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December 7, 2012
We are back at sea and on the Pacific Princess, as we travel from Rome, Italy, to Manaus, Brazil, over the next 32 days. We started our Trekking the Planet journey on this ship back in January, when we left San Diego, California, so it felt like being back at home as we boarded this ship. The first leg of our voyage will take us about 6,000 miles from Rome to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As we began our journey we visited three ports in the Mediterranean Sea.
Just south of Rome is the city of Naples. Built around a large bay, Naples has a view of the islands of Capri and Ischia off the coast and of Mount Vesuvius inland. We spent our time learning more about this volcano and its destruction of the city of Pompeii in 79 A.D. Because Vesuvius erupted, or more accurately, exploded, Pompeii was buried by over 20 feet (about six meters) of ash and literally frozen in time.
We spent a couple of hours touring the ancient city and were impressed with the vastness of the place and its preserved buildings. We even saw beautiful intact frescos on the walls. After we left Pompeii we were driven about three quarters of the way up Mount Vesuvius and then hiked the remainder to the crater of the volcano, accompanied by a volcanologist. There, we could peer into the still-active volcano and even see steam coming out of places in the crater. The views back down to the bay were stunning as well!
The next morning we docked on the island of Sicily, which is the largest in the Mediterranean Sea, and located near the center of this large body of water. We disembarked in Palermo and enjoyed the morning walking around the city. There is rich history here, as Palermo was ruled by Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans, among others. After visiting the Palermo Cathedral we continued walking to the Palazzo del Normanni which was built, beginning in the 9th century, by Palermo’s Arab Emirs.
The palace portion was closed, but we were able to see the Cappella Palatina, which is a church built by the Normans in 1130 and containing elements of Byzantine, Muslim and Latin. The church is packed with mosaics, depicting scenes from the Old Testament and the lives of St. Peter and St. John. We found this place to be a gem and this church was one of our favorite structures of our entire journey so far.
Our final stop was in Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city. It is the capital of city of Catalonia, and many people here speak Catalan, rather than Spanish. Catalan is a distinct language, similar to Italian, Portuguese, and French.
We spent our time here walking around the heart of the city and down the main pedestrian walkway, called Las Ramblas. Even in the off-season the street was full of performers. Our walk continued through the winding streets and hidden squares in the Barri Gòtic. We passed the main La Plaça Catalunya plaza and continued our walk to La Sagrada Família, one of the main attractions of the city. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi, one of Spain’s most famous architects. Work began in the 1880’s and continues to this day. We read one sign that stated that the expected completion date of the church would be mid-century!
Nevertheless, one cannot help but look up to the heavens when first venturing inside. The numerous columns were designed to look like trees and the forest-like feeling extends to the vaulted ceiling which looks like the bottom of tree canopies. Side stained glass windows of many different colors stream light inside to provide a unique perspective unlike any we have felt inside a church. We took our time to explore the entire building. Upon leaving La Sagrada Família, we walked a few steps to the metro to take a more direct way back to our ship.
Now, we will leave the Mediterranean and head out to the open Atlantic Ocean. In the process we will stop in Morocco, the Portuguese island of Madeira and British Bermuda. We are looking forward to warmer weather and the longer daylight as we head south.