All text and photographs are Copyright (C) 2009 David A. Oshinsky.
Our 2009 Europe trip began with a flight into Rome and on to Venice. We arrived at our cruise ship, the M.S. Oosterdam docked in Venice, on July 24. We had until late in the day July 25 to explore the beautiful city of Venice. This is a truly unique city, with waterways replacing streets in all but the outskirts. In fact, there are no automobiles at all in the central city, these being replaced completely by boats. We first took a water taxi to St. Mark's Square, shortly after arriving. On July 25, we took a very long walk from the Oosterdam, through the city, and back to St. Mark's Square, followed by a water taxi ride back to the Oosterdam. Many of our most memorable Venice photos were taken during this wandering walk. A highlight was when we thought we were headed along a major waterway to St. Mark's Square (our destination), but instead ended up at a "dead end" surrounded by water on 3 sides. Google Maps on the iPhone really helped at this point to find our way to a foot bridge leading ultimately to St. Mark's Square.
The Oosterdam departed Venice late July 25 and sailed overnight to arrive at Dubrovnik, Croatia early July 26. Although not all that well known, Dubrovnik is a gorgeous city, surrounded by high walls that make a great place to take in marvellous views with the sea as background. The only depressing thing we found in Dubrovnik was the synagogue, which is more museum than synagogue, with very few active members left (certainly not enough for regular services).
The Oosterdam departed Dubrovnik later in the day, and sailed on for an arrival at Corfu, Greece early July 27. This was our first view of the Greek islands, which are well known for gorgeous scenery and a very long history. Since we did not take an organized tour here, we spent most of our time in the town of Kerkira at some old fortifications by the water. Most of the Corfu photos were taken from at or near this location. We also had a memorable lunch in Kerkira consisting of the same kinds of vegetarian Greek appetizers that we enjoy at a local Greek restaurant near home. In Kerkira, we saw and heard a loud protest march by the local Communists, apparently inspired by visiting dignitaries holding a summit in Corfu at the time.
The Oosterdam departed later in the day to sail on to another Greek island, known as Argostoli. We also took no organized tour on Argostoli, instead hanging out in the town and by the water, where the Argostoli photos were taken. Our stay in Argostoli was short, as we had a somewhat longer trip ahead to our next stop.
We arrived on July 29 at the Greek island known as Santorini, the Italian name. This island is also known by the Greek name Thira (or Thera), which is the name of the largest town. Wikipedia describes Santorini as "essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion, destroying the earliest settlements on what was formerly a single island, and leading to the creation of the current geological caldera". The scenery on Santorini is as dramatic as its violent origins. We took an organized tour here, which is fortunate because we covered a lot of ground in a short time. The tour stopped in the town of Ia (more commonly spelled Oia) around noon-time. It then continued on to, among other places, a winery where we sampled the local wines and food. The views at the winery were, by no coincidence, quite beautiful. Our tour ended at the town of Thira, where we waited for the sunset at a local eatery with our friends Jose and Irma, also from the cruise, who we had met wandering (aimlessly) around Argostoli the previous day. Our Santorini photos were taken from all of these locations, including during the walk around sunset down the steep path from Thira to the port.
June 30 was a day at sea, as the journey from Santorini to our next stop in Sicily was a longer one. On July 1, we arrived at the Sicilian port city of Catania. The most dramatic thing to be seen on the horizon at Catania is the massive, active volcano, Mt. Etna. We didn't see any volcanic action here, but the view was impressive. We took an organized tour to the beautiful Sicilian shore town known as Taormina, the site of an ancient Greco-Roman theater. Our Sicily photos were taken mostly from Taormina.
We then journeyed to the Italian mainland, arriving at the very busy port city Naples on July 2. We were warned to watch out for the crazy drivers here. The city is a madhouse filled with nutty motorcycle and automobile drivers, all of whom seem to care less about pedestrians than the wellbeing of their worst enemy. Having said that, there is an archaeological museum here that is filled with fabulous Roman artifacts (mostly from nearby Pompeii, which we did not visit), and the views of the water and nearby active volcano Mt. Vesuvius (the one that erupted on Pompeii) are impressive. A web page displaying photographs from Naples is located here.
We returned to the Oosterdam once again, with our next overnight journey to the port of Civitavecchia, which is about 1 1/2 hours drive from Rome. We took an organized tour of Rome, which was done at whirlwind speed. There is so much we would like to eventually see here, perhaps for another trip with more time to devote to central and northern Italy. Rome photos can be found here. Highlights in Rome included a quick tour of the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museum probably contains more artwork in it than the Louvre.
The Oosterdam now traveled overnight to the port city of Livorno, in Tuscany. We took another whirlwind organized tour, this time of Florence and Pisa. In Florence, artwork is absolutely everywhere, including the world famous David by Michelangelo. The David statue we saw outdoors is actually a copy of the original, which is housed safely indoors. Around noon, we stopped for a while in the Florence (Firenze in Italian) synagogue, which is housed in an absolutely beautiful building. We were there for a portion of Shabbat morning services, and in honor of Shabbat, did not take any photos of the synagogue itself (that didn't stop us from photographing everywhere else, I have to admit). Our tour continued on to Pisa, where we saw throngs of tourists all getting their pictures taken in various leaning poses with the leaning tower as backdrop. Photo web pages are located at Florence and Pisa.
The Oosterdam sailed on to Barcelona, arriving late in the day on July 5. Instead of rushing off the boat into Barcelona, we had a relaxing last evening on the Oosterdam, with views of the Barcelona port. Sailing the "Mediterranean Romance Cruise" (as this itinerary is known) on Holland America's M.S. Oosterdam was truly a pleasure. The service on the ship was fabulous, with the only significant negative being that the food for vegetarians (or "almost" vegetarians) was a bit limited (it's a lot easier if you eat and love steak, shrimp, and lobster). To remember our time spent on this impressive ship, I have posted a few photos here.
We disembarked the Oosterdam on July 6, and now spent two days in the beautiful Mediterranean port city of Barcelona, Spain. We stayed on the street called La Rambla, which is a hotbed of activity for throngs of young people. The scenery and architecture in Barcelona are truly memorable, with a selection of photos located here.
Finally, to prove that it was actually us (Judi and myself) who visited all
of these places, a selection of "us and friends" (people photos for
those who love these most) is located
We'll always have fond memories of our amazingly varied 2009 Mediterranean
Romance trip. Our direct return flight to the U.S., from Barcelona,
brought us back home on July 8.