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Travel 2017: Back ‘Home’ in London: Day One

According to schedule, we landed at Heathrow at 8:30 am and breezed through Customs/Immigration. We had arranged a car service to meet us and whisk us off to our London home away from home, the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. We loved it so much last September, we didn’t even have to think twice about staying here again. The added bonus (this trip) was that they have VIP service to walk you through customs and get you boarded on the EuroStar train we were taking to Paris at the end of our stay.

We pre-checked in and dropped our bags, then had a quick knosh in the Chambers Club before hitting the street for the day. (We knew ahead of time our room wouldn’t be ready.) With tickets to two shows, we figured we wouldn’t actually get into our room until late that night.

 

Looking out through the magnificent windows of St. Pancras.

 

We’d made a short list of things we wanted to see in London this trip. Since we were just here last September, we’d gotten the touristy- thing out of the way and felt no rush to cram in a bunch of sites. Plus, with our heavy show schedule, we figured we’d just try and do one thing a day and keep things simple and relaxed.

We didn’t get to spend any time in Trafalgar Square last trip, so that’s where we headed first. The large public area, formerly known as Charing Cross, was named after the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar and is anchored by the prominent Nelson’s Column surrounded by statues and fountains.

 

Trafalgar Square, bustling with activity even with the threat of rain.

 

The National Gallery is located on the square, but being a Saturday, the lines were quite long so we didn’t try to go in.

There were plenty of artists and street performers entertaining the large crowds of people enjoying the weekend. The wind started to pick up and dark clouds started rolling in suggesting we might be in for a downpour.

 

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

 

A view of London (Big Ben in the background) from Trafalgar Square.

 

After a bit of people watching, we headed to the far end of the square, towards St. Martin in-the-Fields church and the National Portrait Gallery around the corner.

After watching The Crown recently, I found out the sketches for Graham Sutherland’s commissioned painting of Winston Churchill were on display at the National Portrait Gallery. (Churchill hated the painting, that was commissioned as gift to him– and his wife had the painting destroyed.) What I neglected to find out was the room in which they are displayed is closed for renovation. Maybe on a future visit.

 

The National Portrait Gallery.

 

After exploring the neighborhood a bit more, we returned to Trafalgar Square to relax, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city until we needed to head to our matinee show.

Half a Sixpence. Our first show was a matinee performance of the musical, Half A Sixpence. The romantic comedy was originally produced in 1963 (in London) starring Tommy Steele and moved to Broadway (with Steele) in 1965. I saw the 1967 film version many years ago and remembered it as being a lot of fun.

We weren’t disappointed. We both enjoyed this “poor man- inherits fortune- loses fortune- gets the girl” story, thanks to the energetic and extremely talented cast. Charlie Stemp would have made Tommy Steele proud. It was a great start to our London theatre experience.

Half A Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre.

 

The threat of rain gone, the dark clouds had been replaced with sun and beautiful blue skies. We ventured over near Buckingham Palace and revisited the Wellington Arch. It was nice to be able to take our time enjoying the nice spring weather, leisurely, making our way to the theatre nearby.

 

The Wellington Arch.

 

We had plenty of time for dinner after picking up our show tickets, so we chose to eat at The Other Naughty Piglet. The restaurant boasts a seasonal menu of small plate offerings. Let me just say– the food here is art. The ham croquettes were to die for! For a place that appears so casual and unpretentious– the food is a culinary masterpiece. I’m no foodie and I seldom write much about our meals. This should be an indication of how impressed I was.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatre, The Other Palace. (Until recently, known as the St. James Theatre.)

Whisper House. Our evening performance was Duncan Sheik’s Whisper House at The Other Palace Theatre. Built where the Westminster Theatre stood until fire consumed it in 2002, it was  named the St. James Theatre when is opened in 2012.

Andrew Lloyd Webber acquired it in 2016 and it was renamed The Other Palace. There are two smaller theatres in the complex (a 312 seat main stage and 12o seat studio space) which is now dedicated to developing new works.

When I saw Whisper House would be playing, I had to see it. I’m a huge fan of Sheik and his musical, Spring Awakening. I’d say Whisper House is more a play with music than a true musical. It’s basically a ghost story that takes place in a haunted lighthouse during World War II. The show was originally workshopped in San Diego in 2010 and it was co-written by Kyle Jarrow.

 

The set of Duncan Sheik’s Whisper House, The Other Palace Theatre, London 2017.

 

It seemed promising at the beginning. Visually, the show was gorgeous. The opening number “It’s Better To Be Dead” is both haunting and glorious. Much of the music is really good– but at as the show progressed, it (the show) seemed to be troubled on a number of levels. The cast seemed to struggle with the material and the stage chemistry between the actors/characters wasn’t always evident. Initially, it appeared that only the ghost characters would be singing the musical numbers as a commentary– but then later it seemed to hinder the show’s progression.

Director Adam Lenson fails to make this production his own. During one song, for no apparent reason, the cast began to physically express themselves (individually) in a way that directly mimicked Spring Awakening. So much for originality. I also felt that overall, the intensity was lacking, causing the show to drag. I didn’t hate it– with work I think there’s some real promise in this piece.

It had been a long day.

We headed back to the hotel to complete check in, unpack and get some sleep. Our heads hadn’t hit pillows since Thursday night (in the U.S.) and I’m surprised we weren’t even more exhausted.

It had been a great first day of vacation. We’d walked over seven miles today, even with taking the Tube. We were ready for some solid rest.

 

Travel Date:  5/13/17 Saturday (Day One)

London, Paris, Amsterdam and Broadway on the Rhone

It’s hard to believe this day is finally here! We started planning this trip in February 2016 when Playbill Travel announced their inaugural river cruise. This will be our first as well, while it’s our fourth vacation built around a Playbill Broadway Cruise. This ship, Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine,  holds about half the passengers of the Broadway at Sea cruises from the past few years. This cruise actually sold out before it could go on sale to the public.

We weighed some options and building around the cruise, we came up with a pretty exciting trip. Nineteen days in Europe, start to finish. We start with five days in London, then take the Eurostar train to Paris for three days, followed by the Broadway on the Rhone River Cruise and finally three days in Amsterdam before flying home.

So here’s a quick preview of our trip:

London

Having just visited last September, we saw many of the historical places of interest and found how easy it was to get around using the Tube. This time we’re seeing nine shows (yes, nine shows in 5 days) in the West End. We’re staying at the incredibly beautiful, St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel again which connects directly to the Eurostar at St. Pancras International. When we’re not in the theatre, we hope to visit a few of the museums and places we didn’t have time to get to on our last trip.

Paris

Our first time. So many things we’d like to see and do– but we’re keeping our options open so we can focus on enjoying the ambience of the city. Hotel Scribe will be our home base for a few days. We’re definitely making a trip to Versailles, must see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, we’re seeing the show at Paradis Latin and have a short champagne cruise through Paris on the Seine. I’m really hoping to spend time in the Montmartre district and make a quick visit to the island of Grand Jatte. We’ll probably skip the museums this time and have to plan a longer stay in the future to experience more of what Paris has to offer.

Broadway on the Rhone

Sponsored by Playbill Travel, this Rhone river cruise starts in the south of France and visits: Avignon, Arles, Tarascon, Viviers, Tournon/Tain L’Hermitage, Macon and Lyon. World renowned sommelier Jean-Luc le Du will be on board, sharing his love and knowledge of the wines, cheese and chocolates of the region. Evenings will feature entertainment by Broadway veterans Rebecca Luker, Paulo Szot, Liz Callaway and James Barbour, accompanied by Grammy and Emmy Award winning Music Director, John McDaniel.

Amsterdam

At the top of my bucket list of places to visit has always been the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. We’ve already booked our tickets. We also booked a half day trip to Zaanse Schans, Voldendam and Marken in the Dutch countryside. Windmills anyone? There are also several museums and a canal cruise we hope to enjoy, not to mention the necessary stroll through the infamous red light district,  known around the world. I think we’re too late for tulips but you never know!

 

I’ll be posting what I can, when I can on social media as well as blog posts of our daily activities– though they may be posted later, depending on time and Internet availability. I hope some of you will follow along– join us on our journey!

 

 

Dreaming of Versailles and a Sunday in THE Park

We considered it, dismissed it, then couldn’t ignore it. I was dreaming about it.

Beautifully sculpted gardens, manicured lawns and bubbling fountains– surrounding an expansive, palatial wonderland full of historic, architectural  detail and dusted with gold gilding.

This is the Château de Versailles.

Dreaming about a place is one thing– actually visiting and experiencing it is something else entirely. There’s nothing as magical as feeling an undeniable connection to a place.

First Visit

We’ll only be in Paris a few short days and it’s the first visit for both Michael and I. There are so many incredible things to see and do in Paris. Where do we begin? In the initial planning stage for our visit, we did our research, made lists and talked to friends. With so many options, we finally made what we decided was the best decision for us: Experience the city itself and find our own connection– feel it’s vibe. Our visit will be less about the individual attractions and more about the overall ambience the city has to offer.

Dreaming of Versailles

A few months ago, Michael and I watched the first season of the Netflix series, Versailles.

Louis XIV’s love and nurturing of art, elegance, beauty and architecture inspired the world. Versailles was his dream. A stunning palace that stands as a tribute and glowing example of 18th century French art. At 28 years old, Louis set out to build the greatest palace in the world.

Suddenly, it became all too clear that we had to visit Versailles. I was dreaming about it. This was the type of connection I was looking for– and it made the rest of our Paris planning more clear.

Instead of seeing a lot of historic places because, well, we had to; make the experience personal to us. Enjoying it rather than rushing to see everything we possible can. Granted, we will still see more than most people probably would in three days time– it’s just our own approach completely changed.

A Sunday in the Park

Going all the way back to my childhood, Georges Seurat’s painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) has influenced my life. The musical Sunday in the Park with George, later became one of my all time favorites. But long before the musical, I spent hours in a classroom, staring up at that painting– wondering who those people were.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Georges Seurat, 1884. (Photographed: August 2014)

Flash forward– years later– In my college art classes, I spent a lot of time focused on Seurat and his work. Then in my senior year, I drove overnight to Chicago to see Goodman Theatre’s production of Sunday in the Park with George. I had a profound connection to the piece. After college, I had the opportunity to play George in an ill-fated theatre company’s production, that ended up being cancelled, with the demise of the company. Sadly, a near miss.

And one last connection– my biggest audition as an actor– for the second national touring company of Into the Woods— I sang George’s song Finishing the Hat from Sunday. I didn’t get cast but the director had me sing way beyond my chosen 16 bars– so I must have done something right.

A Must

When it hit me, I was surprised I hadn’t already considered it. Just recently, it dawned on me that of all the places I really would connect with in Paris– I had to at least try and visit Île de la Grande Jatte. It’s very different from Seurat’s time. There’s very little park there now. It’s mostly a developed suburb, part of an upscale commune at the gates of Paris. And, (I had decided) if I was going to do it– it had to be on Sunday. It might be possible but that Sunday morning is the day we leave for our Rhone river cruise. I think it’s doable, though we haven’t been given the departure schedule yet. The island could take up to 45 minutes to reach. So if we’re up early and on our way, we should be able to make it, even if it’s a very short visit. Our friends George and Mary said they’d be up for the adventure. That makes it perfect because then it can truly be ‘A Sunday in THE Park… with George’.

Hopefully the stars will align. Dreams happen. Weather and time permitting… I’ll be there.

 

Travel 2016: Day Fourteen – Back to Rome and Vatican City

We sailed into Cittavecchia as the sun rose, ending our seven day cruise. Before we disembarked the Silver Wind, we had breakfast, said a few goodbyes and waited to be called. We were provided transportation from Cittavecchia to the taxi stand at the Piazza Barberini in Rome. From there we headed to Vatican City.

img_1328Arriving at the Residenza Paolo VI Hotel, our home for the night– we had plenty of time before our tour. The hotel was literally across a narrow side street from St. Peter’s Square. George and Mary were able to check in when we arrived but our room wasn’t ready. We left our bags in their room and then we went upstairs and checked out the view from the terrace.

 

View of St. Peter/s from the terrace of the Residenza Paolo VI Hotel in Rome.

View of St. Peter’s from the terrace of the Residenza Paolo VI Hotel in Rome.

 

Michael had booked our private tour before the trip. This allowed us to bypass the lines at the Vatican Museum which can be quite long. We were supposed to meet our guide by some park stairs near the museum — we just had to find them. After spending a little time in St. Peter’s Square, we headed out around the perimeter of Vatican City– and of course. we chose the long way around.

 

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Rome.

St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Rome.

 

Michael and I in St. Peter's Square.

Michael and I in St. Peter’s Square.

 

The fortress-like wall around Vatican City.

The fortress-like wall around Vatican City.

 

After about a half mile walk, we found the meeting point and then decided to get a little lunch before the tour. We ended up at a little corner joint — didn’t look like much on the outside but inside it was actually quite nice. We had a nice filling lunch (I had pizza) and then headed to meet our guide.

The Vatican Museum is massive. We only saw a portion of it, marveling at the incredible content as we moved from room to room. Detailed frescos, hundreds of enormous tapestries, thousands of marble sculptures– not to mention the wide variety of architectural styles throughout the museum.

 

Above the entrance to the Vatican Museum.

Above the entrance to the Vatican Museum.

 

Marble Busts in the Vatican Museum.

Ancient Marble Roman Busts.

 

Inside the Vatican Museum.

Inside the Vatican Museum.

 

Domed Ceiling in the Vatican Museum.

Domed Ceiling in the Vatican Museum.

 

I loved this sculpture.

I loved this sculpture.

 

Incredible detail in this Mosaic Floor.

Incredible detail in this Mosaic Floor.

 

Laocoon and His Sons excavated in Rome, 1506.

Laocoon and His Sons, excavated in Rome, 1506.

 

Sala Rotonda in the Vatican Museum.

Sala Rotonda in the Vatican Museum.

 

Roman Mosaic Floor in the Vatican Museum.

Roman Mosaic Floor in the Vatican Museum.

 

Inside on of the four Raphael Rooms.

Inside one of the four Raphael Rooms.

 

Lysippos, Apoxyomenos.

Lysippos, Apoxyomenos.

 

Inside a room filled with mostly dog sculptures.

Inside a large room filled with animal but mostly dog sculptures.

 

In a courtyard at the Vatican Museum in Vatican City.

In a courtyard at the Vatican Museum in Vatican City.

 

The Sistine Chapel. I’ve always heard this was a must-see in Rome and it is only accessible with a ticket to the Vatican Museum. We were warned before entering that there was to be no talking and no photography inside.

We entered, and were in and out in probably five minutes or less. Why? It was extremely crowded and a little uncomfortable. Visitors were crammed in like sardines, most staring up at the magnificent ceiling. But– people were talking, taking cell phone pictures and prompting the guards to yell at the crowd, repeatedly, to stop doing both.

I kept getting bumped into and brushed against. I was honestly afraid I was going to fall victim to the rumored pick-pockets. It was the only time during the whole trip that I had any concern. I was just anxious to get out of there. By the time I got to the other side of the room– the rest of our party was also there– we all just wanted to leave that claustrophobic environment.

St. Peter’s Basilica. The Papal Basilica is considered by many as one of the world’s most holy places. We’ve toured many churches, cathedrals and basilicas around the world. This is THE basilica, right? Nothing can prepare you for how colossal it really is until you walk inside and experience it for yourself. The tallest dome in the world, it rises 448 feet above the sanctuary.

 

St. Peter's Basilica in ROme.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

 

The famous Popes Balcony at St. Peter's Basilica.

The famous Popes Balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Preparing to Enter St. Peter's Basilica.

Preparing to Enter St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

As we were nearing the end of a Jubilee year, we were still able to pass through the Holy Door which according to Catholic beliefs, cleanses the pilgrims that pass through it. (The Holy door was just resealed by the Pope a few weeks ago.) It is normally sealed from the inside with mortar.

 

Waiting to enter the Holy Door, only open during a Jubilee year celebration.

Waiting to enter the Holy Door that is only open during a Jubilee year celebration.

 

Michaelangelo's Pieta, 1498.

Michaelangelo’s Pieta, 1498.

 

The stunning interior of St. Peter's Basilica.

The stunning interior of St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Dome inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Dome inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Inside St. Peter's Basilica.

The Altar Canopy Inside St. Peter’s Basilica is only used by the Pope.

There is no charge to visit St. Peter’s. If you are visiting Rome but limited on time, you should most definitely visit St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica, even if you don’t have time to tour the museum.

For dinner we headed to Su & Giu Cucina Romana on the recommendation of George’s sister. We arrived too early (just after 6) forgetting that most restaurants close after lunch and then open later for dinner. In our case, they didn’t open until 7:30. So we took a walk through the neighborhood and did some window shopping in the meantime.

George and I enjoying the street view on our last night in Rome.

George and I enjoying the street view on our last night in Rome.

The streets were quite lively. There were lots of street vendors and people hurrying about. I found a special pleasantness about it all– a wonderful vibe and quite charming. It was enjoyable just to sit, people-watch and soak it all in.

We were the first to be seated when we got back to the restaurant. We couldn’t have shared a more perfect meal for our last night. There was an overabundance of delicious food. We were stuffed!

We took a taxi back to the hotel, George and Mary went upstairs, while Michael and I walked back over to St. Peter’s Square to view it all lit up and snap a few photos.

 

St. Peter's Square at night.

St. Peter’s Square at night.

 

I’m really glad we planned our trip this way. Saving a day just dedicated to seeing the Vatican was a smart move. There’s really no way to truly experience all that Rome has to offer and the Vatican in one day. Splitting it up the way we did, I feel like we were able to fully experience this incredible city– even if it was crammed into a couple days.

 

(Original Travel Date: September 30, 2016)

Travel 2016: Day Thirteen – Bonifacio, Corsica, France

Bonifacio is a French commune (city) on the island of Corsica (Corse). It is a fortress city with a modest population of just under 3,000 inhabitants. Though it has a Roman origin, the island changed hands several times and in 1769 was conquered by France. Still, it retains much of its Italian culture to this day.

We tendered in from our ship to the gorgeous little harbour, nestled among the high cliffs of the island. From the port, we took a short train (tram) ride– uphill, to the top of the city sitting high above the sea.

Plaque commemorating the house where Napoleon had once lived.

Plaque commemorating the house where Napoleon had once lived.

After a rather long-winded introduction, our guide took us through the narrow streets of Bonifacio,  pointing out several churches and showing us some of the more breathtaking scenic spots. Along the Rue des Deux Empereurs we saw where Napoleon lodged (1793) and where Charles V had lived (1541), across the street.

Bonifacio has the feel of a resort town, full of history with many quaint shops and restaurants.

Once we were oriented, we were on our own to explore. George, Mary and I chose to take a boat ride from the harbour along the coast while Michael did some shopping along the docks.

As you can see from the pictures, the scenery is just gorgeous. It was all enhanced by perfect weather and great company to share it with.

 

The rocky coast of Corsica.

The rocky coast of Corsica.

 

Looking out at the Mediterranean Sea.

Looking out at the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Michael, George, Mary and I in Bonifacio.

Michael, George, Mary and I in Bonifacio.

 

On the street in Bonifacio.

On the street in Bonifacio.

 

I loved the textures in this shot.

I loved the textures in this shot.

 

A typical street in Bonifacio, Corsica.

A typical street in Bonifacio, Corsica.

 

Looking down towards the stunning harbour.

Looking down towards the stunning harbour.

 

Starting the steep descent from the top of Bonafacio.

Starting the steep descent from the top of Bonifacio.

 

The fortress wall from our little tour boat in the harbour.

The fortress walls from our little tour boat in the harbour.

 

Leaving the harbour.

Leaving the harbour.

 

Inside the Cave of Sdragonato.

Inside the Cave of Sdragonato.

 

You can see where the rock of the island of Corsica changes from limestone to granite.

You can see where the rock of the island of Corsica changes from limestone to granite.

 

Bonifacio sitting high on the linestone cliffs of Corsica.

Bonifacio sitting high on the limestone cliffs of Corsica.

 

Last Night Onboard. The last night of a cruise is always difficult because you’re trying to say goodbye to everyone, pack and get your bags out to be moved off the ship by the staff; plus you still have dinner and a big final show. So between rushing around and trying to get everyone coordinated for our last dinner together, it was kind of a circus.

We made some great new friends and got to spend time with some of our favorite people from past cruises as well. Since many of us live all over the United States, and Anthony and Michael in London– you just never know when you’ll see each other again.

The good news is that quite a few of us have booked the Broadway on the Rhone River Cruise in May so we have that to look forward to in 2017.

The Big Show. Our final show of the cruise featured all of the performers including the ‘Broadway Ambassadors’ that didn’t give solo concerts. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Faith Prince on stage with her husband Larry Lunetta playing his trumpet.
  • Charles Busch singing “Those Were the Days” – It was a master class in storytelling.
  • Laura Osnes and Lindsay Mendez singing “For Good” – Both got emotional and teary eyed; sweet, spontaneous emotion.
  • Hudson Flynn, Lila Crawford, Juli Wesley performing – Hudson is the multi-talented son of Andrea Burns and Peter Flynn; Lila played Annie in the most Broadway revival and Little Red in the film version of Into the Woods;  and Juli is the wonderful daughter of Seth Rudetsky and James Welsey. (Juli celebrated her 16th birthday on the trip!)
  • West Side Story Quintet – This was the show finale- thrown together in an hour! Featuring Chita Rivera singing Anita ( the role she originated); Andrea Burns (Maria) and husband, director Peter Flynn (Tony) – they met playing those roles in a European tour of West Side Story!;  The rest of the performers made up the Jets and Sharks.

 

Faith Prince

Faith Prince

 

Faith Prince & husband, Larry Lunetta

Faith Prince & husband, Larry Lunetta

 

Lila Crawford

Lila Crawford

 

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera

 

Adam Pascal

Adam Pascal

 

Charles Busch

Charles Busch

 

Hudson Flynn, Lila Crawford & Juli Wesley

Hudson Flynn, Lila Crawford & Juli Wesley

 

Seth Rudetsky, Music Director and Master of Ceremonies

Seth Rudetsky, Music Director and Master of Ceremonies

 

The Creative Team & Travel Pros for BOTHS7.

The Creative Team & Travel Pros for BOTHS7.

Up Late. A bunch of us congregated afterwards for the last time. Bill, Paul, Janet, Ron and a few others came and went, chatting and saying their goodbyes. Michael left to go put his luggage out- it was supposed to be out by 11:30– and I assured him I was right behind him. As everyone left, Janet and I stopped and chatted for a few minutes with Andrea Burns in the lounge.

I escorted Janet to the elevator than headed back to the room. Of course, me being me, I was late getting my bags out– so they sat there all night. I went up to the casino to meet Michael, we played some slots, then headed back to the room and called it a night.

 

Tomorrow we disembark and head back to Rome for a day at the Vatican.

Travel 2016: Day Twelve – The Italian Ruins of Nora and a Broadway Legend

It was a sunny but hazy morning as we hurried through breakfast and our morning routine.

We boarded the coach bus for day’s tour and it seemed to take forever to get out of the port. We maneuvered through traffic and our guide gave us some of the history of the region as we trudged along.

The Devil's Saddle on the coast of Sardinia.

The Devil’s Saddle on the coast of Sardinia.

It felt like as soon as we actually started moving, we were stopping at an overlook for a panoramic view of the area. We had Cagliari on one side and the Devil’s Saddle on the other.

The Devil’s Saddle is a natural rock formation, jutting out into the sea. The legend says that the Devil loved the beauty of the Cagliari coast. God sent Archangel Michael with an army of angels to banish Lucifer. During the battle, Lucifer was thrown from his horse, losing his seat which later turned to stone.

Cagliari is the capital city of the Italian island of Sardinia.  It has about 150,000 residents and is the largest city on the island.

 

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy.

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy.

It was a nice little stop, not rushed and some great views. The haze hadn’t burned off so my pictures don’t really do it justice.

Archaeological Site of Nora. Nora is located on a peninsula. A portion of it is submerged because the southern part of Sardinia is slowly sinking into the Mediterranean Sea.  An ancient Roman town, only part of Nora has been excavated because much of it is under the control of the Italian Army. The part that has been excavated is not nearly as impressive as the ruins of Pompeii, but jutting out into the ocean, it’s a wonder that this much has survived.

From Nora, the skies over Sardinia.

From Nora, the skies over Sardinia.

There’s a substantial amount of walking, nothing treacherous–  just getting to the site from the parking. Along the way is a beautiful public beach, a rocky coast line and on the other side- a nice view of the island’s mountains.

At the actual entrance, there is a nice little cafe where we stopped to use the facilities while our guide purchased our tickets.

We entered the site and the guide stopped to talk… and talk…. and talk. True to form, Michael and I got bored and decided to wander off, keeping the group in sight so we didn’t repeat our Pompeii incident.

At one point as we were wandering, Michael’s attention was drawn one direction and I walked off in another. Suddenly, alarms were going off– which I ignored– until they sounded a second time. There was also an announcement to return to the main path. I still wasn’t sure it was me until I turn back the direction I’d come from and saw two of those small security cameras pointed my direction. I’m still not sure exactly why the area was restricted. It wasn’t marked, it wasn’t roped off and looked no different than the rest of the pathways. I guess this is why you’re supposed to follow your guide!

 

Much of the ruins of Nora look like this.

Much of the ruins of Nora look like this.

 

Excavated Walls of the Ruins of Nora.

Excavated Walls of the Ruins of Nora.

 

Portions of a surviving mosaic floor.

Portions of a surviving mosaic floor.

 

The Ruins of Nora set against a stunning backdrop.

The Ruins of Nora set against a stunning backdrop.

 

We were given very little time to explore so we made the most of it. As it turns out, had there been time, we could have gone out and explored one of the two watch towers on the site.

 

One of two watch towers at Nora.

One of two watch towers at Nora.

 

I’d highly recommend that anyone interested in visiting Nora, make it a relaxing day trip and plan on some beach time while you’re there. Though the ruins themselves aren’t spectacular, the location and views are. A lovely place to spend a relaxing day.

 

Autograph Session, Part Due. Back on the ship, we went to the second autograph session with the other half of the performers. Immediately following, we went to dinner, excitement building for the headline performance to follow.

 

Our framed, autographed poster from Broadway On the High Seas 7.

Our framed, autographed poster from Broadway On the High Seas 7.

 

Chita Rivera in Concert.  Who hasn’t heard of Chita Rivera? The legendary star of such Broadway musicals as Can-Can, West Side Story, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and most recently, The Visit. She’s a Broadway Icon.

Chita Rivera.

Chita Rivera.

Michael and I had seen her on Broadway twice before. The Dancer’s Life (2005), was a sort of retrospective of her life and career; and the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, played Broadway in 2012.

Her concert for us tonight, was a mix of interview and song. It featured many wonderful numbers from her illustrious career. I was most thrilled that she sang “Chief Cook & Bottle Washer”, from the musical The Rink, in which she co-starred with Liza Minnelli in 1984.

Of course, the audience loved her! She might have even given the longest concert ever on a BOTHS cruise.

 

The legendary Chita Rivera.

The legendary Chita Rivera.

 

Chita Rivera in Concert.

Chita Rivera in Concert.

 

Tomorrow is our last full day of the cruise and we’re visiting Bonifacio, Corsica, France.

Travel 2016: Day Eleven – Erice, Sicily: Feels Like Home

Our Silver Seas ship, the Silver Wind, docked in Trapani.

Our Silver Seas ship, the Silver Wind, docked in Trapani.

 

We docked this morning in Trapani, Sicily. Beautiful blue skies only added to our anticipation of exploring another new location. Today we were headed to Erice. We actually could have fit in two different locations but the scheduling would have been pretty tight. Instead, we opted to just stick with one excursion and have a more relaxed day.

Early afternoon, we boarded the bus and headed up the narrow winding roads to the top of Mount Erice. We had some pretty spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea and of Trapani below us as we climbed.

 

The view of the Mediterranean as we climbed Mount Erice.

The view of the Mediterranean as we climbed Mount Erice.

 

Looking up towards the top of Mount Erice and our destination.

Looking up towards the top of Mount Erice and our destination.

 

Just outside the city’s walls stood the Chiese Madre (Main Church) greeting us. Originally built in 1312, it actually collapsed in 1853 and was immediately rebuilt in the Neo-Gothic style.

 

Chiesa Madre against the clear blue sky.

Chiesa Madre against the clear blue sky.

 

Chiesa Madre.

Chiesa Madre.

 

We had the opportunity to spend some time inside the church and marvel at its majestic detail.

 

Inside the Chiesa Madre.

Inside the Chiesa Madre.

 

Close up of the altar in Chiesa Madre.

Close up of the altar in Chiesa Madre.

 

Intricate detail in the Chiesa Madre.

Intricate detail in the Chiesa Madre.

 

We entered the west end of Erice through the Porta Trapani, one of three entrances to the city. Erice has a long complicated history dating back to ancient times. The population here at the peak is only about 300. The city was all but abandoned by the year 1800; one of the reasons being the harsh winters.

 

The west entrance of Erice, Porta Trapani.

The west entrance of Erice- Porta Trapani.

 

There are a lot of Greek and Roman influences here. The biggest impression you get from the city is the quiet, quaint charm of it all. Even with thousands of tourists filling the streets, it remains a calm, peaceful place.

 

One of several dogs we past, lounging in the streets of Erice.

One of several dogs we past, lounging in the streets of Erice.

 

The simple, quaint charm of Erice.

The simple, quaint charm of Erice.

 

The bell tower of Chiesa di San Giuliano, Erice.

The bell tower of Chiesa di San Giuliano, Erice.

 

Our walk took us through the streets, slowly climbing upwards but not steep enough to really notice. We reached the Venus Castle, also known as Norman Castle, Torri Pepoli Castle or simply Erice Castle. The castle was built in the 12th century on top of the ancient Temple of Venus. In addition to the castle itself (now part of it is a resort hotel), you have the advantage of some of the best views in Erice.

 

Approaching Venus Castle.

Approaching Venus Castle.

 

Venus Castle.

Venus Castle.

 

A view of Sicily from the top of Mount Erice.

A view of Sicily from the top of Mount Erice.

 

The mighty fortress, Norman, or Venus Castle.

The mighty fortress: Norman, or Venus Castle.

 

The resort entrance at Venus Castle.

The resort entrance at Venus Castle.

 

Feels Like Home. At some point, Michael voiced what I was thinking, “How’d you like to live here?” A relatively peaceful, quiet, simple life- maybe not a very practical idea– but that’s just how Erice felt. Like home.

The first time I ever felt that way about a place, was in my 20’s in Greenwich Village, NYC. It was late at night, just a few days before Christmas. A light snow was falling and the city was quiet. I passed just a few people on the street and we all seemed to be enjoying the magic in the air. It just felt– right.

The next time I felt that was when Michael and I visited Stockholm a couple years ago. Strolling around the Stortorget (The Big Square), lined with brightly colored, centuries-old buildings.

It’s an incredible feeling when you find a place like that. It’s the ambience– more of a vibe than anything. Erice has that vibe. It’s sort of a fairy tale place.

 

Where the sea meets the sky.

Where the sea meets the sky.

 

Looking down on the Torretta Pepoli, part of Venus Castle.

Looking down on the Torretta Pepoli, part of Venus Castle.

 

A vendor stopped by the castle.

A vendor stopped near the castle.

 

Norman Castle is poised on top of the steep cliff.

Norman Castle is poised on top of the steep cliff walls.

 

We had time to wander the streets but our visit ended too soon. It was time to board the bus and wind our way back down Mount Erice to Trapani. We had Broadway stars waiting for us on the ship.

 

I'm waiting for the autograph session with the stars. (Photo by Mary T.)

I’m waiting for the autograph session with the stars. (Photo by Mary T.)

Autograph session. Every cruise, Playbill Travel creates a beautiful piece of frameable art that we can have signed by the Broadway performers on that trip.

For those of us (most of us) that don’t stalk the performers on the cruise, it’s an easy chance to say hi without feeling like you’re imposing.

I was disappointed though. Right before it started, we were told ‘no time for candid pictures and no conversations’– keep the line moving.

Seeing that this was the third time we’ve done these sessions– and the fact that the other two– moved quickly, even with photos and short conversations– I felt a little cheated.

I did sneak in a few pleasantries…. even if I didn’t get the chance for pictures.

 

Kate Baldwin.

Kate Baldwin.

Kate Baldwin in Concert. Another great concert tonight. This time, by the stunning Kate Baldwin.

She gave us an energetic and powerful mix of familiar and lesser-known Broadway songs from a wide variety of composers.

She has appeared on Broadway in Finian’s Rainbow, Giant and Big Fish. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kate will star as Mrs. Malloy in Hello Dolly! with Bette Midler next spring.

 

Kate Baldwin.

Kate Baldwin.

 

Kate Baldwin during Broadway On the High Seas 7.

Kate Baldwin during Broadway On the High Seas 7.

 

Kate Baldwin in Concert.

Kate Baldwin in Concert.

 

From Home. Before bed, I checked Facebook for the day’s pictures from the boarding facility we use back home. They post daily so owners can see their pet children at play. The biggest drawback about a long vacation is missing the children. Belle and Dudley seem to be doing fine without us– a good thing– but I always wonder if they miss us as much as we miss them.

 

Belle on the left, Dudley second from the right.

Belle on the back left, Dudley second from the right.

 

Tomorrow we visit Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy.

Travel 2016: Day Ten – A Day In Malta

We were extremely anxious to get off the ship and explore a new country this morning. There was only a slight chance of rain, so we were looking forward to covering a lot of ground.

We had some beautiful views of the coast as we sailed into Valletta’s Grand Harbour in Malta. Instead of a regular excursion, we had wisely scheduled a car and guide so we could see more at our own pace.

Before the day was over we’d have toured Valletta, Vittoriosa, Rabat, and Mdina by car and on foot. We’d also do a car tour through Senglea and Cospicua.

 

Sailing into Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta.

Sailing into Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta.

 

Malta from our ship.

Malta from our ship.

We met our guide and walked from the port down to the waters edge to board a Dghaisa for a boat ride around the Grand Harbour before meeting our car. A dghaisa is a colorfully painted Maltese fishing boat, reminiscent of a gondola.

I really enjoyed seeing Malta from this viewpoint. I have to say though, that it was a bit of a rough ride. A little wet too. We got quite a bit of ocean spray as we hit the wave crests.

 

Touring the Grand Harbour in a Maltese dhaj

Touring the Grand Harbour in a Maltese dghaisa.

We took a short drive in the car, stopping at a spot to get another great view of the Grand Harbour.

Malta is a beautiful place. The cities we visited are made up of many densely occupied, narrow streets made of tile and stone. Most of the buildings are made of limestone, which is no surprise considering the island itself is one massive limestone rock. Walking through the streets, I loved the balconies, bay windows and shutters accenting the exteriors.

We walked down Strait Street, the most famous street in Malta. It is the hub of English, Italian and Maltese people and is known for its nightlife.

 

Malta's most famous street, Strait Street.

Malta’s most famous street, Strait Street.

 

On Strait Street.

On Strait Street.

 

We saw so much and covered so much ground–I better just touch on a few of the day’s highlights:

Grandmaster’s Palace or the Governor’s Palace.  In St. George’s Square (Valletta), the Grandmaster’s Palace is the Office of the President of Malta. It was built between the 16th and 18th centuries.

 

Guards at the entrance of the Grandmaster's Palace in St. George's Square.

Guards at the entrance of the Grandmaster’s Palace in St. George’s Square.

 

Looking into the courtyard of the Grandmaster's Palace.

Looking into the courtyard of the Grandmaster’s Palace.

 

Casa Rocca Piccola is a 16th century palace and a ‘living museum’. The 9th Baron of Budach and the 9th Marquis de Piro, Nicholas de Piro; and his wife, Frances, are the first family to open their home to the public.

We actually met the Marchioness (Frances) when we arrived. She greeted us before our tour of their house. We later met the Marquis as he was searching the house for someone to help him with his new computer. They were both very friendly and welcoming.

The Marquis’ additional claim to fame is that he is a prolific author, having written many books on Maltese history.

 

At the entrance to the Casa Rocca Piccola.

At the entrance to the Casa Rocca Piccola.

 

The Green Room in Casa Rocca Piccola.

The Green Room in Casa Rocca Piccola.

 

The Family Chapel.

The Family Chapel.

 

The Summer Dining Room.

The Summer Dining Room.

 

The Garden at Casa Rocca Piccola.

The Garden at Casa Rocca Piccola.

After touring the house, we were invited to tea, coffee and fresh cannoli in the garden.

Kiku is the family macaw who spends warm days greeting visitors in the garden. Kiku is even on Twitter!

Kiku enjoying the Garden.

Kiku enjoying the Garden.

Before leaving the house, we went underground, through tunnels to explore where over 100 people were sheltered from bombing during WWII. It was dark, damp and a little chilling.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral was built in the 1570’s and dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. It contains nine chapels. It barely escaped destruction in World War II– all the art having been moved out and hidden– so none of it was lost. A major restoration began in the late 1980’s. It is considered one of the finest examples of surviving Baroque architecture in Europe.

 

The Facade of St. John's Co-Cathedral under renovation.

The Facade of St. John’s Co-Cathedral under renovation.

 

Ornate Walls and Ceiings inside St. John's Co-Cathedral.

Ornate Walls and Ceilings inside St. John’s Co-Cathedral.

 

St. John's Co-Cathdral.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral.

 

The marble floor is actually a series of tombs.

The marble floor is actually a series of tombs.

 

We enjoyed a nice walk through Valletta before rejoining our car.

 

I loved the splashes of color again the limestone.

I loved the splashes of color against the limestone.

 

Many colorful balconies and bay windows accent the buildings in Valletta.

Many colorful balconies and bay windows accent the buildings in Valletta.

 

After another short drive, we had a wonderful three course lunch at Palazzo Castelletti in Rabat. Our guide did not dine with us and was visibly frustrated by the slow service as she was trying to keep us on schedule. She kept poking her head in the room to see if we were being served and then would go find a server to bring the next course. It was sort of funny. Luckily, we missed a little rain while we were dining.

Mdina. After lunch, we finished our day with a relaxing walk through the walled city of Mdina. Total population of the “Silent City” is 300.  Mdina was once the capitol of Malta. It was founded in the 8th century BC.

 

One of the narrow streets in Mdina.

One of the narrow streets in Mdina.

 

Exploring the walled city of Mdina.

Exploring the walled city of Mdina.

 

A visit to the Carmelite Priority Museum is intended to give the public a look into the living traditions of a Carmelite monastery. The 17th century building has been renovated and stands as an example of a monastic cloister.

 

In the halls of the Carmelite Priory.

In the halls of the Carmelite Priory.

 

Frescoes in the refectory at Carmelite Priory.

Frescoes in the refectory at Carmelite Priory.

We ended our day in Malta overlooking the country. Our viewpoint from the high walls of Mdina was impressive. From there, we walk back through the city to our car which took us back to the ship.

I’m really glad we chose to see Malta this way, even if we still only saw a fraction of it.  It’s a beautiful country.

 

Looking out over Malta, the high wall of Mdina to the right.

Looking out over Malta, the high wall of Mdina to the right.

 

Looking out at the clustered buildings of Malta from the city of Mdina.

Looking out at the clustered buildings of Malta from the city of Mdina.

 

Bougainvillea climbing the wall of a building in Mdina.

Bougainvillea climbing the wall of a building in Mdina.

 

Back to Broadway (On the High Seas 7). We got back on board just in time for the late afternoon/early evening offering: a talkback with Faith Prince and Jennifer Simard, hosted by Seth Rudetsky. They both talked about their lives and careers ‘in the business’. Most recently, they both starred in Seth Rudestsky’s short-run Broadway musical, Disaster!

Faith Prince, Seth Rudetsky and Jennifer Simard discuss life in the theatre.

Faith Prince, Seth Rudetsky and Jennifer Simard discuss life in the theatre.

Jennifer Simard is incredibly talented. I hadn’t heard of her prior to her run in Disaster! this past year. A role for which she was Tony nominated in the Best Featured Actress category. She has an extensive list of credits on and off-Broadway including Sister Act, Shrek and several editions of Forbidden Broadway. It was recently announced that she will hit Broadway with Bette Midler in Hello Dolly! this spring as the scene-stealing Ernestina.

Faith Prince is known primarily for her comedic and musical work in such productions as Guys and Dolls (1992 Revival, Tony Winner) and  Bells Are Ringing I was lucky enough to see her in the ill-fated musical, Nick and Nora, and the off-Broadway production of Falsettoland, which later became the second act of the Broadway musical, Falsettos. Her heartbreaking rendition of “Holding to the Ground” was another one of those pinnacle moments in theatre for me.

Michael and I saw her moving performance in A Catered Affair (2008); and last year in the Chicago, pre-Broadway engagement of The First Wives Club playing opposite Carmen Cusack and our friend Christine Sherrill.

Both Faith and Jennifer were on the cruise as “Ambassadors” so they weren’t going to be doing full out concerts. During the talkback we did get a musical number from each of them. Faith Prince treated us to her delightful rendition of “Broadway Baby“, while Jennifer Simard had the audience rolling in the aisles with her imitation of Bernadette Peters doing “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy.

 

Faith Prince during the afternoon talkback.

Faith Prince during the afternoon talkback.

 

Jennifer Simard share her experiences.

Jennifer Simard sharing her experiences.

 

One other note: Faith arrived on the cruise late, having had issues with her flight. If THAT wasn’t bad enough– the airline lost her luggage for three days. It’s amazing how someone can get by with only one outfit and a few accessories. She looked great!

 

After the long day, I skipped dinner and laid down for a little bit…ordered room service and then took my time getting ready for the evening’s concert.

Lindsay Mendez in Concert. Can I say perfection? I can’t imagine anyone being better or putting together a better set for a show.

Lindsay performed a great concert on last year’s cruise (BOTHS5) and somehow managed to outdo herself. She is best known for her Broadway performances in Godspell, Grease, as Elphaba in Wicked and her critically acclaimed performance off-Broadway in Dogfight.

Lindsay married her husband, Philip Wakefield, in May. As a special treat for the audience, she brought him on stage for one of her numbers, playing the drums. She also did a fun duet with Laura Osnes, recreating “It’s Raining On Prom Night” from their revival of Grease.

 

Lindsay Mendez with Seth Rudetsky on the piano.

Lindsay Mendez with Seth Rudetsky on the piano.

 

Philip Wakefield on drums.

Philip Wakefield on drums.

 

Lindsay Mendez bringing down the house.

Lindsay Mendez bringing down the house.

 

Lindsay Mendez and Laura Osnes team up to recreate a number from Grease.

Lindsay Mendez and Laura Osnes team up to recreate a number from Grease.

 

After a wonderful show, a few of us gathered at our usual spot and everyone was abuzz about Lindsay’s great concert. We turned in before midnight, another full day ahead.

Next stop: Trapani, Sicily.

Travel 2016: Day Nine – And God Said, Let There Be Rain… And Waves…Lots and Lots of Waves

Soon It’s Gonna Rain. We knew for a couple days there was a likely chance of rain today. As a matter of fact, last night the prediction was above 80%. Not just a shower… rain all day. Troupers that we are– and because you can’t cancel an excursion without at least a 48 hour notice (without paying anyway)– We got up early, dressed appropriately, had breakfast and watched as we were hit with the first down pour.

Our tour was supposed to take us to explore Taormina and Castelmola this morning. The key phrase here is supposed to. All tours ended up being cancelled with ongoing weather concerns anticipated throughout the day and because we were supposed to tender into port. The water was just to rough to safely make it to and from land.

Unfortunately for us, the decision was not made until around 10 AM, long after our scheduled tours were supposed to have started. This left us in limbo, waiting for the final word. It’s too bad we hadn’t known the night before because we could have caught up on some much needed sleep. This is just one of the chances you take with cruise travel.

What To Do? The good news was that the change in plans gave us time to socialize. We had a favorite spot where many of the same people would gather at some point, day to day, throughout the week. The conversations were always lively and anything was fair game– we didn’t just talk Broadway. You could frequently find us with Janet, Paul, Bill and a few others engaging in some animated fashion. One of my favorite ongoing discussions was with Susan, Champ (He was in the cabin next to us on the last cruise with the wall that slid open!) and Philip (Lindsay Mendez’s husband) discussing the upcoming election. After more than a week away from home, I was itching to get some things off my chest.

One thing that I’ve noticed– if you put a group of theatre lovers together in a room– they can talk about pretty much anything, speak honestly and not be attacked by anyone for a differing viewpoint of belief. I find it really comforting. Theatre people are the most accepting, loving, understanding and all-inclusive group I know.

While I was in deep conversation, Michael was off with Mary, Linda and Wendy playing euchre in the card room.

Let’s Put On A Show! In typical fashion, Phil Birsh (CEO of Playbill) and Seth Rudetsky (Music Director on BOTHS) rallied the troupes — Mickey and Judy style– throwing together a really fun, entertaining show with many of the Broadway performers contributing.

Laura Osnes, fresh off her performance the night before, led off the truly enjoyable set of musical numbers this afternoon.

 

Laura Osnes

Laura Osnes

 

Charles Busch

Charles Busch

 

Jennifer Simard

Jennifer Simard

 

Lindsay Mendez

Lindsay Mendez

 

Faith Prince

Faith Prince

 

Chatterbox. As originally scheduled for late afternoon, Seth Rudetsky hosted a Chatterbox session with Brenda Braxton and his longtime friend, Andrea Burns. I always like hearing artists talk about their experiences in the business and sharing their highs and lows.

Brenda Braxton was on the cruise as a “Broadway Ambassador”, not a scheduled performer, per se. I saw her in Legs Diamond with Peter Allen many years ago and got the chance to share that with her later in the cruise.

 

Brenda Braxton

Brenda Braxton

 

Old friends Seth Rudetsky and Andrea Burns.

Old friends Seth Rudetsky and Andrea Burns.

 

Sea Sick? As it turned out, we really didn’t experience much rain during the day but the water was rough. It continued to be throughout the evening. I’ve been on boats that were rocking and swaying a whole lot worse but for some reason it really started to get to me at dinner. I left halfway through and Michael had my entree sent to the room.

I wanted to just stay in bed, only I wasn’t about to miss tonight’s concert. I did start feeling better as the evening wore on.

Adam Pascal in Concert. If you know me or have read my blog, you know that RENT is my all-time favorite musical. So how can I not love Adam Pascal? One of my pinnacle, theatregoing experiences was Adam’s performance of One Song Glory the first time I saw him in RENT. It’s forever etched in my brain.

Adam also starred on Broadway in AIDA, Memphis, Chicago, Disaster! and currently, Something Rotten. He also played Freddy in the highly-acclaimed concert version of Chess with Josh Groban and Idina Menzel.

The format for Adam’s concert tonight, was an informal sing-interview format with music director Seth Rudetsky. It was a great evening– showing off his versatility, powerhouse vocals and occasionally accompanying himself on guitar.

 

Adam Pascal

Adam Pascal

 

Adam Pascal accompanying himself on guitar.

Adam Pascal accompanying himself on guitar.

 

Adam Pascal with Seth Rudetsky.

Adam Pascal with Seth Rudetsky.

 

After the show– a nightcap with friends and then off to bed. Tomorrow Michael and I have a private car and guide scheduled for a whirlwind tour of Malta!

Travel 2016: Day Six – Rome in a Day & Getting Lost Along the Way

What better way is there to discover a new city than to literally get lost in it? Okay, so maybe not your first choice and it wasn’t ours either– well, kinda-sorta.

Michael and I, wind-blown on Palatine Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum.

Michael and I, wind-blown on Palatine Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum.

At breakfast, everyone had pretty much decided they were doing there own thing. I think Michael and I were the only ones determined to really go sightseeing and see as much as possible.

The best advice I could find online suggested seeing Rome on foot, skipping the tours and the all-access packages like the Rome Pass and the HOHO bus tickets. We had what we thought was a very modest list of sights we had to see. We figured we’d start at the Spanish Steps since it was closest, then work our way down to end at the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We’d just zig-zag across the city and take in what we could, leaving room for a little exploration along the way.

Obelisk in the Piazza Trinità dei Monti.

Obelisk in the Piazza Trinità dei Monti.

We left the hotel using the Map.Me app… and right off, I thought the direction we were going didn’t make a lot of sense. Long story, short– we walked about a half mile to nowhere. Seriously, we reached a point where there wasn’t even a sidewalk!  We knew we’d have to turn around, backtrack and pretty much start over. Nothing like getting lost first thing– and not in a good way.

Once we’d reached the Piazza Trinità dei Monti,  located at the top of the Spanish Steps, we didn’t seem to have anymore problems with the GPS and the app. Still, with the Spanish Steps closed, we had to find a different route down to the base to be able to see them. Up top there was a barricade blocking it all off.

We found our way down to the Piazza di Spagna at the base of the Spanish Steps.  The steps had been closed for renovation for a number of months. Coincidentally, they had the dedication and reopened them, later that same afternoon after we had visited them.

Looking at the Spanish Steps from the Piazza di Spagna. The Piazza Trinità dei Monti is at the top.

Looking at the Spanish Steps from the Piazza di Spagna. The Piazza Trinità dei Monti is at the top.

 

Horse and carriages lined up near the Spanish Steps.

Horse and carriages lined up near the Spanish Steps.

 

Just to the southeast, we found the Colonna della Immacolata (Column of the Immaculate Conception) in the Piazza Mignanelli. From here we started our leisure stroll, turning down streets that looked promising and stopping by shops and visiting many churches. (My next post will just focus on the churches and cathedrals we happened upon.)

The Colonna dell' Immacolata (Column of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza Mignanelli.

The Colonna della Immacolata (Column of the Immaculate Conception) in the Piazza Mignanelli.

 

Impressive statuary just inside the entrance of a small restaurant in Rome.

Impressive statuary just inside the entrance of a small restaurant in Rome.

 

Wandering the streets of Rome.

Wandering the streets of Rome.

 

We saw the Piazza del Popolo  from a distance and wandered through. The name’s modern translation is “People’s Square”. I found it to be one of the more beautiful piazzas we encountered.

 

The beautiful Piazza del Popolo.

The beautiful Piazza del Popolo.

 

Part of the fountain framed by the Porta del Popolo in the background.

Part of the fountain framed by the Porta del Popolo in the background.

 

Next we found Piazza Colonna with the striking and detailed Column of Marcus Aurelius. Adjoining the piazza is the seat of the Italian Government.

 

Close up detail of the Column of Marcus Aurelius with the clock of the Palazzo Wedekind in the background.

Close up detail of the Column of Marcus Aurelius with the clock of the Palazzo Wedekind in the background.

 

Piazza Colonna.

Piazza Colonna.

 

Wandering through the streets of Rome.

Wandering through the streets of Rome.

 

One of many News Kiosks found throughout Rome.

One of many News Kiosks found throughout Rome.

I love the architecture and classic style of the buildings found throughout Rome. I also found the numerous news kiosks very charming.

There is literally something new to see around every corner in central Rome. I could spend days just wandering the city aimlessly.

Piazza di Trevi – Completed in 1762, the Rococo (Late Baroque) Trevi Fountain fed by an aqueduct that was built in 19 BC. It is one of the most famous fountains in the world. It is also the centerpiece of this small, extremely claustrophobic piazza.

There is the legend that if you throw a coin in the fountain… you will return to Rome one day. Well, it was so crowded, there was no way we were going to get close enough without taking up valuable time- so no wish was made.

 

The world famous Trevi Fountain.

The world famous Trevi Fountain.

 

The Trevi Fountain in the Piazza di Trevi.

The Trevi Fountain in the Piazza di Trevi.

 

Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk.

Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk.

Near the Pantheon, was the Elephant and Obelisk designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The Egyptian Obelisk was excavated nearby.

The combined work was unveiled in 1667 in its home in the Piazza Della Minerva.

Piazza della Rotonda  – is the location of the Pantheon – formally a Roman temple and now a church. It’s excellent condition is due, in part, to its continuous use throughout history.

When you consider the age (completed in 125 AD) and its condition, it really is a world-wonder. The interior is primarily lit by the sun through the nearly 30 foot oculus above, in the center dome.

 

The Pantheon in Rome.

The Pantheon in Rome.

 

Looking up at the oculus in the Pantheon.

Looking up at the oculus in the Pantheon.

 

The sun casting its rays on the Palazzo Madama.

The sun casting its rays on the Palazzo Madama.

The Palazzo Madama is the seat of the Senate of the Italian Republic; built on top of the ruins of the ancient baths of Nero.

We happened to stumble upon the changing of the guard taking place as we passed.

 

The changing of the guard at the Palazzo Madama.

The changing of the guard at the Palazzo Madama.

 

Close up of the Bernini Fountain in Piazza Navona.

Close up of the Bernini Fountain in Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona is one of the most popular and visited piazzas in Rome. It features three fountains, including Bernini’s world famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) as the centerpiece.

The historic significance of the space is that it was built on the site of the Stadium of the Domitian, also known as Circus Agonalis. It was an important competition stadium back in the first century AD.

At one time, it was also the home of the city market. Over the years, many films have featured scenes that were shot here.

 

Entering the Piazza Navona.

Entering the Piazza Navona.

 

The historic Piazza Navona.

The historic Piazza Navona.

 

Finding the Sacred area del Argentina was completely unexpected. In 1927, during demolition work, parts of the holy area were discovered.  The original square was uncovered that includes the ruins of four Roman temples and part of Pompey’s Theatre, with portions of the ruins dating back to 241 BC. Julius Caesar was believed to have been assassinated in this square. The area is currently undergoing  restoration.

It is also the location of Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter run by volunteers. In addition to protecting them, they sterilizes the cats to help control the city’s feral cat population. There is a no-kill law in Rome protecting homeless cats. We didn’t see any cats here on our visit.

 

Sacred area del Argentina

The Sacred area del Argentina.

 

Sacred area del Argentina- Believed to be the site of Julius Ceasar's assassination.

Sacred area del Argentina, believed to be the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination.

 

The Piazza Venezia is the central hub of Rome. We actually passed through here four times throughout the day. On one side is the Palazzo Vallenti framed by two churches.

Also on the piazza is Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), built in honor of Victor Emmanuel the first king of a unified Italy. It was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885 but not completed until 1925. It is the largest monument in Rome. Immense in size, it is despised by many because a large part of Capitoline Hill and its historic artifacts were destroyed in order to build it.

 

Near the Piazza Venezia.

Near the Piazza Venezia.

 

The Altar of the Fatherland.

The Altar of the Fatherland.

 

Outside the Colosseum.

Outside the Colosseum.

Colosseum  (or Coliseum) was something we had to see. We’d wisely purchased tickets ahead of time to avoid the lines. It included the Colosseum and Palatine Hill/Roman Forum which could be used on two separate days, but only one entry into each location.

When we arrived, the line to get into the Colosseum, even with a ticket, was pretty long. We let a guide on the street talk us into joining a group tour (for only a few Euros since we already had tickets) and he said we’d get in right away. Big mistake. We waited another 20 minutes and still had to wait to get in the queue. We ended up only staying with the tour a short time because the guide was long-winded and wasn’t going any place fast. So we left the group and finished it on our own.

The Colosseum is massive and quite impressive. I’ll admit that the interior was actually in a greater state of decomposition than I expected. Still, iconic– a must-see when visiting Rome.

 

Looking up at the Colosseum.

Looking up at the Colosseum.

 

Inside the Colosseum.

Inside the Colosseum.

 

Leaving the Colosseum and starting to get a little tired, we continued on to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The breathing-taking views from the hill were the highlight of the day. One of the seven hills of Rome, it is one of the oldest areas of the city. With multiple viewing points, we had exceptional panoramic views of Rome, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum below.

Overlooking the Roman Forum from Palatine Hill.

Overlooking the Roman Forum from Palatine Hill.

 

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Incredible view of Rome from Palatine Hill.

 

Walking through the Roman Forum with Palatine Hill in the background.

Walking through the Roman Forum with Palatine Hill in the background.

 

Columns and excavated pieces in the Roman Forum.

Columns and excavated pieces in the Roman Forum.

 

Majestic Columns surviving the ravages of time in the Roman Forum.

Majestic Columns surviving the ravages of time in the Roman Forum.

 

After the Forum, we walked out past the Piazza Venezia and on to the Via del Corso  where we wisely hailed a taxi back to the hotel. In all, we walked fourteen and a half miles through the city.

Back at the hotel, we had an early dinner/late lunch, having not eaten since breakfast. We had about an hour to kill before we had to get ready for the evening’s reception.

Broadway On the High Seas 7 Reception. As with the last cruise, Playbill Travel hosted a pre-cruise reception with champagne and entertainment. It was a chance to socialize and see friends from past cruises we hadn’t seen yet. We also caught up again with Anthony and Michael, that we met in London.

So in addition to the fact that I was standing a few feet away from Adam Pascal (the original Roger in RENT) during the entertainment– the highlight of the evening was hearing Kate Baldwin sing “Ribbons Down My Back” from Hello Dolly.  She will be performing as Mrs. Malloy on Broadway in the upcoming revival starring Bette Midler.

Afterwards, we took a stroll down the street for Gelato with George and Mary before calling it a night.

I think we did pretty good seeing Rome in a day. Not to mention all the churches we also visited, that I’ll share in my next post. (We’re spending the day at the Vatican after the cruise.)

We managed to get lost literally and figuratively in one the most beautiful, historic cities in the world.

Bellissima Roma!