Our one stop in Italy, aside from Venice, was in Bari, a town I didn't know anything about before booking the cruise. It's the capital of Puglia and a lovely small city right on the water. My tour was a walk through the city, focusing on the Medieval alleys, the Norman castle, and two large churches. It was a gorgeous day, just barely on the side of hot in the sun, but walking through the small alleys with tall buildings on either side and cobblestone streets was a nice way to cool off. My favorite sight was the women sitting outside houses/shops rolling and shaping pasta, mostly orecchiette, and then drying it on screens in the sun. I also watched, fascinated, as an older man knotted (knit?) a fishing net using extremely fine filament that his friend doled out as they chatted away the afternoon.
The first church we visited, a Catholic cathedral, was large and grand and similar to most other large and grand cathedrals I've visited. Its claim to fame is a day each year when the light shining through the rosette window aligns perfectly with the rosette on the floor of the cathedral, similar to Chartres in France. Today was not that day.
Next we visited the 11th century basilica which is a Catholic church on the main level and Orthodox downstairs. It was built to house the remains of Saint Nicholas, who died in Alexandria, Egypt. The remains were later smuggled out of the Muslim port in barrels labeled as pork products. After being lost - twice - int he building and rebuilding of the basilica, he finally is at rest. Except for the many thousands of pilgrims and tourists who visit each year.
We had some free time, and I was starving, so I found a nice little cafe on a quiet square and enjoyed one last good Italian pizza. Next door was a very busy shop where people came out with gelato, so I ventured in. It was, indeed, a gelato and pastry shop! I opted for gelato, which was refreshing if not as tasty as I'd hoped. I just need to experiment more.
The tour was a bit of a letdown because the English speakers were paired with another language, and the guide had to give explanations in both languages so it took twice as long as it needed to. Plus, the other group wasn't particularly quiet during the English narratives, so I heard very little the entire day. The excursion did not win points for organization, that's for sure.
I was back on the boat an hour before departure and opted to lie down for a while before dinner. Tonight was Italian night, so I put on a green shirt and joined the fun. Our table group was a little more relaxed tonight and eager to share the day's experiences. The food was decent, and I decided to stay for the evening show, a take on classic Venetian Carnevale, complete with opera singers and dance. The singers were quite good as well as the dancers, but I was glad it was only about 40 minutes long.
After setting my watch forward an hour in preparation for Greece, I turned in. I woke up and showered, had a quick breakfast at exactly the same time as the other 3000 guests onboard, and headed for the theater to meet my excursion group. Today I was thankfully on a solely-English speaking bus, which wasn't quite full, and our guide was very good. We drove 38 km inland through olive groves, watermelon fields, corn fields, and small towns to the town of Olympia and the birthplace of the Olympic games.
The temperature hovered around 90 today with full sun, but the site is very well interspersed with trees providing shade. 297 Olympic games were held here, every four years, over ~12 centuries before the Roman Emperor Theodosius outlawed them as a symbol of paganism. Earthquakes took care of most of the buildings, and all that's left now are the ruins. The one place, however, where you can start to get an idea of what it must have been like is the stadium. Walking through the archway used by the athletes and coming upon this long, flat track with hills on both sides for spectators, it's easy to imagine the pomp and circumstance of the ancient games. During the 2004 Olympics some events, like discus, were held here. It would have been quite amazing to experience.
There are lots of stones with engravings, which used to hold statues of winners and still bear their names and attributes. Columns, benches, bathtubs, and building foundations are visible. We traced the path of the gymnasium, a training ground where the athletes came a month before each games to acclimate and train.
The area, nestled between several hills, is where Zeus defeated his father Cronos in a race, which is why it became the site of the first games. It's very picturesque, with pine and other trees providing ample shade on a hot day. Even with a bazillion other coaches there (mostly from our ship, I think; it was one of two in the small port of Katakolon) we managed to get some photos without other people and enjoy a bit of peace.