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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow is our last full day of the cruise and we’re visiting Bonifacio, Corsica, France.
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.
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.
We had the opportunity to spend some time inside the church and marvel at its majestic detail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Tomorrow we visit Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
We enjoyed a nice walk through Valletta before rejoining our car.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Sorrento, Italy. is our port of call today. It was a hazy morning as the sun rose, revealing more and more detail on shore. We couldn’t dock so we had to be tendered on and off the ship to the port.
Booking Excursions. We’ve had good experiences with most of the tours we’ve taken in the past. The success most often depends on the guide. Some are terrific, humorous and informative, some have great English while others struggle a little more; and some just talk way too much.
Some of the Broadway performers go out on the excursions with the guests and sometimes they do their own private tours. Today, Kate Baldwin and her friend (BFF) Amber were on ours.
We had a number of interesting choices for shore excursions from Sorrento. Way back when we booked the trip, I only had one in mind….. Visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii.
The Dog of Pompeii. My fascination with Pompeii goes back to childhood and the short story, The Dog of Pompeii by Louis Untermeyer. It’s the tale of a young blind boy named Tito and his beloved dog, Bimbo. Bimbo stole raisin bread from the street vendors of Pompeii and that’s how he and Tito ate to stay alive. When the Volcano errupted, Tito was saved only because of Bimbo. Tito was frightened but not able to tell what was going on. It was up to Bimbo to save him. Bimbo nipped at Tito’s feet, keeping him moving away from the city to the ships in the harbor and to safety. With not enough room, Bimbo, sadly– was left behind. Eighteen hundred years later, when excavating the city, the skeletal remains of a dog were found. In his mouth was a petrified piece of raisin bread.
The story is more heartbreaking to me now than I remembered it. Still, pieces of that story have stayed with me my whole life.
So, yes. Pompeii was a must.
A little hitch at the start of the day– our coach bus had mechanical issues. We were able to squeeze on the second bus without too much overcrowding and proceeded on the hour drive to our destination. Since we joined that bus, the other tour guide had control of the intercom. She never- stopped- talking. More than one person commented, wondering how and if she ever to took a breath.
When we arrived at Pompeii, we stopped briefly at a small hotel and street market at the entrance. We split up into our two original groups and we were on our way. Our guide was also pretty talky but made up for it by being very witty and keeping our group moving.
Discovering Ancient Pompeii. It is believed that Pompeii was settled around 7 BC. It is also believed that there were approximately 11,000 inhabitants at the time that Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying it under as much as 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice. Approximately 2,000 people died as Pompeii was buried. The city was lost for 1,500 years until portions started to be uncovered in the 1599. Actual excavation began in 1748.
The ancient ruins of Pompeii are one of the highly valued, UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As excavation advanced, it was discovered that much of the city was preserved having been sealed from air and moisture all those years. Scientists found that they were able to make castings of victims by carefully pouring Plaster of Paris into the voids as they were discovered. This resulted in capturing the exact poses of victims when they died.
The excavation of Pompeii is much larger than I’d thought it would be. Because of its massive size, it’s probably best to tour it with a guide; or at least, a map designating the highlights. There are some incredibly well-preserved rooms, complete with frescos and tile flooring. There are many, many streets; most with just the suggestion of the original shape of the foundations surviving.
At the time of our visit, there was an incredible display of bronze sculptures by artist Igor Mitoraj that are a beautiful addition to the archaeological site. They are set to be displayed only through January 2017. In my opinion, they should stay as a permanent exhibition.
We each had ear piece devices for the tour. It was especially handy for me when I’d get sidetracked, or veer away from the group to take pictures.
We reached a point in the tour where, having visited the main highlights, our guide gave us the option to head back to the market or continue on with her. At the end of the tour there was to be some time for shopping or a bite to eat before heading back to the ship.
Michael and I opted to head back and had our first (delicious) slice of pizza (in Italy) from one of the vendors. Shortly after, we saw one of our new friends, Paul, who said the group was making its way back our direction. We also saw Kate and Amber strolling through the marketplace. Since we were told we’d have time for shopping, Michael and I got gelato and proceeded to walk through the rows of market vendors.
Left behind? We never saw the rest of our group and also lost track of Paul. We just figured they still weren’t back yet. I put my ear piece back in and after a moment, could hear the guide saying something about getting on the new bus and then she turned off the audio system!
Michael and I shifted into high gear but had no idea where the bus was parked. We left the market square went out to the street. We looked left and right and couldn’t figure out which way to go. I happened to see the other bus from our cruise leaving and we flagged it down. The guide said ours– was looking for us– so we headed to where that bus had pulled out. We found our bus– only our guide had gone back to the market to look for us. Oops!
We apologized to everyone as we got on, found empty seats near Kate and Amber, who seemed to be enjoying the humor of the situation. Eventually our guide came back, told us she was going to kill us, everyone laughed– and we drove off.
We got back to the port and had just missed the tender to our ship, meaning a 40-minute wait until the next one. (I guess this was our fault!) So some members of our group stood in line waiting, some shopped and others grabbed a snack.
While we waited for the tender, Michael kept wandering off, out of sight, going in and out of the shops. He was making me nervous because I saw the tender coming and didn’t want to miss the next one. He reappeared and we made it on with no problem. I joked that ‘we made it‘ to Amber and Kate– and Amber said they were keeping an eye on us so we didn’t get left behind. (This became our running joke.)
One of the reasons I didn’t want to miss that tender was because it was getting close to time for the late afternoon BOTHS activity, a talkback with playwrights Charles Busch and Douglas Carter Beane.
Charles Busch is an actor, playwright, screenwriter and female impersonator known for his high-camp style. He is an iconic figure in the New York Off Broadway scene and beyond. Charles is responsible for the cult classics Die Mommie Die! and Psycho Beach Party, both of which were also made into films. His best know work is The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, that played Broadway in 2000.
Douglas Carter Beane is a prolific writer for the stage, having worked on many familiar productions you may not realize he had a hand in. He was Tony-nominated for his wonderful play, The Little Dog Laughed and more recently, his play The Nance appeared on Broadway. Douglas wrote the book for the musicals Xanadu, Lysistrata Jones and the new adaptation of Cinderella. Many probably don’t realize he also wrote the screenplay for the cult hit, Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar.
I found their stories and experiences fascinating and enlightening.
We had a large group for dinner (as we did most every night) at The Restaurant (that’s actually the name) followed by one of the best sunsets of the trip.
Laura Osnes in Concert. The main event onboard was a concert featuring Laura Osnes, accompanied by Seth Rudetsky on piano.
I started following Laura’s career when she appeared on Broadway in Bonnie and Clyde (with Jeremy Jordan) receiving high praise from the critics.
She is probably best known as the winner of Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, giving her a starring role as Sandy in the 2007 Broadway revival of Grease. I had failed to make this connection until the cruise.
Among her many credits, Laura recently starred on Broadway in Cinderella, in the title role.
It was a great concert. One of the fun highlights of the evening was bringing her high school sweetheart– now husband, Nathan Johnson on stage for a sweet duet.
You go on vacation either to relax, for a holiday or event (usually family-related) or to go sightseeing. Most of us joke about needing a vacation to recover from vacation because- let’s face it: vacations are exhausting. I’ve found that no matter what type of vacation you have planned, it’s always important to allow for some down time. It’s good to take a breath, relax and let it all soak in.
Our last three big vacations have allowed us to see the world. We’ve experienced the Baltic region, Southeast Asia and now London and Italy. Having already explored two amazing cities, and barely reached the midpoint of this adventure– Michael and I were both ready for a little relaxation time.
What to do? Our suitcases had to be packed and ready for transport (early) leaving us about four hours before boarding the coach bus. From there, it would be about an hour to Cittavecchia, where we would meet our ship.
So what do you do with time to spare in one of the world’s most famous cities?
You go for a walk in the park.
Villa Borghese Gardens. After breakfast, Michael and I headed to Villa Borghese just to wander around. No rush, no set destination– just a relaxing walk on what was to be another beautiful day with perfect weather.
Who knew that we would spend our time, sitting on a bench, enjoying ducks swimming around the Temple of Aesculapius (built in 1786)? Or, that we would find a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (2003) hidden among the trees? Well, we did.
Here are some of the images I captured along the way:
Leaving Rome. We walked through the streets after leaving the gardens, arriving back at the hotel with plenty of time before boarding the bus to Cittavecchia.
Upon arrival at the port, we were greeted by the ancient Cittavecchia fortress at the harbor. In just a matter of minutes, we were on board the Silver Seas ship, Silver Wind.
Sailing on the Silver Wind. Since we weren’t technically leaving Italy, boarding was fast and simple and our luggage was to be delivered directly to our room. We got our keys and checked out the room before exploring the ship.
The Silver Wind is a small ship with a modest passenger capacity of 296 and a crew of 222. Silver Seas has paid great attention to detail, providing most of the amenities of a larger cruise ship. Pool, spa, gift shop, casino and four restaurants all beautifully provided.
Shortly after boarding, we ran into Lindsay Mendez (Wakefield) and her husband Philip– they remembered us from last year– and they had just enjoyed a beautiful honeymoon (pre-cruise) in Tuscany.
Once everyone was on board, we had the required muster drill, which was fast and painless. Our luggage didn’t reach our room until about that time; so afterwards, we quickly changed for the cocktail reception and dinner.
We were treated to a beautiful sunset shortly after sailing. It was difficult not to pause and enjoy it– with the flurry of excitement and meeting many new people that was all happening at the same time.
Luckily, George had made dinner reservations for the four of us at The Grill prior to the cruise. We enjoyed dining outside with the ‘Black Rock experience’– cooking our own choice of meat on preheated volcanic rock at our table. It was unique. Our meat cooked perfectly– but bibs were required! Lots of pops and sizzles on the hot stones.
Broadway On the High Seas. Our first concert of the cruise was a special treat: Andrea Burns, taking a break from her Broadway run in On Your Feet and traveling with her husband Peter and son, Hudson.
She is an incredible performer with great versatility and talent. Andrea Burns was in the original casts of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For a New World among many other theatre, film and television credits.
After the concert (and some unavoidable raving,) we said our goodnights and headed to our room for some much-needed sleep.
There are so many beautiful houses of worship in Rome. Churches, Cathedrals, Basilicas — no matter what they are called, they are full of a rich history and artistry that is a wonder to behold.
On our full day of touring Rome, Michael and I found ourselves wandering in many of these beautiful sanctuaries. They stand open, throughout the day, welcoming anyone to enter.
Here is a sampling of the churches we visited. Many had origins back to the 1st Century but all the current structures date back to as early as the 16th century.
All Saints’ Anglican Church – Est. 1887
Chiesa de Gesu E Maria – Est. 1602
Basilica S. Giacomo – Est. 1600
Basilica dei SS Ambrogio E Carlo – Est. 1610
Chiesa di San Marcello al Corso – Est. 309 AD , rebuilt 1597
Oratorio del Santissimo Crocifisso – Est. 1568
Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi – Est. 1650
Basilica dei SS. XII Apostoli – Est. 499, rebuilt 1714
Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi – Est. 1589
Chiesa di Santi’ Agnese in Agone – Est. 1652
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Next we found Piazza Colonna with the striking and detailed Column of Marcus Aurelius. Adjoining the piazza is the seat of the Italian Government.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saying goodbye to a city you’re visiting can be hard. Especially when you’ve had great experiences and stayed in a wonderful place.
This was my early morning– saying goodbye to St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Before breakfast, bags already packed, I walked through the hotel one last time.
I found myself back at the grand staircase. I had to walk all the way up and down it one last time.
Some London Takeaways
- Public transportation is a must in London. It’s much too big and spread out to walk. Walking neighborhoods, yes; but not if you are sightseeing all over the city.
- We purchased and used the London Pass. We probably just about broke even with what we saw using it and saved time not waiting in lines. I know we visited a few spots we wouldn’t have, had we not had it. If you are the type of traveler that wants to see as much as possible (in and out), it’s likely a good investment. If you are the type that prefers longer visits, especially at museums, for example– you are probably going to save money paying as you go.
- Travel Guides can be handy but for me, I found them unnecessary (practically useless) and it certainly wouldn’t have been practical to carry around the city. If you do your research online ahead of time– there’s no need to purchase/carry/take a book.
- Get a good GPS phone map (app) like Maps.Me to help you get around. I found it to be an invaluable tool and never had to stop and ask directions while using it.
- Safety was never a concern during our visit. Of course, you should always be cautious but I never felt I was in a dangerous or risky situation. I honestly felt safer in London than I did in my last Chicago overnight visit, 45 minutes from home. I bring this up because in Rick Steve’s London 2016, he overemphasizes the necessity of safety steps, to the point of fear mongering.
A few things I haven’t mentioned:
Traditional London Pubs, you know, with the old-style classic exteriors– are abundant. I always love sighting unique architecture. Another thing I noticed as we passed many restaurants– in London, creating a unique atmosphere and ambiance is not only important, it’s the norm. This can be said of many of the small retail shops as well. I mean, uniquely different. It appears British entrepreneurs have a better understanding of what will set themselves apart and draw in the clientele. American business owner should take notice.
Classic British Hearse. While we were on the HOHO Bus, we were passed by a funeral procession and it was interesting to see a British Hearse with large side windows and wreath rails. The coffin and the many floral tributes were in full display to all it passed. You hardly see this in America. The hearse windows are almost always tinted or curtained.
British Telephone Kiosks are alive and well. Often referred to as the Red Telephone Box ; there were many incarnations, with the most common ones (seen today) being the “K6”. We saw them all over London in Red, Green and Black. With the popularity of cell phones, many of the boxes are being re-purposed into WIFI, phone-charging and even work stations. The good news is that these icons aren’t going away.
My View of London
Looking back, I see London as an extremely friendly, warm and inviting city. It’s not at all what I had expected. I thought it would be more like downtown Chicago or NYC. It is full of neighborhood charm, while at the same time– steeped in massive amounts of culture and historic places of interest. As old as London is, it retains its historic appeal, yet feels comfortable and modern at the same time. It is busy– but not chaotic; and it is a quiet city, compared to many others I’ve visited.
This photo probably best embodies how I feel about/picture London in my head:
Off to Rome
Our car to Heathrow arrived early and we were there in a flash. I was so glad we weren’t hauling our luggage on the Tube again. The flight to Rome was on time and we had no issues at the airport or with our flight.
Our transportation and hotel had been arranged through Playbill Travel, so a car was waiting for us at the airport when we arrived in Rome.
Our driver didn’t take the most scenic route to the hotel. I was a little taken aback by the rundown, graffiti-covered buildings on the outskirts of the city. It got better the further in we got, finally arriving at the Westin Excelsior Hotel, a few blocks from the Borghese Gardens.
We arrived mid afternoon and had a short wait before our room was ready. The first thing I noticed when we arrived were the armed soldiers across the street. That was a little unnerving. Then I discovered the following day that we were next door to the American Embassy, which explained the added security.
While we waited for our room, we started looking to see what friends from past cruises had arrived. We knew our friends George and Mary had gotten there that morning– if we could only find them!
We checked in around 4 pm. –Our room was nice enough. — And we got settled in.
We went down to the Playbill Reception Desk, got our stuff and ran into a bunch of friends. After chatting for awhile, we decided to make things simple and have dinner in the hotel.
Eight of us met for dinner at the Doney, and enjoyed good food and conversation before retiring for the night. A big day tomorrow!
We started the day enjoying the ambience of our hotel and a hearty breakfast in the Chamber Club. Our last day in London. Our day was mostly planned out ahead of time so we weren’t rushed getting started.
Buckingham Palace. We purchased tickets to tour the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace with an add-on garden tour, way in advance of our trip. The ticket also included a large exhibition of the Queen’s clothing entitled, Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style From the Queen’s Wardrobe.
The State Rooms tour is only available during July-October. I was extremely glad we were going to get this opportunity.
Upon arrival, I got the bad news that no photography was allowed in the Palace. I always find this annoying, especially when you are being charged admission in the first place. You see people ‘sneaking pictures’ (which almost always turn out bad) that they will surely post on social media–so doesn’t that defeat the point? I behaved (inside at least) and left my camera in my bag while in the Palace. We were told we could take as many pictures as we wanted in the gardens afterwards.
The 19 State Rooms (public rooms) are each ornate and unique in their decor. The Green Drawing Room and the Music Room were my favorites. What is really great about touring Buckingham Palace is that it is a living museum. It is actually lived in and used to receive guests. There are many breathtaking pieces in the Royal Collection. Also, the self-guided audio tour (with touch screen options) is one of the best I’ve seen.
The fashion exhibition was quite interesting as well. The exhibition is actually taking place in three locations. (Also at Windsor and Holyroodhouse.) The selected pieces of the Queen’s wardrobe are tied most directly to the location where they are displayed, 150 pieces in all. The only drawback was that the display blocked the grand view of the ballrooms where they are located.
We finished the tour and discovered we had an hour until the garden highlights tour started. This was frustrating because we could not leave the garden terrace and re-enter, meaning that we missed the changing of the guard in front of the Palace.
Buckingham Palace Gardens. I had thought the garden tour was a great idea. It was an inexpensive add-on to our Buckingham Palace ticket and it’s the only way you get the opportunity to walk through the gardens. It ended up being a let down. First, no pictures. Second, there wasn’t much to see– mostly grass and trees.
The tour was basically a big loop around the perimeter of the gardens. There were a couple statues and the Queen’s rose garden– where I quickly snapped a picture unseen. We also passed the tennis courts but they were mostly blocked by trees and shrubs. I was surprised to find that there was no formal English garden on the property.
I think I figured out why they didn’t want photographs– evidence that the tour is a waste of time and money perhaps.
Leaving the Palace, we decided we were ready for a break. I’d wanted to visit the Queen’s Gallery and possibly the Royal Mews, but instead, we decided to spend a couple relaxing hours at the hotel. On the way back, we stopped at the Wellington Arch. It was an original entrance to Buckingham Palace, later representing Wellington’s victory over Napoleon.
New Friends. About a week before we left home, an old friend told me that her boss was going on our Broadway cruise and that he splits time between London and Chicago. We got contact information and planned to meet Anthony and Michael at The Lobby Bar at One Aldwych before our show.
Arriving early, we decided to walk the neighborhood. By chance, we found Somerset House— which was on my short list to visit.
We didn’t have the time to wander through but did have a few minutes to enjoy the large plaza and exterior architecture. There’s an art gallery, the Courtauld Gallery, I really want to visit in the future.
We were there a few days before the official start of London’s Fashion Week, so there was a lot of activity there.
Michael was waiting for us when we got back to the bar and Anthony joined us a few minutes later. Very nice guys. We had about an hour to get acquainted and talked a little about London, theatre, and what to expect on the upcoming cruise. (Their first one.) Then we parted ways– they were headed to see The Entertainer and we were on our way to our last show in London– and our most anticipated.
Funny Girl at the Savoy Theatre. Producers have been trying to bring a revival of Funny Girl to Broadway for years with no success. Could the success of this London production be just the push that it needs?
Any production can’t help but be compared to the original Barbra Streisand vehicle that made her a star. But is that fair? Is there another Streisand in the wings?
Sheridan Smith, who leads the cast of the London production, is clearly not Barbra Streisand. My argument is that she doesn’t need to be. She does need to embody Fanny Brice though– at this she misses the mark. Smith is a good actress and a fair singer. Her portrayal here (as pointed out by Michael after the show) is more Melissa McCarthy than Fanny Brice. Her Brice character is empathetic and likable, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I can think of a dozen actresses that could have acted and sung it better.
Another huge weakness in this production is the choice of Darius Campbell as Nicky Arnstein. He’s too cute. Campbell is more reminiscent of Zac Efron in High School Musical than Arnstein–the gambling, debonair man of the world. It just doesn’t play believably.
My last gripe is the cast is too small. I’m sure it worked perfectly in the smaller Menier Chocolate Factory Theater (sold out run). I would have thought with the move to the Savoy, a few more actors could have been employed. This story revolves around the Ziegfeld Follies which evokes images of a large dancing chorus. Not here. Especially frustrating was when male ensemble members took on multiple roles within minutes of each other with no effort to disguise them. It was just confusing.
All that said, I did enjoy the production, in spite of its flaws. I just can’t imagine a Broadway transfer which means American audiences will have to continue to wait.
We made one final stop at Shake Shack on the way back to our hotel.
Tomorrow we’re off to Rome.