Posted on Monday, April 8, 2013 by Peter Knego
Peter Knego’s latest trek wraps up in Bari and Katakolon at the end of a six night cruise aboard MSC Cruises’ spectacular 2012-built MSC DIVINA. Part Three visits the Caves of Castellana at the tip of Italy’s heel and Katakalon, in Greece’s Peloponnesos, before the journey ends at Izmir.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2013 unless otherwise noted.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
High winds put the MSC DIVINA’s thrusters to the test as the massive ship pivoted into Bari on Easter Sunday. This would be my first visit to the port, located in the Apulia region on the northern edge of Italy’s heel.
There were a number of excursions to choose from but I was most intrigued by the Caves of Castellana and Polignano a Mare tour.
It began with a drive along the waterfront, including a nine mile long promenade that is home to some fascinating Fascist Art Deco buildings from the Mussolini era.
Once on the main highway, we were traversing vineyards, olive farms and the rolling greenery of eastern Italy.
The region is also noteworthy for its distinctive trullo, or mortarless stone structures topped with conical roofs known as pinacolos.
The Castellano caves were known to the locals since at least the 18th century but not fully explored until 1938. There are two available tours, the 1 kilometer “short” tour, which we would be undertaking and a 3 kilometer “long” tour.
As we waited in line, a ragged man simultaneously played guitar and harmonica while croaking out a brilliantly soulful “Nights In White Satin” — in Italian, of course. Sadly, the performance fell on mostly deaf ears.
A visit to Castellana begins with an immediate descent approximately 60 meters into a large cavern with stalactites and…
..stalagmites. Muted sunlight penetrated a hole in the ceiling which Professor Franco Anelli descended by rope when he first explored the space n 1938.
We were instructed to put our cameras away before starting on the underground trail, presumably for our own safety as the stone walkway was slippery and full of small trip hazards.
An hour or so later, after seeing myriad alabaster and calcite crystal formations, we re-emerged into daylight and were off to the next part of our adventure.
Polignano a Mare is located on the sea, of course, some 30 miles south of Bari. Once called Neapolis, the town of 16,294 residents was a favorite of the Greeks and Romans and sits atop a rugged mound of stone directly above the crashing waves.
We had to make the most of our allotted fifteen minutes in Polignano a Mare, rushing through the old town to a terrace overlooking the sea. Most in our German/English-speaking group indulged with a quick gelato, which the region is known for.
Once back aboard, the MSC DIVINA, I enjoyed another monster salad in the Manitou, tea in the Yacht Club, a workout and a fantastic Easter dinner in Le Muse. The Spinach Ravioli in butter sauce entrée reaffirmed an already steadfast belief that MSC offers up some of the best pasta dishes afloat.
No one ever spoke of the elephant that night in suite 15016.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Outside my balcony in the small port of Katakalon on the Peloponnesos, the classically handsome 1963-built tug ALFIOS, named for a Peloponnesian River God, was a very pretty sight.
While the throngs rushed off to visit the site of ancient Olympia (nothing wrong with that, it is an “essential”), I enjoyed the vastly empty MSC DIVINA for a full morning.
Just before noon, I took a walk around the breakwater for some shots of our pretty ship. The more closely I look, the more I appreciate the almost-sports-car-like “raciness” of the ship’s forward works, especially considering her vastness. On either side, forward-facing “arrows” have even been fashioned out of her superstructure bulwarks.
Upon our early afternoon departure, the waterfront of Katakalon was bathed in sunlight. It is peppered with quaint eateries and shops, that on a summer day can receive an influx of ten to fifteen thousand cruise ship visitors.
While the DIVINA made her departing pivot into the turquoise Ionian waters, I ambled down to aft Deck 7 for a rather incongruous meal in the Mexican cantina specialty restaurant called Sacramento. This native Californian felt at home in an Old West train milieu featuring Barbara Stanwyck and Gilbert Roland while awaiting delivery of two courses.
All I could think of was how great those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns were and that in a way I was reliving a similar Mexi-talo experience by eating an absolutely delicious and genuine, piping hot Sopa Azteca on board the MSC DIVINA.
And my only problem with the sizzling chicken fajitas was that it took a long time to get some truly hot salsa to accompany it. Fresca y muy delicioso, if I may!
It was great to see that massive dome open as the DIVINA made her eastward crossing into the Aegean.
That eve, I had to interrupt my packing and head to Deck 18 for a view of the sunset just as we passed the last Peloponnesian promontory. Meanwhile, trying to engineer two weeks’ worth of clothing back into my bags along with some newly acquired souvenirs was no mean feat.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Not because I was bad, rather, thanks to the efficient kindness of my devoted butler Sata, I was escorted off the ship after a final breakfast in Le Muse. And so this six night trek had ended much as it begun, in a Turkish port, well-attended under the starboard bow of a towering , state-of-the-art Italian cruise ship.
End of Yacht Clubbing On The MSC DIVINA
Very Special Thanks: Yvette Batalla, Martin Cox, Gail Nicolaus, Gene Sloan