Mediterranean Enchantment – 2009

Back to Rome, More Ruins, Flight Home

April 26 - May 10, 2009

 

IFlights from Memphis to Rome via Amsterdam

VISpain’s Island of Mallorca

IIRome with visits to Historic Ruins, Vatican

VIIPort of Tunis & Ancient Ruins of Carthage

IIIBoard Ship Noordam at Civitavecchia Port

VIIIPalermo, Sicily & Mondello Beach Town

IVPort of Livorno, long drive to Florence, Pisa

IXPort of Naples, Italy

VMonte Carlo & Spain’s Barcelona

XReturn to Rome, More Ruins & Home

 

Updated July 4, 2009

By LEWIS NOLAN

 

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To view photo album of 128 pictures mainly taken by Betty Nolan, go to www.ritzpix.com and sign in under Lewis’ email name of lewis_nolan@yahoo.com (password ln9876 with lower case initials). Under “My Albums,” activate “Rome and Mediterranean Enchantment” album and play as a Slideshow with longest offered delay in seconds.

 

Thursday, May 9-10, 2009 – Saturday and Sunday, Back to Rome and Home –

 

I had ordered an early delivery of breakfast from room service since we are debarking the ship at the Port of Civitavecchia and meeting our local guide Franco Lattughi at 8:30 a.m. for the hour or so drive to Rome. By 6 a.m. the Holland America ship Noordam was already docked. I enjoyed my “last meal” on the boat of sliced bananas, tomato juice, a wedge of hash brown potatoes, small slice of fresh pear and ice water. Betty was satisfied with a tiny Danish and small glass of cranberry juice.

 

The ship intelligently scheduled its 1,900 passengers to leave in “flights” to minimize confusion and crowding. Our group departure was set for 8:15 a.m. But we managed to get off the boat a little early so we wouldn’t keep Franco from having to wait.

 

Neither of us slept particularly well on our last and 10th night on the boat. But we reflected that we had a really good time during the cruise since I was able to mostly overcome a persistent, deep cough, sore abdomen and muscle injury in my upper back. We saw some truly important and memorable sights judged critical to mankind’s advancement of western civilization over the last two millennia and more.

 

Franco is scheduled to take us to the Westin Excelsior Hotel in Rome’s Central District (a change from Westin’s Empire originally reserved by our travel agent) early enough so that we’ll have the afternoon to see some more sights he and guidebooks have recommended.

 

With Franco again right on time, we quickly loaded our gear into his Toyota sedan and sped off toward Rome on a divided highway. Traffic was fairly busy around the harbor because of cruise and ferry traffic plus native use of fishing and pleasure boats on the picturesque Mediterranean here. The sea is calm and temperatures just a bit cool, probably in the upper 60s. The sun is shining brightly in the blue sky. What a wonderful day to end a fabulous cruise.

 

I think we luckily hit an ideal week-and-a-half of weather for this region, where bad weather is mainly reserved for winter. It hasn’t rained except for a minor shower or two early on our trip. Traffic thinned once we got on the northeast-bound highway to Rome and we had some nice views of the rich farmland of central Italy. We saw furrows of cultivated artichokes, a tasty vegetable I hadn’t seen grown commercially since my college days of driving through Castroville, CA on the way to and from the surf city town of Santa Cruz.

 

Franco obliged us by making camera stops at the Pantheon, a huge stone temple the early Romans used to worship their multiplicity of Gods, and a large complex of gigantic, marble structures called The Mausoleum, where two early kings of Italy are buried. The complex looks like a Hollywood movie set for ancient Rome. We also got a good look at The Forum, where much of the government business was conducted and epochal speeches made 2,000 years ago; it is also where the ashes of Julius Caesar and other giants of history were buried. We also got some additional views of Rome’s signature landmark, the enormous and famous Coliseum.

 

We checked into Westin’s Excelsior Hotel around noon. We were given a cavernous room at a reasonable price on the second of its sixth floors as part of our Northwest package arranged by our agent. It was ornately fitted out like a palace with 30-feet-long, ceiling to floor, Roman-style drapes and a rococo style ceiling decorated with fancy woodwork and plaster figures. The walls were trimmed in gilt with large swatches of red fabric containing gold leaf framed by intricate woodwork.

 

Like our earlier luxury hotel in Rome, the room’s bathroom was huge and lined with gorgeous, red-hued marble. It includes a giant tub equipped with a Jacuzi and a separate shower, two wash basins carved out of marble and a bidet – a plumbing fixture we don’t often see unless we are in Europe. There must have been close to a half-bushel of complimentary bath soaps and toiletries plus a self-serve, well-stocked bar in our room. Our room also has the obligatory, satellite-fed TV, with this one being a late model of the HDTV cable variety.

 

Thanks to the planning arrangements by our agent, Erin Bobbitt de Padilla of Gulliver’s Travel in Memphis, the Excelsior Hotel in central Rome is fairly close to several, scenic Roman ruins. The area is surrounded by streets choked with the busy traffic featuring hundreds of tiny cars scooting around by their own rules unhindered by many traffic lights or policemen. I was surprised by the paucity of bicycles compared to other European cities we’ve visited, an absence supposedly reflecting the hills of Rome and dense traffic.

 

This has been a great trip and despite my impaired mobility, it ranks up there among our best ones ever. But it’s a shame that the limitations on my getting around and my body’s occasional need for bed rest cut into Betty’s adventurous spirit in what for us was a new part of the world.

 

We salvaged some of the afternoon by visiting one of the most photographed spots in Rome, the spectacular Trevi Fountain. Fodor’s Guidebook says, “Nicola Salvi’s theatrical design for Rome’s largest and most famous fountain was completed in 1762. The central figures are Neptune, flanked by two Tritons, one trying to master an unruly seahorse, the other leading a quieter beast, symbolizing the two contrasting moods of the sea.

 

“The site originally marked the terminal of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, built by Emperor Augustus’ right-hand man and son-in-law, Agrippa, in 19 BC to channel water to Rome’s new bath complexes, ” Fodor’s said. Three Popes – including Gregory VII – oversaw the construction of this symbol of Imperial Rome. It is a magnet for tourists and is embellished by the legend that visitors who toss coins over their shoulders into the clear water of the fountain will one day return. Of course, Betty and I both faced away and tossed some change over our shoulders and into the fountain. We had been told that municipal workers would collect all the tourists’ deposits overnight and give it to deserving charity.

 

We purchased some souvenir refrigerator magnets at a nearby tourist shop.

 

Though impressed with the comfort and attention to detail provided at the Excelsior Hotel and its staff, I decided to “play it safe” with dinner that evening. Rather than eat in the hotel’s fancy restaurant, I ordered through room service a cheeseburger with French fries to reduce the chances of any stomach problems during the long flights back to the States tomorrow. I thought the club sandwich I had for lunch at the hotel bar was good – but certainly not adventurous. The burger and a small bottle of Diet Coke (called Coco Light here and elsewhere in Europe) that evening came to 36 Euros. That was close to $50 in dollars at the current exchange rate, rather high compared to U.S. prices.

 

Franco is to pick us up at 7 a.m. in the morning for the hour-long ride to the Rome airport. With my now-chronic sore back, I took some muscle relaxant and pain relievers and went to bed early to watch TV and hope for the best.

 

Watching the BBC news that evening, this former newspaperman (15 years working as a reporter and later business editor for the Scripps-Howard owned metropolitan daily in Memphis, The Commercial Appeal), I was somewhat shocked at seeing how very different that London-based, global news service of BBC is in its reporting style as compared to the U.S. TV networks. I was somewhat annoyed by a big deal story about the impact of world tension on tourism to the Seychelles Islands that didn’t say or show their location.

 

The Italian evening TV programming we saw that evening was largely devoted to a show horse competition. I was surprised to see such little attention given to Europe’s soccer mania, which seems to dominate the television programming we’ve watched in Great Britain and Ireland where “futball” is king.  

 

The next morning, we could see out of large windows in our hotel room that dozens of swallows were darting about nearby rooftops, evidently in pursuit of insects. The absence of mesh screens on our windows told me that mosquitoes must not be a problem in this part of Rome.

 

For breakfast, I made do with Betty’s leavings from a ham and cheese sandwich from last night, along with a bottle of expensive tonic water. At least I feel pretty good this morning, although a little throaty cough remains.

 

Franco picked us up as promised early on Sunday May 10. We drove straight to the Rome airport and boarded a big KLM jet for the uneventful, two-hour flight to Amsterdam. We had enough time to shop for some wonderful Belgian chocolate sold in the huge complex of retail stores and services in the airport. The flight over the Atlantic Ocean was okay but I was growing more miserable by the hour due to my body at last surrendering to the upper respiratory infection. I was unspeakably glad to get home on time after a $24 cab ride from the Memphis International Airport to our home that is close to the geographic center of Memphis.

 

Continue with Part I of Travelogue  /  Return to Nolan Travels