A Perfect Vacation

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How else do you describe a vacation that was perfect but to call it “A perfect vacation”?

We felt it was time to renew our experiences in the Mediterranean area, the Greek Islands and more. What time of year should you do this? After some discussion Norma and I felt that early fall would be best because the hot weather by this time would have disappeared and the usual summer crowds were through with their vacations. So, we picked October.

Our plan was as follows: depart the United States the first of October, break up our flying from Arizona to Rome with an overnight stay in Philadelphia then continue on the next evening to Rome arriving there mid-morning.

We hired a car and driver to meet us upon the Rome arrival because the wait line for a taxi at the Rome airport is always long and it could be more than an hour before you get a taxi to take you into town.

After collecting our luggage, we met our driver and he escorted us to the waiting car and into downtown Rome we drove, arriving at our hotel an hour later. Morning traffic is busy in Rome. We checked into our hotel, got settled, and then decided to stretch our legs after the long trans-Atlantic flight and to have lunch in a nice restaurant.

We had arranged with our driver to pick us up at the hotel at 1:30 p.m. to do some Rome sightseeing. This we did. It had been many years since my last visit here and in some ways I had forgotten just how great and important Rome was to the world scene of history. We drove past the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, Vatican City, the Spanish Steps, several famous fountains and plazas as I clicked the camera as all tourists do. The weather was perfect, with temperatures in the middle 70s.

Back at our hotel in late afternoon we had a little rest, and then walked a block or two to find a cozy outside restaurant with candles lit on the tables and diners enjoying their meals with wine.

This appealed to us so we asked for a table, were seated and given menus. I am a spaghetti lover so I had that with a salad. Norma had veal. All was good and we particularly enjoyed dining outside on a wonderful fall evening in Rome.

The main reason for our going to Europe was to enjoy a three-week cruise in the Mediterranean as well as some of the Greek Islands, Croatia and Turkey.

We chose Holland America Lines’ beautiful Noordam as our ship. It had been two years since our last Holland America Lines experience and I must say, the company gets better each year. They sail now with their Signature of Excellence slogan, which means they have instituted enhanced features in their ships. These include more convenient dining choices, new menus, upgraded entertainment and even better service. Holland America is hard to beat in just about every area of service. Your name is remembered, your likes and dislikes are remembered and we felt very welcome in every area of the 82,000 gross ton ship, which is large, but not too large. The Noordam is kept as if it was new from the shipyard builders and it was a pleasure to call it home for three weeks.

We chose the Noordam because it offered the best itinerary for the number of days spent aboard ship.

We boarded the ship at the port of Rome, which is Civitavecchia, an hour and 15 minutes drive from the city. This is a very busy commercial port and is one of the three major ports for Italy. Our boarding of the Noordam was the easiest ship boarding procedure I have yet to experience. We arrived at the pier early afternoon, found no lines at the check-in counter, presented our credentials and received our boarding passes and proceeded aboard. Our luggage arrived an hour later and we unpacked and settled into our balcony stateroom with plenty of room and generous closet space.

We sailed at 5 p.m. and experienced our first dinner at sea. We sat at a table for six and found our tablemates to be most interesting and friendly. The food aboard the Noordam is absolutely the best to be found anywhere. The wait staff couldn’t have been better.

We enjoyed relaxing the next day because it was a day at sea. It gave us a chance to get acquainted with this superb 936-foot liner with many public rooms, two theaters, 11 bars, a casino, lounges and other important features.

It has two computer rooms, a generous library, spa, two swimming pools and exercise areas. Plenty of room to find a chaise lounge and relax with a book or magazine on deck. There is always plenty to do aboard on sea days.

Our first port of call was Dubrovnik, Croatia. This is a maritime city that dates back to the 7th century and is situated on a rocky outcropping known as the Isthmus of Dubrovnik jetting out into the Adriatic Sea. It was once part of the Maritime Republic along with other cities such as Amalfe, Pisa, Genoa and Venice. In its time, it was the only seaport to rival Venice in terms of trade. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is entering a new era of prosperity.

Inside the city walls, a great place to start is the Stradun, the main street, stretching from the Pile Gate to the Ploce Gate. The streets are paved with stones and the main street is very wide. The side streets are very narrow. Shops line the main and side streets and are interesting to drop into and observe.

We enjoyed lunch under a canopy outside and it was delicious. We also took a tour into the countryside to see the small farms and villages. The highway was along the coast, which resembled the coasts of the Mediterranean. Beautiful homes and villas line the coast with rather high hills and mountains in the background. Late morning rain clouds came over and as we drove out of town I looked out to sea and saw a large water spout about a half-mile away. I looked to my left overland and saw another tornado coming down over land and then suddenly, nearby were twin tornados coming to the ground. This was a total of four tornados within sight and only a mile apart. What a sight! To my knowledge no one was hurt, but the sight was most unusual.

The coastline is rugged and beautiful, somewhat like the Oregon coast. The people look prosperous and content and the area is clean, no trash. The Dalmatian coast is breathtaking.

After a quiet night at sea, the Noordam pulled into the port of Kerkira. This Greek town has a great history and the first known settlers came in the 8th century, BC. Corfu Town is the island capital, neatly arranged on a seaside promontory and arranged in northern and southern sections.

It is the seventh largest of the many Greek Islands and offers a rugged green landscape with high mountains and a variety of trees and plants and the Greeks call it the garden island. It has many small hotels, small farms and villages and only two miles away is Albania, which you can visit by ferry from Corfu.

We enjoyed lunch outside at the harbors entrance with palm trees overhead. It is a beautiful Greek island and most relaxing. A tour treated us to the countryside and its charms.

Next day, the Noordam sailed into Katakolon, Greece for a visit. We had visited here in earlier years and it is principally known as the original site of the Olympic Games. We did not repeat the visit to the Olympic site since it is located a distance from where the tour buses park, so we booked a trip to a local farm and learned about olive farming and wine processing of the grape. It was most interesting and we enjoyed a sit-down lunch of Greek foods followed by dancing by the local farmers.

Back in town we wandered around the local Municipal Market bordered by cozy tavernas and grills.

After another night’s entertainment and dinner aboard the Noordam, followed by a perfect nights sleep, we woke up the next morning just as the ship was anchoring at the famed Greek Island of Santorini. The small towns are perched high above the ocean and painted white and blue. It’s a dazzling sight from the sea. We rode a tender boat ashore and boarded a tour bus to see the island again. The towns are located on top of the mesas and feature narrow streets lined with interesting shops to browse. At one village we could hear Greek music being played live in a bar. You wanted to dance.

To reach the town from the sea you must first go by tender, then reach the town high above by donkey or cable car. We found the coach easiest.

Santorini is known the world over as a wedding and honeymoon spot. It claims good beaches with white and black sand, lovely small hotels perched on the side of the cliff and lively fun at night.

Next week we will visit Turkey, Athens and much more on this Holland America Line cruise. See you then.

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