Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First Stop - Ravenna

So after an memorable first night dinner, the Pacific Princess set sail from Venice.  Since it was late, most of the city was shrouded in darkness.  As opposed to other tourist cities, Venice is more subdued and not illuminated like other destination, which makes departing photos hard to capture.
Like many ports on the Mediterranean, Ravenna has been around for centuries.  Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, all have had their turn running the city.  Good times, bad times, war have all shaped the city  and surrounding area into the current version.  Once away from the port area, we passed through the edge of the town and headed to Bologna.

The area close to town was industrial on one side, and fish farming on other.  Not sure if I would like to eat fish from a waterway across from a refinery.  But after a short time the surrounding area became fields dotted with old stone farmhouses.  Crops changed to orchards and then to vineyards as we headed inland.

The city of Bologna is in the foothills above the coastal plain.  The university there is one of the oldest in Europe and one of the largest.  One of its most noted feature is the shaded arcades.  They were constructed to offer pedestrians protection from the weather as they shopped.  Most of the sidewalks in the old city are covered, in fact there are over 25 miles.  Which was nice since this was the only shore day that we had rain.  It was a brief shower of only about 20 minutes and quickly cleared to reveal beautiful blue skies.
Of course this is Italy, so there are a few churches.  Our shore excursion stopped at a centuries old church complex that included a cloister area.  The brickwork was exceptional and has lasted longer than several ruling empires.
So after a few hours of wandering around, the tour allowed for some shopping time.  The agreed meeting place and time was established and off we went in different directions.  This may sound strange to some people, but I am not a big fan of shopping, my roommate on the other hand LOVES it.  As we wandered the streets, he would pause to look in every shoe or men's store along the way, and also home decor.  To me they are not that different from what can be found at home or on line.  The store that stopped me was the deli.  Windows filled with baked good, pasta and cold cuts.  The being Bologna, there has to be bologna somewhere.  Except in Italy it is called mortadella, the original that was copied by Oscar Meyer.  I was tempted to go in but it being lunch time, it was full of paying customers, so I just looked.
Our lunch was in a very nice restaurant not too far from the main square.  Once inside we walked passed a woman making homemade pasta and were seated in the former wine cellar.  Meals on excursions is a good time to meet people, since it is hard to chat while walking and listening to the guide.  Lunch was local favorites.  Our first plate was sliced cured meats, cheese chunks, olives and nice crusty bread.  The entree was Lasagna Bolognese made with spinach pasta sheets.  Dessert was a very tasty chocolate torte.  And since wine is the national drink of Italy, there were several bottles on the table.  To finish off the meal a nice caffeine filled shot of espresso, then back on the bus to return to the ship.

Remember, when you are looking for vacation ideas, cruises offers the option of visiting many locations, but not having to pack/unpack everyday.  And it is especially true in the Mediterranean, where most of the ancient cities are very close to the coast.  A knowledgeable travel agent like those at Travel Themes and Dreams, can make the difference for a great experience.

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