A Perfect Vacation - Part 3

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As this is a continued article of what I call a perfect vacation, I will briefly summarize the first two chapters.

We spent most of October in Europe. We chose this month because it is usually ahead of the cold weather and after the heat of summer.

Most of the time was spent on a three-week cruise aboard Holland America Lines wonderful Noordam, one of their vista class ships of 82,000 gross tons and 936 feet long. It holds 1,918 passengers.

The ship is large, but not as big as some of the ships plying the waters today. The interiors are rather bright and modern with some classic touches. The ship has many public rooms: two theaters, two swimming pools, 11 bar/lounges, two computer rooms, three restaurants, a large spa and large outside deck space.

Most of the staterooms have private balconies.

The first two articles covered our activity in Dubrovnik, Croatia, Kerkira, Katakolon, Santorini, and Athens, Greece, Kusadasi, Turkey, Messina, Sicily, Livorno or Florence, Italy, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca, Spain and now the Noordam cruises to North Africa for a day in La Goulette (Tunis and Carthage), Tunisia.

As we were docking, I spotted four camels being led by their owners and several dancers entertaining the dock as the Noordam tied up.

Looking out over the dock I could see the large city complex and it was not Europe.

The climate was warmer; I saw many palm trees and buildings that looked very North African. We chose a panoramic tour here, which included the city of Tunis as well as Carthage, which is next door.

I had visited here in the 1970s and remember touring the ruins of Carthage. Today, new and modern housing has been constructed right up to the edge of the ruins, which date back before Christ’s time.

Ninety-five percent of the population are Muslim and pray five times per day. There are mosques everywhere with loudspeakers blaring the prayers over the city.

There are the old and newer parts of Tunis and we enjoyed the opportunity to visit both. In the old sections you see the many poor people while in the new sections the buildings and homes are quite nice and modern.

The unemployment numbers are quite high in Tunisia and it shows.

Someone told me the Noordam is the only cruise ship calling at Tunisia. I don’t know this for a fact, but I really appreciated the opportunity to see the area even though we only had one day to do so. There was much growth since I was last here.

The city has constructed a large African-looking shopping mall at the dock and after our tour we enjoyed browsing through the shops.

Next, we sailed into Palermo, Sicily, Italy. This was our second stop in Sicily during the cruise. Again we booked a tour that showed us the city and surrounding area.

Palermo now has a population of more than a million, and the residents reside in apartments while some even live in large villas. There are the old and newer sections, which blend well together.

Nearby are splendid beach villages catering to tourists while large homes and villas are perched on the sides of the mountains overlooking the sea.

The tourists come here between April and September each year. In the center of town, at water’s edge are fishing boats and yachts tied up and ready for use.

Everywhere you look are seafood restaurants.

I found the roads good here and throughout Sicily and Italy in general. Traffic moves quickly so a driver must be very alert. The inhabitants here may be a little more laid back than they are on the Italian mainland.

Our last and memorable port of call for this Noordam cruise was at Naples, Italy. South Italy is rich in produce and manufacturing and very populated.

Julius Caesar, Marc Antony and Cleopatra were notable fans of southern Italy and not far away from Naples are the opulent ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which support the idea that there was vast wealth here.

Southern Italian beach villages are small, but quite charming. Narrow roads wind along both sides of the breathtaking Sorrento Peninsula.

We decided to enjoy as much as we could in one day so hired a car and driver/guide to show us the area, which included the famed Amalfi Drive.

This drive is on a very narrow, curved road almost unlike anything you have experienced in the past. Large tour coaches cannot navigate this road, so the only way to do it is by motorcycle or automobile. The road is roughly 700 feet above the jagged beaches below with many villages hanging on the face of the canyon walls, which run down to the sea. The drive is very picturesque and could be frightening to some.

By noon we reached a rather famous village called Positano and our driver had arranged for us to have lunch in a marvelous restaurant hanging on a cliff overlooking the village and sea. We let the owner decide what we should eat and were served several Italian dishes consisting of meat, pasta and a selection of vegetables. Wonderful! The view from our table was enough to say lunch was perfect.

In the afternoon we wound our way back to Naples and stopped at a wood factory to purchase a couple gifts for family back home. This shop specialized in wood inlay art for furniture and pictures. The items shown were beautiful. I had never seen a wood inlay factory before.

When we left the winding road we entered a freeway where traffic sped along to take us back to the docks in Naples. What an unforgettable day this was for Norma and me.

We departed Naples at 6 p.m. and set a course for Civitavecchia to the north, which is the port for Rome. This night, after dinner, we said farewell to our shipboard friends we had made during our three weeks aboard and headed for our stateroom to pack.

The next morning the Noordam docked and by 10 a.m. we were off the ship, claimed our bags and they were loaded in the car we had hired to take us back to Rome.

After a nice Roman lunch we told the driver we wished to do some more Rome sightseeing. He arranged for us to visit Vatican City with a private guide. This we did and our guide got us in the complex by a private entrance that had no lines. We spent the remaining part of the afternoon touring the many rooms and chapels of the complex including the Sistine Chapel. The entire area is interesting and loaded with art. It reminds one of European castles.

As the sun was setting we found our car/driver and were driven to our hotel at the Rome airport where we spent the night.

Our flight departed in the late morning for our return to Philadelphia and an overnight there before continuing on to Phoenix the next day.

All in all the time in Europe and on the Holland America Liner Noordam added up to one of the best vacations we have yet to experience. Everything worked! No flaws or glitches! The only problem was that I gained five pounds dining on the wonderful Noordam food. Oh well.

Where to travel to next? We’ll see.

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