It's been 7 years since we saw our last total eclipse, having missed the most recent African event - but now it's finally here! A spring cruise in the Mediterranean is just what the doctor ordered, and we arrive in Genoa, Italy, to board the 'Costa Classica' for our fourth eclipse adventure.
Our itinerary will take us to Rome, Alexandria (Egypt), Limassol (Cyprus), Rhodes (Greece), Antalya (Turkey), Naples, and back to Genoa.
Click on each city below to see the pictures:
ROMEFirst impression: traffic!! Second impression: ancient roman ruins everywhere, interspersed with modern buildings and medieval structures, a hodge-podge of styles spanning every age since Roman times. We had barely a day to take it all in, so we had to limit ourselves to some of the major sites to visit: the Colosseum was first on our list, still a very impressive structure despite the damage it has suffered over the centuries; this was followed by the Vatican and its fabulous museums, the Sistine Chapel, and of course St. Peter's Square and Basilica. Virtual time-travelling in the space of a few hours!
ALEXANDRIAFirst impression: traffic!! The beautiful ancient city of Alexandria is a faded and rather dilapitated version of its former self, but fascinating nonetheless. We visited an ancient Roman amphitheatre; it has a capacity of 800 people and is considered the only one of its kind in Egypt. We then made our way to the ancient Roman catacombs of Shawqafa, dating from the 2nd century A.D. and cut into living rock underground, where Roman, Greek and Egyptian styles all mingle in the carvings and frescoes. Then on to the famous 'Corniche', a 20-mile long road along Alexandria's waterfront, all via tiny alleys where we sampled some of the 'real' Alexandria - people cooking meals on tiny braziers in the street, goats, chickens and donkeys wandering around, everything you can think of for sale off small carts, including live rabbits and delicious looking flat-bread. We ended up at the Montaza gardens, a beautiful park built around the former King Farouk's summer palace. After lunch, our next stop was the Qait Bey Fort where the ancient pharos (lighthouse) of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the world, once stood. Then of course we had to see the famous new Library of Alexandria, a stunning ultra-modern building; finally, we were off to a bazaar to make some purchases and some serious haggling!
LIMASSOLNo, the traffic wasn't bad at all here! *g* We only had half a day in Cyprus and decided not to take any tours, but just to enjoy the warm weather. Limassol is a fairly large city, unfortunately we were there on a Sunday when most shops are closed (although some opened due to two cruiseships being in port). There is a beautiful seaside promenade lined with palm trees, and everyone was out in their Sunday best, eating ice cream and just enjoying themselves. A lot of the shops were selling hand-made lace, and leather goods are also very prominent. Many shops along the waterfront also sell natural sponges from the Mediterranean - heaps and heaps of them sitting in baskets, in every size and shape.
RHODESThe island of Rhodes is a historical treasure-trove; The Knights of St John of Jerusalem (or Hospitallers) occupied Rhodes from 1309 to 1523 and transformed the city into a stronghold. It is still partially surrounded by the ancient fortifications, and the main attraction is of course the Grand Master's Palace, which visually dominates the place. In the Lower Town, Gothic architecture vies with mosques, public baths and other buildings dating from the Ottoman period.
Unfortunately, the Palace was closed ("it's closed on Mondays", we were told - and of course our ship docked there on a Monday!), but we had a lovely walk inside the old moat surrounding the Palace (about as wide as a 4-lane highway!); wildflowers of every color were blooming in the moat, even in the nooks and crannies of the thick ancient walls that have seen so much violence in the past. As in Cyprus, many shops are selling lace and leather goods, as well as beautiful handmade carpets. We found Rhodes a very comfortable place to be in, the people are very friendly, and an iced coffee in an outdoor cafe in the sunshine topped off our visit there nicely!
ANTALYA, ASPENDOS, PERGEAntalya, on the Turkish coast, lies in a spectacular setting, surrounded by mountains. We drove first to Aspendos, an ancient city founded by the Greeks around 1184 B.C. The drive takes you through fertile, green countryside and lots of greenhouses which supply a great percentage of Turkey's fresh fruits and vegetables.
The amphitheatre of Aspendos, built during the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) is a must-see!
Next stop was an ancient Roman aquaeduct, still impressive even in its half-collapsed condition.
Then on to ancient Perge, a walled city founded after the Trojan War and famous for its agora and 13,000 seat theatre, as well as its stadium. A colonnaded street runs through the city centre; on both sides of this 250 metre-long street are broad porticoes behind which are rows of shops. A pool-like water channel divides the road down the middle. You can still see the ruts in the street paving made by chariot wheels over the centuries. The site is huge and you literally constantly stumble over fallen pieces of carved pillars and beautiful fragments of marble carvings. There is also an extensive Roman bath on the site, with beautiful tiled or mosaic floors still intact.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29 - ECLIPSE DAY!Finally the long-awaited day is here! We make our way on deck in mid-morning and are confronted with a thick layer of grey clouds!! Panic?? No, there's blue sky ahead and we are still moving...it will be ok! People have set up their telescopes, tripods, cameras and you can feel the excitement building. When first contact occurs, we are under clear blue skies - 4th time lucky!
During the partial phase of the eclipse, which takes over an hour, people are still fine-tuning their equipment, and then the sky begins to darken until the sun is only a narrow sliver. The temperature falls drastically, and suddenly the humidity in the air rises, your hands and everything you touch becomes moist. Finally totality is almost upon us, a beautiful 'diamond ring' appears, and then - totality! A black hole in the sky and a pearly white corona around it with beautiful streamers extending out into space. The corona is small compared to previous eclipses, due to solar minimum, but still an awesome sight. We can see Venus and Mercury, and all around the horizon an orange glow, an artificial 'sunset'. People are cheering and clapping, and 3 1/2 minutes are over all too soon...another gorgeous diamond ring appears, and then totality is over. We did not see the shadow racing towards us as in previous years, and we didn't see any shadowbands either this time. But the experience was overwhelming, as usual, and we can't wait for the next one!
NAPLES, ITALYTwo days at sea after the eclipse, time to digest it all and reminisce about the event with new-found friends on the ship. Then we make our last short stop before Genoa, at Naples. First impression - traffic!! It's a crazy place, full of cars, people, noise. Beautiful old buildings, lots of churches full of fantastic artwork, lots of outdoor cafes - a perfect place to just wander and enjoy.
Another day at sea on our way back to Genoa, and another successful eclipse under our belt - we're becoming veterans!
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