IT WAS April 28, 2012. Rome, as summer breaks, was swarming with tourists from all over the world. The seat of the Holy See – the Vatican – is the center of attraction for here lies the biggest cathedral in the world, the St. Peter’s Basilica, and in here too are kept priceless pieces of work of art, carved in and from marble stones and brushed by world renown artists among them Michelangelo and his legions of students and contemporaries.
Here too are preserved ruins of the glory that was Rome ‘which sat on the seven hills and from her throne of beauty once ruled the world’.
The magnificent nude sculptures in bronze and stones lined up the hallway towards the Sistine Chapel one wonders why some religious and city legislators back home would rage and protest a statue of David at Queensland Motel gate.
Leaving the capital for the port city of Civitavecchia transports us to the vast landscape of grassland now and then punctuated by gardens in green houses. I saw an installation of solar panels along the way. It should interest Davao City planners and consumers to know that Italy’s total consumption of power based on 2008 data is 338 TWH. Much of this is derived from hydropower plants and energy that is “imported” from France. They plan to increase natural gas, hydropower plants and renewable power sources like wind and solar but its 2020 target of 17 percent renewable is dismally off target as they had totally abandoned nuclear power generators. In the whole of Italy, solar power account for 3.1 percent of their total usage. What is significant is that 97 percent of these are installed on the rooftops by farmers and small businesses whose consumption is not over 200 kwh the average being 80 kw.
Entering Civitavecchia shows how systematic is the management of the port on top of the security, discipline and comport of port personnel. Navigator of the Seas of the Royal Caribbean Cruise looms like a 15-floor condominium and dwarfing other vessels nearby. Our group of 25 had our distinct luggage tags and left with the Navigator’s porters to attend to. Four days before we left Davao City, I managed to check-in via the website of the Caribbean, so my family was whisked to a special lane. But some computer glitches somehow got in the way for while I have all the data in my hard copy. I did get my sea pass like everyone else. They were that efficient and pretty… like my wife.
We had time to move around the over 1,000 feet long 15-decked cruise ship that houses 10 pools and whirl-pools and 16 bars, clubs, and lounges. Seventy percent of the more than 1,500 crew members are Filipinos so it’s like just having a new intimate neighborhood.
The Navigator has its own crew of ace photographers complete with the ship’s logo for props. I learned from experience (this is my 4th cruise) that while they make good pictures the price of 10 copies can buy you a brand new and handy digital camera, so why bother. As everybody was taking pictures of themselves and ourselves, I noticed Ricky Floirendo was aiming and clicking at the harbor and dockyards. “We have this expansion in our Panabo Port which we also plan to have a wharf for tourists cruise ships. At least I have a first-hand knowledge about how they planned and managed their ports. They have the best in this Mediterranean route we take,” Ricky explained.
There are eight restaurants aboard. The food counters are awash with everything your gastronomic mania longed for. Angus beef and lobsters can be satiating for even the rich Pinoys among us. But one of the Executive Chefs is a Filipino who prepared special dishes for us – chicken port adobo, crispy pata, pancit and kare-kare to name a few. Every day, the ship kitchen crew prepares a variety of food for some 3,000 guests. Nothing is recycled. A couple of our group mates, Engr. Nelson and Dra. Judith Maglana paid $150 each for a 3-hour tour of every nook and cranny of the Navigator. Engineer Maglana told me that leftover food is consigned to two huge grinders that pulverize these before this is disposed to the sea. Just imagine the feast crabs are having down there.
Remember Messina? If you have seen the movie Patton, Messina in Sicily, Italy was a significant arena of World War II especially on the part of the Americans who lost to the Germans in the Tunisian campaign. Sicily was an important target for the Allied forces in that it is a bastion of combined German and Italian Axis forces.
These days Messina is a prime tourist destination. The city prides itself with a well preserved Piazza del Duomo where you see the world’s largest astronomical clock that is set on top of a 200-foot bell tower. Each flight on the tower is visible and the images that are seen from below come to life at the strike of noon when a melodious Ave Maria is played. Right beside the bell tower is the ancient Cathedral of Messina.
From Messina, we set sail by evening.
At breakfast, we were met by unfamiliar music. The Navigator had docked in Kusadasi, Turkey, the gateway to the ancient city of Ephesus.
From the 9th deck we saw a grand welcoming party in their native costumes, singing and dancing. There were welcome drinks, fruits…and yes plenty of oranges. I discovered later that streets in the urban centers are lined with fruit-bearing orange trees.
Ephesus is where John (the disciple) brought Mother Mary to escape the Romans persecution that followed the crucifixion of Christ. John built a house for Mary on an isolated peak.
Both Christians and the Moslems refer to the small structure as “the House of Mama Mary”. But the City of Ephesus itself is nothing but ruins of magnificent ancient buildings wrecked by series of earthquakes.
Here once stood the Basilica of St. John and not far from it the Isa Bey Mosque. It is a long walk from the entrance to the exit but one would never realize how far one had traveled. For it is here that Cleopatra and Mark Antony had their tryst. The streets now covered with debris are made of marbles. Alongside once stood the magnificent temples - the one of Artemis and Hadrian, fountains, and theaters.
From the ruins one could note that the Ephesians had their own water distribution system, and yes, even common toilets that are perched on top of a drainage canal that takes the waste to a proper and hygienic disposal. So unlike our coastal dwellers.
The highlight of the Mediterranean cruise is Athens, the capital of Greece. The famous Acropolis may be littered with ruins brought about by tremors and conquerors but nothing succeeded in eradicating the glory and the myths like the one about goddess Athena who dwelled in the grandiose Parthenon. Awesome is not enough to describe. The Parthenon was a temple for Athena, then later as cathedral by the Christians and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and then following the conquest by the Ottoman Empire it was converted to a mosque. Stocked inside the Parthenon was the ammunition. When the Venetian warriors came they rained the Parthenon with cannon balls, igniting the gunpowder depot and destroying the once beautiful Greek architecture. These days restoration is being done, delicate task which hopefully, will be more stronger and stable to withstand time, war and natural calamities as fitting monuments to the cradle to democracy.