Epic Journey: Mediterranean Cruise

Ports too many Ports. What day is this and where are we today? Every day merged into the next. I have no idea what day it is. What port are we in today?

When Susan brought this cruise to me asking me to go on it. I hesitated because it was so port heavy. She thought I wasn’t interested in coming to Europe. I was. I had long dreamed of coming to Italy. It was the cruise schedule I objected to. Susan loves being in a new place every day. That is why she loves cruising. I love cruising because I love being on the water and the ship itself. Seeing a new port, a new place is great. I love that too but it is only half the reason for taking a cruise.

She is loving this. It is draining me. The first few days were great. We had a sea day, then a port, then a sea day. One of those sea days was because we had a cancelled port long before we sailed. As much as it was a port I wanted to visit, I was very glad for another sea day instead!

Rhodes, Greece

This was a day that I had waited for a Mediterranean beach day! It’s no secret I love the beach! I could travel the world discovering a beach every day and I would be in heaven! We head off to Tsampika Beach. There were several beach options but this is the one we choose. We rode through little villages, olive trees, orange trees, and lemon groves on our way.

Tsampika Beach is located below an imposing rock where the monastery of the Virgin Tsampika overlooks the beach. Surrounded by mountains of rock it is unlike any beach I have encountered before. It has a sacred feel to it. Like it is blessed. I feel a unique spiritual connection to this beach and this Mediterranean Sea. Once settled on our beach chairs I must go into the Mediterranean Sea. It will be my only chance. I can’t come all this way and not swim in the Mediterranean!

It is a warm day, 70’s but as I step into the water it feels cold upon my foot. I hesitate but I must not just touch the sea, I must emerge myself in it. Slowly I inch my way into the water and then quickly take the plunge. I shiver in the cold water but I am in the Mediterranean Sea! I relax into the cold and look up upon the monastery and feel like life can’t get any better than this.

Back at the ship we change out swimsuits. We head to the Pasta Bar for lunch. Since this trip is so long and being on a budget there will be days when we come back to the ship for lunch. Back on land we explore the ‘Old Town’, the walled city. I imagine what it would have been like to live here thousands of years ago. Now it is filled with apartments, restaurants and shops. It feels like the whole ship has emptied out into this walled city.

Susan decides to get a foot pedicure with the fishes. I have sat on a dock while the fishes nibble at my feet. I am not so interested. I go looking for a wine shop. I am going to get a bottle of wine in every port. On this cruise we can bring the wine on and drink it on the ship. No putting it in storage until the cruise is over. I love red wine. It is a hobby of mine trying wines, wine tasting, and what better place to do that than in Europe!

I buy a bottle of Mountain Fish 2014 Agrogitios. If it is as good as the wine I had in Piraeus I will love it. I return to Susan who is enjoying her pedicure. I wait for her to finish. I talk with the man who runs the shop. I discover that he is very spiritual and has some similar philosophies as me about life, universal energy and divine connection. The conversation is enlightening.

A sea day before we arrive in Malta. Several weeks ago at a party an acquaintance who lives on the island out of the blue said to me, “My brother is in Malta researching a story on white olives. Have you ever heard of white olives?”

“No, I haven’t. Your brother is in Malta! Malta is one of the ports on our cruise.” (Everyone knows about my Epic Cruise.)

She whips out her phone pulls up her brother’s Facebook page and starts showing me pictures of Malta and the white olive groves.

So here I am in Malta. But before we arrive in Malta – I am woken by the Captain calling the crew to an emergency on starboard engine 4. It is 4 am. Susan wakes too. I think the whole ship is woken up. I lay listening to the instructions.

“You understand that don’t you? What is he saying? Should we get up and get dressed?”

“I understand some of it. There seems to be some kind of engine problem with starboard engine 4. It is below us. I have felt some unusual movement most of the night but didn’t know what was causing it. Must be whatever is wrong with the engine.”

“Do you think it’s serious?”

“Serious enough he called the crew into emergency alert but he didn’t tell the passengers to do anything. I am not sure he meant to alert the passengers. We will wait and see.”

We lay there not able to fall back to sleep. I am interested in knowing what is happening. Not that I am worried but I love all things related to knowing the ship and how it works and what goes on.”

About 45 minutes after the first announcement we hear the captain’s voice again. He apologizes for the disruption and assures us that everything is under control and there is nothing to be concerned about. We will arrive in Malta on schedule.

Malta

We take a bus to Valletta, The City of Knights. Here we tour the walled city. Barracca Gardens is our first stop. The view of the harbor is breathtaking. Our guide is not very nice and so we wonder off as much as possible. From here we visit St. John’s Cathedral and the Magisterial Palace. Seeing these walled cities is like stepping back into history. I have seen pictures and read stories but I feel like I have been transported to another time and place. I am a character in one of the historical romances I love to read!

Back at port we wonder down the waterfront where there are shops and restaurants. Time for lunch and some local Malta wine. This trip is not about the beach. We have begun at a beach and will end at a beach. The trip, this Epic Adventure, is about culture, history, food and wine.

We choose a Greek restaurant with seating outside along the waterfront, Tai-Kaptan. Use to American tourists they provide us with menus in English. I ask our server about the wine. I would like to have a glass of local red wine. The menu is extensive and we have many choices. I choose to have salmon ravioli. Susan has a salad and ice tea. The portions are large. The food is excellent. I would love to sit here all afternoon chatting with friends, eating wonderful food and drinking wine.

When we thought we wouldn’t make it to Greece to catch the ship, our back-up plan was to come here and enjoy the couple of days exploring this island. There were passengers who did just that. If it had happened both Susan and I think it would have been wonderful! Maybe someday we will return here and explore this island more fully. It is an undiscovered treasure.

Italy

Now we are headed to Italy! I have long dreamed of Italy, Italian food and Italian wine! I have a knack for finding Italian restaurants in the most unlikely places but now I was going to enjoy Italian cooking in Italy! Italy here I come!! How much pasta, tiramisu and wine can I indulge? I am about to find out!

Sicily

We dock in Messina. Today we are off to Mt. Etna. I had planned on doing Mt. Etna and a winery but Susan isn’t into wines like I am. After much back and forth discussion we chose to visit a jewelry factory after our visit to Mt. Etna. I had also wanted to see the astronomical clock but we will do that only if we have time later.

The last time lava flowed from Mt Etna was in 2002. It is windy and cool. The volcano is full of tourists arriving one bus load after another. It makes it hard to really spend time being in awe of this majestic mountain arisen from the sea. Walking around I am assaulted with the wind whipping and chilling me through and through. Susan wants to go inside to the shops.

I decide to walk down into one of the crater’s to get a better look. Steadily down a path I descend. There are a few other people walking down into the crater as I am. Most are walking the rim. Bad choice. Up there you are fighting the wind. As I descend the wind it is still blowing but not as chilling as up there. Eventually I join Susan and we go into the restaurant shop. The line for the restroom is way too long.

After standing in it briefly we are lured by the display of lava bead jewelry. I know that my friend Patti would love a bracelet. Susan picks a couple out for gifts as well. We head to the bus to take us back down the volcano to the jewelry factory.

The jewelry factor is in this lavish manor house in a tree lined neighborhood. The garden with its fountain and benches leads us up the steps and into the foyer. Here we are greeted by staff. They have prepared a buffet of Italian pastries, cheeses, and wine for us. We are guided up the stairs. We fill our plates with food, choose a glass of wine and head out onto the piazza overlooking yet another garden to enjoy our delights. We sit with some couples from the ship, talking and enjoying the food and wine.

We are then lead down to the bottom level to where the ‘factory” is. It is not what we would have thought as a factory. It is a small studio room with jewelry making tools and equipment, tables where only 2 jewelry artists are at work creating necklaces today. We are shown some of the stones and materials used in creating the pieces of this Italian jewelry house.

Then we are free to enjoy the shop and purchase jewelry or just stroll the gardens. We explore the shop in awe of some of the exquisite pieces of jewelry. Neither of us have any intention of buying an expensive piece of jewelry. I much prefer to spend my money on the trip itself and on enjoying good food and wine.

Back to port. We explored just a small part of Messina. Spending most of our time in a wine ship, tasting wine, talking to the shop owners and some tourists. I purchased a bottle of wine. After a long day with lots of walking we were glad to return to the ship.

I go up on deck to watch us set sail from Messina. Here I get a good look at the astronomical clock.

Naples

We had a full day of fun and adventure today. We would not explore Naples. Off to Capri and the Amalfi Coast. Susan and I were both looking forward to this. A ferry ride to Capri we arrived at a cliff jetting out of the sea. From the base we took the Funicular up to the center of Capri. Taking the funicular was an experience in itself. And the views as we ascended up the edge of the cliff where incredible. I can’t even describe it or describe the feeling of awe I was experiencing on that ride up the cliff.

 

Reaching the center I felt like I had arrived in an enchanted village. Wondering the streets winding around the bustling town. Everyone walked. I love a place I can walk around and get to everywhere. The gardens, the shops and even the streets themselves where enchanting. Delights of all kinds from food to scents enticed the senses. I felt at home here. I could live in this magical village in the sky.

We ended our visit to Capri with lunch in a restaurant overlooking the sea. The owner himself dazzled us with bread with olive oil, spinach manicotti, chicken and vegetables and wine of course. After lunch we had dessert of simple cake and Italian coffee. I don’t drink coffee but I couldn’t resist. It was pretty good as coffee goes. I actually enjoyed it.

We boarded a sightseeing boat for our trip down the Amalfi Coast. I had seen pictures of the Italian coast line which always look spectacular but this was beyond pictures. That said my pictures do not even begin to show you what I saw. Nothing could capture the beauty and grand sight as we cruised along the coast. We saw cute little postcard worthy towns along a beach at the bottom of the cliffs that rose into the clouds.

Pulling into one of those towns, we boarded a bus to ride up the Amalfi Coast stopping in Amalfi and then returning over the cliffs to Naples. Susan didn’t want to look down over the cliffs so I finally got the window seat! I couldn’t not look down. Riding those little roads with their winding around the cliffs in a big bus was a little frightening but I loved it! In Amalfi we explored the shops and restaurants.

We ran into a couple who were on the ship with us. We had lunch with them in Capri, now once again we joined them for pasta in a little café. Our guide saw us all at the café and couldn’t believe that we were eating pasta again after just having lunch several hours ago. We laughed and said part of why we came to Italy was to eat pasta and drink wine! We have to!!

Our day was so long that there was a possibility that we would arrive back to the ship late. We were with a tour group from the ship so there was no concern. One of the benefits of taking an excursion from the ship is that they wait for a tour to return. If you are late on your own you are out of luck and have to make your own way to the next port. We made it back just in time but there were other trips still returning getting back on board took some time.

After a very very long day I am not up to partying in the piano bar or the Red Frog tonight. Exhausted I fall into bed early after dinner which is around 10 pm. Another long day ahead tomorrow.

Rome (Civitavecchia)

Civitavecchia is a one and a half hour bus ride or train ride to Rome. Susan booked us on a tour. This is a tour that our mother would have wanted to do if she had ever wanted to travel. She hated traveling or being away from home longer than a couple of hours! She was a homebody and though she travel some – to Bermuda and on a couple of cruises she hated it more and more as she got older. She never understood why we all had this need to travel to other places. Sad really because this is someplace she would have wanted to come. But she never would.

We are here now, in Rome. This tour through the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel is for her. Yes we want to see Rome but I am not sure we would be doing this tour. We might have chosen a different tour or just transportation to Rome.

Our first stop is the Coliseum. Arriving our tour guide is talking but it is hard to hear him. Activity and sightseers abound. Once inside he tells us about the Coliseum and gives us free reign to explore on our own. I walk around taking pictures. I have to admit I am not so awe struck here. I would think I would feel different being in this ancient ruin.

At the Vatican it becomes chaos and madness. We are supposed to follow our tour guide who had an orange flag. There are many orange flags and other color flags and umbrellas up in the air. He weaves through the crowd and the Vatican museum while most of us following him are swallowed up by the storm of people. My foot got stepped on more times than I could count. I had no idea what I was to be looking at because I was only looking for that orange flag in the sea of people.

Where is the orange flag? I see one but is that our guide? I can’t get there. I am stuck back here not able to push my way through the waves. I didn’t want to get left behind because I had no idea where our next meeting point was going to be. It would have been much better if I had. Then I could have just continued on until the end and meet up with the group later.

It was a blur through the Vatican museum. In the Sistine Chapel I finally reconnected with the group. Since he actually stood still with the flag and I could see members of our group gathered around him I was able to join them. Finally I could stop and spend a few minutes admiring the paintings on the walls and ceiling. We were stuffed together hardly able to breath and certainly couldn’t move. It reminded us of the days when you stuffed as many people into a little vw bug as you could so you could go to the bar or beach or wherever we were going.

When we walked through into St. Peter’s Basilica the crowd spread out to manageable amounts. It was easier to walk around and explore and see the statures and paintings. I did not enjoy my trip through any of it. And I was glad to finally walk out of St. Peter’s into the square.

“This is what I wanted to see!” Susan exclaimed as her face light up.

“This is what you wanted to see?” I was astonished. If I had known that I would have tried to talk her out of the whole tour.

“Yes, I just wanted to see where I see the Pope on tv doing Mass. And I want to see the fountain.”

The rain was coming down. I would love to have seen the fountain but I didn’t want to walk all those blocks to find it in the rain. We could have just taken the ship transportation and come to the square and walked to the fountain and just explored the streets of Rome. Now we had spent hours being hoarded through the Vatican like cattle and hadn’t really appreciated any of it.

We were given our meeting spot and guided to a restaurant for lunch. While some of our group was getting food, Susan looked at me and said, “We don’t want to eat here. This isn’t the kind of restaurant we want to eat at do we?”

“No, it’s not but it’s raining.”

We noticed a couple following a lady with a menu down an alley. “Let’s follow them and see where she takes them.”

“Ok” And off we go down one alley to another alley. We lose sight of them. But we are enchanted with the streets and shops. There is a restaurant down the way and we head to it. The rain is coming down now. It looks inviting in its bright yellow walls and flowers. We ducked inside.

We spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying food, conversation and wine (iced tea for Susan). A group of locals were enjoying lunch, several other tables filled with tourists. The rain came down outside but we were cozy warm in this wonderful little restaurant down some alley in Rome. The wine in that restaurant – just the house red wine ended up being the best wine I had all trip! How I wish I could return there for another wonderful meal of pasta, wine and tiramisu! Well if I ever return to Rome I will have to wonder the streets and hope I can find it!

Livorno

What day is this and where are we? I have lost my days. I am confused as to what day it is and where I am. I am tired and exhausted. I miss my sea days. Oh, we are in Livorno – Florence, Pisa and Tuscany. We have a winery tour in Tuscany planned for the afternoon. Too many places to see, too much to do. I can’t do it all. Susan doesn’t want to miss anything she wants to see it all! How can we be here and not go see the Leaning Tower of Pisa or explore Florence?

On a cruise when you pull into port for one day you have to choose what to see and do and what to miss. There is time to go see the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the morning. Susan is determined. I am tired I chose to stay on board and relax some this morning. I don’t want to miss the winery. Susan heads off to Pisa. If she makes it back on time she will join me for the winery tour if not, I will go on my own.

I am in the lounge waiting to head out to the bus for the winery tour. Just as we are heading out Susan walks in and joins me. She was glad she went to Pisa but was surprised about where the tower was. History mixed in with modern and everyday life. It is something we are not accustomed to seeing. Here though modern life goes on in between all this history.

The bus takes out into Northern Tuscany to the area of Montecarlo di Lucca. We drive down streets lined with vineyards arriving at winery. The building sits on top of the hill overlooking the vineyards. The wine tasting room overlooks those vineyards. The tasting is casual with several different bottles open on tables and a cheese and bread spread out on another table. It is help yourself. There is a staff member to answer questions about the wines and tell us about the process they use.

If we choose we can venture into the showroom, there we can try other wines that are not on the table and purchase wine and/or olive oils. Several of the red wines I try are comfortable to my palate but some are too dry for my taste. I purchase a blush wine to try on the ship. We also purchase some olive oil.

Our tour of Italy complete.

Marseilles, France

The night before arriving in France we find a letter from the captain in our mailbox. It informs us of his concern for our safety and the ships safety in France. He suggests that we do not travel on our own and informs us that there will be extra security around the ship including armed guards. We have a ship tour to a winery planned now. We had originally planned on just going off and exploring Marseilles but then when I went to the shore briefing the cruise director said that this tour was not to be missed.

Our dinner mates Leslie and Kat were also taking this tour. We made plans to meet up and get into the same group. Our tour took us to Avignon along the banks of the Rhone River.

We visited the Cathedral and the Palace of the Popes. Susan wanted to do the tour inside the Palace. She had visions of a grand Palace but it was the ruins of the Palace. Avignon was a quaint village and if the weather had been conducive to exploring I think I would have enjoyed it. It was cold and windy and very uncomfortable.

The weather is something that is out of anyone’s control. There is no guarantee of sunshine and warm weather even on a Caribbean cruise! We certainly have had our share of windy cold weather on this trip that has sent us inside in search of a warm drink and a meal instead of really exploring the village or city. Once again the cold blustery wind sent us looking for a nice restaurant.

Once again we found one. It looked like a pastry take out but on further looking we saw tables and people eating in the back. We asked if we could have lunch, explaining that we only had so much time. They welcomed us and said that they would make sure we returned to our guide on time.

This time I had hot tea rather than wine. Another dish of hearty pasta. All served quickly but not lacking in quality. It would have been nice if we had more time to really enjoy the offerings of this restaurant.

We arrived at the winery. Here we were greeted by the sommelier. He took us out to the vineyard telling us about the grapes and the growing process. Inside he led us through a formal tasting. The most formal tasting I have ever been to. He walked us through asking us questions and explaining the proper way to taste wine.

The wine itself was disappointing. I thought it was just me since I have a limited palate which I have been expanding. Then I noticed others dumping the wine. I asked them if they were just dumping it because they were just doing the tasting. They all said no. They too had come to drink not just taste they didn’t like the wine! I felt better not being the only one who didn’t like the wine we tasted that day.

Needless to say I did not purchase any wine that day. So I went back to the ship with no wine from France.

Barcelona, Spain

Here this cruise ends. We say good-by to Leslie and Kat and some of the others we have befriended on this cruise. There are 1300 of us from this cruise staying on for the next cruise.

In the next installment I will tell you about our day in Spain.