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Transatlantic trip December 2023 - Days 3-4: Livorno and Marseilles

Day 3 - Livorno


Arrival time in Livorno was set for 9, so I was up at 8:30 and headed to the buffet to have fruit and juice for breakfast. I’d agreed to share my private excursion with Linda, a devout woman from Albuquerque, so we met up at the solo lounge and then headed to the pier. Vinny was ready with a Mercedez sedan and took us to Lucca, arriving at 11:30. We purchased tickets getting us access to the baptistry (whose lower levels include the foundations for the earlier cathedral in Lucca, and now functions as the Chiesa dei Santa Giovanni e Reparata), the cathedral itself, the campanile and the museum.

Chiesa dei Santi Giovanni e Reparata, Museum, Archeological ruins of first cathedral in Lucca
Chiesa dei Santi Giovanni e Reparata, Museum, Archeological ruins of first cathedral in Lucca

In June, I’d visited the cathedral on a day trip from La Spezia, so I was able to add to the photos I’d taken. Linda passed on scaling the cathedral the tower, but I climbed the steps and ladders, getting pictures through grills, similar to those we’d taken from the tower in the baptistry. The museum was well presented, with numerous articles and relics.

Images from the Duomo di San Martino, Lucca
Images from the Duomo di San Martino, Lucca

We walked back to the plaza in front of the former home of Elizabeth Napoleon (and the carousel) to meet Vinny and then head off to Pescia. The Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta e di San Giovanni Battista is in the old city center, with tight viewing lines. Boxy, the single front door grants entry into a nave where the side aisles have been dedicated to shrines and chapels.

Front facade, Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta e di San Giovanni Battista, Pescia
Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta e di San Giovanni Battista, Pescia

These side altars are elaborate, with marbles of many shades, and large framed art. Per signage in each chapel, these paintings were an exhibition “Raffaello: L Madonna del Baldacchino”.  While I appreciated these late eighteenth century works, I was most intrigued by the altar face and the front of the ambo, which appeared to be formed of standing crystals of a silver-like metal.

Back out to the small square, we found Vinny and began our journey to the third entry on my list. On my July cruise on the Epic, I’d done an excursion to San Miniato, for lunch at a sheep farm which was across a valley from the old city. Hence I never “stood in the shadow” of the cathedral there. Our journey was mostly over back roads, which Vinny handled with dexterity at speed. Soon we were climbing the twisted roads up into the old city.

Nearing the top, we stopped, as the road was blocked with crafts people under white canvas tents, a Christmas market of sorts. Linda and I followed the road up a few more switchbacks until we reached the top. In front of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e San Genesio stood a partially tent covered a large wooden platform, which ran up to the columned balustrade overlooking the town and valley below.

Exterior, Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e San Genesio, San Miniato
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e San Genesio, San Miniato

In the distance, a round baptistry was up a slight incline. The campanile was different - more rectangular than square - with two arched openings on the west face while a single opening to the north; it was at the east end of the building. The entry facade was fairly plain, with four similarly-sized round stained-glass windows over the three doors. Four steps up from the stone plaza led to the central wooden door for entry.

Round mottled rose marble is used for the columns supporting the vault over the central aisle, filled with gilded plaster work. Black and white tiles in a diamond pattern covered the nave floor. The side walls are striped, a thin black horizontal strip set between white stone blocks. Above are large oil paintings spanning both side walls, interrupted by a setback chapel on each side. At the crossing, the transept arms house altars to Our Lady of Sorrows and to the Assumption. Under one of several domes, at the crossing the contemporary main altar sits in front of the cathedra, the high altar and the organ pipes, but behind a stone communion rail.

Taking the stairs down from the promenade, we were able to scope out some of the tented booths, which seemed to be offering some crafts, as well as “other people’s junk.” I asked Linda if she would object to a stop at a market while returning to port, and she agreed to my plan. Vinny was amenable, and as we passed a large Co-op on our road out of town, he turned in. Linda and I each picked up a health collection of chocolate, which I will be bringing back to the considerable stash I acquired earlier this year. We continued on the highway, coming into the port “the back way” which avoided passing through Livorno proper. A bit of a glitch then occurred - when I arranged the booking, I specifically set up payment by credit card. Vinny didn’t have the machine to process a payment, and brought us back out to an ATM before I insisted he call his boss. A resolution was found, with Vinnie taking photos with his phone of my card. We then returned to the ship and boarded without needing anything further from duty free.

At 5 I joined my fellow single travelers in the solo lounge, and after the early group left at 6pm, Linda and I joined a group filling 2 tables of 6 at Manhattan. (Chicken wrap, potato soup, beet and waldorf salad and chicken and shrimp bambam. Cheese plate for dessert.)

Day 3 - Dinner at Taste
Day 3 - Dinner at Manhattan

Several in the group headed to Headliners for Howl at the Moon (dueling pianos), but I was tired and headed to the cabin to crash. Photos backed up, journal updated, and down for the count.


Day 4 - Marseilles


Observation Deck, NCL Epic while in port of Marseilles
Observation Deck, NCL Epic

We had a late arrival scheduled for Marseilles, so I headed to Taste for breakfast of shashuka, a spicy African presentation with poached eggs. My excursion would leave at one thirty, so, after a stop at the Observation Deck, I headed to deck 15 and The Garden Cafe to snag a table to push through on emails. It was cloudy, spitting rain. I’d explored the possibility of walking into town to visit the cathedral there (it turns out there is a second ethnic cathedral in the city), but couldn’t be sure I’d get back for the tour. After chatting with an Indian couple from Chicago, I had a light lunch and then left the ship for the pier-side rendezvous. The miserable weather persisted.

Basilique-Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d'Aix-en-Provence / Saint Saveur Cathedral Basilica
Basilique-Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d'Aix-en-Provence / Saint Saveur Cathedral Basilica

Our bus left near time (one of three making this excursion offering,) and we arrived in Aix-en-Provence about 2:30 and soon approached the Basilique-Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d'Aix-en-Provence / Saint Saveur Cathedral Basilica. Gothic facade, there are two towers on the left (when facing the entrance). To the right is the surviving building section of the predecessor cathedral structure. Across the street, a cobbled stone park had young trees which still had leaves, limiting my sightline options.

We entered to the right side of the front facade, using the old cathedral entrance. Inside, down a few steps, was a small museum exhibit and information table. The old cathedral had been converted into an octagonal baptistry, with dark columns rising to support a dome.

Into the cathedral, the nave is three aisles, with the central portion used for regular worship, and large shrines and chapels in the side aisles.  Very low lighting, I had to pop up the flash a few times, and brace to get longer exposure shots. I feel the building would use a good cleaning. The ambo, cathedra and the main altar are modern sculptures, all located in front of the presbytery.

With the unpleasant weather, we wound up inside for nearly an hour, before our guide walked us down a slight sloping street to the city center, a long broad promenade, filled with trees, and multiple Christmas Market-type booths. We were given an hour to explore, with many of us poking into cafes to get a warm-up drink and use the facilities.

I stopped at the Bistro Roi Rene for two glasses of red plonk. Heading back to the rendezvous point, I had a few minutes so poked into Monoprix and picked up several bags of cheese crackers and potato chips to have during the 2-hour late afternoon bar scene in the Studio Lounge. The bus arrived back at port as the ship was announcing last call, so we hustled on the ship. While enjoying a JWB on ice, I arranged to have dinner with Sally and Oliver at O’Sheehan’s. (Chicken wings, fish and chips, carrot cake.)

The solo group had seats set aside for Burn the Floor, a singing-dancing extravaganza in the Epic Theater.  As it turned out, I’d seen the show (twice) during my summer cruise. Back to the cabin to back up my camera and phone pictures, updated the journal and turned in for the night.

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

You can purchase your own copy

(or have me send it as a gift) of

Cathedrals to the Glory of God

by clicking this link:


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