31 Oct 15 - Mykonos, Greece

From backpackers to the super-rich, from day-trippers to yachties, from regular people to celebrities (who head here by helicopter), Mykonos has become one of the most popular of the Aegean islands. Today's scene is a weird but attractive cocktail of tradition, beauty, and glitz, but travelers from all over the world have long been drawn to this dry, rugged island, at 10 miles by 7 miles, one of the smaller Cyclades, thanks to its many stretches of sandy beach, its thatched windmills, and its picturesque port town. 

One thing is certain: Mykonos knows how to maintain its attractiveness, how to develop it, and how to sell it. Complain as you will that it is touristy, noisy, and overdeveloped; you'll be back. In the 1950s a few tourists began trickling into Mykonos on their way to see the ancient marvels on the nearby islet of Delos, the sacred isle. For almost 1,000 years Delos was the religious and political center of the Aegean and host every four years to the Delian games, the region's greatest festival. The population of Delos actually reached 20,000 at the peak of its commercial period, and throughout antiquity Mykonos, eclipsed by its holy neighbor, depended on this proximity for income (it has been memorably described as Delos's "bordello"), as it partly does today. 

Today, the natives of Mykonos have happily fit cosmopolitan New Yorkers, Londoners, and Athenians gracefully into their way of life. You may see, for example, an old island woman leading a donkey laden with vegetables through the town's narrow streets, greeting the suntanned vacationers walking by. The truth is, Mykonians regard a good tourist season the way a fisherman inspects a calm morning's catch; for many, the money earned in July and August will support them for the rest of the year. Not long ago Mykonians had to rely on what they could scratch out of the island's arid land for sustenance, and some remember suffering from starvation under Axis occupation during World War II. How things have changed.

We wandered around the island for several hours and did some shopping. Late in the afternoon we returned to the ship.

30 Oct 15 - At Sea on Island Princess

Today I have to admit that after many days of walking for 10 hours a day, I was glad to have a full day at sea and not to go anywhere. I slept in , had a late breakfast and took it easy today. I spent some time taking pictures of the ship.

29 Oct 15 - Pompeii & Sorrento

Today was a busy day since we were arriving in Naples, Italy and we had a lot of ground to cover. Our first stop was Pompeii so we took an early morning train to get there. The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 ft of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Researchers believe that the town was founded in the seventh or sixth century BC by the Osci or Oscans. It came under the domination of Rome in the 4th century BC, and was conquered and became a Roman colony in 80 BC after it joined an unsuccessful rebellion against the Roman Republic. By the time of its destruction, 160 years later, its population was estimated at 11,000 people, and the city had a complex water system, an amphitheatre, gymnasium, and a port.

The eruption destroyed the city, killing its inhabitants and burying it under tons of ash. Evidence for the destruction originally came from a surviving letter by Pliny the Younger, who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle Pliny the Elder, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens. The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. The objects that lay beneath the city have been preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture. These artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed one to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.

Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Today it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors every year.

After a few hours visiting Pompeii we took the train to Sorrento. Sorrento may have become a jumping-off point for visitors to Pompeii, Capri, and Amalfi, but you can find countless reasons to love it for itself. The Sorrentine people are fair-minded and hardworking, bubbling with life and warmth. The tuff cliff on which the town rests is like a great golden pedestal spread over the bay, absorbing the sunlight in deepening shades through the mild days, and orange and lemon trees waft a luscious perfume in spring.

In the evening, people fill cafés to nibble, sip, and talk nonstop; then, arms linked, they stroll and browse through the maze of shop-lined lanes. It has been this way for centuries, ever since Sorrento became a prescribed stop for Grand Tour travelers, who savored its mild winters while sopping up its culture and history. According to a letter from his traveling companion in 1876, the philosopher Nietzsche, not generally known for effervescence, "laughed with joy" at the thought of going to Sorrento, and French novelist Stendhal called it "the most beautiful place on earth." Many visitors still share his opinion.

Winding along a cliff above a small beach and two harbors, the town is split in two by a narrow ravine formed by a former mountain stream. To the east, dozens of hotels line busy Via Correale along the cliff—many have "grand" included in their names, and some indeed still are. To the west, however, is the historic sector, which still enchants. It's a relatively flat area, with winding, stone-paved lanes bordered by balconied buildings, some joined by medieval stone arches. The central piazza is named after the poet Torquato Tasso, born here in 1544. This part of town is a delightful place to walk through, especially in the mild evenings, when people are out and about, and everything is open. Craftspeople are often at work in their stalls and shops and are happy to let you watch; in fact, that's the point. Music spots and bars cluster in the side streets near Piazza Tasso.

After some sightseeing we decided to stop in a quaint restaurant and had a fabulous pizza. There is nothing like watching the world go by in a picture-postcard setting enjoying a good meal.

By late afternoon we caught a train from Sorrento back to Naples to board our ship. 

28 Oct 15 - Corsica, France

Today we arrived in Corsica, France, the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. This vertical chalky granite world of its own, rising in the Mediterranean between Provence and Tuscany, remains France's very own Wild West: a powerful natural setting and, literally, a breath of fresh air.
Corsica's strategic location 105 miles south of Monaco and 50 miles west of Italy made Corsica a prize hotly contested by a succession of Mediterranean powers, notably Genoa, Pisa, and France. Their vestiges remain: the city-state of Genoa ruled Corsica for more than 200 years, leaving impressive citadels, churches, bridges, and nearly 100 medieval watchtowers around the island's coastline. The Italian influence is also apparent in village architecture and in the Corsican language: a combination of Italian, Tuscan dialect, and Latin.

Corsica gives an impression of immensity, seeming far larger than its 133-mile length and 50-mile width, partly because its rugged, mountainous terrain makes for very slow traveling and partly because the landscape and the culture vary greatly from one microregion to another. Much of the terrain of Corsica that is not wooded or cultivated is covered with a dense thicket of undergrowth, which along with chestnut trees makes up the maquis, a variety of wild and aromatic plants including lavender, myrtle, and heather that gave Corsica one of its sobriquets, "the perfumed isle."

Once again we decided to take a train tram to tour the city which took about 90 minutes. Evidence of Napoleon's heritage are everywhere to be seen.

The city is quite beautiful and lush. After the tour we headed back to the ship. 

27 Oct 15 - Cannes, France

This morning we arrived in Cannes, France. Cannes a resort town on the French Riviera, is synonymous with glamour thanks to its world-famous film festival. Its Boulevard de la Croisette, curving along the coast, is lined with sandy beaches, upmarket boutiques and palatial hotels. It’s also home to the Palais des Festivals, a modern building complete with red carpet and Allée des Stars – Cannes’ walk of fame.

There's a small train tram which takes you all around the city showing all the main points of interest and stopping for photo-ops and we decided this was the best way to see the sights. 

It was a bit of a gray day today but thankfully there was no rain. We saw beautiful palm trees and fabulous luxury hotels along the waterfront in addition to prestigious condos with large flower-covered terraces facing the ocean. This is a town for the rich and famous. You can find small cafes on tiny narrow alleyways jutting out along the Croisette the main street along the ocean.

A tasteful and expensive breeding ground for the upper-upscale, Cannes has long been a sybaritic heaven further glamorized by the ongoing success of its film festival, as famous as (and, in the trade, more respected than) Hollywood's Academy Awards. About the closest many of us will get to feeling like a film star is a stroll here along the famous La Croisette promenade, lined with fancy boutiques and lorded over by the Carlton hotel, the legendary backdrop to Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. Nearly 60 years later with life imitating art, a whopping $53 million worth of jewels was stolen from this same hotel, one of many high-profile heists to hit Cannes during the summer of 2013.

Settled first by the Ligurians and then dubbed Cannoïs by the Romans (after the cane that waved in its marshes), Cannes was an important sentinel site for the monks who established themselves on Île St-Honorat in the Middle Ages. Its bay served as nothing more than a fishing port until in 1834 an English aristocrat, Lord Brougham, fell in love with the site during an emergency stopover with a sick daughter. He had a home built here and returned every winter for a sun cure—a ritual quickly picked up by his peers. Between the popularity of Le Train Blue transporting wealthy passengers from Calais, and the introduction in 1936 of France's first paid holidays, Cannes became the destination.

La Croisette, which starts at the western end by the Palais des Festivals and leads over to the Jardin Alexandre III, is precisely the sort of place for which the French invented the verb flâner (to dawdle, saunter): from the broad expanse of mostly private beaches to the glamorous shops and luxurious hotels, which these days are filled with the not-so jet set and conventioneers.

The harbour was filled with million dollar yachts and as we walked the waterfront we enjoyed looking at the large palm trees and beautiful boutiques. 

We spent a few hours in this port before going back to the ship. We had a few hours to relax before dinner, saw a show and went to bed not too late. 

26 Oct 15 - Pisa & Florence

Today was another early start as we were headed to Pisa and Florence. The best way I find to visit these towns is to do it independently on the train. After a short train ride were were in Pisa. Once a maritime power to rival Genoa and Venice, Pisa now draws its fame from an architectural project gone terribly wrong. But the world-famous Leaning Tower is just one of many noteworthy sights in this compelling city. 

Education has fuelled the local economy since the 1400s, and students from across Italy compete for places in its elite university. This endows the centre of town with a vibrant cafe and bar scene, balancing an enviable portfolio of well-maintained Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches and Renaissance piazzas with a lively street life dominated by locals rather than tourists.

After some time in Pisa shopping for souvenirs (I got a Leaning Tower of Pisa coffee mug which leans, lol) we were back on the train to Florence.

Florence is a relatively compact historic city situated along the borders of the Arno river in the middle of the Tuscan hills. During the Renaissance period, when the city was at the height of its powers, talented artists such as Brunelleschi and Michelangelo left their mark with magnificent buildings and artwork.

The Cathedral of Florence, officially known as Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore but better known as the Duomo, was originally planned in 1296 as a Gothic cathedral by Arnolfo di Cambio. It replaced the church of Santa Reparata, a cathedral church with a history going back to the early Middle Ages.

The dome of the Duomo was the world's largest when it was completed in 1436 and still towers over the city. The lantern on top of the dome was added later, in 1461, by Michelozzi Michelozzo. The dome, a marvel of engineering, was designed by Brunelleschi, who submitted his plans after he went to Rome to study the Pantheon, which long had the world's largest dome. 

Brunelleschi managed to create the enormous dome without supports thanks to an ingenious design which consisted of an inner shell made of bricks with a herringbone pattern and a horizontal stone chain, which reduced stress and allowed the weight to be evenly distributed. The outer, much smaller shell supports the roof and protects the inner shell from the elements. Between the two shells is a staircase, which leads visitors to the base of the lantern.

The Baptistery is one of Florence's oldest buildings and predates the cathedral. It was constructed on top of Roman foundations, possibly as early as in the sixth century. The interior dates back to the thirteenth century when the mosaics on the ceiling - depicting stories from the bible - were created. The exterior white and green marble cladding was added around the same time. 

The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is a medieval bridge spanning the river Arno in Florence. It is one of the few remaining bridges with houses built upon. The Vasari corridor that runs over the houses connects the Uffizi with the Pitti Palace on the other side of the river. The pedestrian bridge is often teeming with tourists and the many musicians, portraitists and other entertainers create a constantly vibrant atmosphere. The bridge is at its most beautiful at dusk, especially when seen from the Ponte Santa Trinità.

The houses on the bridge were initially used as workshops and a diverse array of shopkeepers such as butchers and tanners did business here. In 1593 duke Ferdinand I decided to replace them with goldsmiths, reportedly because the shops produced too much garbage and caused a foul stench.

Today the houses are used as shops selling a wide assortment of jewelry, ranging from affordable modern jewels to pricey antiques. 
The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence. It is believed that a bridge already existed here during the Roman times. Its current appearance dates back to 1345 when it was built to replace a bridge which was destroyed by a flood. Houses were built on the bridge, a common practice in large European cities during the Middle Ages. The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence that survived the Second World War unscathed.

We had a great lunch at a lovely sidewalk cafe. I ordered spaghetti with meat sauce and they served it in a unique plate that had a large cup-like indentation in the middle to hold the pasta, very good meal in the most beautiful surroundings facing the Duomo.

After some shopping we headed back to the train station to return to the ship. We had a great meal tonight of shrimp cocktail, prime rib and a to-die-for chocolate souffle. After dinner we saw an entertaining show in the lounge and then happily went to bed after an exciting but tiring day.

25 Oct 15 - Rome

This morning we had an early buffet breakfast at the hotel, it had everything. . . eggs, bacon, cold cuts, cheeses, pastries, pancakes, cereals etc and three kinds of coffee...great way to start the day.

This was the last Sunday of the month so entry to the Sistine Chapel was free so we headed off early to get in line since there are always hundreds of people lined up an hour before opening time. We got there by 8:00am and we were behind about 800 people with the same idea. Once the doors opened at 9:00am the entry was fast and were were on our way into the Vatican Museums to see the Sistine Chapel. It was unbelievable how far away it was, it was at the end of all the other museums and there is no way of just getting to it without bypassing the miles of corridors and steps and winding alleys of the museum enroute to this crown jewel of the vatican.

After much walking through what seemed like an endless array of narrow passageways we finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel. We were so exhausted by the time we got there that it narrowed our appreciation of the marvel that was overhead. I opted to sit down on the benches along the wall. I looked down on my camera to see how much battery life I had left when a guide rushed over like a madman since he thought I was taking a picture which is not allowed. He was screaming at me in Italian and ushered me towards the exit. Though I tried to explain I was not taking pictures he would hear none of it and was just rude and obnoxious as he kept walking towards the door. I had to laugh at the irony of walking so long to see this room only to be kicked out for no reason....lol.....oh well, ciao Sistine!

We stopped at the Vatican before taking a taxi back to the hotel since we had a scheduled transfer from Rome to Civitavecchia to board our cruise ship.

We headed off around 1:00PM from the hotel to the cruise terminal which is about a 90 minute ride.

Finally I could see the Island Princess in the distance and was looking forward to finally unpacking.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had been upgraded to a suite! We had a large cabin with a long marble-topped desk, full sofa and armchair as well as a large bathroom with a bathtub. The cherry on the sundae was the large balcony  which wrapped around the edge of the ship which allowed us to see a side view and back view of the ocean as we sailed which was really terrific.  

I was happy to get the bags unpacked and walk around the ship to get acquainted. Although a large 92,000 ton ship this is one of the smaller ships in the Princess fleet. It was refurbished in May of 2015 so many of the public rooms were brand new. There are several bars with live bands for dancing which is nice. They also have a large outdoor cinema for "Movies Under the Stars" complete with padded loungers, cozy blankets and popcorn. Overall this is an attractive ship.

I had a very nice dinner and watched from my balcony as we sailed towards Livorno to visit Pisa and Florence. It was an early night to bed. 

24 Oct 15 - Rome

After an 8 hour flight we finally arrived in Rome! This is a fascinating city and is without a doubt one the most beautiful cities in the world; every year millions of tourists come from around the world to admire the treasures and masterpieces of Roman art and architecture. 

Monuments from the capital’s glorious past are everywhere, from ancient Roman remains to the beautiful baroque churches. There is no shortage of things to do in Rome: you can relax in the city’s elegant squares, explore the narrow alleyways of the city center, stroll along the main shopping streets, and uncover the quirks of what is still identifiably a collection of ages and architectural styles. 

In Rome you are surrounded by cafes filled with locals and tourists alike, the sound of scooters everywhere and the mass of cars that go at breakneck speeds on narrow cobbled-stone streets. Every car has either a dent or a scratch.

I stayed at the Quirinale Hotel which is a 4-star property in a great location in central Rome close to all the attractions and around the corner from Piazza Rebublica. This is an Old-World style hotel which is my favorite kind. You are surrounded by antiques and this makes you feel like you are really in Europe. Our room was an Executive suite with a beautiful Murano crystal chandelier, high ceiling and a large all marble bathroom...just beautiful. The window overlooked the garden below with statues, flowers and lovely tables for dining. After a little refreshing we were off to explore this amazing city. 

I purchased a Hop-On-Hop Off pass which is the best way to see the city. You can get off where you want and stay as long as you like and take the next tour bus on the route to your next preferred stop. Our first stop was the Colosseum, probably the most recognizable monument in Rome. It was a beautiful warm day and the sun was shining. After some time there we proceeded to Piazza Navona. 

Piazza Navona is one of the most famous and arguably the most beautiful of Rome's many squares. The large and lively square features no less than three magnificent fountains. Another eyecatcher is the Baroque church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. The square is built on the former Stadium of Domitian, built by Emperor Domitian in 86 AD. Hence the long, oval shape of the square. The stadium, which had a larger arena than the Colosseum was mainly used for festivals and sporting events. The main attraction of Piazza Navona is the trio of fountains that adorn the square. 

The central and largest fountain is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). It was constructed between 1647 and 1651 on request of pope Innocent X. The design of the fountain was first commissioned to Borromini, but it was ultimately handed to his rival Bernini. The fountain features four figures, each representing a river from a different continent - the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata. The statues are at the base of a rock supporting an obelisk, originally located at the Circus of Maxentius, near the Appian Way.

The two other fountains on the piazza are the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune fountain) at the northern end and the Fontana del Moro (Moor fountain) at the southern end of the square. 

The Fontana del Nettuno, also known as the Calderari, was built in 1576 by Giacomo della Porta. The statues of Neptune surrounded by sea nymphs were added in the nineteenth century. 

Giacomo della Porta also built the Fontana del Moro. The central statue of a Moor holding a dolphin, a design by Bernini, was added in the seventeenth century. The tritons are nineteenth-century additions. 

We took a seat at a sidewalk cafe and had a great pizza while watching tourists and locals alike stroll the Piazza. After some shopping for watercolors we were off to continue our tour.

We made our way to the Trevi Fountain and although it was still surrounded by glass and no water was running we saw it without scaffolding which was great. It was already dark out so it was hard to get a great shot. We missed the grand opening by only a few days! 

The Trevi Fountain is situated at the end of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC by Agrippa, the son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. The aqueduct brings water all the way from the Salone Springs, approx. 21km from Rome, and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water. 

According to legend, Agrippa sent out a group of soldiers to search for a spring near Rome. The spring was found after a young virgin (virgo) showed the source to the soldiers, hence the name of the aqueduct.

We headed back to the hotel to relax and change since we had ballet tickets.
We went to Theatro Dell' Opera Di Roma to see the ballet "Giselle".  It's a beautiful old theatre and we had a private box with seats covered in red velvet. There are dozens of crystal chandeliers and it was exciting to think we were sitting where centuries before royalty sat & saw the same performance.

The ballet is about a peasant girl named Giselle, who dies of a broken heart after discovering her lover is betrothed to another. 

The Wilis, a group of supernatural women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave. They target her lover for death, but Giselle's great love frees him from their grasp. 


There are only 17 days left until I fly off to Rome to board the magnificent Island Princess for a 12 night Mediterranean cruise! I'll be staying one night before the cruise in Rome and then will be visiting Florence, Italy; Cannes, France; Corsica, France; Naples, Pompeii, & Capri, Italy; Mykonos & Athens Greece; Istanbul & Kusadasi Turkey ending in Venice, Italy.

I will be blogging every day on the cruise so make sure to check it out every day for info and pics on each of these fabulous destinations.