May 21, 2024

Visiting Rome

We booked a small group tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. With several hours until the tour departs, we walk from our hotel, stop for lunch, and meander our way. We still arrive early and find a comfortable seating area to wait.

Our group is about a dozen in size. The guide a very delightful and knowledgeable lady, We head towards the entrance and then it happens. A person walks in front of me and I have to step to the side to avoid him. In doing so my left foot lands on a discarded plastic top from a water bottle.

If you can imagine, this was slicker than an ice cube on a sheet of teflon. My feet went out from under me, and in a flash I was face down on the coblestone walkway.  Several tourist helped me back to my feet, another whipped a bandaid out of her purse and applied it to the inch long gash in my elbow.

It was too soon for any pain to set in, and off we went.  The paintings, sculpture, mosaics and even the buildings themselves were magnificent. Priceless artwork everywhere. 

As we continued on the tour, the shock was beginning to wear off and the tour guide recognized it. Probably she recognized it more than I did.  She sent us on different routes that avoided some long stairs and afforded me a brief rest while the rest of the group caught up with us. Whatever clued  her in, she was very aware and considerate.

The most interesting detour was using the narrow back stairway into the Sistine Chapel. Not really wide enough for two people. Only a single door at the top, and an outlet into the back of the chapel probably 50 steps down from where we started.

The Chapel was packed solid with people. Pictures were not allowed. Again some special treatment. Maybe it was the blood running down my arm and dripping from my fingertips but the Vatican guards told other guests to get up and give me a place to sit while I used more tissue to wipe up the blood.

We enjoyed the chapel for 15 or 20 minutes before our guide and group caught up with us.

Being in a special group, we were allowed to leave the chapel by a back exit. The guided part of our tour was over. We head to the exit.

By now the supply of tissues had run out. Several restaurants graciously gave us a handful of napkins when the situation was described to them.

Taxi back to our hotel, clean up my arm, and apply new bandages. Nothing feels broken and the cut looks pretty clean and probably well washed out with the bleeding. Blood thinners always make the slightest nick bleed profusely. 

Within a block of the hotel there were a number of local restaurants. The pasta was excellent, especially the sauce. The serving size was too large for me. Even better was the gelato which there is always room for.

The restaurant wasn't overly busy. A college student that I think studied there every night, and a handful of couples sipping beverages at tables along the street. We have a nice conversation with our server and enjoy being a tourist in Rome.

Saturday morning we are scheduled for "Best of Rome by Golf Cart Private Tour". We have the hotel call us a taxi to take us to the meeting place. $10 Euro including a generous tip.

Since we did not have an address, just the name of a plaza, finding the right spot was difficult. The three different locals we asked sent us down the street to where the tour buses stopped. The printed map sent to me by the tour operator showed a slightly different location. They were all wrong, but an empty parked golf cart was a clue.

Eventually we meet up with our guide and we enjoy a fantastic tour of Rome. From the Orange Garden overlooking the city to the Colosseum and dozens of sights in between it was an excellent tour. Our guide was a native of Rome, worked in the US for several years to improve his English, and studied Roman history at the college level in addition to over a year of study to become a licensed tour guide.

The golf cart was street legal, but he could also navigate alleyways that were too narrow for regular cars, and pathways that were restricted mostly to pedestrians. He was able to park in very small spaces that regular vehicles would have to pass by. We revisited some of the sights I visited 8 years ago, and many additional ones. It was a strange feeling to again stand in exactly the same spot as I did in 2016 overlooking Circus Maximus.

Three hours later the driver let  us off just outside one of the entrances to Vatican City, probably a mile or so from our hotel. We tried to get a taxi, but they seem to have conspired to want 45 or 50 Euros. We chose to walk. Slowly.

After a brief rest, we venture out for dinner. Do we go where we know the food and service is good or do we try something different? We chose the later. The food was OK, but the service horrible. We forgo dessert and return to the restaurant of the previous night for our gelato fix.

Our driver is scheduled to pick us up at 7:00 AM tomorrow morning. Just to make sure there is no confusion, I had confirmed with him to pick us up on the main street, not the back alley.

As we are packing for our flight home we discover another unique feature of our "guarded" hotel. They have placed a cell phone in the room with a note saying to use it during our stay. A nice touch I have never encountered before.

May 17 - Disembarkation & To Rome

The alarm is set for 6:00 to give us time to get to the Coastal Kitchen by 7:00 for a last breakfast. As often is the case we are awake long before the alarm.

By 6:15 or so they have started letting self assist passengers off the ship, well ahead of schedule. I have no idea how this port works, and we have a driver scheduled to pick us up at 9:45 to drive us to our hotel in Rome. I am ready to leave by 8:15. The wait for the wheelchair pusher is brief.

Usually they have a separate exit plan for the wheelchairs, not here. We are stuck in the middle of thousands of passengers trying to exit.  He takes us directly to our luggage, no magical line that ship personnel can't cross like in the US. We find our bags and head outside to look for our driver.

There is mass confusion. Dozens of busses, mostly headed to the airport or the train station in Rome. Taxis are scarce. Probably 75 Private drivers are lined up holding signs with the names of their fares. Some signs more legible than others.

By 9:30 we find our driver. He leads us to a 9 passenger van along with 8 passengers and 20 pieces of luggage.

It is a major puzzle, but somehow he manages to get everything loaded.  At one point he was so skeptical he called to try and get another driver, but none was available.

Some passengers sat with suitcases on their laps. At least everyone had a seat. I can guarantee the van was overloaded, not by passenger count but by weight. The suspension was fully compressed and we felt every bump in the road.

It was a little over an hour's drive from Civitavecchia to Rome. Traffic moved smoothly.

The Driver pulls into an alley and announces that this is our hotel. I see no sign with the hotel's name. Police armed with automatic rifles are standing on the right side of the alley just feet from where we stop. Yellow crime scene tape is draped all along the left side of the alley. I'm confused. This doesn't look like the pictures of the hotel I booked.  The driver insists we are at the right address.

Of course we are sitting in the third row and can't move without others getting out first. As the driver is unloading the suitcases, the police become very suspicious and move closer to the middle of the street. Probably unwisely, I approach them. 

They will only acknowledge a minimal understanding of English. I ask in several different ways, Is there a problem?  They say no. I was brought up to trust authority. Is this wise?

After booking, the hotel reached out to me several times and wanted to know what time we would arrive, what temperature I would like the room at, what kind of pillows I would like, any allergies, and a dozen other items that would be useful for them to make our stay most comfortable. Or were these questions just to make me less cautious?

I notice a 30 inch gap in the yellow tape. There is a small sign with the hotels name. I push the button. There are several easily spotted security cameras. The police are busy watching the others pile back into the van. I bet they are glad to be moving on, questioning the wisdom of two fellow passengers they just met.

The solid heavy metal door unlocks and we step inside.

Down about 15 steps and I spot the "reception desk". They are awaiting our arrival, it is confirmed that we are at the right place. A doorman retrieves our suitcases that I left at the top of the stairs. Check-in is completed in a few minutes, and we are shown to our room.

Very nice, mostly marble, with an outside patio. Exactly as presented. We have a ground floor room, and there is an elevator if we were assigned an upper floor. A rarity in much of Europe.

We settle in. Later this afternoon we have a tour of the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. We study the map, and I decide to walk to the meeting place on the other side of Vatican City.

May 15, 16 - Sea Day & Naples

We cruise from Athens to Napoli or Naples, Italy at about 16 or 17 knots, an easy cruising speed for the Odyssey of The Seas. We arrive at about 6:00 AM Thursday.

My right knee is sore from all the walking over uneven surfaces. I decide it to be most prudent to cancel my scheduled tour to Pompeii and rest my knee. Even though my decision is past the normal cancellation period, Royal refunds most of the fee. Lynn will still do the tour without me.

These are quiet days on the ship. An opportunity to share some observations of the past 30 days. Tidbits that are unrelated except for occuring on the Odyssey over the past 5 weeks.

The current manifest of passengers, over 4400 strong comprises passengers from 86 countries. Passengers from the US, Canada and the UK top the list. Truly an international crowd. Announcements are now given in English, Spanish, Italian and ??

Despite Royal's claim that there are too many passengers for the Coastal Kitchen, we have never seen it full. Often by 9:00 PM, the latest seating time, the room is totally empty.

Our new cruise director, Ana, is fluent in several languages, very professional in appearance and presentation, but not as personable as most CDs.

Royal is making lots of errors at the detail level. For example the Pinnacle passengers are told that Chops opens for breakfast at 7:30, but the staff doesn't arrive until 8:00.

The descriptions of shore excursions have been lacking in accuracy and in some cases very misleading. I expect most of these issues are occuring at the corporate, not ship level. The first of these I wrote about previously. The shore excursion I cancelled, is described as being easy for the mobility impaired, and is over paved pathways for wheelchairs. The shore excursion manager says its nearly 2 miles of cobblestone path, and wheelchair guests must walk in some parts while the wheelchair must be folded and carried.  Certainly a difference in messages. 

Communications lack accuracy and consistency. Royal is pushing everyone to use their app, but the app is often wrong. I only follow a few things, but on several occasions the app listed a certain entertainment and it just wasn't true.

Just as I am writing this I get burned again by the app. The app says they are doing virtual fireworks in two70 at 11:30 AM.  I think great, as usually they are late at night after I am asleep. You know the rest. It just doesn't happen. The app is in error. Many other passengers read the same app, gathered in two70, then left as there was nothing.

A printed daily compass is getting harder and harder to find. They still print some, but they are getting as rare as hens teeth.

More significant errors for disembarkation. The paperwork for wheel chair assistance says meet in Giovanni's. The app doesn't say, and Ana on the recorded TV information channel, says you must call guest relations by 11AM the day before,  and then meet at the Schooner Bar at Disembarkation time. It turns out the paperwork is correct this time.

Passenger behavior is entirely different on each cruise. During the previous two cruises, The Dukes packed whatever venue they played in. This cruise there always are empty seats, sometimes many. Same musicians, same music, same venues, different 4000+ passengers.

On the southern Caribbean and Transatlantic cruises there were a number of passengers that had bought the drink package, yes they are often easy to spot. On the Greek Isles, package sales were almost non-esistant according to the bar staff.

One night I went into the buffet area and it was packed solid at dinner time. There always have been passengers that eat dinner in the buffet, but the percentage is much higher on this cruise.

Lobster, the meal of most conversation, is not being offered in the dining room at all except with an upcharge of $20. The lobster served in the coastal kitchen was a meager 3 ounces at most.

The menu for Europe has substantially changed. It used to be that the menu on every Royal ship was the same. No longer true.

Apple pie, one of my favorite topics, was removed from the menu years ago and replaced with a factory made apple tart. Improved over the years, but never as good as the fresh baked on the ship. A provisioning officer shared that it cost more to provide from shore than to bake it, but it was a desision made by Miami. It was still the factory pastry during the crossing, but now that we are in Europe we again have real apple pie. Probably too many chemicals in the factory one to be used in Europe.

No beef tenderloin on the Greek Isles cruise either. Offered multiple times on the transatlantic. Personally one of the best meal choices.

Balconies are cleaned every 3 or 4 days. Unfortunately they need to be. Just hours after being hosed down, everything is covered with a heavy layer of dust and light sand. A byproduct of the heavy pollution that has existed in the air since we left the Atlantic ocean.

Hiding of ducks has been a thing for a number of years. We brought about 40 with us to spread out over the three cruises.  A couple of days ago we thought it would be nice for the CK (Coastal Kitchen) manager and his assistant to give 4 ducks to the well behaved children that have dined at the same time as us on this leg. Well, I will just blame it on the language barrier. Neither of them could understand that we wanted them to pass them on to the kids. They thanked us and shared how them line them up in thier rooms. Plan foiled.

We try the ducks again a couple days later. This time we ask their waiter to give them the ducks. He is thrilled. Places the ducks on small plates and gives them to each of the children. I could not hear the words, but they were excited and the waiter had a blast doing it. Mission accomplished.

In Naples today the sky is sunny with temperatures in the low 80's. About 11 AM the MSC Divinia docks across from us on the next pier. There are many ferry boats here, I can't see how many other cruise ships.

All in all it has been a great 5 weeks. By far the majority of passengers behave well. There are few children, there rarely are on longer cruises during school time, and again those that are here are well behaved. The Royal employees as always are great.

My "return to" ports on this cruise? I would probably say Rhodes, and Mykonos. My least likely to return to Athens, and Santorini.

Lynn has just returned from her tour of Pompeii. Absolutely confirms that the walking is very difficult. Fabulous tour. Pictures - well that is another story. She lost her phone between the cabin and Pompeii. No pictures to share. Fortunately her phone was turned in to guest relations and it was recovered after a few hours of anxiety. Should I add that the phone is only about 6 months new, a gift from her son?

Time to pack. Headliner show tonight. In the morning we have reserved transportation to our hotel in Rome.