Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

First Stop: Messina and Taormina

We had a surprise, learning our Taormina on Your Own tour will not be leaving until 1:55, but we sailed right into the heart of Messina, past the beautiful Christ blessing ships at the entrance to the harbor.

I’m such a kid, I love watching the pilot boats arrive to escort us into port.

The early tours depart.

We have a quiet breakfast out on the Terrace and learn that not everyone is getting off the ship; some people are staying aboard. It boggles my mind. This is an amazing itinerary, it’s why we chose the trip. How can you stay on the ship?

I am beginning to find my way through the buffet. I can have oatmeal – AND smoked salmon. Much to AdventureMan’s disgust, I can also have pickled herring. The Swedish part of my heritage goes deep.

The Norwegian Star is about five times the size of the Oceania Nautica!

Once the early tours are gone, there are no problems walking off the ship, so we decided to go into Mesina to see the church with the horological clock, the biggest in the world. Exiting the tourist terminal, there were many people offering taxi rides, but they were not overly aggressive, and we were able to escape quickly. We crossed the street with a Sikh and his wife who very agreeably told us we needed to be more aggressive and to “think like Italians.” They were very kind. 

The church was mere minutes from the ship; we could see the ship many times through the streets to the waterfront.

At the church, there were few people, hucksters selling cheap souvenirs and Indian-made shawls, and two open Hop On Hop Off kinds of buses. We asked about one, and it had a 45 minute tour for 10 Euro, so we bought tickets and five minutes later along came a bus. It was almost full, but there was one seat, and, as it turned out, I was on the good side for taking lots of photos. 

Behind me was a woman who said “Quick! Look up! There is a great photo” so I looked up and it was.

She and her husband were New Zealanders, newlyweds, who had intended to take a cruise for their honeymoon when COVID struck. They decided when COVID ended to take their trip, but in the three years, added several other loops onto the trip, and it ended up being three months full of adventure. They were having a wonderful time; they were on the Norwegian Star, parked with the Nautica on the waterfront.

There were all kinds of Messina tours on offer.

I love this view; you can see how close Sicily is to the mainland of Italy. There is a ferry that goes back and forth; it is common to live on one side and work on the other.

Lots of representations of Poseidon/Zeus, God of the Sea

Just before exiting, we saw a very old church with wonderful stonework, so we decided to take a look. The church was partially built into the old Greco-Roman wall around Messina, squat and sturdy.

AdventureMan said “Look, we can go in!” and I said no, but he kept saying he thought we needed to go inside so I agreed. Great call, AdventureMan.

Annunziata dei Catalani Church

Oh, what I would have missed if I had not gone in! It was a very old church, and in the back was a handmade Messina-specific creche, with all kinds of villagers convincingly portrayed. It was one of the most elaborate creches I have ever seen, and I was thoroughly enchanted.

The church is thought to be the oldest church in Messina, with Arabic influences in the stonework, probably it was once a church, then a mosque, and is now a church again. Entrance is free – there is a small box for donations.

As we walked back to the ship, we learned we were supposed to have photo ID with us. I had my driver’s license (our passports were on board the ship) but AdventureMan had nothing. Then, suddenly, he realized he had photos of his passport page and other ID, which he showed the customs police, and it sufficed. There were others who had nothing, and it was a big problem for them to get through the Border Guards and back aboard.

There was also a woman just catching up with the Nautica. Her husband, and the bags, were stuck at the immigration shack. She and a bag were trying to get on board. She was very tired and very annoyed. “Worst start of a cruise EVER” she told us. It turns out there were twenty couples from England in the same situation, some of whom didn’t catch up until we got to Haifa. 

We had been disappointed to be leaving so late for Taormina, but it turned out to be a really good thing. We really like exploring on our own, and had a wonderful time exploring Messina, and meeting people from other cruises, other countries, and other ways of life. We loved the funny little Hop On Hop Off bus and its one-hour circular route allowed us to see Messina and get back to the ship in time for our tour to Taormina.

We had a quick lunch at Waves, the outdoor grill. We had the panini, and it was a lot, so we saved half our sandwiches so we could just eat in our room at the end of a long day without needing to order from room service.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Italy, Living Conditions, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

At Sea On U.S. Election Day

It is wonderful to be at sea in the turmoil of this year’s election. No one is talking about it onboard. What a relief.

We are told there are passengers from 39 nations on board, and crew from more nations. The entire day, we hear not a word about the American election.

The demographic is very much our age group. If anything, we are younger than most. Hard to say, but we see some very old but still adventuresome travelers, which gives us hope for our own future travels.

We were wide awake before seven. I got up and went to get some coffee. We can have it delivered to the room, but on these relaxed days at sea, we don’t like to commit to a time and it is just as easy to go get my own cup at the dedicated coffee bar. Actually, coffee is available in many places on the ship, and the smell of coffee early in the morning wafts everywhere.

We had decided to try The Grand Dining Room for breakfast, wanting to be less formal in a very formal environment.

The waiters are all white-jacketed and very pleasant. The menu is lovely – the tastiest item was smoked salmon with cream and capers and white onion, a great way to start the day. AdventureMan shared with me. The fruit platters were large enough for two; I cut most of mine into small pieces to stir into my virtuous oatmeal. Don’t you think smoked salmon is virtuous too? I think I prefer virtuous tasty smoked salmon to virtuous oatmeal. 

I am not complaining. I eat oatmeal every day at home. As a diabetic, it is great for keeping my blood sugar levels down. The Nautica had really nice oatmeal. And oatmeal just pales in comparison to all the lovely choices available for breakfast, all the beautiful pastries, croissants, breakfast breads, all the lovely foods with a lot of fats and sugars. Yes, even on a cruise, I pay attention. I will try not to whine again.

After breakfast, I grabbed some of my hotter weather clothes to iron – the compression bags puts some serious wrinkles into linen clothing.

The laundry room is much smaller than it appears on the ship map, but the iron was hot and efficient, and there were other passengers doing small loads of washing and drying. It is handy that it is all free. There is a laundry on board, and although we have laundry service I prefer doing my own laundry. We have a line in the shower where we can hang items we have hand laundered in the sink, and we found little detergent slips on Amazon that are very compact and efficient for hand laundry.

Then we walked the walking track, windy, invigorating; we have a lovely sunny day, warm enough but sometimes the wind was so strong it blew me into AdventureMan. I am happy we packed some of our cool-weather gear; when we are at sea, it can be windy and chilly. We checked out the gym, where AdventureMan found mats available for stretching as I look eagerly at the outside spa overlooking the bow of the ship. Heaven!

Back in the room, AdventureMan naps as we wait for the eleven o-clock enrichment lecture on the Origins of the First Crusade, in preparation for our time in Sicily and Israel. I am excited we will be going to Acre, the old Crusader stronghold, the day we arrive there.

 The lecture was well attended, probably four hundred or so passengers.

And then off we went to lunch at The Terrace restaurant.

We have found a table we love; sheltered by a small wall but still with a good view out over the aft of the ship. The Terrace is the ship’s buffet restaurant, except that it is not like a buffet where you dish up your own portions. There are very pleasant wait-staff every few feet who put food on your plate. You can say “a very small portion, please” or “could I have a little more of that?” and they will give you exactly what you wish. Don’t you love having choices?

It all feels so indulgent.

After lunch, I read while AdventureMan attended an afternoon lecture on How Man Learned to Navigate by the Stars, which he said turns out to be very complicated. Here is the truth, I will admit it, I needed a nap. I am not yet fully adapted to the time change. The little couch is a perfect size for me, and there is a soft sea-green throw I can cover up with and I am out like a light.

Dinner this night is at the Polo Grill, and, sadly, while these reservations are greatly coveted, by dinner time I don’t care. I don’t much want to dress up; I wish they would just deliver the dinner to the room, but this is part of the Oceania experience and so we dress and go up for dinner. The code is “country-club casual.” There are many interpretations of what that might mean. Here is ours.

I had a shrimp cocktail, tomato salad, and lobster, AdventureMan had the Lobster Bisque, Fois Gras en Croute, and the lobster, and we split a Creme Brûlée. The Creme Brûlée was very good.

It is a lovely kind of evening, and we enjoyed ourselves because we do this so rarely. The night is sweet and warm, the moon is full, and we can’t resist a lap or two around the walking track before we go to sleep.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Eating Out, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , | Leave a comment