After hitting Melilla, the southern-most port of our cruise on the N. African coast, the Riviera headed for Spain’s famed Costa Blanca. Although it was a random mix of sunshine and ‘liquid sunshine’ for the rest of the trip, the unsettled weather never dampened my spirits as this was the first trip abroad in almost two years.
An intricately paved Explanada de España (Spanish Esplanade) of Alicante red, ivory cream and Maquina black marble mosaics greeted us as we got off the ship. The sinuous waves reminded me of the iconic black and white calçada Portuguesa in Rio’s Copacabana Beach. In the background is the magnificent modernist Casa Carbonell, a palatial manse built for industrialist Enrique Carbonell in the 1920s.
Castillo de Santa Bárbara (Santa Bárbara (Castle) dates back to the 9th century and is one of Spain’s largest medieval fortifications. Perched at 166 m (545 ft) on top of Mount Benacantil, it’s a ubiquitous sight in town. Touting a 20% grade in some stretches, one can get to the top by lift or on foot. Though I never turn down a chance to hike up a tourist attraction and it’s not that high, the short port stay sadly forced me to head back partway through.
This 4-faced abstract bronze sculpture by Juan García Ripollés is wittily called El Adivinador (The Fortune Teller). Located at the bustling Plaça Porta del Mar near the cruise terminal and Casa Carbonell, the installation is hard to miss.
Next stop, Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands on the east side of the Iberian Peninsula. From the 2nd floor of a gourmet shop, a carved pig surveyed me from its wicker throne surrounded by baskets of succulents.
Ibiza gained prominence as a hippie haven in the 60’s and the bronze statue is a tribute to the bohemian lifestyle that literally puts the island on the map. Based on a photo by Toni Riera, the father-daughter sculpture by Catalan artist Ció Abellí stands on top of a world map listing the hotbeds of the hippie movement: San Francisco, Amsterdam, Kathmandu, Goa and Ibiza.
The next day was spent cruising the Med. I attended a cooking demo on foie gras and handmade pasta to learn more about my favorite nosh. The rest of the day was spent working out at the gym and lounging in the library, sipping handcrafted java concoctions by the ship’s barista.
One of the quieter drinking spots on the Riviera was the Casino Bar. Guess people were too busy gambling to sit at a bar!
The following day we docked at Catania to start our Italian sojourn. Unfortunately Italian port authorities had banned all independent tours. I didn’t see a compelling group tour to join, so decided to relax on board and enjoy views of Club Nautico at the Port of Catania.
Commissioned for the Emergence Festival 2015, the monumental work of Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto aka Vhils graces eight 10-storey high concrete grain silos at the Port of Catania. Founded in 2012, the Festival celebrates street art throughout Sicily.
The following day took us to Naples. It is the gateway for cruise tours to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as the scenic Amalfi Coast. Having visited all these places already, I decided to open the bottle of champagne in our suite and chill out. Dinner at the Red Ginger was a pleasant mélange of traditional and fusion Asian dishes. I opted to indulge in the Lobster Pad Thai on our final night at sea.
Once disembarked at Civitavecchia, Rome was just a train ride away. Not having visited for several years, I was eager to see the Eternal City again. Down a side street by the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps), a lone patron leisurely enjoyed his morning ritual.
A squall had recently passed at the Piazza Navona and the reflection of Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone caught my eye. Although this magnificent baroque church sits prominently on the popular square’s west side, most people are focused on Bernini’s La Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers) directly in front of it.
Wandering around, I was surprised to see this winking SuperWoman. I looked into it and found that some street artist under the nom de guerre LedieSis has been creating a series of paintings in Rome and Florence to honor prominent women in their fields. The subjects bearing the Superman insignia always come with a wink and are mostly well known figures drawn from the arts or pop culture. This one is of famous American-Greek opera diva Maria Callas. However, I don’t see the LedieSis signature on the work, so I’m not sure if it’s an authentic piece.
In an alley was a bike sporting a Chanel shopping bag strapped to each handlebar, its front bicycle basket decorated with a simple white Chanel ribbon and double strand of (presumably) faux pearls! Now that’s a bike every fashionista will approve of!