The Bardo Museum is a gem.
There are layers of history here. It houses artifacts and statuary, but its central attraction
is the floor mosaic of the Roman and early Christian periods which have been lifted and preserved.
The Bardo is by itself good reason to come to Tunis.
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Carthage is not just a big expanse of ruins. It's an upscale residential suburb of Tunis.
There are archaeological sites scattered throughout the city. Very little remains of the Punic
Carthage of Hannibal. The Romans sacked and razed that Carthage in mid-second century B.C.
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The Noordam arrived in Valletta, Malta in early morning when the light sparkles off the white
stones of the sixteenth century battlements. Perhaps nowhere in the world is a harbor so picturesque and so architecturally
imposing as here.
Valletta was built in the late 1500's after the Knights of St.John had withstood the epic
siege of the Turks in 1565. The Knights (now called the Knights of Malta) remained in control of
Malta until Napoleon removed them in 1798. The French, in turn, were kicked out by the English in
1800. Malta remained a British Crown Colony until it became independent in 1964.
We were able to visit The Mdina and the town of Mosta. A walking tour of the city of
Valletta included the Palace of the Grand Masters, St. John's Co-Cathedral, Fort St. Elmo and the
bomb scarred War Museum where, during World War II, the Allies planned and directed the invasion of
Sicily. All things considered our Malta experience
was the most rewarding so far on this cruise.
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Next stop: Palermo.
Just as the Germans bombed Malta, the Allies pounded Sicily and particularly Palermo.
Many of the bombed out buildings and facilities along the waterfront still stand as ruined shells.
It appears the prosperity that has benefited most of Europe has not yet come to Sicily. However,
Palermo still offers a wealth of interesting tourist experiences.
Holland America had put together five different tours of Palermo and Northwestern Sicily.
We chose the one which included a visit to Cefalu, a small seaside resort town about forty miles
east of Palermo. This proved to be a good choice. The visual trip along the coastal highway was
filled with the blue Mediterranean and rural countryside. Cefalu is one of the places on earth
where the architecture blends with the landscape and you can't help feeling good about it.
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On the next morning we arrived in Civitavecchia, Rome's port city. This was the final stop for
our cruise. Most all of the passengers chose to tour Rome and then return to spend the night on
board before debarking the following morning. We signed up for the tour of St. Peter's Basilica and
the Vatican Museum. This was a mistake.
The handling of tour groups at St. Peters is like a production line. Each group is allowed
a short period of time. The crowd in the Basilica was elbow to elbow. Don't even try to hear your
tour guide. Forget about taking any pictures unless you are eight feet tall. The Vatican Museum
was just as frustrating. After waiting in the courtyard for over an hour, we were allowed in and
hustled down a couple of corridors and into the Sistine Chapel for ten minutes. If one wants to
avoid the waiting and the frustration, one would be best advised to go on your own.
The next morning the debarkation process went smoothly except for the few passengers who had
early flights home. Since we were staying over in Rome for a couple of days, we were among the last to leave the ship. We arranged through Holland America for a bus transfer to Rome, which is about fifty miles from Civitavecchia. The bus unloaded us in the center of Rome at the Piazza Barberini from where we took a cab to our hotel.
The Hotel Piazza di Spagna
is in a 17th century building one block from the Spanish Steps. It has sixteen rooms on four
levels and has been operated by the same family for three generations. It is in the middle of the
finest shopping area in Rome. We booked it through the internet and are fortunate to have chosen
Armed with a guidebook and a map, we spent two terrific days soaking up a lot of what Rome
has to offer. The visual history is a bit overwhelming. There are vestiges of each period of Rome's
2700 years from the Iron Age huts through to the present. The best way to see and appreciate all
of this is to (1), know what you are looking at (hence the guidebook), (2), pre-plan your route
(the map) and (3), go from place to place by taxi (because it's really fast and an adventure in itself).
Epilogue: The trip on the whole was well worthwhile. We set out to see the western
Mediterranean port cities with the least possible hassle, and that's what we got. Lisbon, Barcelona,
Malta and Rome were outstanding and deserved much more that the few hours allotted to them.
Holland America provided the transportation and it was done in good style. Noordam's public
areas were meticulously clean. The stewards and waiters were efficient and friendly. Beyond that,
the ship was in business to sell the passenger as much as possible... tours, jewelry, wine, liquor,
art prints etc. Each department an accountable profit center. The ship's operations officers were
aloof and mostly stayed out of sight. We came away with the distinct impression Holland America
was well into the process of becoming "Carnivalized".
After Note: In November 2004, the Noordam made her final cruise under the Holland America flag. She was sold toThomsom Cruise Lines and now sails as the Celebration. A new Noordam, a Vista class ship, went into service in 2006. During the winter it is based in New York for Caribbean cruises.
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