No. of Recommendations: 8
Note: Shorty after arriving on our ship, my laptop quit working. From now on, I will be subject to the ability to type this story on computers which will accommodate memory sticks. Fortunately, Celebrity does, but I think Holland America does not. I will keep this going as long as I can, but the postings may be abbreviated, sporadic or simply missing.

Venice, Italy (Celebrity MS Silhouette) – August 10-11
You thought I was leaving, but nope – just changing venue for a couple of more days in Venice, but this time on a cruise ship tied up at the cruise port. Some ships used to dock along the Grand Canal, but since the Costa disaster this is no longer permitted. This is a much larger ship than I generally prefer, but it was here (also considered two others which were smaller and posher, but the cruises were shorter and frankly this cruise was low balled to the point that I couldn’t turn it down). The only stipulation was that it was based on a “guaranteed” room – you get a low price – in this case about $100 per person a night for a veranda cabin and they have to give you at least that grade, but wherever they have space in the ship (we ended up with a decent “mid-ship” cabin. I don’t expect any bad weather so it’s a cheap way to get to taste the former Yugoslav republics (and some other spots – most of which we have already been to in the past). So I have to “suffer” through another day in Venice – punish me ?. The cruise bounces back and forth in the Adriatic before rounding the end of the Italian boot (with a touch in Sicily) before heading back north on the other side of Italy.
So, before getting on board (but after breakfast), we take a vaporetto out to Murano, an island famous for glass making (though I’ve never found any bargains there, it’s fun to watch the craftsmen). Then it’s on to Burano with its small brightly colored houses. On the way back, we ate lunch (with an American family we met) at a reasonably priced restaurant near the “ponte dell’Accademia” – Taverna San Trovaso at Dorso Dorso, 1016. I had the now familiar cuttlefish in its ink and the boss had pasta in a pesto sauce. We head back to check out of the hotel and take the water taxi to the cruise port (we shared it with another couple at 90 euros – expensive, but at least I didn’t bust a gut dragging my luggage).

Since the ship is overnighting in Venice, while this should give us a chance to visit Venice’s number one art gallery, the Galleria della’Accademia which shouldn’t be missed, we’ve decided to miss it (we’re about museumed out by now). Another of the city’s attractions that shouldn’t be missed is the beach on Lido, just 15 minutes from St Mark’s Square via ferry #1, but again, we’re missing it.
The Celebrity MS Silhouette first impressions: We have accumulated enough points on Celebrity to be in their top tier elite group which gives us a few perks such as 90 minutes of free internet, one free laundry, and a few other trivial privileges. Celebrity is not as liberal with allowing passengers to bring wine aboard (in Italy, home of cheap, good wine) and we are only allowed one bottle each (but smuggle a couple of extras aboard anyway). The ship is huge and getting from place to place takes some time. The food is as good as Holland America, but the pastries, ice cream and desserts are not that great. The stage show has 14 singers and dancers and is therefore about twice the size of the typical Holland America Line’s crew. Fortunately, our elite status gets us to the front of tender lines when the ship uses lifeboats to shuttle to shore, but the ship has a lot of passangers. There is a tendancy to nickle and dime at every opportunity. The ship supplied shuttle bus can cost $12-14 a person (round trip) when a taxi of four people would cost 10 euros each way. They sell engine room/bridge tours for $150. They sell ice cream, expresso, etc. around the ship. Wine is very expensive. We have a $200 credit by being stockholders in RCL, the owner of the line (Holland America does the same if you own CCL stock). The cuise is a good value if you can keep the extra expenses down. The ship has been heavily sold in Europe and the passangers are very varied (and announcements are in multiple languages). There are lots of kids and young people (vs. Holland America where the average age is approaching terminal).

Koper, Slovenia – August 12, 2012
The town of Koper is officially bilingual, with both Slovene and Italian as official languages. Koper is also one of the main road entry points into Slovenia from Italy, which lies to the north of the municipality. Koper narrates a story of its past of being part of numerous empires and duchies (Holy Roman, Venetian, Roman, etc., etc.).

Koper's main sight of interest is its Venetian-era old city, aptly named Old Town. Its main street, Cevljarska is no more than two or three meters wide in some places and is packed from dawn to dusk. Cevljarska will lead you towards the town's main square, Titov Trg (Tito Square), which is dominated by the bell tower of the St. Mary's of the Assumption Cathedral. Perhaps the most visible building on the square is the hacienda-like Praetorian Palace, the seat of the city's governor during the Venetian Republic.
Koper also has a small pebble beach, Mestno Kopališce which lacks sand, but is a lovely place to soak up the sun or to swim in the warm water. It’s located on Kopalisko Nabreze, next to the marina. There are large areas of lawns for sunbathing, and an enclosed swimming area. As the town is known for its seafood, we’re keeping our eyes open for Koper-style fast food - Okrepcevalnica bars (small, Italian-style places which serve great food of the primo, second, piatti variety at lunchtime). It seems you can usually eat very well here for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant. For those who can’t resist shopping, there’s Mercator and Supernova, Koper's two big shopping centers. The newly-opened Planet Tus includes high-end shops such as Zara, H&M, C&Q, Intimissimi, Bershka, Promode, Hervis, MEXX, Newyorker, Panyblack and Top Shop. On the other hand, since Slovenia is part of the Euro zone, the prices are not particular bargains here.

In short, this stop is an excuse for me to say that I’ve visited Slovenia, but otherwise has not added much to my life.

Ravenna, Italy – August 13, 2012
We’ve been to Rimini about 40 years ago, but never to its neighbor, Ravenna. One of the daytrips we made from Rimini was to the postage stamp sized Republic of San Marino which, if spending time here is worth the time (maybe to see the Ferrari Museum). But, alas, we have only a day and can’t afford the 1 ½ hours each way.

Located on the Adriatic coast in North-East Italy, Ravenna was briefly the capital of the Roman Empire and later the Italian capital of the Byzantine Empire. During this time, incredible mosaics were constructed throughout the city. Described as a symphony of color in Dante's Divine Comedy, Ravenna's well-preserved mosaics are some of the finest remaining in the Western world.
We head off for one of the earliest and best-preserved mosaic monuments in the world. Built in the 5th century, Mausoleo di Galla Placida was constructed for Galla Placidia, the half-sister of Roman Emperor Honorius. The mausoleum is quite deceptive as its very simple exterior is in sharp contrast with the incredible, colorful mosaics inside and then go on a walk-about to see some of the others (Basilica di San Vitale, Neonian Baptistery, Basilica Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Basilica Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Arian Baptistery, Archiepiscopal Chapel, Mausoleo di Theodoric and Domus Dei Tappeti di Pietra). The tomb of Dante Alighieri, the author of the literary masterpiece Divine Comedy, is also a must-see. Dante spent the last 20 years of his life in Ravenna after being exiled from Florence in 1302. There are also several beaches within walking distance, but we’re about beached-out by now. Some car aficionados have headed off to the Ferrari Museum (but somehow simply looking at one is somehow lacking the fun of driving one – I’ll wait). The port has purchased 20 new bicycles which are available to cruise guests. The pick up location is approximately a 5-minute walk from the shuttle (a bit of a rip-off at $14 a person for the bus) drop off location and you'll need to show your cruise card to start peddling down the bike paths along the coast.
For a nosh we stop at a piadinerie for piadina (thin, Italian flatbread served with cold cuts, jam, Nutela or cheese). Afterwards, for lunch it’s tortellini (Cappelletti) with Bolognese meat sauce, and a bottle of local SanGiovese wine.

Split, Croatia – August 14, 2012
Uggh! Another non-Euro currency (untradeable and only good for two days – in Split and Dubrovnik). Croatia uses the Kuna (HRK), so I pick up a handful from a local Bancomat (ATM). Split is Croatia’s second largest city, but the “big deal” is Diocletian's Palace, one of the best-preserved Roman royal residences on the planet. Built on the seacoast of Split around 295 AD, the structure is more like a city – consisting of sixteen towers, three temples and an emperor's mausoleum. The town IS the palace and the stop is worthwhile.

After some quality time in a internet café (poor substitute for my own laptop as I can’t do financial stuff on a public PC), we visit the synagogue. The congregation has been disbanded and there are roughly 100 Jews (or “almost” Jews) that are around. At one point, 10% of the population was Jewish, but after the Germans took over from the Italians during the war, most of the population (which had been here since Roman times and augmented during the Sephardic Diaspora after 1492 and then by Eastern Europeans) was sent to the extermination camps. Even circumcising is no longer practiced, as that would make Jews stand out. Services are held a couple of times a year when a rabbi comes to town from Zagreb.

Soccer is king in Croatia. The locals are crazy about their team (but that’s not unique – most cities around the world are feverishly committed to their football teams).

Dubrovnik, Croatia – August 15, 2012
Located in the very south of Croatia, Dubrovnik is rich in history and natural beauty. Dubrovnik's landscape is unexpected picturesque. Although severely damaged (now repaired) in the attack by the Serbs and Montenegrins in the fall of 1991, Dubrovnik's impressive medieval architecture and its beautiful Mediterranean landscape take your breath away.

The old city of Dubrovnik and the walls that surround it have been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Portions of the wall date back to the 13th century. The ramparts are intact and encircle the old city with a circumference of more than 1.5 miles. The walls can be walked, but since it is hot out, we elect to omit this.

Trying to find the city’s historical context we visit the large Onofrio Fountain, the Franciscan Monastery, and the Rectors' Palace (once the seat of Dubrovnik's Republic government. The elected Rector was not permitted to leave this building during his one-month term without permission from the Senate). Today, the palace is a museum with furnished rooms, Baroque paintings, and historical exhibits that will give you a taste of how the ruling class and the aristocracy used to live in Dubrovnik. We then head out to enjoy a cable car ride to Srd Hill for spectacular views of Dubrovnik Old Town and its entire Riviera.

Again, after some time in the internet café, we visit the local synagogue. This too, has no congregation, with most of the indigenous Jews sent to the German extermination camps during the World War. The more recent “ethnic cleansing” of a decade ago is spoken about if the topic comes up, but is not dwelled upon by the local population.

Bari, Italy – August 16, 2012
Yeah! Back in Euro Land.
A harbor for over two thousand years, Bari is a charming city on the Adriatic coast. The old town, Barivecchia, is known for its medieval ambiance and buildings. Once more the ship offered a shuttle service for $12 a person, but we shared a taxi with another couple for 10 euros and then found it close enough to walk back to the ship from the old town.
For those of you who don’t believe there is a Santa Claus, Bari is home to the bones of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was renowned for his legendary generosity. The Basilica di San Nicola, built between 1087 and 1197, was built to protect Nicholas' remains after their retrieval from the saint's original shrine in Turkey. The Basilica is also home to the uniquely sculptural 12th century cathedra (bishop's throne) of Elias. While we were in the crypt gazing at a stone column which apparently houses whatever knick knacks are left of St. Nick, there was a service going on which seemed Eastern Orthodox to me (especially while being watched from the dozen or so very Byzantine appearing icons hanging on the wall). I actually found the old town to be more charming than I expected.
We’ve decided not to explore the sprawling Castello Normanno-Svevo located just outside the old city walls. Included in admission is access to the Gipsoteca, a permanent gallery featuring plaster copies of Romanesque sculptures from the 12th and 13th centuries, but frankly it’s just too much work right now, so we’ll go shopping. Similarly, we also blow off the Castel Del Monte - an octagonal prism with octagonal bastions at each corner, which has eight rooms on each floor and an eight-sided courtyard at its center (whose image is on the back of the Italian-issue Euro one-cent coin). This castle can be reached by taxi, although the fare is quite expensive.
As one of Southern Italy's more prosperous cities, modern Bari is usually filled with shopping and dining options, but this is August – when all the stores are closed for vacation. It’s also important to remember when the stores are open that availability doesn’t mean bargains in Italy so you should treat a shopping foray the way you would visiting a museum.
For lunch, we enjoy a plate of orecchiette (hat-shaped pasta) and a plate of riso, patate e cozze (rice with potatoes and mussels). The menu also listed a variety of fresh fish, octopus, sea urchins and mussels. Like the fashions, the ready availability of seafood does not mean that it is rationally priced (and be careful to read the small print on lines associated with the menu for additional service charges).

Kotor, Montenegro – August 17, 2012
One of the oldest and most famous Montenegrin towns is Kotor. This coastal town is located at the foot of mountain Lovcen. The approach to Kotar is absolutely stellar from the standpoint of scenery. While we watched the approach from our cabin in the morning, we have been invited to watch from the bow deck as the ship leaves the town this afternoon. Kotor is a typical Mediterranean town with old narrow streets, romantic bars and restaurants, small shops, antique monuments, churches and picturesque buildings. Listed as UNESCO World Natural and Historical Heritage Site, Kotor has become a famous yachting and sailing destination.
Small sailboats can be rented and there are hiking paths in the hills. There were also a handful of mega-yachts with the largest flying a Russian flag. There is also diving available (but if I’m going to dive it will be in the Red Sea, the Pacific islands or the Caribbean – not the Adriatic). We head instead to the Old City of Kotor - Kotor Stari Grad (stari meaning “old” in most Slavic languages and “grad” meaning “city” – as in Stalingrad, for example) - one of the best preserved medieval towns in the Adriatic. The Old City is surrounded by an impressive city wall and moat, which was built by the Republic of Venice and which retains much of its Venetian architectural influence. As expected, there are a great number of monuments of medieval architecture: churches, cathedrals, palaces and museums. It is also home to a large number of barber shops and beauty salons allowing me to get clipped at 12 euros and she who must be obeyed got a paint touchup and blowout for 25 euros (which compared very favorably to the 147 euros the same cost us in Paris).

It’s also sobering to realize that a few years ago, the wonderful people living in this town were killing the nice people living in the town we visited yesterday.

The cuisine in Kotor is mostly Mediterranean with menus crammed with fish specialties. While a traditional Montenegro meal would include smoked ham, cheese olives and wine, we elect instead to try the local thick fish soup and satisfy our sweet tooth with a frustula (a crunchy, dry sweet cookie of rhombus shape), a potato boureka (the sort of thing that Abolafia’s in Yaffo or multiple places in Istanbul are famous for) and mug sized cups of Turkish coffee (which are usually the size of expresso’s).
Inside the walls of the Old Kotor lies a number of shops and boutiques which sell a variety of local and Italian products. Our only purchase is of a hand painted seashell/refrigerator magnet sold for a Euro by an eleven year old local entrepreneur.

I am again going to post this early as “a bird in the hand…”

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