Total Pageviews

Follow by Email

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Return: The Short Version

I thought we took off around 2 PM, and didn't think to check until about 6 AM. Our flight was 9:30!!!!

We had packed the night before, so we showered (Joyce thought that was a bad idea, but I've been saying all along how hot it was) ran downstairs and got a cab. Got to the airport, he dropped us in the wrong place. Couldn't find a cart, carried luggage top speed. Of course, check-in was at the far end of another terminal. But we made it in plenty of time, and you can guess the rest. Exactly. We took off late.

We were harassed by a US Customs Control Officer in Miami for being gay. If you live at the same address, you process as a family. She split us up. We made a complaint there, and have made one in writing since and just yesterday, because responses have been pitiful, I sent a package to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. If I don't get resolution, the media will be next. I don't get why people mess with us. We don't look weak. We are very smart, and we are very stubborn. I never hesitate to carry something all the way to a cabinet department, and so far, at that level, I get what I ask for. Don't mess with me, world.

Then we got on the shuttle bus to our hotel, and I can't say any more because we are still negotiating a settlement. And writing about it makes me sick and angry, so I'll end here for now, and when I get resolution of these issues, I'll come back and tell you all about them.

Happy traveling!

And finally, la Fontana Trevi

So here's how we always end a visit to Rome, or begin one, or whatever. The point is, we always come here to throw our coins. You throw 10 lire, or some small amount. You stand with your back to it, and throw it over your left shoulder with your right hand. This is to insure that you will one day return to Rome. So far, it's worked every time.

We took a cab from the bridge to the fountain because it was blistering hot. Any other weather and we would have walked, and, oh, the crowds when we got there!

Doesn't the water look cool? It may be, but it was just the hottest day yet, so we got some gelato, took a few pictures, and grabbed a cab back to the hotel.

I could hardly wait to go in the pool. Oddly, Joyce didn't want to, but for no apparent reason. I mean, heck, yeah, we knew the water was freezing, but the kiddie pool would be okay. She decided she wanted to take a bath. I decided she was an idiot and went alone, and I took a book with me so I could stay gone longer. Up on the roof, all the adults were sitting on the bottom of the kiddie pool again, and I joined them. Then I sat in the shade reading until I was completely dry, which means quite a while.

When I got back down, I finally pried it out of Joyce that she was embarrassed about the way we had to get in and out of the pool. The kiddie pool had no railings or steps, so you hed to get down on the deck on your hands and knees. Really? So freakin' what? Do you know these people? How are they getting in and out? Same damn way. Do you care what they look like? No? Well, guess what: they probably never even looked at you!

Was I mad. She wouldn't go with me because some stranger might look at her and think a thought. You've got to be kidding me. Other people's opinions aren't worth crap, for one thing, and chances are they didn't even have any!

So I said I wasn't going to walk to dinner again because she wouldn't go to the pool with me. We had quite an argument. Lots of crying. And here's where the semi-happy ending comes in. She said if I would go with her, she would do something with me that she really didn't want to do. And she didn't put any limitations on cost or, or duration, or type of event. So I get a free trip someplace she doesn't want to go. What do you think? Southeast Asia? Amazon? Nile? Well, it'll be a while before I use this, and I'll be thinking long and hard about it.

So we went to dinner down the street, as usual. See? Our last night in Rome turned out okay after all. Joyce was right; it would have been a shame to waste it, and I'm glad we didn't.

We love Rome, heat, broken streets and all, and we'll return someday, but not to the Radisson BLU.

Radisson BLU fire extinguisher masquerading as "decor."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ponte e Castello Sant'Angelo

Finally, someplace neither of us had ever been, and it was our last day in Rome. All I knew about the place was, the Pope hid there from time to time and there's a tunnel to it from the Vatican. The bridge itself is closed to vehicular traffic, which means you can take a bunch of good pictures.

To get there we took a taxi, and immediately had lunch. See?

Then Joyce spotted a motorcycle lot, to have her picture taken with our mascots, Lucky, Plucky and Trip, again. We have lots of shots like these. I have spared you.

So we went over the bridge. Ecco! E il Tevere!

Paid the earth to get in, and started up a long, dark ramp. It was cool inside. We do okay with ramps. Up and up and up. We came to steps. Joyce went down, I went up. We met later by the restrooms. Here:

When you get up, you can see il Vaticano. Molto bello, vero?

They also have an interesting little museum. The Pope's apartments were closed. That was all Joyce wanted to see, so she didn't miss anything.

You can also see this kind of thing.

There are lots of little nooks and crannies, and a tour, but it was just too hot. And we were still going to the Trevi Fountain, so we decided to save what little strength we had left for that.

Nasty Radisson BLU bed platform on which anyone can damage their kneecap, not just me. Note hideous red shag carpet.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Timeless Piazza Navonna

Which was once a hippodrome which is why it's shaped like a racetrack. We love the fountains and the art. It's probably junk like in St Tropez, but we always buy something; this time a do-it-yourself triptych of this trip's monuments.

We had a wonderful tuna salad (much larger and more complex than an American one) under the misting at a cafe, and watched the people, and just relaxed.

After hiking twice as far as necessary to get there, I wasn't inclined to move too much or too soon, but eventually we had to go around and see all the fountains and all the art. We have been here before and will undoubtedly come here again someday. It's one of those special places. Hint: if you've never been, go in late afternoon and stay through sunset so you can see the fountains lit up. The mimes generally come out in the evening as well.

And always try to find something weird. It's not hard.

Radisson BLU hotel shower mold.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pantheon and environs

So we left them to move our stuff and took a cab to the Pantheon. From there we knew we could walk to the Piazza Navonna. That's foreshadowing. Pay attention.

It was still hot as hell. Nothing changed. Why should it? It was Rome in July. Anyway, Joyce remarked that on our last visit, eleven years ago, we always took the Metro. We might still have taken it had the weather been agreeable. It's not all that far to walk to the Termini station. But it was really too hot. And don't forget the aging and the blister, and oh, yeah, the three weeks we were on the road already.

So we go there, and right away, Joyce had to have coffee. Not really unreasonable. We never, ever could get the coffeemaker in any of the rooms to work. We just flat gave up on that. I don't need any coffee; I got off caffeine altogether in Kenya and never went back, and even then, it was Diet Coke, not coffee. So we sat in a cafe and had coffee (American for her, cappucino freddo for me) and watched people for a while, and there were a lot of them, too. And I started feeling better, just like any other time I wasn't in the hotel. I would enjoy Rome every day until we went inside the hotel. I mean, we stayed there instead of going straight home because we love it.

Lotsa people.

And weird stuff like this.

And nuns. Yes, Joyce got hold of the camera again. I almost never take pictures of people unless it's unavoidable, and I don't like stupid stuff like the suit of armor you can wear to have your picture taken. None of that. I hate it when she asks people, especially waiters, to take our picture. Maybe you've noticed we have a lot of those. I'm not sure why, but it irks the crap out of me, and moreso on a day after a night like we had just had. But I gritted my teeth, and as you see, we have the pictures to prove it.

Well, luckily, the Pantheon is quite cool inside, crowds notwithstanding. The pictures we took in there totally suck, but there are a couple of salvageable shots. like the Oculus:

and the unbelievable travertine floor.

There's a bunch of tombs but they didn't come out so well. So go see them yourself!

I always wondered what happened in the Pantheon when it rained. So I looked it up, It gets wet! It rains right in, and they rope it off so people don't slip and kill themselves. There's a special drainage system for runoff under the floor. Solved that mystery!

So I had a map and the Piazza Navonna was only about three blocks away. Too bad all the monuments were lined up facing the wrong way on the map, causing us to go in the opposite direction. But while lost, we had yet another wonderful amirena gelato, and Joyce couldn't resist taking a picture of Our Lady of the Motorcycles.

Snappy, up-to-date Radisson BLU paint job.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pukeshake, anyone?

After our nightly hike/limp for a meal,

we retired to our revolting quarters and read. We had no specific appointments for the next day, but our intention was to see the Pantheon and the Piazza Navonna. We figured we'd just get up and go when we felt like it.

Sometime after midnight, we fooled with the lights and window shade until we got the room dark, and went to sleep.

About 2 AM, some of the lights came on. I shut them off. At 2:15, it happened again. We both got up to check switches, and shut everything off again. Fifteen minutes later, same story. On about the fifth iteration of this, Joyce called the front desk. Up came the technico to accuse us of damaging the system. Really? Wouldn't you have to know how it works first?

Another call to the front desk, three way conversation between Joyce, desk and technico. He ultimately realized he couldn't shut the bathroom lights off unless he turned off the air conditioning, and so told us just to leave the air off and the lights would stay off, too.

Unacceptable. Joyce calls front desk again, and they send us a key for a suite which was a about a mile away in another wing on another floor. This is where we discovered the pukeshake stain you'll see at the bottom.

We gathered up enough gear to "camp" in the "junior suite." Big problem. Only one bed. We tried to sleep in it. Well, Joyce of course could sleep, since she immediately drops off and starts snoring like a calliope every night under any circumstances. If we have the sleep machine between us, I can usually, with drugs, and if her Snore Stop works, which it didn't because a. she left it home and b. the Spanish equivalent is not the real thing, get some sleep, but that's not possible in one bed, no matter how large.

I tried sleeping on a bench, and on the floor, but had to rule out the bathtub because of the jets in the bottom of it. Finally at 6 AM I woke her up and told her to get the hell out so I could sleep for a while, and she went back to the room and I guess tried to get them to fix the short in the system, or whatever it was.

Around 10 AM I went back to our room and we drew up a manifesto with which to assault management. Long story short, they moved us to another "junior suite" with two beds, and when I say "moved," I mean they physically picked up and carried every damn thing from our former room to the new one, including the underwear drying in the bathroom and elsewhere. We told them we weren't going to even be there when they did it, and we left. Joyce also got them to remove the first two nights from our bill, although I think they owed us for all four, and they sent us flowers and candy and champagne, too. And in case you weren't keeping track, we were in FIVE different rooms in that hotel.

In our new hallway, between our room and the elevator, was this authentic modern art etched right into the carpet. We told them about it, but in our remaining time there, no effort was made to clean it up.

Radisson BLU hall carpet pukestain.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Day Two: Borghese and beyond

Before we left for the Borghese, we asked for bottles of cold water at the front desk, and we explained they had better be complimentary, because they had never replaced our broken fridge. They said they would bring them right away, and immediately a woman appeared with enormous glass bottles. We said, "No, we need the small plastic ones to carry around with us. Those are too big and heavy."

Oh, okay, they said. Be right back. Fifteen minutes later we asked again, and finally a woman with small, wet, warm plastic bottles appeared. They had been trying to cool them under cold water. Really? A Radisson hotel has no plastic water bottles in a refrigerator anywhere? We told them no freakin' thanks, walked out, and bought some at the museum cafeteria. We were no longer shocked, just horrified, as usual.

The Borghese is a very strange and wonderful place. It's an interesting building full of fantastic art, and the value of the collection is either astronomical or priceless. The access to this collection is severely limited, so much so that we got our tickets before leaving the States, and if you're going, you should do the same. Go here and bookmark it. This is an excellent service.

I tried to enter this as a link, and of course it came out blank. It's worth C&Ping this into your browser and then bookmarking it, I promise.

The galleries are air conditioned, and you should go lean on the windows in each room while listening to your tour guide, because this is where the cold air comes out. The tour guides know all the dirt on the Borghese family and the artists, and it really makes the whole thing a much richer experience. GET A LIVE GUIDE. Viator will hook you up. A recorded tour is simply never going to be as good.

After the museum tour there was a walking tour of the Borghese park, but as it was arounnd 99 F, we chose a taxi back to the front of the Termini instead. Why? Because we heard, and correctly, as it turns out, that there is a very controversial new statue of JP II out front. The taxi driver knew exactly where, thank God, because there's a LOT of construction. JP II was beatified in May of this year, and the train station was renamed for him, and they put up this pigeon-catcher, er, statue. The controversy is that it looks like Mussolini and provides shelter for drunks. You can decide for yourselves.

Following this mini-adventure, we went back to the hotel and to the pool! At last! Doesn't it look nice?

Radisson BLU soft-surface skating rink.

You can't see it, but trust me, the entire deck is splintered wood, the water is frigid, as in unbearable, even on a hot Roman day, and the rails on the adult pool are so loose, you are safer just using the stairs and your own balance. Otherwise you might rip the thing out and stab yourself with the rusty, jagged edge. PLEASE click on the picture. All that wood is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and note the ONE swimmer on an excruciatingly hot day. And you know what else? The pool is open to the public. That's right; it's not even exclusive to guests. And even with that, no one is actually in it except for this poor child who was thrown in by her brutish companions a moment sooner.

Like all the other adults, we sat on the bottom of the kiddie pool, which, because it was so shallow, was a tolerable temperature. The kiddies were a bit baffled by this behavior, but they managed. And then, of course, we wondered why they hadn't just filled some plastic bottles out of the pool and given them to us when we were leaving that morning. We would never have guesssed!

End of day one. Day two begins.

I'm resisting the temptation to just sit here and cry about the whole Rome thing for two reasons. First, we actually did do more than limp up and down Via Filippo Turati looking for food. Second, we went and saw some stuff worth seeing, and we want people to know what a great place Rome really is despite Radisson's every effort to sabotage our visit. If it had been our first visit to Rome, we'd never go back. Luckily it was our fifth and fourth visit, so we knew better. The hotel is not all of Rome. As I said, there's a happyish sort of ending. Eventually.

So we returned to our room and went to bed. The air conditioning stayed on all night. We managed to sleep fairly well.

In the morning, however, we really had to bathe. We had looked at the horrible bathtub/shower enclosure and tried getting into it still dressed just to see how. It had no handrails and the bottom was actually soft. You had the impression you really could plunge through the floor into the room below. The controls (? see below) were baffling. Again, they were completely counter-intuitive, and there was no such thing as a diagram. The glass door opened at an angle, creating only a very narrow opening, and the tub was slippery. We agreed only one of us would be naked at any given time in case we had to call an ambulance.

I went first. I put everything inside the enclosure that I would need, sat down straddling the tub, and laboriously swung and raised my other leg over the side with Joyce right there in case I should over-balance. Then, with her to balance me, I stood up, and turned the water on to the settings we had experimented with. There was no towel rack, so Joyce had to stand outside holding the towel until I was done. With the door open again, she gave me the towel so I could dry my face and hands, and then she helped me to sit down and swing back out the way I had gotten in. Then she said, "I'm not washing. I'm scared to death of this thing."

We compromised. I was completely dressed and ready to go for help before helping her to get into the enclosure, and like her, I stood by outside with the towel. The trick was never to move your feet once standing in bathing poition.

So that took an hour, no fooling. But we started early enough so we were way early for our Villa Borghese Museum tour and had a chance to sit in the cafeteria and eat a sort of breakfast while waiting. It was one of those places where, if you didn't pay for a seat, you ate standing up. We paid to sit, and there was a monitor to make sure no standees sat. The whole area outside the sitting room was jam-packed with standing, sweating tourists waiting to go on a tour. It was worth the price to sit down and be able to talk and write and eat. I'm sure the Italians think we're stupid to pay to sit to eat; they don't. But we're tourists, so there!

I don't remember the rules about photography inside, but we had already agreed to buy the book online when we got home, so we didn't take any pictures. There was a bookshop, of course, but outrageously priced and of course, then you have to carry it. So we will see that book again at Christmas. In the interim, here's a link to the museum itself:

It's a very worthwhile tour with a guide who knows her or his stuff, which we had. Lacking a photo, however, here are our tickets.

Sorry this is blurry, but these are the bathtub controls, such as they were. Water came from three places: a slit in the side of the tub, a spigot on a swivel, and directly overhead, where the mold was growing. Note how all the ceramic veneer has been chpped away around the controls. The shower itself wasn't bad, but the sheer terror of getting in and out was just unbelieveable. What sort of loon would design such a thing, we have no clue. But at least it was consistent with the rest of the totally inadequate, inconvenient and poorly-designed establishment.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Okay, one day down.

So after limping to and from dinner (and the dinner was very good. They always were) we came back to our room, and opened the refrigerator because it was hotter inside than out. We didn't want stuff rotting in there.

In the course of getting ready for bed, we tried a lot of things, like the lights and the "dresser" I showed a couple of posts back. There was also a mechanical shade that was controlled by the lighting box, except it wasn't. You could push "up" or "down" and it would just do whatever it wanted until you managed to push both at exactly the same time.

The beds had backboards up against which you could allegedly sit to read or watch TV, but they were very loose. Likewise each bed had an LED reading light on a gooseneck that simply swung round and round and always ended up someplace where it was of no use at all. As for the TV, we never even bothered. One lamp was made of material and blew up when turned on. I mean, it expanded. It gave off virtually no usable light. It collapsed when turned off. We unplugged it and dried laundry on it.

It was very hard to get the bathroom lights to come on and stay on, because if you used any other lights in the room, they'd go off. The WC light (toilet and bidet room) only worked if you shut off the air conditioning. Luckily, it had a glass door, so you really didn't need a light inside it. And of course, it's also a good thing if you're an exhibitionist about your personal habits. Or if your spouse/ partner/ roommate will agree not to watch you in there, or at least take off her glasses.

Radisson BLU tub surround. That's plastic wood veneer, plastic "ceramic" and mold.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Good God, is it over yet?

I'm going to try to tear through this. At 2 PM the witch at the desk said they had a room, but our stuff was in storage and no bell hop was there. We waited another 15 minutes for him. The first room had no safe. We called and asked for a safe. Someone came to see if there really was no safe. They went away. We waited and waited. Finally we left the room because, as Joyce said, "If they don't see us, they'll have an excuse to forget us."

We carried our own bags down and told the snooty witch we weren't going to just sit there all day. By now it was almost 3 PM anyway, so we didn't get into a room any sooner than they absolutely had to let us.

They said they had another room. No bell hop again. We said, "Forget it, we can carry our own stuff," and picked it all up and left while they kept saying, "Wait! He is coming!" We knew better.

Got to the second room. Safe included. No air conditioning. We called the front desk and they sent a technico. He told us how to push the right buttons in a certain order (nothing remotely intuitive) to get it on. He left, and we discovered the refrigerator wasn't working. We called to get that fixed. They said "We have no more, but we will bring you something cold whenever you like." We explained the idea is to not have to call, and be dressed, and wait, every single time. We also wanted to cool our own water bottles. They were sorry.

We tried to take a nap. The pillows were so soft so as to be non-existent. We called for more. They brought two more. We told them to bring four more, and showed how you can't get any height with two of their pillows because they collapse and suffocate you by folding over on your face.

After this, we thought we'd like to swim, but Arabs had bought out the whole roof including the pool for the night. Then Joyce wanted to walk all the way down to the restaurant district, and I didn't. We didn't want to order room service because were sure it would be like all their other "service" thus far. We didn't want to even eat in their restaurant because we were having an awful time. Joyce agreed to walk to the nearest restaurant no matter what it was. We ended up half a mile away again, because that's as close as they are. The train station had restaurants, but that wouldn't do. The train station had a grocery store where we could have bought our own food, but that wouldn't do. She had to eat in a sidewalk cafe. The fact that I had a blister the size of Monaco on my instep (and had had it since Barcelona) didn't matter.

See how pissed I'm getting? I probably shouldn't even publish this. I'm getting all upset as if it were yesterday. This is a bad idea. But since there is a sort of a semi-happy ending to this, I will put it in here, and eventually I will get to write about that, too.

Radisson BLU closet.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

More hotel misery

I don't know if we're spoiled, or if we cleverly chose excellent hotels for our first three European stops, or if our luck ran out. The first thing that happened when we arrived at the Radisson Blu was nothing. No one was there. No one opened the door. No one was at the "welcome" desk. There was one one person behind a huge blow-up reception desk in the lobby.

This thing is as insubstantial as a Japanese lantern, with occasional hard surfaces at which one may address the staff, if there are any, and if they deign to recognize you. Most of the time, you have to go right under their noses and say, "Hey!" Otherwise they stare at their computers and ignore the guests.

There is a similar piece of craptastic furniture under the sign reading "Baggagli." Presumably you might leave your luggage here. Usually no one is there, either.

The one person on duty (surrounded by people seated on upturned kayaks and big, hard bowling balls all around the lobby) informed us we couldn't get into our room before 3 PM. Legally, they're within their rights. Practically, it's a bad idea, because people who have to sit and stare and wait and are exhausted (which I promise you they are if they arrive early) are just going to get upset and start having negative feelings about everything. Well, it worked like a charm. We decided to go to lunch and leave our bags, but we had to wait 15 minutes to do it while they summoned the "Baggagli Hop." So right there, three strikes. No welcome, no room, no staff.

We walked down to the train station to get more Euros, then had lunch in a sidewalk cafe. Rome has discovered misting, praise the Pantheon! That even beats aria condizionata.

But when we got back two hours later, around 1 PM, they STILL couldn't provide a room. Yes, they had two hours to go, but you'd think with a lobby full of people, they'd try harder. But no, there were just more people in the lobby. All the bowling balls and most of the upturned kayaks were full, so we sat on the remaining kayak.

Around 2 PM I said the the desk clerk, "Look, we're really tired. Haven't you got anything? Surely some room is available by now, since people have to check out by 11 AM."

What ensued was such a pain in the ass I can't do any more right now, so I'll close with the daily photo.

Radisson BLU desk chair.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Civitavecchia: Transfer to Hell, er, Rome

Transfer days are always such sheer hell. We planned an extra day in Rome just to put off the next transfer day. It was also supposed to be for resting and regaining equilibrium. Instead we went down a terrible rabbit hole and it took four days to get back out.

You always get thrown off the ship early. The bigger, the earlier. Since this is a small ship, we didn't have to get off until, like 9:30 AM. So that, at least was good. And customs and immigration are nothing, and there were porters and the buses were right there. Stupidly, we took this as a sign something good was about to happen.

Bah. Immediately, more or less, we started seeing trouble. The drive from Civitavecchia to Rome is unremarkable and takes maybe an hour and a half. An hour in, someone was desperate to use the bathroom. They asked if a stop was planned. No. They asked if they could stop. No. Why not? There was no place to stop.

We were sitting quite close to the front and when Joyce heard this, she said, "What about that gas station right there? You stop there right now."

The driver was apparently mesmerized by this, and did as he was told. As soon as desperate lesbian number one got off, and ran in, she was followed by desperate lesbians two, three and four.

Now, I know how long the trip is, for one thing, and I don't drink coffee, for another. If I did, I wouldn't have on this occasion. However, many lesbians drink coffee, being humans, and many people over 40 have intestinal issues. Knowing this, Olivia and/or the ship should have arranged either a scheduled stop or a bus with a toilet. Cruises attract senior citizens. Allow for this fact. It turned out not to be about coffee, but the other issue. So plan ahead, tour people.

Not much later, we got to the tour hotel, which was not our hotel, and got a taxi to "our" hotel, the Radisson BLU Roma. You think Radisson, you think quality, right? Forget that nonsense. Maybe "BLU" is code for "fucked up" in Esperanto or something. This place is a big, fancy, expensive, dump.

We chose it for location and a pool. The location was as promised; we'd stayed on the same street before. They actually had two pools, surrounded by splintered planking, entered by loose handrails (or none) and absolutely freezing. Want a towel? Sometimes they had them, on the opposite end of the whole freakin' roof from the entrance to the pool. Other times, not. And if not, they wouldn't get you any, either, claiming there were none. It was just one of those places, and we've all been to them, that act like they are doing you a great big favor if they do their jobs, and if they don't, so what?

They shouldn't have messed with us. But they did, and oh, boy, did we make them just as miserable as they made us.

But let's go back to our arrival at this extraordinary house of misery. It didn't look bad at first, not at all. Here is an antiquity right outside the hotel.

And here is another, actually under the hotel.

We were pleased and diverted by these, because we thought it was a sign of respect for the area. They preserved and highlighted these ruins (some of which are still being excavated.)

But look what we saw next.

Would you rather sit on a set of boulder-sized bowling balls?

Or an upturned kayak?

Perhaps you would like the staff to welcome you.

Don't worry, there's no danger of that happening!

I'll continue tomorrow. I get depressed every time I think about this place, so you'll see Rome in very small doses.

At the end of each Rome entry, I shall present an aspect of one of our rooms that made our stay regrettable.

A Radisson BLU "dresser."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pisa: beautiful tourist trap

Joyce, as I say, had been here before, years ago, in the fall when it was actually cold. No such luck the day we went. It was probably the hottest day of the whole year. But they had just finished their centennial cleaning, or whatever, and it was all shiny. So that was nice.

I never gave much thought to anything but the tower before, but like any medieval church complex, there's a sanctuary, a baptistry and in this case, a cemetary. Actually a couple of them.

The church part was probably the big deal back in the Middle Ages, until the tower started canting over. The church proper still isn't all that interesting, although the baptistry and the cemetaries (Jewish and Christian) probably are. But our tour only included the church, and you can then walk around outside all you want. Most of us wanted to go in the shade.

But hell, we were there, so let's look at some pictures!

Jewish cemetary


It amazes me how clear it was on such a hot, humid day. You should click on these to see the detail.

Money shot

We call it the money shot because this is where you can see the"banana" curve. It bows to the left, then back to the right.

This is another good shot of the "banana":

We tried some of those pictures where you're holding up the tower. They have that part covered with open pavers because otherwise there can't be any grass. They came out awful, which just makes us laugh more.

The whole complex was also lined with souvenir stalls, and we bought a few.

We also bought ice cream and cold water. The bus park was a long way off from the church complex, which was odd because not even people in wheelchairs could get close. On the other hand, it was less than 20 miles from the port, and we were back on board before noon, which meant plenty of time to pack and swim and nap.

One the way out of the port of Livorno, the water was somewhat rougher than usual. Check it out.

So we swam, packed, napped, ate dinner and went to see Karen Williams. We made sure we could put virtually everything out in the corridor and have nothing but day packs and shoulder bags to get off the ship. And then they had porters for us (Hello, Keleti train station in Budapest!) from customs to the buses.

Before I forget to say something, all the food on the ship was pretty good. Every night we got the "bent spoon sample," which was always a taste of some odd thing or other presented on a spoon which stood up on the plate. Sometimes you could figure it out, others not so much. But it was a source of amusement and a conversation starter, although we only sat with others once in the whole week. Cruise ships have basically stopped forcing people to eat at the same table with the same people every night, or with anyone at all. They have mostly tables for two, and put together more if you ask.

Oddly, the only foods we sent back were fish dishes. We think they were frozen. Criminy, you're in the Med. Show a little initiative and collect the local catch of the day in each port. Good thing we had eaten a lot of fish before the cruise. Overall, I'd give the food an A- and definitely recommend the Windstar Line. Unfortunately it's in bankruptcy proceedings so no telling how long they'll be around. They were booked for the rest of the summer, mostly with charters like ours: wine-tasting, Biblical tours, nudists and whatever. Windsurf is a very nice ship, even though it's older and smaller. Those huge floating cities jam-packed with kids and shopping just don't appeal to us. As for the one shop, all we ever bought in it was a memory card. I think Joyce splurged on a t-shirt, too, but it wasn't about shopping for us. It never is.

Next time, our transfer to Rome. Just thinking about it exhausts me.