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A Day Trip to Ostia Antica

sunny 71 °F

Well, it's Tuesday, May 17th. Our last full day in Rome before the cruise begins. We've decided to spend the day at the ruins of Ostia Antica, a little ways north of Rome.

Ostia was originally the seaport servicing Rome, and grew to be a major port. It was situated along the Tiber River, with easy access to the ocean. Unfortunately, malaria, the Tiber changing course, and a series of earthquakes led to the city's decline and abandonment in the third century AD. The ruins date back as early as the 4th century BC, and are remarkably well preserved.

We take a bus from our apartment to the Pyramide Metro station in Trastavere. From there, we board the regional train heading toward the Lido, the beach area north of Rome. It's about a 25 minute train ride to Ostia Antica. We should note that the train fares are free with the Roma Pass card, and entrance to the site is also part of the Roma Pass program (you get either free or discounted admission, depending on what you've already visited.

From the Ostia Antica train station, it's a moderate walk over a pedestrian overpass and down the lane to the site entrance. If you need to use the WC, hold your nose! The bathrooms at the site entrance are simply large porta-potties, in somewhat of a neglected state. You might be better off using the restrooms at the train station.

As you enter the site, you are outside the city walls of Ostia, walking through the ancient Necropolis. The structures all around you are tombs, many with plaques identifying the former occupant ("This is Demetrius. He was a Baker"). Some, like this columbarium, were designed for the interment of cremated remains.

A Columbarium at the Necropolis

A Columbarium at the Necropolis

As you walk through the site, you'll often see large carved stone boxes along the sides of the roads. They look like elaborate planters, and some of them are fashioned into benches. Take a closer look, and you'll realize that they are ancient pagan sarcophagi, relocated from the Necropolis.

A carved stone sarcophagus

A carved stone sarcophagus

The site is eerily peaceful. It's not awfully well known, so there aren't busloads of tour groups, although it seems to be popular as a spring field trip for local Italian school groups.

The City Gate

The City Gate

Once you pass through the city gate, you're inside an actual working city. There's the dock district, with warehouses and areas for unloading goods, the administrative center with it's forum, public areas with Roman baths, temples, and taverns. You can easily spend an entire day there, if you have the stamina...I think we covered about four miles walking that day.

Some highlights of the site are the enormous, well preserved amphitheater

The Theater at Ostia Antica

The Theater at Ostia Antica


The Roman baths, with many of the mosaics still in place after a millennium and a half:

Mosaics in the Roman Bath

Mosaics in the Roman Bath

and this well-preserved tavern that still has pictures of food painted on the wall above the serving shelves.

Depictions of food above a serving shelf

Depictions of food above a serving shelf


The counter at an ancient tavern

The counter at an ancient tavern

Honestly, I could post a hundred pictures of the site. Many of the buildings still have their upper floors intact, and almost all of them are open for inspection.

Clay pipes for heating and ventilation

Clay pipes for heating and ventilation


View from a rooftop

View from a rooftop

Sarcophagus detail

Sarcophagus detail

It's really an amazing site, and well worth seeing if you can fit a day into your schedule to do it. At the far end of the site is a modern cafeteria and bookshop, with clean, authentic restrooms. I find it surprising that so many people will take an entire day to travel down to Naples to see Pompeii from Rome, when this astounding set of ruins is right in their backyard.

At the end of a very long day, we head back to Rome. We stroll around Campo De' Fiori, prepare dinner at the apartment, and repack our stuff. Tomorrow, we're off to Civitavecchia to start our cruise.

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Posted by Zukini 20:52 Archived in Italy Tagged ruins rome ostia antica Comments (0)

Arrivederci, Roma!

sunny 70 °F

It's Wednesday, May 18th, our last morning in Rome. I'll take this opportunity to tell you a bit more about the apartment we rented.

We became enamored with the idea of apartment rentals during a trip to Puerto Rico a few years ago. We found this apartment in Rome though VRBO, and it seemed to be a perfect location.

We're not big on dining out, and we're somewhat budget conscious, so the idea of having a kitchen to prepare some of our meals and a refrigerator to stash our stuff is always a big plus.

Dinner at the Apartment

Dinner at the Apartment

We also feel like apartments give you a more intimate connection with the neighborhood. Although we enjoyed this apartment immensely, it was not without problems.

As I mentioned earlier, the rental agent was late arriving, and actually spoke no English at all. She brought an iPad with her, and we communicated via a combination of Google Translate and my limited and rusty Italian. Some things got lost in the translation, specifically that the water heater and air conditioner were both controlled by a hidden set of switches behind a curtain. We spent a good portion of our first day in Rome trying to contact the owner to find out how to get both appliances to work. Once we got that sorted out, we were very pleased.

The apartment had a shared entryway with an adjoining apartment, with a very secure front door, as well as an indoor security gate for the apartment itself. A small foyer contained a laundry room with a tiny washing machine that had the most complex operating instructions I've ever seen. From there, a short flight of steps led up to the the compact kitchen.

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The kitchen was tight, with very little counter space, but it worked. Although it lacked a toaster, it did have a Gaggia espresso machine that was a real powerhouse. From there, a somewhat longer set of steps led up to the living/dining areas.

Dining area

Dining area

Living area

Living area

The bedroom was equipped with a large closet and a queen size bed. The single bathroom was ensuite, and equipped with a shower and a bidet.

Bedroom

Bedroom

The living area overlooked Via Giulia, facing the Tiber River.

View on Via Giulia

View on Via Giulia

Steps to the Lungotevere

Steps to the Lungotevere

We finish our packing and take a last stroll around the neighborhood, stopping at Forno Roscioli for some pastries for breakfast. We're expecting RomeCabs to pick us up at the apartment at 11am.

Stocking up on pignoli cookies from Roscioli's

Stocking up on pignoli cookies from Roscioli's

As we wander back to the apartment at around 10:45, we find Maurizio, our RomeCabs driver, is already waiting for us. He helps us muscle our luggage into the van, and bid sweet Roma arriverderci.

Maurizio's English is far better than my Italian, but we practice back and forth as we drive out to Civitavecchia. Our route, trying to avoid traffic, loops us back around the Vatican, and then out into the countryside. Maurizio points out interesting sights along the way, and we chat about life in Italy, and in the States. It takes us just a bit over an hour to arrive at the port.

Point of No Return

Point of No Return

Posted by Zukini 21:01 Archived in Italy Tagged rome Comments (0)

Embarkation Day

Star Princess Egypt & Aegean 12 day cruise.

sunny 70 °F

Porters immediately take our luggage, and we enter the cruise terminal. It's about 12:15, and there are no lines at all. We walk immediately up to the counter for check-in.

At check in, we are asked to fill out a form if we intend to stay off the ship for our overnight at Egypt. We're also asked to turn over our passports. The passports will be returned before we dock in Alexandria, then collected again before we dock in Greece. They'll be returned to us once more before we arrive in Naples.

Embarkation is a breeze, as we've come to expect with Princess. I really love their "white glove" service. For this cruise, we've decided to book a category BB balcony on the forward starboard part of Caribe deck.

Caribe Deck Balcony Stateroom

Caribe Deck Balcony Stateroom

For the uninitiated, Caribe deck balconies are extended...they are nearly twice as deep as the standard balconies elsewhere on the ship. They are also half-covered...the portion nearest the rail is open to the sky (and to the view of the decks above). The portion closest to the door is covered by the overhanging deck above. We had a little trepidation about a partially open balcony...we had a completely open balcony on a Carnival ship last year, and it was an absolute nightmare.

Well, now that we've tried the Caribe deck on Princess, we'll never go back to a normal balcony again. Having the extra room and the option for sun or shade greatly outweighed any privacy concerns. We absolutely loved it.

A Caribe Deck balcony on the Star Princess

A Caribe Deck balcony on the Star Princess

We headed up to the Horizon Court for lunch. The Horizon Court is small and compact. On this ship, the problematic center gate was shut, so that kind of kept people moving in a semblance of order. We noticed that the ship barely seemed populated at all. I think I heard it mentioned that we were sailing with only 1950 passengers, so about 2/3 of maximum capacity. I don't know if this was because the ship was sailing with a lot of empty cabins, or if the proportion of singles and doubles to triples and quads was greater than on shorter Caribbean itineraries we've experienced. In any case, the ship was NEVER crowded at all.

We really enjoyed the design of this ship, as opposed to the Crown and the Caribbean Princess. Although we missed the Cafe Caribe, the enclosed Calypso Pool made up for it, especially on this somewhat cool spring itinerary.

Next we headed up to the Spa to sign up for a couples Thermal Suite pass for $199. We've used this on previous cruises, and really took advantage of it. DW in particular loves to relax in the steam room after a long day of touring.

Next stop is down to the Piazza to enjoy a cappuccino from the International Cafe. We sit and sip while listening to an operatic performance by the Corrado Amici Duo.

A welcome cappucchino

A welcome cappucchino

Muster drill is held just before sailing. Our muster station is in the Princess Theater, and it goes very smoothly, but not without the usual grumbling from the rabble.

The Scenic Port of Civitavecchia

The Scenic Port of Civitavecchia

Dinner tonight is anytime dining in the Portofino Dining Room. Highlights are the Caesar Salad, Totellini & Spinach Soup, and Luau Ham with White Beans. Nothing jumps out at us for dessert, so we head down to the International Cafe to sample the Chocolate Ganache and Carrot cakes.

Afterward, we head over to the Promenade Lounge (formerly Crooner's) and listen to the very talented Lucky Charms String Quartet. We wind up running into them at various venues around the ship over the next 11 days, and they're always a delight to listen to.

The Lucky Charms String Quartet

The Lucky Charms String Quartet

We're not much for shows, so we pass up Comedy Club Showtime with Lenny Windsor.

Tomorrow, our first full day at sea.
__________________

Posted by Zukini 12:04 Archived in Italy Tagged cruise star princess civitavecchia Comments (0)

Scenic Cruising down the Italian Coast

sunny 70 °F

It's Thursday, our first full day at sea, and it's going to be a scenic one. I'm up at 6am, and as I wander to the balcony, I'm presented with a spectacular sight. Right off the starboard side of the ship, the volcanic island of Stromboli is sliding by. I wake up the Mrs. Z, and we sit and take it all in.

Stromboli

Stromboli

At 9:30, we head up to the open deck above the bridge. We'll be transiting the Strait of Messina, and our port lecturer, Joe May, will be narrating our transit. The Strait is only a mile and a half wide at its' narrowest point, so it should be beautiful scenic cruising.

The Calabrian Coastline

The Calabrian Coastline

We're not disappointed. The seas are calm and the sky is blue as we pick up our pilot and glide between Calabria and Messina.

In line to pass through the Strait

In line to pass through the Strait

Strait of Messina

Strait of Messina

What a great day! We even spot a pod of porpoises cavorting near the ship.

Off to the spa. The Lotus Pool is deserted, and the current machine is working, so we spend a lot of time swimming. We utilize the thermal suite, then head to lunch.

TIP: A lot of people wonder about the Caribe deck balconies (half shade/half open) which I've already described. Another thing to note is the Dolphin deck balconies, below us. These are mini-suites, but the balcony is smaller than on Caribe, and fully exposed to both the sun and the eyes of those above.

Dolphin Deck Balcony

Dolphin Deck Balcony

Today, we choose Prego Pizzaria, where I overindulge in two slices. Then, our ritual cappuccino in the International Cafe. As we're sitting, sipping our coffee, a server comes around with fresh warm cookies, right out of the oven. Mmmmmmmm.

Tonight is formal night, so we head back to the room to dress. We head down to dinner, but I'm feeling a bit out of sorts, and nothing on the dining room menu seems to appeal to me. We head to the Horizon Court instead, but nothing seems to whet my appetite there either. Hmmm. DW enjoys some dinner at the buffet, and then we head back the room, where I make an early night of it. When we arrive at our cabin, our stateroom attendant has left a sheet of paper for us....it's a health advisory, reminding us to wash our hands and use the sanitizers.

Tomorrow.......doooooooom.

Posted by Zukini 10:10 Archived in Italy Tagged cruise 2011 star_princess Comments (0)

Introducing, Doooooom

Norovirus on the high seas

We now interrupt our previously scheduled cruise review for this important safety message:

Wash your hands. Use the sanitizer. Don't lick your fingers and then handle the serving tongs. Don't reach into the container of raisins by the oatmeal with your fingers, use the spoon instead. Don't pick up strips of bacon that have fallen on the floor and put them back into the serving pan.

Thank you. We now return to our cruise review. You'll forgive the lack of illustrative photos for this portion of the review, I hope.

It's now Friday morning, our second full day at sea, on our way to a two day stop in Alexandria, Egypt. Over the past year, we've made big plans for Egypt, having arranged a private tour for two with Egypt Private Excursions, to see Saqqara, Dahshur, Memphis, and the Pyramids of Giza, with an overnight stay at the luxurious Mena House Oberoi.

They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

I wake up at 6:30 Friday morning with a dawning suspicion that all is not well. That's confirmed a few moments later when I bolt to the bathroom. Chills, fever, and severe gastrointestinal distress are the order of the day.

I try to convince myself that it was overindulgence in pizza and cookies, but the medical team onboard disagrees. I am diagnosed with probable norovirus, and confined to my cabin until they decide otherwise. I'm not really in any condition to argue.

Mrs. Z is feeling fine, and is not under any restriction, so at my urging she steers clear of the room as much as possible today. My room steward, Roberto, is replaced by a tag team of specialized hazmat stewards, and my dining selections, such as they are, are limited to the "Light and Healthy" room service menu, delivered by a dedicated, blue-gloved attendant.

By 9pm, I'm starting to feel more like a human being than a howler monkey. I check in with the medical center, but I'm still running a fever. I'm concerned, naturally about my excursion tomorrow. The staff sympathizes, but will not release me to go ashore until I am symptom free. Mrs. Z and I debate about what to do. There's a possibility I may be released in the morning, but then again, perhaps not. We inquire about the incubation period for norovirus. 8 to 32 hours seems to be the consensus. That means she could come down with this as well at any time.

We make the very difficult decision of trying to reach H. David, our tour operator, by Skype, but the call won't go through. I send him an email, explaining our predicament, and requesting that he cancel the tour and try to intercept the guide. I hope he gets the message before morning. His cancellation policy is 5 days in advance, unless the ship doesn't dock, so we fully expect to be on the hook for, at the very least, the cost of the hotel room and transportation.

Mr. David responds a short time later, confirming our cancellation. Since I won't be allowed off the ship, he waives all fees, which was really very kind of him. The wife and I are despondent. On-again-off-again Egypt was the centerpiece of this trip, and the driving reason we booked this cruise, over a year ago.

We got to bed that night, miserable on many levels.

Posted by Zukini 12:51 Tagged cruise norovirus Comments (0)

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