Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise – video

On the fifth day of our Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises we arrived at Messina in Sicily and took the excursion to the pretty town of Taormina which is known for its Greek theatre. Taormina is around 45 minutes drive from the cruise port and has a good view of Mount Etna, which is the most active volcano in Europe and can often be seen glowing or producing a natural firework display at night time. Just last year Taormina received a shower of ash from Mount Etna and our guide pointed out the peninsula of black rock below the town that was the result of a lava flow in ancient times.

View of Mt Etna from Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Mt Etna from Taormina

Taormina has long been a strategically important point in Sicily, since it overlooks the shipping heading towards the Straits of Messina. The town was founded by the Greeks in 350BC and at the height of its wealth and importance had five temples as well as the theatre. Later the Romans dominated the area and over the centuries Taormina has been invaded by the Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish, creating a melting pot of cultural influences.

I hope you enjoy the video our our cruise excursion to Taormina below

If you can’t see the video above from our cruise excursion to Taormina with MSC Cruises, view it on my blog here or on YouTube here.

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In Roman times, Sicily was known for its fine wines and the olive and almond trees that thrived here, while the Arabs brought aromatic plants, coffee, lemons and sugar. All these are used to create Sicilian specialties, such as lemon granita using the ice from the peak of Mount Etna, a sweet almond liqueur and the coloured marzipan fruits you can see in the shops of Taormina. The locals love to start the day in summer with a coffee granita for breakfast and you’ll spot the local pastries called cannoli on sale, which are a cone of pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese.

Marzipan fruit at Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Marzipan fruit at Taormina

The town of Taormina is in two parts, the area on the hilltop that we visited and Taormina Mare, which we could see below us by the sea. This is where the train from Messina stops if you plan to visit independently and a funicular connects the two towns.

We passed through the first gate of the old town, named Porta Catania, since it is the one that faces the city of Catania, the gate at the other end of town being Porta Messina, facing the city of Messina. We stopped in the first small square with a church and a central fountain that is topped by the symbol of Taormina, a centaur, half woman and half horse. Our guide pointed out the beautiful old town hall, flying the European, Italian and Sicilian flags, since Sicily has its own constitution and parliament. The symbol of Sicily that we could see on the flag and all around town has three legs representing the three points of Sicily, with the Medusa head at the centre.

Fountain square in Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Fountain square in Taormina

We walked on down the narrow street Corso Umberto lined with many shops selling fashionable clothing, hand painted ceramics, pastries and marzipan sweets. Many of the old houses had Spanish style wrought iron balconies and our guide explained that this end of the town dated back to the Middle Ages. The second square is known as Panorama square, since from here you can get a wonderful view over the sea and lower town towards Mount Etna. This is the start of the original Greek area of town, leading towards Piazza Victor Emanuale that was the site of the Greek agora and later the Roman Forum or main public square. Since the whole street is pedestrianised, it made a very pleasant walk down a slight hill to the square where the Palazzo Corvaja was located. This building was built up over the centuries by the Romans, Normans and Arabs, being used both as a private residence and a parliament building, but now houses the tourist office and a museum.

Panorama square in Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Panorama square in Taormina

From here, our group turned right up the hill to the Greek Theatre which is one of the main attractions of Taormina. The theatre was built by the Greeks in the 3rd century, but later rebuilt and enlarged by the Romans who added an upper story to increase the capacity from 5000 to 7000 people. The audience have the best view in town, looking over the sea towards Mount Etna, which is framed between the arches at the back of the stage. This is where Greek plays were performed and later the Romans staged gladiatorial contests and fights with wild animals. The theatre is still used throughout the summer season for opera, ballet and other musical productions, with well-known Italian and international artists coming to perform. The acoustics are so perfect that it is said that those in the cheap seats at the top can hear just as well as those in the more desirable front rows.

The Greek amphitheatre at Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Greek theatre at Taormina

As our tour ended at the Greek Theatre, we had 45 minutes to wander back through the town, enjoying looking in the shops and stopping for a gelato, although I would have loved to have another hour for a better look.

On my return to the ship I was booked in for a relaxing facial treatment in the Aura Spa. I lay down on the treatment bed and was covered in a towel, while soft lights changed colour and soothing music and birdsong wafted around me. I must admit that it was very easy to drift off with only the occasional cool cream or hot cloth bringing me back and I left with my skin feeling beautifully soft and smooth.

Spa swan towel display Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Spa swan towel display in the Aura Spa

Tomorrow we leave Europe and arrive in Tunis where we plan to explore the ancient site of Carthage and the pretty coastal village of Sidi Bou Said.

Tips for visiting Taormina on a cruise excursion

- The town of Taormina is around a 45 minute drive from the port of Messina
- The streets of the town are shady but the Greek theatre is quite open, so you may wish to bring a sunhat and put on your sunscreen
- Although I always carry a bottle of water, there are plenty of snack bars, restaurants and small shops along the route of your tour to buy food and drinks.
- If you need the rest rooms on arrival, there are some in the garage where your coach will drop you. There are also some in the panorama square half way along your tour and some in the Greek theatre where your tour will end.
- At the end of the tour we had about 45 minutes of free time, but this went very quickly as it takes 20-30 minutes to walk back to the coach.

Cruise Excursion Options for Messina

The Messina City Tour (3.5 hrs, £35 Adult) includes stops at many of the city’s ancient sites, with a chance to admire the famous jewel-studded Golden Mantle that covers the picture of the Madonna and Child. Popular alternatives are a visit to Tindari & the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna (4 hrs, £42 Adult) or Taormina (4 hrs, £45 Adult) for unique insights into early Grecian life. If you’re looking for natural beauty, visit Mount Etna (4 hrs, £42 Adult) and the otherworldly lava landscape of the Silvestri craters. Finally, the adventurous can choose the Jeep Adventure (4 hrs, £79 Adult) tour through 19th-century forts and old military roads and lovely coastal views.

Other articles in my MSC Mediterranean Cruise series

Join me on a week’s Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruise
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise

MSCCruiseslogoThanks to MSC cruises who hosted Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy travelled on MSC Splendida from Barcelona on a 1 week cruise calling at Genoa, Marseille, Naples, Messina, Tunis. Prices for a similar cruise start at around £700 per person. For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise – video

The next stop on our Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises was Naples and as the ship was not arriving until lunchtime we had an opportunity to explore more of the ship. The Aqua Park pool area was a sea of orange towels with every sun lounger occupied by bikini bodies, pulsating music and entertainment in full swing at one end. Not really our scene but it was good to see groups and families having fun and enjoying the sunshine.

Aqua Park pool area on MSC Splendida in Naples Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Aqua Park Pool area on MSC Splendida in Naples

The one thing I really wanted to visit while in Naples was Pompeii and as the boat was only in Naples for the afternoon we booked the MSC cruise excursion. There were around fifty in our English-speaking group and the coach took half an hour to reach Pompeii, with our guide giving us some information about the city of Naples on the way.

I hope you enjoy the video about our day in Pompeii below

If you can’t see the video above about our MSC Cruise excursion to Pompeii view it on my blog here or on YouTube here

Download the Naples and Pompeii Video
Subscribe to all my videos in I-tunes
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The town of Pompeii was buried by ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD and although the excavated site is now one of the major tourist attractions in this area, a third of it still lies underground. The volcano remains active and it seems only a matter of time before it erupts again, since the guide pointed out the lava flow on the slopes from the eruption in the 1940s. Excavations started in 1748 when the contemporary account of the eruption by the ancient historian Pliny helped to locate the site under 22 feet of ash.

Heather at Pompeii Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather on our cruise excursion to Pompeii

Despite the large size of our group, the guide managed us very well although I could have done without the shopping opportunity at the ‘coral factory’, the main benefit of which seemed to be the use of the bathrooms. We entered the site through the Marine Gate, which was originally very close to the sea, since the coastline was altered by the eruption and is now further away. This is where the villas of the wealthy were built on the city walls, their walls painted with expensive red and yellow that can still be seen.

From here, visitors from the port could walk up the stone paved street to the market to buy wine and olive oil, which would then be carried back to their ships by slaves. The guide pointed out the white marble stones embedded in the road, which acted like cats-eyes to reflect the moonlight and illuminate the way, as well as the niches where burning torches would be placed on dark nights.

We reached the Forum, where the most important public buildings were located, such as the Senate, the Palace of Justice and the major temples. Surrounding the open area were columns and pedestals that would have originally been bases for the many statues of local politicians.

View of Pompeii Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Pompeii

Nearby was the wool factory and laundry, where in the days before soap, urine was used to clean the woolen robes, with conveniently placed terracotta pots placed nearby where men could relieve themselves. Apparently the streets of Pompeii were pretty smelly as the sewage system could not cope with the size of the population. After the eruption survivors could just see the tops of the marble columns sticking out of the top of the ash and they dug tunnels down to ground level and took the marble to build the new town.

Further on we saw a building that had some faded frescos where a couple of plaster casts of the victims of the eruption were on display. One of the figures was wearing a belt and the guide explained that slaves would often wear a belt or collar with the name of their owner.

Frescos at Pompeii Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Frescos at Pompeii

We visited the Roman baths with separate areas for men and women and large marble containers bearing the names of the politicians who had donated them. There seemed to be a recurring theme that politicians would donate items for public use that served as advertising for their re-election. One of the largest houses was the House of the Faun, owned by a wealthy merchant who had not one but two gardens behind the main living quarters.

Next was the Lupanare or brothel – named after the she-wolf, since the prostitutes would make a howling sound to attract their customers. On the walls were erotic scenes that formed a kind of ‘menu’ for customers that are now in the museum in Naples.

At the end of the visit we exited past the Marine gate again and were guided toward the Limoncello shop, which once again provided a useful bathroom stop as well as an opportunity for a free sip of the local Lemon liqueur and to shop for other souvenirs.

We really enjoyed the tour of Pompeii although it really did need a guide (or the use of the audio-guide if visiting independently) to explain the stories behind the stone and brick walls and streets. I was slightly disappointed that we did not see more frescos, mosaics or artifacts from the site as these are on show in the Museum at Naples.

Plaster cast of victim of Pompeii Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Plaster cast of victim of Pompeii

The coach took us back once again to MSC Splendida where we had had dinner tonight in the Santa Fe Tex-Mex restaurant. Additional charges apply in this specialty restaurant and we really enjoyed our Marguerita and perfectly cooked rib-eye steak, which brought back happy memories of our Texas holiday a couple of years ago. The restaurant was surprisingly quiet, although it suited us, as the rest of the ship is very busy. Tomorrow, we arrive at Messina in Sicily and take another excursion to Taormina.

Tips for visiting Pompeii on a cruise excursion

  • Take water and a snack as there is only one café inside the site and little time to stop, so you may be hungry before you return to the ship.
  • Take a hat and wear sun screen, especially in the summer months as the site is hot and dry with not much shade.
  • The coral shop and limoncello shop provide useful bathroom stops as the only other toilets within the site appeared to be at the café, although there are other public toilets immediately outside.

Excursions Options in Naples

We chose the archaeological walking tour of Pompeii (4 hrs, £45 Adult), but an alternative is an excursion to the crater of Vesuvius (4 hrs, £42 Adult) with a view of the beautiful Gulf of Naples. You can also explore Naples’ famous “Posillipo” district, (4 hrs, £35 Adult) with time for shopping, or take coach transfer inland to the Royal Palace of Caserta, a UNESCO World Heritage site (4 hrs, £39 Adult). Also popular is the ferry or hydrofoil transport to Capri Island (4-4.5 hrs, £65 Adult), where you’ll ride a cable car to explore Capri’s historical centre. Watch the MSC Video about the Pompeii excursion.

Other articles in my Mediterranean Cruise series

Join me on a week’s Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruise
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Tunis and Carthage – Day 6 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
A day at sea and back to Barcelona – Day 7 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise

MSCCruiseslogoThanks to MSC cruises who hosted Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy travelled on MSC Splendida from Barcelona on a 1 week cruise calling at Genoa, Marseille, Naples, Messina, Tunis. Prices for a similar cruise start at around £700 per person. For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

Click to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, news and reader offers

HOHT newsletter

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise – video

It was wonderful to wake up to find MSC Splendida docked in the heart of Genoa and look down with a birds eye view of the whole port area around us. Unlike Marseille, we could stroll from the ship to the major sites and within ten minutes we were in the Porto Antico, or old port of Genoa.

View of Genoa from MSC Splendida Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Genoa from MSC Splendida

As we walked along the promenade, this seemed to be where the action was, since it was a Sunday and local families were out having fun all along the waterfront. First we passed the Maritime Museum, a modern glass box which contrasted with the small traditional boats that were moored in front of it. Further along we came to a pirate ship that had been used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean with King Neptune as a figurehead. As in Marseille there were many beautiful yachts in this part of the harbor which now served as a marina and centre for restaurants and museums.

The port of Genoa Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The port of Genoa

I hope you enjoy the video below from our MSC Cruise

If you can’t see the video above about our MSC Cruise view it on my blog here or on YouTube here

Download the Genoa Cruise stop Video
Subscribe to all my videos in I-tunes
If you enjoyed this video, check out the others in my Video archive

Ship used in the film Pirates of the Caribbean Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ship used in the film Pirates of the Caribbean

Beyond the Porto Antico we could see the old town rising up on the hill with church spires and tall terracotta houses, so we turned away from the harbor and started up the hill. There were a few market stalls selling farmers produce, one of them with pesto, a speciality of Genoa. The pedestrian road led up the hill towards an imposing church and but most of the old fashioned shops, such as one selling ornate brass door knockers, were shut as it was Sunday.

Past many old buildings, we turned left and reached Piazza di Ferrari, a large open square surrounded by imposing buildings and a central fountain in the middle dating from 1936. On one side was the Palazzo Ducale, built in the 14th century and the former residence of the Doge or Governor of Genoa, now a public building, with a café and exhibitions in the open interior and courtyards.

Fountain in Piazza de Ferrari Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Fountain in Piazza de Ferrari

We didn’t have a decent map of Genoa and couldn’t see any tourist information offices, so it was a case of following our nose and wandering through the narrow streets of the old town, with high buildings divided by narrow lanes, often with washing hanging across the street. Our wanderings led us to the Porta Soprana, with tall twin towers marking the gate of the old city walls. We stopped here in a small café with a big statue of Elvis outside, in a booth that gave us a good view of the many passers by who stopped to have their photos taken with Elvis. I decided to order a lasagne with pesto, since pesto is the specialty of Genoa, which I enjoyed very much.

The narrow streets of the old town in Genoa Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The narrow streets of the old town in Genoa

After lunch we walked through the old city gate, past a Romanesque cloister belonging to a convent that was knocked down to make way for the road, to reach the Christopher Columbus House. The explorer was born in Genoa and the house is an 18th century replica of the house where he grew up, the original being destroyed by French bombs in 1684.

Christopher Columbus House in Genoa Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Christopher Columbus House in Genoa

From here, we headed back up through the Piazza de Ferrari and turned down a road lined with fashionable shops such as Gucci, although being Sunday they were all shut, so we were able to window-shop without temptation. This led us to Via Garibaldi, a UNESCO world heritage site due to the large number of impressive Palazzo built there in the 16th century to house the Genoese aristocracy. The mansions are collectively called Rolli named after the official scrolls listing the residences that were suitable to play host to visiting state dignitaries. It was considered advantageous by the noble families to be the host of such guests since they could make political and trading connections to further their business interests. This weekend was “Rolli Day” when all the Palazzos were open to the public free of charge, so we stopped at Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino to have a look around.

Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino gardens in Genoa Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino gardens in Genoa

At first we could only see a courtyard with a decorative fountain, but then we were ushered up an interior staircase to a beautiful renaissance garden built into the hillside. The garden was entirely hidden from the Via Garibaldi, but stretched out with lawns lined with plants and a central fountain as well as a shady avenue with classical busts and orange trees. At the end was a statue and fountain and the English-speaking guide even allowed us the special privilege of a view from the upper level looking down on the garden, with a Moorish style tower. She explained that the neighbouring Palazzos had once had similar gardens but these were destroyed to make way for a new road, while since the mayor lived in Palazzo Lomellino he conveniently decided to route the road around his own house. The visit finished with a view of the impressive frescos in the public rooms of the Palazzo, the work of Bernado Strozzi. The second one was unfinished, since the project over-ran, the artist demanded more money and the owner decided not to pay up.

Ceiling fresco at Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ceiling fresco at Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino

Our walk down the Via Garibaldi continued past all the other tall Palazzo, many of which are now museums. We stopped for a delicious ice cream at Profumo di Rosa, a gelataria where we tasted the Rolli flavor, which the owner explained she had created from a 16th century recipe in honour of the Rolli Open Day.

Gelato at Profumo di Rosa in Genoa Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Gelato at Profumo di Rosa in Genoa

By now it was time to rejoin the ship, and we walked back down the street towards the port to join the MSC Splendida again. Tomorrow we arrive in Naples at lunch time and are looking forward to our excursion to Pompeii.

Excursion options in Genoa

A tour of Genoa’s history centre was available (3.5 hrs, £32 Adults ) with a walk through the narrow streets of the historic centre to Piazza de Ferrari”, a light buffet lunch, visit to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and time to explore the old port. A popular excursion for families is by ferry transfer to the Aquarium (3.5 hrs, £32 Adult) with its collections of tropical fish, sharks and dolphins. As an alternative to Genoa you can take an excursion to Portofino (4.5 hrs, £48 Adults) with a 1.5 hr boat trip along the scenic coastline to this charming old fishing port with time to explore before returning again by boat. Watch the MSC video about Genoa

Other articles in my Mediterranean Cruise series

Join me on a week’s Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruise
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Bonjour Marseille - Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Tunis and Carthage – Day 6 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
A day at sea and back to Barcelona – Day 7 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise

Articles about Genoa

Genoa, Italy – City of rich Maritime, Cruising and Ship Building Heritage TripsforTravellers.com
The best of Genoa, Italy GoSeeWrite.com
Genoa: A cruiser’s Guide – Top 5 sights Telegraph.co.uk
10 Great things to do in Genoa Timeout.com
36 Hours in Genoa Nytimes.com

For more information about things to do in Genoa visit www.genova-turismo.it

MSCCruiseslogo Thanks to MSC cruises who are hosting Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy will be travelling on MSC Splendida from Barcelona on a 1 week cruise calling at Genoa, Marseille, Naples, Messina, Tunis. Prices for a similar cruise start at around £700 per person. For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

Click to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, news and reader offers

HOHT newsletter

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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