Sunday, September 29, 2013

Noordam 2013 - Day 19: The journey home

We got up at 5 am. It was not as crowded at the breakfast buffet as the other days. No wonder, who gets up this early when on vacation. Well, we do because our flight leaves in a couple of hours…

So this is going to be our last post for a while. If you want to read our whole blog, please do so at We blogged about the preparation, the first day in Barcelona and the rest of our cruise on the Holland America Noordam.

The same driver that brought us to the hotel was there to pick us up. We were a bit early, the luggage drop-off was not open yet. We had to wait quite some time.

Waiting at the airport

We were on the plane with a lot of nuns from Cameroon. They were touring Europe. Finally we also saw a familiar face, a colleague of Joost was on the same plane.

When we arrived in Brussels we were very disappointed in the weather. Only 17 C (62 F) while we left Rome at almost 30 C (86 F). And it was raining, something we had not seen since Monte Carlo.

Brussels has a great airport. When we arrived at the luggage belt, our suitcases just arrived. We walked to the car that was parked just outside the terminal. Before we knew it, we were on our way home.

We hope you enjoyed reading about our cruise and the days before. More to come, next cruise !

Joost and Jolanda

Kim and Rhodé

Noordam 2013 - Day 18: Our last day in Rome, Italy

We started our day with preparing for the flight home. Our flight only leaves tomorrow, but we checked in already so we could get the seats that are marked green (the better seats) at Seatguru. We printed our boarding passes and are all set to fly. But still a full day in Rome left to enjoy.

The public bus brought us to the Forum Romano. Rick Steves has a great podcast tour in the Forum. Of course you sometimes see only the lower 10% of some pillars that once were a temple, but nonetheless great to see.

Forum Romano

Forum Romano

Forum Romano

Forum Romano

Forum Romano

Forum Romano

At the end of the Forum is the Arch of Titus. It is built by Jew slaves and dedicated to the end of the Jewish state in 70 AD. We never realized how long the Jews were actually stateless.

Arch of Titus

The Forum connects to Palentine Hill. Nice buildings and a remarkable number of trees and bushes. Really beautiful. 

Palentine Hill

Palentine Hill

Palentine Hill

While we walked there, we heard Kim scream. A bug had found her, probably some bee or worse. We tried to suck the poison out immediately, but it still left a large red bump.

A bus brought us from Palentine Hill to the Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verita). Legend says that when you put your hand in the mouth, it will bite your hand off if you lie. We saw a lot of honest people, no accidents.

Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verita)

Across the bridge over the Tiber is the Jewish Ghetto. A giant synagogue is at the entrance. On the other side of the street a church, with an aim to convert the Jews to Christianity.

Jewish Ghetto

Jewish Ghetto

Synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto

After a drink in the Ghetto we walked to the Area Sacra del Largo Argentina. From the looks of it just another excavation and not even the best one. But if you walk down the stairs you see what it really is: a refuge for street cats. The volunteers take care of some 250 street cats. Their main goal is making sure they are sterilized. But if an injured of ill cat is brought in, they take care of them as well. We played with the cats for a while and were impressed by the excellent care the volunteers give them. They also have some cats with a neurological disorder. They walk like they are drunk. They are so cute. If you are in Rome, do visit the cat forum. You can check them out (or even better: donate) at

Cat Sanctuary

Close to the Pantheon we had our daily pizza. Afterwards we visited the Pantheon. We were there last time, but this time we take a little more time. We saw the graves of Rafael (the artist) and the first two kings of Italy (that only exists as a country since 1870). The third king is not burried in the Pantheon. He collaborated with Mussolini in WWII and had to leave Italy.


Pantheon (panorama of the inside)

Obelisk opposite the Pantheon

We walked to Piazza Navone with the beautiful fountain from Bernini and the great church of Sant' Agnese in Agone.

Piazza Navone

Now that we have been visiting several sites from Angels & Demons, we took the bus to Santa Maria della Vittoria (just opposite the street of Fontana dell'Aqua Felice). Amazing how many beautiful churches there are in Rome.

Fontana dell'Aqua Felice

Inside Santa Maria delle Vittoria

The bus and metro took us back to the hotel. We loved Rome, but tomorrow we fly back home… 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Noordam 2013 - Day 17: Rome, Italy

We slept in this morning. No need to get out early. Our hotel won’t sail away if we don’t return in time. We enjoyed our buffet breakfast and took the bus and metro to the Colosseum.

First we visited one of Rome’s many Basilica’s: San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains). The church has also a statue of Moses and of course the Reliquary containing the chains of St. Peter.

Inside Basilica’s San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains)

There was a long line at the Colosseum. The tip you read on the internet is not to buy your tickets at the Colosseum, but on the other side of the road at palatine Hill. However we saw a giant line there as well so we just joined the line at the Colosseum. We should have bought tickets online. However, it was not even that bad. We only waited for half an hour. During the waiting time we could see the stacked stones that the outer part of the Colosseum is made of. We were impressed to read that in ancient times 50.000 people could enter and leave the Colosseum in just 15 minutes.

The Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum (panorama)

Once inside we were impressed by the size of it. Of course the intent of the Colosseum was a bit bloody. However, very impressive. From the top ring you have a good view on the Forum Romano.

View on the Fomum Romano from the Colosseum

View on the Fomum Romano from the Colosseum

The Colosseum

After exiting the Colosseum we took advantage of our bus tickets. It is not a very long walk to the Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II, but since we enjoy unlimited use of all metros, trains and buses we just took a bus.

Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II

Lunchtime, so we tried to find a restaurant. This time we were luckier than yesterday. We had the best pizza ever at Bar Rudi, just opposite the monument. We ate in a back room, decorated with pictures from paintings of Monet.

The Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II was supposed to have an elevator to take you to the roof. So we followed the sighs to the elevator. We walked one staircase after another. We thought the elevator was a joke and they made us walk upstairs. The elevator did exist, but only after a lot of steps.

Statue on top of the Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II

The view after you get out of the elevator is very rewarding. The monument is probably the highest point in the city, so you get the very best view from here. We love the eternal city!

View from the Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II

View from the Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II

View from the Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II

View from the Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II

View from the Monument a Vittorio Emanuele II

We took even more stairs down and had ice-cream at Vacanze Romane. We remembered the excellent quality from the last time we were here. It is close to Bar Rudy, so we have our favorite pizza and ice-cream conveniently close to each other.

Our next destination was a short bus ride away, but the tram would follow a nicer route so we took the tram in order to change on another tram. Unfortunately the other tram was substituted by a bus, so we had a far lesser interesting route instead. But we did get to see the ancient Pyramid.

We ended up at Basilica San Clemente. The church is built in the 11th century AD. In it is the choir from the older church from the 6th century AD. That older church is underneath the current church and was destroyed in 1084. They excavated it and we visited it too. You could even go deeper in the Roman ground, even lower than the level of the groundwater. Underneath is a residence that was also used as part of a temple of the cult of Mithras. At this level there are also remnants of a clandestine church from the time before 313 AD when Constantine declared freedom of religion. So there are actually three churches on top of each other: the clandestine church, the first basilica and the current (second) basilica.

A couple of minutes walking from the basilica is another basilica: San Giovanni in Laterano. This is the church of the Bishop of Rome. The bishop of Rome is none other then the Pope. Once again a beautiful church.

Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano

On the other side of the street is the Scala Santa (the Holy Stairs). Pilgrims climb the stairs on their knees while praying.

A long but great day in Rome. Tomorrow our last (full) day in Rome.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Noordam 2013 - Day 16: Disembarkation in Civitavecchia and the first day in Rome

Our last Noordam Eggs Benedict, French toasts and Waffles for a while. We were in group Brown 2 and around 8 am it was our turn to leave the ship. 

Civitavecchia Cruise Port

Our suitcases were already waiting for us. Our ride with Click Airport Transfer was scheduled at 9 am, but the driver arrived early. It was Sunday, so not very crowded at the highway to Rome. We asked the driver to stop at a Rome metro station so we could pick up our 3-day travel cards (Biglietto per 3 giorni BTI). He did not only stop, but showed Joost where the vending machines were. Great guy.

We will stay for three nights at the Crowne Plaza Roma San Piedro where we stayed two years ago. Bak then we were on the good side of the cruise, a few days in Rome before sailing with the Noordam. Our room at the hotel was already available, so we had a whole hour extra in Rome. Our room overlooks the pool, so that is a safe thought when the girls are swimming.

Crowne Plaza Rome

The hotel offers a shuttle to the city. We actually used it two years ago, when it was free. Now it is just as expensive as the public bus stat stops right outside the hotel. With the public bus we have a direct connection to two metro stations, to St. Peters square and to the northern part of the old Rome. So we thought that public transport is more flexible and got our BTI-tickets for three of us. Rhodé is young enough to travel free.

We took the bus to the city and got off just at the Tiber river on the other side of Castel Sant’Angelo. We crossed the Bridge of Angels (Ponte Sant'Angelo) that goes back as far as 134 AD. The angels are showing the Instruments of the Passion (like the cross, the crown of thorns, the holy sponge and many more).

Castel Sant’Angelo

Bridge to Castel Sant’Angelo

The Passetto as seen from Castel Sant’Angelo

Bridge over the Tiber

Bridge from Castel Sant’Angelo

The Castel itself is a maze with small rooms, steps and art. On our way up we saw the Passetto, the wall that runs from the Castel right to Vatican City. It provides an escape route for the Pope. Of course it also played a crucial role in the book and movie Angels and Demons, as did the Castel and a lot of other Rome sights. 

Inside Castel Sant’Angelo

Inside Castel Sant’Angelo

Inside Castel Sant’Angelo

Inside Castel Sant’Angelo

Inside Castel Sant’Angelo
On top of Castel Sant’Angelo

The absolute highlight for us was the view from the top. You can see all of Rome from the roof. We are so glad that we are going to be here for two more days. One short stop from Civitavecchia would have been way too short.

Vatican City from Castel Sant’Angelo

Vatican City from Castel Sant’Angelo

View of Rome from Castel Sant'Angelo

Panoramic view of Rome from Castel Sant'Angelo

After two hours in the Castel Sant’Angelo we were thirsty and hungry. No Lido buffet, but lots of restaurants in the city. We found a restaurant that looked nice at Piazza Risorgimento just north of The Vatican. Unfortunately the pizza had a hard bite and was way overpriced. We have to kick-off from cruise food that is inherently great. Better luck next time.

Tram 19 was waiting for us at Piazza Risorgimento. We took the tram up to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna and walked up the steps to the Borghese park. At the end of the park we once again had again a great view of the old city.

Borghese park

Kim at Borghese park

View from Borghese park

View from Borghese park

The park is a lot higher than the rest of the city (hence the tram). That led to another advantage. We did not have to climb up to the Spanish Steps that were close, but we walked down. A lot easier in the heat.

Spanish Steps

On the Via dei Bobuino we walked to Piazza del Popolo. We filled our water bottles in the public fountain. The water is drinking water so no risk there. We love Piazza del Popolo with the twin churches, the fountain and the obelisk. The famous Santa Maria del Poppolo was still closed, so we had a refreshing lemon drink (unfortunately not Napolitan Limoncella). Afterwards we could visit the church and the Chigi chapel.

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

We had a little trouble finding the bus stop to Piazza Risorgimento, but from the square it was a short walk to St. Peters Square. The girls had to wind their shawls around their legs because shorts are not allowed in St. Peters Basilica. We were prepared for that. St Peters Basilica is overwhelmingly great inside. It was Sunday, so not all corners of the Basilica were open to visit.

St Peters Basilica

 St Peters Basilica door

 Inside St Peters Basilica

 Inside St Peters Basilica

We went to check if the previous Pope was already named on the list of all Popes, but he wasn’t. Perhaps they do that only after his death and of course he is still a Vatican resident.

St Peters Square from the Basilica

After that we were quite exhausted. We went back to the hotel. The pool was still open, so Kim and Rhodé decided to cool off and swim. Afterwards we had our diner in the restaurant in the hotel. The restaurant had a piano man. He was good, but was not even close to the amazing Stryker at Noordam (that by now will be sailing away from Civitavecchia)…