- Quote on the wrapper of the chocolate placed on my bed in the evening
After nearly a year of anticipation, the Mediterranean cruise has happened and is now just a memory. It was a special one, and I am grateful to my family for giving me this unique opportunity. To preserve the memories, I am writing about it in my blog, as I do for every vacation, and I hope that some of my readers will enjoy sharing them with me.
Day 1+ - Kevin and I packed our bags on Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon we hopped in our taxi to head to the airport and begin our adventure. We met Dad and Beth at JFK so we could all check in together. Most of our flight was uneventful, but we did have some incidents at the airport.
Dad and Beth have enough frequent flier miles to fly business class. They wanted us to stay with them in the business class lounge prior to the flight. We were happy to do that. They asked at the check-in counter if this was possible. The clerks behind the counter began a flurry of activity, looking information up on the computers and even asking Dad for his credit card. After what must have been 10 minutes busywork, they told us to go ahead.
We arrived at the business class lounge where the woman behind the desk asked for our boarding passes. Dad and Beth showed theirs, but when Kevin showed his, she said he only had a coach class ticket. Dad and Beth told her about everything we had just gone through at the check in desk to get us in. The woman behind the desk said they did not have the power to allow someone in the business class lounge and that she was the one who would allow or not allow someone in the lounge. She did let us in, so all's well that ends well.
Not so well for the start of the trip was losing Beth's wheelchair!
Our flight passed with no further events (and the help of some Ambien) and we landed in Rome. We had representatives from the ship waiting for us to take our luggage and get us on the bus to the pier. We made it to Civitavecchia in good time and were ready to board.
Our suite was big, but it was still one of the cheap seats, so it wasn't as big as some. We had a bathroom with a tub, a huge walk-in closet, a separate seating area (divided by a curtain), and a decent balcony. There was also a bottle of champagne waiting for us.
We had a visit from our cabin steward who showed us all the features of our room. We were spoiled to death on this trip. No matter where we went, we never wanted for anything. Regent has some topnotch service!
We had reservations that night for the ship's steakhouse, so we met the family at 7 for dinner and had a celebratory first meal aboard. Our adventure was underway.
Day 2 - There is nothing like waking up in the morning to stand on your balcony and watch the ship arrive at your new destination. Arriving in Sorrento was no different. My morning was not very leisurely though. First, I woke up way before Kevin did. I walked out on the balcony to enjoy the view and closed the door behind me. To my horror it was locked. I couldn't get back in the room. I had to knock on the door and wake Kevin up to open the door for me. He let me back into the room so I could get to the gym when it opened at 7. I squished in a workout and returned to our suite for a room service breakfast. We had to be ready to meet our tour to Pompeii by 8.
All tours met in the ship's main theater and then we had to exchange the tour tickets in our room with bus and tender tickets. We met up with Erik's family who were coming on the tour with us. After exchanging our tickets, we had to wait until our group number was called to board the tender. The wait wasn't tortuously long, so soon we were on our tender and on our way to the mainland of Sorrento.
When we first met our guide Roberto, he was rather brusque. He hurried us on to the bus impatiently and I hoped he wouldn't be like this for the entire trip. Once our group was all on the bus and everyone relaxed, his real personality came out. Roberto was 80 years old (and it seems we share a birthday) and still spry. He was very entertaining. He now lives in Naples, but made a point of saying he is Sicilian - complete with Mafia jokes. He did a wonderful job of taking us through the ruins.
The roads in Sorrento were not made for buses. They are very tight and winding. Every time our driver went around a corner, he had to honk the horn to warn drivers on the other side. There were even scrapes on the sides of the buildings where vehicles rubbed against them. Roberto said the lines in the middle of the street are only suggestions for what side to drive on. Sorrento would only scratch the surface for the types of roads we would experience on our trip.
My only complaint about the trip was that he used radios to talk to us on the tour. Our listening devices had just a single earbud. I can't wear earbuds. My ear is just too small to fit one in, so I was constantly having to either stand right behind Roberto to hear him speak live, or else walk around holding the earpiece up to my ear.
Most of what one sees in Pompeii is buildings and frescoes. There are few artifacts or casts of bodies. These have mostly been moved to prevent looting.
After Pompeii we returned to Sorrento and went to a shop that sold handmade inlaid furniture. We received a lecture on how inlay work is done. The guide was rather rushed in her descriptions as she showed us the tools they craftsmen use. I would have loved an actual demo rather than a talk. There was some beautiful furniture in the store though. I would loved to have had an excuse to buy some, but I don't have the space for more furniture or tschotkes. The store also sold lovely textiles and ceramics.
We had some free time in Sorrento after that and we also had the option to stay even longer than the tour allowed and take the cruise shuttle back to the ship. We opted for the latter. I would have liked to explore Sorrento more, but the kids were really tired, so we just stopped for lunch at a place Roberto recommended. I had some pretty good pizza.
We returned to the ship in the late afternoon and spent some time at the pool (always spend time at the pool). In the early evening there was a "meet your neighbor" party in the hallways. You brought a glass from your room into the hall and the stewards came down the hall and poured wine and served canapes. Then the captain and cruise director came through the hallways shaking hands.
Day 3 - The ship pulled into Taormina at a much more reasonable hour, so Kevin and I had time to eat breakfast in the buffet instead of rushing through room service. As per usual, I watched us pull into port from my balcony. I found it interesting just how mountainous the island is. The cliffs are so steep that very little of Sicily seems habitable. The towns were all concentrated on the coastline and occasionally on flat rises above the coast.
We boarded another tender after breakfast with Erik, Janeth, the kids, and Dad. In Taormina we met our guide Angelo. He had the most interesting accent. He spoke with very slow and careful enunciation and his accent almost veered into British at times. It turns out he was a retired English teacher. That would explain the English accent.
Our walking tour was a bit hurried. We rushed up the Corso Umberto with almost no stopping (although with plenty of narration).
The theater was originally built into the hillside by the Greeks for theatrical performances. The Romans rebuilt it more for gladiatorial purposes. The walls remaining are Roman. You can tell because they are made of bricks and mortar. This is purely Roman technology.
Since our time in town was so hurried, we were eager to spend more time there after the tour. We strolled through the shops at a more leisurely pace and had a lovely lunch in a restaurant on a side street (food blog post will come eventually). I did more shopping here than in any other destination. I bought a lovely ceramic platter and a lot of limoncello.
We stopped for gelato and returned to the ship.
On our way back, we saw such an impressive array of fresh produce growing everywhere. We could be in the most crowded, poorest areas of the city and there would still be small farms growing fruits and vegetables.
Day 4 - Our ship didn't anchor in Zakynthos until Midday. That gave us the first truly leisurely morning. We tried to eat a late breakfast and headed to the buffet at 10:30, only to be told it was closed. Had we waited another half hour, it would have been open for lunch and we could have enjoyed an early lunch of Greek barbecue, but instead we went to the Coffee Connection, which offered an unsatisfactory cold buffet.
The ship didn't offer any good tours in Zakynthos, so I arranged a local tour privately. The ship was accommodating about making sure we could leave the ship on one of the first tenders. We met our guide Jackie at the dock and were ready for our next adventure.
The tour was meant to be a boat ride to the island's famous Shipwreck Beach and then around the Blue Caves. Whatever time was left we could use to tour the area or have something to eat. All 8 of us went on the tour, but we weren't sure if Beth could handle the boat ride. Our main concern would be if she could get on the boat. Jackie had said that at the dock they could pull the boat up close and level so it would be easy for her to step in. Unfortunately, due to choppy water, they had to pull the boat up to another dock. Dad had to take her wheelchair down a long hill to get to the dock and once we reached the boat, there were steps. We realized getting her on the boat wouldn't work. Jackie had agreed earlier to take them on a land tour if she couldn't handle the boat while the rest of us did the cruise. I just felt bad for Dad having to push her wheelchair back up the hill!
Our boat took us past the beautiful limestone cliffs and rock formations in the blue water until we reached Shipwreck Beach.
Like every other beach in the region, it is rocky and not sandy (if you find a sandy beach, the sand was likely imported from elsewhere). The stones ranged from sandier small pebbles to cobbles to small boulders. You never know what you might step on when you walk out into the water. The water also becomes deep quickly. The slope of the shoreline is pretty steep. On the good side the water is clear and the surf is almost nonexistent. My biggest issue with the beach is that two huge boats had tied up there and took up much of the swimming space.
We all enjoyed swimming for a while until our boat came back for us. He took us along the cliffsides where the Blue Caves were carved out.
At the final cave, the captain stopped the boat so we could all get out and swim again. It was one of the Top 5 Swimming Experiences of my entire life.
Jackie took us to a taverna for a late lunch. During the meal she had a friend play the guitar and the two of them sang a few Greek and Zakynthian folk songs for us. She also gave us one last photo opp at a lookout point for Shipwreck Beach.
Back on the ship we ate a late room service dinner (and finally drank the bottle of champagne in our room) and then headed to karaoke night. They had a pretty lame selection of songs, but I managed to find a few decent tunes (I had to sing the Debbie Gibson version of Cabaret. Yes, it's as bad as it sounds). I am no great singer, but I love karaoke bars. Normally when I perform in theater, I'm surrounded by people with 10 times more talent than I have. When I'm singing with a bunch of off-key drunks, I'm a star!
Day 5 - Our ship arrived early in Corfu. This time we docked instead of anchored, so there was less rush to get on a tender.
Since I booked the tour, it had my name on it.
The best part was tasting the local kumquat liqueur!
Eleni took us to a cliffside restaurant for lunch and a view. The lunch was one of the best meals of my trip. (Food blog post will be up eventually with more details on cruise food.)
Finally we walked a bit through Corfu town, looking at some of the old palaces and fortifications.
We couldn't stay in Corfu forever (I might have liked another day to spend at one of their beautiful beaches though). We were back to the ship at the end of the day.
I had eaten so much at lunch that I couldn't even think about dinner. I stayed behind and did laundry. Ship had free guest laundry including detergent.
Day 6 -The ship zigzagged a bit and we were back in Italy. This time we docked in Bari. When the ship first approached Bari, I wasn't impressed. Bari has an Old Town and a New Town and the new town is what is visible from the water. It looks like any big city. You need to actually go into Bari and explore it to see its charm.
We went on a ship excursion this time. We met our Guide Clara at the dock. For a long time I kept thinking she looked familiar. I thought she reminded me of someone I knew. Then I realized that I grew up in the town of Harrison, NY, where a good chunk of the population hails from southern Italian heritage. Clara just looked like half the girls in my high school. She was almost as short as I am, so I had to spend the tour sticking close to her in order to follow her. Otherwise I could have potentially lost her among the much taller members of the group. She was also quite young and her English was not nearly as good as some of our previous guides. She was correct, but hesitant. You could tell she was trying to remember the right words sometimes.
First the bus drove around the New Town. We went along the Corso Vittore Emmanule, which was like a smaller, cleaner 5th Avenue. Then we left the bus and had a walking tour through Old Town. This area is much more like Sicily and Venice. It's a complicated network of narrow streets and charming old buildings.
In the crypt we saw St. Nick's tomb and icon.
After the churches Clara walked us through the main square that separate Old Town from New Town with its ancient clock tower on the old city hall and the old pillory.
We had some free time after our tour. We didn't stay too long and left with the tour to return to the ship. Kevin did want to do some shopping on the Corso Vittore Emmanule though. He was looking for some nice shirts and shoes. He saw a shirt in the window of one shop and we went in. We didn't see it on the shelves and a sales person came up to help us. Unfortunately, her English was worse than my Italian.
"C'e' una camicia nella finestra. E` blu con bianche..." (Make finger motions to indicate polka dots)
She understood me and found the shirt. We had some fun trying to assess his size. She wouldn't let him try anything on. She kept saying "Eslim" "Non eslim." It took me a while to figure out she was using the English word "slim" to describe the cut and that she was saying, "E` slim." At the end she complimented me on my Italian and even asked what country I'm from. I was shocked. I thought all Europeans know an American when they see one.
Back at the ship we had a light lunch and then headed to afternoon tea. After tea they had a Teatime Trivia contest. Kevin and I did pretty well. We were one of the second place finishers.
Day 7 - We zigzagged across the Adriatic again and headed to Montenegro (Latin for Black Mountain, but the residents call it Black Mountain in the unpronounceable local language). Our ship pulled into the bay slowly, giving us a beautiful view of the mountains and villages. It looked like the landscape of a fairytale. A dolphin even followed the ship for a few moments. I was really looking forward to exploring on land.
We were taking a "highlights" bus tour. We started on the bus with our guide Iva. I think Iva could probably persuade anyone to want to live in Montenegro. She was outspoken and funny and explained that people in Montenegro are very laid back and enjoy a sense of humor. It's a very casual lifestyle ("Rise and shine - it's noon!").
The trip was mostly on the road - but what a road it was! We went up the old mountain road. This was built in the days before cars. Now it is used mainly by tourists for the experience. It contains 25 hairpin turns. Each turn is numbered so you know how many more you have to endure.
The road is sometimes called the religious road or the holy road because people often exclaim, "Oh God!" while ascending or also, "Holy Cow" or "Holy Mackerel" (Iva said she heard "holy" other things, but she didn't want to repeat them).
We ended up in a small village where we stopped for a snack of a sandwich of local cheese and prosciutto as well as local wine and liquor. We could try the local Black Stallion wine or the local firewater called rakija. I tried the latter. I think it was the strongest liquor I ever drank.
We did a little shopping in the local flea market right outside the restaurant. I had an interesting moment in the market. The market sold local (or items made in China and passed off as local) products and crafts. I had been admiring many of the textiles I had seen in the various ports and wanted to buy one of the beautiful embroidered tablecloths that were common in local shops. I found a vendor in the Montenegro market that had the perfect one. She didn't speak English, so she just pulled out a calculator and told me it was 50 Euros. I had exactly 50 on me, but I only had 40 within easy reach, so I gave that to her. As I dug through my bag for the remaining 10 (I kept my credit cards and varying amounts of cash in different places in my bag in case of pickpockets), Kevin informed me that he had no small change on him, so he needed my small bills for tipping the guide. I tried to tell the vendor that I didn't have 50 Euros. She tried to make it 45. Again, I told her I didn't have it. I tried to take my 40 back and just give her back the tablecloth and end the deal. She made it clear she was not going to let go of my 40. She held it tightly. Finally she let me have the tablecloth for 40. I'm not a haggler, but I guess I can be happy I got a discount.
After the village, we headed to a lookout point. I wish it hadn't been so hazy.
We went inside the museum, but I didn't have any good pictures. It was lovely, as one would expect such a place to be. I was most impressed with the dining room as so much of the tableware (plates and serving pieces) were on display and all of it was stunning.
After that we were able to take a look around and see the church where the king and queen were buried (didn't go inside) and the local monastery (that is still operational as a monastery).
We returned to the port city of Kotor for a brief walk and lecture. We didn't see much else. We saw the main city church (9th Century), but didn't go inside. I would loved to have climbed the fortification wall that goes all the way up the mountain, but I didn't have time. The ship was sailing early.
Day 8 - We arrive in Zadar, Croatia for what would be our most disappointing day. We booked our tour initially to visit Krka National Park. It's famous for its waterfalls, but also has abundant wildlife. Then we found out that we could have the same tour with a side trip of a cruise to a small historic town of Skradin after spending time in the park. I was up for seeing more than just the park, so I signed up for that tour. That was the first mistake.
The tour was badly planned and logistically awkward. We arrived in the park and had to have our passes checked by rangers. Finally we entered. As soon as we entered we had a bathroom break and about 15 minutes to photograph the waterfalls before boarding the boat. The boat was delayed a good half hour or so due to one member of our tour group having some kind of medical emergency.
It was a nice swim. I would have liked a longer one.
A better option would have been a guided walk followed by free time in the park to explore and then swim, or just explore if swimming isn't your thing. A cruise at the end would have been a nice way to end the day.
We headed right back to the ship and didn't bother to explore Zadar at all. I went to another karaoke night later that night.
Day 9 - Our trip to Koper, Slovenia was a second choice. We wanted to visit the Lipizzaner Stud Farm, but the tour was canceled. We decided to join Erik and the gang for a hop-on/hop off bus tour. The trip was called "Hop and Taste" and we had vouchers for food in each of the 3 towns we visited. Our guide Jan was fun and very helpful with explaining how the tour worked.
Slovenia is a very wealthy country and rather small. It's a definite resort kind of area. People seem almost more laid-back than they are in Montenegro, but they aren't as nice. Schadenfreude seems to be a national pastime. They have a saying, "When the neighbor's cow dies, we dance." If your neighbors envy your fancy new car too much, don't be surprised to find it keyed. I guess they have a sense of humor though. We drove past a beach where I saw a guy selling those silly umbrella hats. Who really ever wears those? Who wore them back in the 70s?
We started in the village of Piran. We spent a fair amount of time exploring this pretty little town and sampled both some local fish and local ice cream. (Well, I didn't have the fish.)
It's an interesting "beach". Like many beaches in the area, the sand at the water's edge is brought in. The shallow end is like a regular beach, but you have to swim past a constant wash up of sea grass. There are long piers jutting far out into the water. You can enter the water from ladders (and there is a platform at the end to jump or dive) into the deep end from the piers. I spent a lot of time in the deep end. There was way less debris there.
We returned to the ship for a quiet night. A big day was coming.
Day 10 - Our ship approached Venice with a perfect view of St. Mark's square. We were serenaded by church bells as we sailed past.
We met our guide, Mirco, and began our walking tour. This tour was meant to take the group away from the main crowds at St. Mark's. It's a good idea to do this sort of thing with a guide because it's easy to get lost in Venice. We viewed the Rialto Bridge and a few other historic sites. Instead of St. Mark's we went to the Frari (Friar's) Cathedral. While it is not as ornate as St. Mark's, it is very beautiful and contains many important works of art by Titian and Bellini. Mirco talked about the art work at length and it was a fascinating lecture.
We went to the Rialto Bridge as we learned more of the history of the city. Unfortunately, it was undergoing restoration, so it was difficult to take a good photo.
For George Clooney fans, Mirco pointed out the site of Clooney's wedding and also pointed out a water taxi driver he claimed Clooney used for the wedding.
Our trip back to the boat was no picnic. First we had to get on the bus (we could have walked, but it would have taken an hour). It was a slow trip. Once we arrived at the cruise port stop, we were unsure how to find the ship. The cruise port was not anywhere near. It turned out we needed to take the "People mover" train and take a long walk from there. We would have known that if the noisy family sitting behind us had shut up while the guide was talking.
We were only back on the ship for a short time before we turned around and headed back into Venice for one last tour. Our families took a sunset gondola tour with a musical serenade. It was a beautiful night and I could not think of a better way to end our tour.
We had no guide in Treviso. We were just escorted to the main square and told where the main sights were. We started with exploring the cathedral. It had a painting by Titian in it.
The time came to meet the bus again and head to the airport. Soon we were on the plane, in the air, and home once again.
I missed Chincoteague terribly this year, but I'm so happy to have had this opportunity to see so much of the world. This was an unforgettable and beautiful trip and I was glad to be able to share it with so much of my family.