2013 GRAND VOYAGE MEDITERRANEAN

Voyages to Antiquity

Italy, Croatia, Vatican City, France, Spain, Monaco, Sicily (Italy), Corsica (France), Mallorca (Spain)

If you wish to skip down to Part II, Rome to Cannes, click here. or skip down to the latest updates, click here

I get back home from their Greek Isles cruise on April 25, then it is only 11 days later when I return to the Mediterranean area on May 6 to start this one. This cruise is a bit long - 24 days but is two shorter cruises back-to-back.

This is my 4th cruise on the Aegean Odyssey - my favorite "large" ship. I had booked my same cabin (415) but since it's my last cruise, and a much longer time onboard, I splurged and upgraded two classes (standard -> premium -> deluxe) to a much nicer cabin (538) which is actually preferable to the cabin on the Greek Islands cruise which is rated 1 category higher. Wow!! Apparently they aren't "sold out" so I was able to do it at a very reasonable price. Side and deck plans are at the end of the file. One nice thing about this cruise: there are only TWO days "At Sea." But several times we have to TENDER ashore: Korcula (1 day), Sorrento (2 days) and Cannes (1 day).

This is a cruise in the spirit of the Grand Tour. Visiting six countries over 23 days, this meticulously planned itinerary takes you on a fascinating journey through the artistic and cultural history of Europe: from the magnificent Greeks, through the Roman Empire, to the European Renaissance, and the Venetian Empire. The trip includes the galleries of Renaissance Florence, the mosaics of Monreale Cathedral in Sicily, the ruins of Imperial Rome and the architecture of Barcelona. Visit the medieval city of Carcassonne and the Papal Palace in Avignon, one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Other highlights are: Napoleon's island of exile Elba, the beautiful cliff-top town of Bonifacio in Corsica and Palma, the historic capital of Mallorca.

Part I: "... ITALY FROM DESIGNS BY MICHELANGELO"
Venice to Rome

Day 1, Monday, May 6 DEPARTURE
Depart North America for yet another trans-Atlantic flight. I just got back from Athens and now back to the same area - Venice. At least the air is "included." Since it is the usual late afternoon departure, I won't have to take the StuporShuttle until about 12:15. Voyages to Antiquity came up with an "impossible" schedule on Air France flying from Houston to Venice: a super short connection in Paris. So I used "Frequent Complainer" miles with United/LateHansa for an alternate schedule. AND - ITS BUSINESS CLASS. LaterI even got a small refund from Voyages for the unused part of their schedule, but keep my reservation on the original return flights. Then when I checked in, I received a pass to sit in the Lufthansa lounge in Houston while waiting for my flight. For this flight, I have to "climb upstairs" to the "second floor" since I'm on one of the new Airbus A380-800 super ultra jumbo cattle haulers whose seats have such complex controls that they have to provide an illustrated instruction manual.

LateHansa LH 441Houston - Frankfurt4:10P - 9:20A10:103:00

The trip goes well but the meals were just fair - the hotdog and fries I bought in the Houston airport were better.

Day 2, Tuesday, May 7 VENICE, Italy
Now that I have the new schedule, there should be no problem making the connection. Replacing both outbound flights with the same airline also saves having to re-check-in and also luggage hassles. My seat on this second flight, while listed as a Business Class, is actually an Economy class set of seats; they just don't put anyone in the middle seat. There are some delays (slow boarding and a mechanical problem with a door that wouldn't lock), but the flight is only for 1:20. We aren't too delayed in taking off from Frankfurt.

LateHansa 326Frankfurt - Venice12:20P - 1:40P1:2014:30

Arrive in Venice where I was supposed to take a private transfer since I bought my own air. Voyages wouldn't do a pre-trip reservation for their shuttle. HOWEVER: the private transfer person NEVER SHOWED UP. Since the flight was a bit late getting in, he should certainly have been there but nothing. I even walked back and forth in the greeting area for 10-15 minutes but still nothing. I think I should get a refund but probably won't. At least I save a €5 tip.

Fortunately there was a Voyages representative there meeting other guests on the trip and I was able to beg a transfer from her with no trouble. Weather: Tuesday, 60% chance of rain but not when we arrived; Wednesday, 50%.

Earlier information was that I/we would have to drive from the airport to a small boat/water taxi stop and take the water taxi across to the island, then walk a while to get to the docking area for the big ships. Wrong. There is a nice highway going from the mainland across to the islands: highway, mono-rail tram, and full train service. As it turns out, the Aegean Odyssey isn't docked in the new main/cruise ship harbor but in the older and smaller San Basilio port. I'm glad that at least we go directly to the Aegean Odyssey and my upgraded cabin rather than going through hotel hassles first. (Hooray! Not a hotel!) I even get to the ship in time to enjoy their "Embarkation Buffet" as a "linner" ("lunner") combination lunch and dinner.

The nice thing about being docked here, if we a) walk about 10-15 minutes to the terminal building, b) cross a drive area, and c) cross a small wooden bridge, we are in "the real" Venice. That will make it convenient to do some exploring of my own on Thursday. Enjoy two nights on board in Venice and do some excursions if it isn't raining before setting sail down the Adriatic. I'm glad it's not Istan(more)bull again.


Day 3, Wednesday, May 8 VENICE
(repeat) This is my 3rd trip to Venice, but it's been 9 years since the previous one. Whether you are seeing the great sites of Venice such as the Piazza San Marco (aka Piazza Pigeonne), the Bridge of Sighs and the Doge's Palace for the first time or revisiting these remarkable buildings, there is no better way to see them than with a morning's walking tour of this magnificent city.

The morning excursion (below) turned out to be, in simplified form: a) walk to the San Basilio water taxi port to board our large water taxi, b) cruise along for about 15 minutes to the taxi port nearest St Marks; c) walk along the waterfront crossing 4 small bridges; d) tour the Doge's Palace; e) walk back across those bridges to the water taxi port arriving just in time for the taxi departing; f) putt-putt back to San Basilio taxi port; g) walk back to the ship. We really saw almost nothing of Venice. Contrary to the description, there was no free time to look around - at least not if we made the long walk back to the taxi port to take the included water taxi ride back to the ship getting back about 1:45. I hope the evening is better.

After our very late lunch, the rest of the afternoon, what there is left of it, is at leisure. This evening, there is an exclusive visit to St Mark's for a private tour: not to be missed. The evening excursion wasn't fully booked, but since we didn't see the Basilica this morning since it wasn't included, the evening this is the only way we could see it (unless we wanted do our own tour and risk getting lost in the maze of paths and alleyways that makes up Venice itself. Even in "Piazza Pigeone" there were only a few feathered guests.

Our evening excursion to St. Mark's Basilica turned out to be very nice. We got to see it lit inside both by natural light (plenty of light at 7PM) and with the normal lighting. Our tour included getting into many of the areas that are closed to normal daytime tours. It was definitely an excellent excursion - as Voyages wrote - not to be missed. We return to the ship for a very late supper.

Enjoy our second night on board the Aegean Odyssey in Venice before tomorrow's optional excursion then setting sail down the Adriatic tomorrow afternoon about 2PM. (BLD)

HIGHLIGHTS OF VENICE L2 Whether it is your first time or fifteenth in Venice, it is easy to get lost amid the labyrinth of bridges, footpaths and waterways, but save that pleasure for later. On this walking tour, a knowledgeable guide will navigate the city for you, uncovering its treasures as he or she shares its tales. Travel by boat down the beautiful Guidecca Canal to the heart of Venice, St Mark's Square, and disembark at the bustling Riva degli Schiavoni. Stand in the regally proportioned square so famous for its pigeons and pealing bell towers. Sights here include the Campanile and the 15th- century clock tower where two huge bronze statues strike the hour.

Walk to St Mark's Basilica, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, and admire its façade mosaics and golden dome, both superbly restored to their original grandeur. Next, enjoy a guided tour of the Doge's Palace, a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece with pink marble exterior and lacy stone arches. For nearly a thousand years, this was the seat of Venetian government and the home of the Doges.

Admire the art-filled apartments and salons. In the Great Council Hall, Paradise by Domenico and Jacopo Tintoretto fills an entire wall, a witness to centuries of trials and intrigues. See the lagoon through the grillwork of the Bridge of Sighs, supposedly named for the convicts who crossed from court to prison, on a walk across to the old prison cells where Casanova once languished. After our visit to the Doge's Palace, you'll have free time to explore the shops and cafes around St Mark's Square.

ST MARKS BASILICA (evening visit) L2 If there is one memory to take home with you, it is the sight of St Mark's Basilica, the cathedral of Venice, and this is a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity the see this remarkable building at its very best. This evening, St Mark's will be reserved for Voyages to Antiquity guests who will be treated to a private tour and the breathtaking sight of the famous mosaics illuminated in a spectacular light show. The church was built in 828 as a tomb for Saint Mark, whose body was spirited out of Alexandria hidden in a casket of pork, a bit of intrigue you can see memorialized in the mosaics above the church door. After a 976 fire, the church was rebuilt and served as the Doge's private chapel. As such, it was a place of immense wealth and power that it became known as the Golden Church, or Chiesa d'Oro.

For example, the Four Horses of St Mark in front are replicas of the Roman sculptures inside, brought back by the Venetians after the sacking of Constantinople. These horses originally had giant rubies in their eye sockets. The interior reinforces the jewel-encrusted Byzantine effect with its galleries high above the naves, massive chandeliers and over 40,000 square feet of mosaics. Works by Tintoretto, Bellini and Mantegna - to mention a few - adorn the walls. The Treasury brims with wealth from centuries of conquest. A visit here is an unforgettable glimpse into the heights reached by La Serenissima, as The Most Serene Republic of Venice was called. Note: Guests are asked to cover legs and arms. Shorts, short skirts and sleeveless or tank tops are not allowed.

Day 4, Thursday, May 9 VENICE (- 2PM)
(repeat) The morning is at leisure with optional tours: a) Murano, Burano and Torcello, and b) Frari Church and Scuola di San Rocco. Both of these excursions are fully booked with a long waiting list on each. Luckily I made an early change in my plans - since we are using large 100+ pax water taxis with little problems boarding, etc., I decided to take the 3-island tour. Afterwards, the ship departs at 2PM.

Curiosity question: In Venice with no streets, just narrow twisted alleyways and many, many small bridges, how can you back up a complete, big 18-wheeler to your front door and unload it directly into your business or home? It's easy - load the complete 18-wheeler, cab and all, onto a barge and then back IT up to your front door.

The 3-island tour was long (5 hours) but we spent over half the time just putt-putting along across the lagoon. Our first stop was Murano where we got the usual short glass-blowing demonstration and then the expected hard-sell of their products. I did buy a bit, but that is all that we saw of this island - just the sales room. The second stop was Torcello, once populous but now a population of 30 (and some souvenir sellers who come across to get the tourist money). The church was really interesting - obviously very old and not the usual fine stonework, decorations, etc. I really wish we were allowed to take pictures inside. The last stop was Burano, a small island (mostly the town square and some short streets going off from it). It is a nice place to visit but nothing special. I did buy some small lace items, lace being their specialty. We made it back in time for a late lunch, and just before the ship is scheduled to head for Croatia.

MURANO, BURANO & TORCELLO (Optional $68 YES) L2 On this excursion we will viit three of the Venetian lagoon's islands, Murano, Burano, and Torcello; Murano is known for its world-famous glass-making and Burano renowned for its lace. Begin with a journey via a private water taxi along the beautiful Giudecca Canal.

We pass St. Mark's Basin, St. Giorgio Island, St. Elena Gardens and the Arsenal before crossing the lagoon to Murano. In Murano we visit a glass facgtory whee we will have the opportunity to see how the beautiful Murano glass is made. In the 15th century, Murano was the premier glass producing center in Europe. Master glass-blowers continue to create stunning works of art that are highly prized around the world. Thee will be a brief opportunity for shopping here before continuing across the lagoon to the island of Burano. Enjoy a walk through the streets of this charming and picgturesque island withits gaily painted houses and fishing boats. Burano is best known for its lce whichis extremely delicatge and time-consuming to creats. The last stop on this tour is Torcello, the "cradle" of Venetian civilization where we visit the Byzantine Cathedral, harboring the unique mosaic "The Universal Judgement." We then return back to the ship enjoying a leisurely boat journey back through the Giudecca Canal.

FRARI CHURCH AND SCUOLA DI SAN ROCCO (Optional $65) - NO L3 Admire 56 paintings by Tintoretto at the wealthiest scuola (confraternity house) in Venice and then visit what has been called the city's finest church, Santa Maria Gloriosa, known more simply as Frari. These two landmarks are the highlights of this guided walking tour which starts from the pier. The 16th-century Scuola Grande di S. Rocco was built in honor of St Roch who it was believed could protect Venetians against the dreaded plague. Construction began in 1515 and contributions from health-minded Venetians poured in, making San Rocco the city's richest scuola. The impressive Renaissance façade is the work of three architects, the grand marble staircase is by Scarpagnino and in 1564 Tintoretto won the commission to decorate the walls and ceilings.

As you walk the polychromatic marble floors beneath the gilt coffered ceilings, you will see such masterpieces as the Crucifixion, The Temptation of Christ and the Annunciation. Next continue to the massive Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. This church was originally built by Franciscan friars in the 13th century, and replaced in the 15th century. Step inside the Gothic exterior to discover a multitude of masterpieces, among them the Assumption of the Virgin and the Madonna of Ca' Pesaro, both by Titian. View an altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini in the sacristy, a wood figure of St John the Baptist in one of the two rare opposing choirs and the curious marble tomb designed by the 19th-century sculptor Canova.

Day 5, Friday, May 10 SPLIT, Croatia (8AM - Midnight)
(repeat) Split is a city situated in the Mediterranean Basin on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea, centered on the ancient Roman Palace of the Emperor Diocletian. The greater area of Split is home to many neighboring seaside towns and Split acts as an integral hub for the Apennine Peninsula and Adriatic islands. The history of Split dates back as far as the 6th century BC and is famous for the Diocletian Palace, constructed in AD 305, making it one of the oldest cities in the area.

The Croatian town of Split is home to one of the greatest of all Roman sites, the Palace of Diocletian. There will be a morning tour of this remarkable palace including the Temple of Jupiter and Diocletian's mausoleum. In the afternoon, there is the option of visiting one of the true gems of the Dalmatian coast, the delightful island of Trogir. I didn't take that tour since I've done it twice before. It was nice the first time; just so-so the second, so not again for the third time.

The visit to the Palace, although a repeat, was still very interesting. The only "problem:" there were far more steps than I remembered and those miserable (censored) QuietVox systems. Otherwise it was an excellent visit. I do wish we had had more free time on the excursion. Even though we had the afternoon "free" for independent exploration, the part of town I would have wanted to visit was too far from where the ship was docked for a convenient/easy walk and I had no interest in going back to the island of Trogir. All there was to do was to go back ashore and wander along the souvenir sellers stands and cruise company ticket offices. Grumble!!! (BLD)

PALACE OF DIOCLETIAN L2 When Emperor Diocletian shook up the Roman Empire by abdicating in 305AD, he had his retirement residence ready: a lavish palace he had just built in Salona, now Split, in his native Dalmatia. Visit this amazing palace complex that, when completed, held three temples, a massive mausoleum, and could accommodate 9,000 people. For an intimate perspective on how life was organized, this tour includes a walk through the palace cellars. The city of Split grew inside and around this palace, with the population retreating behind its walls when under attack, and then spilling out beyond them in times of peace. Today the Palace of Diocletian is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but don't expect a deserted ruin.

Discover instead a vibrant warren of museums, galleries, shops and restaurants mingled with medieval fortifications, pre-Romanesque churches and Gothic chapels. Renaissance palaces testify to a time when Split was a key port of the Venetian Republic. The tour visits Diocletian's massive octagonal mausoleum, converted into a cathedral in the 7th century and named after a Christian martyred during that emperor's persecutions. You'll also tour the city museum where 15th-century furnishings recapture aristocratic life in that period. Other sights include the palace's monumental Golden and Silver Gates and the columned Peristyle Square. Following the tour, there will be free time to visit the colorful local market or explore Split on your own.

ISLAND OF TROGIR (Optional $65) NO L2 Just 50 minutes from Split you can step into the Middle Ages on the delightful island of Trogir. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a remarkable example of urban continuity starting with the Greeks in 300BC who called the place Tragurion or Goat Island. They were followed by Romans, Byzantines and a litany of other conquerors. In the 13th century, the community flourished as an artistic center under the kings of Hungary, and continued to prosper after its 1409 sale to Venice as part of a 100,000-ducut deal.

Walk the stone streets of this delightful place, one of the true gems of the Dalmatian Coast, and you are confronted with the past at every turn. The street plan dates back to the Hellenistic era and is lined with architectural jewels that include weathered Romanesque churches, as well as outstanding Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period. Trogir's seductive charm can be found in even the tiniest details - the quiet courtyards, the carved doors and the coats-of-arms. From the bright blue face of the massive Clock Tower to the mullioned windows of Cipiko Palace, savor the charms of this very special place. Later, there will be free time to shop for Trogir embroidery or try some puènica s makom (poppy seed cake) in one of the local cafes.

Day 6, Saturday, May 11 KORCULA, Croatia (2PM - Midnight) TENDERING
This morning the ship cruises past the beautiful islands of Brac and Hvar (which we can't see much of due to the overcast) on the way to Korcula. Said to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, the small pine forested island of Korcula is home to some splendid Venetian architecture. It is one of the most attractive settlements on the coastline, jutting out from the mountains on its own peninsula. Surrounded by medieval walls, it is much like a small version of Dubrovnik which is one of my favorite cities on the Croatian coast. In the afternoon, visit the Cathedral St Mark, Abbey Treasury, Marco Polo's reputed birthplace

Contrary to early cruise documentation, this is another darn TENDER port of call and I've come to "hate" tendering. Also regrettably, the weather goes downhill and pretty much ruins the day. It has been a choppy-seas cruise the latter part of the morning with heavy overcast and forecast 80% chance of rain - which turns out to be accurate. It has been a morning with heavy overcast and forecast 80% chance of rain - which turns out to be accurate. For several reasons, I gave up and skipped this excursion: a) getting in and out of the tender in fairly rough weather; b) its raining; and c) lots of (slippery) steps throughout the entire area.

Later after the weather had cleared up a bit, I did go ashore for about an hour but it was still gloomy and without a guide, I just saw "things" rather than learning about them. All I managed was a few pictures from the ship - with lots of work using Paint Shop Pro.

GRUMBLE, GRUMBLE - many words censored. I was expecting this to be one of the highlight stops on the cruise. And now for the BAD NEWS: And now for the BAD NEWS: Tomorrow in Dubrovnik, the weather will be worse with rain definite and thunderstorms likely. GOOD NEWS: Late update: we DON'T have to use the tenders tomorrow in Dubrovnik; the Captain managed to get us a dock-side berthing. Now if only the weather will cooperate and be better than what is forecast (but it doesn't do much better.

WALKING TOUR OF KORCULA L2 From pirates to princes, Korcula has had many masters, all seeking to use this island to ease their passage along the Adriatic. The Greeks who first colonised the island in the 6th century called it "Black Corfu" because of the thick forests. Mythology provides an earlier 12th-century BC founder, the Trojan hero, Antenor. Much of Korcula's architecture dates from the 15th and 16th centuries when the island was part of the Republic of Venice. This walk takes us from the ship to Old Town with its Venetian towers, 14thcentury walls and fishbone layout, designed to take advantage of refreshing winds. Visit the impressive Cathedral of St Mark, which took over a century to erect, perched overlooking the town. Local stone masters left examples of their art in such details as the 15th-century lion portal, the island's boat wrights gave the main aisle the feel of a ship's interior and a splendid Tintoretto presides behind the altar.

The tour also visits the 14th-century Bishop's Palace, where the art collection includes works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Tiepolo. Next, at the 16th-century Gabrielli Palace, view the City Museum's array of Greek and Roman artifacts, as well as objects detailing the island's shipping history. Korcula lays claim to being the birthplace of Marco Polo in 1254, and our walk takes us by his family home. Some 22 centuries ago, when the island was a favourite resort for the Greeks, the writer Athenaios praised the local wine, so before our noon sailing, why not try a sip of the island's crisp white wine at a nearby cafe?

Day 7, Sunday, May 12 DUBROVNIC, Croatia (6AM - 8PM) TENDERING
(repeat) This is my 3rd visit to Dubrovnik but it's my favorite city along this coastline. Overnight, starting about 11PM, there is quite a bit of lightning and some thunder. The rain starts about midnight and although it slacks off some by early morning, the weather is breezy, very cool, and some wind-driven mist. It's not a good morning. I decided to skip the guided excursion and wait until the weather cleared later to only a gloomy, gray day with cold humidity. Then as yesterday, I did my own exploration going ashore just after lunch and almost made it back to the shuttle bus before it started raining again at 3. Luckily I was only few steps from the bus when it turned into a downpour so I just got wet but not drenched.

I took only a few pictures, and those were from the ship and needed "enhancement." I wish we could see the walled city itself from the ship, but it's around a large curve/bend in the shoreline from where the ship is docked. In fact we never saw the actual walled city from the ship (either when arriving or departing), and anyway, there wouldn't be that much to see from sea level. When I was here before on bus tours, we made scenic stops from high on the roads above Dubrovnik so that we could actually see how the city was situated. I did include in the pictures section a view of Dubrovnik from above - taken on the 2011 Discoveries trip. It has been a disappointing day but unlike Korcula which was new for me, at least I've been here before, so not seeing much in Korcula was the big disappointment.

The City of Dubrovnik truly is one of the pearls of the Adriatic. The walled city was the only city to rival Venice during the 15th and 16th centuries. Conquered by Napoleon in 1807, Dubrovnik was heavily shelled in 1991 during the break-up of Yugoslavia. Since then it has been rebuilt. Sightseeing in Dubrovnik features the magnificent fortifications including the 10th century city walls, the Baroque Church of St Blaise and the Cathedral which boasts Titian's Assumption over the main altar. It is a truly fascinating city. (BLD)

History note: Dubrovnik, then an independent state, was the first nation in the world to formally recognize the United States when it declared independence from Great Britain.

DUBROVNIC L2 Lord Byron called this majestic walled city "the pearl of the Adriatic," and it is easy to see why. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is held to be the best-preserved walled city in the Mediterranean with a seafront setting and dramatic mountain backdrop. The city skyline is a medley of bell towers, copper domes and massive 10th-century walls. Dubrovnik was founded in the 7th century AD and was a powerful independent republic from 1358 to 1808, when Napoleon conquered the city.

Today the city is an inspiration in self-resurrection. Despite a destructive earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik has managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Entering through the Pile Gate, this morning's walking tour of the Old Town takes you along the city's main street, the Stradun or Placa, once a sea channel connecting two ancient settlements. Visit the Dominican Monastery, home to a beautiful 15th-century Gothic cloister and the city's finest collection of Renaissance paintings. Next, the Franciscan Monastery is home to Europe's oldest pharmacy, founded in 1318 and still in existence. Your walk continues past such landmarks as the Sponza Palace with its elaborate stone exterior, the Baroque Church of St Blaise and Onofriou's Fountain. Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady, originally built in the 12th century, destroyed in the 1667 earthquake and triumphantly rebuilt. View Titian's Assumption over the main altar and, in the Treasury, one of Europe's finest collections of gold and silver, including the bejeweled skull of St Blaise. Following the tour there will be plenty of free time to explore the nooks and crannies of the Old Town.

Day 8, Monday, May 13 AT SEA
After we left Dubrovnik last night, there was a fair amount of rolling (not too bad, but …) and I saw a large stack of "Barf Bags" on the bar counter in the Lounge this morning and a bowl of "seasick pills" at the Reception Desk. At breakfast time, the wind is still quite strong (Strong Wind warnings are up) and the ship has a definite list to port from a cross-wind. It continues being a roll and pitch day all day. Otherwise, this is just one of "those" days. At least there are only two of them. There are a couple of interesting lectures scheduled, but otherwise all I can do is sit around and grumble to myself about the disappointing highlight stops of the cruise.

Day 9, Tuesday, May 14 SYRACUSE (Siracusa), Sicily, Italy (8AM - 2PM)
Sicily is a celebration of the greatest achievements of western civilization. With a thick tapestry of overlapping cultures and civilizations, Syracuse is one of Sicily's most visited cities. Settled by colonists from Corinth in 734BC, Syracuse was considered to be the most beautiful city in the ancient world, rivaling Athens in power and prestige. Under the control of the Demagogue Dionysius the Elder, the city reached its culmination, attracting notable figures such as Livy, Plato, Aeschylus and Archimedes and refining an urban culture that was to witness the birth of comic Greek theater.

In Syracuse our morning tour includes the Archaeological Area with the magnificent Greek theater, the "Ear of Dionysius", and the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. The archaeological area itself is a relatively easy area to get around since there are mostly semi-paved walkways rather than just ruins, stones, and not many (false) steps. There were the usual tourist groups/crowds (some other tourist ships are docked here also) and what seemed like at least 1000 or more school kids on some kind of "cultural field trip." They were in groups of about 50 (one bus load) and were just one group after another.We also stopped elsewhere in town at their truly excellent archaeological museum where we had either way too much or way too little time. Otherwise we had a nice visit today with very good, though warm, weather.

This afternoon we are encouraged to visit, on our own, the semi-island of Ortygia which is connected to mainland Sicily by three bridges. Landmarks include the Fontana Aretusa, an ancient water fountain. Legend states that the Goddess Artemis transformed her handmaiden, Aretusa, into a spring to protect her from unwanted attention for the river god Alpheus. The streets are crowded with pretty churches and with the Cathedral at the center. The Cathedral was once a Greek temple, converted into a church when the island was evangelized by St. Paul. Unfortunately since we were late starting our excursion this morning (both docking and paperwork delays), there was less than an hour available before we were scheduled to depart.

HISTORIC SIRACUSA L2 Many a conqueror set his sights on Syracuse, one of the largest and wealthiest cities of ancient Europe that, at the height of its power, rivaled Athens, Carthage and Rome. In 661, one of these invaders, Emperor Constans II, made it the capital of the Holy Roman Empire but that honor brought with it horrific imperial taxes. To pay them, we are told that wives became prostitutes, husbands were sold as slaves and children taken from their parents. The nightmare ended in 668AD when Constans was slain by a Greek bath attendant wielding a soap dish. Enjoy a walking tour of the city's outstanding collection of Greek and Roman ruins including the Roman Amphitheater of Augustus and the 2nd-century BC Altar of Hieron (where as many as 400 bulls were sacrificed at one time in celebration of the Eleutherian Feast).

Next, have a quick glance at the Latomie of Paradise, huge caverns that served as a source of stone for the city's monuments and also as a prison: 7,000 Athenian prisoners of war were held here in 413BC. One of the most impressive of these caverns is called the Ear of Dionysus in reference to its extraordinary formation and remarkable echo. The highlight of this tour is a visit to the 5th-century Greek theater where many of Aeschylus's tragedies were first staged. Complete your morning with a tour of the vast Paolo Orsi Museum, named after the noted archaeologist responsible for many discoveries on this island.

Day 10, Wednesday, May 15 PALERMO, Italy (7AM - )
Visit Palermo, to we see the Norman Royal Palace and Palatine Chapel, the perfect illustration of the Norman combination of Latin, Byzantine and Arab culture. The name "Palermo" derives from the Greek Panoremus meaning "always fit for landing," a testament to the island's important role in maritime history. Much of the city's historical heritage is hidden so be prepared to explore a maze of palaces, castles and churches with a unique medley of architectural design from various periods of history.

History note: One of the world's most famous mathematicians, Archimedes, was born here.

We now start two days of "ABC" (and "AGP"). There was quite a bit of rain overnight but no particularly rough seas; it stayed fairly calm. This morning, we have a drizzle rain and it is recommended that we take rain gear. This afternoon the rain is forecast to get worse so I'm glad I didn't sign up for the optional excursion to Segesta even though the "more intact" ruins are much more interesting for me than just ABC or AGP. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be very wet so I may well cancel out of the Monreale included excursion due to the long 20-25 minutes climb up the hill (see notes below).

For today's options, the first is included; the second, Segesta, is an extra cost option and a lot of the time is just driving so I'll skip it; the third, the Palazzo (AGP), just isn't that interesting for me to pay a bunch of $$ to visit. Tomorrow we have an included visit to the beautiful MONREALE CATHEDRAL outside of Palermo with its dazzling mosaics covering over 1 ½ acres of wall space of the Cathedral.

The sights today, ABC and AGP are very nice but as far as I'm concerned, not really worth getting out in the wet weather to go see. I've seen enough of them all through western and central Europe. I didn't even try for any pictures and there is nothing to see in the mixed use (tourist / ferry / cargo) port. Originally I had planned to go out this afternoon and wander around the older parts of Palermo, but not in the rain. After the very good weather yesterday, today is disappointing. It's not that the weather is / has been bad (except maybe the downpour in Dubrovnik or the sea crossing to Syracuse and even then is wasn't awful); it's just that it hasn't been as nice as I had hoped for. Today, if this continues, the visit to Palermo will be a "washout." At least the food onboard is good; today we had the most traditional Sicilian specialty: Pizza "Chile con Carne."

PALATINE CHAPEL AND PALERMO CATHEDRAL L1 During Roger II's reign as King of Sicily (1130AD to 1154AD), the island became a great maritime power and also the channel through which Greek and Arabic thought passed into Europe. The embracing spirit of Roger's reign is gloriously expressed in many of the great buildings of Sicily, but nowhere more perfectly than the Palatine Chapel, built during the 1130s and 1140s. This is the king's masterpiece - a miraculous fusion of Latin, Byzantine and Arabic architectural design. Creamy marble is inlaid with gold leaf, Byzantine mosaics blanket entire walls and the ceiling of carved wooden coffers speaks of the finest Arabic design.

The palace in which the chapel is housed had its start in the 9th century AD, when the Emir of Palermo built on the site of a Punic Roman stronghold. Roger II turned the building into the city's main fortress and his sumptuous palace, then crowned it with this jewel of a chapel. Following your visit to the Palatine Chapel, the walking tour continues to nearby San Giovanni degli Eremiti, built by Roger II in 1132, a Norman church with Arabic domes and a Romanesque cloister. There are several sections of many steps within the palace.

Drive next to Palermo Cathedral, site of the huge porphyry tomb of Roger II, as well as the silver urn that contains the remains of Palermo's protector, St Rosalia. The Palermo Cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, is a building of many styles not too skillfully blended, but remains a striking edifice with the golden colored stone and sharp conrasts of light and shade. The present church, on the site of an older basilica which did duty as a mosque in the 9th century, was founded in 1185 by Gualtiero Offarniglio, and Englishman who was Archbishop of Palermo and tutor to young William II.

A SPECIAL VISIT TO PALAZZO GANGI (Optional $55) NO L1 Evening visit. Among Palermo's most delightful secrets are the aristocratic, privately-owned residences. When the Princes Gangi decided to remodel the 15th-century ancestral palace of the Princes Valguarnera, it was a vast undertaking that spread over the 18th century and continues today under the auspices of Princess Carine Vanni Mantegna. Sicily's leading artists were summoned to assist in creating a showcase. Today, we'll visit the fabulous results. The palazzo is especially noted for its Sicilian Baroque ballroom decorated with Murano chandeliers, gold fittings and glittering mirrors. Here, in 1882 Wagner composed the opening bars of Parsifal and in 1963 Luchino Visconti filmed the magnificent ball scene of The Leopard.

The visit to Palazzo Gangi is exclusive to guests of Voyages to Antiquity. Note: Please check with the Tour Office on board for details on how to register for this program which is operated as an extension to included excursions. However, as spaces are very limited, we recommend you register at the earliest opportunity once on board.

SEGESTA (Optional $68 NO) L2 It is an hour and a quarter drive to Segesta, once an advanced center of the Elymian civilization. The city is thought to have been founded in the 5th to 4th century BC by a combination of exiled Trojans, Phonecaeans from Greece and Sicans of Sicily. Segesta was well defended, located on a vast plateau between two peaks and surrounded by walls.

Presiding in splendid isolation is a stunning Greek theater and the majestic 36-columned, 5th-century BC Doric temple. This archaeological jewel is in an extraordinary state of preservation and makes a superb sight amid its surroundings of rolling hills.

Day 11, Thursday, May 16 PALERMO, Italy (- 1:30 PM)
This morning we have an excursion instead of being "at leisure". The bad thing about this excursion is that it requires a very long walk with many steps to get up to the town from the coach parking area - something like a 20 - 25 minute climb though it is supposed to be not too steep or too many steps (from experience aboard this cruise, many times the steps / climbing problems are understated). There are also many steep steps up to the cathedral. Even worse, although it isn't raining during breakfast time, it looks very threatening and today's weather forecast is "CHANCE OF STORMS: HIGH". So I skipped the excursion, even though it is included, and stayed aboard. Hopefully lunch is good.

Late this evening, about 9:30PM, we cruise past Stromboli - what we can see of it at night. The free / leisure / boredom day in Sorrento on Saturday doesn't look promising for logistics, options, and weather. As we cruise along, the wind is high (wind warnings are up) but at least it is a "following" wind so not too bad. See the early notes for Saturday.

MONREALE L2 Travel just a short distance out of Palermo to discover Monreale Cathedral, considered by many to be the most beautiful Norman church in Italy. Designed by William the Good in 1174, the church offers visions of beauty, grace and the divine. The exterior's thick walls and powerful towers have the look of an austere fortress, but just step inside: it is the interior that is this cathedral's true glory. The large nave with its side aisles and gray granite columns draws the eyes upward to 12th-century gold mosaics that cover over one and a half acres of wall space. The tour also visits the Benedictine cloisters, a magnificent synthesis of Romanesque and Arab architecture. Admire the serenity of the courtyard with its graceful arcade featuring 216 sets of twin columns and pointed Arabic arches. Later, enjoy free time in the main square before we return to the ship.

Day 12, Friday, May 17 SORRENTO, Italy (1PM - ) TENDERING
This is the second place where we have to use the tenders but we have to use them for both days. We do more cruising along the Amalfi coast - on which I had really wanted to take the optional drive, but that option just wasn't offered this time.

The small town of Sorrento, perched on a high cliff, overlooks the Bay of Naples, with views towards the island of Capri, Mount Vesuvius and Naples itself. Sorrento had a large Greek population throughout Roman times and legends suggest that it may have been a colony of the Greek settlement on the nearby island of Lipara. Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Sorrento was ruled by the Ostrogoths and then Byzantium, before being conquered by the Normans of Sicily in 1133. As part of the Kingdom of Naples, it was sacked by Ottoman forces in 1558 before finally being annexed to the newly unified Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

***** Plans, below, for the day are "scratched."

Last night I went up to the Promenade Deck (one deck up, with outside access) to try to see Stromboli. No luck - just too dark. On the way back down to my cabin floor, I got knocked down (partially) on the stairs.

I now have a very sore (not broken or even a full sprain), ankle so walking around on the streets of Herculaneum, which are much like those in Pompeii, is out of the question. Scratch the excursion to what was supposed to be one of my "highlight" stops.

At least I can give my ankle some rest today, and have nothing planned for tomorrow so hopefully I can still do the full day in Rome. *****

Otherwise … the morning starts off with very bright sunlight and beautiful weather although a bit windy. But by the time we get along the usually beautiful Amalfi coast, we are in light rain and the cloud layer is down to sea level so the coastline is virtually invisible. It gets worse as we cruise around the Isle of Capri, and but by the time we get to Sorrento, the rain is light again. The weather then alternates between clear and very overcast, but end up very nice. It's the high wind that makes getting in and out of the tenders quite an adventure for people. Then they have to suffer two hours of bus rides.

This evening, as soon as everyone was back from their excursions and onboard for dinner, it was considered that due to the wind and large sea swells, tender transportation was too risky and evening tender service to/from shore was cancelled. Weather permitting; it will be resumed tomorrow morning.

**** What I missed ...

(Repeat) We arrive this afternoon at the port of Sorrento from where we drive to the magnificent remains of Pompeii or Herculaneum. The town, some of which dates back to the 6th century BC, was engulfed by lava erupting from Vesuvius in August 79AD. What was left under is the unique record of Roman life we see today. From the casts of the bodies of its doomed inhabitants to the ancient surgical implements and beautiful frescoes of the House of the Vetti, nowhere else gives us such an insight into their lives. Or, we can visit the nearby town of Herculaneum which perished in the same eruption. WE HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE TWO EXCURSIONS. Since I've been to Pompeii twice, I'll do the HERCULANEUM trip.

CHANCE OF RAIN: 70-80% Since we are anchored, not docked, we have to be TENDERED into shore, then because of the cliff-top location of the town, we have to take a small shuttle bus up to the town itself, and only then can we board our coaches for the drive to Herculaneum. It is a one-hour drive (each way) between Sorrento and Herculaneum, and with a 2 ½ hour or so visit there, it will be at least 5 hours before we get back to the ship sometime about 7PM.

HERCULANEUM L3 We head to Herculaneum which was engulfed by volcanic mud in the same eruption that claimed Pompeii. Fortunately for us, this mud sealed and protected entire buildings: today inlaid marble floors, paintings, mosaics and carbonized woods can all be seen. These range from the sculpture of the Drunken Hercules in the House of the Stags to mosaics of tritons in the city baths. Perhaps the most famous relic is the Villa of the Papyri. The villa was owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a man with a keen interest in Epicurean philosophy. Following our visit, we will return to central Sorrento where we have the option of exploring independently or returning to the ship in the company of the guide.

(repeat) POMPEII L3 The patricians who built their mansions in Pompeii and Herculaneum came to escape the turmoil in Rome, but a different sort of violence awaited them in their southern retreats. In 79AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted at 10am and, within three hours, extinguished these affluent communities even as it preserved their remains for our discovery. Begin with a scenic hour drive along the Bay of Naples to Pompeii. On the walking tour, you will be guided expertly through this spectacular site. Places not to be missed include the aristocratic mansions, temples, theaters, markets and large forum. At every turn, inscriptions bring the hustle and bustle of this ancient city to life: there are notices of wine sales and apartment vacancies, upcoming gladiatorial events in the theater and political announcements.

Day 13, Saturday, May 18 SORRENTO, Italy (- 6PM) TENDERING
According to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, Sorrento was founded by Liparus, son of Ausonus, who was king of the Ausoni and the son of Ulysses and Circe. In the pre-Roman age, Sorrento was influenced by the Greek civilization which can be seen in the presence of the Athenaion, a great sanctuary, also founded by Ulysses and originally devoted to the cult of the Sirens, whence Sorrento's name. The Roman name for Sorrento was Surrentum, possibly related to that Temple of the Sirens, the only one in the Greek world in historic times.

Why couldn't it have been like this (weather) on the day yesterday, or the day we were scheduled for Monreale - bright, clear blue sky, no clouds, only a light breeze.

Today is at leisure, i.e. BOREDOM. No excursions, either included or optional are offered. The Amalfi Drive excursion I wanted to take is NOT included in the cruise this time - but why not; nothing else is actually scheduled for today but they do offer information on some options: visit Naples; visit the Isle of Capri; or take a bus ride to the town of Amalfi, each on our own, but I've already been to those places. That makes this into a less than enjoyable day.

In order to do our own exploration of Sorrento, we have to take a TENDER to the shore, and then climb up the cliff road to the town. It's 200 or so steps EACH WAY in order to do exploration on our own. The small shuttle busses we used yesterday were for yesterday only; they aren't available today. So I'll just stay onboard and "suck my thumb," or read, or something. At least I don't have to ride a tender today. It's just another day to overeat and wish that I hadn't. This evening we head north to Civitavecchia, the port city for our visit to Rome. Later this afternoon we head north to Civitavecchia, the port city for our excursion to Rome.

For Pictures of PART I Venice to Sorrento Click Here
By request I've left the pictures larger than before so it will take a bit longer to load.


Part 2: "... THE SHORES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN"
Rome to Cannes

Day 14, Sunday, May 19 CIVITAVECCHIA (Rome), Italy (7AM - 11PM)
Although a repeat, my first trip here was in 1999, and the 2004 trip had only a very short time to see things - both walking and "drive-by-shootings." This is my last visit since my planned "European Charms" mini-tour, originally planned for 2016, is now merely "on standby" and anyway it doesn't come this far south. Since this is the end of Part I, some passengers are leaving the ship and others are joining. For those continuing the cruise, they want us off the ship so they can get everything ready for the new passengers, so they offer a full day included tour of Rome.

Included sightseeing includes the great monuments of ancient Rome and ends with a visit to the most important church in Christendom. Visit the largest and most famous Roman amphitheater, the Colosseum, constructed in 80AD by Emperor Vespasian as a means of gaining the love of the people by building a magnificent venue for gladiatorial games. It had a capacity of 50,000 spectators. Then we have a view of the Forum Romanum, the ceremonial, social and civic center of ancient Rome. Finally, to the sumptuous Basilica of St Peter's in Vatican City. Lunch is NOT included (cheapskates!) but maybe there is a "McBarf Burger" junk-food joint there. (BD)

Today's excursion turned out to be very nice although we didn't quite get all we had been "promised." The coach ride (on a coach designed with leg/knee room for a small chimpanzee) showed us quite a bit of countryside. Due to having had a very rainy spring, all the fields, vineyards, roadside trees/shrubs etc. were all a beautiful, lush green. I wish I could have gotten some pictures from the bus. Everything went well until we got to the Pantheon. We of course saw the outside, but this Sunday was a special one with a long, extended Mass (not out at 11 - it would be going on until 12:30) so we never got inside to see the dome. Lunch provided the next disappointment. I had seen several "McBarf Burger" and "Peasant Burger" locations as we got into Rome, but none were any where around Piazza Navona so I had to settle for a slice of pizza which was very poor; that on the ship is MUCH better.

Then after that poor lunch, we got to the Colosseum where one of the guests went off on his own (not me) and we were delayed about a half hour before finally getting him back to the herd so we could leave. That meant we had much less time left so we had only a brief glimpse of the Roman Forum; and there was not enough time (long lines) to get into the Basilica in the Vatican. We never did have a chance to see the "Spanish Steps." At least we got back to the ship in time for dinner. Still, overall, a nice excursion with more walking and less "drive-by-shooting" than I had feared.

ETERNAL ROME (FULL DAY TOUR with lunch on our own) L3 ) Immerse yourself in the sights of Rome on this full-day guided tour highlighted by visits inside the Colosseum and St Peter's Basilica, as well as a stroll through some of the city's renowned piazzas.

This morning depart from the ship at 8:15 and take a 90-minute drive into the heart of Rome. Begin with a walking tour of Rome allowing you to experience the delights of this historic city. Our first stop will be the Trevi Fountain, the 18th century landmark by Nicola salvi. Legend states that if you toss a coin into the Founain, you will be sure to visit Rome again. Continue on foot to the Pantheon, the pagan temple dedicated to "all the gods" which later became a Catholic Church. Enroute you pass through the Piazza Colonna and Piazza Montecitorio. The Piazzza Colonna is home to an impressive 2nd century marble column celebrating Rome's victory over the German tribes. You have the opportunity to visit the intereor of the Partheon from where you will see the impressive dome and oculus.

From the Pantheon we proceed to the Piazza Navona - the pride of Baroque Rome. The piazza is home to Bernini's "Fountain of the Four Rivers" and "Fountain of the Moor." As well as the "Fountain of Neptune" which the locals once used for washing their clothes. Here you have an hour of free time to find lunch on our own at one of the many places within the Piazza.

After lunch board your coach and drive to the Flavian Amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum of Rome. This Flavian Amphitheater was once the setting for brutal gladiatorial battles, mock sea battles, and could house up to 50,000 spectators. Benearth the arena, cells once held beasts brought from all over the Empire for Gladiatorial combats. Enjoy a guided visit within the Colosseum before walking (the streets near there are closed to busses on Sundays), to a viewing area over the Roman Forum, the hub of ancient Roman life where sights include the Arch of Titus, the Holy Road, and the Temple of Caesar, the site of Mark Anthony's famous funeral oration.

Then drive to your final stop, Vatican City. Proceed to St. Peter's Basilica with your guide and receive an exterior (guiding inside is not permitted on Sundays) commentary on the great basilica of St. Peter with the towering dome by Michalangelo. You will have an hour of free time to step inside this most important church in Christendom, filled with art and historic masterpiece, a highlight to any visit to Rome, or explore the area around St. Peter's Square. Return to your coaches and drive back to the ship arriving about 7PM or so.

Day 15, Monday, May 20 ELBA, Italy (1PM - 10PM)
After we experience a fair amount of rolling overnight (heavier than usual but not awful) the day dawns bright and warm. Hopefully it isn't too hot this afternoon. This all changes; the weather forecast is wrong, as usual. Mid-morning it starts to get overcast and then the temperature drops, probably about 25-30 degrees (F). I managed a few pictures from the ship as we came into the harbor, then it starts raining, sometimes fairly hard. I'm NOT going out in THAT! Being docked rather than anchored, it was easy enough to go ashore on my own later after the weather cleared.

Elba: Originally inhabited by Ligures Ilvati who gave the ancient name Ilva, the island was well known from very ancient times for its iron resources and its valued mines. The Greeks called it Aetalia (fume) after the fumes of the furnaces for the metal production. The island was invaded by the Etruscans and later (after 480 BC) by the Romans. In the early 11th Century, it became a possession of the Republic of Pisa. When the latter was sold to the Visconti of Milan in 1398, the island was acquired by the Appiani, Lords of Piombina, who retained it for two centuries.

Cruise through the waters of the beautiful Maddalena Archipelago on the way to the picturesque cliff-top Haute Ville (Upper Town) of Bonifacio in Corsica. Admiral Nelson called Portoferraio the "safest port in the world" and when Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to Elba in 1814, he built an elaborate villa above the city and a large part of his home remains unchanged today. This afternoon, visit Villa San Martino, Napoleon Bonaparte's exile home.

Following the Treaty of Fontainebleu, French Emperor Napoleon I was exiled to Elba after his forced abdication in 1814 and arrived at Portoferrair on May 3, 1814, to begin his exile there. He was allowed to keep a personal guard of 600 men. Although he was nominally sovereign of Elba, the island was patrolled by the British Royal Navy.

During the months Napoleon stayed on the island, he carried out a series of economic and social reforms to improve the quality of life, partly to pass time and partly out of a genuine concern for the well-being of the islanders. Napoleon stayed on Elba for 300 days. He returned to France on February 26, 1815, for the Hundred Days. After his defeat at Waterloo, he was subsequently exiled again, this time to the barren and isolated South Atlantic island of Saint Helena.

NAPOLEON'S ISLE OF EXILE L3 Follow the path of Napoleon Bonaparte as you explore the island where he was exiled from 1814 to 1815. The highlight is a walking tour that visits the Emperor's principal residence, an elaborate villa overlooking the city, much of it unchanged from when he lived here.

Start your adventure with a scenic drive from Portoferraio, the main town and port, to Golfo Stella. Visit the fishing harbor of Porto Azzuro, dominated by a medieval fortress. Wander the charming streets where shops feature crafts of minerals and crystals mined in Elba's mountains. Continue to Punta delle Grotte, the ruins of a Roman villa, for magnificent views of Portoferraio, which Greek mythology called Argos, port of the Argonauts. From there travel to the grand Villa San Martino where Naboleon resided during his exile on the island. The Villa is now home to the Demidoff gallery, a museum exhibiting Napoleonic relics. Finally return to Portoferraio to enjoy a walking tour (in the rain) of the Old Town where highlights include the star shaped Fort Stella, the Cosimo di Medici theater built by Napoleon, and the historic Piazza Cavour. Return to the ship at your leisure.

Day 16, Tuesday, May 21 LIVORNO (Florence), Italy (6AM - 9PM)
(repeat) Livorno was founded in 1017 as one of several small fortresses along the coast which were protecting Pisa. It belonged to the city of Pisa for several hundred years. However the port serving Pisa was not Livorno, but Porto Pisano, destroyed after the hard defeat of the Pisan fleet in the Battle of Meloria. Between 1404 and 1421, Livorno belonged to Genoa, and on August 28, 1471 it was sold to Florence whose port it now is.

From the port of Livorno, travel to Florence (another one of those 1 ½ hour trips each way), one of my favorite cities, for a for what I had hoped would be a very special day visiting the city's remarkable galleries, buildings and museums including the Galleria dell'Accademia, the Ponte Vecchio (FALSE) and the Uffizi [not again ;( ], Italy's greatest art gallery. Avoid the lines (correction: get in a long line) (no-)thanks to your group reservation and waste lots of time exploring one of the most famous art collections - including, of course, Michelangelo's David (just over one hour just getting lectured about it!!) in the world. Lunch is again NOT included but I managed another lousy pizza. (BD)

Today's actual schedule in brief: a) board another one of those chimpanzee sized busses and drive for 90 minutes to Florence; b) walk and walk and walk … seeing several churches; c) spend a total of over 3 ½ hours in art museums (not interesting); d) DON'T EVER SEE Ponte Vecchio (SNARL!); e) waste 1 ½ hours free time for "shopping"; f) walk and walk some more; g) re-board our bus but have to wait about 30 minutes while the staff tries to find a missing passenger (unsuccessful at that time); h) take the chimp-bus back about 2 hours (end of day traffic) to Livorno arriving an hour late and just barely in time for dinner. As for the missing guest, two staff members from the ship and two people from the local tour agency stayed behind to try to find her. Eventually they will take a private car back to the port.

I had hoped for a really great day today, but it was basically one disappointment after another. The only good things: a) overcast but cool weather; b) excellent local guide.

RENAISSANCE FLORENCE (FULL DAY TOUR with lunch) L3 Discover the town that gave birth to the Italian Renaissance and view the period's outpouring of art in the renowned Uffizi Museum. From the port of Livorno, it is a about an hour and a half drive through the Tuscan hills to Florence where you begin a tour through the history and art of this timeless city. A highlight of the morning is a visit to the Accademia, Europe's first school of drawing, where Michelangelo's colossal statue of David presides over a rich collection of paintings and sculptures. No photography is allowed in either the Uffizi or the Accademia.

Enjoy a guided walking tour past such land- marks as the 10th-century Ponte Vecchio spanning the River Arno. View the Duomo cathedral flanked by Giotto's Bell Tower. So dense is Florence with monuments, every step reveals new marvels. See the Baptistry, where Ghiberti and Donatello competed to design the bronze doors. Admire the Basilica di Santa Croce where Michelangelo and Machiavelli are interred. Pause in Piazza Signoria, in 1497 the site of Fra Savonarola's Bonfire of the Vanities. Then free time to relax over lunch on your own.

The centerpiece of this tour is an afternoon visit to the world-renowned Uffizi Museum. The 16th-century palace, built when Cosimo Medici was the First Grand Duke of Tuscany, houses such Renaissance masterpieces as The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, the exquisite Madonnas of Filippo Lippi, and an entire room of Botticellis, including The Birth of Venus. Foreign artists from Rembrandt to Rubens are also represented. Later, savor your impressions on a (1 1/2 hour) "panoramic" drive back to the ship.

Day 17, Wednesday, May 22 BONIFACIO, Corsica, France AT SEA(sick) #2 of 2
Due to the weather and sea conditions there, the port of call in Bonifacio is cancelled.

Instead the Captain changes course to keep us north of the worst of the weather and we experience (heavy) rolling (now up to force 8 winds; the worst of the trip so far and it seems as bad as that horrible night/day/night on the SouthEast Asia cruise) as we continue on our way to Palma where we will arrive tomorrow about mid-morning. Some other onboard activities scheduled for later this afternoon and tonight are deleted: an onboard lecture is cancelled, no musicians playing in the lounge, the Captain's Cocktail Party is cancelled, and at times I thing I could use a "seat belt" just to lie on the bed. I wonder how the galley crew / chefs will be able to come up with something to eat tonight ... if anyone feels well enough to eat. The Deception Desk is doing a brisk business in seasick pills, and again there are lots of "barf bags" out on the lounge bar.

When we get to Palma, instead of it being a one-day stop there, we will stay overnight and the excursions there are split across the two days. Now the optional excursion I have booked there is an included one. This becomes the second of two of "those days." No more are currently planned in our schedule. Of course this is obviously weather dependent. After missing Bonifacio, at least we have a few more Ports-of-Call before I get "kicked off the ship and sent home" arriving hopefully on the 29th but that depends on Frog Air and the CDG airport in Paris and possibly the weather that morning in Cannes.

Day 18, Thursday, May 23 PALMA, Mallorca (aka Majorca), Spain (10 AM - overnight)
Majorca was subject to the changes of fortune of Roman history. Historians believe that at the time there were two major centers; Pollentia (beside Alcudia) and Palma. After a few centuries more of "ups and downs" under the successive domination of the Vandals and the Byzantines, the Muslims began 200 years of attacks on the island at the beginning of the 8th century.

In 902 the entire archipelago was annexed to the Emirate of Cordoba. Whilst Roman culture probably had the greatest impact on Mallorcan social patterns, the influence of the Moors was responsible for important advances in the island's agriculture, along with the development of the island's crafts and commerce.

Palma is a major city on the island of Mallorca, is the capital of Mallorca. With a turbulent history, Palma was founded as a Roman camp before becoming the subject of several Vandal sackings during the fall of the Roman Empire. It was then re-conquered and colonized by the Byzantines and occupied by the Moors for 300 years, and finally established by James I of Aragon.

The city is famous for La Seu, its vast cathedral originally built on the site of a mosque. Although its construction began in 1229, it did not finish until 1601 and local architect Antoni Gaudí was drafted in during a restoration project in 1901.

After all the wind and waves (no rain) of yesterday, it pretty much calmed down by about 11PM and we had a calm night. Partly cloudy this morning but it will be very warm later. The weather now cooperated and we had a very nice excursion. Our first stop was up at he Bellver Castle - very interesting design. Next we had a rambling bus tour of the town with the mandatory 45-minute shopping stop is the "Plaza of Pearls." There were a couple of souvenir stops (made in China and India) and over a dozen shops hard-selling expensive pearl jewelry. All there was of interest there was a 1000-year-old olive tree (still alive). Our last stop was the La Seu Cathedral - for once a nice church to visit. We did make a drive by of the bull-ring but traffic etc made for no pictures. Still, all in all, a very nice day and interesting excursion. I hope Valldemosa is as nice tomorrow.

History note: On this day in history, in 1570 the first atlas, with 70 maps, is published.

PALMA CITY AND CATHEDRAL L2 Get an overview of Mallorca's capital from the sweeping vistas at Bellver Castle to the architectural wonders of La Seu Cathedral. This half-day tour begins with a drive to 14thcentury Bellver Castle, poised 500 feet above Palma and unique among Spanish castles for being entirely round. Bellver means "lovely view" and it is the perfect photo stop for a picture of Palma city and the entire bay. Drive along the Maritime Promenade to the oldest part of Palma and La Seu Cathedral, built on the site of a mosque. This Gothic masterpiece was started in 1230 by King James of Aragon and completed over 300 years later.

Enjoy a guided tour of the interior, with its frescoes, paintings and tombs of Mallorcan kings. Above the great nave is a distinctive canopy by Antoni Gaudí, who participated in the 20th-century remodeling. Highlights include the Mayor and Mirador doorways with sculptures by Guillermo Sagrera and the 9-bell tower with its five-ton "N'Eloi" bell.

Continue on a walking tour of old town's meandering streets past stately mansions. Then continue to the area of Palma's bullfighting arena, modeled on Rome's Colosseum, where you'll have free time to shop for such souvenirs as Mallorca's exquisite man-made pearls.

Day 19, Friday, May 24 PALMA / VALDEMOSSA, Mallorca (aka Majorca), Spain ( - 7PM)
The excursion to Valldemosa, offered this morning, is now an included option so I'll get my money back on that one. I still don't plan to do the Drach Caves optional excursion this afternoon. There are lots of steps and maybe trouble getting in/out of the small boats.

It's an early start for our excursion this morning: 7:45AM, and we are cautioned that it will be quite cool and windy (true!) on the northern, higher, part of the island. We have a very nice, scenic drive across to Valldemosa. We make our first stop at a beautiful overlook then back to Valldemosa itself. It's NOT one of the modern, overly commercialized towns and still retains much of the older architecture. The tour of the Monastery was quite interesting, but there was very poor planning for the (Chopin) piano concert - there were over 50 more people in the hall that there were seats. For those of us who were standing, the concert wasn't that great. Then to top (bottom?) that, our very short free time to shop wasn't near any of the Monastery/Museum shops but in the area of a large multitude of tourist-trap shops selling t-shirts, postcards, and mass-produced, made in China/India junky trash. So much for getting anything nice.

VALLDEMOSA L2 Discover this charming village and its 14th-century Carthusian Royal Monastery of Jesus of Nazareth where Frédéric Chopin and his mistress, George Sand, shared a monk's cell as they created masterpieces in the bitter winter of 1838-9.

Start with a drive from the ship through a landscape of gnarled olive trees and glimpse the hidden island en route to the spectacular west coast. View Son Marroig, the residence of Leopold XI's son, who at age 20 flung off the constraints of the Viennese Court to travel the world. He adored Mallorca, and his home is a museum noted for its spectacular views.

Continue to Valldemossa, perched over 1,300 feet above sea level and home to the Royal Monastery of Jesus of Nazareth. In the 1830s Spain confiscated, then privatized the property. Many famous visitors drew inspiration here. Chopin composed ballades, polonaises, mazurkas and more, while his lover George Sand described the experience in A Winter in Mallorca.

Enjoy a guided tour of the small chapel, pharmacy and beautifully preserved library, along with the cells. Then crown it all with a 15-minute piano concert in King Sancho's winter palace with its opulent rooms, fine furniture and rich tapestries. Before returning, you'll have a short time to shop in Valldemossa.

DRACH CAVES (Optional $128 NO) L3 Join an underground adventure to the Caves of the Dragon that includes a boat ride on one of the world's largest subterranean lakes as musicians play classical music.

Depart from the ship to the eastern side of the island, site of these labyrinthine limestone caverns and their fantastic formations, formed by salt water intrusion from the Mediterranean. There are three main chambers, extending over a mile: Cueva Negra (Black Cave), Cueva Blanca (White Cave) and Cueva Luis Salvator. The last is named after Ludwig Salvator, the Austrian Archduke, who invited Édouard-Alfred Martel, the noted speleologist, to explore and map the caves in 1896. These chambers all lead to Lago Martel, at 581 ft. long considered one of the world's largest underground lakes.

Take a boat ride and admire the eerie shapes. Multi-colored lighting enhances the drama of the stalagmites protruding from the rock face and stalactites hanging from the roof. Your underground journey is made even more memorable by the musicians who glide by in boats playing Chopin, Martini and other classical selections that add a haunting dimension to this geological treasure.

Day 20, Saturday, May 25 BARCELONA (Barcino), Spain (8AM - 7PM)
Barcelona, Spain's 2nd largest city, and the 2000 year-old capital of Catalunya, is a thriving port town. Barcelona was the seat of a vast Mediterranean empire when Madrid was a one-horse outpost on the Spanish Steppe. Carthaginian troops under Hanilcar Barca, father of Hannibal, arrived in the region of Barcelona in 218 BC at the start of the Second Punic War this occupation is often cited as the founding of modern Barcelona. Since 133 BC, the Romans, Visigoths, Franks and Moors have all, at one time or another, controlled Barcelona. The Romans subsequently contested control of the town, known to them as Barcino, and redeveloped it into a grid pattern in about 15 BC. This street plan can still be seen in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

The morning sightseeing of Barcelona is dedicated to exploring (only a few of) the (listed) Roman sites of the city including a few of these: the Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Augustus, and Roman remains in the Gothic Quarter. This afternoon is at leisure with an optional tour. or explore on your own. Perhaps visit extraordinary Sagrada Familia, the massive Catalan church designed by the visionary architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction of this iconic building began in 1882 and is still ongoing.

We had basically a nice excursion with enough walking to see several interesting old building. The part underground could have been a bit shorter, but there aren't many places where one can see such a "complete" layout of a Roman city. Again there was no time for museum/better items shopping which was a disappointment.

I wonder why it is in the ports that do check (x-ray) whatever you are carrying that it is only when you are returning to the ship that it is checked. Apparently they don't care what you bring into the city/country, just what is going out? Smuggling, but which way?

Lunch note: we often have on the lunch menu a bacon and cheese hamburger listed as a "Whooper" - since they can't use the label "Whopper" because "Burger Peasant" has locations throughout the area.

BARCINO, THE (underground) ROMAN CITY L3 Descend to a unique underground museum for a glimpse of everyday life in Barcino, as Roman Barcelona was called. Hidden under the medieval buildings and squares of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter is a town of far greater antiquity. Roman troops arrived here during the Punic Wars (264 to 146BC) and remained for over 600 years, putting their imprint on the language, law and culture. Not all of the ancient colony is underground. Sections of the original walls, towers and gates can be seen en route to Plaza Ramon Berenguer and Plaza Nova, where an aqueduct and main road once connected Barcino with the rest of the Empire. View the Forum with its remains of a 1st century temple to Caesar Augustus. Then take an elevator to get an in-depth look at daily life in Roman times.

Visit one of Europe's largest underground archaeological sites at the Barcelona City History Museum. Stroll metal walkways through workaday Barcino with its laundry, dye shop, salted fish factory and wine shop to get a slice of life - 20 centuries ago. Collections of objects found at the digs include Roman portraits, mosaics, Roman and Hebrew inscriptions, as well as the utensils of daily life.Emerge from this tour with an enriched understanding of Roman influence and appreciation of Barcelona's antiquity.

BARCELONA & GAUDI (Optional $125 NO) L2 With undulating façades, fantastic designs and daring innovations, Barcelona's early 20th century Modernist buildings are famed, especially those by Antoni Gaudí, many designated World Heritage Sites. Today's tour explores this unique variation of Art Deco architecture, starting with a coastal drive to Olympic Village and Gaudí's famous "unfinished cathedral" Sagrada Familia, begun in 1882 and still under construction. Enjoy a guided look at this landmark, rich in symbolism of Christ's Nativity, Passion and Glory, then tour its astonishing interior.

Continue to Park Guell, another World Heritage Site, also by Gaudí. Originally intended to be a garden city, this public park is an Art Nouveau design showcase with a staircase guarded by a dragon, flowing mosaic benches and a huge multi-columned great room. Take in the sweeping views from the esplanade overlooking the city. Continue to the elegant area known as Eixample, site of a rich concentration of Modernist architecture. Stroll along the Paseo de Gracia, site of Gaudí's most famous home, Casa Mila, nicknamed La Pedrera for its cave-like aspect.

Other sights along this famous promenade include Casa Battlo, styled like a breaking wave, and Casa Lleo Morera, an extraordinary floral-like edifice. Following this exploration of Barcelona's rich architectural heritage, you return to the ship.

PICASSO MUSEUM & THE BORN AREA (Optional $125 NO) L2 This is cancelled due to a lack of a sufficient number of passengers interested in taking it.

Day 21, Sunday, May 26 SETE (Carcassonne & Narbonne), France (8AM - 8PM)
Sete, formerly (until 1827) Cette, is the principal French Mediterranean commercial port, lying in southern France, southwest of Montpellier. It occupies the lower slopeas and foot of the isolated Mont Saint-Clair which lies on a tongue of land between the Mediterranean ahd the marshy Thau Lagoon. A network of canals links the town with the lagoon, the docks, and the harbor. The port is also joined to the Rhone Canal which links it with the Rhone River.

Founded by the Visigoths and expanded by the Romans, the fortified city of Carcassonne became the largest walled stronghold of the Middle Ages and its remarkable towers and ramparts are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was a long day on a miserably overcrowded bus with no leg room. We were supposed to have left at 8, but didn't get away until 8:45 (45 minutes late). Then our drive to Carcassonne was supposed to have been 90 minutes (8 - 9:30) but we didn't get there until 10:50, 1:20 late … which had to come out of our time in Carcassone. We were to have had 2 ½ hours in Carcassonne but it got cut back to only 55 minutes since we had a scheduled time (1PM) to be at the restaurant for a set-plate (miserable) lunch. If I had known that there was a McDonalds across the street, I would have gone there for much better food.

But never mind the miserable meal; IT WAS GETTING LESS THAT HALF OUR SCHEDULED TIME in Carcassonne that ruined the day. I could have easily spent about 4 or more hours there, but getting only 55 minutes (many words censored) was awful. Narbonne was ok, but basically the day was over at 11:45 when we had to meet to get back to the bus to go to lunch.

We ran overtime at lunch as well so there was no free time in Narbonne, but that didn't matter since a) it was Sunday afternoon, and b) it is Mother's Day which is a National Holiday in France. Everything except "eateries" was closed. We made it back to the ship at 5:15, only a few minutes late but the day goes down in my book as a very bad day.

Apparently LOTS OF PEOPLE had complained about today's excursion to Carcassonne and Narbonne, so at our Shore excursion meeting (for Marsailles) tonight, the first thing that Kate (ShoreX manager) did was to apologize profusely for a) the totally fouled up departure; b) the poor busses; c) the miserably overcrowded busses, d) underestimating the travel time to Carcassone; e) the extremely short time there; f) the poor food in Narbonne and g) the poor service at the restaurant there.

MEDIEVAL CARASSONE & NARBONNE (FULL DAY TOUR with lunch) L2 Get an overview of two southern French towns and relive centuries of history when you visit two cities with Roman roots: the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carcassonne, an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, and landlocked Narbonne, once a leading port celebrated by the troubadour Bertrand de Bar.

Your adventure starts from Sete with a drive through the wild Languedoc countryside to Carcassone, a site continuously occupied for over 2,500 years. Founded by the Visigoths, and encircled by double walls, this stronghold stands exactly as it did in the Middle Ages with miles of battlements, 52 towers and a castle. View the mighty gate with its chains, portcullis and intricate access system. Stroll the lists between the double walls and savor the atmosphere as you get an education in military architecture.

The round towers built by the Romans to guard the passage to Spain had to be adapted for medieval weaponry and the guards' walk was designed to be taken apart and re-assembled in an early example of pre-fabricated design. Also see the fine Gothic Basilica of Saint-Nazaire and enjoy some time for shopping before continuing to Narbonne. En route, enjoy lunch and (no) wine amid the vineyard covered hills. It is said the Romans planted the first grape vines here, after they founded Narbonne in 118BC.

When the town was on the sea, it was a maritime crossroads. In the 5th century Narbonne was a Visigoth capital and in the Middle Ages an important Episcopal center, as can be seen in several superbly preserved monuments. Meanwhile the vines grew steadily. By the middle of the 18th century, wine was key to the area's prosperity until the crisis of 1907, an event from which the town never fully recovered. Today the region is considered one of the best in France for the production of quality wines, as well as a cultural center of indisputable historic wealth.

Day 22, Monday, May 27 MARSAILLES (Avignone & Arles), France (7AM - 8PM)
Marseille is a city full of art and culture and has many wonders to share with you (but there is no time). With its 26 centuries of history, it combines tradition and modernity. The city is deeply marked by its past and is constantly digging up the remains of all the cities that have been built on top of each other over the centuries beginning with its Greek and Roman origins and leads us past medieval religious foundations.

The site of Avignon was settled very early on overlooking the Rhone River, and may have been the site of a Celtic oppidum or hill fort. Written as Avennio or Avenio in the ancient texts and inscriptions, it takes its name from the Avennius clan. Founded by the Gallic tribe of the Cavares or Cavari, it became the center of an important Phocaean colony from Massilia (today's Marseilles). Under the Romans, Avenio was a flourishing city of Gallia Narbonensis, the first Transalpine province in the Roman Empire. During the inroads of the Goths, it was badly damaged in the 5th century and belonged in turn to the Goths, the kingdoms of Burgundy and of Arles in the 12th century. Then in the hands of the Saracens, it was destroyed in 727 by the Franks under Charles Martel for having sided with the Arabs against him.

We have a full day of sightseeing including one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe, the Papal Palace in Avignone, founded by Pope Clement V in 1309 when he fled the violence in Rome. The major construction work was done between 1335 and 1364 by Pope Benedict XII and his successor Pope Clement VI. The famous Roman amphitheater in Arles was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment such as chariot races and gladiatorial games.

Today: it is 90-minute drive from Marseilles to Avignon, and another 40 minutes from Avignon to Arles. It didn't start out well: a) the bus engine quit even before we got out of the port area (finally restarted), and b) the bus microphone/PA system didn't work (ever). So although we had an excellent local guide, we were stuck listening to any information on those miserable QuietVox systems by a guide who spoke such accented English that between that and the QVs, I probably understood less than 60% of what she said.

Also getting to the Papal Palace in Avignon requires a long walk up a very steep hill and then many, many steps within the Palace. I'll skip the Palace, but take the rest of the tour in Avignon. Except for lunch, which fortunately was excellent, like yesterday, although some of the sights/sites were nice, there wasn't all that much to see or do in Arles. The exception: while visiting the Roman Ampitheater, we saw 3 groups of public school students (Middle-School?) getting gladiatorial and early sports lessons. It was interesting to watch them go through the routines / moves there were being taught. I wonder if it was an extra credit session or part of a "physical education" program.

AVIGNONE AND ARLES (FULL DAY TOUR with lunch) L3 Explore the Provençal countryside and two ancient towns on this full-day tour that visits Avignon with its papal legacies and Arles, once a crossroads of the Roman Empire. Your adventure starts with a 90- minute drive to Avignon which rose to glory in the Middle Ages, when a series of French- born Popes fled Rome and made the town a base from which they ruled Christendom until 1407. Enjoy views of the Rhone River and Avignon's much-sung-about bridge, Pont St Benezet. The highlight of your visit is a guided tour of the Pope's Palace with its long, echoing Great Audience Hall, 14th-century wall paintings and Great Chapel. Also enjoy a walking tour through Palace Square and Horloge Square before continuing to Arles for a delightful lunch.

Though a mere 25 miles from Avignon, the town of Arles seems centuries removed with its well-preserved Roman monuments. You'll see many of them on this afternoon's walking tour which passes Cafe de Forum, Republic Square and the 17th-century Town Hall. Enjoy a brief stop at the Church of St Trophime, noted for its magnificent doors. See the Roman Theater and enjoy a guided tour inside the Amphitheater, the largest in Roman Gaul. On your return, you'll understand why Vincent van Gogh spent two years in Arles, enraptured by the color and light of this amazing region.

Day 23, Tuesday, May 28 CANNES (onboard), France (8AM - ) TENDERING
We arrive this gray, gloomy morning in Cannes (pictures from the ship are "adjusted") where the ship is moored near La Croisette, the waterfront avenue with its palm trees, picturesque beaches, cafes and boutiques. There is no included or optional tour of the city this morning. Instead we have the morning at leisure to take a walk through the Old Town, but only if we take another miserable tender ride.

We have a choice of two optional excursions this afternoon. We can either visit Monte Carlo: as well as the famous casino, the Opera House, Monaco Cathedral, the Napoleon Museum, the Oceanographic Museum and aquarium, and the Prince's Palace, or we can visit the Provençal hill towns of Grasse and St Paul-de-Vence. Since I'll be back in the area on my 2014 France trip, I'll skip both options and wait until next year to visit since both visits will be included rather than optional then. Essentially, for me, the trip was over when we got back to the ship after yesterday's excursion. Now I can just worry about CDG airport and Frog Air tomorrow.

Reports back from some travelers: the Monaco, etc trip was extremely poor - the worst of the cruise. NOT recommended. There were also reports that the "Drach Caves" option a few days ago was totally mis-represented so it also is NOT recommended. In fact, based on reports from the first people back from the excursions today, I'm glad I didn't take either tour.

Disembarkation information: The first bad news is that as expected, we have to be tendered ashore tomorrow morning in the dark; the second totally awful news is that the weather is forecast to be very bad so tendering will be a major problem; the third bad news is that it is a 1-hour drive, once we are ashore, from Cannes to the Nice airport. Lastly, due to weather uncertainty and weather's effects on tendering, they won't be able to give us any specific details until late (9:30 - 10PM) tonight. If the weather / sea conditions are to be very bad, well, who knows what will happen.

However - a Major Miracle happens. Since there are only three of us who need a very early departure tomorrow morning when tendering at about 3AM would probably be a major disaster, they decided to use a taxi/limo to take us to Nice this evening where we would stay in a hotel at the airport. So instead of a dark, stormy trip ashore at 3AM tomorrow morning, at 6:30 PM, we are tendered ashore (the weather is already deteriorating and light rain), have limo service to Nice arriving about 7:30 and check into the Novotel at the airport. The hotel will have a free shuttle to the airport terminal tomorrow morning. I'll have to be at the airport check-in about 4:30AM, but this is much better than the original plan. I'll miss dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning, but that is minor.

GRASSE AND ST PAUL DE VENCE (PM) (Optional $48 Doubtful due to tendering and that I'll be here next year) L3 Head to the hills above Cannes to find a stunning contrast to the Riviera's glittering coast: the medieval village of St Paul-de-Vence, a place beloved by artists and seekers of the extraordinary. En route your adventure takes you to Grasse, where the French perfume industry was born. Here you'll tour a perfume factory and learn how the essence of flowers are condensed in one of the world's oldest distillation processes. Sample a selection of the exquisite Provençal fragrances first made fashionable when Catherine de Medici donned a pair of perfumed gloves in the 16th century.

Then drive through glorious Loup River canyon scenery to St Paul-de-Vence. This idyllic spot has drawn artists from Chagall to Miró and celebrities from Garbo to Deneuve. You will find that, typical of other fortified villages guarding the frontier, St Paul has retained much of its medieval appearance. Start your explorations at the main gate where medieval ramparts built by Francis I in 1536 remain intact to this day. Stroll the narrow cobblestone lanes lined with boutiques, museums and art galleries. Lose all sense of the modern world. By the time you leave, you can expect to be laden with souvenirs and memories, ready to return to the ship for a relaxing rest of the day/evening.

MONACO & MONTE CARLO (PM) (optional $65) L3 Extended half day: Enjoy superb sightseeing on the French Riviera, including Nice, the "pearl" of the Côte d'Azur, and a breathtaking drive to Monaco and its glamorous capital, Monte Carlo. Your adventure starts with a drive along Nice's palm-lined Promenade des Anglais, lined with aristocratic palaces. Then continue on a stunning drive along the Middle Corniche road, set above cliffs that rise vertically. Savor panoramic views of Villefranche, Cap Ferrat and the village of Eze, set on a craggy peak high above the Mediterranean.

This breathtaking ride takes you from France to the independent principality of Monaco. Your first stop is at the foot of the Rock. Ascend to its top by escalators and elevators to discover the historic Old Town. Your guided walking tour takes you past the Prince's Palace, the Oceanographic Museum and the 19th century Romanesque Cathedral in which Prince Rainier and Princess Grace had their fairytale wedding. Wander the ancient covered alleyways of Old Town, before continuing to Monte Carlo. Drive along part of Monaco's famous Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit to Casino Square. In this haven for the rich and famous, you have time on your own to take in the attractions of your choice, be it the Grand Casino, the opulent Hotel de Paris, the chic boutiques - or you can just soak up the atmosphere for future daydreams after your return to the ship.

For Pictures of PART II Rome to Cannes Click Here
By request I've left the pictures larger than before so it will take a bit longer to load.


Day 24, Wednesday, May 29 NICE, France - depart
It's a very early flight, back in lowly Sardine Class but fortunately I managed to upgrade ($$) my seat on the long flight for more leg room. Since I'm already in Nice, I just have to take the hotel shuttle to the airport about 4:30 AM.

Air France AF 7711Nice - Paris7:10A - 8:45A1:351:45

Here I still have a very short connection time. The first flight was a bit late getting in and I had to wait for 168 other passengers to get out of the way, then long walks, shuttle train, and formalities … by the time I get to the gate, the First/Business/Priority passengers were already onboard and they were about half way through the sardines. But I made it, barely. BTW - Sardines is appropriate on Air France: the seats are extremely narrow, even my "extra leg-room" seat. I had booked a center seat (the only one left) and got squeezed between two oversize passengers. Fortunately there were a couple of no-shows for the special seats and I was allowed to more to one of them. The center seat would have meant 11 hours of misery. I'll remember this and refuse to fly Air France again.

Air France AF 0636Paris - Houston10:30A - 1:55P10:2513:45

We are served a fairly nice lunch on the plane, but the second meals is just a junk food snack. I got into Houston more or less on time and made it home by 4:15.

I'm sad that I won't be on the Aegean Odyssey again, but I don't see another cruise in my future. The only option would be a Norwegian Vikings history coastal voyage (but I've done this by coach). As nice as this has been (usually), I'm glad that I'm getting home. This has been the last of the really long vacations; the others are all shorter. The only "long" ones left are: UK/Ireland (21 days), Lewis & Clark - US (18 days); France and Alaska-Yukon (each 17 days), and Oman/UAE and Eastern Canada (each 16 days).

Later update (6/28/13): I'm only back a month and I've already booked three more cruises, 2 with HAL (one via Road Scholar), and another Aegean Odyssey cruise. All these are in 2014.

EXCURSIONS SUMMARY
Day 3 - VeniceHIGHLIGHTS OF VENICEincluded
ST MARKS BASILICA (PM)included
Day 4 - VeniceFRARI CHURCH AND SCUOLA DI SAN ROCCOOptional $65 NO
MURANO, BURANO & TORCELLOOptional $68 YES
Day 5 - SplitPALACE OF DIOCLETIANincluded
ISLAND OF TROGIROptional $65 NO
Day 6 - KorculaWALKING TOUR OF KORCULAincluded/skipped
Day 7 - Dubrovnik DUBROVNIC CITY TOURincluded
Day 8 - AT SEA.
Day 9 - SyracuseHISTORIC SYRACUSEincluded
Day 10 - PalermoPALATINE CHAPEL AND PALERMO CATHEDRALincluded
SEGESTAOptional $68 NO
SPECIAL VISIT TO PALAZZO GANGIOptional $55 NO
Day 11 - PalermoMONREALEincluded
Afternoon - CRUISING-
Day 12 - SorrentoHERCULANEUM (my choice)included
POMPEII (alternate)included
Day 13 - SorrentoNO EXCURSIONS
Day 14 - CivitavecchiaETERNAL ROME (all day)included
Day 15 - ElbaNAPOLEON'S ISLE OF EXILEincluded
Day 16 - LivornoRENAISSANCE FLORENCE (all day)included
Day 17 - AT SEA.
Day 18 - PalmaPALMA SIGHTSEEINGincluded
Day 19 - PalmaVALLDEMOSAincluded
DRACH CAVESOptional $128 NO
Day 20 - BarcelonaBARCINO, THE ROMAN CITYincluded
BARCELONA & GAUDIOptional $125 NO
Day 21 - CarcassoneMEDIEVAL CARCASSONEincluded
Day 22 - MarsaillesAVIGNONE AND ARLES (all day)included
Day 23 - CannesMONACO & MONTE CARLO (extended half day)optional $65 NO
preferred: GRASSE AND ST PAUL DE VENCEOptional $48 NO

CABIN UPGRADE. My cabin for this cruise is on the Belvedere deck, one deck up from my first cruises (Columbus), a couple of "categories" higher, and is a larger and more convenient.

Now I'll also have more space and can move round more easily, and there is also some possible work space for my computer. F-class cabins are 190-200sq ft stateroom and mine has a walk-in shower (rather than the tub shown on the diagram.

The Belvedere deck gives me my cabin and the reception/information/tour booking desk; one deck up is the meeting/lecture lounge and the Terrace restaurant. I "live" on just the two decks.




For more information on the Aegean Odyssey, check the end of the Black Sea notes. For just the Deck Plans.

LARGE SHIPS COMPARISON

Descriptor2011-13
Aegean Odyssey
- Multi
2012
Zuiderdam
Caribbean Cruise
2014
Veendam
Panama Canal
2014
Eurodam
Vikings Passage
2014
Queen Mary 2
America
& D-Day
Cattle capacity
378
1916
1350
2044
2620
Crew
180
817
580
929
1253
Length
461'
936'
720'
935'
1132'
Beam
67'
106'
122'
125'
135'
Speed
18 knots
24 knots
22 knots
22 knots
30 knots
Cattle decks
5
11
10
11
13