Sunday, December 01, 2013

Med Cruise On Serenade

We hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. We enjoyed that occasion on the Serenade of the Seas, somewhere in the Mediterranean between Barcelona and Cadiz, Spain, the first port of our second consecutive cruise. This cruise will end Dec. 12 in New Orleans. Barcelona is where we started (Nov. 15) and ended our first cruise which was 12 days visiting many ports in the Mediterranean. It is quite late in the season to be doing these ports because of cold weather, but we lucked out and only had a few days of rain. First we visited Cannes, France, where we explored the old city and the very enjoyable waterfront promenade area with David & Diane Wilson. Here is a building painted with scenes from the film festival:
Cannes also has some delicious looking seafood being sold all over:
The next day we docked in La Spezia, Italy. The Cinque Terre towns are not very far away, so it was easy to take the train to revisit a few of them. We were there in April for 4 days after a transatlantic crossing, and we explored all 5 of these villages then. This time we went with David & Diane, and also Clare and Charles Austin, first to Monterosso, and then to Vernazza. Here is a picture of the happy group of explorers:
On the walk through La Spezia, we passed many beautiful and historic buildings with sculptures such as this on the facades and around the doorways:
Monterosso was right on the coast, and here was the view near the train station:
We had a sunny day and the trail was open, so Charlie did the hike along the coastal bluffs between Monterosso and Vernazza, while the rest of us took the train. In Vernazza we had lunch at a little pizza restaurant cut into the seaside cliffs, while waiting for Charlie to arrive:
Some other cruise friends, Mark & Peggy Steeves, joined us for the lunch:
Then we took pictures on the seaside cliffs:
This is the view of Vernazza from the hiking trail:
The subsequent port was Salerno, which was the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. Here is the city from the ship:
The Amalfi Coast is a very steep and dramatic peninsula with picturesque villages and palatial homes built all along a very narrow and twisty road. David and Diane joined us for a quick exploration of Salerno enroute to the train and bus station. The park was loaded with whimsical sculptures of animals all in paper mache and lights,
and the very nice walkway along the waterfront was enhanced with plastic penguins situated on a rock breakwater, giving us all a big laugh.
The bus ride from Salerno to Amalfi took about an hour but was very exciting because of all the steep drops down the cliffs alongside the road, and the close calls the bus had with oncoming traffic and rock outcrops on the inland side of the bus. Whenever we encountered another big vehicle such as a truck or bus, the vehicles had to slow down and inch by each other, sometimes with one or the other backing up - passing each other with very little space between. Here is just one view from the bus:
Amalfi was a delightful village with the usual assortment of craft sellers and shops selling tourist goods, restaurants, bars, art galleries, etc. The cathedral was large and beautifully decorated outside, with an interesting fountain in the square.
There were also lots of great ceramics available for purchase in town:
Of course, we had another delightful lunch with David & Diane:
There were more dramatic views on the bus ride back to Salerno:
Back on the ship, we had a delightful happy hour with lots of the cruise friends:
The highlight of the cruise was sailing into Venice and spending 1 1/2 days there. Our ship went right along the large ship passage skirting the city, passing right by St. Mark's Square and the Doge's palace. The ship is so big that it towers over the buildings and we had fantastic overhead views of the Lido, the canals, the outlying islands in the lagoon, and the entire Venice area.
Once we docked, David & Diane went off the ship with us and we learned how to take the People Mover to the Piazzale Roma, where we could catch any of the transportation options. After buying a 24 hour vaporetto pass (these are like buses but they are boats), we walked the narrow, convoluted streets along the Grand Canal, soaking up the ambiance, looking at the goods in the shop windows and stalls, taking pictures, and hoping that the rain which was threatening would hold off. Of course, we saw some gondolas waiting to be hired out:
And there were lots of masks for sale:
It was very different to be in this city as night fell and the lights came on in the streets. Because Nov. isn't a heavy tourist time, most of the people in the streets were locals hurrying home or shopping after work. It was very cold, even though we were all bundled up, so we made it to the Rialto Bridge and then caught a vaporetto back to the ship. The next day the 4 of us headed out early because we wanted to make the best use of our vaporetto pass by going to the outlying islands in the lagoon. All of us have been to Venice several times before, so we didn't feel the need to visit the tourist sites in the main part of the city. Taking the vaporetto to Murano enabled us to see a lot of the canals with the various different areas. Murano is the island where the art of glass blowing has always been the main occupation. Right near the vaporetto stop there was a furnace and showroom trying to charge 3 Euro, but we knew there was a free one further on.
After an interesting demonstration, and a perusal of the showroom which displayed beautiful glassware of many different types, we walked to the center of the village.
There were quiet canals lacing this town:
And even a boat selling produce:
The shops and houses and monuments on this island are very different than being in Venice, with a very relaxed ambiance and of course, lots of glassware shops. There were 2 interesting churches, one with many huge paintings by famous artists such as Tintoretto. But the best one was Santa Maria del Donato, which had Byzantine mosaic floors from the 1100's. In the 1970's, that floor was cut into 4 parts and lifted off so they could shore up the subfloor. Then they replaced the mosaic pieces and cleaned them up. The result was incredible.
Seeing this church caused us to eagerly look forward to our upcoming port call in Ravenna, where there are at least 5 churches with Byzantine mosaics given UNESCO world heritage status. We also saw the ambulance going by:
Next we took the vaporetto to Burano, a smaller island much further out, famous for lace making,
and also the fact that the majority of the houses are painted in a myriad of very vibrant colors.
It brightened up the somewhat overcast day just looking at the red, blue, green, yellow, purple houses! Another phenomenon occurred here as well: the Acqua Alta. This means "high water". At this time of year, they get higher tidal surges and because the canal banks aren't very high above water level, the water floods the streets, squares and walkways along the canals. The locals wear boots and wade through. The stalls sell a foldable type of boot to tourists.
In places like St. Mark's Square, they put out elevated wooden walkways. So in Burano, when we encountered this, we had to walk to the back streets and go around the lower areas in order not to have soaked shoes. It was delightful just to walk around in the streets and look at the buildings. Eventually we ended up in the center, where most of the restaurants and shops were. After appreciating the local lace products and table linens, we had a delicious tuna pizza and beer lunch in one of the few places which offered free internet. Because we had messed up a couple of times and ended up on the wrong varporetto, we were not going to have enough time to visit the 3rd recommended island, Torcello. Now we have a reason to go back! Getting back to the ship just as darkness fell, we appreciated the free drinks and great views up in the Diamond+ lounge as our ship glided out of this picturesque city. Ravenna is only about 70 miles south of Venice, and it was supposed to be our next stop. But the weather was bad and the wind was blowing about 75 km/h early in the morning so the port of Ravenna was closed and we had to spend the day at sea. We were so disappointed to be missing the UNESCO sites with the mosaics, and also seeing this city where we have never been before. The following day we docked near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Happily, the weather was much better. Elaine and I first explored Croatia in a campervan in 1989 so we got to see this walled city on a prominent peninsula jutting into the Adriatic during the time it was part of Yugoslavia.
In 1991 the war started and much of the city was blown up. The war only lasted a few years and when it was over, they quickly rebuilt. The next time we saw it was in 2005 when we were in Europe on a land tour of 7 central European countries, and the city appeared much the same as it had in 1989. In 2008 we visited it on a cruise, so we had been in the port area before. Because of these previous visits, we weren't hurrying, and had lunch on the ship, then took the local bus the approximately 3 km to the old city. Croatia is part of the European Union but they don't use the Euro, so we had to exchange for kuna before we could buy bus tickets. David & Diane were with us and we had a leisurely stroll all over the city.
We also went outside the walls near the waterfront so we could get some pictures of the nearby rocky cliffs, and the walls with the marina and outdoor restaurants near the water.
It was Sunday, so some of the shops and restaurants were closed. One of the most interesting places was a corner where an artist had posted pictures of his home and studio before the war, and then after it was bombed. He had a very good summary of the events which devasted this city in the early 1990's because he doesn't want anyone to forget the turmoil and all that was lost. That was the last port, so we had 2 sea days to get back to Barcelona and the end of the first cruise. On the ship, we enjoyed the company of many friends from other cruises, and we knew that many more would be joining us on the second cruise. Because it is a transatlantic, lots of cruisers like the extended time (15 days) and the many sea days, as well as the fact that it ends in New Orleans.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Wow!!!!! What fabulous scenery, great photography. Can't even say which area was the most beautiful.