated by the Roman Senate in AD 315, the tenth anniversary of the emperor's reign, the Arch of Constantine commemorates the victory of Constantine over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312 for sole control of the Roman Empire in the west. I stood under the Arch for a long time just taking in the size and craftsmanship of it. Thinking about the Arch's age and historical significance gave me Goosebumps! To see something that I had only read about in history books was amazing.

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Our next stop on the tour was the Forum. The Roman Forum was the political and economic centre of Rome during the Republic. It emerged as such in the 7th century BC and maintained this position well into the Imperial period, when it was reduced to a monumental area. It was mostly abandoned at the end of the 4th century.

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Vatican City was next on the agenda after we left the Forum. The crowds were already lining up outside the MUSEI VATICANI or the Vatican Museums. The benefit of being on an escorted tour is that we were able to bypass the crowd and go straight inside after our guide gave us our tickets. Each of us had transceivers with earphones so that we could listen to our guide without his having to raise his voice while we were inside. I had to catch my breath as we entered the museum complex because what I saw inside was just incredible. Everywhere you looked there was stunning works of art everywhere. The ceiling above the walkway was unbelievable. I did not know where to look first, there was so much to see. Our guide Peter was wonderful. He knew exactly how to direct our attention to significant works, while at the same time telling us the fascinating history of the Vatican.

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The Vatican Museums are among the greatest museums in the world, since they display works from the immense collection built up by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries, including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. Pope Julius II founded the museums in the 16th century. The Sistine Chapel and the Stanze della Segnatura decorated by Raphael are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums. Just outside the entrance to the Sistine Chapel, our guide Peter stopped before a chart showing the various scenes painted by Michelangelo and other famous artists. We would not be allowed to take photographs inside the Chapel and the crowds would be almost shoulder to shoulder. Peter gave us specific instructions on what to look for once we were inside because we would not be allowed to stay very long and the guards would make sure that there was minimal to no talking at all. We slowly entered the Sistine Chapel and once again I was surprised at the reality of something I had only read about. The chapel was relatively small with high ceilings that were covered with artwork as were the walls. I could just imagine Michelangelo lying on his back for many years painting that magnificent ceiling.

All too soon we were ushered out of the Chapel and we moved on to Saint Peter's Basilica. This great building is the center of Christianity. The opulence of the building's interior bears testimony to the wealth of the catholic church in the 16th century. The largest church in the world, the basilica's dome is also the world's largest. The interior includes 45 altars. Some of the most important works in the church are the Pietà by Michelangelo, the papal altar by Bernini and the Throne of Saint Peter.

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We spent as much time as we could inside Saint Peter's Basilica before walking outside into Saint Peter's Square. Here was a scene I had watched for many years on television and once again I could not really believe that I was standing there seeing in for real. We walked around the square taking lots of video and photos before entering the gift shop and buying some gifts to take home. All in all it had been a most excellent day and pure nirvana for a history nut like me.

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Our time in Rome had all too quickly come to an end. It was time to board the bus that would take on to the cruise port where we would board the Emerald Princess later that day. There was still so much that I did not get to see! My only consolation was that I had thrown my coin into the Trevi Fountain, which meant I would one day return to Rome!

Next up: Sailing on the Emerald Princess and our first port of call, Monte Carlo.

To be continued......

Posted by Gerriv 15:24 Comments (2)

Sailing Through History II-The Treasures of Rome

Discovering Rome: History, Religion and Culture in Italy

Our second day in Rome began very early. After checking in for the cruise with the Princess Cruises representative stationed in the hotel lobby, we headed up to the rooftop restaurant for breakfast. It was a picture postcard gorgeous day! The restaurant on the roof of the hotel was a marvelous setting for breakfast. There were white linen covered tables all around the room, which was surrounded by large floor to ceiling windows. A nice buffet was set up so we sat down to a meal of coffee, eggs, bacon and delicious pastries. After we finished eating, we wandered outside to the rooftop terrace for a view of the city of Rome. The view was amazing!

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The views of central Rome, the Villa Borghese Park and the Vatican in the distance were wonderful. What I loved about Rome immediately was that it was so OLD. No skyscrapers or modern office towers filling the skyline. Just wonderful old architecture, historic sites, trees and greenery. Looking at the scene made me all the more anxious to head out to see the sights. We walked out of the hotel and started to cross the street. That's when I got my first taste of life in the city of Rome. The traffic was often heavy, fast and furious! Pedestrians have a hard time getting around Rome on foot without getting mowed down by a car or motorcycle. After a few false starts, we finally made it across the street and headed down the narrow streets toward our first stop, the Spanish Steps and the Piazza di Spagna.

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Upon reaching the Spanish Steps and the Piazza di Spagna (the people watching center of Rome) I noticed lots of work crews replacing the flowers that normally line the steps. There were still lots of people milling around, so we made our way down the steps into the Piazza and down the street toward the luxury shopping area. I loved the creative store fronts, the Valentino and Louis Vuitton shops were easy to recognize! We did not stop to shop. The value of the dollar in Italy made goods extremely expensive, so we kept walking and took in the sights with our cameras.

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We spent the rest of the morning walking along the streets of Rome, stopping for gelato and buying souvenirs. Our last stop before heading back to the hotel was the Trevi Fountain, the location of numerous movie scenes that I had seen growing up. Getting to the fountain was a little tricky, we found it tucked away behind some buildings. I was stunned at the number of people visiting the fountain. We had to almost squeeze through hordes of folks that seemed to be just "hanging out" there. I approached the pool at the bottom of the fountain with my coin in hand. As tradition requires, I threw the coin over my shoulder in to the fountain. This act would insure that I would return to Rome one day.

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After leaving Trevi Fountain, we hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel. It was shortly after lunchtime that we passed a Hard Rock Cafe near the Marriott. My husband insisted we go back and eat there. Lunch was good, but I was going to make sure I got some more authentic Italian food before we left Rome. Sure enough, we found a great place to eat dinner just down the street. My wonderful Mother treated us to a elegant meal of fresh seafood and pasta. Our waiter had the chef come out and prepare dessert tableside at the end of the meal. With all that food and wine I was ready for bed, so we strolled back to the hotel and turned in for the evening. Tomorrow we would be doing an escorted tour of ancient Rome and the Vatican. I could not wait!

To be continued........

Posted by Gerriv 17:29 Comments (0)

Sailing Through History

A trip thorough Italy, Greece, Turkey and France

As a child I had always loved Greek and Roman Mythology. Books, movies, you name it, I soaked it all up like a sponge. When I entered college, I majored in History in order to indulge in this particular passion even more. Years later, as I approached one of the "milestone" birthdays all women dread, I decided I need to do something 'BIG". After traveling to Australia 2 years before, I no longer feared traveling overseas. So once again, I chose to go out of my comfort zone and do something I had always dreamed of doing but had been reluctant to do before. I developed a way to combine my love of travel and my love of history. The result was my Birthday Cruise to the Eastern Mediterranean.

My travel companions on this journey were my dear Mom, my husband Reggie and by best friend since the cradle, Yolonda. I was more than a little surprised that my husband was willing to travel for more than two weeks with three women. But, since he never backed down from a challenge, he was game to go. I planned our itinerary with the utmost care. I wanted to see as much as possible in one trip, because I didn’t want to count on being able to return to Europe sometime in the future. I booked two adjoining cabins on a new Princess Cruises ship, the Emerald Princess, sailing the first week of May, just days after my birthday. We would begin our journey in the city of Rome and then sail to the ports of Monte Carlo, Monaco, Livorno (Florence, Italy) Naples, Italy, Mykonos, Greece, Kusadasi, Turkey, Santorini, Greece, Athens, Greece, Katakolon, Greece, Corfu, Greece and Venice, Italy. I booked hotel stays in Rome on the front end and Venice at the end of the 12 day cruise.

We departed Montgomery, Alabama on May 4th and after an uneventful overnight flight, we arrived in Rome on May 5th. Representatives from Princess Cruises picked us up at the airport and we were transferred through the Italian countryside to central Rome and the Marriott Grand Flora Hotel.

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The Marriott Grand Flora is a four star hotel located on Via Veneto, one of the most famous streets in Rome, in walking distance to the Villa Borghese, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, many restaurants, and short cab ride to Vatican and Coliseum. After checking in to our large comfortable rooms, we headed out on foot to find some place to eat lunch. The doorman was extremely helpful and directed us to a small restaurant right around the corner. We dined on homemade pasta and some wonderful veal and wine. After finishing our meal, we took a short walk down the Via Veneto taking in the beautiful spring weather and smelling the oranges hanging from the trees that lined the street.

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With jet lag quickly catching up to us, we headed back to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow we would set out early on foot to explore the treasures of Rome.

To be continued.........

Posted by Gerriv 09:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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