Mike and Sandy were on one of Holland America's newest ships, the ms Noordam, for a 20 day cruise in the Mediterranean. The trip was actually two 10 day cruises "back-to-back," each starting and ending at the port near Rome. The first 10 days went west, with ports in Italy, France, Spain, Tunisia, and Sicily, while the second 10 days made a swing to the east (Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey).

This was our home for the 20 day trip.

The first stop was at Livorno, port for Florence. Although Florence is noted for its art, first we saw the cathedral whose plaza is annually covered with dirt for a rugby match. Then we visited one of Florence's most famous landmarks, the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge"), built in the 1300's. Finally we saw some of the famous statues!

Moving on to the south coast of France, we called at Monte Carlo, where the big excitement in town was preparations for the Tour de France, which would pass through a few days after our visit. Sandy and Mike took a side trip to visit the hill-top town of Eze, which they had enjoyed on a visit many years ago.

Next we visited Barcelona, Spain (high points were the Gaudi-designed cathedral, the stadium built for the 1992 Olympics and now used by the local soccer team, and the shops and mimes along La Rambla), and a nearby mountain-top monastery reachable only by cable car.

We stopped next at the resort island of Mallorca. Here we saw a surprisingly large cathedral, with an enormous stained glass window, checked out the local bull fighting ring, and visited an old fortress set on top of a hill overlooking the harbor.

Heading back east, we dipped down to the north coast of Africa, stopping in Tunisia. There we visited the ruins of the ancient city of Carthage, built by the Phoenicians and later taken over by the Romans. (Hannibal and his elephants are the most famous of the Phoenicians.) We toured a museum of Phoenician artifacts, visited the American WW II cemetary (only U.S. cemetary in Africa), and of course checked out the shopping street in the little village of Sidi Bo Said.

On the way back towards Rome, we stopped on the island of Sicily at Palermo, not far from the sea-side resort town of Syracuse, where the G8 ministers had met to discuss global warming a few months earlier. Skipping the city, Mike and Sandy headed out to the nearby village of Monreale for some sight-seeing.

The next port was Naples (Napoli, as the Italians call it), but the main draw was nearby Pompei, completely wiped out by ash from Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79. Sandy had seen Pompei many years ago, but it was a first for Mike -- pretty amazing to find a complete and largely intact Roman city. Here's a typical street, a main street tavern, the town theater, and a cast of the body of one of the doomed inhabitants.

Life onboard the Noordam was filled with lots of food, nice dinner companions, wine on the balcony of our room, sunsets from the ship's rail, surprising towel animals every night, midnight deserts at the pool, and a moving last-night farewell from the ship's crew.

After a quick stop back at Rome to change passengers (many were on the ship only for the 10 day trip), we headed for the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik, in modern day Croatia. Here's Mike and Sandy up on the walls at an old guard tower, a view over the old town, one of the many really narrow streets (where Mike even found an Internet cafe), and inside Europe's oldest (1317) continuously operating pharmacy, located in the town's church.

Our next stop was the Greek island of Corfu, where we stretched our legs walking aound the (pedestrians only) Old Town and bought a few souvenirs.

The ruins of the original Olympic village (first games there were around 700 BC) were the reason to dock at Katakolon, Greece. The stadium itself was two-sided, like a modern-day football stadium, and was surrounded by training buildings, temples where the winners were crowned, etc. A nearby museum has all sorts of relics recoved from the ruins.

One of the most photographed islands in the world, Santorini was our next port of call. Although shopkeepers were on hand to welcome us, the natural beauty is the main draw here. Here you can see what the main town looks like from our ship, what the view is from the town looking back into the caldera (the whole island is an old collapsed volcano), and what the houses look like. Although we were only there for a day, there are many hotels and guest houses where vacationers come for a week, or the summer.

We only made one stop in Turkey, at the port city of Kusadasi, but it was a double-hit: the big Bazaar in town, and the ruins of the Roman city of Ephesus nearby. Sandy went wild in the shops, while some excavations more recent than our last visit made Ephesus a fascinating study in secular and Biblical history.
The big amphitheater is probably the best known site at the Ephesus ruins, but there are quite a few other structures to see as well. One sort of amusing sight is the 2000-year old public toilet, which featured a sewer with constantly running water (brought in through an aqueduct of clay pipe, some of which still exists today). The most recent (last 20 years or so) excavations have found what can best be described as a set of "luxury condominiums," with wall decorations still clearly visible - be sure to see these "Terrace Houses" if you visit Ephesus.
Shopping was plentiful, ranging from incredibly lovely silk rugs to the ridiculous, and everywhere in between.

Our next to last stop was Athens, where the drawbacks of vacationing during the peak summer season came clearly into focus as we struggled through thousands of other tourists up the trail to reach the Acropolis. Lots of renovation and restoration going on there, and the brand-new Acropolis Museum at the foot of the hill is truly spectacular.

Our last stop was the little Sicilian town of Messina --- of interest there was a huge clock tower with moving figures and music (sort of like a giant cukoo clock), and a nice park for refreshments with a nice couple from Australia! And very nearby, we sailed right past the still active island volcano of Stromboli - just smoke when we went by, but the evidence of recent lava flows is clear.