Cruise Specialists hosts Steve and Wendy Bodenheimer are taking us along on another amazing journey. We hope this series shows you what you can expect on a Holland America Grand Voyage. First was the kick off, then Costa Rica,Panama Canal, Chile, Patagonia, Antarctica, Argentina, Brazil, The Amazon, the Caribbean, the Canary Islands, Spain, the Mediterranean and now the next stop in their Grand South America & Antarctica Voyage (next voyage January).
Our first great big city in Italy is Livorno, which calls itself the port of Tuscany.
From here, one can easily travel to:
- Pisa (of Leaning Tower fame)
- Lucca (a quaint walled city)
- Florence (art lovers paradise)
- CinqueTerre, the five picture perfect villages that seem to hang off the side of the cliffs
Our friend Brett, the ship location guide, gave us another suggestion: Castiglioncello.
We hopped on a local bus and for about $5 in total, we had a 40-minute ride which dropped us right in the center of this pretty and historic resort village. It’s before the summer season, so the beach side facilities were not open, but the town was quite busy. We toured the town, visited the local castle, grabbed a coffee and pastry from the 70-year old Caffe Ginori and then headed into the countryside. On the way down back to the town, we decided to head further along the coast to another beach town, where we walked a few miles along the water, before stopping for an afternoon snack of calamari salad and local beer at a pretty café called Vistamare.
A short walk to the main street brought us back to the bus and this time they didn’t even want money for the ride. Perfect cool weather; a ride in the Tuscan countryside; some excellent local food and atmosphere; and an 11 plus mile walk – that’s our idea of a great day.
On to Civitevecchia, the port for Rome. A new option being offered by the ship this year is a less than 60-minute train ride in to Rome via our private 4-car train called the Rome Express. We had a guide for the whole ride, who went over the street map of Rome and made suggestions about what we could realistically see in our 6 hours there.
We were walked from the train to St Peter’s Square, our meeting place for the afternoon, so that’s where we started. Of course there’s so much to see here, you have to decide what matters:
- Basilica, an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City
- Pantheon, a magnificently preserved temple to the gods of ancient Rome
- Piazza Navona, the most popular tourist square
But the day was more about absorbing the city atmosphere than seeing specific sights. There are wonderfully preserved churches everywhere; stunning architecture; impressive statues; remarkable art collections; elegant bridges across the Tiber River; narrow streets to wander; abundant wine bars; endless gelato shops and inviting cafes serving every kind of pizza or pasta you can think of.
Our last big city in this marathon of port days is Napoli. Lots of possible things to do from here:
- take a drive to the Amalfi Coast
- ride a boat to Capri
- visit the ruins of Pompeii or Herculaneum
- go to the beautiful town of Sorrento just for starters
- enjoy Mount Vesuvius
With only 16 other guests, we were bused to the Vesuvius National Park Visitors Center and transferred to a smaller van to take us over a bumpy road closer to the top. Then it was a one mile walk up a sandy trail to the outer rim of the crater, where you can continue to walk most of the way around.
You can look clearly down into the crater, which is filled with rock and sand and is still smoking in a few places. One day it will erupt again but for now no one seems very concerned. The views at the top are amazing.
Returning to the city at lunch time, we ventured out to determine the difference between pizza in Rome and Napoli. Napoli crust is much thicker and fluffier, more like we get in the U.S. But the ingredients are similar – everything very fresh.
After lunch we headed into the city and quickly remembered why it is not one of our favorites. The port area is still a massive construction/excavation site, making walking difficult. Traffic is heavy and loud all the time. Garbage is everywhere and the streets are teeming with people. Although they have their share of churches, castles, and cathedrals, it is not very pretty. Buildings are rundown and everything had a dingy grayness to it. I’m sure we’ve said these same things before – nothing has changed – so we didn’t stay out long.
Important to know that if you don’t love the port city, there are still amazing adventures to be had by getting outside the city center.
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Cruise consultant Matt Caplinger can help answer your questions about cruising Antarctica or a Grand Voyage!