Friday, October 30, 2015

Mediterranean Cruise - Day 4 Afternoon - Pisa

After lunch at a small cafe on the street in Lucca. We got back on the bus and headed to Pisa.

This is the view that greeted us as we entered through the wall around the Piazza dei Miracoli.

Everyone talks about the leaning tower but the first building you see is the Pisa Baptistery of St. John. I was completed in 1363. It has a slight lean to it also.

There is a large cathedral between the baptistery and the famous tower.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral. I hadn't thought about this before but the tower leans in only one direction. As you walk around it the amount apparent lean changes to almost imperceptible.

It is harder to see from this angle but if you click on the picture above you can see that an attempt was made to straighten the tower after the first few floors were built. The results in the curved appearance. However the tower continue to lean more as the higher floors were built.

The tower used to lean 5 degrees but after some restoration and preservation work in the 1990s the lean is about 4 degrees. That means the top is about 13 ft off from the base.

We stopped for a break under this olive tree in a small cafe.

The tower construction start in 1173 but was halted for almost 100 years in 1175. The long break was because of almost constant wars between the Republics of Pisa, Genoa, Florence and Lucca.

In 1272 construction was restarted and the curve was added to compensate. Construction halted again in 1284 and the 7th floor was finally completed in 1319. The bell chamber was added in 1372.

This is the wall neat the entrance. There is Piazza dei Miracoli includes a huge lawn around the buildings.

This is the wall on the outside. I thought the plants growing out of the wall were interesting.

There is additional interesting history from modern time at Wikipedia.

If you missed any and want to catch up on the other postings in this series here are links.
Day 4 morning - Lucca
Day 3 - Cassis
Day 2 - Palma de Mallorca
Day 1 - Barcelona

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mediterranean Cruise - Day 4 Morning - Lucca

On day 4 we docked in La Spezia in northwest Italy. It is the jumping off point for visits to Tuscany. We chose a day trip to Lucca and Pisa.

The bus ride was interesting in itself. We passed by a number of these incredibly picturesque hilltop villages.

Lucca dates back to Roman times but is most famous for its intact Renaissance era wall.

This is San Michele in Foro in one of the main squares of the city. The church dates to 795 AD and was built on the site of the Roman forum. This facade was added in the 13th century.

This is a close up of St. Michael the Archangel on the top of the church.

There are a lot of churches in Lucca - about 100. I believe our guide said that the large number of churches for the size of the city was because it was on the pilgrimage route from France to Rome.

This is the interior of the church above.

Click to enlarge.

This style of double door is common in Lucca.

This sculpture is on the facade of the Cathedral of St. Martin. The Cathedral of St. Martin is one of the most important churches in Lucca.

This statue depicts St. Martin cutting his cloak in half to share with the poor man. It is probably the first in-the-round statue in the history of Italian art. This one, covered in moss, is actually a replica. The original is inside the cathedral.

This is the inside of the cathedral.  It is really beautiful. The cathedral dates back to 1070. The interior was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries.

This representation of the Last Supper is by Tintoretto and was painted in about 1592.

I'd never heard of him, either.

This is the Volto Santo ("Holy Face") of Lucca. It is inside the Cathedral of St. Martin.

For my Catholic friends this has an interesting story. The story goes that the wooden statue miraculously arrived in Lucca in 782. It was allegedly carved by Nicodemus, the biblical figure who helped Joseph of Arimathea remove Christ's body from the cross in John 19.

This a 13th century copy of the statue which was necessary because relic seeking pilgrims chipped away at the original until it was no more.

Get the details here - Holy Face of Lucca

There are scenes like this all over Lucca.

A small narrow street again.

This kid might have been on the tourist board payroll. Too cute.

This is the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. Its oval shape reflects the fact that it was built on the site of the 2nd century Roman amphitheater.

The city walls around Lucca are completely intact. The modern city has grown around the ancient city with out overwhelming it.

This is one of the gates through the city wall.

You can learn more about Lucca here - Lucca

I felt like we could spend several days there exploring around the city. I would highly recommend it if you have a chance to visit Italy.

I just thought the light was nice in the trees.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mediterranean Cruise - Day 3 - Cassis, France and Provence Countryside

On our 2nd night at sea we sailed from Palma de Mallorca to Marseille, France. Margot and I chose a trip to Cassis, France for a shore excusion. This is a shot of the small harbor at Cassis.

This was the sunrise that greeted us as the ship pulled in to the port. The excursion started fairly early in the morning so we were up early for breakfast.

This harbor boat was used (I think) to help handle the lines from the ship to the pier. I was amazed that the ship never used a tugboat in any of the ports. The ship has bow thrusters to push the front of the ship in either direction. In addition, it does not have traditional engine-shaft-propeller arrangement. Instead it has 3 azipods in the rear. The main engines run generators that provide electricity to motors in the azipods that are below the hull in the water. The azipods can rotate 360 degrees. As a result the ship can move sideways as easily as it moves forward and backward. Azipod

The Provence countryside was very pretty.

If you are unsure how to pronounce Cassis I think it is pretty close to American English ka-see. I also heard ka-seese but very light on the final "s" sound. Maybe it is a regional difference. Perhaps Amanda can explain.

There were a lot of terraced vineyards. The geology was pretty dramatic as well.

This is a view of Cassis from the highway.

Our first stop was Cap Canaille. It is one of the highest marine headlands in Europe at 1293 ft.

Click to enlarge.

That is the town of Cassis at the left center of the picture.

The harbor was very picturesque. A number of working boats but mostly pleasure boats. There is a small beach as well and restaurants and bars all along the harborfront.

The only thing I learned at the beach was that you are never too old to sunbathe topless.

We decided on the spur of the moment to take a boat trip to see some of the calanques along the coast between Cassis and Marseille. A calanque is a steep sided valley formed in the limestone cliffs.

This is a view of some of the homes just outside the harbor.

The coast is very dramatic.

The waves were tossing the boat around pretty good. We initially sat in the bow of the boat but were advised we would get wet if we sat there.

Click to enlarge.

Over the years there was been various quarry activities. The stone for the base of the Statue of Liberty was quarried in this area.

Another bluff.

This is calanque is called En-Vau. It has a beautiful beach at the end but it is one of the most difficult to reach.

You can learn more here.

Calanques of Cassis

There were a couple of guys practicing their rock climbing skills on the side of the calanque.

A building in Cassis.

This farm was very pretty, I thought. I took this from the bus as we passed by.

Click to enlarge.

We did not go up to Chateau de Cassis but this has been a defensive location since the 5th century. It has recently been restored into a very nice hotel.

Cassis Castle

This is a monument in Marseille that we passed on our way back to the ship.

This cathedral overlooks all of Marseille.

This evening we went to a presentation of Mamma Mia! after dinner on the ship. It was very well done. I'd say typical of touring off-Broadway productions. It might have been even better than the version we saw in Roanoke several years ago.

Another scene. I think this is from the finale.

These sculptures? are hanging in one of the atriums between the elevator banks on the ship.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Mediterranean Cruise - Day 2 - Palma de Mallorca

Our first port of call was Palma de Mallorca. Palma is the largest city on the island of Mallorca which is the largest of the Balearic Islands which are an autonomous region of Spain east of the mainland. The island is a very popular vacation spot for British and German tourists.

This garden is just left of the cathedral in the picture above. It was formerly inside the royal palace.

Narrow winding streets are going to be a common theme in all the cities we visit on this trip.

Interesting statue in the garden above. The sculpture is by the Catalan artist Josep Maria Subirachs. The poem is an excerpt from Ionic by the eminent Greek poet, Konstantinos Kavafis (Constantine Petrou Cavafy). No idea why the poem is on the base of the sculpture. No one on the internet seems to know why, either. Kavafis apparently never set foot on the island.

Any guesses on what type of tree this is?

Highlight the red bar  with your mouse or finger to find out.


The tree is over 1000 years old.

These date palms were heavy with golden fruit. So heavy the fruit was falling to the sidewalk and making a bit of a mess.

Perhaps the most interesting sight to me was the bull fighting ring or Plaza de Toros. We were told that bullfighting was not native to Mallorca but was imported to give the tourists from Spain something to do.

It isn't a particularly old stadium. It was built in 1922.

The bullfighting season in Mallorca is fairly short - just a few weeks in July or August I believe.

The mezzanine corridor has a pleasing contrast between the arches and the tile floor.

Here is a look at the inside.

Here is a view of the harbor and city. I think the white tenting is placed over some of the ships undergoing refitting to keep the weather off of them. I may be intended to frustrate prying eyes, also.

There were a lot of mega-yachts in the harbor.

Did I mention that the Allure of the Seas is a BIG ship. I heard various numbers but I think there were about 5500 guests and 2300 crew on board.

This picture is about half the ship.

The is back portion of the ship from deck 15 or 16. Our cabin was on the right side about half way up. Below the courtyard is an enclosed deck or mall with shops, restaurants, etc.

The area under the anchor symbol at the back is where the water show "Oceanaria" was staged.

This picture is from the front looking back. Not sure what Sue and Bob are contemplating in this picture.

I mentioned the Oceanaria show above. We took in an afternoon show. It is a combination of diving, gymnastics and trampoline acts.

Even the stage and production coordination were impressive. People and stage elements appear from and disappear into the water and then reappear somewhere else in the production.

These guys were amazing. Follow the sequence below.

After the guy on top does a handstand the guy on the bottom rolls over.

I was impressed.

They follow that up with this handstand.

After the hand/head stand the stage they are standing on disappeared into the water and next thing you know someone is diving into the pool where the platform was located.

I should have taken some video. The still pictures don't do it justice.

Here is a look at the "mall" after dinner.

Click to enlarge any of the pictures.

This evening was the "formal" night. I still don't understand why this is such a cruise fixture.

Here Sue and Bob pose in front of the mall.

Greg and Theresa.

Margot and me (or is it I).