Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cruise blog 5

Sept 10
Vince and I sleep in until 10:30! We get out the map of the ship and find the breakfast buffet where we devour a terrific brunch. After we freshen up we spend the day exploring the ship. There are 18 levels and we can never remember where aft is located or whether forward is...oh, wait that means the front of the ship. But when we are midship, we are uncertain about which is which. We spend a lot of time walking back and forth and up and down which FitBit likes a lot. There's a gorgeous pub called Adagio, a restaurant called Sabintini and oh yah, all the sports stuff. Below that is the Cafe Caribe, the Outrigger and that flows into the Calypso Reef and Pool. Above us here is the movies under the stars, with comfy chairs and an enormous screen. Back on the lower deck is another pool, a pizza place else, an ice cream bar, a bar and a grill. Keep going forward and you can look up to the spa, the sanctuary (you can book in here for a day of pampering). In midship is a huge atrium that expands three floors. There are bars, an art gallery, the casino, services such as Internet (which isn't working well and makes me a bit crazy for a while). Our dining rooms (originally the DaVinci and now the Michelangelo) are back at midship on lower levels. So as you can see, we are winding up and down and everywhere, our little map in hand, trying to figure it all out. Luckily there are workers all over who smile indulgently and point us in the right direction. We marvel at the colors of the sea, the navy and turquoise, and how calm it is. The day flashes past. After dinner (our new waiters are Joquin and Richard) we go to a show in the Princess Theater for a Motown tribute. Later we all agree that the Jolleyballers could've done much better.

Sept 11
This morning we pull into port at Livorno, where the lights still shine in the early of the morning. The sun is orange in the sky. The breakwater appears, strong stone and brick walls around which the water crashes. Our ship turns and backs into the berth as though it's a car parallel parking. We get our first idea of the crowds that will accompany us today when we glimpse the rows of buses lined up on the dock.
We have booked a half day excursion through Princess and are herded in a rather disorganized manner to our buses. As teachers we are highly critical! We are Brown 2 and almost expect them to give out ropes to hang onto. Our guide is Alessandro, a handsome bearded young man who's excellent as a funny but informative leader. He gives us a comprehensive history of Pisa as we head across the countryside. The trees that hover over the roads are called maritime or umbrella Pines - the latter name a perfect description of their shape. These lovely trees give us pine nuts, for which Pisa is famous. Ground up with olive oil, basil, and garlic, they're transformed into pesto. Pisa also has lots of vineyards, but Alessandro tells us if it's less than 10 Euros it's only good for washing the dog. Pisa has three universities, so although the population isn't large, the students swell it to twice the size. There's a basilica to St. Peter who stopped here on his way to Rome, hiding in a Roman villa on the site of the church. The Arno River crisscrosses through here, ambling its way to Florence.
When we alight from the bus we're astonished by the heat and humidity so early in the day. The streets are absolutely crawling with people walking every which way. From above the only difference between us and an anti hill would be the seeming lack of direction or purpose. The town is lovely with greenery, bougainvillea, little stone walls or courtyards. After waiting for a train, we continue our walk until suddenly we can see the leaning tower of Pisa.
The first thing we say is: it really does lean. So much more than I envisioned. A great white block tower defense listing sideways, looking like an enormous mistake. Somehow I thought it would look deliberate; an architectural feat,  but it looks ashamed instead. And we are all here to laugh at it. Stand up on fences and take goofy pictures.
The attached basilica reminds us of the Florence Duomo with its white and green and cream facade. The "new" cemetery is here too: it was built in the 1600's, such a short time ago.
Luoca, Pisa and Florence were enemies in the 1300's with the result that towers and fortresses were constructed everywhere. Castles loom from hillsides, intimidation tactics. In season, the hillsides would be covered in sunflowers. I can imagine such a blanket of orange might be dazzling.
Reaching Florence reminds me of how much I love this city. Pillars,  bridges, ornate window frames, archways. Tall carved wooden doorways. Wrought iron fences as tight ropes for bougainvillea and vines. Brown, white, cream, peach all mingle with nature's colors. Tree lined streets. The river sauntering through. I am amused by the name of a street we pass on the way to the center: Via Malcontenti.
We stop for lunch first, partly to avoid some of the crowds, at a place recommended by Alessandro. It's called Barlovino (I think) and the beer is frigid, the pizza and pasta delicious. Later we walk to Il Duomo and admire its pastel beauty, soft greens, cream, red, brown in marble. Statues and pictures, the huge wooden doors etched with stories - histories. The tower, the golden doorway of the Baptistry. We stroll through quaint streets with an abundance of caf├ęs and shops. Stars up winding alleyways and one lane roads. The ambience is lively, open, busy. The crowds are astonishing. I'm not sure I've ever been in such a flow of human beings. We arrive in the Piazza Signoria, where the David replica and a plethora of other statues glisten in the sun. The opulence of the past is fascinating. If we had such investment in art now, what could we produce?

Sept 12
There's a delay getting into port today, because yesterday's traffic caused late arrivals from the tours. We have to line up for an hour, but once on the smaller hydrofoils we love the sight of Naples in the sunshine, stacked on the hills, an ancient fort on its hilltop. Our ship dwarfs the dock. The wind is soft in our hair and on our faces. The sun is burning off the light mist.

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