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.