May 23-25, Italy. We visit three ports in this ancient land, home to generations of great artists, inventors, and explorers. The country of Italy is less than 200 years old, but the history of the place is over 3,000. Today Italy is home to about 60 million people. Less prosperous than their northern European neighbors, they are still a wealthy country, though they do face some challenging economic problems. While some cities in Italy are in serious decline, there are still many beautiful places to visit, especially if you enjoy good food and good scenery. It’s also a nice place to shop if you’re not price-sensitive.
We enter the region by sailing through the Strait of Messina at night, between the island of Sicily and the mainland of Italy. It is lit up on both sides and we see fireworks on the Sicily side. We sail up the west coast to Sorrento. It is a picturesque seaside town, post-card perfect with colorful buildings, sheer cliffs, old stone homes clinging to steep hillsides. Europe has a strong sidewalk cafe culture, and Sorrento is typical in this regard. We wander around the main square, then visit a small hillside farm that has been in continuous operation for about 120 years. If not for the tourist industry, they could not afford to stay in business today. We see their farm animals and taste some of their produce, olives, mozzarella, and a dangerously good limoncello. The photo above is a demonstration of making mozzarella.
Next day we dock in the port of Civitavecchia, where we take a 1-hour bus ride to Rome. In Rome I don’t go on tour, but instead have lunch with a few other passengers, wander around the touristy Spanish Steps area. Rome and the empire it ruled have a long and dramatic history. As legend has it, two young brothers named Romulus and Remus were abandoned by their parents, suckled by a she-wolf, then raised by a shepherd couple. The boys grew up poor, yet wanted a city of their own. In 736 B.C., they founded Rome, and as they say, the rest is history. Romulus went on to invent pasta, Ferraris and expensive shoes. He eventually made a small fortune, retired and lived out his days in a sleepy village in the south of France. His brother joined a yacht club and took up sailing. The city they founded eventually became the capital of a famous empire.
To leave Rome, we negotiate a cab ride back to Civitavecchia. We drive through narrow streets, past the Coliseum, challenging motorcyclists and pedestrians who narrowly escape the path of our cab. We learn that the streets of Rome are designed like a bowl of pasta.
Back to our ship, we continue north up the western coast of the Italian peninsula and stop in the even more picturesque harbor town of Portovenere. There we board a small boat and travel near the coast to a series of small villages known as Cinque Terre. Here it would be nice to find a synonym so I don’t over-use the word ‘picturesque’. Each of the villages clings to steep hillsides, where for 1,000 years the inhabitants farmed the difficult terrain by terracing it, then growing grapes, olives, vegetables, other fruits. The old-timers still work the land, but the younger generation now just works in the tourist industry or other non-farm jobs. You can visit here and stay in a variety of hotels or B&B’s, hike the many trails that connect the villages, enjoy the clean ocean along gravelly beaches, and of course spend lazy hours sipping cappuccinos in the sidewalk cafes.
After Cinque Terre, I return to the ship and sit outside to eat lunch. I’m joined by two other passengers. We so enjoy gazing at the beautiful harbor of Portovenere, watching the expensive yachts motor by, soaking up the ideal Mediterranean climate, that we stay there almost three hours. Finally, it is time to move on to another country. We leave Italy, one tiramisu wiser.
Isle of Capri
Houses cling to the hills of Cinque Terre
One small village of Cinque Terre
Largest village of Cinque Terre – pop. 800