Our cruise had a terrific itinerary, taking us to 7 countries, with lots of stops in very beautiful and historic places… perfect for our 50th Anniversary Extravaganza trip with Mom and Dad. After leaving Malta, we headed for the Riviera… Italy, France and Spain.

But first, Ed and Peggy found this waiting for them after dinner….

….and this….

….and this. Happy Anniversary!!

The port of Livorno is often a jumping off point to visit Florence, but since we had just been there a few weeks ago, we chose to visit Pisa and Lucca instead.

Beautiful old Roman road as we make our way from Livorno to Pisa.

Our first views of the Arno River running through Pisa. This is the same river that runs through Florence; Pisa is downriver from Florence.

The Law School at the University of Pisa. Founded in 1343, the University of Pisa is one of the oldest universities in the world.

Although we, of course, knew about the (leaning) Tower of Pisa, seeing it in-person blew us away.
The Tower’s tilt began during construction in the 12th century, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed in the 14th century. It continued to gradually increase until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. At almost 200 feet tall, the top of the tower is displaced horizontally about 13 feet from its center.

The Tower is actually the freestanding bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral shown in this picture, together with its baptistry, beautiful buildings in their own right.

During World War II, the Allies discovered that the Germans were using the tower as an observation post. A U.S. Army sergeant sent to confirm the presence of German troops in the tower was impressed by the beauty of the cathedral and its campanile (a freestanding Italian bell tower), and thus refrained from ordering an artillery strike, sparing it from destruction.

The tower has about 300 steps.

….very worn steps.

A view from inside the bell tower.

An old university town of about 100,000 people, Pisa looks beautiful from the top of the Tower.

A selfie looking out….

…and a selfie looking in.

A view of the massive Pisa Cathedral and its Baptistry.

We are thinking that if we all four push on the Tower, we might straighten it up a bit.

….and lo and behold it worked! It’s all a matter of perspective (don’t mind the sloping ground or roofs around the tower).

We say goodbye to the “leaning” Tower of Pisa, one of those famous sights that exceeded our expectations.

After Pisa, we travelled to Lucca which is famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls.

Aerial view of the wall surrounding Lucca, now green pedestrian space. The current Lucca wall circle is the result of the last reconstruction campaign, which began in 1504 and ended a century and a half later in 1648.

The walls encircling the old town remained intact, even as the city expanded and modernized, unusual for cities in the region. Initially built as a defensive rampart, once the walls lost their military importance they became a pedestrian promenade, the Passeggiata delle Mura Urbane, a 30-foot-wide street atop the walls. The walls of Lucca are the second largest example in Europe of walls built according to the principles of the “fortification to the modern” that has been completely preserved in a large city. Nicosia, Cyprus’s capital, holds the record at 4.5km versus Lucca’s 4.223km. The “fortification to the modern” (or Italian fortification ) is a type of fortification elaborated from the 15th century in Italy to overcome the problem posed by the development of artillery, highlighted by the wars against the Ottomans. The development of new techniques, which radically modified the relationship between city and countryside, influenced city planning for centuries and provided new stimuli for architects and engineers.

Lucca is the birthplace of composer Giacomo (Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria) Puccini (La bohème in 1896, Tosca in 1900, and Madama Butterfly in 1904) who is regarded as one of the greatest Italian composers of opera.

San Michele in Foro is a Roman Catholic basilica church in Lucca, built over the ancient Roman forum and dedicated to Archangel Michael.

What is most interesting about this church is the absence of the top floor. Could this be the stairway to Heaven?

What looks like snow in the surrounding hills is actually quarries for Carrara Marble. The Apuan Alps show evidence of at least 650 quarry sites, with about half of them currently abandoned or worked out. The Carrara quarries have produced more marble than any other place on earth.

After leaving Livorno, we moved on to Portofino, an Italian fishing village and holiday resort famous for its picturesque harbor and historical association with celebrity and artistic visitors.

Portofino is clustered around its small harbor, and is known for the colorfully painted buildings that line the shore.

We went for an early morning hike into the hills surrounding Portofino.

Found a beautiful hotel, the Splendido, that we put on our list for future reference. Beautiful setting.

Wow…

….and wow!

Our hike was rewarded with fried chicken night on the cruise.

Our next stop was Monaco. a sovereign city-state, country and microstate located on the French Riviera. France borders the country on three sides while the other side borders the Mediterranean Sea. Monaco has an area of 3/4 sq mi and a population of about 38,400. It is the second-smallest and most densely populated sovereign state in the world. Its primary city is Monte Carlo. This building is the Oceanographic Museum, of which Jacques-Yves Cousteau was director from 1957 to 1988.

Monaco’s primary harbor.

The clock tower of the Prince’s Palace of Monaco.

Posing with a statue of Francesco Grimaldi. Following a land grant from Emperor Henry VI in 1191, Monaco was refounded in 1215 as a colony of Genoa. Monaco was first ruled by a member of the House of Grimaldi in 1297, when Francesco Grimaldi and his men captured the fortress protecting the Rock of Monaco while dressed as Franciscan monks—a “monaco” in Italian, although this is a coincidence as the area was already known by this name.

The changing of the guard at noon in front of the palace.

A cool sculpture in front of the Oceanographic Museum.

Outside the harbor, the waves were crashing against the small beach and rock walls.

We tested our luck at the famous Monte Carlo Casino shown in the mirror’s image.

We weren’t the only ones courting Lady Luck.

The inside of the Casino was gorgeous.

Won some, lost some, but happy with the experience. We stopped at Villefranche-sur-Mer, the nearby town where we attended French Language school a few years ago.

After leaving Monaco, we travelled to Marseille, which with a population of about one million, is the second largest city in France after Paris.

Notre-Dame de la Garde (literally “Our Lady of the Guard”), a Catholic basilica in is Marseille’s best-known symbol. The site of a popular Assumption Day pilgrimage, it is the most visited site in Marseille.

The magnificent gold mosaics were created in the late 1800s. The individual tiles came from Venice and were manufactured by craftsmen at the height of their art. Each panel comprises nearly ten thousand tiles per square meter, which means that the basilica contains approximately 12 million small squares of 1 to 2 cm.

Stunning.

The chapel is small and narrow, but decorated everywhere with tributes from pious mariners: on the ceiling small vessels are suspended with their rigs and have their name registered on the stern. They represent those that the mother of Christ has saved from “cruel shipwreck” or from “the fury of pirates and corsairs”.

The ceiling of the upper church still features many scale models of recently restored boats and planes.

Bullet holes from WWII. German soldiers were stationed at the church when it was stormed by the French Resistance.

Chateau d’If. This famous fortress, standing on a rocky island off the coast of Marseille, was immortalized by Alexandre Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo as the prison where the novel’s hero, Edmond Dantes, was incarcerated before ultimately escaping.

We ventured to Cassis, a popular tourist destination just east of Marseilles. Cassis is famous for its cliffs and sheltered inlets.

A view of Cassis from the top of one of the cliffs over looking the town and the ocean. No sidestepping from here… 1200 feet down to the sea!

The quarry whose limestone was used to make the Statue of Liberty.

Can’t leave without a selfie.

Leaving Marseilles, we stopped at Sète on the southern coast of France. Known as the Venice of Languedoc, it is a port and a seaside resort on the Mediterranean with its own very strong cultural identity, traditions, cuisine and dialect.

Sète is also one of the originating points for the Canal du Midi, which was constructed in the late 1600s to connect the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

The Canal du Midi was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996.

We were actually supposed to stop at Palamos, Spain rather than Sète, France prior to our last stop in Barcelona. But unrest and strikes due to the Catalonian Independence movement meant we diverted last minute to this sleepy little French town. Better sleepy than angry! Luckily, all was calm and gorgeous upon arrival in our last stop, Barcelona.