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Old October 3rd, 2011, 03:59 PM
Jason Leppert
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As per what has become my tradition, Iím updating this virtual cruise on a beautiful warm Mediterranean evening at the Lawn Club. Itís amazing how a feature such as grass on a cruise ship, which seemed like a corny idea to me when conceptualized originally, has actually turned out to be my favorite place on the Solstice-class ships. Itís such a relaxing space with the beautiful touch of nature accented by subtle warm lighting and the pulsing rumble of the shipís engines.

Today we were in Sorrento, Italy, but Iíd like to save that update for tomorrowís day at sea and instead tell you about our time in Rome yesterday. Via the industrial port of Civitavecchia, my dad and I jaunted off with our private guide to Ostia, the ancient Roman seaport. Having already explored the Vatican, Coliseum, Circus Maximus, catacombs, etc. in our past travels, we decided to delve into the B-sides of Roman tourism and explore this more serene archaeological site.

What is first apparent is how quiet this site is early in the morning when the hordes of tourists lined up to see the Sistine Chapel are well out of the way. Sure by the end of the morning some tours started to show up, but even then, the crowds were no where near those of central Rome. It was a very relaxed tour with the opportunity to take in every element fully without distraction.

We had enjoyed the services of our tour guide in the past and were so pleased that we hired Daniele once again for this excursion. If you ever have a need for an extremely personable and knowledgeable guide for Rome, feel free to contact me for his contact information as I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending him to anybody.

Daniele personally escorted us around the massive archaeological site that consists of fascinating ancient seaport warehouses and offices, the remains of multi-story residences, baths, churches, temples, and a cemetery among many other structures. It is an entire city complex with all of the Roman necessities and pleasantries spread out across a single site available to relatively uninhibited exploration. Sure there are some areas that are roped off for safety or current restoration, but all in all, itís all right there ready to be taken in. Most of the marble ornamentation has since been removed and repurposed elsewhere very much like the Pantheon, but many colorful fresco fragments and floor mosaics remain intact.

Itís my understanding that most, if not all, cruise ship tours bypass this site altogether. So if you happen to be taking a private tour, I highly recommend Ostia as a site to visit if you have already seen the other highlights or desire a taste of Roman antiquity without the typical crowds associated with said highlights.

After our great Indiana Jones adventure, we went out into the Roman countryside and up the hillside where the Pope has his summer residence. We went up to the small citadel adjacent to this residence to partake in a traditional Italian lunch. Private guides often take you to where they like to eat away from the tourists at restaurants that cater to a local slow-paced culinary lifestyle. Our lunch was of this variety. Gnocchi and meatballs were perfectly accompanied by a great local syrah and served with relaxed attentiveness. And the extraordinary view of the beautiful lake below was surely the icing on the cake.

The only thing that distracted from our relaxed day of touring was the curiously contrasting, fast pace of the congested Roman roads. Vespas and Smart cars abound in this race and break, race and break vehicular dance. But then you are back on your ship and relaxation quickly sets back in. La dolce vita.

As a quick aside, Iíd like to share some photos of the Grand Princess that I took as we saw her in Barcelona prior to our cruise. Here you see her with Skywalkers removed from her stern. No longer does the ship sport a sort of odd spoiler or giant push-me-pull-me toy handle which was removed very shortly ago. Here you can see where some of the bulky structural supports still remain and where the entrance to the floating jetway has been retrofitted as a small patio outcropping.

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