Travel Tuesday: Mediterranean Part II

Hi habibis!  Welcome to our final installment of Travel Tuesday – fitting, since many people will be traveling today for Christmas.  Today, let me share with you the rest of my Mediterranean travels.   The post is going up a few hours late because it took me so long to choose from all my pictures.  (See Mediterranean Part I here and my Northern European travels here and here.) These all came after my study abroad year, and I’ll cover them chronologically rather than by country, because that’s the easiest way for me to keep it straight.  (Some are repeats.)

The summer after my study abroad year we took a Trafalgar bus tour through Italy, which I accidentally blogged about in one of my Northern European travels posts.  So here it is again:

We saw Rome, Florence, Capri, Venice, Pompei, Pisa, Ravenna, Assisi, Naples, Siena, and probably others that I’ve forgotten.  It was an awesome trip.  We did everything.  I LOVED seeing the churches (of course) and the medieval cities and villages (my other favorite places to visit), and of course the countryside and the coastline were gorgeous and we ate amazing food.  In Rome we saw the catecombs and St. Peter’s Basilica, including the Sistine Chapel (but not the pope).  In Florence the Duomo was under construction but we saw the Ponte Vecchio.  (I forgot the name of it and then remembered and then had the line from “Kiss Me Kate” playing in my head – you know the song, “Where is the Life that Late I Led,” where Petrucchio details all the ladies he’s romanced all over Italy? You know what rhymes with Vecchio?  Becky-weckio.  Hehehe.)   I didn’t like Pompei – it was hot and frankly it creeps me out a little.  Capri was gorgeous.  (We saw little of Naples except for the boat ride to Capri, I’m afraid.)  The bus drive drove down the winding roads and hair pin turns of the Amalfi coast like it was nothing.  Venice, with St. Mark’s Square, was also really cool.  It was an amazing trip.

My senior year one of the Jesuits at my university organized a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  As I mentioned last week, my experience of Israel while studying abroad was a half hour cab ride through Eilat and it reminded me of Florida.  My parents sent me on the pilgrimage as my graduation present because they are amazingly generous people.

We went all over Israel and the West Bank. We saw beautiful churches. I had expected Israel to be desert-y, like Egypt, but it’s quite green. (In part because they take a lot of water from the River Jordan – I remember assignments in Arabic class where we had to listen to news reports about their treaties with Jordan over water usage.) We started our trip on the Mediterranean near Haifa. Then we drove up into the Golan Heights (there were a lot of helicopters – it made me nervous) to see where Jesus drove the demons into the herd of pigs.  There are ruins of a monastery there.

In the Galilee we saw the church at Peter’s house. It’s amazing. It’s a modern glass church over the rock foundations of what they say is the apostle Peter’s house, right near the Sea of Galilee. Galilee was beautiful, my favorite region of Israel.

We saw Cana, where the church is (I think) 18th century. It looked kind of baroque to me. We went to Bethlehem and saw the Church of the Nativity, which is huge and amazing.  You could see the poverty when we crossed into the West Bank.  Even in Bethlehem, which gets a lot of religious tourism, it’s not the same.


The priest organizing the trip wanted to go to Jericho but our tour guide refused to take us.  We went to the Dead Sea and swam.

In Jerusalem we went up on the Mount of Olives where Jesus spent his last night. We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was another amazing church. We also saw the Garden Tomb, where some Protestants believe Jesus was buried, which is much simpler. It’s a big contrast!

The churches were amazing. I’m so glad I went. I may be the only person in my family to ever visit the Holy Land – you never know how the political situation will be there.  I don’t want to get into the politics too much but I never felt particularly safe while there. I prayed the rosary every day. Part of it was the history – suicide attacks, the intifada, and the Israelis’ invasion of Lebanon only the year before. Part of it was that, with my past travel, I had a little trouble getting into the country and I was concerned that I might get stopped at a check point. That never happened but it added some anxiety to the trip.

Anyway, more travels!  We’re getting near the end, I promise.  A few years ago we went on a western Mediterranean cruise with my cousins. It went from Barcelona to Rome and back. None of us had ever been to Spain. We flew in a day early to explore Barcelona, and we did despite being quite jet lagged.

I’d really like to make a quilt one day about my travels – or maybe multiple quilts – and the first place that always comes to mind is Barcelona. It’s Gaudi’s art and architecture that struck me so much. I took dozens if not hundreds of pictures. I didn’t love all of it but it’s all striking.

From there we sailed to France. We landed first in Toulon, the port for Provence. We couldn’t go on an excursion because we had to go to mass. (Note: if you are planning to take a cruise and religious services are important to you, do your research before you book. Some cruise lines offer mass, a non-denominational Christian service, and sabbath services. Some cruise lines won’t have anything unless it’s a big holiday, and your itinerary may not allow you to attend services in port. In this case we were lucky and we landed in Toulon early enough to attend mass at a church near the port, but I went on a cruise recently where that wasn’t the case.) So we didn’t really get to see Provence but we got to explore Toulon. It’s not the most beautiful city in France but Sunday was market day. We sampled fresh olives and window shopped among the locals. That’s a slice of life in France that we never would have experienced otherwise.  We also went to Nice, which I’d forgotten about until I saw my pictures.

Our other stop in France was the medieval city Eze and a trip over the border to Monte Carlo. I love old medieval cities, where every corner brings a new surprise, beautiful flowers in a stone wall or sudden Mediterranean vistas.

Monte Carlo has the casino, so luxe. My cousin M is a car aficionado and I think his favorite part of Monaco was the luxury cars parked outside, cars so expensive I couldn’t even contemplate having that much money, much less spending it all on a car.

Our last stops were Florence and Rome. We’d been to both before, on our bus tour. We explored Florence on our own. We were able to see the Duomo, which was no longer under construction, and revisit the sites we wanted to see again. It was lovely.

We picked an excursion to go wine tasting in the Lake District outside of Rome. It was rainy – not the best weather to enjoy the scenery.  Some of us, myself included, had a touch of food poisoning and my brother developed an allergy to something at te end of the cruise, so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we would have otherwise.

For our vacation the next year we took an eastern Mediterranean cruise. (We take a lot of cruises. My parents like them. You can see a lot without worrying about foreign languages, transportation, border crossings, etc. you don’t need to keep packing and unpacking and if you have picky eaters – I’m vegetarian and my cousin C, who is now vegan, was the pickiest eater I’d ever seen before she was vegan – you know you’ll have stuff you can eat in the ship. I know cruises aren’t for everyone – some people like a more flexible itinerary and the ability to travel on their own schedule – but they work well for us.) This cruise was Venice to Istanbul!! It was an amazing itinerary. My dad knew he wanted to go back to Venice since we’d been on the bus tour. Again we went a day early to explore. We walked from the port to St. Mark’s Square, using a map to traverse the piazzas. Again, this was a different experience, parts of Venice that fewer tourists get to see. It was so worth it. In the evening we sat in St. Mark’s Square and ate gelato under the stars while we listened to live music. Amazing.  The next day, the cruise ship sailed out of the port through the Grand Canal, so we sailed by St. Mark’s Square and passed palazzo after palazzo.

The rest of our itinerary included Kotor (Montenegro), Split (Croatia), Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini (Greece), and Istanbul and Ephesus (Turkey). Of these, my sister and I had been to Istanbul before and loved it, so we were excited to go back.

It would be hard to choose a favorite. Athens was very cool – we saw the Parthenon!

Mykonos and Santorini were beautiful; of the two we preferred Santorini.  It was prettier and had more to do. The island is a crescent formed from a volcanic explosion – the crater in the center was filled by the Mediterranean. We had such good food (and wine!) everywhere we went.

My cousins in Hungary have gone on vacation on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, but I didn’t realize how wonderful it was until we went there ourselves. It’s really beautiful and it has all sorts of outdoor activities! Beaches, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing – you name it, you can do it. The Roman emperor Diocletian was from the area and retired to Split, where he built his palace. (He was one of the few emperors to die a natural death, in part because he did actually retire.) The palace was used for practical purposes – homes and apartments in the upper area and garbage in the basements – in later centuries, and it hasn’t been fully restored, but the excavated basements were actually pretty well preserved (by the garbage). That was pretty cool.

In Kotor we saw the old town, the famous church, and the local museum. It was cute but the least exciting of everywhere we visited.  Here’s a picture of the view as we sailed toward Kotor.

Turkey was amazing.    In Istanbul we hit all the big sites, and I will tell you, to me the Blue Mosque is just as stunning every time I see it.  It’s lit with lovely hanging light fixtures, shaped like big round wagon wheels suspended from the ceiling.  You can see the beautiful mosaic designs on the ceilings.  Turkish decor is so appealing, isn’t it?

The history of the Hagia Sophia is that it was a church under the Byzantine Empire, and when the Ottomans took over it became a mosque.  Now they’ve turned it into a museum.  They’ve stripped some of the mosque decor and uncovered some of the old church mosaics.  You can’t quite get a feel of what it looked like as a mosque or a church, but it’s still pretty cool looking.

We also took a cruise on the Bosphorus (amazing!) and went shopping in the bazaar and we went to one of the palaces, which I’d seen before, but not that part – we went to the treasury and saw the sultan’s jewels and clothes and swords.  Very cool.

The second day in Turkey was Ephesus.  Ephesus was a Greek and then Roman town near the coast along the Mediterranean.  If you’re interested in ancient ruins, they have them!

Ephesus is religiously significant for Christians, who believe that Mary moved to Ephesus after Jesus died and spent her last days there.  (Muslims may believe this, too – I’m not sure.)  There’s a cute little stone house that serves as a chapel there.  We were there early in the morning and it was peaceful despite the crowds.

These are all my Mediterranean travels!  I hope you enjoyed these posts.  I’m happy to delve into them further if you have any questions – and one day I think I’d like to do an “inspirations” post – all the beautiful tiles, architecture, paintings, mosaics, etc. that make me want to create.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll show you part III of R and M’s Wedding Knot quilt.


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