Having spent some time in Rome just before this cruise, I was keen to return to the city that had truly captured my heart.
Indulging in yet another breakfast burrito from the Blue Iguana Cantina, I notice something different on Lido deck.
Towel animals had taken over every sun lounge and the beach pool surrounds with the largest towel animal I’ve ever seen taking pride of place beside a cocktail and Guy Fieri burger. The Carnival Breeze stewards had certainly outdone themselves!
The port of Civitavecchia is located approximately one hour out of the centre of Rome by coach, which was my mode of transport for the Carnival shore excursion I had selected to St Peters and the Vatican Museum.
It was set to be a scorcher of a day with temperatures expected to reach the mid thirties at least.
Bottle of water at the ready and scarf tied to my bag for entry into the Sistine Chapel, I board the coach where I meet Helen from Virginia, an inspirational member of the United States Navy.
Helen was travelling with her spirited cousin and two sons, one of whom was celebrating his seventeenth birthday on the day we arrived in Venice.
She was an avid photographer like me, so we knew that we would most likely be the two to lag behind the most during the tour!
Arriving at the outskirts of Vatican City, we were all very thankful that we had selected a tour as opposed to heading to the holy capital on our own.
The line wrapped its way around the walls of the city with devotees sweltering in the heat. Now that is dedication.
Being a part of a tour group gives you the added benefit of skipping the lines and that’s exactly what we did, sailing past (pardon the pun) the hundreds, possibly thousands, of people donning umbrellas and hats wanting to get their glimpse of the Pope.
Security is tighter in Vatican City than any other region of Europe I had visited thus far, with strict instructions regarding the style of bag you can carry and what you can wear in certain areas.
Our group was delayed by a couple who insisted on bringing a backpack into the Vatican Museum, even though they were expressly warned not to in all shore excursion documentation.
The warnings from the Vatican police that they would be thrown out and possibly arrested didn’t stop them from their ranting to the tour guide. It wasn’t until my new friend Helen stepped forward and explained that our tour guide wasn’t actually the bad guy that they calmed down. Their backpack was safely delivered to the cloak room for collection later in the day.
Whilst the Vatican Museum was very crowded, even this didn’t take away from the beauty of the pieces of art housed there.
Our guide expertly led us through the maze of exhibits and, luckily, knew all the shortcuts with a little less time up our sleeve due to the difficult couple in our group.
The heat was stifling with a lack of air conditioning and the crowds increasing readily, so it was with great relief that we made it into the Sistine Chapel…I knew that fresh air was around the corner.
What should have been a peaceful and spiritual experience though, was tainted by the overwhelming security within the Chapel ironically and continually, announcing (read yelling) that everyone should be silent and that photography was forbidden.
Heading into the fresh air for a few moments, we encounter the wrath of the Vatican police again, who were on high alert due to the imminent arrival of the Spanish ambassador. Apparently, this Aussie taking a photo of yet another statue seemed high
risk and I was told to move on under no uncertain terms!
We made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica in just enough time before they closed it off to the public for the Ambassador’s arrival.
The Cardinals had arrived and I was front and centre for the procession featuring full regalia and the Ambassador’s wife who donned what seemed to be a vintage black lace dress and elaborate headpiece as she followed her husband down the aisle.
I may not have seen the Pope, but this was impressive enough for me!
One could spend hours in the Basilica. Whilst it is a major tourist attraction, it still seems to maintain a feeling of calm, serenity and peace, much more so than the Sistine Chapel.
Escaping into the sunlight, I catch a glimpse of a bride making her way through a sea of cameras down the steps of the Basilica.
Layers of tulle and lace float behind her as she beams a smile to her new husband who is relishing the adoration of giddy tourists.
Souvenirs abound in Vatican City and, whilst I had upheld my promise to my mother and grandmother to purchase them magnets from every city I visited on this whirlwind tour across Europe, they had a special request for this particular city…holy water.
Holy water comes in vials of all shapes and sizes, with the starting price of around 3 euro. One thing I find very confusing however, is the sales process.
You select the products you wish to purchase and take them to the counter. The sales attendant writes a receipt and wraps your product, then gives you the receipt to take to another counter where another sales attendant processes your money and sends you with the stamped receipt to the original counter to collect your items!
So my three vials of holy water took approximately thirty minutes to purchase, taking into consideration the queues I had to contend with…so much for free time for lunch!
It was probably for the best that my ‘free time’ was spent inside however as, not only did the rest of my group have to deal with the stifling heat outside whilst waiting for our tour leader to take us to the coach, but they also had to fend off incessant beggars.
Whether they are selling scarves, having their children stand in front of you to sing you an Italian ditty, or just begging for money in the traditional way, they just don’t let up.
The universal word “no” doesn’t work in Vatican City it seems and my fellow tour members learn the hard way that, once you give money to one person, you’re fair game to everyone else!
The drive back to the ship lulled most of our group into a slumber and I spent the afternoon writing by the pool, cool (and very welcome) cocktail in hand.
Michelle and I decided to sample Bonsai Sushi for dinner after salivating every time we wandered past the venue (usually on our way to the Red Frog Pub or Liquid Nightclub).
Expanding the current offering of sushi aboard other ships in their fleet, Carnival decided to create a more authentic dine-in experience when designing Breeze.
Sushi chefs work their magic to create a variety of traditional Japanese dishes including sushi and sashimi, with passengers marking off their order on a menu.
Guests are asked to write down their name on the menu, so that the servers know how to address you. They even double check the pronunciation before reviewing your order and ask if you prefer a nickname!
The Bonsai Sushi concept is fantastic but the execution that night, left a lot to be desired unfortunately.
I kept in mind that it was only the second ever voyage and they were still settling in, but
the sushi experience I was so excited for turned into a three hour waiting game.
We each ordered three items off the menu, an appetizer, a sushi roll and a bento box. In hindsight this was too much with the serving sizes very generous, but my sushi withdrawals had set in and I was craving my favourite food in a major way!
Even a simple request like a green tea and water took over half-an-hour to arrive and my order? Well that arrived 2 hours after being seated…after Michelle had eaten her entire meal!
The staff apologized and offered a complimentary glass of wine for waiting so long, but after thirty minutes waiting for the ‘apology’ wine, we decided to leave, ecstatic with the quality of the food but disappointed in the service.
Perhaps Liquid Nightclub could turn the evening around…a dance in the cage wouldn’t go astray!