Cuba – Santiago de Cuba

We were pleased to learn of a Cuba immersion cruise. Cuba has been a bucket list trip for a long time. I was hopeful that we’d be able to spend some time there when things opened up a couple of years ago, but unfortunately things were clamped down again in 2017 with the new administration. When Regent offered a trip with six days of Cuba venues we jumped.

We sailed from Miami and our first excursion was supposed to be snorkeling out of Nassau.This was cancelled due to rough weather (nothing like the recent storms in Norway) so we wandered around old Nassau instead. Anything within walking distance from the pier was a tourist trap but it was nice nonetheless. We set sail that afternoon for Santiago de Cuba, the oldest (founded 1515) and second largest city in Cuba, located near the far southeastern edge of the island.

The main square is called Céspedes Park. It is home to Cuba’s only Cathedral, the Casa Granda Hotel and lots of signs and photos highlighting its place in the revolution. Fidel Casto proclaimed victory from a balcony on this square.

We took a side trip to a town near a former copper mine. It was so central to life in the town that the town is called El Cobre (the copper). The El Cobre basilica is home to the patron saint of Cuba, the Virgen de Caridad, and is a well-loved pilgrimage site. It is also used for Quinceañera parties for 15 year old girls.

We also visited the country’s best steel drum band (La Steel Band del Cobre). They were fantastic. They have a broader repertoire than I expected which ranged from local songs to the Beatles and Michael Jackson.

Our cultural exchanges were the highlight of Santiago de Cuba. Te professional Orfeon Choir gave us a small taste of the vocal talent in this city. Amazing.

Venice – Days 8, 9 & 10

What to say. We had relatively low expectations for Venice. We’d heard comments like “too dark,” “too smelly,” and “too dirty.” We experienced none of the above. In fact we’d return to Venice in a heartbeat.

 

We have visited a number of cities in the Baltic area who try to lay claim to being the “Venice of the North” – St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Brugges, etc. Their claims are not even close. It is one thing being a city with a bunch of canals, it is another being a city that would be lost without them. All of their infrastructure is canal centric – garbage trucks (boats), cement trucks (boats), taxis (boats) busses (boats), fishing (boats – oops well duh). Truly amazing, and it works. One very big side benefit is that you don’t spend time looking over your shoulder wondering when the next bus, car, motorcycle will run you over like we did in Firenze or Roma.

We also learned about the Doges (AKA Dukes) who ruled Venice for almost a thousand years. Their home, the Palazzo Ducale is breathtaking, as is the Basilica San Marco next door. Every direction you turn in the Piazza San Marco is beautiful.

The six of us took a two hour water taxi ride in and around the city and saw Venice’s beautiful landmarks from whole new perspectives.

I ended up taking about 300 shots in Venice alone. I am only posting a few. Many more from Venice and our trip in general can be found at Photos. I’ll end this final entry of our trip with some early morning (6AM) shots of the Piazza.

Modena – Day 8

On our way across Italy from Liguria to Venice we stopped in the outskirts of Modena. We visited a balsamic vinegar producer (an acetaia). Acetaia Paltrinieri has been in the business since 1845. We have long been balsamic fans and our interest has grown in recent years as we’ve watched our friends at the Terraces Winery in Rutherford, CA get ready to launch their balsamic offering. As Timm Crull often says; “You start a balsamic business for your grandchildren, not your children.” Seeing how Paltrinieri approaches their business confirms this approach as necessary.

Our tour let us see their production process from the initial stages through the curation of their batteries. Needles to say we came home with a couple of their delicious offerings.

Porto Venere and the Cinque Terre – Days 6, 7 and 8

We pulled into Porto Venere just in time for the golden hour of light (the last hour or two before sunset or sunrise is ideal for photography). The warmth of the light is wonderful.

The next morning we were scheduled to take a ferry to the towns of Cinque Terre. Unfortunately they were cancelled due to high winds. Not to be deterred, our bus took us to a stop above Manarolo. Mary and I had visited this area by ferry nine years ago so we were a bit skeptical that we would see as much, but in the end we had a whole new set of vistas and an expanded perspective on the area. We wandered around Manarolo and the paths above it. We had lunch here and then caught the train to Monterrosso al Mare. We are still in love with this iconic area. 

I had to capture a sunrise shot before we departed for Venice. Early morning photography is becoming de rigueur for me on these trips.

Lucca – Day 6

As we headed towards Liguria and the Cinque Terre we stopped for a couple of hours in Lucca. It is known for a couple of things – among them the very well preserved walls that date back to the eleventh century, the church San Michele in Foro, built before 795 and rebuilt in 1070, and the original home of Giacomo Puccini.

I have always loved the way Tuscans decorate their balconies and doorways.

Firenze – Days 4-6 (part 2)

There are other things wonderful about Firenze, including d’Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia with Michelangelo’s David.

Not to mention the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio (with the crazy crowds) and the fun streets scenes (was this a BYOB party/parade). 

We also experienced an Italian cooking class, complete with student participation (the cooking AND the eating part). We made hand-rolled pici pasta, a garlic and tomato sauce typical of Roma, fettunta, bruschetta with white beans and a delicious Tiramisu. Nummo.

Firenze – Days 4-6

The Duomo, the Duomo, the Duomo (Also known as Santa Maria del Fiore.)

The Duomo up close.

The Duomo from across the river.

The Duomo as a backdrop.

The Duomo after a rain in the early hours of the day.

I am glad I wasn’t shooting film, it would have been expensive.

Siena – Day 4

We left Roma and headed north towards Firenze through the heart of Tuscany. We stopped along the way to visit Siena – one of my favorite cities in the area.

The Palazzo Publico tower can be seen from the outskirts of the city and is even more impressive up close.

Last time we were here (~9 years ago) the Duomo was being restored. It is now almost complete and we were able to really appreciate it.

As always the side streets hold lots of interest.

Roma – Day 3

Today we ventured to some of the piazzas of Roma: Piazza Navona with the Bernini Four Rivers fountain (and the artists trying to sell their wares), the Della Rotunda and the Pantheon, and Piazza Colonna with the carved column dedicated to Marcus Aurelius.

 

 

Of course we also had to visit the normal touristy stops; the Trevi Fountain (which had just finished being repaired and was dry), the Spanish Steps, and the wonderful side streets we discovered on the walk back to our hotel.

 

 

Lots of walking but with all of the good food we are eating it was wonderful.

Speaking of food, we capped it all off with a dinner at the home of Federica and Barbara in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. Just a small intimate dinner party for 20.

A really short video from the dinner party

Roma – Days 1 & 2

We set out for the third installment of European Vacation, Feikema family style. This involved the six of us descending on JFK from SFO, MSP and BNA. After the normal JFK high jinks, we all boarded a flight to Roma. We arrived in time to grab a quick pizza, a beer and/or glass of Prosecco, clean up and get ready for our welcome dinner. We joined twelve other intrepid travelers from across the US for ten days of exploration in the heart of Italy. Our journey was to take us from Rome through Tuscany to Liguria ending in Venice. We were pumped.

The next morning we visited the Forum and the Coliseum. Our guide was great and gave us a good sense of the expanse of the history that we were walking through. I had visited these sites before but the guide made a real difference.

 

 

After lunch (which was an amazing plate of Pasta Carbonara – because bacon!) we visited the Vatican Museum and St. Peter. The art and architecture were amazing but difficult to appreciate due to the crowds. In the Sistine Chapel everyone was warned many times, no talking and no pictures. Good luck. It was sad how disrespectful the crowds of seemingly every country were. Selfie sticks, blatant picture taking and noise. Oy.