Wrapping my arms tightly around Mum, the pair of us laughed aloud as a thoughtful tourist offered to take our photo while we jostled for a prized position in front of the Trevi Fountain. Smiling for the camera, tears filled our eyes, as we wanted to hold onto this moment of pure joy that had bookended our family adventure from Athens to Rome. “Thank you my darling,” Mum whispered into my ear. “Thank you Mummo … ” I replied, before we started to cry. Gazing at the sculpture of Oceanus pulled by a chariot of sea horses, the beautiful, deep blue blur of the past eight days rushed through me. Mum, my two sisters; Harriet and Claudia, and I had been journeying onboard the Viking Jupiter, for its ‘Journey to Antiquities’ cruise. Our senses had been overloaded with ancient ruins, blood red moons and tales of the gods, goddesses and their dysfunctional offspring.
A history lesson brought to life
The Acropolis, Temple of Poseidon, the Palace of Knossos, Olympia and Pompeii had been legendary places I had daydreamed about during art history in high school, when my teacher would project small Kodak slides of them onto the screen. Now these ancient masterpieces were coming to life right in front of my eyes during our own odyssey.
We had never travelled all together as ‘grown ups’, without our children and partners for distraction. How would four strong, opinionated and different women, varying in age and quirks, fit together for thetrip of a lifetime? Well, the myths of the ancients combined with the luxury of cruise travel proved to be the ideal ingredients. Every evening we’d meet up for drinks in the Explorers Lounge, making sure to grab our favourite corner couches with the best view as our ship headed off to its next port. But direction has never been my strong point, so the four of us would ‘debate’ whether we were heading left, right, north or south as we watched the sun set over the endless horizon.
Apart from navigation tips, we’d also share the latest legend or newfound historical fact that had wowed us that day during our tour excursion. Almost every morning we’d wake in a new port. I couldn’t wait to pull aside the curtains and discover what life was unfolding in the harbour below our ship. However, I’m sure the local fisherman of Messina didn’t know what to make of the demented Aussie, clad in a white bathrobe, waving and yelling ‘ciao’ from her cabin balcony, as the golden morning light reflected off the waterfront buildings of this seafaring city.
Exploring Italy on a Mediterranean cruise
Later that day, winding our way along impossibly narrow roads lined with orange prickly pear, we arrived at the Sicilian village of Savoca. Perching on the edge of the stone fence in the medieval village we ate freshly baked pizza while over our shoulder, snow-capped Mount Etna was gently blowing off some steam. And just a day later we marvelled at the dangerous beauty of Mount Vesuvius in Naples, her layer of volcanic ash immaculately preserving the city of Pompeii.
While my sisters and I leapt across the stepping stones which were laid to stop citizens’ togas from dragging in the dirt, we stopped to rub our hands in the grooves in the pavement, left behind by the chariots that had been pushed through the city gates two thousand years ago.
Our exclamations of wonder soon quietened when our guide showed us a plaster cast of a girl trying to protect her face from deadly volcanic gases. This, along with the other plaster casts of people and animals, captures so movingly the precious and precarious nature of life.
The four of us were determined not to miss a moment of our trip, so when we had a day crossing the Ionian sea, I managed to convince Claudia, my youngest sister, to join me in a Nordic Spa (a Viking Cruises speciality). Firstly, you go into the ‘snow room’, which is just as it sounds, a room filled with snow. When you can’t bear the cold any longer you go into the steam room. You repeat the process as many times as you like, and you can interrupt it with an ice bucket shower! The pair of us laughed and laughed, later showing off our dewy complexions to our less adventurous travelling companions!
Other new experiences I didn’t want to miss involved my tastebuds. Drinking strong, gritty Greek coffee, eating cannoli, spoonfuls of melon gelato, slabs of pizza and carbonara pasta during our day trips. And my catch cry during my tasting journey even before we got to Rome was, ‘When in Rome!’ What had been my wish, as I’d hurled a copper coin into the Trevi Fountain? Just moments before Mum and I had been giggling that we needed to be careful not to clonk anyone crammed below at the edge of the fountain. I’m not sure about revealing exactly what I had wished for on that twilight evening. Here’s a hint – I don’t want this to be last time I share such an adventure with the favourite women in my life.