06 Nov 6 November 2018 Cruising from Southampton to Malta
On 21st October we were up early, had breakfast and were picked up by our car and driver just before 9am for the trip to Southampton. Being a Sunday the city traffic was light and we had a smooth run to the port, arriving well before lunch time. We offloaded our luggage and went into the terminal to await boarding. Once on board we went to the buffet for lunch and then waited a while before we could get into the Stateroom (they are not called cabins these days), and unpacked everything from our cases. With lots of hanging space and shelf space everything came out of the cases and we could relax knowing we had 27 nights with no more packing and unpacking!
The ship sailed at 4pm and we stood on the front deck watching Southampton disappear. Later we watched as we sailed past the Isle of Wight at sunset. We had a pizza for tea then used the laundromat to wash and dry everything and had a quiet night in our cabin.
The next morning we docked at Le Havre, France at 7am. It was still dark at 8am. After breakfast we walked into town in the cold grey fog and drizzle. Being a Monday most of the shops were closed (seems the common thing in Europe) so we wandered around for a while and then bought a ticket on a tour bus to the little fishing town of Honfleur. The trip took us over the very impressive Normandy Bridge. We had a delicious local seafood lunch at a waterfront bistro there and then wandered around the town looking at incredibly old buildings. We found a geocache and headed back to bus as the sun started to come out and went back to the ship.
Then followed 2 days at sea. We went to “Destination presentations” on our next 2 ports of Lisbon and Barcelona. Frans went to an advanced photography session and Bev joined a Drum Circle group run by one of the Princess Orchestra which was great fun. The evening shows were also very good.
25th October we were up at 5.30 am and watched the lights of Lisbon as we sailed into harbour and docked at 7am. The weather was great and it turned out to be a warm day. We headed into town and bought tickets for the Hop-on-off bus. We got off at the first stop and took Tram 28 up into the Alfama district which has very steep, narrow, winding streets. The tram inched past parked cars and went around corners which were so tight it seemed it would crash into the corners of buildings. Unfortunately it was not possible to take photos along the journey. After that we queued at the Santa Justa Elevator for about an hour to go up the top – just for the experience. At the top the view is amazing over Lisbon and into the port. Going down was a lot faster and we then took Tram 12 downtown, hopped on to the bus to do the tour around the city and out to the Belem Tower and the Monument to the Discoveries and back to town. There was no point trying to go and see the popular attractions because of the crowds and long waiting times.
One thing I was determined to do was have coffee and the famous Pasteis de Nada Portugese custard tarts. We managed to find a small café in a back street that was not crowded and indulged ourselves – very delicious. We managed to find a geocache too, before we went back to the ship.
26th October we slept in then went for a hot jacuzzi and a swim before lunch. We docked in Gibraltar at mid-day, cloudy but warm. We took a local taxi tour up to the top of the Rock, visiting St Michael’s Cave on the way up (fabulous formations in the cave, and it was used as a hospital and refuge during WW2), then up the top where we saw the famous monkeys. They are really cheeky and will grab any food you are holding quick as a flash. We also saw them jumping on people’s shoulders and grabbing ladies’ long hair. There were 2 very cute little babies which had also learned to grab people. Of course, feeding them is strictly not allowed but the tourist operators bring them vegetables and fruit daily. From the top there are fabulous views of the coastline of Spain, and across the airport runway which divides Lisbon and Spain. The border is just on the other side of the airport. The main road runs across the runway and they stop the traffic for planes to land.
Back down in the town we wandered around the quaint Main Street. Had lunch in a café in Casemates Square, watched glass-blowing in a small factory, and then went to the Gibraltar Museum which has underground archeological excavations and models of Neanderthals which inhabited the area a very long time ago. We also found another geocache. The aim is to try and find at least one in each port we stop at.
The next day was a lazy day at sea. Bev had a hot stones massage, and another Drum Circle practice followed In the afternoon by a public performance in the Piazza on the ship. That was fun!
28th October we docked in Barcelona at 7.30 am on a cold and wet day. We bought tickets on the Hop-on-off bus which took us around the city and up Montjuic. We sat up top, the roof was on but the sides open, and we did get a bit wet. We got off near the top of Montjuic and saw the Olympic diving pool which looked very sad and neglected. The views over the city were great though. Back in town we walked the main street, La Rambla and had a delicious seafood paella lunch at a street café. The rain had stopped, so we hopped on the bus and went to see La Sagrada Familia, the huge church started in the mid 1800’s and still under construction today. The crowds waiting to get in were huge so we just walked around outside, very bemused. To us looked like some sort of fairy tale castle gone completely wrong with too much “bling” on it. We then walked the 4+ klms back to the ship, and yes we found a geocache along the way.
29th October another cold and wet day when we docked in Toulon, France. We had a tour booked to the hilltop villages of Hyeres and Bormes-Les-Mimosas. Both have very steep cobbled, narrow roads and very old buildings, and being a Monday many of the shops and cafes were closed. We found a tiny restaurant in a back street in Hyeres and had a delicious seafood soup for lunch.
Then on the bus to Bormes-Les-Mimosas which has many Australian eucalypt and acacia (wattle) trees, and a few bottlebrush and grevillea bushes. It looked a bit like home! It absolutely poured with rain while there but we all dutifully followed our tour guide around the town, up and down steep narrow streets and looking at historic buildings. In a break in the rain we actually found a geocache and Frans managed a couple of photos. We left early and they took us to a winery on the way back to the ship to fill in some time.
30th October. After a night of rough seas (we still slept well) we arrived in Livorno, Italy. We found out later that we were lucky to have been sailing last night as the really bad weather was ashore, and Livorno had suffered some damage with the high winds, as had Rome and other areas of Italy.
Our trip was after lunch, in reasonably good weather, to a winery in a small village called Cenaia where we sampled 4 wines and cheese & salami, followed by a horse & carriage ride around the vineyard. They grow several varieties of grapes, plus vegetables and pigs. We bought a red and a white wine which we will enjoy towards the end of the cruise when we have 6 days at sea.
31st October We docked in Civitevecchia, Italy and took the cruise tour bus to Rome where they dropped us at St Peter’s Square with instructions to be back there at the appointed time. We took a taxi to the Forum where the crowds were huge and the lines of people waiting just to buy tickets to the Forum and Colosseum were ridiculous so we did not bother. We wandered around outside of the Forum and Colosseum for a while, taking photos, trying to avoid the dozens of touts all trying to sell something to unsuspecting tourists. It is a strange thing in Italy that it is illegal to buy from these touts and if caught you can face a massive fine, but the touts are allowed to hound the poor tourists without penalty.
We had lunch in a café nearby, then walked through various small streets and alleys to the Pantheon, which in our opinion was the most spectacular sight we saw, and then continued walking to the Castel St Angelo next to the Vatican area. This castle was used as a safe haven for Popes a long time ago in times of war and is a beautiful ancient building. There were so many ancient buildings, too many to photograph. It was a great experience to walk around and see so much of the old world.
1st November a very early start at 7.15am after docking in Naples. We went on a tour to Sorrento and Pompeii. Again it was grey and wet, so we did not see much of the “panoramic coastline” so famous in this area. We were not impressed with Naples, which looked drab and dirty and so much grafitti. On the way to Sorrento we stopped at a Limoncello factory. Sorrento would be a lovely place in sunshine, but in the pouring rain it was not so good. We decided to just brave the weather and go to find a geocache, after which we had a pizza for lunch as we had to have at least one genuine Italian pizza. We visited a shop which sells beautiful inlaid woodwork, a craft kept alive through several generations of one family. Some of the furniture was absolutely gorgeous, such as a circular table with a lazy susan in the middle, for only 33,000 Euros.
After that the bus took us to Pompeii where our tour guide walked us around with a very good commentary. It is a very impressive site and hard to believe it was once buried under 15m of ash. One of the houses belonging to a wealthy family has been very well preserved with even the frescoes on the inside walls still visible. You are only allowed to tour a very small area of the site and they are still working on various areas, making new discoveries.
2nd November After 6 days of shore excursions we had a very welcome day at sea with an interesting passage between Italy and Sicily in fine weather.
3rd November We came into Malta early morning and it was a spectacular sail through a very narrow entry in to the Grand Harbour in Valletta with ancient fortifications on both sides. We bought tickets for the Hop-on-off bus and headed first to the ancient silent city of Mdina, so called because it only has about 300 residents and the public are not allowed to bring vehicles into the city. It is a beautiful walled city with very narrow streets and alleys and on the ramparts a fabulous view over the island. From there we walked to the adjoining town of Rabat and to the catacombs. These once held the remains of hundreds of people and were used as a refuge in WW2.
We then caught the bus again and continued the circuit around the north of the island back to Valletta where we walked around for a few hours looking at the old buildings, and finding 4 geocaches. This is our favourite place on the trip so far and if we could, we would stay here for a while and explore some more.
4th November we are at sea again and looking forward to seeing Athens tomorrow and Rhodes the following day. We only have another 13 days to the end of the cruise, then 2 nights in Dubai and then home.