Tom and Linda's 2011 Europe Trip

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Scientific American Cruise

Saturday, 1 October: Sorrento to Civitavecchia

We had a day of traveling today, but much better than last Wednesday.

We caught the 8:26 Circumvesuviana express train, as planned, along with a few commuters and a bunch of other tourists.


These musicians got on when we did, played for us, passed the hat, and got off at the next stop. It was like we were paying them to stop.

A lot of the Americans got off at Pompei Stavi, headed for their day in Pompeii.


Arrived in Napoli at 9:20 or so, went straight to the ticket office and got in the correct (shorter) queue. 99 euro for two tickets on fast trains, Napoli > Roma Termini > Civitavecchia, Rome's cruise ship port.

I was reading on the train for a while, but Tom's Kindle gave up the ghost and he was bored. I lent him mine and got my knitting out. A woman asked what I was making and I showed her my hat. Had some interest from other passengers, including a woman who approached me in the station when we got off.

I handed out a few cards, and it turns out one of them actually contacted Lisa a few weeks later! I'm thinking I might start working on my backup lace project when I'm in private and save the hat-knitting for public places. Might be good marketing.

Made our connection and found ourselves on a train surrounded by other cruise-bound Americans, most of them with lots of luggage. We were very glad to be traveling light.


We passed on the bus to the port and decided to walk it. A mistake, as it turns out, but we certainly saw things we wouldn't have otherwise.

It's not a bad walk if you're going to the regular passenger terminal, but the cruise ships are a long way away from the train station!

There's a bit of the town to see, but most of our walking was across the roads and parking lots of the port.


I thought one of those over there might be ours.

I was wrong. Ours was much farther away than that.


Took a short cut through a net-storage shed.

We did a lot of pack-laden walking, finally found some sort of a terminal building and ended up finding a bus from there to our ship. The driver was on break, playing cards with a buddy, had no other passengers, and really didn't want to make the run.


So we finally got to the ship, driven by a surly bus driver, and checked in for the cruise in a huge, empty terminal building.


We carried our own small luggage on rather than leaving it to be delivered, and walked up the Rotterdam gangway for the first time.



Let's see - where are we? Ah yes, Dolphin Deck. Deck 1, the lowest with guest cabins.

But we're just around the corner from the stair/elevator lobby. Self-service laundry up one flight, and a quick elevator up to Deck 8 for food. And there's easy access for disembarking at ports, which is usually a gangway from Deck 2.


Our comfy home for the next 12 days. Nice robes are provided. The TV will play DVDs or a choice of shipboard channels or give the weather report wherever you are, or show our current location on a GPS map. The bathroom is small but still manages to include a bathtub. There's a king-sized bed, a desk and chair and a little sofa and coffee table.

There's quite a bit of storage space, particularly for our meager luggage. We unpacked a few things and went to find food.


We found it on Deck 8, the Lido, cafeteria style, open long hours for every meal, every day. Good food and good service, although they never could figure out how to cook an egg over easy.

Back in the cabin, our unpacking was interrupted by the pre-launch security drill, all passengers up on deck under the lifeboats at assigned stations. They didn't make us don life jackets, but made sure we knew where to find them in our cabins. People were generally pleasant and talkative, so we met several fellow passengers, and got our lifeboat picture taken.

We went back to finish unpacking, then up to the top to watch the push-away.

Had a nice view back over the port and the big tent-like check-in hangar.

We also had a bit of a wait, delayed by a few passengers and 2 crew who were late.


The outside part of the Lido was all set up with a bon-voyage barbeque.


While we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with Annette and Willbroad from Ottowa, frequent cruisers, usually with a group.This time it's just 3 couples, all from Ottowa, who met on a previous cruise.

Willbroad was once in charge of ferry service for the Canadian government somewhere, retired 20 years ago.


We actually pushed away about an hour late, and I understand the 2 crew members didn't make it, having been stuck in Rome traffic. I heard they flew on ahead and met us at the next port.



At 6 PM we had introductory cocktails with the Scientific American bunch and got our ID badges. We bought the cruise through Sci-Am, and our tickets include lectures given by 7 prominent scientists that they brought along.

Met some interesting folks including one of our speakers, British scientist John Steele (who specializes in ancient astronomy) and his Canadian wife Rebecca. They now live in New Jersey.

David, from Bieber CA, was there with his dad, and Tom had memories of his town of Bieber, CA that he wanted to share.


Went to explore the ship a bit, then relaxed in our cabin for a while before our 8:15 dinner seating.

There was, of course, the ubiquitous casino. We just used it as a hallway.



This is the formal dining room where we ate in the evenings. I understand it was open for breakfast as well, but the Lido was just too convenient and we never tried it.

At dinner that first night we met more of our fellow Sci-Am folks. There are actually 212 of us on the cruise, out of some 1400 passengers.

Had dinner with Bert and Chris from Houston, Nancy from Fairview and Al, Eileen and Karen from Berkeley. Great food, good conversation. It will be interesting.

Apparently our dinner table assignments are only in strict force for this evening. Thereafter we can mix and match within the group, depending on when we arrive. That's a good thing - chance to get to know lots of different folks.

We have a day at sea tomorrow, several interesting lectures, and our first formal dress-up dinner. And we need to sign up for a way to get to Olympia on Monday.


Sunday 2 October: HAL Rotterdam at sea

I woke this morning at 5 or 5:30 and couldn't go back to sleep. Had my 6 hours, I suppose. So I got up and went to find the gym. Ran into Bert there, found out they were supposed to open at 6. They were a bit late, but I did get a workout. Always a little strange in a new gym. I was looking forward to the view off the bow from the treadmill, but didn't get it. As it was still dark outside, we were not allowed to open the blinds because the lights would impair the captain's night vision.

I got back to the cabin to find Tom still asleep, so I showered and went up to breakfast. I ended up sharing a table with a woman who had what sounded like a very posh London accent. Turns out she was born in India, moved to Kenya as a child and now lives in Sydney. Apparently that mix of accents brought her 'round. We had an interesting chat that included Doctor Karl, a science populist in Australia that we'd stayed with on a previous trip.

Heading south from Civitavecchia toward the Mediterranean this morning.


Mount Stromboli, rising directly from the water, stands all alone off our stern as we speed southward.


I found Tom in the Lido a bit before our first lecture, and we went together to hear Lawrence Krauss talking about Richard Feynman. An engaging speaker with a fascinating topic. Huge projected slides above a stage that he paced around energetically. Lots of humor, good pictures.

About half our lectures for the cruise were here, in the big 2-deck showroom of the ship. They don't otherwise use it much during the day. I have to say, the programs we saw here were generally well done and fascinating, as opposed to the bits of things I saw in this space in the evenings.



There was an interesting travel event in the afternoon - we were going through the Messina Straight between the toe of Italy and Sicily, a bit tricky to navigate. So we picked up a local specialist pilot for the passage.



We didn't even slow down. Traveling at 17.5 knots, I watched a smaller boat run up beside us, ...


match speed, ...


and a guy in a red polo shirt stepped from their deck onto a ladder hanging off our side. I happened to be directly above him, and Tom was a little to the side for the good photo. We all applauded as he stepped across the railing onto the deck below.


Straight of Messina. Italy on one side, Sicily on the other.



This is the top forward deck, passengers watching from the rail above.

Tom walked around and took pictures of the ship. I knitted on deck for a while and watched the shoreline go by.


Went to a few more lectures - two on evolution and hybridization and one on geology.

Most of the day we've been in fairly rough waters and the ship's been rolling quite a bit. Feels like I'm dizzy. But just before the Messina Straight it was cool and comfy on Deck 3 with a nice breeze. Lots of folks walking laps (3.5 laps = 1 mile)

Tom was a bit worried about the "formal" dinner, given our light packing, and we talked a bit about just eating on the Lido, but it turns out all they really required for gentlemen was a jacket. I had my do-everything wrinkle-proof gown with several accessory options. It was a nice dinner, which we shared with John Steele and Rebecca, and David and Margaret from somewhere near Toronto. They apparently live in the little town that Rebecca is from.

Fancier menu than last night, filet mignon, rack of lamb, stuffed quail (that was mine). I also had a pâté, a cold raspberry soup and finished with chocolate crème brûlée. Nice.

Apparently Tom checked out the night life a bit. Typical flashy, tacky cruise stuff, for the most part.


First port of call: Katakolon, Greece, gateway to Olympia.


1 Getting There
6 Olympia
11 Ephesus
16 The Cinque Terre
2 Sorrento
7 Santorini (Thira)
12 Athens
17 Pisa & Sienna
3 Pompeii & Herculanium
8 Istanbul
13 Venezia
18 Tuscany
4 The Amalfi Coast
9 Varna & Odessa
14 Padua & Verona
19 Montepulciano
5 Sci-Am Cruise
10 Yalta
15 Firenze
20 Rome & Home

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