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Cruising a Mediterranean Tapestry: Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Montenegro

After a long restful stay in Barcelona, Ol and I booked a last minute, twenty-four day cruise on Holland America Line’s Veendam. It is the first cruise we have ever taken, unless we count a day cruise to the Bahamas when we were dating. After spending the last four months in Africa, we wanted a break from the logistics of planning every day. It felt like we were selling out. We felt more like tourists than world travelers on an adventure.

Though we didn’t want to admit it Ol and I were both excited. It felt a little like going to school for the first day. That is why we bought real suitcases in Barcelona rather than carrying everything in backpacks like we are accustomed. We wanted to look respectable and fit in on our first cruise, as we have no idea what we are getting ourselves into.

I was excited that we didn’t have to pack or unpack for twenty-four days. We were also excited about having a gym (which we both desperately need). Ol is excited about relaxing around the pool.

We didn’t even give much thought to where we would be going. They had me at Mediterranean! We probably are not your typical cruisers.

I was totally resigned to my fate as a tourist with a roll on suitcase, which I soon learned is tiny by cruise standards. I wanted to know what people were bringing in their huge suitcases! I soon realized it would have been better to act like our bags were lost and just carry on our back packs. The cabin steward looked concerned when he asked where the rest of our luggage was.

If it was any consolation I was toting around my daughter Liv’s huge sun hat. It was bigger than our new suitcases.

When Liv met us in Dubai, she brought us some summer clothes and took home our Safari gear. She insisted that the hat was perfect for the Mediterranean. She told me that I could wear it at the pool. It practically needed its own ticket for our flight.

We checked in and immediately fell in love with our cabin. We were made to feel at home by Wan, our cabin steward. We had a room with a view, and the bed was extremely comfortable.

Ol and I immediately set off to explore the ship. We found the gym, the spa, the theater, the showroom, the library, pools, bars, and restaurants. It took only a few hours to realize that it was going to be impossible to lose the weight we have gained. If anything, we heard horror stories from the few cruisers we met who said that they usually gain ten to fifteen pounds, and they are only on the ship for a week! This would be a true test of will power!

My biggest dread of a cruise was waiting in line. I soon found that this was never an issue. Cruise lines apparently have everything down to a science. We found that the ship was more like a nice resort. The only difference was that that it moves. We would go to bed, and the next day we were in a different port with a new city to explore.

We discovered that many cruise ship guests cram their schedules with constant activities and tours. We decided to not kill ourselves, trying to see everything. If there was something that we really wanted to see we would book it from the port. If not, we would just leisurely explore the port city. If we discovered a city that we really loved, we know that we can come back again and spend more time.

We soon fell into a regular routine. We slept in, went into town daily, visited a few sites, had lunch, and we would come back to the boat in the late afternoon. Back on board we could work out, have dinner, catch a show or a movie, gamble, or close down the piano bar.

We soon came to enjoy a glass of wine at the Crows Nest as the ship cruised out of port. We only had a couple days at sea and not in port. For a night in we could watch television in our stateroom. The ship had over twenty channels. I also enjoyed catching up on my reading, and playing a nightly game of backgammon with Ol.

It didn’t take long to meet some people who actually cruised full time. They were older and said the cruise ship was cheaper and more fun than a retirement home. They agreed that a cruise is just a taste or a glimpse of a destination. There is enough time to enjoy a day trip, but not enough time to explore the culture or get to know the people of an area.

We came to enjoy eating dinner in the ship restaurant. In the casino, I doubled my money in the Texas Hold-em Tournament. We regularly closed down the piano bar with Barry from Boston, who was always fun! When I discovered we could order fresh hot chocolate chip cookies when we got back to our cabin, I was done for! Now I know why there are sixty-seven million cruisers in the world!

The cruise reminded me of a trip to Vegas set up by the local casinos so that I would quit fighting them when they came to Biloxi. When I landed, I was aghast at all of the tacky billboards and lights, but at midnight I was on stage singing “Viva Las Vegas”. If you can’t beat-em join-em!

Every day on board was wonderful. Our first port was Marseille, France only 189 miles from Barcelona. Ol and I enjoyed a free walking tour around town, explored the Cathedral and Basilica, and enjoyed the waterfront and the many lavender products.

Our next stop was a short 144 miles to Monte Carlo, Monaco. This was a new country for the both of us. It was charming and beautiful. The display of wealth was noticeable. This is what I expected to see in Dubai. There were luxury cars everywhere. Princess Grace’s grandson was married the day before we arrived and the city and church still had all of the trimmings.

In the famous Monte Carlo casino Ol played the James Bond 007 slot machine and I played roulette. We sipped champagne and had a marvelous day with the jet setters. It was truly fun to see the things I have read about or have seen in the movies.

We were then off to Livorno, Italy, 125 miles down the coast. Ol took a tour to Pisa, while I enjoyed a spa day on the boat. I had already visited Pisa a few years ago.

Our next stop was Civitavecchia, Italy or the port to Rome. We decided against a long drive or train ride to Rome and instead used the time to catch up on our blog posts. We did not have internet on the ship so we enjoyed the sun, the beach, and wifi!

Naples was our next port of call. We decided to take the ferry to Sorrento where we could spend a relaxing day. Sorrento is a charming hillside town with beautiful sea views and picturesque streets. We wandered the streets, visited the churches and shops, and had lunch on a beautiful veranda covered with flowering wisteria vines and breathtaking sea views. We ordered a bottle of Prosecco and waited until the last ferry to return to the ship. It was a perfect day and I loved being away from the crowds.

Our next port of call was Taormina, Sicily, 205 miles south. We had to be tendered ashore to this small charming city. We were given bad advice on board by the Excursion Director and were told it was an hour walk from the harbor to the town and the Greco Roman Theatre.

Ol and I don’t mind walking, but after an hour and a half we were nowhere near the town. We were hot and not happy. We eventually found a bus stop and discovered that it was still a fifteen minute drive to our destination.

After enjoying a lovely lunch with stunning views, we had our credit card eaten by the ATM. While Ol worked on getting it back, I had another glass of wine. By the time he was finished with the bank, we decided to forego the historic sites, drink more wine, and enjoy the view. It wasn’t our best day, but the town and the views were beautiful.

After all of these ports of call, we finally had a day at sea. Ol enjoyed the pool and I enjoyed our stateroom. I made full use of the free room service. I stayed in my robe and read. That night we decided to enter the trivia contest. I laughed when it seemed that everyone knew Ol and he knew everyone by name. I think that he could have run for mayor.

Later, the ship held our first Gala night. I was relieved to find that we weren’t under dressed for the dining room. A sport jacket for Ol and a glitzy top for me was all that we needed.

The next day it was a mere 273 miles to Kerkira, Greece. Again, it was another new country for the both of us. We decided to be tourists and we jumped on the Hop on Hop off bus to see the island and palaces. We regretted it because it was hot and we really enjoyed exploring the Old Town on foot.

Our next port was a stop that we were both looking forward to, Dubrovnik, Croatia. Historic Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Game of Thrones fans will recognize its iconic landmarks.

Ol and I entered Pile Gate and explored the broad, stone-paved avenues of the Old Town. We went into the cathedral and the Dominican monastery. We then spent the afternoon walking the city’s medieval walls. The ramparts completely encircle the old city. The views over the red terra-cotta walls were stunning as were the sea views. We had a late night departure, so we enjoyed a candlelit romantic dinner in the harbor.

Our next stop was Kotor, Montenegro only 67 miles from Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a long day in this Mediterranean town, but we made the most of it. Kotor is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When we exited the boat, we negotiated with a local guide to drive us to a viewpoint above the town. He then drove us down the coastline and dropped us off at a charming seaside village, where we had brunch and walked through the quaint village. After brunch he then drove us back to Kotor and dropped us off to explore the walled city. Ol and I both fell in love with this beautiful country. We will definitely be back and would like to rent a home here for the summer. It was charming and beautiful. This may be our favorite port on the trip and one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited.

Our 12th day and the halfway point for us was Venice, Italy. I had been here before, but not with Ol. It is one of the most romantic cities in the world.

I think that everyone on board was at the ships rails as we cruised into the city. Venice was even more beautiful from up high. I couldn’t wait to take Ol down the Grand Canal and to Doge’s Palace. We were lucky we had two full days in this amazing city and then twelve more days to further explore this beautiful part of Europe. The Veendam, may make me a cruiser yet!

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