Saturday, September 27, 2008

Next stop. . . Messina, Sicily and Mount Etna!

Coming into the Port of Messina, Sicily was AMAZING. The water was so blue it hurt my eyes. . . and they have this amazing gold Statue of the Madonna guarding the Port of Messina as you enter the strait.

At the base of the statue it reads: "Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus," or "We bless you and your city."

Here's a little taste of what it looked like as we came into port. I am telling you there is NOTHING better than seeing these coastal cities by water and coming into the harbors slowly and majestically by a BIG OLE' HONKIN' cruise ship!

For a taste of what it was like to tour parts of Sicily, just check out my slide show! The sights are AMAZING!

Next we have Mount Etna, which my mother in law and I were able to climb and conquer:

It's kinda like a moonscape or something--the terrain is so vastly different:

The trails that you can take to climb as far as they will let you go--(which is about 9,500 feet) keep changing, depending on if the Volcano is active or not. Only scientists and vulcanologists are actually allowed to go to the very top--(which is about 11,000 feet):

So first we rode a really nice coach (bus) for about 40 minutes--and then we took a 'funicula' or tram/gondola as far up the mountain as it would take us:

Then we took these huge 'jeeps' until we reached 2500 meters (or 8202 feet) If the pictures look a bit 'glary' it's because I took these from INSIDE the jeep as we were riding up:

From there, we had to go on foot the rest of the way to 2900 meters (about 9514 feet)
Looking up at Etna can be quite intimidating!

Climbing it can be even trickier--as the lava rocks which have been pulverized into gravel can be a bit slippery--and it was so darn WINDY I thought I would be blown right off the top! But I made it. . . whew!

There were places where you could look down into some of the 'hot spots' and see smoke and steam coming from some active points of this massive volcano:

To give you a bit of background about Mt. Etna, this volcano is one of the world's most active ones! It has been erupting for several million years. (so scientists say) The volcano has more than 400 craters, split all over the Catania county. To the ancient Greeks, Mount Etna was the home to Vulcan, the god of fire--and it also supposedly was the dwelling place of the one-eyed monster known as the Cyclops.

Etna offers skiing in the Winter months and breathtaking hikes in the woods during the Summer. There are also a number of smaller peaks on the slopes of Etna, and some interesting caverns. Dear Hubby, you would have LOVED this!

Since Etna is still an active (strato) volcano, with relatively cool lava temperatures and numerous openings (vents), nobody ever knows precisely where on its vast surface the next eruption will be. That's EXACTLY why it's so darn EXCITING to climb it! HOLY LAVA FLOW, Batman! We could have ourselves a ERUPTION here!

Since I DO have somewhat of a phobia of heights, I clung to my mother-in-law for a bit, before I braved the 'photo ops' that were awaiting me to take from the top looking down:

And HOLY VOLCANO CLIMB! We both made it down in one piece!

Let me just state right here for the record, it was another ABSOLUTELY AMAZING day--and we dined and partied all night. . . in fact we kept partying and dining the entire next day as well because we had an entire day at sea before we reached our next port of call. . . and the culinary crew of the ship put on this GRAND BUFFET at midnight that you just HAD TO BE THERE to even believe! (but that will be saved for my next post)

One thing I will mention that was pretty exciting, later that evening, after dinner--while heading off to our next port (Barcelona, Spain) we passed by this other active incredible volcano--called Stromboli. I mean--the volcano took up the whole ISLAND! It's pretty impressive seeing it jut right up out of the water all by itself like that. . .

And apparently it erupts quite regularly! TOO COOL!

I'm telling ya--My face hurt from smiling so much--I was SO DARN HAPPY on this trip!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Time to take in Venice, Italy!

Coming into Venice, Italy. . . The amazing city of canals. . .

The above poster truly encapsulates the spirit and ambiance of the time I spent in Venince, Italy. It was truly a charming city. Peaceful, classical, magical and VERY romantic. . . .

To say my trip just kept getting better and better would be an UNDERSTATEMENT in the extreme! I spent two glorious days in Venice during the Venice Film Festival madness and mayhem. And although every tour guide and supposedly sane person walking around assured me that indeed BRAD PITT and GEORGE CLOONEY were there and that I surely must have seen them or run into them by now. . . alas, I did not!

I did, however, manage to spot a couple of dudes who looked a bit like them. . .

And more importantly I managed to see some amazing sights and meet some wonderful people and absolutely fell in love with the romance and magic of Venice . . .

Venice is like no other place on earth. . . No cars are allowed in the city and the fastest way to travel within the city is by boat on the canals. This is their 'taxi' system and the 'boat taxis' are called 'vaparettos' and it was quite fun to 'boat hop' from one place to another to get around the city. I did NOT miss the noise of traffic at ALL!

Of course, there are other methods of water travel, such as private boats and the famous GONDOLAS. . . and YES, we decided to have an evening gondola ride to check out the city night life. . . and listen to the beautiful serenading by our gondolier. So first we had to check out the gondolas:

Then we held 'auditions' for our prospective gondola ride--and after thoroughly checking out the craft--as well as sizing up the men--I must say we came out with a real 'winner'! The guy looked a bit scary--but he was real charmer, very witty, and could actually carry a tune.

While on my madcap adventure of trying out the various vaparettos--I ended up stopping at the 'Ponte Di Rialto' and I must say--that the shopping was FABULOUS!

This is the famous bridge at the Ponte Di Rialto:

One of the highlights was visiting the famous St. Mark's Square, or 'Piazza San Marco' along with the Doges Palace:

Entrance to St. Mark's Cathedral:

Stairs of St. Mark's:

Ceilings of St Mark's:

Doges Palace:

Looking up at Doges Palace:

Inside Doges Palace:

Here is a little bit of trivia about the Bocca della Verita or mouth of truth)which is located in Rome, Italy. It supposedly was an ancient 'lie detector' in that if you put your hand in it and did NOT tell the truth--it would bite your hand off!

Venice has their own version in the Doges Palace. Here--you could write down any accusations (anonymously) and stuff them in the mouth, where they would then be acted upon by the Council of Ten. The other side of the box is located in the Room of the Compass:

I decided to forgo any false accusations and just went for a photo op instead!

And here is the famous 'Bridge Of Sighs' at the Doges Palace:

The bridge of Sighs - The famous "Ponte dei Sospiri" links the Palazzo Ducale with the prisons section. The windows allow the prisoner(s) to see the outside world for the last time before execution, hence the name originated.

Today it bears a romantic flair by young lovers who believe that if they kiss under the bridge (presumably in a gondola) their love will last forever.

We also took a tour of the amazing, very famous Murano glass factory. Murano Island has been a glassmaker's paradise Since 1291. First some photos of Murano itself--with it's clock tower and plaza:

Here you can see the glass blowers at work:

And finally the beautiful glass products themselves:

And what trip to Venice could be complete without indulging in a Venician Carnivale Mask??? Certainly not this one!

The Venetian Carnivale in this day and age is an opportunity to wear some very elaborate masks in Venice.

The origin of the Venice carnival goes back to the year 1094! During this period, the wearing of the mask was crucial and it was required about seven months a year, from October to the holiday of Ascension.

So everyone became anonymous--from the richest to the poorest… (and from the truly wicked and conniving to the not so wicked and conniving!)

“A Carnivale Ogni Scherzo Vale.” It means: anything goes at Carnivale. Before Lent, before Ash Wednesday, before Easter, there is Mardi Gras - and the creme de la creme of them all is the Carnivale in Venice Italy. There are lavish parades, luxuriant masquerade balls, and tons of spontaneous parties in the streets. The festivities and celebrations lasts for nearly two weeks! Costumes and masks are the norm--and the more ornate and gaudy, the better! And just remember, with your mask on, you are pardoned and your sins are forgotten. With the mask on, anything goes!

Did I buy a mask and participate in a 'Carnivale party onboard my Carnival ship? Oh yeah, you betcha!

After two absolutely FANTABULOUS days in Venice, (yes, that's a word I just made up that perfectly describes the occasion) Carol and I had an equally scrumptious dinner on board our cruise ship. . . ahh. . . life is certainly SWEET!