Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Dockside Serenades When Cruise Ships Arrive in Port

An Istanbul Welcome
Brass bands, ethnic dancers, school choirs, bagpipes, drummers.....who have you been serenaded by as your ship docks? I love this part of arrival in a new port. The music really adds a bit of life to a dockside scene and gets me interested in finding out more about the port and the people.

Here is a photo gallery of some of my favourites.

Istanbul, Turkey

Lifou, Loyalty Islands, South Pacific

Noumea, New Caledonia
Savusavu, Fiji
Burnie, Tasmania, Australia
Port Klang, Malaysia
I hope these photos remind you of some interesting port arrivals on your cruises. Here's to many more!

Friday, 14 March 2014

The March of the Tiramisu

Tiramisu dessert on our MSC cruise
If you've cruised before you have probably experienced one night on board, at dinner time, the Parade of the Baked Alaska. Uniformed waiters march in a long line through the restaurant, each carrying a plate displaying a magnificent Baked Alaska dessert. Sponge, icecream and meringue lit by a blazing candle. It is quite spectacular.
   On our MSC cruise on Sinfonia, we were very much amused one night at dinner when the waiters, wearing sashes the colours of the Italian flag, paraded round the dining tables carrying platters of that divine dessert, Tiramisu. Coffee, sponge biscuits, liqueur and chocolate - yum!
Passengers enjoying the March of the Tiramisu
The passengers really got into the festive mood, swirling their linen napkins round their heads and singing, at the top of their voices, that rousing Italian song, 'Volare'.
  Such fun and such a delicious end to the meal.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A Mystery in Palma de Mallorca

An unusual souvenir in Palma
Can anyone solve this mystery for me? In Palma de Mallorca, in a souvenir shop, in amongst children's flamenco outfits, items made with shells and assorted ceramics painted with red coral designs, was this stand. 
   Australian Aboriginal boomerangs decorated with traditional dotted designs!!
   Why? We're a long way from Aussie in the Mediterranean!
   Why would a Spanish island have these for sale? Is there a link between the two countries I don't know about? 
   Or did the souvenir buyer for the store like the look of them, think,'Oh, we'll just paint Mallorca on them & put them out in the shop.'
  A mystery indeed. I'd love to know the answer.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Souvenirs from a Western Mediterranean Cruise

A bright and cheerful souvenir shop at Olbia, Sardinia
What do you bring back from your travels? I tend to buy small things like earrings or a book or something relevant to the places I've been that won't contribute to any baggage overload! On this last cruise we visited ports in France, Spain and Italy. Here are some suggestions for unique souvenirs I found.

Beautifully packaged lavender products from St Tropez
St Tropez, France:  the lavender of Provence is famous and at the market in St Tropez, I bought several lavender sachets and drawer liners, all beautifully packaged.

Hand-painted ceramic tiles from Palma
Palma de Mallorca, Spain:  Hand-painted ceramics and tiles are beautiful. I bought these for our letterbox from the cathedral shop. Also ceramics (dinner sets, platters and vases) painted with a design of red coral for a fresh, modern look. And pearls - necklaces and earrings - are famous from this part of the Med.

Local delicacies at Mahon

Mao (Mahon), Minorca, Spain: Flat leather sandals are locally made and hard-wearing. Pastries made into coils called ensaimada are delicious. Other beautifully packaged foodstuffs make nice gifts.

Distinctive ceramics and cork are souvenirs of Olbia
Olbia, Sardinia, Italy:  Cork, cork and more cork, the best in the world (so I was told!) made into various souvenirs such as coasters and bookmarks. These are great as they are extremely light and unusual to give to folks at home. Also ceramics in this distinctive colour and artisanal cheeses are locally produced.

Citrus from the Amalfi coast at Pompeii
Pompeii, Italy: Lemons in limoncello liqueur, or ices, or gelato or fresh juice in the forecourt of Pompeii. Cameo jewellery carved from shell is also a popular souvenir. And red coral necklaces, earrings and bracelets are prevalent in the souvenir stalls here too.

Aprons and tea towels make lightweight souvenirs
Genoa, Italy:  For an interesting, lightweight souvenir that won't add to your excess luggage, there are a variety of aprons and tea towel sets for sale in Genoa that make nice gifts for friends back home.

I hope these examples have given you a few ideas of what you'd like to buy on a Western Mediterranean cruise.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Salerno for a Cruise Ship Tour to Pompeii

MSC Sinfonia docked at Salerno
At last I could fulfill a long-held dream, to visit Pompeii. Ever since I took Latin at high school and learnt about that doomed city I had wanted to go there. And now, on a half day ship's tour, I could. 
The coach picked us up on the dock right beside the ship and whisked us the 30 kilometres along a motorway to the ruins. It was an early start which was good as we could explore the site before many of the hordes of sightseers arrived.

Near the entrance to Pompeii
I was amazed at the size of the archaeological site - it's enormous - and still so much has yet to be excavated. There are dozens of store rooms full of amphorae, bits of broken statues, roof tiles, carvings and who knows what else tied up in plastic bags that look the worse for wear. The sheer scale of the site and the overwhelming number of artifacts is mind-blowing.

A store room at Pompeii
The layout of the city is typically ancient Roman with straight streets in a grid pattern. Huge raised paving stones sit in the middle of the streets so you could cross the road without getting your shoes wet. These stones are spaced exactly so carts could trundle by. Their wheels have left grooves in the roads' surfaces.

A typical street at Pompeii
The amphitheater has been restored. As you walk around Pompeii it is easy to look into the rows of houses and apartments and imagine them with their roofs on and their walls intact. Some of the houses are named, indicating who lived in them at the time of the eruption.

Pompeii's amphitheater
Beautiful mosaic wall features and pavements are still fresh and bright despite having been buried under mountains of ash for centuries. Some bronze statues have been restored and replaced in their original positions. 

A mosaic floor featuring doves

A word of caution: the site is huge, the ground uneven, the tour guides set a cracking pace, you walk several kilometres. With my mobility issues I found it exhausting and very painful to keep up with the group. It was sheer stubbornness that kept me going! And not wanting to miss out on somewhere that I was desperate to see.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Visit Olbia, Sardinia, Cruise Port of Call

Arriving in Olbia on MSC Sinfonia
This was a new port of call for us - Olbia, Sardinia, an Italian territory. Our ship docked at the working port so a free shuttle bus ran every 10 minutes, taking passengers on the five minute ride from the wharf into town, to stop outside the information centre.

A flower-bedecked restaurant on Corso Umberto, Olbia
Corso Umberto is the main street with some grand old buildings, cafes and a few touristy shops at the harbour end. The side streets were so quiet they almost had a 'village' feel.

In Olbia

Across the road from where the shuttle bus stops is a little island where the museum is situated. Olbia was an important port in Roman times and when the harbour was being dredged for the modern port expansion, several Roman era ships were found. They have been restored and according to my guide book, were on display in the museum. We looked all round the museum but couldn't find them, so I asked the man on duty (who doesn't speak English & I know only a few words in Italian) where they were. He beckoned us to follow him & we went out the back, through several locked doors to a huge climate controlled room where the remains of the vessels are displayed. 

Roman trading ships found in Olbia Harbour
So, another interesting port visit on this Western Mediterranean cruise. We are enjoying it so much!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A Day Ashore in Mao (Mahon), Menorca

MSC Sinfonia dwarfs the quayside houses and shops in Mao
Mao, or Mahon (depending which brochure you are reading!) is another picturesque Mediterranean town easily accessible from a cruise ship. By that I mean the ship will dock right beside the township. However, most of the town is up on a plateau, accessed by flights of stairs or a zig-zagging road. I have a few mobility challenges some days, so really had to take my time to get to the top.

It is quite a steep walk from the dockside up to the township
Once at the top of the stairs you'll find, on the left, a big church and beside it a market in the old cloisters. On the right, streets lead into the old town with its narrow lanes lined with houses several storeys high, many with wrought iron trimmed balconies. It is a lovely place to wander.

At the market in the cloisters

A typical street scene in the older district of Mao

We were lucky the day we were there. The weather was beautiful and there was a Festival of Flowers on. Many properties had decorated their balconies or shop windows with lovely floral displays.

Celebrating the Festival of Flowers
At sail away we went out on deck and watched as our ship slowly passed along the second longest harbour in the world. On the shores of the narrow waterway, houses (some with direct water access, jetties and boat sheds) were gleaming white in the sun. At the entrance to the harbour is a huge complex on the headland, the old fortress called La Mola. It's a forbidding looking place, even in the sunshine.

La Mola, the fortress at the mouth of Mao Harbour
So where to next? Tomorrow we'll be in Olbia, Sardinia, another new port for us.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Visit Palma de Mallorca on a Cruise

View of Cathedral at Palma de Mallorca from the Cruise Port
After a sea day we were looking forward to docking in Palma de Mallorca, a new port of call for us. We were overnighting here so had plenty of time to look around the old town with its historic buildings, quiet laneways and bustling plazas.
  The cruise ship docked at the port, about 15 minutes by bus to the centre of the city. A continuous shuttle ran all day at a cost of 12 euros per adult and 8 euros per child, round trip.
  In the huge square below the cathedral there is a tourist information office and lots of street entertainers and buskers to keep you amused and smiling for quite some time! 'Living statues' of men dressed as Shrek, a Zulu warrior, Charlie Chaplin, an Aztec prince and a cowboy added to the mix of cruise ship passengers, (3 ships in port that day), locals and other tourists.

I snapped this photo before the street performer put his 'head' on!
  Some people wanted to see around the historic town centre in a horse and carriage.

Waiting for passengers outside the cathedral
But we preferred to wander the maze of back streets that fan out from behind the cathedral, finding unexpected delights in little squares and peeping into beautiful courtyards and admiring ornate doors and balconies.

An entrance courtyard to a property in Palma
  Of course, the massive cathedral -La Seu- was on our 'must see' list of local sights.  It truly is magnificent, both inside and out. As we entered the nave, a ray of sunshine struck one of the stained glass windows and cast a reflection onto one of the pillars. Serendipity!

Sunshine 'lighting up' a cathedral pillar
 I love this photo - a case of being in the right place at the right time!

Part of the ornately carved exterior of La Seu cathedral
 We did enjoy our time in Palma de Mallorca. I would like to have stayed longer as there was so much more exploring to do.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Cruise the French Riviera to St Tropez

Cruise the French Riviera
Our first port after leaving Genoa was the town of St Tropez, long associated with movie stars and rich heiresses and celebrities. Our ship anchored offshore and we were transported to land by tender. 

The streets of St Tropez were decked out with banners
It was very pleasant wandering round the edge of the marina where artists painted the yachts and picturesque buildings that line the boat harbour. The Tourist Information Office is located right by the famous bright red cafe-patisserie called Senequier and next to the fish market building.

Cafe Senequier, the place to people watch
What's to buy at the St Tropez fish market
After stopping at the cafe for the second most expensive coffee of my life (the most expensive was at the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore!) I wandered along the narrow twisting streets of the old town to the market.
  The market was huge, set out in a tree-lined square. Goods for sale ranged from bric-a-brac to Provencal specialties to clothes to just about everything else. Colourful local ceramics caught my eye as did the lavender products that would make lovely gifts for friends.
Local ceramics at the market

All in all it was a pleasant day out in beautiful weather but did I see a movie star? No!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Genoa, Italy, Cruise Port

View from MS Sinfonia over Genoa Port
We hadn't been to Genoa before so we were looking forward to exploring a bit. We stayed the night before the cruise at Morelli Palace, right in the picturesque Porto Antico area. It was wonderful - candelabra and crystal glasses, sumptuous breakfast, antique furniture and wall hangings - all for a very reasonable price. 
Our room at Morelli Palace
As we sat in the breakfast room we could see our ship arriving at the cruise terminal.
  On looking at the map, we had thought we could walk from Morelli Palace to the cruise terminal but the reality was a bit different - roadworks and construction sites meant a large part of the area was blocked off to pedestrians. So it was a short taxi ride that took us to the ground floor embarkation area of the cruise terminal.
  Embarkation went without a hitch. At the time we arrived there were no queues of passengers waiting to be processed, so before we knew it, we'd had our photo taken and were walking up the gangway, ready to start our cruise.

Monday, 6 January 2014

About MSC Sinfonia

Swimming Pool on Deck 11 of MSC Sinfonia
First impressions on boarding MSC Sinfonia? How spotless it is, both inside and out. Gleaming white paintwork, shiny brass and chrome, and sparkling mirrors really impressed us!
  Throughout the ship the clever placement of mirrors, along with the shine of chrome fittings make the interior spaces seem much larger than they are. For example, in this photo the library seems to stretch the width of the ship - it doesn't!
The library
The decor throughout is pale woodwork with burgundy and green upholstery and carpet. All pleasant enough, but without the 'wow' factor that some other ships I've been on have with their art work in public spaces.
  Sinfonia can carry 2087 cruisers over 9 passenger decks. Our captain is Pietro Scarpato and over the course of the 7 night cruise, round trip Genoa, we'll have 6 ports of call in the Western Mediterranean.
  So it's all aboard for the cruise!