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Dear amigos, amici, compatriotas, compagni di viaggio,

Last summer’s cruise was so good we decided to pick up where we left off, in marvelous Barcelona with its Gaudi buildings and sidewalk cafés, and sail around Italy and Sicily and wind up in Venice. I’d like to invite you to come with.

It’s a ten-day cruise aboard the ms Ryndam, sailing from Barcelona on August 21 — fly in early and revisit Gaudi’s cathedral and go to a tapas bar — and as always we will offer a fine cast of naturalists, a botanist, lecturers, and musicians from A Prairie Home Companion — including the DiGiallonardo Sisters, soprano Maria Jette, the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band, the Royal Academy of Radio Acting with sound-effects wizard Fred Newman, Peter Ostroushko and Dean Magraw, Butch Thompson, and the list goes on. Journalist John Thavis, an American who lived in Rome for thirty years and brought up his children there, while covering the Vatican, will lecture on his love for Italy and also lead some wine-tastings. Our bagpiper will be aboard, and a trainer, and we’ll do the Talent Show and the Story Chain, the Bon Voyage songfest on the aft deck, and, now and then, we’ll do A Prairie Home Companion.

With this cruise, you can check off on your lifetime list —

Marseille, France, a seaport city of a million, another place entirely from Paris, the entry point for immigrants, with a large Italian population, Algerians, Turks, and the gateway to Provence where all those Americans wrote books about discovering the secret of life.

Monte Carlo on the Riviera, playground of the rich and famous, home of the
Place du Casino, a center for the reckless disposal of wealth.

Livorno, Tuscany, gateway to Florence, the Duomo, Michelangelo’s David, the Uffizi, and the best gelato in Italy.

Civitavecchia, gateway to Rome, birthplace of Western Civilization and also the home of two and a half million good-humored Romans and the cafés and coffee bars that cater to them. Plus the Forum, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, and dozens of other fabulous churches. A great walking city. The ship will dock overnight so you can have an unrushed day and evening in the Eternal City.

Naples, a city of great pizza and great craziness — streets choked with Vespas, noisy markets, corrupt politicians — in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. If you hustle, you can visit nearby Pompeii, a Roman town of 200 B.C. preserved by the volcano’s eruption.

Next, sailing through the narrow Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily.

Kotor, Montenegro, on a deep natural fjord on the Adriatic Sea, between Croatia and Bosnia and Albania, a handsome town surrounded by steep mountains, with narrow streets and squares in an Old Town well preserved from the 14th century, designed by the founders to be maze-like and confuse invaders.

Ravenna, Italy, a provincial town famous for its Byzantine churches. And nearby, the Republic of San Marino, an independent state within Italy, where males enjoy the highest life expectancy (for men) of any nation in the world.

And finally, Venice, the city of canals and gondolas, of mask-makers, ornate (decaying) palaces, narrow mysterious streets and marble bridges.

It will be hard to come back to Lake Wobegon after seeing Rome and Venice. But we’ll leap right into the 2013–2014 season of PHC and that will distract us.

Meanwhile, thoughts of Spain and Rome and the open sea will float me through the straits of February and March. Hope to see you at the pier in Barcelona, if not before.

All the best,

Garrison Keillor