Continued from Under the Tuscan Winter Sky
After one last panini in Rome, our shuttle took us about 40 minutes to Civitavecchia to board Norwegian Jade for a 10-day cruise around the Mediterranean. We would stop in two cities in Greece, two cities in Turkey, and one city in Italy before returning to Rome. Between four of us, we had a 2-bedroom family suite (with a balcony). A suite on a cruise ship will get you star status, so we were whisked onto the ship without waiting in a single line by our butler, Marvin. Our first evening on the cruise ship was spent unpacking while enjoying our complementary bottle of sparkling wine, and exploring each deck of the ship.
One of the first things we did on board was order a wine package to split between the four of us. Committing to a wine package on the first night of the cruise allowed us to take advantage of a discount on total price. Let’s face it, we would not let a drop of it go to waste. On some cruise lines, wine packages use a voucher system and you’re able to choose which wine you would like at the time of redeeming a voucher. On Norwegian, we needed to choose our wines in advance. We chose four bottles of white wines (Moscato, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio) and eight bottles of red wines (Zinfandel, Shiraz/Cabernet, and Malbec).
The day following sailing out of Rome was a sea day. I absolutely love sea days (just not too many of them). I can sleep in, have an unhurried breakfast or brunch, work out at the gym, play bingo, take naps, and basically just drink wine all day. Because on vacation, day drinking is completely acceptable. On most cruise lines, there are wine tastings on sea days, and Norwegian was no exception. On this cruise, there were two sea days, so we attended both wine tastings. Wine tastings cost a nominal fee, but it’s usually equivalent to the price of one or two glasses of wine, depending on the wines being offered and on what cruise line. Regardless, the quality, quantity, and the experience is completely worth the price. The sommelier on the ship teaches wine tasting procedures and etiquette, pours liberally, and talks about each wine being tasted. I really look forward to these wine tastings on every sailing.
Our first stop was in Katakolon, Greece (for Olympia). We enjoyed the “Best of Olympia” excursion, where we visited the site of the first Olympic Games, nearby Olympia Archaeological Museum, and Agriturismo Magna Grecia. I was in awe at the site of the first Olympic Games, and while I wasn’t able to touch any of the massive columns, I got as close as I could without being barked at. The site was beautiful!
The Olympia Archaeological Museum was larger than expected, and had many artifacts and relics from the area. I tend to browse museums faster than most, so I wandered off and found a cafe selling wine, and made friends with a dog who clearly lived in the area and enjoyed meeting strangers.
After the museum we were taken to Agriturismo Magna Grecia, a local farm that produces olive oil, wine, and other consumables. This was the highlight of the day! We were greeted with a pastry, wine, and ouzo, an anise flavored apertif (I thought it was horrible but I drank it nonetheless, because when in Greece…). We sat down inside to what looked like a light lunch, but was quite filling. And the wine…so much wine…
At the end of lunch, we were treated to Syrtaki dancing, where many tourists were pulled in to participate. We grabbed our glasses of wine for a self guided tour of the farm and vineyard, followed by shopping in their gift shop. We purchased jewelry and rosemary olive oil, as well as olive oil soap. This was a perfect day. The farm was so lovely!
The next day we arrived in Pirous, Greece (for Athens). We enjoyed the “Acropolis and Liesure” excursion, where we would be guided through highlights in Athens (such as Old Marble Olympic Stadium, below), spend a couple hours at Acropolis, and given some free time to explore Plaka. Plaka is the old historic neighborhood of Athens, now a tourist favorite for shopping and restaurants. We did shop and enjoyed lunch at a cafe in Plaka, proceeded by my getting hives from either the sesame seeds or the local honey. But lunch was still wonderful!
Acropolis was breathtaking! I really enjoyed the climb to the top, not to mention all the scenery! I felt like I could see all of Athens surrounding the hill…it really was a marvel. We walked the ruins for hours. Some highlights at Acropolis include the Propylaea, Temple of Apteros Niki, Erectheum and Architectural Triumph of the Parthenon. Restoration continues at the site, and I would love to see it again some day.
Skipping the stops in Turkey for now, which deserves a post of it’s own, we visited Naples, Italy (for Amalfi Coast). We enjoyed the “Flavors of Sorrento and Pompeii” excursion, where we visited a cameo factory in Naples, the restored ruins of Pompeii, took a terrifying cliff-side drive along the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento, and sampled local treats at a Sorrento area family farm. The port at Naples (or Napoli) was beautiful as well as industrial. It felt good to be in Italy again, and we were welcomed with warm weather. The cameo factory was a delight, and now I truly have an appreciation for the delicate art of hand-crafted cameo sculpting (and why they are so justifiably expensive).
Pompeii was surreal. It was difficult to grasp that the entire area had been covered in volcanic ash/tuff, and then so expertly excavated. It was quiet here, and rightfully so, as it truly was a ghost town. I loved the basalt lined streets and marble tiled floors, still mostly intact. The city walls and columns were not as intact, but it was nice to see the primary building material (brick, volcanic rocks) behind their concrete facades. From nearly every vantage point in the extensive Pompeii complex, I could see Mount Vesuvius, an eerie reminder of Pompeii’s demise.
Living in Houston I take for granted flat roads with few turns. So driving along the Amalfi Coast was terrifying but gorgeous. We were dropped off in Sorrento to explore the city on our own, so of course we had to try true Neapolitan pizza. This is not your Americanized pizza, it only resembled our pizza in shape. It was truly sometime else, and absolutely mouthwatering. We also found a limoncello shop in Sorrento, with not only the after dinner drink, but limoncello flavored candy, chocolates, spreads, and other tasty treats. Talk about heaven!
Our day concluded at a family farm up the hill from Sorrento, where we witness Maria making her fresh cheese, and enjoyed lunch on their terrace. It was a wonderful day that ended too quickly.