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Cruising the Adriatic on Pins and Needles: Italy, Croatia, Greece, Turkey and Malta

On the twelfth day of a twenty-four day cruise through the Mediterranean and Adriatic we were at the halfway point, Venice, Italy. I couldn’t wait to show Ol one of the most romantic cities in the world. I had been there without him several years ago when I chaperoned Olivia’s volleyball team in international competition.

When we disembarked we bought a water taxi pass. We had two full days to explore this wonderful city, and we were determined to see it all. Our first stop was San Marco Square and the Doge’s Palace. When we got there, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a line. Such luck!

I knew that Ol would love it. I could tell that he was in awe as he tried to take it all in. The palace is a photographer’s dream. We were both listening to an audio guide tour, but I soon realized that I would be waiting on Ol as he took his magical pictures.

I was happy that he was enjoying it, but at this rate we wouldn’t make it to half of the sites I wanted him to see. Thankfully, there were a lot of places to sit and wait, and the setting was beautiful. I didn’t mind waiting.

When Ol finally caught up to me, I hopped off my bench and I felt the back of my knee pop. The pain quickly radiated down my leg and my knee buckled. I couldn’t put any weight on it. Ol helped me back to my bench in the senate chambers and I told him to keep going and I would rest my leg.

Ol finished the tour but kept checking on me. When he finished I still couldn’t put any weight on my leg, so Ol came back with a wheelchair. He wheeled me to the museum’s cafe and then set off to find me some crutches at the local pharmacy.

As I hobbled along, I thought this wasn’t quite the romantic Venice visit I had envisioned for years. Ol parked me at a cafe in the square and he set off to take more photos. We decided that walking around wasn’t really an option, but thankfully Venice is a city of water. So we opted to see the city by water taxi.

We spent the next two days taking boats up and down the Grand Canal. We visited Murano, Burano, and other locations around the area. We definitely need another Venice visit because walking the city and getting lost down it’s corridors are my favorite memories.

As we sailed out of port, we once again were in awe of this magical city. The ship had new guests and Ol and I felt like cruise veterans. I was excited to see if our cabin steward Wan would repeat any of his towel animals at turndown.

My leg was still hurting and I was desperate to get back on my feet. I was encouraged by the cruise staff and several guests to visit the ship’s Acupuncturist. I had never done acupuncture and I’m terrified of needles, but after hearing several testimonials and reading the reviews in the waiting room, I decided that it was worth a try.

After my consultation, I was ready for treatment but still skeptical. The doctor was sure that he could rid me of the pain. If I wanted long term results he suggested five sessions. When the first needle went in, I was flooded with a warmth throughout my body. After a few more needles I felt sleepy, like after a good deep tissue massage. Before I knew it the session was finished and my leg felt much better. I was able to put weight on it. The doctor told me to go slowly, stay out of the gym, and he would see me the next day.

After my first acupuncture treatment I felt good enough to try walking. Our first port of call on this leg of the journey was Split, Croatia. We learned that a group of people from Biloxi were in Split for a wedding. We are always amazed at how small the world really is.

Split is Croatia’s second largest city and lies on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea. It is one of the oldest cities in the region. Split offers a rich history from Greek rule to Roman domination. Split became part of Yugoslavia after World War II.

Split’s historic center, is charming. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. We visited the Diocletian’s Palace, the oldest cathedral building in the world. We visited ancient roman temples, an open air art gallery, and the old castle market. The ancient structures are built in both Roman and Venetian styles.

When we got back on the ship I was tired and my knee was still sore. I made my way back to the spa for my acupuncture session. Again, after just a few minutes I was deeply relaxed and felt the pain lesson in my knee. Because of the successful first treatment, I decided to ask the doctor to treat my arm, because it was sore from using crutches. After my second session, I could put all of my weight on my leg. However, I was still worried that it would go out again.

Our next port was Dubrovnik, Croatia. Since Ol and I had already walked the walls and streets of this historic city, we decided to do something a bit more fun. We took a sea kayak tour. It was a bit strenuous, but we enjoyed lots of swimming in the gorgeous sea. Also, I could stay off of my feet while in the kayak.

We got a different view of the city from the water and even cruised by Dubrovnik’s nude beach with plenty of naked men proudly showing off their suntanned physiques! It seems that the people who you would want to see on a nude beach are not there, and the people who should not be seen naked in public are the ones on display! Ol refused to take photos!

After kayaking, we once again enjoyed a wonderful meal and went shopping for some handcrafted Croatian gifts.

When we boarded the ship I went back to being a human pin cushion. I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I now found myself pointing to any slight pain and asking if it could be fixed. I had pins in my knees, legs, arms, and shoulders!

I finally mustered enough courage to open my eyes to take a look at the needles. When I looked down to see all of the pins in my body it was hard to believe how good I felt. The only time I felt any discomfort was when the doctor came in and turned the pins. Thankfully that part wasn’t bad and lasted just a few seconds.

After three treatments I felt cured and no longer needed my crutches. Most surprisingly, I had no pain going down stairs. It has been years since I didn’t have pain descending the stairs. I thanked the doctor and couldn’t believe that I still needed two more sessions. He assured me that if I wanted the results to last, I needed to finish the course of treatment.

So, after exploring Corfu, Greece I would be going back for another acupuncture appointment. Corfu, is a city that we had already visited. It is the second largest greek island in the Ionian Sea. Castles abound on this small island, and the Greek government has dubbed Corfu “castle city”.

Since we had already toured the island, we decided to spend more time in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Town. We walked from the port and then wandered the colorful narrow cobblestone streets. We visited the areas that we didn’t have a chance to explore on our previous visit. I also had the best Greek Salad of my life.

I was so thankful that I was walking pain free that when we made it to our next port of Katakolo (Olympia), Greece I felt that I could have participated in the Olympics.

Ol and I booked a shuttle to Ancient Olympia and the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 776 B.C. and one of the most incredible archeological sites in Greece. Many of the structures that can be seen today date back as far as the 9th century B.C. My knee was feeling so good that I even lined up on the original starting line at the stadium.

Due to natural disasters and the destruction of the site by Theodosius, ancient Olympia is mostly comprised of foundations, columns, and steps. However, built as a shrine to the gods, its sheer size symbolized the importance of this archaeological site.

The Archaeological Museum of Olympia is one of the most important museums in Greece. This is the site where the olympic torch is lit every four years.

Back on the ship I completed my final acupuncture session. I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I was now that annoying person giving testimonials to the wonders of acupuncture. Obviously, there is a reason it has been around for thousands of years!

Our next port was Souda (Chania), Crete. Chania is the second-largest city in Crete. Located just four miles from the port. Today, Chania features picturesque, narrow streets that reflect its Venetian and Turkish past. Continuously inhabited since Minoan times, the town was built around a Venetian harbor and 16th-century lighthouse.

We visited the Eastern Orthodox Church and a wonderful cafe and sampled an authentic Greek pastry, that was delicious. Ol who has never been a fan of Greek food, was almost a convert!

Our next port was Kusadasi, Turkey. Located on the western coast of Turkey. This resort town attracts tourists from around the world. Since the area was settled by the Leleges in 3000 B.C., culture and art have been at the forefront. On our itinerary I was most excited to visit this ancient port. We booked a tour on line to Ephesus, once home to the Temple of Artemis, recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ancient ruins are at every turn.

The ruins were wonderful, but on our itinerary I wanted to visit the Virgin Mary’s House, which has been declared a Catholic shrine, believed to be Mary’s residence after Jesus’ death. The story of the discovery of her home and history of this shrine was fascinating. It didn’t feel commercialized as many major pilgrim sites do. We drank holy water out of the sacred spring and bought blessed religious medallions for our family. We also added intentions for family members on a wall covered in notes for that purpose. We also viewed the site where St. John wrote his Gospel.

Afterwards, we returned to Kusadasi for a traditional Turkish experience of drinking apple tea while watching a carpet demonstration. Everywhere we were met with hospitality. We admired the landscape, the crisp blue water, and the amazing food and the beautiful people. We look forward to returning for a lengthy visit.

Our next two ports of call were in Malta. We visited Valletta and Mgarr (Victoria). Located south of Italy, Malta’s capital is located on the central-east coast and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980. We decided to take a tour of the island, only to find that many historic buildings were lost during air raids in World War II. Unfortunately, we were there during a holiday and many businesses were closed. It was a beautiful city, but we really didn’t get to experience it.

When we reached Gozo, the lesser-known sister of Malta in the Maltese archipelago we were ready for a break. Though the water was breathtaking, we decided against visiting the crowded beaches and enjoyed a quiet afternoon in town. We regretted not getting tickets in advance to visit the Ggantija Temples. The limestone Neolithic temples are older than the pyramids of Egypt.

Cruising out of port we enjoyed the stunning rock formations and seeing the patchwork of the island’s salt pans and red sandy beaches.

Our next stop was Palermo, Sicily. The last time we were in Sicily we were on the other end of the island. This picturesque city by the sea is located on the northern coast of Sicily. Palmero was originally founded by the Phoenicians before its transfer to Roman and finally Byzantine rule.

From the port we walked to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Church of San Francesco of Assisi, a major Christian pilgrimage site. The mysterious historic artwork is a must see. We spent the day wandering the historic center. We didn’t visit the beaches, but we both agreed, we will be back. Palermo is a jewel in Sicily’s crown.

We were glad that our ship was repeating the port of Naples, one of the oldest cities in the world. The last time we were here, we took a ferry down the coast to Sorrento. Today, we jumped on a bus for the short drive to Pompeii one of the finest examples of an ancient Roman town, preserved since the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Mount Vesuvius is the only volcano on the European mainland that has been active in the last century.

We took a guided tour of Pompeii with a professional historian. The tour really gave us an insight into the lives of the ancient Romans as we visited the baths, theaters, temples, markets, brothels, and the huge forum.

If we wouldn’t have had the guide we would have missed so much. I particularly liked the ancient advertisements in the red light district. A wall drawing advertised each prostitute’s specialty. It was a long hot day, but very interesting. We decided to save the ancient city of Herculaneum for another visit. Ol and I were pretty much “ruined” out.

Our last night on board the ship was wonderful. It was a Gala night, with champagne and lobster. Overall we really enjoyed our first cruise. The staff, service, and food were all amazing. I admit that at the end, we were both a little spoiled.

At our last port, we took the train into Rome where we would spend a few days. We had twelve days to explore, Rome, Florence, and Milan before flying to Helsinki, Finland where we begin our journey home.

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