Wednesday, September 13, 2017

See the World, You ARE Able, part 5

Cruising the Mediterranean
My wanderlust continued, even though I had experienced a severe setback due to a diagnosis of advanced osteoporosis.  My husband had never "crossed the pond" so to speak, and I had not done so for several decades.  I decided to investigate the itineraries offered by Holland America once again because I had had such a great time travelling through the Maritimes.
 Travelling through Europe, for me, is akin to a pilgrimage.  Each trip that I make, brings me into touch with the history of Christianity and closer to God.  With each cathedral, church, gravesite or monument, there is a sense of the Almighty being present and imagining those who had come before me sharing this same feeling deepened my conviction that somehow God had led me to that place. 
The first pilgrimage we made to Europe was in the Mediterranean region aboard the Niew Amsterdam, one of the larger ships in the fleet.  I don't think that I have mentioned this, but if you are a member of the Holland America Loyalty programme, the Mariner Society, you are invited to a reception where you are presented with porcelain tiles made in the Delft factory in Holland.  Each tile bears the likeness of the ship on which you are travelling.  I have collected several of these tiles and mounted them in a picture frame which hangs in my kitchen. They also make excellent coasters.  The Niew Amsterdam tile is on the top left of the picture below. 
As with the other ships in the fleet, the accommodations for those with mobility challenges were plentiful and I found that dietary restrictions were accommodated as the norm, perhaps because European countries are far more advanced in this than we are in North America.  The diversity of the restaurants on this ship had grown in size from our previous excursion on the Maasdam, as well as the number of people aboard.  There were a few welcome additions on this ship.   In addition to the West Coast grill (The Pinnacle) and the Italian fare (The Canaletto), the Nieuw Amsterdam sported an Asian fusion restaurant (The Tamarind).  There was also a real movie theatre with comfortable theatre seats, a very large screen and a popcorn machine.  And, of course, there were two types of religious services celebrated each day (non-denominational and Catholic) and on Fridays, the Jewish passengers were invited to celebrate their Sabbath Eve services complete with traditional kosher treats from the kitchen. 
I know that I have mentioned previously that I am accident-prone.  Six weeks before our trip, I tripped over a bag of groceries on my front porch and broke my leg. The doctors assured me that the cast would come off before we left so my wonderful travel agent booked a seat for me in the last row of the airplane so that I could avail myself of the large space between my seat and the washroom to stand behind my seat to help with the circulation in my leg.  The cast was removed in time and, although my leg was somewhat stiff, we set off for Venice.  Again, the airlines provided excellent service from the time I arrived at the airport to the time that we landed at Marco Polo airport.  We hadn't booked transfers to the ship as were wanted to spend a few days in the city of romance prior to our cruise.  That meant we had to arrange water transport to our hotel by ourselves.  As luck would have it, we met another couple staying in the same area as we were and together we managed to pay the very expensive fare to the dock nearest our destination.  What I hadn't counted on was the lack of steps from the water taxi to the dock, something that you should investigate before your trip.  I will be eternally grateful to those very strong men who hauled my "curvy" body up and down from the dock in the gentlest manner possible.
Every couple in love should visit this magnificent city; however, in my condition, walking on cobblestones and traversing the many bridges proved to be a challenge.  Rule of thumb when walking in all European cities where cobblestone streets are plentiful -- look down at where your feet are going.  If you want to enjoy the scenery, stop and look at it and take your pictures while stationery.  Canes with three prongs or walkers are really handy, especially if your walker sports a seat.  If you are tired, there is a greater chance that you will have a mishap, so pace yourself.  Luckily, there are many cafes, parks and gelato places to sit and rest.  In Venice there are gondolas and vaporettos (large water taxis) to get you to various destinations.  The bridges posted somewhat of a challenge for me; however I planned my walking itinerary carefully so as not to overexert myself.
Our hotel was near St. Mark's Square, just down the way from the church where Handel gave his performances. We managed to book a room on the main floor so that I didn't have to manoeuvre any steps to get to street level.  I had been to Venice many years before so I was content to spend time people watching in the many cafes and restaurants while Darryl went sightseeing.  That being said, I did venture out on my own into a few back streets to see the wig and marionette makers' shops.  There was always something to see in the streets -- dancers, puppet shows, minstrels, etc.
 Our pilgrimage took us to many churches and cathedrals, and, once again we had the good fortune to be able to attend Sunday mass --  this time at St. Mark's Cathedral.  I should mention that a little bit of local language skills, or a good translation app on your phone goes a long way as I was able to ask at a side door if we could attend the service, thereby avoiding the long line of tourists waiting to get in at the main door.
 What a delight to be able to worship in places that we knew held centuries of history and great music and to consider God's hand in the shaping of the architecture, art and music that had withstood time.  And, of course, the privilege of sharing the worship experience with so many people from diverse cultures all speaking in their native tongues.  I will always cherish those sacred space memories. 
 During the 1990s, I worked as an assistant to an art glass collector who had many fine examples of glass made on the island of Murano.  As it was just a short boat ride to there, we decided to take a tour of the glass factory.  We passed one of Elton John's houses -- painted bright yellow -- and saw many of the smaller islands such as the Lido which was the home of the famous resort and casino.  Our tour was fascinating but we were sad to learn that the glass blowing industry was in danger of becoming a lost art h as the once family-based career was becoming less attractive to the younger generation.  Needless to say, my retail sightseeing prompted a visit to the gift shop where all I could afford was a very small cross and a snow globe. (Have I mentioned that I have a collection of 250+ snow globes?)
After two days, it was time to leave Venice and board our ship to begin our cruise on the beautiful Mediterranean sea.  God willing, we will be able to go back to explore the great city of Venice again.

The only reference that I had to "Montenegro" was in the name of the musician, Hugo Montenegro so when our next port was to be in a country of that name, I was quite intrigued.  We took a shore excursion by bus from our port in Kotor to explore the rich culture, natural beauty and historical heritage of that country.  We travelled up the Louveen hills which wound around narrow roadways like a snake and, had it not been for my prayers of thanks for the beautiful view of Kotor Bay and the exquisite mountain scenery, I surely would have kept my eyes closed all the way to the top. 

We reached the village of Njegusi where the "aroma" of the smoke houses filled the air.  Darryl took the opportunity to visit the inside of one of these; however, being a vegetarian, I opted for sitting in the outdoor café where people were tasting the local specialties of ham and cheese sandwiches, wine and brandy.

 And here I must interject another tip -- carry a small first aid kit with you and, if you have allergies, remember your Epi pen.  I got stung by a bee so I was lucky that the guide was prepared with these items.  I don't remember much of the ride down the mountain towards the 2,000 year old city of Budva, and sadly did not take the walking tour of the city of Kotor, known as "the jewel of Montenegro".  As I was not up to the challenge of the cobblestone streets, I found yet another shady spot to wait for the bus to go back to the ship.

The last time I was in Greece, I was almost mown down by a tank in Athens when the military took over the city.   Our port in Greece was Kekira on the island of Corfu.  We decided not to take a tour; instead we went ashore by ourselves and walked around Corfu Town and saw Cricket Square and the Palace of St. George and St. Michael.

The night before we landed in Naples, we got an e-mail from my friend Helen saying that her father had died so our two objectives for the next day was to find a church in which to light a memorial candle and to eat a slice of the famous Queen Margarita pizza.  Again, our luck was with us in that we landed on a Sunday and, with my terrible Italian language skills, I asked and was taken to the nearest church to celebrate mass with a friendly resident and her son.

 We then set out to find pizza, but all we could see was a Chinese restaurant. One thing that I noticed in Naples was the excellent graffiti adorning many of the walls.
 It was starting to rain and we had forgotten our umbrellas (remember to take some sort of raingear with you to avoid exorbitant prices in the stores) so we took a short walk around the city and, when we boarded the ship, we were treated to a "slice". 

Even if you are not a fan of the Game of Thrones books or television series, you really must see our next port -- Dubrovnik. 

Me on the Iron Throne

I had never heard of the books until, on one of my low energy days when I really didn't feel like going ashore, I discovered the well-stocked library and the knowledgeable librarian aboard the ship.  The library also had a Starbucks-like coffee bar and computers which was all I needed for happiness that day..  I began a conversation about C.S. Lewis's Narnia with the Librarian and she suggested that I read Game of Thrones.  I'm not a great fan of the television series, but seeing the actual place where the "shoots" took place was quite a thrill.  Dubrovnik is an ancient walled city but beware -- the streets are all cobblestones.  I did more stopping and looking up from the ground in this city than in any other one that I have visited.

Local residents recounted many stories about the film shoot for the t.v. series and I could absolutely see why they chose that location for filming.  The walls of the city were gigantic -- I didn't climb to the top to see the view but I did see them from afar.  We visited the church there and also the synagogue in the Jewish quarter. 
There were too many steps for me to go into the sanctuary (Darryl went) so I stayed in the gift shop and talked to the docent about the community that worshiped there.  It's amazing what you can find out while you are waiting -- most locals are so willing to share their knowledge with you if they see you standing or sitting around.  We were directed to the main square where the oldest alarm clock stood -- what an amazing sight to see, especially when we were told how it worked.

Our next stop was the ancient city of Rome.  I had been there at least four times in my life and had loved every minute of exploring the museums, galleries, shops and churches.  My best tactic for sightseeing was to hop on a different city bus each day and go to a new area to explore.  That was when I was younger and didn't have quite the stamina and mobility challenges that I now face.  I knew that the bus ride into the city was quite long and that there would be a tremendous amount of walking, so I sent Darryl on the excursion as he had never been there.  I opted for a great day at the Spa on the ship.  The Spa often has great deals which you find out about each day by the notices left in the envelope on the door to your cabin.  Believe me, I'm not one to run to have facials or massages, but when you can get all that plus unlimited time in a room of silence looking out on the sea, it was too good to pass up.  Darryl took a lot of pictures and confirmed that it would have been madness for me to have attempted so gruelling a trip ashore.  Much as I would have liked to see the inner rooms of the Vatican, I thought I had made the right decision.  
These are only a few of the many pictures that he took.
And here I will stop as there is so much more to tell about the places that we have visited.  I will continue in another installment of this Blog.





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