Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise Oct 28/13 to Nov 10/13

Monday, Oct 28/13     35th Anniversary Trip - Venice to Barcelona
Started out in AM from Lakefield and had lunch with Mom and Dad Marsden in Toronto before parking at the Park and Fly Economy lot (1/2 price internet coupon) near YYZ for our 7:40 PM KLM Flight to Venice via Amsterdam. (Thought we may be flying Air France due to wind storm in England but this was cancelled.)
Flew overnight on full 747 - no sleep in cramped seats in 31st row in middle - 6 hours - had gluten free meals).
Tuesday, Oct 29/13 8AM to 10 AM in Amsterdam Airport and then smaller KLM 2 hour flight to Venice. Arrived to rain in Venice. Met Oceania personnel and bussed to ship Marina in Venice Harbour. Rain stopped. Settled in our Room 7063 (Veranda Stateroom), had lunch, looked around ship and then unpacked.
M/S Marina is a medium sized cruiseship of Oceania Cruises with 15 decks,  8 restaurants, 1,250 guests and 800 staff from over 50 nationalities.
Mary went to Venice Grand Canal for gondola ride at 6PM. This involved a walk to the water taxi and a 30 minute ride to dock near Piazza San Marco and 15 minute walk along waterfront to gondolas. Each gondola had seats for 6 and I was lucky to be seated with 2 other ladies and the accordian player and singer (2 Men) were added to our gondola. Our striped shirted gondolear steered us for the hour ride and was talented because he could check his email on his cellphone at the same time - another one was talking on his cellphone. My favourite spot was going through a small canal while the singer was singing "Voloray" and the church bells were ringing. That was magical. Back to ship by 9 PM and ready to sleep on the very comfy bed.

Wednesday, Oct 30/13 Venice, Italy  - sun/cloud 20 degrees C
Up at 6:30 AM and breakfast in the Terrace Café. Mary left for "Secret Corners of Venice and Grand Canal Tour" at 7:45 AM. Following a one hour water taxi tour around Venice we walked around the city of Venice which is built on 117 islets separated by 177canals and spanned by some 400 bridges. There are no cars or bicycles in Venice - everyone walks and goes by boat. Visited the Rialto Bridge and Fish and Vegetable Market. Then on to Piazza San Marco for an hour to see the Basilica - went behind the altar and up to the balcony to see the Bronze Horses of St Mark in the Museum. Had my first coffee flavoured gelato for 1.5 euro. Loved the bronze bell ringers at the top of the clock tower. Back to ship at 12 PM for lunch.
Back on the ship, Don played minigolf, croquet and pingpong to start his collection of Big "O" points.
In the afternoon, we played miniature golf, attended an acupuncture lecture, the ship emergency drill and the ship cruised out of Venice around 4 PM. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the Polo Grill Restaurant (steak and seafood) at 6:30 and played a Trivia game in the Martini Lounge at 8:45PM. Bed by 10:30 PM.

Thursday, Oct 31/13  Kotor, Montenegro (Black Mountain) - clear skies, 21 degrees C
Morning on ship with room service breakfast. Attended 7 AM stretch class in Fitness club and then 10 laps on upper deck for "Walk a Mile", and then Legs, Bums and Tums class at 8:15AM. Mary had 15 minute complimentary acupuncture assessment and Don had 9AM acupuncture treatment for his sinuses and Mary attended the Maximize Your Metabolism lecture with Fitness Instructor Mauricio from Mexico. Then we did Brunch in the Grand Dining Room.
By noon the ship was docked at the medieval walled town of Kotor (a UNESCO world Heritage Site) after sailing in the Bay of Kotor - the deepest and biggest fiord in Southern Europe. Montenegro is a free, democratic and newly independent country - formerly part of Yugoslavia. Small population of 650,000.
In the afternoon, Mary went on the "Highlights of Montenegro" bus tour which included a road of 25 switchbacks to reach an elevation of 1000 metres on limestone mtn. There was a stop in a small village for some lunch of homemade bread with local cheese (from goat and cow milk) and salted thinly sliced meat. Bought some handmade slippers. Then off to Cetinje town to tour Museum of King Nikola (had 12 children - 9 girls and 3 sons - well connected in European royalty and was monarch for many years). Drove back down mountains to Kotor and looked around old town and then back on ship.
Captain's cocktails in Martini Lounge and dinner in Polo Grill again with 3 other couples. Went to bed early since we lose an hour sleep with our visit to Corfu Greece tomorrow - different time zone.

Friday, Nov 1/13 - Corfu, Greece - Sunny and 23 degrees C
Sailed into port of Corfu and Mary left after breakfast on bus tour to Achilleion Palace - built by the Empress Elizabeth (Sissy) of Austria in 1891. Named for Homer's hero Achilles - 2 large statues on grounds of triumphant Achilles and defeated Achilles. Elizabeth had 4 children - 3 girls and one son and the son committed suicide. Elizabeth was a smoker, very vain of her looks - portraits had to show her 29 years of age or younger, she was a devout Catholic - also anorexic. She was assassinated in 1898 by a crazy man who wanted to be famous. In 1907 the palace was sold to the Emperor of Germany, King of Prussia - Kaiser Wilhelm 11. This Palace houses the Terrace of Muses, which was built as a tribute to the nine muses of Greek mythology.
Went back to Old Town of Corfu and shuttled back to ship for lunch. Bussed back to old town with Don and did walk about. Bought olive oil with spices and brown belt for Don. Visited St Spyridon church - a Greek Orthodox church that houses the remains of Corfu's patron saint, which was smuggled from Constantinople after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The mummified remains are kept in a silver coffin and are carried in a procession 4x/yr.
Back on ship, spent a little time at pool and sailed off at 6 PM. Saw "Bon Voyage" show in Marina Lounge featuring the Marina Singers and Dancers at 9:45 PM.

Saturday, Nov 2/13 Naxos (Taormina), Italy - Sunny and 23 degrees C
Tendered off ship to port of Nexus and then bus tour to hill town of Taormina (3rd largest town on Island of Sicily). Shuttle into old town - toured through old Greek - 3rd century BC / Roman - 2nd century AD theatre - Teatro Greco. Had great view - also of Mt Etna (45 minute drive away) which erupted just a week earlier. Then through Public Gardens donated by a wealthy woman - includes a large play castle for the local children.
Back to ship for lunch and time around the pool in the afternoon and Don busy with his on board activities for "O" points. Dinner in the Italian restaurant on board - Toscana.

Sunday, Nov 3/13 Naples (Capri) Italy - Sun/Cloud and 20 degrees C
Up early to start excursion to Capri. The ship docked at Naples rather than Sorrento as planned because we would be tendering at Sorrento and the waves are 3 1/2 feet would make that difficult so we docked at Naples.
Took Jetfoil (large) across to Capri and little bus up to Anacapri (town above Capri). Went on single chair lift up to Mount Solero  - 15 minute ride - for amazing vistas. Then walked around Anacapri - took bus back down to Capri and walked around Capri for a few hours. Took Funicular to port (Marina Grande) and Jetfoil back to ship in Naples.
Don walked into Naples but said he wasn't impressed with the city.
Dinner in Grand Dining Room.

Monday, Nov 4/13 Civitavecchia (Rome) Italy - Sunny and 21 degrees C
From port of Civitavecchia travelling 90 minutes by bus to reach central Rome. Did Rome on my own starting point of Piazza del Popolo. Saw Spanish Steps, got lost several times on way to Trevi Fountain - tossed in a coin so I can return some day.
Used the red Hop On / Hop Off bus that I had prepaid for before the trip. Saw the Colosseum and Ancient Rome Ruins but didn't get off bus. Got off at Vatican and stood in line an hour to get into St Peter's Basilica and paid the 5 euro to climb the almost 500 steps to the top of the Dome - great view. Climbed down and saw the inside of the Basilica including Michelangelo's Pieta. Rushed back to starting point and bus ride back to ship. Learned that you can't see all the sites of Rome in one day.
Dinner in Terrace Café, played Trivia game and listened to singer Jackie LaCroix in Marina Lounge.

Tuesday, Nov 5/13  Livorno (Pisa, Florence, Tuscany) Italy - Sun/cloud 21 degrees C
 
Docked in Livorno port. Bus Tour to Pisa - was in church but too early - not all open yet. Did not get to climb Leaning Tower or tour inside of Baptistery.  Bought scarf and Pinocchio puppet - home town of Pinocchio story author.
On to Florence and started with 2 hours of free time so I did a 2 hour tour of Basilica di Santa Croce (Holy Cross) with audio. Had Franciscan monastery attached and started as people's church. Many famous burials in church - Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini and Dante.

Had walking tour through central Florence ending at Duomo - Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore -one of the world's largest cathedrals. A Gothic structure with an exterior ornately decorated with red, green and white marble. In front of the Cathedral is an octagonal baptistery and a 14th century campanile or bell tower. Saw the famous bridge Ponte Vecchio over the Arno river and a copy of the famous Michelangelo's David statue. Bus ride back to the ship through the Tuscan countryside. Dinner in Grand Dining Room, trivia game and then to bed.

Wednesday, Nov 6/13 Monte Carlo, Monaco  - Sun 22 degrees C
Sailed into Monaco harbor at sunrise. Left on tour bus to St Paul de Vence for morning tour. St Paul is a 16th century town on a high hill. It has lots of artist galleries and the artist Marc Chapell is buried in their hillside cemetery. Back to ship by 12:30 PM.
Don twisted his knee when he walked into Monaco in the morning so he could not explore Monaco with me in the afternoon as planned so I hopped standby to the afternoon bus tour of "Highlights of Monaco" leaving at 1 PM.
On this tour we went through Monaco's tropical garden, by the Aquarium with the yellow submarine outside, Castle, and the Monte Carlo Casino area.
We had dinner at "Jacques" - the French restaurant on the ship. checked out the hot tub after dinner and early to bed. Don did get a baseball cap from the Monte Carlo firehall.


Thursday, Nov 7/13 Marseille, France - Sunny and 23 degrees C
Took morning trip of "Highlights of Marseille and Cassis". Marseille is the second largest city in France, after Paris. It is France's largest commercial port and largest French city on the Mediterranean coast and capital of the Provence - Alpes-Cot d'Azur region.
On a hill overlooking Marseille is Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. This church was built in the 19th century in the Romanesque-Byzantine style and is crowned with a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Cassis is a small resort / fishing village on the Mediterranean Sea at the base of a medieval castle - which is now a luxury hotel. Even put my feet in the cold Mediterranean Sea.
Had a quiet afternoon and supper in the Grand Dining Room, had a hot tub and then the trivia game before bed.
Friday, Nov 8/13  Day at Sea  Windy, Sunny 20 degrees C
Did mile walk, stretch class, then breakfast and Energize your Soles class (using bumpy semicircle bubbles that were painful). Don had another acupuncture treatment for his sinuses in the Canyon Spa. Don collected more "0" points to a total of 175 points which he traded for 5 t-shirts, a ball cap and an umbrella. I attended a Thai Cooking Class on board in the afternoon - rice roll, duck and watermelon appetizer, lobster pad thai, and tasted Chilean sea bass. Then dinner in the "Red Ginger" Restaurant - the Thai restaurant on board. Had hot tub and went to "Groovin" show in Marina Lounge.


Saturday, Nov 9/13  Barcelona, Spain   Sunny  21 degrees C
Off on "Highlights of Barcelona and Montserrat" bus tour from 8 AM to 5 PM. Drove through beautiful central Barcelona and stopping at the Sagrada Familia, the famed architect Gaudi's masterpiece church of the Holy Family that is still in progress. We didn't have time to go in but marveled at the outside.
We drove by the Olympic stadium and other structures on our way out of the city to Montserrat (serrated mountain), also the huge SEAT factory (owned by the Volkswagon group).
Montserrat and its sacred monastery are perched atop a mountain between oddly shaped pillars of stone. This is the home of the Black Madonna - the revered wooden statue of the virgin and baby Jesus, which has attracted pilgrims since the 12th century. With fellow tourist Cheryl from NC, we took the vunicular tram to the very top of the mountain and walk 50 minutes back down to the monastery area. Tasted 4 kinds of liquor made by the Benedictine monks, watched the 15 minute audio visual movie, then toured the museum and joined the line-up to touch the hand of the "Black Madonna". Back to the ship by 5:30 PM.
During the day, Don had taken the shuttle bus into Barcelona and found the Firehall and traded some clothing.
We had supper in the Grand Dining Room and had our last hot tub, finished packing and went to bed.

Sunday, Nov 10/13  Barcelona Spain to Lakefield Canada - 21 degrees to 0 degrees C
Up at 6 AM  to get transferred at 7 AM for a 10 AM American Airlines flight to JFK airport in New York. We volunteered to be bumped off the overbooked flight (offer was $800Euro and vouchers for hotel and transfers) to stay an extra night in Barcelona but unfortunately they only bumped 2 and we were #3 and #4. We spent 2 hours awaiting our connection to Toronto @JFK - having to go through Customs in USA - and waiting another hour on the tarmac in NY before taking off. Arrived in TO around 7 PM and took shuttle bus to car and drove home to Lakefield. Bed by 9:30 PM - exhausted but happy after a great trip!