From Rome to Athens

Our March 2023 trip to Italy and Greece is a D-tour of a lifetime. Our 20-day, land-and-sea journey includes: four days in Rome; Viking's three-night "Ultimate Italy-Tuscany" pre-extension; an eight-day cruise aboard the Viking Sky to Venice, the Adriatic and Greece; and Viking's four-night "Classic Greece" post-extension in Athens.


Our travel day was long but mostly uneventful — from Sacramento to LAX, then a direct flight to Roma on ITA (Alitalia). We weren’t able to select our seats, and for the first time we were seated across the aisle from each other. But as we settled in, the Muzak began playing Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italian” followed by Elvis with “It’s Now or Never.” That pretty much sums up our desire to see Italy, the Adriatic and Greece — travel while we can to the places we most want to experience.


We arrived in Rome with virtually no sleep and made our way through the international arrivals terminal, breezing through an automated passport system. We found bathrooms, an ATM and our luggage. Unfortunately, Dennis lost one of the four wheels on his brand new suitcase, but otherwise we all made the long trip just fine. 

We had requested a driver through our B&B, and we were in his car just 45 minutes after our plane touched down. 

Perhaps the hardest part of the journey came at My Navona, our B&B on a charming, narrow side street near Piazza Navona. We discovered it’s on the third floor of an old building, and even though there’s an elevator, there was some luggage-schlepping involved. As soon as we checked into our bright and sunny room, we collapsed. All we wanted was some sleep.


The view from our window at My Navona in Rome

The view from our window at My Navona in Rome


The music at the ristorante across the narrow street didn’t deter us from a full night’s sleep — our first in Rome. (Imagine an Italian bar crowd singing “My Delilah.”) But all was quiet in the morning, and we enjoyed such a lovely breakfast served in our room at the My Navona B&B.

After breakfast, we set out on our own for a walk through Ancient Rome — to the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar may have been killed; on to Capitoline Hill, where we walked up wide stairs designed by Michelangelo; through the Roman Forum; and on to the Colosseum.

Ancient Rome is something you need to see in person to appreciate its beauty, engineering, and enormous scope. Since today is Saturday, there was a tour group everywhere we turned. But we were happy to walk at our own pace and consult sources on the iPhone when we needed additional information. One of our discoveries was a group of singing rugby fans gathered outside an Irish pub near the Piazza Venezia. So unexpected, and such an authentic moment!

In about four hours, we walked 5.5 miles, climbed six flights of stairs, and ended up at a restaurant recommended by a Curtis Park neighbor — Osteria del Pegna Roma, near our hotel. We had salads, gnocchi, ravioli, tiramisu, beer and wine, and every bit of it was delicioso. 

After a little rest, we walked the Piazza Navona and settled on a restaurant just down the street for beer and pizza. That’s where we unraveled the mystery of “My Delilah” being sung outside our room late last night. An international rugby match was played here today, Wales vs Italy.  (So that explains our earlier encounter with rowdy fans.)  Apparently, “My Delilah” is claimed as a Welch song, being that it was sung by Tom Jones. Although it’s not politically correct to sing a song about domestic violence, rugby fans are known to break into a chorus. We learned this from a table of friendly Welch fans, who reluctantly serenaded us with the first few lines. “She was my woman” even drew applause from passers-by.

My, my, my Roma.


On our second full day in Rome, we planned to take a leisurely Sunday stroll past the Pantheon, to the Trevi Fountain and maybe on to the Spanish Steps. But it’s 70+ degrees here today, and everyone in Rome seemed to have the same idea. These narrow streets were way too crowded for comfort. 

 We never made it to the Spanish Steps. Instead, we returned to Piazza Navona, got a front-row seat at Tre Scalini, and ate pasta while the neighborhood paraded around the former chariot racetrack. While we ate, a group of photographers were taking a class in wedding photography, so I snapped a few iPhone photos from a respectful distance.

Afterward, we walked to the Gelateria del Teatro (thank you, Rabbi, for the recommendation!) and then headed back to our room. In all, we walked only three miles today but there’s no sense pushing ourselves. At least a dozen tours await us.

The Vatican

We crossed the Tiber River on the Ponte Sant’Angelo pedestrian bridge.

We crossed the Tiber River on the Ponte Sant’Angelo pedestrian bridge.


We crossed the Tiber River this afternoon, headed for Vatican City — and, more specifically, on our way to tour the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel (no photography allowed) and St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Our City Wonders small-group tour, which we booked on Viator, was conducted by art historian Paula, who provided excellent commentary and context. The tour lasted three full hours, including lots of steps and navigating through dense crowds. Afterward, we had a leisurely 20-minute stroll back to our B&B — just as the sun was going down behind St. Peter’s dome. It was a beautiful walk in springlike weather.

In all, we walked nearly seven miles today, our last day in Rome.


Villa il Poggiale is our home for three nights. It’s just outside of Florence.

Villa il Poggiale is our home for three nights. It’s just outside of Florence.


With a 7 a.m. departure for the airport, we had to be early risers. But our B&B graciously left us bread, muffins, yogurt and orange juice so we could have a quick final breakfast at My Navona.

Rome is more of a late-morning city, but thanks to the FreeNow app we were able to “hail” a taxi to the airport. (Allow 30 to 45 minutes for the ride.) We breezed through check-in and screening and still had plenty of time for coffee and tea at the airport.

About an hour after boarding our ITA flight in sunny Roma, we landed in cloudy and rainy Firenze. And here’s where #MyVikingStory really begins — with our Tuscany pre-extension. Viking host Barbara met us at the airport and put us in a waiting car. We drove through the Tuscan countryside to Villa il Poggiale, where we were greeted and given a quick tour of this “summer home” built in 1408.

We had lunch and dinner at the villa, and Barbara advised us to be rested and strong for two very full days of Tuscan sightseeing.


Today we adjusted our internal clocks to Viking time — boarding our tour bus at 8:30 a.m. and returning to Villa il Poggiale about 13 hours later. 

On our bus ride into Florence, we stopped at a scenic overlook to view the wide sweep of this beautiful city. Minutes later, in the center of town, we met tour guide Constanza who gave us insightful commentary about the Duomo, Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio and other points of interest. We didn’t go in any of the attractions but had a couple of hours of free time after lunch. Dennis and I visited the Church of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo is entombed, and the Galileo Museum, where one of Galileo’s fingers is on display. Yes, really. 

 Instead of going back to the villa after our tour of Florence, we drove an hour into the Chianti region for a winery tour and dinner.

According to my Fitbit, we walked nearly seven miles today and climbed the equivalent of 13 flights of stairs. It was a busy day on this pre-excursion to the Venice, Adriatic and Greece ocean cruise. Was it too busy? Ask me in the morning.


A hot air balloon floats over Tuscan hills.

A hot air balloon floats over Tuscan hills.


Less than 11 hours after we returned to Villa il Poggiale, we were getting back on the bus for another day of sight-seeing. As we walked out of the villa, we all stopped to view a hot air balloon sailing over the Tuscan countryside. Magical.

 It took an hour to reach picturesque Siena. We met our tour guide, Isabelle, and started the day inside a church dedicated to Catherine of Siena. Her head is even on display in one of the side altars. Yes, if you thought Galileo’s finger was strange, just wait for St. Catherine’s head. (No photos allowed inside the church)

Our walking tour took us past the second Duomo in two days and into the main square, Il Campo. We had a fabulous, four-course lunch before we loaded back on the bus for an hourlong ride to San Gimignano. We arrived at 3 p.m. and took an uphill walk to view the 14 remaining medieval towers in this classic walled city. After a stop for gelato, we shopped our way back down the hill.

Viking’s Ultimate Italy-Tuscany extension includes almost 23 hours of sightseeing — including bus rides — over just two days.  We walked about 12 miles and climbed over 30 flights of stairs. Frankly, we are worn out. On the other hand, we have packed some incredible sites and experiences into this pre-cruise excursion. We will rest when we can.

Chioggia & Venice



Our day began with another bus ride — this one a four-hour trip from our villa in Tuscany to the port of Chioggia (key-OH-jah). We breezed through the Viking Sky boarding process and were immediately handed a flute of champagne as we stepped aboard our first Viking ocean cruise. 

After watching a brief security video in the theater, we headed for our upgraded stateroom. It is positively gorgeous and so well-designed. We will be on board for eight days for the Venice, Adriatic and Greece cruise, followed by a four-night post-extension in Athens. 

Dennis and I brought our dirty clothes onboard, and he went straight to the laundry room. As soon as he had the washer going, we slipped away to the World Cafe for lunch. Speaking of food, we called and got reservations to both the Chef’s Table and Manfredi’s. Score!

(Map courtesy of Viking Cruises)


Mamsen’s waffles provided early-morning fuel for Viking’s six-hour included excursion to Piazza San Marco in Venice. 

We left the ship at 8:15 a.m. with temps in the low 40s, forecast to be in the low 60s by noon. I wore a long-sleeved T-shirt under a fleece pullover, topped with a waterproof jacket. I was comfy all day. 

 Third-party water shuttles (think “ferry”) were used for 1.5-hour ride from Chioggia to Venice. The boat was OK, but I needed a cushion or two on the hard bench seats. And I wish we had taken a deck of cards with us to pass the time. 

 In Venice, we had a 45-minute walk ending at Piazza San Marco, and then we had about two hours on our own. We walked to the Rialto bridge, bought two Murano glasses, and then picked up sandwiches and cannoli to take back on the water shuttle. We figured if the boat left at 1, we’d be starving by the time we got back to the Viking Sky at 2:30. And we didn’t want to spend our time in Venice sitting in a pricey restaurant.

Back on the ship, we skipped lunch but enjoyed afternoon tea in the Wintergarden. I had hoped to see some of Chioggia, but it was cool and windy here, and we decided not to push our still-tired bodies. 




From our balcony, we watched the Viking Sky dock in Split, Croatia, just before noon. Two hours later, we were off the ship and headed for the included walking tour of historic Split, a UNESCO world heritage site. 

During a 15-minute walk out of the port area, our guide told us about various Croatian inventions. As we walked along the waterfront, he pointed out benches with solar panels on top. They were invented by a 20-year-old as a way to provide a free spot to sit and charge your cell phone. I had never seen anything like it in the United States. 

Our guide then took us inside the nearly intact Roman fortified city that was the home for Emperor Diocletian 1,700 years ago. In other words, we saw some seriously old stone and brick work — and even some original floor tile. The lower level was buzzing with activity on a Sunday afternoon as florists prepared elaborate displays for a competition. The flowers were so beautiful, and they smelled divine. 

The tour of Diocletian’s Palace lasted a little under two hours. There were a lot of uneven stairs without handrails — five flights, according to my Fitbit, and 4.5 miles of walking for the day.


The Viking Sky made its second stop in Croatia, but the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik was about a thousand years newer than the Roman palace we saw yesterday in Split. 

All Viking tour groups were bused about 10 minutes away to the Old Town — another UNESCO world heritage site. Viking shuttle buses also ran every 30 minutes, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. so you could stay as long as you liked. A few brave souls paid 35 Euros each to climb steep steps and walk the perimeter of the two-meter wall. We were not among them. 

 With our excellent guide Anna Marie, we walked the main limestone street, toured the Dominican Monastery Museum, and then passed by city hall, which has an outdoor cafe in front. Our guide said that politicians frequent the cafe, so its restrooms are the best in the city. 

After our tour was over, we went back there for tea, coffee, Dubrovnik Crème Caramel and, of course, the bathrooms. We did some shopping and were impressed with the excellent English of all the sales people. 

Dubrovnik was a lovely surprise and, so far, one of the highlights of our trip.


We only have one day in Montenegro, so we're taking a five-hour optional excursion to the Budva Riviera, with a farm tour along the way.


Ever since we watched "The Durrells of Corfu" on PBS, we've wanted to visit this charming Greek island. We're booked on a four-hour tour, including a drive to the Paleokastritsa Monastery and a walk through the old town of Corfu.


The ship docks in Katakolon, and our Viking tour will take us to ancient Olympia.


Our cruise ends in Athens, but we're staying on for four more days with Viking to see more of Greece. We have a tour of the Parthenon and Acropolis museum before we check in at the InterContinental.


Today's tour takes us to Mycenae and Epidaurus.


We're on our own for a day in Athens.


It's our last day, with a tour of Delphi and lunch in Arachova.


We're headed home, flying from Athens to Atlanta and then on to Sacramento.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In