Friday, October 19, 2012

October 18, 2012 11:00 AM—Mediterranean Cruise

Well, I’m back in Uganda now.  I just returned from Europe where I met mom and we went on a cruise.  As many people know we were supposed to go to Tunisia, but because of the current security risks and Peace Corps telling I couldn’t go there, we changed our plans and went on a cruise of the Mediterranean instead.

The cruise started in Rome.  I arrived about a day before mom did so I had to find something to do for the first day. Put me in a European city with a map and this isn’t a problem.  I’ve already been to Rome twice before, so I’ve already seen all the main sites twice.  This time I wanted to find something more off the beaten track.  I’ve always heard how there are so many beautiful churches in Rome that are rarely on the regular tourist radar, so I set out to find some of these churches and see for myself.  My goal was to see 8 churches in Rome before mom arrived.  Instead, I saw 12!  Everyone who goes to Rome wants to see the Vatican, but little do they know that there are so many other churches in the city that are just as amazing as Saint Peters, but without the crowds.

                   Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

                                                                               Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli

                                                                                             Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

                                                                                           Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin

                         Church of the Gesu

                                                                                             Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
                                The Pantheon

                                                                                                  San Giovanni in Laterano

                         San Pietro in Vincoli

When mom got to Rome, we had to go to all the touristy places because she had never been there before.  We went to the Vatican (Saint Peters and the Vatican Museum), the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain.  We also soaked up as much Italian culture and food as we could by wandering the streets and eating at an outdoor café for dinner.  Needless to say, I loved Rome just as much as the first two times!

Swiss Guard at the Vatican

The Trevi Fountain

St Peters

After spending some time in Rome, it was time for our cruise.  We cruised with Holland America on the MS Noordam.  I had never been on a cruise before so I had no idea what to expect, but I can now safely say that I think cruising is one of the best ways to travel.  We had a decent size room with a sea view and we took full advantage of everything from the endless food to the two pools and the sun.  We also enjoyed some of the on-board activities like trivia.  I think I loved cruising a little too much.  When it came time to leave, I wasn’t ready to go.

We also stopped at some awesome ports.  Our first stop was in Croatia in a little town called Dubrovnik.  This town was such a cute seaside town.  It was obviously very old and historic; especially considering it is still a walled city.  We went on a tour there and we got to see an amazing view from up in the mountains and wander around the town itself.

After Dubrovnik we were off to Greece.  I had been to Greece before, but only to Athens and I was less than impressed.  I wasn’t so interested in going back to Greece, but everyone kept telling me that you have to see the Greek islands because they are so different than Athens.  So I figured I would give it all a second chance.  Our first stop in Greece was Corfu.  Corfu is one of the largest Greek islands and it is pretty far north.  It is very close to Albania.  Again, on our tour we got to see some amazing panoramic views and we also wandered around Corfu town.  So far, so good with Greece.

Next we stopped in Katakolon, which is the closest port to Ancient Olympia.  This is not an island.  It is on the Greek mainland.  So there we saw the ruins at Olympia.  As far as ancient ruins go, it was pretty interesting.  And we also got a good history lesson about the Olympics, which I really enjoyed.

Then we went to Santorini!  This island alone changed my views on Greece.  I’ve been to quite a few places in the world and I would have to say that Santorini was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen!  All the houses are white with blue roofs and they are built into the hillsides and cliffs.  We visited the town of Oia, where we wandered around and took in all the spectacular views.  What can I say…words can’t quite describe Santorini.  Now I have a reason to go back to Greece.

After sadly leaving Santorini, we sailed to Turkey.  We ported at Kusadasi, which is the closest port to Ancient Ephesus.  Again we saw some amazing ruins.  Ephesus was an ancient city that was mentioned many times in the bible.  We took a tour that took us to the Virgin Mary’s house, where it is believed that Mary spent the last days of her life.  And then we made our way to Ephesus, which was some of the most amazing ruins I’ve ever seen.  This was the only port in Turkey that we stopped at, but I definitely need to go back to Turkey.  It is full of so much history.

The Virgin Mary House

Ancient Ephesus

After Kusadasi, we returned to Greece.  This time we stopped in Piraus, which is the closest port to Athens.  If it had been up to me, I would have rather stopped anywhere else, but it’s not up to me.  We took a tour of Athens because mom had never seen Athens and I always try to give a place a second chance.  Let’s just say that Athens ran out of chances.  Again I found it to be a dirty, unexciting city.  We saw the Olympic stadium and the Acropolis.  I can safely say I have no intentions of ever going back to Athens.  Again, it was just a disappointment.

The Olympic Stadium

The Acropolis

And finally our last stop on our Mediterranean cruise was in Messina, Sicily.  From Messina we went further inland to see a small town called Taormina.  It was a cute little town and we really enjoyed just wandering around and taking in the sites.  This town is also very close to Mount Etna, which is an active volcano on the island of Sicily.  We got some spectacular views of this from Taormina.

After all these wonderful ports we were on our way back to Rome.  On the way we passed Stromboli, which is another active volcano on an island all by itself.  So we got a good site of this before we had to disembark the following morning.

I loved the cruise and I was really sad to be returning here to Uganda, but on the bright side I have less than six months left.  So I’m really on the downhill now.  And now I know that I totally want to go on a cruise again.  It really is the best way to travel!

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