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Inspired by Italy

June 01, 2014

From May 14 to 22, 2014, 51 lucky alumni and friends flew to Italy to enjoy a seven-night cruise aboard Oceania’s Insignia. From the moment we embarked, we knew we were in for some fun times. When asked what a highlight would be, I struggled with what to say, but I think it was Venice. There is something definitely magical about Venice: how can a city simply float? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Day One: A number of our travelers spent a couple of days exploring Rome before getting on board the ship. They said that Rome was definitely a highlight. Their guide was incredible; the hotel was awesome and their fellow travelers were great. The pre-cruise programs really are a nice idea: you get over your jet lag, and you’re relaxed by the time you get on board. The rest of us were just flying in, and we were tired! However, we hit the ship running with our Wisconsin-welcome cocktail party — after the mandatory lifeboat drill, of course!

Day Two: We arrived in Sorrento, and a group of us toured ancient Pompeii, a city buried under volcanic ash in 79 A.D. It was incredible to see the ancient architecture and eerie to see the plaster casts of numerous victims who were caught in their final moment of their lives — even a dog buried alive. Wow. It was a great day of sightseeing, and guess what! We had another party to go to in the evening.

Day Three: We arrived in Amalfi, tendered ashore and actually took a boat over to Positano. Built vertically on the face of a cliff, it’s a wonder how in the world they built these homes! We also boarded a private boat that took us to the village of Amalfi, which is flanked by an old Saracen tower and a 12th-century Capuchin monastery. A great day to explore, and back to the boat for another party!

Day Four: Who hasn’t seen the movie “The Godfather”? Well, our tour today took us to where many of the scenes were filmed, and we even enjoyed Sicilian granita and cookies at the Bar Vitelli, which is full of photos from the movie set. We also stopped at the Cappuccini Church to view the crypt and mummified bodies of 37 friars and noblemen who lived there in the 18th and 19th centuries. The clothing was incredible. I had hoped to see our other travelers, who were on a different alumni tour of Sicily and the Amalfi Coast. I didn’t see them, but I did wave at all the buses that I saw go by! Back to the ship — not for a party, but for team trivia — and many of our travelers represented the University of Wisconsin quite well!

Day Five: Corfu, Greece: truly the Emerald Island. The tour we went on took us to Paleokastritsa, where we boarded local boats to see the sea caves. The water was incredible (although quite cold), and it’s always fun to see the fish swimming all around you. We stopped in the village of Lakones, where everyone got to sample some Greek appetizers and sip a glass of the Greek spirit ouzo. (A bit too strong for me!) More team trivia tonight!

Day Six: The following commentary was provided by fellow travelers Jed ’72, MS’73 and Barb ’73, MS’74 DeYoung regarding their experience in Dubrovnik:

We are in Dubrovnik and did the “Highlights of Dubrovnik” tour. Our guide, Kristine, was fabulous. Although only 30-something, she was so knowledgeable in history, art and culture. She was a great story teller. For instance: 1) her story about the orphanage and reclaiming children by matching up a rock split in two; 2) her story about painters moving from one style to the next (Baroque to Renaissance); 3) her description of the cause of the 1991–95 war — it was not religious, but was instead waged over who benefited from the tax money (Serbs vs. Croatians) and 4) her personal story about spending time in the bomb shelter playing board games, and then going as a refugee to Germany. A quote from her regarding the clock in Dubrovnik: “The clock is to the nearest five minutes because any closer does not matter.”

The city of Dubrovnik was spectacular, and walking around was perfect in every respect. The rest of the day was then spent at a cocktail party hosted by our hosts, Jay and Sheri Hicks, in their beautiful corner suite. The party was most engaging and typically Wisconsin. We then attended team trivia, which was a wonderful team activity that happened almost daily. Our team was basically all Wisconsin alumni, and there was a rival team of 30-somethings with which we struck up a friendly rivalry. Lastly, the day ended with dinner in the Grand Dining Room: a wonderful meal with three other Wisconsin couples. The Beef Wellington was second only to the previous day’s Veal Oscar in terms of delight. Truly, the entire day could not have been nicer.

Day Seven: Ahhhh, Venice. Cruising into Venice was narrated with a running commentary by our cruise director. Everyone stood on deck to marvel at the view before us. The buildings are all supported by millions of poles driven into the marshy sediment. Many of us took a tour called “Secret Corners of Venice and the Grand Canal.” The canal ride was incredible. I could have spent days cruising around, never seeing the same building. I took some bread from breakfast to feed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. And what a way to end an incredible voyage — with another party!

Many new friendships were made. I know I can’t wait to see my new friends again!

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