Port of Call: Civitavecchia – A Home Away from Rome!

Civitavecchia Port

Civitavecchia is Rome’s main cruise ship and ferry port, and was one of the stops on a Royal Caribbean cruise last month that Chris and I took from Barcelona.  I had first imagined Civitavecchia to be just another busy, grimy port with nothing interesting to see there. But after noticing a medieval fort right at the end of the port, we thought the city might be interesting enough to see on its own. Instead of joining the busloads of cruise ship passengers bound for Rome on their day-excursions, Chris and I decided to spend the day at Civitavecchia to check it out.

The city has quite an interesting history. The present city sits atop an ancient Etruscan settlement. After the Romans occupied the city around 100A.D., Emperor Trajan built the port, and it has  remained Rome’s main port for the last 2000 years.

The city runs a very well-organized system of free shuttle buses that connect between the cruise ships and a small bus terminal just outside of the city center.  It’s easy to connect from the bus terminal to trains to take you directly to Rome or to other destinations.

Signage at the bus terminal

The bus terminal is to the left of city center on the map. We made our way to the historical city center toward the center of the map.

Civitavecchia Map

Along the way, we noticed lots of signage throughout the city pointing the way to various points of interest.

Sign to historical center

Soon we ran into one of the largest local traditional markets that I’ve seen in any Italian city.  The market occupies the entire Piazza Regina Margherita. Vendors were selling everything from vegetables, household goods, clothing, and meats.

Along one side of the market we walked into a building that was a dedicated fish market. We both noticed the market didn’t smell “fishy” at all, a testament to the freshness of the fish that’s sold there!

Just a block away from the bustling market, we noticed how peaceful the residential areas of the historical center were, with no crowded tourist shops or expensive handbag stores to be seen anywhere!

Civitavecchia Residential Area

We had a tasty seafood lunch at an L’Acqua Salata and enjoyed sitting outside along a  pedestrian-only street.

Continuing our walk toward the other end of the historical center, we found ourselves on a terrace overlooking the Forte Michelangelo and the adjoining harbor.

This fortress was commissioned by Pope Giulio II early in the 16th century, and was completed in 1535 when Michelangelo finished its construction after designing and building its central tower.

The fortress is surrounded by lots of grassy areas and walkways, and is now used mostly for exhibitions and cultural events.

Walking back to the bus terminal along the port, we noticed some remnants of the original ancient Roman port, including what is left of “Il Lazzaretto”, a contagious-diseases hospital.

Right behind this building, we saw a reconstruction of the bow portion of a second-century Roman warship.

Next time you’re in Civitavecchia, either to begin a cruise or on a cruise stopover, consider taking some time to enjoy the peaceful, traditional Italian town. We found it to be a great “home away from Rome”!

 

How to Survive in the Caribbean

Chris in Curacao

Chris has returned from a trip to the Caribbean with some tips on how to dress to survive the heat and humidity there.

She says “If you’re in the Caribbean, pretend you’re going to be in a sauna, because that’s how you’re going to survive”.

Watch her video so that you too can survive your next trip to the Caribbean!

The Best Time to See Rome is After Dark!

With all of the art, architecture, and history to see in Rome, you could spend years looking at it 24-7 and still just scratch the surface of what’s there. But when to see Rome is just as important as what to see. Here are three reasons why after the best time to see Rome is after dark:

1. The Light

As the sun starts setting over Rome, ancient buildings and structures begin to glow, first from the orange rays of the setting sun, and then from artificial lighting.

Temple of Venus Genetrix and Church of Saints Luca and Martina
Temple of Venus Genetrix and Church of Saints Luca and Martina

Objects that might have appeared dull and lifeless during the day suddenly pop out in front of you under dramatic lighting.

Forum of Augustus
Forum of Augustus

The combination of white and warm yellow lighting in some areas of the Roman Forum creates some surreal views that you would never see during the day.

Forum of Trajan
Forum of Trajan
Forum of Trajan
Forum of Trajan

Small works of art that you may miss during the day reveal themselves to you under directed light.

A Mural at Piazza Farnese
A Mural at Piazza Farnese

After dark, most of Ancient Rome is bathed in the warm glow from sodium-vapor lights. This lighting has been designed to mimic the glow from torches that originally lit the ancient parts of the city.  You can really imagine yourself in ancient times walking through the narrow cobblestone streets!

Street in Ancient Rome
Street in Ancient Rome

Many of the large ancient structures such as the Colosseum and the Castel Sant’Angelo dramatically come to life at night.

The Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Castel Sant'Angelo
The Castel Sant’Angelo

2. The Cooler Temperatures

Many sights, especially with tour groups, can only be seen during the day, such as the Palatine Hill.  But being out in the hot sun, especially in the afternoon during the summer months, can be exhausting.

Palantine Hill Tour
Palantine Hill Tour

If you have a choice, why roast under the hot sun when you can experience most of Rome’s iconic sights under more comfortable conditions?

The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps

In general, the crowds will be smaller at night, so you can more intimately enjoy works of art like the Trevi Fountain or the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona.

The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain
The Fountain of the Four Rivers
The Fountain of the Four Rivers

In fact, during the winter months, you can enjoy many of Rome’s most popular sights without the large throngs of tourists that you might encounter during the summer.

Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo

3 . The Life

Rome really comes to life after dark. Because the lighting is more intimate, and the crowds are smaller, and you don’t have to constantly shade yourself from the hot glare of the summer sun, life becomes more enjoyable. You can be around people in a more relaxed setting, and also relax al fresco over dinner with your friends and family.

Street Near Campo dei Fiorii
Street Near Campo dei Fiorii
The Jewish Ghetto
The Jewish Ghetto

Contact us for help and advice in planning your trip to Rome after dark!

The Power of Cruise Groups!

We at Super Savvy Travelers are Independent Agents affiliated with the Avoya Travel Network, and through this affiliation we can give you access to Avoya’s Open Promotion Groups. Avoya books large numbers of cabins on most ships under a special group fare codes, which are then available for us to use for our client bookings. Because Avoya is able to book these cabins at a large discount, we can pass the corresponding savings on to you.

Avoya is also affiliated with American Express Travel, who also book cabins into groups.  Through our affiliation with Avoya, we can also get access to these special group rates and amenities.

This doesn’t mean that you are booking into an actual onboard “group”; instead, you’re booking into a group fare code, which allows you to receive the associated group discounts and amenities without actually “being in a group” .

By booking your cruise through us, you can often get access to very significant savings on your cruise. For example, a client recently called me directly from the cruise ship he was on, because he had gotten what he thought was a good discount from that cruise line for pre-booking his next cruise.

Even though he was offered a lower deposit as well as on-board credit, I was able to beat his deal by several hundred dollars by taking advantage of an existing American Express group on the cruise that he was interested in.

Another client also contacted me about a cruise she was excited about, and was actually considering booking directly with the cruise line after getting a quote from them.  Although the cruise line was offering several deals at the time, I got her a quote, this time taking advantage of an existing Avoya group rate, that beat her quoted rate by several hundred dollars, and with additional onboard credit included.

Only independent Avoya travel agencies can gain access to these Avoya groups and Super Savvy Travelers is proud to state that we are an Avoya Independent Agency.

In addition to Avoya’s group rates, we also offer all special promotions only offered through Avoya as well as all promotions offered by the cruise lines.

Contact us today to take advantage of these special group rates and other fantastic promotions you can only get through Avoya, and the personal dedicated attention and expertise you always get with Super Savvy Travelers.

 

Maratea – The Pearl of the Mediterranean

Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro

On the Tyrrhenian coast and overlooking the Gulf of Policastro in Southern Italy,  Maratea is known as “The Pearl of the Mediterranean” in some of the guidebooks I’ve read. It’s somewhat of a hidden gem;  well-covered in many tourist guidebooks as a holiday spot, it’s much less visited compared to the popular mass-tourist destinations along the Amalfi Coast just a couple of hours north. Chris and I were both intrigued to learn more about Maratea and decided to check it out.

On a beautiful warm September morning, we left our apartment in Santa Domenica Talao to take the short 40-minute drive up the SS18 to Maratea.

Map of our trip to Maratea
Map of our trip to Maratea

Close to Maratea, we noticed an exit sign to a beach area, so we proceeded down to a small parking lot and took a short walk to a beautiful secluded beach.

We virtually had the entire beach to ourselves, and loved the crystal-clear waters and the surrounding vista of the Gulf of Policastro.

Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea

The SS18 then took us right to the Porto Turistico Maratea, or Maratea tourist port. We enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch on an uncrowded outdoor deck overlooking the tranquil marina.

Porto Turistico Maratea
Porto Turistico Maratea

We couldn’t help noticing a large white statue, with outstretched robed arms, high on a hilltop overlooking the marina. This is the Statue del Cristo Redentore, or statue of Christ the Redeemer. It’s 21 meters high,  and was created by the Florentine sculptor Bruno Innocenti out of Carrera marble in 1965. It’s the fifth-tallest Christ statue in the world.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Gazing at the statue over lunch, we decided we needed to get a closer look. From the marina, we followed the signs that eventually took us to the top of Mt. St. Biagio along an elevated serpentine road high above the coastline.

Road to the top of Mt. St. Biagio
Road to the top of Mt. St. Biagio

As we approached the statue from the front, it seemed to welcome us with outstretched arms.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Once we got close to the statue, we could see what a majestic work of art it is.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Walking along the path leading up to and around the statue, we treated ourselves to some breathtaking views of Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro far below us.

Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro
Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro
The Gulf of Policastro, looking south

Level with the clouds, we felt as if we were soaring above the Tyrrhenian coast below us. Indeed, far below us we noticed a paraglider truly flying over that coast!

Soaring over the Tyrrhenian coast
Soaring over the Tyrrhenian coast

Directly in front of the statue is the Basilica di San Biagio, named after Maratea’s patron saint that it’s dedicated to. This church is thought to stand on the site of an ancient Greek or Roman pagan temple.

Basilica di San Biagio
Basilica di San Biagio

There was one more part of Maratea that we needed to see and that was the borgo, or old village.  It’s a beautiful, colorful village, nestled up in the hills just above the marina.  It felt very peaceful and quiet there in the late afternoon.

Maratea borgo
Maratea borgo

Driving back to Santa Domenica Talao along the SS18, we stopped to take one more look at the Gulf of Policastro in the setting sun.

Chris and the Gulf of Policastro at sunset
Chris and the Gulf of Policastro at sunset

With its beautiful beaches, marina, old town, and a giant marble Christ statue towering over it all, Maratea is an impressive village that truly deserves its title of Pearl of the Mediterranean!

Tortora – A Hidden Jewel High Above the Tyrrhenian Sea

Tortora

Italy is studded with many small towns and villages that are like hidden jewels, waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveler. One of those gems is the village of Tortora, the north-westernmost village in Calabria.

The village is divided into two main sections: The Marina, and the much more interesting Centro Storico (historic center), nestled in the mountains above the  Marina, about a 15 km drive from the sea.

Tortora
Tortora

It was the Centro Storico that our friend Giacomo, whom we met in the neighboring village of Aieta, introduced us to when he invited us for lunch with his wonderful family at the Ristorante Al Caminetto.

Ristorante Al Caminetto
At the Ristorante Al Caminetto

Al Caminetto serves delicious local Calabrian dishes, authentically prepared by Roseangela. We enjoyed our experience there so much that we end up returning to Al Caminetto with Giacomo and his family every time we visit Calabria. During one of our visits, Roseangela showed us how she prepares her superb ravioli and fusilli:

Tortora has a very rich history,  having been occupied since prehistoric times. Excavations that took place nearby revealed stone tools dating back to 35,000 years ago.

Since then, the area has been occupied by the Enotri (the early people of Italy) up through the 6th century BC, as well as by the Greeks, Romans, Lombards, and Burbons thereafter.

You can view a collection of local Enotri and Greek artifacts at the Museum of Blanda. The English-speaking guide did a wonderful job of revealing the history of the Tortora region to us:

In the Museum of Blanda
Greek pottery

Wander the narrow, winding streets and you’ll encounter a number of small shops and galleries. We met Giuseppe, a local ceramics artist, at a small art gallery, and he then took us to his ceramics shop a short distance away.

Chris and Giuseppe at a local art gallery
Giuseppe at his ceramics shop

Although a bit off the beaten path, the short drive up to the Tortora Centro Storico will reward you with beautiful mountain views, excellent restaurants, interesting shops, and a superb museum. Be sure to make it your first stop on your trip down to Southern Italy!

Beautiful Tortora
Beautiful Tortora

A History of Calabria, The Original Land of the Italians

During our first trip to Calabria, Chris and I stayed at the Casa Cielo Scalea B&B in Scalea. This fabulous B&B is owned and operated by Clive and Kathryn Bayton.

Clive and Kathryn
Clive and Kathryn on the lungomare in Reggio Calabria

Along with being a gourmet cook, accomplished artist, and photographer, Clive is a historian of the region and has gleaned much knowledge of the origins of Calabria. He has graciously provided us with his account of the history of Calabria:

A Brief Ancient History of the Original Land of the Italians

Before the recorded civilisation of the mainland of North and West Europe, the Greeks had established an empire of culture and learning around the coastlines and islands of the Mediterranean Sea.
From their established bases in Sicily they gradually moved to the mainland into what is known today as Calabria, the first tribe they encountered were the Itali and they named the land ‘Italia’. So it is always with a smirk while defending my adopted people that I proudly tell the modern day inhabitants of places such as Milan, Rome and Venice who tend to look down their noses a little at the poor people of the south, that no matter how they view the Calabrese, they are the original Italians.

While the hills on which Rome would one day be built were frequented by no more than wildlife, sheep and the occasional shepherd, Calabria already had great towns built by the Greeks. As the Greeks established themselves, cities such as Sybaris (founded 720BC) were built. So rich was this city that the inhabitants’ opulent lifestyle would put the word ‘sybaritic’ into the English language to describe a person of luxurious living and outrageous pleasure seeking.

Many famous Greeks walked or established themselves in this land, Pythagoras set up home and a school here, while ancient Olympic heroes such as Philippus of Croton were born here, their taste for the local wine ‘Ciro’ which is still made here today was so great that it was sent back to Greece as a reward for other victorious Olympic athletes.

While Calabria and Greece were living in relative peace with class, civilisation and culture, a new force was growing in the north apparently with its origins in two human baby boys suckled by a she wolf (c.753BC)! Guess those shepherds didn’t do their job that well, but all the same Rome grew.

The first republic was established in 509BC and thus started the road to an Empire. But before the republic could conquer the rest of the known world, first it had to conquer or unite the tribes of Italy. Calabria was then as is now, almost an island from the rest of the Italian peninsula with sea on three sides and a range of mountains blocking easy passage from or to the North. It is said of those days that some of the fiercest opposition to Rome was here, as the different tribes battled for their lands, the Greeks on the other hand made an organized withdrawal…. and as we know, Rome eventually became the master.

Throughout Rome’s history as an empire it has had its fair share of enemies on its homelands. When first trying to establish itself around the Mediterranean,  Carthage of North Africa was ahead of the game with Sicily, parts of Spain and other lands already under its laws.

We have all heard of Hannibal (Born 247BC) the Carthaginian and his epic journey over the Alps with his army and war elephants but few know that he kept Rome in fear for eight years by stationing himself and his army in Italy. His base was in Calabria close enough to Sicily for passage to Africa if his country should recall him, and on Rome’s doorstep keeping them busy at home and their ideas off of a march on Carthage.

So strong were Hannibal and his army that even the politicians of his homelands feared that if he returned he may take power and so they decided to keep him in Calabria. It was only when Rome was knocking on the city gates that he was recalled, but with Rome already having a firm foothold on the continent it was all too late. Carthage and its empire were torn down to its very roots and Europe started to be taken into Roman occupation.

A thought for the modern world is that these were two great nations of equal strength struggling for power, the victor would one day influence the known world with its rules, laws and religion. That victor was Rome which many years later would convert to Christianity and spread its beliefs to all. The vanquished, or the lands in which they once lived turned to Islam, one wonders what the prominent religion of the world would have been today if Hannibal had been victorious.

And so it came to pass that the Roman Empire became rich, powerful and looking at the facts, a little stupid. Slaves from all its conquered territories were shipped to Italy to entertain and do all the work. So many slaves were brought in that they outnumbered Roman citizens and so the story of Spartacus (born c. 109BC) and the slave uprising can now be told (which is not necessary as we have all seen the movie when all the captured slaves after the final battle claim to be Kirk Douglas!)

But again one of the Empire’s enemies and general pain in the butt travelled to Calabria with his army and settled in what is now the area around the city of Reggio Calabria. When Rome finally caught up with him they built a huge containing defensive wall around him from coast to coast, and with the sea to his back Spartacus and his troops were surrounded. A great battle took place and miraculously the slave army broke free and headed north and out of Calabria. However, weakened and in disarray, once the Roman army again caught up with them in which is now the region of Campania, the revolt was finally quashed.

The final enemy of Rome to visit us here in Calabria was Alaric the king of the Visigoths (born 370AD). Alaric and his armies were the first to sack the city of Rome. By this time the empire had been split into two, the western empire with Rome its capital, and the eastern empire ruled from Constantinople, so I suppose we can say he only defeated one half of the Romans, but he did give the city a bashing and emptied it of all its gold and treasures.

With this little bundle well wrapped up, instead of heading north towards home he came South and camped outside what is now the city of Cosenza in Calabria. Here he died of a fever and was buried with all the treasures he had taken from Rome. It has never been found as the slaves that buried him were all put to the sword in order to keep the location secret. It is out there somewhere, but before you all buy a metal detector and jump in a car or jump on a plane, you should be told of the method of the burial. It took place at a point where two rivers met, both were diverted while the grave was dug and the burial could take place, and when done the rivers were again put on their natural course, so unless you can walk on water…forget it!

So there it is a little bit of Italian history that many know of but few associate with Calabria … Calabria the birthplace of Italian civilisation, the very first Italy that hardly gets a mention in modern travel guides.

Today Italy’s tourist trade is enticed over by the images of wonderful places like Venice, Pisa, Florence and Rome. Its history is shown through museums and historical sites such as the ruined cities of ancient Rome and Pompeii, while the very roots of its existence are ignored, yet still await discovery under the fields of my adopted homeland … can someone lend me a shovel?”

Clive J. Bayton

Be sure to visit Casa Cielo Scalea B&B’s Facebook page!

Casa Cielo
Casa Cielo

The Viking Ultimate World Cruise

Viking_Sun

Imagine embarking on a 245-day long cruise that takes you to 59 countries and includes tours of 113 of the world’s greatest cities – more than most of us will visit in a lifetime! Well, Viking Ocean Cruises can now make this a reality for you on the Viking Sun, taking you on the world’s longest ocean cruise. The 2019-2020 Viking Ultimate World Cruise starts and ends in London and essentially takes you on a tour of the entire Western Hemisphere:

2019-2020 Viking Ultimate World Cruise Map
2019-2020 Viking Ultimate World Cruise Map

Prices start at $92,990 per person BUT this is a first-class cruise that includes:

  • Business Class air
  • Ground transfers to/from the ship; private car transfers for all guests on the 245-day Viking Ultimate World Cruise
  • All onboard gratuities and service fees
  • The Silver Spirits beverage package, including virtually all drinks on board
  • Complimentary VISA Service2
  • Free luggage shipping services for embarkation & disembarkation for all guests on 245-day Viking Ultimate World Cruise

Also, if you book by Dec. 31, 2018, you will receive:

  • $4,000 per person shore excursions credit, which can be used toward optional shore excursions or overland tours
  • $2,000 per person shipboard credit, which can be used toward spa services, onboard shops & beverages

Here’s a video overview of the Viking ocean cruise experience:

Contact us for more information on this unique experience!

Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy

Here’s an excellent full-length documentary by David Marker about Southern Italian culture told through its indigenous folk music. This film focuses on how these traditions have been affected by the rapid changes in the local economy and by the homogenizing effects of globalization.

Filmed by an Italian-American rediscovering his family’s roots, the film takes the viewer through remote regions in Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Molise, introducing the people who carry on ancient traditions.

The Zampogna – the Italian bagpipe – is the physical manifestation of these traditions, its music representing the spirit and vitality of Southern Italy.

Pasta-Making Demonstration at Al Caminetto

How Travel Will Save the World

Watch Roseangela at Ristorante Al Caminetto in Tortora, Calabria demonstrate her pasta-making skills to us!

Please be sure to visit Al Caminetto when you’re in the area to enjoy the best Calabrian dishes that we’ve had anywhere! You can find them on TripAdvisor.

Here is Chris at Al Caminetto with our friend Giacomo Oliveri and his wonderful family, along with the proprietors of Al Caminetto:

Al Caminetto