Thursday, 14 November 2013

MSC Western Mediterranean Cruise

Blue Skies and Palm Trees on our MSC Cruise
We had been looking forward to this cruise so much because it would take us to places we hadn't been, such as the Balearic Isles and Sardinia. Our ship was MSC Sinfonia and the itinerary was a round trip from Genoa (Italy) over 7 nights.
  Here are our ports of call:

  • St Tropez, France
  • Palma de Mallorca, Spain (overnight here)
  • Mahon, Menorca, Spain
  • Olbia, Sardinia, Italy
  • Salerno, Italy
  • Genoa, Italy
Over the next little while I'll report on the ship and each port of call with information for cruisers. The cruise was a relaxing way to see these smaller places in the Med. We really enjoyed it!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cruise Ships in Venice - Changes for 2014

Cunard's Queen Victoria in Venice
There has been fierce debate about the number and size of cruise ships visiting Venice for several years now. Opponents of the ships argue that the huge vessels, with the wash from their engines, are damaging the foundations of the historic city which is already in a fragile state. The port workers and cruise industry employees argue that ships' visits provide many jobs in a city where employment options are few.
  I kept an open mind about the situation until we were there this year. Our NCL cruise departed from Venice. I must say, now that I've been there and seen for myself, I support a limit to the number and size of cruise ships coming to Venice. 
  As you can see from my photograph, the ships tower over the historic buildings as they pass along the Guidecca Canal (which is not very wide) on their way to and from the cruise terminal and port.
  An announcement has been made today, after a meeting between the Italian Prime Minister, the Mayor of Venice and other interested parties, that will change the cruise ship situation in the new year 
  As of January 2014, the number of cruise vessels docking in Venice will be limited to five per day, a decrease of 20% on 2012 numbers.
  As of November 2014, the largest ships, those over 96,000 tonnes, will be banned from central Venice. A new facility will have to be built on the outskirts of the city, away from the precious buildings and piazzas of the historic centre.
  Cruise companies which plan their itineraries up to two years ahead will, I imagine, be scrambling to work out alternative arrangements for their passengers. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Toulon, a Cruise Port in Provence

Toulon, a view from the cruise ship
It was a glorious day when we arrived in Toulon. The ship docked right in the town, beside the yacht harbour. Here expensive boats were moored alongside little fishing boats where men sat repairing their nets in preparation for the night's fishing. Following the wide promenade around the harbour, it was only a five minute walk to the cafes that lined the bay and to the main square with its wonderful market.
The market at Toulon
There were many street entertainers out to entertain the crowds of shoppers which added to the bustling atmosphere. We'd seen a lot of buskers in our travels but this one, the man in Georgian dress with two cats sitting on his arms, had to be the most unusual! The cats didn't even flinch when a little yappy dog ran up to them.

A street entertainer in Toulon
Another attraction for us in the city was a ride on a little white 'train' that took us along the coast to a lovely beach and park. It was an opportunity to see a little more of Toulon.

Back to the cruise terminal then, with its array of stalls selling local handicrafts, and on board to sail away to our final port - Barcelona! 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Livorno, Cruise Port for Pisa and Florence

The rooftops of Livorno, Italy, as seen from the cruise ship
This cruise port of Livorno was new to us. We had traveled to Pisa and Florence several times before so decided to stay the day in Livorno rather than go back to those more famous cities. And what a surprise this town was!
  A complimentary shuttle bus from the port dropped us in the centre of town near the tourist information office. Just across the road was the stop for the 'hop on, hop off' bus. 
  The tour on this bus was excellent. We trundled around the inner city which is criss-crossed by canals, thousands of little boats tied up along them.

The canals of Livorno
  The city has big piazzas and imposing buildings and on this sunny Sunday, many of the citizens were out at the markets and walking or jogging along the magnificent seafront promenade.
The seafront promenade at Livorno
  Along the coastal part of the city, there are huge mansions in walled gardens with fancy wrought iron gates and lush planting. The whole town looks well cared for and very pleasant. We were glad we stayed the day ashore there.

Monday, 30 September 2013

In Civitavecchia, the Port for Rome, Italy

'The Kiss', an enormous statue on the promenade at Civitavecchia
On our arrival at Civitavecchia, most of the ship's passengers were whisked away early to go to Rome, a 90 minute coach ride away. We had a more leisurely breakfast then got the free shuttle bus from the ship to the entrance of the port and explored the town on foot.
  There were 6 cruise ships of various sizes in port that day and I heard one of the officials say that meant 16,000 visitors in 12 hours. The mind boggles!!!
   Civitavecchia is a pretty town with a wide paved promenade along the shore, a fortress tower built by Michaelangelo and this much photographed statue of "The Kiss". It is a 3 dimensional representation of the iconic photo taken in Times Square, New York, when the news broke that World War 2 had ended. Now visitors queue up to be photographed with it.

Big statue, little people!
 Civitavecchia was easy to walk around, with part of the main street being a pedestrian mall. We found the fantastic food market - fruit and vegetables outside on stalls, meat and fish and cheese inside a purpose-built building. All so fresh and colourful at cheap prices we can only dream about at home!

Seasonal produce at the market in Civitavecchia

In the fish hall at Civitavecchia market
  I like roaming round new places, exploring on my own rather than being herded around on a pressured guided tour. I like to sit and watch the people and absorb the atmosphere, the sights and smells and sounds of somewhere different. Sometimes I'll go on city sightseeing buses, the hop on, hop off, type. But I don't listen to the commentaries! It's important to me that I use all my senses and having a tinny voice in my ear is off-putting. I take photos and make notes and if I want to know more about a statue or a building or a local legend, I'll research them after.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Naples, a Mediterranean Cruise Port of Call

Naples, Italy
After a relaxing day at sea, our next cruise port of call was Naples. And I must say, the cruise port terminal there is one of the best I've been in. It's a modern building with a range of shops, post office, cafes with WiFi and stalls selling souvenirs of the region.
  Naples is the port for visits to Pompei and the isle of Capri . But as we had been to those places on a previous cruise, we decided to stay in Naples and explore the city that has featured in so many movies.
  Across the car park outside the cruise terminal is the bus stop for sightseeing tours. We did two circuits of the city to see as much as we could while there.
  The Inner City tour took us through the narrow, crowded streets lined with tall apartment buildings in various states of repair. 
Inner city Naples, graffiti and vespas
Many of the buildings were defaced with graffiti and the general air of the place was one of neglect. Washing lines were strung between apartment blocks across the side alleys. The buildings are stacked up the steep hillsides, dominated by the castle at the top. Another castle guards the entrance to the port and yet another is across from the cruise terminal.
Washing day in Naples
   After changing to a different bus, we did the hop on- hop off tour that went around the shore of the Bay of Naples. I was so glad we did this as it showed us a contrasting side of the city. We saw beautiful villas and grand old hotels built right on the edge of the bay with terraces and arches framing views across the water to Mt Vesuvius.

Looking across the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius
All in all, our day in Naples was very interesting and enjoyable. And we got back to the ship just before the rain started pelting down!   

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Visit Mykonos on a Cruise

Norwegian Spirit anchored off shore at Mykonos
Mykonos is one of the most popular places to visit on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise, one of those places where the white of the buildings contrasts with the blue sky and sea of the Aegean to make the quintessential Greek Island experience.
   Our ship anchored out in the bay and we went ashore by tender, a trip of only a few minutes, landing at the pier by the main town.
   In days gone by, villages on the Mediterranean islands were often threatened by pirates. So the little towns were built as a maze of narrow alleyways that twisted and turned to confuse invaders. Not much has changed in Mykonos except that now the narrow twisting, turning alleys confuse the tourists!
Wander the alleyways with their white edged paving stones
  When you get there most of the ship's passengers will, no doubt, wander straight into the main part of the town. But if you go to the right of the pier you can avoid the crowds. Just follow the edge of the sea round to the next bay where buildings with wooden balconies overhang the water in the part called 'Little Venice'. Most of these are now bars and restaurants.

Little Venice on Mykonos
 On the rise to the right are the windmills, restored now, making them one of the most photographed scenes of the Greek Islands.

Mykonos' iconic windmills
  And then it's fun to plunge into the labyrinth of Mykonos town, wandering and taking photos, perhaps stopping for an ice cream or doing a spot of shopping. There are many up-market shops here selling beautiful clothes, jewellery and homewares.

Typical architecture at Mykonos
Enjoy your day ashore!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Cruise Shore Tour in Istanbul

Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul
The first thing we learned on our shore tour called 'Scenic Highlights' is that Istanbul is home to 17 million people. The second thing we learned is that it has over 700 Starbucks coffee shops!
   We drove past the Dolmabahce palace on the foreshore of the Bosphorus then across the long bridge to the Asian side of the city. There was a short stop for photos in a little park near the bridge. However, the traffic was so bad & the roads so congested that it took ages to get back to the Old City for our visit to the Blue Mosque. I wondered whether the long drive was worth it just to say we'd crossed the bridge into Asia.
  At the Blue Mosque we were instructed to cover our shoulders and knees and for the women to cover their heads. The crowds of visitors were 'funnelled' through a narrow corridor where each was inspected by zealous staff who approved of how you were dressed, or not, as the case may be. Long skirts, pashminas and headscarves were provided for those who needed covering up.

Suitably dressed to enter the Blue Mosque
  Inside the Blue Mosque I was awed by the size of the building and the wealth of decoration - every surface covered in blue tiles, plain or patterned. It was spectacular.

The sheer size of the Blue Mosque
After this visit we were let loose in the Grand Bazaar! I'd been told how easy it was to get lost as there are hundreds of stalls and dozens of exits. We went in at Gate #1 which turned out to be where all the very expensive boutique-style shops selling gold jewellery and leatherwear were situated.

Inside the Grand Bazaar
Up and down the side alleys we went, always keeping a nervous eye out for the passageway that led back to Gate 1 in case we got hopelessly lost and missed our bus! The colours of all the goods for sale were vivid and interesting - it really was an Aladdin's cave, a shopping experience like no other!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Istanbul Cruise Port of Call

View from the cruise ship dock in Istanbul
The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn - all magical names for the waters around the city of Istanbul. And now we were there, looking across to the Old City with its famous mosques and museums. The harbour was very busy with all sorts of craft making the short ride across to the Asian side and back to the European side of this city which straddles two continents.
   As we docked a flock of crows flew on board, parading round the handrails and sitting on the backs of the sun chairs.
  But they weren't the only ones to welcome us. A troupe of musicians gathered on the wharf and started to play traditional songs.

A musical welcome to Istanbul
It didn't take long to disembark, walk along the dock to the cruise terminal and find our coach for our shore tour. More on that next time.

Norwegian Spirit docked in Istanbul


Thursday, 15 August 2013

NCL Shore Tour to the Ephesus Area and the Basilica of St John

Statue of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus
The shore tour I went on from Izmir didn't involve so much walking so was better for me with my limited mobility. Our coach took us first past the upper gates of Ephesus to this statue of the Virgin Mary, gleaming in the sunlight. It is situated near the house where she was said to live in her old age. 
   After a photo stop there we went to the village of Selcuk where the ruins of the Basilica of St John lie on the hillside beneath the old castle fort.
   I loved exploring these ruins. The tomb of St John the Baptist is here as well as the baptismal bath, in the shape of a cross, where the devout were immersed.
Tomb of St John in the ruins of the Basilica

The baptismal font
The site has wide views down over the village and along the valley out to sea. The Basilica buildings must have been huge and well decorated with carved marble columns, plinths and statues. Poppies were growing amongst the ruins and storks had built their untidy nests on top of some of the columns. You can see one in the photo on the right. I thought that was pretty special!
   Next stop was at the lower gate of Ephesus but the trees had grown so high you couldn't see in to the site. 
  We travelled to Kusadasi then, the home town of our guide. It is built around a very pretty bay with a wide promenade and busy shopping centre. Our stop there was to visit a carpet showroom. After complimentary drinks and a snack, the salesmen told us how the carpets are made, and showed examples of the traditional designs and types from different regions of Turkey. It was interesting to learn these things but I hate the 'hard sell' techniques and had no intention of buying anything. I preferred to go outside and stroll along the promenade until it was time to board the coach for our ride back to the ship.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Shore Tour to Magnificent Ephesus, Turkey

The amphitheatre at Ephesus
Pete and I did separate tours from Izmir. His one was called 'Magnificent Ephesus' and involved quite a lot of walking over uneven terrain and cobblestones of the archaeological site. Because I don't walk so well some days, I did a shore tour that was mostly by bus called 'Gates of Ephesus and  Basilica of St John'.
   'Magnificent Ephesus' shore tour started with a bus ride from the port at Izmir to the upper gates of Ephesus. This was an interesting drive, through the countryside which was being intensively worked with plantations of fruit trees including pomegranates, oranges and dates. 
  Once at Ephesus, the guide gave all the passengers audio headsets so they could wander around the ruins and still hear his commentary.
The Library of Celsus at Ephesus
  Among the many interesting ruins were the Library, the Temple of Hadrian,  the Scholastic Baths, the agora, the amphitheatre and the terrace houses. Of particular interest to Pete were the mosaic pavements and the fragments of carved columns and slabs lying around.

Wonderful mosaics at Ephesus

Also of interest was a pageant acted by local people of life in the 3rd century AD. They were dressed in costumes of the day, some as Roman soldiers, others as upper class Ephesians, some as musicians playing trumpets and others as orators wearing togas.

A pageant depicting Ephesus in the 3rd century AD
And of course, there was the obligatory tourist shop stop that all cruise ship shore tours seem to have; this time to a carpet store.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Izmir (for Ephesus) Port of Call

The Turkish flag flying high
We were welcomed to Izmir, our first port of call in Turkey, by a group of folk dancers dressed in traditional costume. And by a flock of pelicans which landed on the water right beside Norwegian Spirit. Both seemed very exotic to me!
  It was a beautiful day in the city which stretches around a wide harbour and back into the surrounding hills. Huge Turkish flags flew from tall poles, making vibrant splashes of bright red amongst the washed out ochre and cream colours of the buildings.
  Izmir is the Smyrna of ancient times and is now Turkey's third largest city and an important port. It is the cruise port for shore tours to the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, about an hour's coach ride away.
  I'll tell you about the tours we went on in my next post.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Piraeus, Athens Cruise Port of Call

Norwegian Spirit in port at Piraeus, Greece

I was so looking forward to returning to Greece. It is a country close to my heart. I was out on deck the evening before we docked in Piraeus so I could catch my first glimpse of the land I think of as my second home.
   Once we were moored in port, most of the ship's passengers boarded coaches to go on shore tours into Athens to see the Acropolis and other wonderful sites of the ancient world.
  But we decided to stay in Piraeus and spend a leisurely day wandering round Marina Zeas, where the millionaires and billionaires keep their boats. We stopped for coffee at an outdoor harbourside cafe and watched some elderly local men pull up chairs and tables for a lively game of backgammon.
Piraeus, seen from a cruise ship
Our next stop was at a family run restaurant where we ate huge plates of calamari and sipped ouzo. That was when, speaking Greek with the owners, I felt as if I had really arrived 'home'.
  The port building at Piraeus has free wifi and several shops selling souvenirs, clothes, postcards and stamps.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Venice Cruise Port of Call - Using the People Mover

Explore Venice on a cruise port of call
In this post I'll tell you how to get to the Cruise Terminal in Venice. On the day we were embarking on our NCL cruise, there were 4 cruise ships in port. And it wasn't even high season! So be prepared to queue and allow yourself plenty of time to get to the ship.
   Access to the cruise port is easiest if you use the People Mover, a monorail that leaves from Piazzale Roma. This square is the big transport hub for Venice, with car parks and bus terminals at the end of the causeway from the mainland. 
  There are clearly marked signs round Piazzale Roma that will lead you to the People Mover.
  You buy a ticket for 1 Euro from a machine on the ground floor of the People Mover building then either walk up the stairs or take the elevator to the next level where you will get onto the monorail. It takes only 5 minutes to reach its stop near the cruise port entrance. I had thought it took you right into the port area, but it doesn't. There was still a distance to walk to get alongside our ship, that I hadn't expected.
  At the time we went there were not many people embarking but I can imagine that at busy times there would be long queues, to buy the tickets and use the lift to get to the People Mover.
Hotels and canals surround Piazzale Roma

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Venice - Embarking on a Cruise

First Sight of the Grand Canal in Venice
I was so excited about returning to Venice. We arrived by train from Milan early in the morning, walked out of the station and WOW! this was the sight that greeted us. The busy Grand Canal was awash with boats of many sizes, shapes and purposes: gondolas, vaporettos and water taxis ferrying people; barges carrying boxes, beer kegs and bricks; even one young man paddling a kayak.
A traditional Venetian gondola

  We had two days in this beautiful city before embarking on our NCL cruise. In the late afternoons we walked around the quiet back alleys, crossing little canals on humpbacked bridges, well away from the main touristy areas. It was a chance to experience another side of the city that visitors often miss.
Late afternoon quiet in Venice

  Our hotel was on a side canal right by the Piazzale Roma, the transport hub of Venice. It was easy to trundle our bags across the piazza to the People Mover, the monorail that takes cruise ship passengers to the cruise port area.
  I'll tell you more on that next time.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Dining Options for 'Dining like a Norwegian' on Norwegian Spirit

A cover charge applies at the Asian restaurants
Would you like to dine on Asian food, French cuisine or hamburger and fries? How about pizza delivered to your stateroom or waiter service in the main dining rooms? Whatever you choose, you're sure to find something to tempt your taste buds on Norwegian Spirit as you 'dine like a Norwegian'.
   Complimentary Dining is included in your fare and there is a range of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks in between times.
  There are two main dining rooms - Windows and Garden restaurants, both on Deck 6 - with menus that change daily as well as some popular dishes that are always available.
  The self-service buffet is Raffles Court open from early morning for breakfast till midnight for late night snacks. Outside that is Raffles Terrace on Deck 12 aft.
  In fine weather the outdoors Bier Garten serves snacks in the late afternoon, and the Blue Lagoon Cafe has American-style diner meals till the early hours of the morning.
  Cover Charges for Speciality Dining apply to several of the dining venues that are open for dinner.
   For Asian meals you can try the Sushi Bar, the Shogun Restaurant or the Teppanyaki Japanese restaurant where the chef cooks your food in front of you.
  Fine French fare is presented at Le Bistro gourmet restaurant with its elegant decor and the Cagney's Steakhouse seemed to always be a popular choice for many passengers.
  But if you feel like just a tasty light meal after a day's sightseeing, you can have a pizza for $5 in your stateroom.
Chocolate everywhere
And how could I almost forget to mention this! The super-scrumptious Chocoholic Buffet!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

About Norwegian Spirit

Cruising with NCL
I was already familiar with the layout of Norwegian Spirit as I had cruised before in Asia on her sister ship, Superstar Virgo. The things I liked best on the ship were the extremely spacious public areas. The foyer on Deck 7 is a very large open space with a grand staircase leading up to a mezzanine floor of shops, restaurants and the Champagne Charlie's bar.
The foyer on Norwegian Spirit
The Grand Staircase with 3 elevators
Another favourite place of mine was the library with its comfortable chairs and large picture windows. There was a good selection of books in several languages.
Library on Norwegian Spirit

Some facts and figures about Norwegian Spirit:

  • Passengers - 2,018
  • Crew - 949
  • Cruising speed - 24 knots
  • Bars & lounges - 10
  • Swimming pools - 2 & 4 hot tubs. On Deck 10 there is Buccaneer's Wet & Wild, a pirate themed swimming pool & play area for children.
  • Dining options - 14. 

I'll write more about these in my next blog post. There were lots to choose from.