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NCL Epic 6-14 July: Cruising the Med, Part I

[Cruise day 1] It was July 6, a Thursday, and I was going to board the NCL Epic in the early afternoon at the port in Civitavecchia. I got up and had breakfast of coffee and bananas, skipping the individually sealed cake offerings that Alastair and Shay’s daughters (13 & 14) scarfed down. They were also sailing on the Epic, so we checked out and together began walking to the cruise terminal pickup point off Via Prato del Turco. We were still together as we boarded the bus, but got separated once we reached the actual terminal on the pier. Solos apparently moved quicker.

Burger & fries, O'Sheehan's
Burger & fries, O'Sheehan's

Queued after sitting in the lounge, I then met another solo, a Scot named Gordon who now lives in Austin, with whom I stayed in touch throughout the cruise. Once we’d been processed and were on board, we headed to O’Sheehan’s, a pub, for lunch. Blue cheese burger, fries and a beer for me, a coke and fish&chips for him. After lunch I’d met Christine from Windsor (Ontario) and Tony from the UK, as we were all hanging out with our roll-ons waiting for the cabins to be available. Bonnie came in with Peter, her daughter’s husband’s brother and we discussed how to track missing luggage. Granted access to the room, I began putting the small roller’s contents in place, and had an issue with the corner slider door, which I reported to my steward.

Grabbing my camera, I hiked up 4 levels to the 15th deck, taking pictures of the harbor, the port, and the ship. I walked through the buffet area, getting pictures of it uncrowded! Taking advantage of the mobile phone coverage, I checked and had heard back from the inspector in Luxembourg – he’d pursue, but didn’t find any record of that contact. DB (German rail) hadn’t responded. Heading downstairs, I walked through bars, common areas and the casino, snapping a few shots here and there.

My suitcase was delivered, so I put the camera away and began unpacking and trying to find space to put most of my gear. When 5pm rolled by, I headed back to the solo lounge, meeting Cathi, who’s interests are archeology and biology, and a pair, Jo and Diane from Chicago. Gordon showed up after a bit. NCL staff came to join us, doing self-introductions. A group went off for dinner at 6:15, so we remaining all pretty much mingled.

At 7, Gordon and I headed down to Taste where we had dinner. My choices were cream of broccoli soup, southwestern smoked turkey salad, beef short rib ragu braised in red wine.

Performers, Howl at the Moon
Performers, Howl at the Moon

For dessert, crème caramel with berries and mint. Gordon retired, but I went to check out Howl at the Moon, the dualling piano venue that I’d enjoyed on my other NCL cruises. Unfortunately, the three performers were demanding tips to play a song, something I’d not experienced before. After about an hour, having listened to three Disney movie songs, I cut out. Besides, I had an early morning.

Day 2: Naples: The first port of call was Napoli, and Elisa, my ViaHero concierge, had arranged for me to be met at the dock by a driver with a car so that I could visit a handful of nearby cathedrals. When I had initially provided a list, the limo company replied with an order that I felt involved too much backtracking, so I sent a map and suggested order, which became the plan.

Setting my phone alarm for 6:30, I was up and in the solo lounge making myself a coffee and eating a croissant as I waited for the announcement that we could leave the ship. All clear came just before 7, and I was soon walking off the gangplank onto the pier, and heading for a taxi stand. Not sure who I was looking for, I went out to the waterfront boulevard and came back, WhatsApp messages flying. About 7:20 I spotted Gianni. We got in the “black car”, a BMW. And he proceeded to get out of the port area and onto the highway north.

Mountains heading north in Campania
Mountains heading north in Campania

About an hour later, crossing the Voltumo River in Capua, we came upon the domed Santa Maria della Grazie church, which I mistook, until reading the signs in front. Maps was pointing to the building across the street and up the block, the blank western end of the Basilica Cattedrale di Maria SS. Assunta in Cielo / Duomo di Capua.

Basilica Cattedrale di Maria SS. Assunta in Cielo / Duomo di Capua / Cathedral Basilica of St Mary Assumed into Heaven
Basilica Cattedrale di Maria SS. Assunta in Cielo / Duomo di Capua

From the Via Duomo, the street went through an arch entrance labeled “Basilica” to a paved stoned cloister-like plaza. Four pillared arches defined a porch, and the single entrance was up four steps. Inside, a wide and long central aisle filled with wooden pews on an abstract design decorative marble-inlayed floor. Nine plain dark gray columns supported the white trim and arched plaster vault, clerestory windows admitting natural light. Chapels filled the side aisles.

The presbytery is narrower than the nave, modern white ribs of arches along its length. The main altar is a large, block-like, of polished veined white marble, while against the apse wall, the classic high altar is up three steps, of carved marbles, and topped with bronze candlesticks. The apse wall is covered in a huge mural depicting heaven, with a tapestry of the Assumption at its center. A modern wood cathedra and new organ are to the south, while wood choir seats facing them. The campanile rose to five stories to the right of the street entrance. Behind it at the end of the north side aisle is a domed presence chapel.

Front facade, Cattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo / Cathedral of St Michael the Archangel, Caserta
Cattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo / Cathedral of St Michael the Archangel, Caserta

Returning to where Gianni had dropped me off, we got underway and headed a bit south and then east into the heart of Caserta. With a more open entry façade facing east, the Cattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo has a short piazza in front, eight steps up to a Palladian porch, iron gates guarding that porch and five doors. Baroque interior, it is filled with pastel hues. Speckled gray-and-white marble columns, accents of pink marble, ivory plaster and a gold-and-ivory coffered vault, it comes across as tasteful and stately.

Five aisles divide the black-and-white diamond-patterned floor, the transept arms house an altar to the archangel to the north, the Presence opposite. Above the crossing is a large painting of Michael leading the forces of heaven against Lucifer’s fallen. A very modern metal-and-marble bishop’s throne sits to the south of the main altar, seven steps up from the nave floor.

Cattedrale di San Paolo Apostolo / Cathedral of St Paul the Apostle, Aversa
Cattedrale di San Paolo Apostolo / Cathedral of St Paul the Apostle, Aversa

West out of Caserta, we met the motorway and turned south to Aversa. My luck was holding, as when we pulled up to the peach-and-white western façade of the Cattedrale di San Paolo Apostolo, I saw an open door. Deceptively larger than my first impression from the street, there are five separate additional gated chapels off the north side aisle, altars in the transept arms, and an ambulatory around the sanctuary.

Romanesque in design, the plaster flourishes are few, the walls and vault are white. The vault over the altars includes multiple painting of the life of St Paul. Dark marble is used for the high altar, framing a large oil painting, and bookended by golden statues.

From Aversa, we backtracked eastward and to the south to the city of Acerra. With the subsequent legs to the west, it probably would have been wiser to have gone here from Caserta and then Aversa. Twenty-twenty hindsight. Still, we were there in 40 minutes.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta / Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, Acerra
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta / Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, Acerra

Approaching from a piazza with a central fountain, the western façade, behind an iron 12-foot fence, looks like a modern Greek temple. Ionic capitals crown eight peach-colored columns, with a narrow porch and three doors into the church. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta is Romanesque, using pale blue panels and black edging to highlight features in the interior square white piers and vault. [In fact, looking at one of my photographs, it reminds me of an architectural drawing.]

The columns are faced with slabs of golden-brown marble. The limited, but consistent, color palette is so tastefully applied that I felt it was the textbook Romanesque cathedral of all I’d seen.

Next on the list was a co-cathedral in the city of Monterusciello. This one stumped Gianni, as he’d had knowledge of the others I’d planned on visiting. A long journey west, then meandering and backtracking up on a hill, after an hour we finally came to the church at the end of a road through wild fields sloping down towards the village. The Concattedrale di San Paolo Apostolo is a blocky structure of two stories, faced in pink stucco and behind a locked metal fence.

Concattedrale di San Paolo Apostolo / Co-cathedral of St Paul the Apostle, Monterusciello
Concattedrale di San Paolo Apostolo / Co-cathedral of St Paul the Apostle, Monterusciello

I entered through a gate into a school play yard, and asked a boy there if there was a way to enter the church. His aunt was inside, and she was able to show me the prayer chapel, and, through a glass panel, the back of the apse, but I really didn’t get inside. A priest could be called, but would take at least an hour, which I really didn’t have. San Paulo became a co-cathedral in 1995, sharing the bishop with Pozzuoli.

Gianni and I got back on the road to head to Pozzuoli, due south. Construction in the area around the hill the cathedral is built on was horrible, and he finally found a place he could pull over and sit in the car, sending me off on foot with vague directions. Several turns, lots of steps, and I found the side of the Basilica Cattedrale di San Procolo Martire.

Side facade, Basilica Cattedrale di San Procolo Martire / Cathedral of Saint Procolus Martyr, Pozzuoli
Basilica Cattedrale di San Procolo Martire / Cathedral of Saint Procolus Martyr, Pozzuoli

Roman temple-like, with columns along the outside walls, the south-facing front porch is enclosed by 4-5 story glass panels, which was blocked off by construction. I tried finding a way from the east side: attempting to walk around the block to approach it was blocked, restricted to residents only. I found an office, and the only option to enter the church would be to join a tour of the campus at 4:30. This was going to be as close as I got to the Duomo di Pozzuoli. I returned, with some difficulty, to the car. Assuming that there should be a pro-cathedral, I looked at Wikipedia and found that the Chiesa Santa Maria della Consolazione had served as the cathedral from 1968-2008 after a fire in the cathedral’s nave. With my poor Italian, I was unsure if the nearby Parrocchia Santa Maria della Grazie was the pro-cathedral, so I went there first. Not the case, I backtracked, finding that the Chiesa was on the Rione Terra, the hilltop where the cathedral is, and I’d walked past it on my original climb.

Front facade, Chiesa Santa Maria della Consolazione / Church of Our Lady of Consolation, Pozzuoli (former pro-cathedral)
Chiesa Santa Maria della Consolazione / Church of Our Lady of Consolation, Pozzuoli (former pro-cathedral)

Back up the hill in the blazing sun, I found the closed front of the Carmelite church. Getting lost, I tried to get Gianni to come get me, but he stubbornly dug in, insisting that I come to his new location. However, as we began to leave this port city, he actually drove up the hill and had to turn around in a parking lot in front of the pro-cathedral.

With three left on my list, the next would be different: I hoped to visit the ruins of the Ex-cattedrale di San Maximo di Cuma. By this time, Gianni and I were on one another’s nerve, and he wasn’t really listening to me, or I was just not communicating well. He insisted that I was looking for the church of St Maximus, which is a new, modern parish church. Once he started listening, he connected “di Cuma” to the archeological park in Cuma, and we headed there. The former cathedral, now ruins, had been built on the ruins of Greek and then Roman temples. Unfortunately, the gates were locked, but I have somewhere to come back to.

On our way back towards Napoli, we passed by the Lago d’Averno, where he stopped for me to get a few pictures. Hungry, he proposed that we dine at Garly in Naples. Initially, we were waiting on a table, and then a group of women who were expecting others to join them gave up their second table to us, so we were seated. A vegetable antipasto turned out to be tempura-like strips of veggies, and was followed for me by a pizza diavolo.

Leaving the restaurant to head east across the city of Naples to the cathedral, we wound up on the waterside boulevard. With two large cruise ships in port, traffic was a mess, and the car crawled. I finally decided that it was getting rather late, and should I get to the church, I would be rushed to ensure getting back before last call. So I had Gianni pull over. In my arranging this tour/guide, I had insisted that Elisa ensure that I could pay the balance by credit card. (The deposit had been through PayPal.) Gianni insisted that I pay cash, and I had to go to an ATM to get another 200€ to add to what I had from Viterbo, wiping out all my cash. This only made me more angry with Gianni, so we really didn’t part on good terms.

Boarding the Epic at 4:15, I headed to my cabin to deal with the pizza tomato gravy that I’d gotten on my new white polo – scrubbing the spots with soap and shampoo. Slipping on my Savannah Bananas t-shirt, I headed to the solo lounge to wait for Omar, the barkeep, to begin his setup. The solos drifted in, and a t-shirt toss to see who remembered the other’s names took place. A group left for early dinner, and I stayed, chatting first with Jonathan from Portland, and Faye, a real estate specialist from Maryland. I went to the Manhattan dining room solo, getting a seat with a view of the piano player. Getting a bottle from the wine list, I had a ’21 CdP to go with my dinner for a few nights.

Starting with avocado hummus, crème of asparagus soup and baked brie salad, I found the hummus to be bland despite its interesting presentation, the soup cool but enjoyed the crunch of the hazelnuts, and found the salad underwhelming. Grilled lemon pepper tilapia was “adequate”, not great. Not really a match for the wine, shame on me! Desserts have to really appeal for me to try, so the Snickers Pound Cake struck my fancy. Not enough chocolate for me, but the ice cream was good.

Day 3 - 8 July: Originally meant to be a port day in Caligari, Sardinia, NCL had dropped it in favor of a sea day. I was down to breakfast before 9 to have my staples: coffee, juice and oatmeal. I needed to remind myself in the future to get coffee in the solo lounge, as the dining room coffee is horrible. Looking out the portholes, there was a light overcast with 2-to-4-foot swells. My notes say I slept well, albeit I cautioned myself to drink less. After breakfast I returned to deck 11 and spent some time writing up my visit to Soissons and Laon back in early May. Feeling as I had accomplished something, I headed to the shops on decks 5-6-7, speaking with the Latitude desk where I got a silver pin – I’d be gold at the end of the trip.

Sea day lunch at Taste
Sea day lunch at Taste

Lunch at the Taste dining room started with corn chowder, tasty and flavorful, albeit not much corn; and a caprese salad where I enjoyed the drizzle of pesto and the mozzarella. Cuban rotisserie chicken was fully cooked, flavorful. That’s an Arnold Palmer in the picture of the raspberry sorbet, which I got for dessert. Afterwards, a few laps around the deck.

NCL Epic lap decl walking track
NCL Epic lap deck walking track

Sea day - view of the Mediterranean
Sea day - view of the Mediterranean

At the solo lounge gathering, Omar advised that NCL was weaning their bars of Glenmorangie 10, the single malt whiskey I prefer. I tried the Jamesons black before and after dinner, unimpressed. Heading to a reservation at (specialty dining) Shanghai with Mary, Cathi, and Gordon we found our dinner was a disappointment. Food delivery was slow, and the dishes had apparently been left under heat lamps too long. No pictures, but the meal was pot stickers, egg drop and corn soup, and Peking-style chicken. We headed to O’Sheehan’s afterwards to have carrot cake for dessert. I ordered another Jamesons, but didn’t finish it.

Day 4 – Mallorca: Starting my day with breakfast at Tastes, I ordered two eggs over easy, hash browns (meant corned beef,) wheat toast, a banana, mixed juice (orange and cranberry) and tea. [I was grousing in my journal – I’d talked with the guy at the excursion booking desk, only to find him surly and useless; then my waiter seemed to insist on putting every dish directly in front of me, despite my actively eating from what was there.] My excursion had apparently been moved from 12:30 (original arrival time was noon, we were in before 9) to meeting in the theater at 9:45.

In any case, my first pictures were from the excursion bus at 10:15 as we passed the cathedral on our way to the Blanca Terra winery, which we reached a half hour later.

Now I’ve been to many vineyards and wineries, so my interest was more in the food-and-wine pairings.

We started in the tasting room, getting a taste of Orígens, a white, to take with us as we moved outside (but under cover, as it was quite warm and sunny.) The guide led us past older equipment, discussing the vinification process and how it has changed.

Out back was a plot with vines. Getting inside, the new more modern equipment was on display, stemmer-crushers, stainless tanks, bottling-and-labeling line. The “cave”, where the wine aged in barrels, was the next point of the tour, and included a concrete “egg”, which I’d only seen rarely.

Wine pairing food, Blanca Terra Winery
Wine pairing food, Blanca Terra Winery

Wine pairing food, Blanca Terra Winery
Wine pairing food, Blanca Terra Winery

The tour ended back in the tasting room, and long tables were soon populated with the passengers. Passió, a rosé made from malvasia, with a touch of a merlot-cab blend for color, was our first taste, with small tapas for each pour. This was followed with Forvila, a white made from chardonnay and riesling, and poured from a magnum bottle. The final taste was Febrer, a red blend of cab, merlot and monastrell, which had been aged for a year-plus in oak.

Leaving others to their purchases, many of us walked across the parking lot to Orquidea where Majorca Pearls were made and sold. Using a blowtorch, the craftsperson (usually female) forms beads along a strand or on a vertical post. The showroom was filled with necklaces and jewelry made with “pearls” from a rainbow of colors. Some of the more exquisite pieces were quite pricey. I picked up a pair of small navy-blue posts for informal wear?

Heading back into Palma, we headed to kamaleónico for lunch, arriving just before 2. The meal consisted of a series of tapas: sausages and meats, fried rice balls, quesadilla.

Wine was available to pour from an open bottle on the table, and I sat with a couple from Miami and a couple from Ontario. There had been a brief tour coming into La Rambla, so after lunch most chose to wander in the downtown, hoping they could find the shuttle pickup point later.

Street shots, Palma de Mallorca
Street shots, Palma de Mallorca

A pair of Texan sisters, staying in the Haven (the high-end upper deck) and I headed to the cathedral, comfortably strolling and observing. Getting closer to the water and the highway we’d used to start the day, the red sandstone Spanish Gothic building rose mightily above us. At a height of 121m, it dwarfs Beauvais, the tallest of the French cathedrals by a factor of two and a half.

Front facade through trees, Catedral de Santa María de Palma de Mallorca / Cathedral of St Mary of Palma de Mallorca
Catedral de Santa María de Palma de Mallorca / Cathedral of St Mary of Palma de Mallorca

The Seu as it is informally known, the Catedral de Santa María de Palma de Mallorca was closed that Sunday afternoon. Almost a monolith, I kept retreating from it, trying to find a way to capture its rose majesty. Finally crossing to the waterfront, I could find the shot I wanted. As I turned around, there were the Epic and another cruise ship in the harbor.

Grabbing a draft beer on La Rambla, Palma de Mallorca
Grabbing a draft beer on La Rambla

Most of the tour exited the bus when we got to downtown Palma. About 5pm bunch of us gathered and found the shuttle stop, returning to the ship. Climbing the stairs from walking on at deck 4, I got up to deck 15 and took one last shot of the cathedral, hoping to return on a day when it would be open. After a shower, I headed to the solo lounge and relaxed, speaking with a woman from southwest Missouri.

I tried dining at Manhattan, but I got turned back as I was wearing shorts, so I went down a level to Taste for dinner. Again seated solo, I tried the creamy spinach soup to start. It was hot, very spinach-y, and full of flavor. A second starter, seared swordfish carpaccio was just bland; and the grilled iceberg wedge had some flavor, but I labelled it “plebian”. Since the carved roasted pork loin came with asparagus, I picked it. The meat was tougher than I expected, but the vegetables and the gravy were good. Expecting to pass on dessert, they proffered one with my weaknesses: chocolate raspberry torte. Seemingly a wedge of cake, the raspberry was mousse and very good raspberry flavors; the chocolate was light on flavor, the mixed berry sauce mere button size dots. My notes say that it needed a cappuccino.

9 July Dinner at Taste
9 July Dinner at Taste

After dinner I headed to the lounge, sitting and relaxing, chatting with folks as they passed through. When I got back to my cabin, I crashed, neglecting to do my backups!

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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