One thing I find fascinating about Rome is that in the middle of the bustling city are antiquities, medieval castles, Baroque churches, Renaissance masterpieces, and modern art. I loved taking photos of the juxtapositions.
As every tourist does, we went to the Spanish Steps…
…and the Trevi Fountain. It was packed.
The high point of our time in Rome was the Basilica of St. Peter.
St. Peter’s is so huge that there are markings on the floor showing the size of other major cathedrals in the world, all much smaller than this. Ornate decorations cover every surface.
To think that Michelangelo created The Pieta when he was 23! What genius.
Many of the people in our group are choir members of White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, TX. They and others from our group sang during Saturday evening mass at the high altar of St. Peter’s. It was a moving experience and the choir sounded beautiful in the space. I was so enthralled that I didn’t take photos of the choir! Mass was held at an altar in front of Bernini’s “Chair of St. Peter”.
It was also exciting that we were in St. Peter’s after closing time for tourists. We were able to stroll through and really enjoy the chapels and art.
The Tiber looked magnificent in the moonlight!
We spent a couple of days in Rome, mostly visiting places I’d seen decades before. I was happy to re-visit, remember, and notice new things! I thought late September would be a good time to visit because of cooler weather and fewer tourists. Wrong! It was very hot and extremely crowded.
Even though Rome has its share of urban blight, there are also amazing antiquities and beautiful scenes throughout the center of the city.
The Catacombs of Domitilla was originally a pagan funerary burial site. It is the largest catacomb in Rome, though not as creepy as the one I visited way back when. The underground basilica, constructed in the fourth century in the location of the remains of two Roman Christian martyrs, no longer houses the relics. However, it is an interesting, inviting chapel.
I do so love the Vatican Museums — 70,000 works of art in 54 galleries. I’d love to spend days there, but the staff tends to move tourists along at a steady clip.
This trip, our group took a route through the Map Room, which I loved.
It was so crowded that I spent a lot of time looking at the ceilings, and they were magnificent!
The huge tapestries told vibrant Biblical stories.
We ended at the Sistine Chapel. It has been restored since I was here and the effect is much brighter and vibrant. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed, but you know what it looks like.
Sorrento is a lovely town resplendent with lemon groves. It would make a wonderful base camp for exploring the Amalfi Coast.
The Sorrento Cathedral dates from the 14th century and was built over centuries in different styles. The baroque ceiling perfectly framed the relatively simple altar and chapels.
The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, though small, is charming.
We enjoyed peeking into alleys, admiring the art and architecture, and headed down to the nearly empty beach.
From Sorrento, we had a short ride to Pompeii. When Mount Vesuvias erupted in 79 AD, there were as many as 15,000 inhabitants who were still rebuilding from an earthquake in 62 AD. Although portions of the city have been restored (with differing levels of success), we felt immersed in the city. We explored volcanic-rock-paved streets in front of stores, restaurants, and working people’s homes…
Luxurious villas with murals and mosaics…
The center of discourse and government, the Forum…
One-third of the city has yet to be excavated and we watched the current dig for a few minutes. An especially gruesome (and popular) series of plaster casts were made from bodies that decayed in the ash, leaving a void. I didn’t spend much time with these realistic depictions of panic.
Vesuvias, still active, overlooks the devastation.
When we returned to our ship, we continued our tradition of watching beautiful sunsets over the towns and the sea.
This was my first visit to the well-known Amalfi coast. Edie had been there before and knew a fantastic guide who showed us the amazing sights.
A dozen or so towns line the steep southern shore of the Sorrentine Peninsula. These cities are linked by the 25-mile Amalfitana road—one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Around every corner was an amazing view.
We were very happy a professional was driving!
The region is known for its delicious lemons and limoncello. Every home, large or small, has a small terrace of lemon trees.
We first explored Positano, in an absolutely beautiful setting. We walked through the narrow streets and down to the beach, and had no intention of ever leaving.
But, we were tempted away by more of the amazing drive, this time to Ravello. We stopped at a ceramic factory with a great view!
Ravello is a medieval town, known for its musical festivals. We had lunch at a fabulous restaurant. Mama came out and told us what she thought we should have and then went into the kitchen and made it! It was a fabulous selection of four pastas, each with a different sauce. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven!
To walk off that feast, we headed to the town of Amalfi and walked through town to the piazza and Duomo.
Then, up the hill to the Villa Rufolo, which must have been an amazing showcase in its time. Only recently have ruins of Turkish mineral baths been excavated. A stroll through the gardens takes you to the terrace for a dramatic view.
Finally back on ship, we enjoyed a beautiful panorama of the town of Amalfi.
We docked in Siracusa and took a (long) bus ride along a mountain ridge to Taormina.
Taormina is perched on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea.
The modern village is built on top of an important ancient city. There are amazing ruins and buildings from many centuries.
The Ancient Theater was probably rebuilt by the Romans on the foundations of an older Greek theater.
At the top of the theater, we enjoyed a nice view of Mt. Etna capped by clouds.
The Palazzo Corvaja is now an exhibit venue. It is an example of the varied influences here. It was built atop Roman foundations and a 10th-century Saracen fortress, has a 13th-century staircase and ornamental balcony, and centers on an Arabic tower and inner courtyard!
The Duomo dates from the 13th century and looks fabulously medieval.
There was amazing art from many eras everywhere we turned.
I’d like to spend some time in Siracusa. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains a “stunning” Greek theater, a Roman amphitheater, baroque palaces, and a beautiful duomo and piazza.
One reason I was excited to go on this trip was the opportunity to visit Malta–who goes to Malta? I was not disappointed.
Valetta (the capital) enjoys 320 monuments within 135 acres and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The approach was beautiful, with lighthouses on either side of the harbor entrance, huge ramparts surrounding the city, and a castle on an island.
The exterior of the St. John’s Co-Cathedral doesn’t even hint at the opulence inside! This cathedral was built by the Knights of St. John, who ruled the island in the 14th to 16th centuries. They built the cathedral in thanks for their victory over the Ottomans in 1565. The interior has breathtaking ceilings, gold everywhere, and an absolutely amazing marble floor. St. John’s also houses two Caravaggio masterpieces, of which photos are not allowed.
We walked up to the Upper Barakka Gardens for beautiful views of the harbor.
The city of Mdina (not to be confused with Medina!) is 4000 years old and was once Malta’s capital. Its surrounding walls protect 15th- and 16th-century mansions. Every alley leads to a surprise. I guess that’s why a lot of the location filming for “Game of Thrones” is done here!
Bay of St. Paul
We went to the Bay of St. Paul, where “legend has it” he shipwrecked. Scholars seem to agree that it was somewhere on Malta, but disagree on which cove. In any case, it is a beautiful bay with a statue of St. Paul.
As we left the port, we marveled at the beauty and history on Malta!
Crete is a very large island and we concentrated on the historic town of Chania. This important port was originally the province of the ancient Minoans. Since then, it has been ruled by the Romans, the Venetians, the Byzantines (twice), the Arab Saracens, and the Ottomans, before becoming a part of unified Greece in 1913. It was bombed by the Germans and under Nazi control until the end of WWII. As you can imagine, this means the architecture is very diverse.
The Orthodox Church was very ornate and rather dark—probably a good idea for the year-round hot weather in Crete!
The Archaeological Museum was small, but breathtaking. These ancient pieces are housed in a former Viennese Franciscan church. The juxtaposition was fascinating.
At the Public Gardens, we saw some krikri (Cretan wild goats, found only on this island) with their distinctive nose-to-tail black stripe.
We walked in the Splantzia Quarter among the beautiful homes, cobblestone streets, and many churches. This Venetian church of St. Nicholas has been repurposed as a mosque, with a minaret in addition to the old bell tower.
We came upon a boutique hotel built around an old monastery. I want to stay here!
We walked a precarious path on the Grand Arsenal toward the Venetian Lighthouse.
The harbor was incredible at dusk. Many cafes and bars lined the harbor and everyone was enjoying the beautiful evening.
I didn’t know anything about Chania before our visit and turned out to be charmed by it.