May 4th 2013
Published: June 10th 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

At Sea between Alexandria and Rome, Italy--Thursday, May 2, 2013

Water, water, and more water as far as the eye can see. We are now sailing at a diagonal across the Mediterranean Sea so it is taking much longer than if we sailed straight across, but then we would land somewhere in southern Turkey.

Did the usual, for us, stuff. Read, napped, and washed more clothes to be ready for the next 2-week bus tour. It took a number of days to finish washing them all by hand in the bathroom sink and drying them in the bathroom on towel racks and hooks before we were ready to go again with clean clothes.

Since it was a relaxing day, we had time to talk with our favorite chef at the Windjammer. The picture shows him showing Sharon his pictures of his trip to the pyramids. The ship’s captain arranged for selected members of the crew to dash into Cairo to visit the pyramids and then dash back in time for their next assignment. He emailed us the following two pictures showing typical tourist poses.

Valerie played the slots and came out ahead again. I think the rest of the ship’s passengers hung out at the pool every day and worshipped the Sun God by laying prone on the deck chairs. As on several days at sea, the restaurant staff set up a pool party with hotdogs and ribs and other picnic items for lunch.

Italian Waters on the Mediterranean Sea--Friday, May 3, 2013

Still more water as far as the eye can see until about 12:30 when “land, ho” was announced. We were sailing through the Strait of Messina, the narrow passage between the eastern tip of Sicily and the “boot tip” of Italy. This strait connects the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Ionian Sea, both within the “greater” Mediterranean Sea. At its narrowest point, it measures 1.9 miles in width and at the widest, it is 3.2 miles. So, there was no problem seeing both shores at the same time. We were really surprised how close the football was to the tip of the boot.

The strait has strong tidal currents with a whirlpool in the Northern portion of the strait that has been linked to Greek legends. We both went up to the 10th deck with everyone else to watch and take pictures. Except for the city of Calabria, which was mainly on some flatish land, the scenery on the Italian side reminded both of us of the bus ride we took along the Amalfi Coast during our trip to Italy a few years ago. The towns cling high up on the mountain sides and go straight down to the sea. Watched until we sailed past the good sized city of Messina in Sicily and were back in open waters and then went down for lunch.

Later, we passed the inhabited volcanic island of Stromboli that is still active off the west coast of Italy at least, since Roman times. It is one of the Aeolian Islands. It erupted with a giant plume of smoke as we sailed by. According to the internet, its base begins more than 3,280 feet below the surface of the Tyrrhenian Sea and rises to 3,031 feet above sea level. You can easily see the villages on the steep slopes. Don’t think I would be able to sleep on that island as many do, since it is a big tourist destination. I would be afraid the whole thing would explode!

Spent the rest of the day packing everything up, as the ship docks early in the morning and we had to be out of the room by 8:00, so would have very little time to do anything but pack our hand bags and eat breakfast in the morning. The process for getting us and our luggage off the ship was explained in a written handout. Basically, we were given colored strips of paper tags that had numbers on them to put on each piece of our luggage that had to be out by 11:00 pm the night before we left. The numbers allowed the cruise people to get the luggage off in a group at the port and group us together for the listed time you were to be escorted off the ship. The times for departure were set based on your response to a questionnaire about your plans for disembarkation.

Say “Bye, bye cruise ship” and “Hello Rome!”--Saturday, May 4, 2013

After much discussion with other passengers, we concluded that we could walk and push our luggage the 4 or so blocks from where the “port buses” left us to the rail station in town. From there, we would take a train ride into Rome and then take another train to the airport for significant less money than the cost of the “transfer bus ride” the cruise line offered at $92 per head. So, that is what we did.

The ship docked at the port town of Civitavecchia about 5:30am and we got up about 6am to have breakfast. At 8:00ish, we walked off the ship, got our luggage, showed our passports at emigration, got them stamped and then took the shuttle bus that wove through old city walls to the port entrance. We then crossed the road and started walking to the right, past a Micky D’s---sort of following others whom we thought to be heading to the same place.

Shortly, we came to a wide walkway along the sea wall and crossed back over the street to walk along it. Numerous statues and benches were placed here and there along the walk. The train station was a very nondescript rock building that we would have walked by if we hadn’t seen others head up to it. We again crossed this “main” street and then climbed up an incline and crossed another little street. There Valerie got in line to get tickets and I stayed with all the bags. We then hauled our luggage up the inevitable Italian train steps with no luggage ramp. A train was ready to pull out but we would have had to run to catch it on track 5 which meant going down more steps, under the train tracks 1-4 and then back up more steps. We elected to stay put and get on the next train which was coming along on track one in 30 minutes. So, got on the 9:45 train and settled into a set of 4 seats with our luggage on the two seats facing us.

We quickly left the city and was into the green, green, farm-studded countryside that was abloom with fields of red poppies and an unidentified orange wildflower. Unfortunately, we also stopped at several towns and other people got on and wanted to sit where our luggage was. We were able to move stuff around to release one seat and that seemed to give all in the aisle a seat.

We arrived in Rome at roughly 11:00 and caught the next train to Fiumicino Airport after a very short wait. In all, the cost of both trains was one fourth the cost of the cruise’s bus ride, and since we had a late afternoon flight, we had the time to try this way. Otherwise, we would have had to hang out in the airport anyway, so we saw some of Italy and learned that we could use this method again.

We found the Turkish Air check-in desk with no problem. However, no one was there to check us in, so Valerie sat on the end of a luggage belt and I sat on my cane-seat and we ate our lunch of sandwiches we had packed the night before. When the agents finally got there, they worked so slowly that we had to stand for quite some time before it was our turn. We got to security and waited in the expected very long line rivaling the line at Hartsfield in Atlanta. Could keep our shoes on but had to take out ALL electronics and put in the bins.

After we passed through security, we were surprised to have to wait in an extremely long line for passport control that was 4-5 people across with no queuing “ribbons” to guide the crowd, so many people annoyed us by cutting in line ahead of us. The hold-up seemed to be caused by the fact that there were only 3 officers working passport control for all the non-EU people flying out of Rome. When we reached the officer, he opened the passport, glanced at the picture, and waved us through in the shortest time we have ever had.

Then came the walk through the terminal; we had to take a people mover shuttle to a new terminal and then walked forever to gate G. We had only about a half hour wait at the gate before the flight was called to board for the flight leaving at 3:45, which meant it had taken us about 2 hours to get from check-in (opened at 1:00) to the gate.

The Turkish Air flight was nice with adequate leg room for me, a Turkish delight candy served at the beginning of the flight and a nice airline meal, all in about 2 hours. Unfortunately, from where the plane landed to where we had to get our visas was another mile of walking and standing on "people movers." Turkish visas purchased for $20.00 each went fast, as for some reason there wasn’t a line, and we walked right up to the window.

However, we then had to walk another block to the passport control line. Fortunately, the Turks had a better system with line control “ribbons” and 2-3 times the checkers, so while the line was long, it moved at a much faster rate than in Rome. Let me also say that there was no or inadequate air conditioning in either airport, so on top of being tired, we were hot and uncomfortable. Anyway, by the time we got our bags and were ready to leave the airport, it was 8:30 pm Rome time, 9:30 pm Istanbul time, and the drive to the hotel by taxi/shuttle was another 45 minutes. We barely registered how pretty Istanbul was at night as the taxi drove along the lit ancient city walls, crossed the well-lit Ataturk Bridge and then drove along the Golden Horn to the hotel. All the mosques across the water were also lit at night.

Checked into the Grand Halic Hotel that was more ordinary, than grand. Didn’t matter if the beds were narrow and hard and that the hotel room was very small for the $180 we paid for the night, we quickly crashed.

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