This was a last-minute request to join the Saga Ruby on her very last cruise – to the Caribbean and back during the Christmas period. I had just 24 hours’ notice. So a mad panic of packing that afternoon after the phone call and down to Southampton to embark the following lunch-time.
The itinerary was to call in at the Azores then over to Barbados and round several islands with me being flown back from St Lucia in time for Christmas at home. Only it didn’t quite work out that way. We had to divert to the Canaries to skirt round a violent Atlantic storm.
Then the air- conditioning generator broke down so the whole programme had to be changed. The Caribbean was out. Instead it was to be a cruise round the Mediterranean. This caused much muttering amongst the passengers. Forty decided to fly home. It actually suited me.
There was a calm passage into a mill-pond Med with pleasantly warm sunshine. And some interesting new ports of call for me – Sicily in particular. While there was a chance to see Pompeii free of crowds on a glorious sunny morning before being flown home from Naples.
Image 1: we’d berthed in Messina for the day and I took an excursion down the west coast overlooking the narrow strait between Sicily and the heel of Italy.
Image 2: this amphitheatre was carved out of the slopes of Mount Tauro, 702 ft above the Ionean Sea in the 7th century BC. It is one of the most celebrated ruins in Sicily and the second largest, able to seat 5400 spectators. From the ruins, framed by its proscenium (here well preserved unlike most ancient theatres) you can gaze across the Bay of Naxos to the 11000 ft summit of Mt Etna – Europe’s highest active volcano.
On the day I was there, the peak was initially covered in a blanket of cloud. But this evaporated to reveal a simply stunning vista of the snow-capped peak glinting in the sun as the following picture shows.
Image 3: as part of the compensation for not going to the Caribbean, Saga organised a banquet in La Valette Hall in Valetta – the construction of which started in 1574.
This was the ‘Great Ward’ of the Sacra Infermeria which was considered to be one of the best hospitals in Europe. The setting was spectacular, the food diabolical.
Image 4: to think there was me walking along a road that got buried under mountains of ash and rock on the 24th August 79 AD. We stepped into a brothel that had some explicit couplings painted on the walls. No doubt there was coitus interruptus here when Vesuvius went bang.
Image 5: the Forum is located at the intersection between the two main streets of the city and was an area where cart traffic was forbidden. On this morning it was beginning to heave with human traffic and I found it difficult to get a pic without a head bobbing into view.