If you’ve been reading my articles over the last couple of years you have probably realized I am a huge fan of cruising. However, I had never gone on a transatlantic cruise. My first included visiting exotic places that I dreamed about for many years.
What to do with 9 days at sea.
The itinerary for the transatlantic cruises heading east usually start with 7 days at sea before a stop off the western coast of Europe or Africa. I enjoy days at sea and since this was one of largest cruise ships sailing and offered entertainment similar to a resort hotel. There were plenty of activities throughout the day including scavenger hunts designed to acquaint travelers with the ship, meeting fellow travelers and taking photos of the ship’s out of the way and unusual places. There were plenty of activities every day; trivia, bingo, pool games, wine tasting, food carving, napkin folding, etc. and there was music starting around lunch time at the pool or in a lounge.
There were plenty of great places to sit and enjoy the view or a book. Our last day at sea took us into the Mediterranean Sea. I recall from my geography class about the Strait of Gibraltar which is a famous landmark visible to all who pass through the Strait. I was able to see the landmark as the ship passed through at sunrise. Morocco was on one side and Portugal on the other. The street lights were just fading along the coast as those folks were starting their day. The sun cast a haze on the Rock and it was so recognizable approaching from the east. What a remarkable sight making passage into the Mediterranean Sea. This was our last day at sea. The rest of the trip was non-stop sightseeing!
The Ports of Call
The Canary Islands are part of Spain lying to the west of the North African coast. It was our first port of call after seven days at sea. I was happy when our ship arrived at the Canary Islands to see something besides water. I spent the day on a tour of the island. It was beautiful there, gorgeous beaches and good gelato! We visited two other ports of call in Spain, Mallorca and Barcelona. Mallorca is a beautiful island with lush plants and quiet spots in the hills away from the port city. We enjoyed a nice lunch at a local spot in the town of Valldemossa. It was a beautiful day! I loved looking in the pottery shops with all the bright colors. Barcelona is a beautiful city known for the architecture of Gaudi. We set out to explore the many markets and Las Rambles, the main street with an island of activity to explore. The markets were so colorful with the produce, fruit and proteins laid out in a way that just held your attention. We wandered around enjoying the vendor’s artful displays of their bounty of food and tried our best to capture them in our photographs. We enjoyed the afternoon wandering on Las Rambles where there was lots of choices for eating and shopping. Unfortunately the tour didn’t include a visit to any of the famous buildings designed by Gaudi. That means another trip to Barcelona is on my list.
The next morning we arrived to explore the French Riviera. The tour included Sarary, Cassis and Marseilles. My favorite, Sanary, is a small town with a large marina. It is laid out around the moon shaped coast to make the most of sea views. It was early so only a few shops and cafes were open. It was a clear morning with blue skies, a cool sea breeze and views of the marina and the Med. It was a perfect spot to enjoy cappuccinos. Next stop Marseilles and the Gard Du Notre Dame cathedral on the highest point that overlooks the city. The cathedral was beautiful but I couldn’t get over how large that city is! All I could see were buildings everywhere, from the seashore covering the hills around this spot on the French coast. We had a scant 40 minutes to find lunch. I stumbled through my French finally giving up and asking if someone spoke English. The owner promised she could serve us lunch in the short time we had. A salad and “French fries” would do along with some soft drinks. The salad was wonderful and included chunks of cooked potato, marinated and sautéed asparagus along with assorted greens and a light dressing. I was really enjoying it when a paper table cloth caught by the sea breeze escaped the waiter’s hands and then wrapped itself around my face in mid bite. I had nowhere to go with my fork in one hand, my drink in the other and the table covered from edge to edge with plates of food. Thankfully the waiter came to the rescue and was relieved that I found it funny along with everyone else around me. A photo would have been a great souvenir but I don’t think I’ll forget this anyway! Our last stop was Cassis, a small town on the French Coast where the streets follow the slopes of the hills down to the beautiful beach.
The port of Livorno, in Tuscany, is located near Pisa and Florence. Typically the weather in April is in the 60s however Europe was having a warm spring so it was very hot the day we visited. The famous Duomo is the crown of Florence and nearby stands the first replica of David outside the town hall. This is where the original stood before being moved into the gallery to preserve it. There was not enough time to go to the gallery to see the original David. We explored the Piazzas, buildings and bridges of Florence before the heat drove us to a gelato stand! After a traditional Italian lunch we set off for Pisa. The famous tower is the bell tower for the church and the entire campus for the church and its buildings has a park setting. The church and leaning tower are surrounded by beautiful grass. The tower has undergone some work to stabilize it and they must have cleaned it recently because it was bright white. The tower tilted away from the church it served to call the folks of Pisa to worship. We enjoyed every port!
Disembarking to Explore Rome
Our last stop was the port city for Rome, Civitavecchia where we disembarked the ship and spent a few days in Rome before flying home. We decided to decompress for one night in this port city. The highlight was a sculpture depicting the sailor kissing a nurse in celebration of the end of WWII in the waterfront park of this city. It was huge and many people stopped to take photos with some fun poses and others a little more serious. There was no problem getting to Rome. Our hotel was 2 blocks from the entrance to the cruise ship port and 1 block from the train station. We walked to both and after an hour train ride we were in Rome. We saw the highlights of Rome but it was May Day (Labor Day) in Europe so some of the famous sites were closed for the holiday. We stayed near the Villa Borghese Park. It was restful and included beautiful views overlooking the city near the Spanish Steps.
When changing flights in Europe you must go through immigration. We traveled on Aer Lingus changing flights in Dublin Ireland. We had absolutely no wait going through immigration. If you’ve traveled through Paris or London you know how painful a process immigration can be.
Check the weight of your carryon bags before checking your bags. You’re only allowed 8 Kg (about 18 lbs). If you’re over that and they’ve checked your bag already, you could end up paying 50 Euro to check a second bag. You can buy a hand scale to take along to weigh your bags. I recommend you ask if they are weighing carryon luggage before you check your bag. That way you can move any extra weight to your checked bag if it’s under the limit.
While I found the best way to exchange dollars for Euros while in Venice and Greece was to go to a bank that was not an option this time. I could not find a bank that exchanged money. Kiosks that exchanged money were everywhere but they also kept about 7 Euros of every 100 Dollars you exchanged. I opted to use the ATMs which had a nominal fee. The only caution is that all money from the ATM comes out of your checking account so deposit your travel funds in your checking account before you depart.
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