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Adriatic Adventure

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza 

The appeal of the journey is to visit destinations not often found on cruise itineraries - those located along the Adriatic Sea. 

The adventure begins in Venice, Italy about a 9-hour nonstop flight from JFK. Our ship, the Celebrity Silhouette, docks overnight, but first-time visitors to Venice should spend at least two nights at a hotel along the Grand Canal, to fully experience this majestic city. 

Sailing in or out of the port of Venice is a storybook come to life. The huge ocean liner is greeted by smaller vessels. Speedboats sail along the ship's side, and people wave. Gondolas and St. Mark's Square are visible. It's a picture-taking opportunity not to be missed. 

Day 3: 

Koper, Slovenia. Where in the world is Slovenia? Well, it was once part of Yugoslavia, as was Croatia and Montenegro, other ports of call on this journey. We tour the capital city of Ljubljana. A river runs through the area. It's a quaint and pretty town with lots of open air markets. 

Day 4: Ravanna, Italy - No baloney, from this port, we visit the medieval city of Bologna, about an hour's drive away. Buildings that are centuries old, still stand; yet controversy lingers. The Basilica di San Petronio contains a painting depicting Dante's hell. A monster is devouring two humans, and the name "Mohammed" appears in the painting. Our guide explains that some of the Muslim population considers this offensive, and that the church receives threats. But his interpretation is that the name was popular at the time, and represents the common people. 

We walk through markets, reminiscent of yesteryear, where meat and cheese hang from the ceilings. I learn that the finest Parmesan Ruggiero is made here, and that you can tell it's authentic because the cheese's name is written on the rind in dots. A second class cheese contains the name, but not the dots. Any cheese that has the name scratched out on the rind is third rate, considered a "mistake". It is this cheese that is sent to the U.S., we are told. Our tour includes a typical Bolognese lunch - a generous platter of salami, mortadella, capicola, provolone, Parmesan Ruggiero, Proscuitto bread, a bottle of red wine and two bottles of mineral water, one with gas and one without. The second course is a lasagna dish - the pasta ultra light and green; meat in between the layers. There is very little tomato sauce; instead, it is a white cream sauce. Dessert is a trio of sweets, espresso, and homemade nutty liquor, typical of the region. 

Day 5: Split, Croatia 

The ship tenders. We tour the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trogir, a lovely, seaside town. I am always intrigued by ruins, so we tour Salona, an ancient excavation site where there are remains of temples, baths, and other structures. It is still being uncovered, so we are allowed to get real close, touching the smooth marble of some of the pieces. Later, we walk around Split, a bustling port, with lots of cafes, shops, and ferry service to other islands that we do not have time to visit on this trip. 

Day 6: Dubrovnik, Croatia 

I had heard Dubrovnik was beautiful, but never expected the Dalmatian coast to rival the Amalfi coast. Views are breath-taking. At a winery, we sample excellent Croatian wine and cordials of every flavor - fig, lemon, peach, cherry, orange. We enjoy fresh fruit, cheese, and olive oil in the village of Orasac. In the town of Ston, there are inconceivable medieval walls, built high into the mountains - defensive walls used to protect the valuable commodity of salt. We view how salt is collected, and how it dries in the sun. 

Later, it's on to the Old Town, where people walk the defensive walls of this famous area. It is something to see as ancient structures are juxtaposed with modern shops. 

We are told the tie was invented in Croatia when women gave their colorful scarves to men who went to war. The men tied them around their necks, and when the King of France fancied the look, the concept of wearing ties was born. As a result, many scarves and ties are sold here, and are popular souvenirs. A high-end shop is called Croata, and is recognizable because the letter "A" is a graphic of a tie. 

Day 6: Kotor, Montenegro. 

If it doesn't sound familiar, it's probably because it's only been fully independent since 2006. When it separated from Yugoslavia, it was part of Serbia. We absorb the views from our balcony stateroom - massive mountains along the water, so lovely, the image is surreal. At the seaside town of Budva, we drive by the Splendid Hotel. Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger slept here at the presidential suite for about 1700 euros per night, breakfast included, says the guide. We pass a tiny island, St. Stephen's, which is now a hotel complex for the wealthy. Montenegro has plans to be the next Monte Carlo, we are told. In the afternoon, we walk around Kotor, where medieval structures contain cafes and shops. A small museum features a five-bladed weapon that women would hide behind their dainty fans. 

Day 7: Bari, Italy 

I am excited because one of my uncles grew up here. It's always a thrill to stand in a destination you've heard about since childhood. We're off to the town of Trani where there is a Church of St. Nicholas the Pilgrim who died at age 18. We tour Bari, where there is a Church of St. Nicholas, patron saint of children, sailors, and fishermen. The latter St. Nicholas came from Turkey. I recognize stories our guide shares about him. This is the second-most visited church in Italy, she says, a wealthy one that dates back to 1087. Euros have been placed at just about every statue. The ceilings are beautifully decorated with intricate colorful paintings about adventures of the sea. We walk up and down ancient steps, through crypts. Supposedly, miracles happen each December 6th, with St Nicholas' bones taking on water, here at the church. The bones are displayed, and people kneel and pray by them. 

I am surprised to come across the names Stephen and Nicholas so often during this journey. They happen to be the names of both of my sons. In Slovenia, there was also a Church of St. Nicholas, and in Bologna, I toured the Church of St. Stefano. For centuries, churches were the gathering spots of communities, so European tours always include visits. While I often say I have seen enough churches to last a lifetime, the one today was interesting. 

The weather is incredibly hot so just about all the stores in Bari are closed. There's usually shopping galore when a ship is in port, but here in Bari, it's still "old world." People stick to the tradition of closing stores in the afternoon. We do find a small pizzeria that is open, and order a pie. The crust is very thin, the ingredients very fresh. 

Day 8: Sea Day 

Finally, a day to sit by the pool and soak up some sunshine. The Adriatic has been especially calm the entire trip; no whitecaps. Today, I am mesmerized as the only ripples on the water are the small ones created by our ship, and because they are the same color blue as the ocean, they look like small creases. I watch them unfold. Otherwise, there is nothing by flat calmness as far as the eye can see. I have never seen the ocean so serene. 

One of my favorite places aboard the Silhouette is Cafe al Bacio, where high-quality teas, cappuccinos, and gelato drinks are served. This trip we discover a Forte iced tea, especially refreshing, after long days of touring in stifling European heat. It brews in a small, clear pitcher that sits snugly atop a matching large ice-filled pitcher. On the same tray, is a tall glass, filled with ice. When the tea brews, you pour it into the large pitcher, and just the right amount of ice melts so you have a pitcher of iced tea. Dispense into your glass, as desired. Who knew iced tea could be such a delicious production. 

I spend the bulk of the day poolside, reading the book, The Story of San Michele, which I purchased because our upcoming tour of Capri takes us to the Villa of San Michele. The book captures my interest, detailing life about the island, providing insight into the destination. 

Day 9 - Valletta, Malta 

Many cruise ships, including this one, are registered in Valletta, Malta, yet few sail to Malta. Today, we are here. It's a big port town that has seen lots of fighting. A tremendous ancient-looking walled structure is visible around a good part of the city. Throughout this voyage I have gained a greater understanding of the way medieval towns were designed - how people entered through a seemingly hole in a wall, secured by a heavy door. Behind that door is the town. In medieval times, this door would be shut, to keep out those who arrived via ship, looking to do harm. Sometimes these structures would be surrounded by a moat, making it all the more difficult for pirates to enter. On today's tour, we learn that if pirates did manage to make it past the door, they would be trapped in the immediate area, surrounded by armed guards, nowhere to run. Yet, behind this point, were second and third areas, also designed to trap, cannons aimed. The craftsmanship behind all of this is mind-boggling - and still stands today. Our tour includes a harbor cruise where we see magnificent walls that protect the city. 

The feast of St. Lawrence is being celebrated. Colorful banners and huge statues decorate the streets. It's raining confetti from the rooftops. Everything is covered in it - including the inside of my camera bag and my hair. There's singing in the square, and young people have covered themselves with shaving cream, confetti sticking to every part of them. 

On our own, we take an outdoor elevator (1 euro), which takes us up into the heart of Valletta where the views from the city are beautiful. There are lots of shops. We find Caffe Cordina, established 1837, and enjoy a bilberry pastry (Interestingly, bilberries are mentioned in the book, The Story of San Michele). We also have ice cream which is always so creamy and fresh throughout Europe. 

Aboard the ship, it's dinner at Tuscan Grill, one of the specialty restaurants. The meal is excellent, and the panoramic view provides a great way to bid farewell to this charming city. 

Day 10 - Catania, Sicily 

We climb Mt. Etna, an active volcano that geologists check daily. While photographing the craters, we are encouraged to pick up black and red lava rocks to take home as souvenirs. One shop has created a shrine, claiming a miracle. Lava, flowing down the mountain, had cracked its window, and suddenly halted. The store remains intact, and prospers as this unique attraction. Food and wine that are grown in lava soil are said to be extraordinary, and are for sale everywhere. We enjoy a cannoli - the shell is ultra crisp; the filling wonderfully creamy. 

Our tour moves on to a beautiful family-owned winery. As we stand on a mountain, overlooking lush vineyards that are movie-set perfect, a friendly young woman explains the history. From a distance, we hear an unusual sound. We look below and sheep are being herded, another surreal moment. We are taken to the cellars where there are massive oak barrels of wine, and the smell beckons. In the past, people died, crawling up into those huge barrels, in an effort to clean them. Today, modern technology handles these details. 

Upstairs, a buffet awaits - the ripest tomatoes, homemade bread and olive oil, egg and spinach bites, cheese, and quality olives for which this area is noted. We sample white and red wines, and the Italian people are so generous, pouring liberally, refilling, as desired. The family introduces their 10-month old baby. The atmosphere is like dining with extended family members on a Sunday afternoon. 

Day 11 - Naples, Italy 

The birthplace of my grandparents. My grandmother sailed from the port of Naples to America, by herself, when she was 18 years old. 

We are up bright and early to go to the Island of Capri, a 50-minute ferry ride from the port. There, a mini bus navigates narrow and winding roads to Anacapri, where we tour the Villa of San Michele. I am happy to see what has been so vividly described in the book - the exquisite ocean views of the Bay of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius in the background; the Egyptian Sphinx, standing guard over it all. I have a greater appreciation of everything I am seeing, connecting it all in my mind. The remains of 777 steps that the mail carrier climbed to deliver mail still stand. These steps were once the only way to up to Anacapri. We shop at stores where Limoncello is created, sampling the liquor and sweets made from the fruit. I buy candy and lemon soap. Lemons are enormous throughout Southern Italy, and lemonade-type drinks abound. Another popular item: A customized pair of sandals, created in less than an hour. There are leather sandal straps of every color and style. You select what you wish. I watch as one shoemaker works diligently on a tourist's sandals. She asks him to pose for a photo, and he is happy to pause and oblige, taking pride in his craft as well as the fanfare. She gives him a kiss on the cheek. Capri is a shopper's paradise, with many high-priced designer shops sprinkled among the souvenir stores. We have lunch at a restaurant that offers a magnificent view, and feast on a salad of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, pasta, and pizza that's made in a traditional brick oven. The oven is surrounded by colorful tile, and I photograph the pizza-maker in action. 

Day 12 - Rome, Italy 

Our ship docks in Civitavecchia. A post-stay in Rome is highly recommended for those who have never been here. We take the hour and 10 minute transfer from the ship to Rome to fly home. At the airport, a store sells Parmesan Ruggiero. I notice the rind has dots, so I buy it. 

For more information or to book a trip, 
contact "Commodore" Camille today. 

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey! 

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza 

 

Salona, Croatia