“I think that for my birthday, I would like to visit the home of Henri Matisse!” Donna said, “Nice is nice!” We read all about Nice on the train as we neared the end of the line in France and decided to stop for the day to recover. We also decided to book tickets for the train to Rome that evening. Gotta keep moving to make it to the gathering in Israel!
Nice and nice are heteronyms, words with the same spelling but different pronunciations. The phrase “Nice is nice” is also very true. We checked our bags at the station and set off on our day of adventure. First, a little birthday breakfast at a café as we prepared ourselves for our explorations. Nice is the home of the great artist Henri Matisse and features a wonderful museum of his works. What a lovely way to spend her birthday, admiring great art. As a lucky birthday bonus, Matisses’ home was next to a recently discovered and partially excavated ancient Roman bath.
The Matisse Museum
The Matisse Museum perfectly documents the various stages of the artist’s development. Matisse is considered the father of Fauvism and is its most outstanding representative. Characterized by its bold colors, textured brushwork, and non-naturalistic depictions, the Fauvist style marked a seminal moment in the early 20th century. Before he came to this direction in painting, he created in different styles.
The museum featured several dozen paintings; hundreds of drawings, prints, and photographs; and sculptures, mostly made of bronze by Matisse himself. There were also books illustrated by the artist and numerous cut-outs. In addition, the museum houses everyday objects that belonged to Matisse. It was really quite the window into his life.
We spent hours slowly making our way through the museum. Then, next to the Matisse museum, and before touring through the Roman archeological excavations, we spent an hour or two strolling through the lush garden of roses, citrus, and olive trees. We could see why Matisse had spent much of his time here painting. There was also a great view over Port Lympia and the sea. What a lovely day!
It was getting late, and we needed to return to the station to catch the train through Italy. We had booked an overnight, again. These were the cheapest tickets, with two changes leaving at 6:36 pm and arriving in Rome at 7:30 the next morning. Rushing to the station, we got our bags and picked up a couple of sandwiches before boarding just in time. We settled in as the train lurched forward. We needn’t get comfortable, though, as our arrival at the border had us changing trains. Settling into our seating on the Italian train, we relaxed, ate our sandwiches, and nodded off to sleep. We were tired but happy.
Train to Rome
Sometime later that night, we were awakened and informed that it was time to change to another train. We gathered our packs and guitar and sleepwalked our way to the transfer. We settled back in and continued sleeping until the morning when we pulled into the station in Rome. After disembarking from the train, we went to find out when the train to Brindisi left. We had a choice of leaving in a half an hour or waiting until that afternoon. As we walked out of the station, we saw massive sculptures around a fountain and realized that a few hours in Rome would only overwhelm us. Already exhausted, we went back in and booked the next train to Brindisi. We would have to come back to Rome someday.
So, off we went onto another train on our way to the heel of the Italian boot, Brindisi. We found that traveling fast by train was hard on a body! When we arrived in Brindisi we made our way to the ferry to Greece. Buying the overnight ticket, we decided to get a couple of bunks in which to sleep. Tired of sleeping on benches, we figured it would be good to sleep in a bed regardless of the cost.
The Tiny Cabin
After some hours of waiting, we were allowed to board the ferry and were directed to our room with two bunks. It was so small that there was just enough room to stack our packs and be able to close the door if one of us was already in a bunk. The bunk was about five feet long. While this was not so bad for Donna, I found it restrictive for my six-foot height. We tried snuggling up together in the same bunk but found it impossible. Ahh, young love. Still, curled up alone in our own bunks, it worked well enough to get a decent night’s rest.
Daylight came, and we woke up. Locking our tiny cabin, we went out on the deck and tried to find a place to sit. There were no deck chairs. In fact, there were hardly any other passengers. It seemed this ‘ferry’ was hauling equipment of some sort. We found a big metallic box we hoisted ourselves onto to watch the water and the distant shoreline creep by. Soon, we landed in Greece. It was just a port town and didn’t seem too interesting, so we decided to move on to Athens. Athens, the cradle of society, would be a great destination to stop for a few days.
Excited to get going, we caught the train from the port, which only lasted a few minutes because it took us to a bus station, where we waited almost an hour to board the bus. The bus took us on a lovely coastal highway for about an hour and a half, dropping us off at another train station. This time we were traveling during the day and could look at the scenery, which was beautiful. Yet, all this moving so fast was exhausting.
Delirious in Athens
We were a bit delirious when we arrived in Athens, yet we found a nice hostel and checked in. Checking the schedule for the ferry to Israel, we discovered that we would be waiting a couple of days since it only ran once a week. This suited us fine, allowing us to rest and take some time as tourists. We were excited to go to the Acropolis and see the real Parthenon. Nashville, Tennessee, has a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens. Architect William Crawford Smith designed and constructed the replica in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. We were anxious to see the real one, but this was not to be.
We woke up bright and early after a good night’s sleep. The best we’d had in a week! We had a wonderful breakfast while looking at the map to see how far the Acropolis was from us. It was nearby! We gathered our tourist necessities and bound out of the hostel, ready to climb any mountains needed. Then we discovered that Athens’s Acropolis, the Parthenon, and all the archeological sites were on strike and closed. Dejected, we wandered around the city a bit before returning to the hostel. The nice receptionist we had befriended was in a crisis and needed someone to talk it out with. Donna’s sweet and caring soul consoled the young lady and solved her problem. I guess that was why we were there after all.
The food was wonderful, and Athens was quite pleasant. We enjoyed another day of rest before making our way to the nearby port of Lavrio to board the ferry to Haifa, Israel. The journey would take us across the Aegean Sea with a brief stop in Limassol, Cyprus, before continuing on to Haifa. This is a weekly route, and the ferry enables private cars and Motorcycles to board it RORO (that is Roll on Roll Off, no packing and handling). This ship, the Alios, has cabins, and thus you could accompany your vehicle aboard the ferry. There was also a sheltered deck where people could stay without a cabin.
We arrived fairly early and were surprised to see quite a line of vehicles already cued up to “Roll on” to the ferry. There were 18-wheelers, cars, cargo trucks, motorbikes, and… “Hey!” Donna exclaimed, “Isn’t that Peter and Karen’s ‘Blue Whale’ of a van?” I looked, and sure enough! It was their van! We pushed through the crowd of vehicles and people until we reached the van. Peter looked at us and said, “You’re almost late, but you made it. Get in.” So, we hoisted our packs into the van and climbed in. It was nice to see Peter, Karen, and Baby Jade, who was 4 years old, which confirmed we were on the good way!
Donna’s fifty-first birthday
We traveled to Nice
And admired the artwork
Of Henri Mattise
Toured the baths of the Romans
With this wonderful woman
Then we continued to Israel
For a gathering of peace