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the 2023
Cruise Diary:

Entry & Exit

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Cruising the Mediterranean, and Visiting France... Part 2

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Florence
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
The “Leaning Tower”

This has been a “bucket list” day for both of us.  I wanted to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Heather wanted to see Florence.  There was an “excursion,” offered by the ship, that promised both, so we gave them a bunch of money, and were soon on a big highway bus.  Both Pisa and Florence are inland, so the bus took half an hour to get to Pisa, an hour to get to Florence, and an hour to get back to the ship, which was moored in the port of Livorno.  Given that we spent an hour in Pisa, and three hours in Florence, the excursion occupied most of the day.

There’s not a lot to say about the visit to Pisa.  The bus parked, and the passengers followed the tour leader on a 10-minute walk to the medieval walled compound that houses the Pisa cathedral, a baptistry structure, a building which is actually a cemetery, and the leaning tower - which is, in fact, the cathedral’s bell tower (known as a “campanile”), something I had not previously known.  I took a bunch of pictures, one of which I’m posting here.

As for Florence, it gave me an extraordinary feeling to be among beautiful buildings that were made before Columbus first crossed the Atlantic.  In Winnipeg, a structure that is more than 100 years old is considered ancient; but in Florence, it would be considered “new.”  We had lunch in the piazza that faces Holy Cross basilica (in Italian: “la Basilica di Santa Croce”).  Then we went walking and exploring.  There were shops that fascinated Heather (though she didn’t buy anything, to my great surprise); as well, we passed a copy of Michelangelo’s statue of David, and a number of other remarkable sculptures.  A highlight was a medieval bridge that, for centuries, has been the location of jewelry stores.

The tour leader was a delight - very knowledgeable, articulate, and funny - though her Italian accent was so strong that at times I had to strain to decipher what she was saying.

The worst aspect of the day was the walking.  There was lots of it, and let me tell you, an elderly body does not take well to walking on cobblestones!  A day later, I am still stiff and sore.  As well, when we were in a group, following our tour leader, she (and everyone) walked so quickly that Heather and I began to fall behind.  I ran to the front, told the tour leader our problem, and she assigned a young assistant to stay with us, and ensure that we didn’t get lost.  What’s not to like about that!?

All told, it was a very successful day, and we have now checked off “Pisa” and “Florence,” in our respective bucket lists.

Heather on the Ponte Veccio, in Florence, Italy
Heather, on Ponte Veccio, in Florence (a city of really old buildings!)

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Saturday, April 22, 2023

Civitaveccia – Seaport for the City of Rome

oday, the ship stopped at Civitaveccia, Italy,
which is the port closest to Rome.  Heather and I did not disembark.  Twelve years ago, in 2011, we had also cruised the Mediterranean, and that cruise had ended in Civitaveccia.  We then went into Rome, where we spent an entire week.  It was fun, and memorable, and impossible to equal in one short six-hour visit.

So, I’ve spent the day peacefully – the bulk of it writing a FaceBook post about yesterday in Pisa and Florence, and posting a number of photos in that popular medium.  I became quite engrossed by the great number of FaceBook friends who have been clicking “like” and/or commenting on what we’ve been doing.

Meanwhile, there was considerable disorganization onboard this ship, as – for some passengers – a seven-day cruise had come to an end.  They have disembarked, and a host of new passengers are coming on board.  Back in January, when we bought our tickets for this cruise, we had supposed it to be a single, twenty-one day voyage, but in fact, it is a combination of three shorter cruises!  Staff must treat this day as the end of a cruise, and the beginning of another, as well as the continuation of a much longer cruise for some passengers!

I may not have mentioned it until now, but Heather and I have somehow been granted the privilege of having dinner every day at the same window-seat table in a quiet, partially walled-off, six-table space in the Amalfi dining room.  I don’t know how or why we were granted such a privilege, but I’ve accepted it with delight.  However, today, a bunch of people came in at 5:00 PM, taking up most of the space in that area, and not leaving.  So, the head hostess found us an identical table in another walled-off space.

When we were almost finished our dinner, a couple from the U.S. came in and were seated at a nearby table.  There being no one else in the space by that time, we began chatting.  Their names are Charlie and Sally, and what was particularly notable was that Sally, a nurse in her sixties, had had a stroke about a year ago.  She has almost fully recovered – except that she has double vision, and must close one eye in order to see stuff.  Heather and I thought of our friends, who, because of the husband’s stroke, were forced to cancel their trip with us on this cruise.  Hopefully, he, too, might return to some level of normalcy, as Sally obviously has.  But then, he’s in his mid-eighties, while Sally is only in her sixties!

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Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Ruins of Pompeii

oday has been the most important day of our cruise, as far as I’m concerned. 
It was the day that we visited Pompeii.  In a tour organized by the cruise line, we boarded a bus at the Naples cruise terminal, and were driven to Pompeii, which is about half an hour south of Naples.  We had a hostess/guide who gave some of the history of Pompeii (before the disastrous eruption in 79 C.E.).  As well, she spoke of the past 250 years of archaeological exploration (the ruins were only discovered in the 18th Century).

It blows my mind that more than 25,000 people live in the modern municipality of Pompei (note the single “i” – which distinguishes the district from the original, ruined, Pompeii).  The volcano is still active, and has blown up over seven times since the ancient disaster.  Our hostess and tour guide, Francesca, said that the people “live by the motto, ‘Carpe diem’” – which she defines as living in the present without fussing about possible future trauma.

The bus parked in Pompei, and Francesca led us into the ruins. I took many pictures, and appreciated everything Francesca said about the various locations in the ancient city, as she took us to them.  There were temples to various gods (including the Roman emperor, himself); there were ancient “fast food” restaurants; there were spas, or bathhouses; and there were brothels.  Her description of these various places – particularly the brothels – was well-informed and fascinating.  My only disappointment was that the exciting excavation of a patrician mansion. recently reported in the media, is not yet open to the public.

The bus returned us to Naples in the early afternoon. I had a lunch brought to the room, then a nap – given that, once again, walking about over incredibly uneven surfaces, quite exhausted me.

Fascinating facts:
  1. Ancient Pompeii had running water and indoor toilets, but no sewers.  Sewage flowed down the main street, making a horrible smell.  Also, the running water used for drinking, among other things, was distributed within the city by means of lead pipes, which, as we now know, would have led to considerable mortality.  The water itself came to Pompeii via an aqueduct.  As well, rainwater was collected on rooftops.
  2. Wealthy citizens had a form of central heating in their homes.  It consisted of a space under the floors through which hot air from an oven spread through the residence.
  3. That “fast food”?  Desk-like objects sit beside the streets of ancient Pompeii, with openings in them that could hold mid-sized cauldrons.  Inside the cauldrons would be something – possibly like spaghetti – which passers-by could purchase, one scoop at a time.
  4. Almost everyone knows that Pompeii was destroyed almost instantly by the eruption of the volcano, Vesuvius.  But then there’s this: according to Wikipedia, the eruption shot a deadly cloud of super-heated tephra and gases into the air, to a height of 33 kilometres (21 mi), ejecting molten rock, pulverized pumice and hot ash at 1.5 million tons per second, ultimately releasing 100,000 times the thermal energy of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Pompeii itself was buried so deeply under ash and lava that its remains were not “discovered” until 1749.

The only sad thing about this day is that it is a Sunday.  The tour of Pompeii took up the entire morning and much of the afternoon – the period of time when church services are normally held.  So, did we attend church?  Or a worship service on board ship?  No. I loved the excursion, but I’m sad about not having been in church.

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Monday, April 24, 2023

A Sea Day, Heading Towards Crete

e’re having a nice sea day.
  I’ve spent much of the time seated in our stateroom, playing word games online – despite the ship’s spotty Internet – and working on these posts.

An interesting part of the day was meeting some fellow-Canadians.  Heather and I were up at the ship’s Horizon buffet, having lunch, when a couple asked if they could sit at our table (the place was absolutely jumping, and places to sit were scarce!).  We fell to talking, and really enjoyed the encounter.  These people live in Ottawa, and are active members in an Anabaptist church.  He is a university professor, and she is a mainframe computer programmer, having done this work since the days when large business computers worked with punch cards.  The encounter was tons of fun, and lasted more than two hours.

However, when we tried to connect with one another using the ship’s “Medallion” application, the application wouldn’t work on my cellphone.  I ended up going to the ship’s Internet office, where staff showed me how to sign out, and sign in again with the latest update to the software.  This took more time than I would have liked, but I appreciated learning how things worked – or were supposed to work.

In the evening, Heather and I went for dinner, at our table-for-two beside a window, and, after a very leisurely meal, we decided to go and hear a ventriloquist/comedian.  He was very funny, and very skilled, and his show used up pretty much the rest of the evening.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Stopped at Heraklion, Crete

his has been a very happy day of not going anywhere.
  For most of the day, the ship was docked in Heraklion, Crete, but we did not disembark.  Instead, I did a lot of work on my Facebook posts, and on my personal diary.  As well, Heather and I walked about the ship together, exploring this enormous floating hotel; and we stood on our balcony watching as the ship was unmoored, and started to move away from the pier.  I think we’ve agreed that we need not get off at every port.  However, I did book, at Heather’s suggestion, an official tour of the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia, when we are in Istanbul, where we will be on the 27th, the day after tomorrow.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Stopped at Kusadasi, Turkey

or me, today was a day of sitting in our stateroom.
  The ship was docked in Kusadasi, but I had no interest in going ashore.  Instead, I updated several of my online activities, from Facebook posts, to this blog, and my personal diary.

At breakfast, we happened to see, and sit beside, Charlie and Sally, that American couple whom we had met in the dining room last Saturday.  Conversation was very enjoyable, and, when Sally said that they were going to go ashore to explore Kusadasi, Heather said, “Can I join you?”  They agreed, and before long the three of them had departed the ship, and I was totally alone in our stateroom.  Which does not trouble me.  In case you didn’t know, I’m an introvert, and am very comfortable alone.  I write, I spend time in prayer, and I catch up on world events.

Unfortunately, for Heather, out there exploring Kisadasi, the weather turned nasty.  She and Sally got thoroughly rained upon while visiting the shops (Charlie had gone somewhere on his own – apparently he dislikes shopping).  Still, they continued their exploration, and, in due course, Heather returned to the cabin, wet, but happy.

We then got dressed in our best clothes, and, at 6:00 PM, went to the “Captain’s Circle” – an event that schmoozes the “platinum” and “elite” passengers (those who have cruised with Princess many times).  Heather and I are considered “Platinum,” but, until today, we have never attended a “Captain’s Circle,” despite having achieved “Platinum” status as far back as the 2014 Hawaiian cruise, or maybe it was the Panama Canal 1 cruise.

Well, the event was quite an experience.  The Captain himself could not attend, because sailing our current route is especially difficult (there are many islands, and a bunch of other vessels going here and there), and it needed his full attention and focus.  But all sorts of uniformed staff were present, and anxious to interact with us.  I fell into conversation with a woman who turned out to be very highly ranked in the ship’s chain of command.  I took the opportunity to tell her some of our issues with the cruise, most particularly the constant focus on things that interest younger adults, despite the fact that the bulk of their clientele are seniors.  She was respectful and took my comments very seriously.

The event began with free beverages, and some very professionally-performed light music.  Then there were speeches – with a simple theme: “Thank you for your loyalty to Princess!  Keep it up!”

Then they had a prize draw.  What kind of prize?  A bottle of champagne.

And then: lo and behold, the third name that was drawn was “Stateroom C517, Mister Tony Harwood-Jones.”    Oh my.  I went forward and was handed my gift.  The guests applauded.

When we went to dinner, Heather gave the bottle to our regular waiter, who will keep it until Saturday, when it will be opened in celebration of my birthday.

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Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Soggy Day in Istanbul

oday, our ship docked at Istanbul.  This is one of the ports where Heather and I had chosen to get off the ship.
  Two world-famous religious sites, that are a “must-see,” are in Istanbul.  They are: the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) church, which is also, now, a mosque.  We booked a guided tour to these places, which promised to give us a knowledgeable guide, and reliable access to the sites.  The tour also included some free time, in which we could explore places on our own, before being taken back to the ship.

But the day dawned dark, and rainy.  Heather and I had each brought an umbrella on the voyage – the folding, collapsable kind that could easily fit into our luggage – so we took them with us to the bus.

Those umbrellas were needed even for the short distance that we had to walk from the ship to the terminal building.  Although the rain could not be called a “downpour,” it was constant and drenching.  I was so glad we had booked the bus tour, believing that, except for transferring from bus to mosque and mosque to bus, we could be kept comparatively dry.  The free time aspect of the tour, however, was not very appealing – given the constant rain, so I asked our tour guide if we could simply leave the tour, once the mosques had been visited, and take a taxi back to the ship.  Unfortunately, she said that it would be a long walk from the mosques to where a taxi could be found, so we decided to just stay with our tour, and hope for the best.

Incidentally, just as I stepped out of the ship and on to the shore, a gust of wind came and wrecked my umbrella.  Thinking I could reassemble it, I grabbed the flapping pieces, and ran through the rain into the terminal building.  But repairing it proved impossible.  I boarded the bus, resigned to my damp fate.

When all her passengers were seated, our tour leader introduced herself.  I don’t know how her name is correctly spelled, but she said it’s pronounced like “a leaf,” in English, so I’ll invent the spelling, and will refer to her as “Ellief,” for the rest of this soggy story.  She issued earphones and small wireless receivers to everyone, and said that we should wear them when we’re at our destinations, so that we could hear her, even if we’re in big crowds.

Crowds at our destinations?  Uh-oh.

The bus stopped, and we were now to get off, and walk.  In the rain.

We hadn’t gone very far, when a man approached me.  “Umbrella, sir?” he asked.  He held a bag containing several, and pulled one out for me to see.  “Ten Euros, sir!” he pronounced.

Heather, who is a dedicated shopper, glared at me from under her umbrella.  Apparently she thought the price too high.  “Heather,” I said, “I need one, he has one, and our tour is getting away from us.”  I had some Euros in my wallet, and pulled out a €20.  “Do you have change?” I asked.  “Here!” he said, proffering a banknote with the number 200 on it.  “These Turkish lira are worth ten Euro.”  “Okay,” I said.  He handed me the umbrella and my Turkish change, I opened my new umbrella, and happily hurried up the street, attempting to catch up with Ellief and our busmates.  Heather’s glare subsided and came along behind me, moving as quickly as she could.  I knew that if I caught up to our group, I could cause them to wait for Heather.  I did, and they did.

It was not hard, because Ellief was saying in my earbuds, “We’ll stop at the corner, beside the fence, where you can see the tall pillar.  I’m holding my orange umbrella up high.”

That orange umbrella proved to be an excellent way to see Ellief in the crowds.  For, as we entered the great Blue Mosque, there certainly were crowds.  As we stood gazing up at the great arches and the dome, Ellief spoke about the coming of Islam into Turkey, and the way her own ancestors – native Turks as opposed to invaders and newcomers from Arabia – responded to the new religion.  “Today,” she said, “Turkey is 99% Muslim.  This is because anyone with at least one Muslim parent is registered as a Muslim when they are born.  My husband is a Christian, and, although my son is baptized, he is listed as a Muslim because of my Muslim ancestors.  It is said that only around 35% of the Turkish people are actual believing, practicing Muslims.”

You can bet I loved all this kind of information.  Not specifically because of religion, I should add, but because it fascinates me how humans have blended religion, and culture and politics.

People undeer umbrellas walking towards the Hagia Sophia mosque
The Hagia Sophia mosque, with tourists going there in the rain
In due course, we walked through the rain, over to the Hagia Sophia mosque – which was not very far away.  There was a lot of delay and activity at the entrance to each mosque, because, in the throngs of visitors, women had to put on head coverings, and men and women, both, had to remove shoes.  It was a bit of an art to stand on the soaking stone pavement, then stretch your legs, in socks, over to a dry part of the entrance carpet!!!

Which leads me to tell you about the “shoe incident.”

As you know, we could hear, through our headphones everything that Ellief was saying – whether she was explaining the sights, or talking to the person next to her.  At one point, we began to hear part of a very tense conversation.  Apparently, one of our busmates had refused to remove her shoes.  Ellief was trying to explain that such a refusal is disrespectful, and the angrily shod person replied with determination and hostility.  I was reminded of the recent struggles, in Canada, the U.S., and other parts of the world, about mask-wearing, and mandatory vaccination.  There is an element in our society that holds to the mantra, “Nobody can tell me what to do!”

The woman’s shoes came off.  I admired Ellief’s diplomacy and leadership.

The Hagia Sophia was built 1,400 years ago, and its massive dome is an extraordinary example of brilliant architecture from those long-ago times.  It was built as a Christian cathedral, and remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years.  After the fall of Istanbul to the Ottoman empire in 1453, it was turned into a mosque.  Its icons and other Christian symbols were removed, and, to this day, where the altar once stood, there is an official indication of the direction that one must face if one is bowing and praying towards Mecca.  In 1935, the giant building was turned into a secular museum, which it remained until 2020, when the Turkish Council of State reclassified it as a mosque.

You can see that I devour this type of information!

It was certainly a mosque when we were in it!.  Suddenly a voice boomed, in Arabic, over the public address system.  Mid-day prayers were about to begin.  The hundreds of visitors present were moved behind a small fence, and politely encouraged to leave.  Several men went up to what used to be the altar, and knelt, facing Mecca, and the amplified voice began booming out the Qu’ranic verses associated with the day and time, on the Islamic calendar.

This entry has gotten very long, but I need to describe, as briefly as I can, what happened after we left the Hagia Sophia.  This was the dreaded “time on our own.”  And, the rain had not let up.  Rivulets of water ran down the streets, but we had our umbrellas, and were careful where we stepped.  Ellief arranged with her tour that we should all gather in front of a certain jewellery shop at 3:00 PM, and off everyone went in various directions.  Heather and I made our way to a famous bazaar, but when we got there, it was wall-to-wall full of people.  And why not!?  It’s pouring outside, so shopping indoors is best, right?  We didn’t go in.

Ellief had recommended a particular restaurant, which we passed while all of us were still walking together as a tour, so I suggested to Heather that we go there, and Heather agreed.  It was crowded when we got there at 2:00 PM, but outdoor seats (under an awning) were found for us, and we sat.  The place was heated by an overhead device, but Heather began to feel very cold.

After ten minutes of waiting, a young man took our order.  Then nothing happened for thirty-five minutes.  We notified staff that we needed to be back with our tour in fifteen minutes.  Two other members of our tour, having finished their meal, promised to let Ellief know that we were delayed, and departed.  When our food arrived, it was not what we had ordered, but we gobbled it down and splashed through the wet streets to our rendezvous – being only three minutes late.

Ellief was glad to see us, and soon she was leading our group down to the place where the bus back to the ship would meet her.  She was moving quickly, but she had that bright orange umbrella which she held high, so that slowpokes in the back could see her.  Being taller than Heather, I was keeping my eye on Ellief’s umbrella – and not watching my footing – when I stepped over a curb and... BAM!!! ... down I went on the sloppy pavement!  I skinned my knee, but didn’t break my new, costly umbrella.  Several busmates turned back when I cried out, and helped me get up.  But Ellief, unawares, got very far ahead.  Mercifully, we spotted her orange umbrella, and were eventually reunited with our tour.

I certainly was glad to get back on board ship; to go to my comfortable stateroom, get out of my damp clothes, put antibiotic on my scrape, and prepare to type up this very long account of a soggy day in Istanbul.

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Next: Mykonos, Santorini, and more….


1  That cruise heppened in February of 2016, but I was never able to post a blog about it.
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