Final Thoughts

After several weeks to contemplate our spring trip, I think all three of us will say it was most enjoyable.

Mike and I enjoyed our return to Viking and noticed some differences none of which negatively impacted our time onboard. The food portions seemed to be slightly smaller which given all the good food available was appreciated by our waist lines. This transatlantic seemed to be more crowded than last year but perhaps that was due to us eating earlier than just us two would normally do. We don’t know whether it is a cruise line initiative or simply the difference between Hotel Directors, Chefs and Cruise Directors but there were many more “special” events this year-pool side lunches (Cesar Salad, Mexican, etc.), pool side events (two or three dance parties, ship building competition), Port Greetings when we returned to the ship, Sunday Brunch in the Winter Garden and of course this year they made an event out of our passing of Gibraltar-even though it was still too dark to really see it.

We missed having the Virginia Gentleman aboard but the entertainers did a fine job despite there being two less singers and no dance couple. The shows seemed a little more professional and used the show band more than the prerecorded music that was typical last spring. There was at least one more lecturer than last trip and their topics were more diverse as well as interesting. There was also a bridge instructor on this crossing which I don’t recall from last time.

You may recall that part of the last minute deal we got was to pay for the lowest category cabin -Veranda (V) and reside in a higher category – Deluxe Veranda (DV). The staterooms are identical except the DV comes with a coffeemaker. I thought this would be great but turns out I only used it once. The other differences are “soft” ones-the sodas in the fridge get replenished daily and we could make reservations for the alternative dining venues before we boarded. Since one staying in a Veranda could replenish the soft drinks by asking at the bar during meal time for an extra can or three and we ended up changing all our reservations once onboard (so as not to miss lobster nights) I don’t think the perks of a DV would be worth paying any extra. Guess we are just too frugal. But when offered for free, they were great!

We also enjoyed the included airfare although I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see whether we could deal with long haul economy if it was “free”. Well maybe not really disappointed, the ice cream sundae in AA business class fixed that!😂

The Viking officers and crew were just as friendly and helpful as previously, the room lovely and we continue to think that Viking is a great value for their repositioning cruises. Lois really enjoyed herself and now is sold on the benefits of smaller ships. Having John the Scotsman aboard and his friendliness to her and willingness to have two special meals made just for her probably helped in this regard.

Of course no one aboard will ever forget the Great April Fool’s Day Toilet Paper Fiasco! LOL

Our post cruise time in Barcelona was great as it was in Rome. I think the highlight for Lois in both was Sagrada Familia and I certainly was blown away again by it. Even though it had only been 6 months since our last visit, we saw progress so maybe they will be finished with construction by 2026 as they are predicting (while crossing their fingers according to our guide).

Thanks for following along, hope you enjoyed it as much as we did…and that you will stay with me as I blog about our upcoming North American roadtrip (hopefully with a cruise to Japan 😲🤞thrown in). We leave Danville on Friday headed for DC and don’t expect to be back to the southeast coast until Christmas. Stay tuned for details…

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Rome Day Three

Sorry to be so late in posting this about our final day in Rome but have been busy planning our next adventure!

As you will recall we did the first half of Rick Steve’s “Heart of Rome” audio walking tour on Tuesday but stopped at the Pantheon. So this morning we started there by having breakfast in one of the many cafes on the Piazza Della Rotunda. Our view of what is my favorite building in Rome (maybe the world) is above. We also got to watch an Asian couple have their wedding pictures made..harks back to all those Asian brides and grooms in Santorini year!

After breakfast, we went inside and listened to Mr. Steve’s description of this ancient building-the largest concrete dome in the world and it was built over 2000 years ago!

We then left through the porch held up by giant single piece (most columns are made up of several sections) granite columns imported from Egypt (again this was 2000 years ago-so amazing!) and turned right and walked (listening to Rick tell us about the various sights-including the original Rome coffee shop, Hadrian’s column (or was it Trajan’s) and an old arcade) towards the Trevi Fountain.

As expected the crowds at the fountain were huge but Lois really enjoyed herself-she hadn’t realized it filled a whole block so she kept saying, it’s so big and beautiful.

We all threw at least one coin in the fountain to assure our return. Lois did one more for love- We wouldn’t let her throw the third one for marriage!

This was the first time we had seen the fountain since Valentino paid to have it cleaned. It really is so much prettier without all the years of black on it.

From there we walked to the Spanish Steps. They too remain beautiful.

By this point our Pantheon breakfast was gone so we started looking for lunch. Lois was pulled in by one of the sidewalk cafe hawkers and we sat down and had a lovely seafood meal.

Lois had shrimp cocktail and soup while Mike and I shared an anti pasta plate. We then each had the special-delicious pasta cooked with clams, mussels, shrimp, fish, langoustines, tomatoes, wine and garlic all served (and cooked) in a swan.Everything was so delicious except for the complimentary lemon cello which Lois didn’t like!

After Lois said goodbye to her sidewalk cafe hawking boyfriend, we headed back towards the apartment.

Along our walk, we happened upon a little church so we went in-as with most in Rome, it was beautiful.

After getting back to the apartment, we rested and finalized our packing. Later that evening Lois wasn’t hungry but Mike and I were so we headed back to the same restaurant we had our first meal. Of course it wasn’t as good but we still enjoyed it. We arrived too late for the apertivo special so while we paid more we had one last aperol spritz and a mixed plate of bruschetta and then split a bowl of cacio y pepe. It made for a fine “Last Supper” on Holy Thursday when everyone in Rome was celebrating the original “Last Supper!”

One more post to write on this trip – a summary of the differences we saw in Viking and Lois’ overall impressions. Hope to get it published later this week as we leave next week on our next adventure!

Stay tuned for details!

Rome- Day 2

For our second full day in Rome, we again took advantage of Rick Steve’s app and followed his waking tour entitled “Heart of Rome”. This tour starts at the Campo du Fiori and goes to the Spanish Steps.

After our exhausting day at the Vatican (the travel the day before didn’t help!) we didn’t set an alarm so it was at least 11 before we left the apartment.

Today, we did the first half of the tour which started about 15 minutes away and ended at the Pantheon which was right beside our Airbnb. Starting at Campo di Fiori meant that Lois got to do some shopping, which meant I got to do some veggie and flower photography.

And Lois found a present for her boytoy, Jerry.

From the Campo we headed to Piazza Navona, one of my favorite places in Rome. This large oval was formerly the site of chariot races but now is a beautiful place with three fountains and a great piazza to people watch.

We decided to be complete tourists and have lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Sometimes there is a reason tourist joints are tourist joints…it was a beautiful sunny but not hot day, the piazza was full of activity and the food was tasty, albeit expensive….but not as expensive as tomorrow’s meal (that’s called foreshadowing).

Lois got a spicy pasta dish, Mike pasta arabica (bacon, tomatoes, etc) and I got osso bucco and then we all shared. Everything was tasty but sis-in-law’s osso bucco is better!

After lunch we ducked into the Brazilian Embassy (formerly the family home of Pope Innocent (the tenth?) and the one who paid to turn Navona into what we see today to see the Brazilian national exhibit from the Venice Biennale entitled, Walls of Air. It was an interesting exhibit about public places and design, Lois was particularly impressed with the drawings. I was most intrigued by the idea of making the roof of Niemeyer’s museum accessible.

Leaving the museum we again listened as we walked to Rick Steve’s tell us about the history of the area and the buildings we were passing.

When we got to the Pantheon, the line was loooong so we elected to continue our tour their the next morning.

After a few hours rest at the apartment, we grabbed a taxi and headed to Termini Station (Rome’s huge transit center) where we caught the HopOnHopOff’s non HopOnHopOff night tour of Rome.

Our original thinking when planning the tour was that we would make the Vatican our focus one day, the area around our apartment the focus the next and a visit to the Coliseum the center of the third day. Lois had a medical issue a few weeks prior to our departure and was concerned she was going to make the trip so I didn’t pre-purchase Coliseum entry. Thankfully, Lois was able to make the trip but by that time we couldn’t get tickets. So instead we decided to do a drive by. Which given the difficulty I had climbing the steep stairs/seats six years ago was probably a good idea!

The night tour gave Lois a chance to see a lot of Rome lit up and she seemed to enjoy it, though all of us were a little chilly in the open topped bus once the sun went down.

After much difficulty finding a taxi, we made it back to the apartment and had some street pizza for a bedtime snack.

Tomorrow-our last day.

Last Supper!

Just finished our Last Supper (on the day THE Last Supper is being celebrated)!

We had a huge lunch but Mike & I decided we needed to have one last bowl of cacio e pepe before we left Rome. Lois ate a snack while Mike and were still too full so she decided to say in.

We decided to go back to the same place we ate our first supper since thy had a great appetivo-$5 for an aperol spritz and bruschetta. Of course we got here after happy hour so it cost more but was still tasty.

Mike and I split the Cacio y Pepe (cheese and pepper) pasta, We wish we could figure out what they do to make it so creamy. We can’t make it nearly as good at home.

I promise I’ll work on blogging about our last two days while on the flight home and post them as quickly as I can.

Our ride to the airport picks us up at eight in the morning so we need to (as my Daddy used to say) Sleep Fast!

Arrivaderci Roma!

Vatican City

Our first real day in Rome was spent in Vatican City. We had 9:30 entry tickets to the museum and arrived there (along with at least 4000 others) right at that time. With the tickets already bought we walked right past the throngs waiting and after the very Italian process of trading one piece of paper with a bar code for another one, we were set to go in.

We used Rick Steve’s audio app and followed his tour all the way through to the Sistine Chapel.

Mike snuck some pictures inside. Shhh, don’t tell Francis.

Leaving the Chapel, we headed up the elevator to the base of the dome. Last time Mike and I were here almost six years ago, we did the climb all the way to the top. You can read about that here: https://cruisinwithclay.com/2013/04/25/rome-in-a-whirlwind/. Unfortunately most of the pictures have been stripped out to save space. But I don’t think I have it in me to make that climb ever again…at least without an on call ambulance.

But I do love walking around the drum of the dome, especially for anyone who hasn’t visited St. Peter’s. From this position, one can see just how huge the dome is, how high (448 feet -more than a football field!) above the floor it is and how intricate the mosaics are that decorate it. From the floor, these mosaics appear to be paintings or frescos.

From the dome we went out into the roof. Here is the site of my favorite souvenir shop where the nuns assure you that their trinkets are better than the ones elsewhere in Rome because they have been blessed by the Pope. When you push it, the agree that in reality they are blessed with his “authority”. I envision some poor first year priest stuck in a warehouse in the belly of Vatican City blessing box after box of St John Paul II rosaries and Pope Frank key rings! Lois purchased some souvenirs and a beautiful cross for a friend in Virginia.

The roof is also the location of my favorite restroom in Rome. Lois enjoyed her wait in line there and Mike was lucky and got to see what has to be one of the last stand up toilets in town.

I was amazed (appalled?) at the condition of some of the roofs-while I know maintaining a huge Church must be expensive, you’d think they could get rid of the weeds!

The roof is also a favorite of mine for gaining a sense of scale. The statues which line the roof are 18 feet tall but from the plaza below they appear pretty small.

The roof also let’s you see some of the incredible decoration on the exterior of the dome.

After the roof we finally went inside St Peter’s- the largest church in the world. As you can see in the title picture above, Lois was (as expected) blown away. We visited the Pieta, the new (at least to me) Chapel where St John Paul II is now buried and his former burial site with the other popes under the altar before leaving the church.

After a quick walk through St Peter’s square we headed for lunch.

That was the last time Lois was smiling for awhile. We accidentally took her on a death march for lunch. We were trying to get to one of our Airbnb’s host restaurant recommendations but after the Vatican Road Rally, she (and Mike and I too) were running on empty. Unfortunately when we got there, it was of course closed but luckily there was another place across the street. After we all shared pizza and salad, we all felt much better.

We didn’t feel better enough to walk back to the apartment but thankfully there are plenty of taxis in Rome. We got back to our apartment about 4:30 and all crashed.

A tiring but wonderful day!

Rome

We (as well as our overstuffed luggage) survived the RyanAir flight from Barcelona to Rome. (Less than $50 each including a checked bag and an extra legroom seat so a pretty great price methinks!)

Arrived uneventfully to our Airbnb and after settling in headed out to finally get Lois the pasta she kept wanting in Spain but that I made her wait for. The picture above was our aperol spritz that we had with delish bruschetta.

We shared a big salad and three fried zucchini blossoms. Both were yummy.

Then we each had a bowl of pasta. We probably should have just order two and shared them. Lois had fresh fettuccine with pomodoro and meatballs.

Mike and I halfed n halfed the two Roman classics-carbonara and cacio y pepe. Both were so good!

Off to bed now, feet hurt after our three miles mostly in airports today and tomorrow is the Vatican!

Tuscany.

I had always thought that those glorious views of Tuscany you see in travel magazines were all taken from only one or two spots. Well after our three days of driving to, through and from Tuscany, let me tell you the whole place looks likes those pictures (well except for a few industrial areas). It was just beautiful even though we were in and out of sprinkling rain for most of the time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We left Modena on Saturday morning (boy driving in a city in daylight and on a weekend is MUCH easier than at night at weekday rush hour!) headed for Lucca. The non toll routing provided by the car’s navigation system took us up and down and up and around some teeny tiny roads through the mountains. While beautiful, it was a hoot when we hit some tiny village and had to do a 12 point turn to make a right turn in the middle of the town. We stopped at one place along the way and bought some 40 month old Parmesan-omg, so good and only 7 bucks or so a pound. Wish we could fit a wheel in the suitcase!

At the top of the mountains we stopped at a ski resort for a break and a hot chocolate and saw snow!

In the drive down the other side we came across the medieval footbridge, Pont de Magdalena. I’m still trying to figure out what was being brought down the river from the mountains that needed such a high arch.

From there we arrived shortly in Lucca to find some sort of Comic-Con or Halloween festival going on. We drive around this walled city but the nearest parking was a mile away so we decided it wasn’t going to be possible to do a quick stop for lunch and elected to head on.

While being in Italy on a long holiday weekend had its advantages (chocolate festival!), it also impacted our trip. Places that typically wouldn’t have been crowded on a Thursday or Friday were (Sirmione) and I think the crowds were bigger at the villages in Tuscany over the weekend that they would have been otherwise.

We stopped for a quick sandwich in a suburb of Lucca and then continued to San Gimignano. This walled town is a wonderful memory from my time in graduate school in Genova. After spending a rushed two days in Florence trying to see everything an architectural student should see, our group of 9 spent a night in this village of towers in 1981. Rather than having to see things, we were able to just “be”. When we exited the only really nice Hotel we stayed in that semester on that Sunday morning, we walked onto the Piazza Cisterna (water well) to find a very blonde (Finnish?) brass quartet sitting around the well playing. Other than the four of them and the nine of us, it was like we had the whole town to ourselves. Over his objections, we all told our professor we weren’t leaving quite yet and pulled out our sketchbooks so he wouldn’t keep complaining and enjoyed an extra hour in what was then a magical place.

Unfortunately like all places, tourists are now all over town and we arrived to find a market taking place everywhere because of the holiday weekend. Needless to say it wasn’t peaceful but it was picturesque. We had a jarra (pitcher) of the local white wine and shared a cheese plate while people watching in the piazza before leaving for Staggia our home for the final two nights in Italy.

Our Airbnb in Staggia was in a renovated fortress and in addition to a wonderful loggia was at the ground floor so no toting of bags up stairs! Our only complaint was the bed was really really low-it was like they had taken the typical low IKEA bed we have had in a number of places and cut the legs off!

None of us were overly hungry so Mike and I ate the salad we had bought in Milan and been carrying around with us. After dinner Mike and I went exploring around our place and came across a bakery with the biggest croissants I’ve ever seen. We should have bought one to share for breakfast but didn’t so I can say whether it’s taste was as grand as it’s size.

On Saturday morning we headed to Sienna. It was a raining on and off so we elected to only do a quick walk through the Campo, Sienna’s major piazza and have a cup of coffee under an almost rainproof awning before heading back to the parking lot outside the walls (and down five escalators!).

This grand space is the location of the Palio horse race. While it would be incredible to see this 90 second race (3 times around) I don’t think I could deal with the claustrophobia of being one of the 50,000 spectators!

The square is dominated by the tower on the City Hall. Across from it, is the fountain where running water was first brought into the city. I was amazed that the drain at the bottom of the plaza wasn’t larger given how much water it must handle.

From Sienna we headed towards Montalcino, one of many wine villages. This walled town was the location today if some sort of scavenger hunt so there were lots and lots of runners climbing up and down the steps and hills getting their cards stamped. We enjoyed walking through the town and had a light lunch of a shared wine, meat and cheese tasting.

Afterwards we headed off to Montepulciano another wine town. It was the first town in days without a festival! Like the others the interior and exterior views were great. Mike and I agreed that next time we are in Tuscany, we want to spend two or three weeks in one of these small towns and really get to know them.

We returned to the apartment and finished up the two bottles of wine we had purchased in San Gimignano before heading half a block down the street for our final Italian dinner.

We had a great time with Roberto our host, waiter and son of the chef and chefess. We were the only non Italians in the 24 seat restaurant and were made to feel right at home. Before long the place was full and it was obvious that both the staff and the guests believed in having s good time.

Peggy had chicken liver pate with onions and anchovies as her starter along with her bottle of white wine. The pate was good even for this non liver lover.

Lowell had pici (a local pasta that is like a twisted spaghetti-each piece is made by hand – with tomato and LOTS of garlic. Very tasty!

Mike and I split a bowl of pappardelle in Mom’s meat sauce. Delicious!

For her dinner, Peggy had pici with anchovies and breadcrumbs. She loves her anchovies. It was great though we don’t have a picture.

Lowell, Mike and I split a Steak Florentine-1.3 kilos (46 ounces) of deliciousness.

Along with the steak we had a salad and a platter of the best potatoes ever. The were thinly (but obviously hand done) sliced and fried with garlic, sage and lots of salt. The picture below is after we had all eaten a handful. So so good!

Peggy is celebrating her 39th birthday (we don’t ask what anniversary of her 39th!) later in the cruise and after much wine (we were intrigued with how Roberto left the cork attached to the bottle) Lowell told Roberto about it and he brought out a birthday dessert and the whole restaurant sang Happy Birthday in Italian to Peggy.

As you can see in the picture above, guests sign the restaurant’s wall which we did and Lowell gave Roberto a $2 bill to paste on the wall with his.

Roberto brought us all grappa to end our dinner. None of us needed it and given we had to wake P&L up the next morning (they typically are very early risers) methinks they may have been overserved!

Our trip to Cittivechia the next day was uneventful and we boarded the ship by 1 pm.