Cruising the Mediterranean – 1

by Lou on August 14, 2006

Mykonos was hot, sticky, blue, and white. Everything looked like it does in the postcards, except that the town is dirtier than I expected, especially after spending the day before on the Isle of Capri. Both are small islands with large summertime populations, but Capri is decidedly upscale while Mykonos lives off the cruise ships and backpackers and is a lot dirtier. All but the jewelry stores, that is. They line the streets and alleyways of this blue and white town, where every shopkeeper has a friend in New York, or Chicago, or Detroit, or Los Angeles.

Yesterday was spent at sea and it was a welcome relief from the first few days of the cruise that left everyone tired of the crowds and tired of walking and standing in line. But I’m not complaining. After all, who knows when we’ll get to see some of this again so it’s worth all the hassle. I can certainly use the exercise.

We arrived a couple of days early in Barcelona and really fell in love with the city. Before the cruise began, I read Colm Toibin’s Homeage to Barcelona, which is one part love story with the city, lots of history, and insights into the Catalan culture. Even after reading Toibin’s book, Barcelona was an amazing surprise, from all the Gaudi-designed buildings to the Picasso museum, to alley-width streets with small restaurants and cafes that pop up in the least expected places. It’s a real night city too; most people don’t even think about dinner until somewhere between 9 and 10:00 PM, and the cafes and restaurants are still serving dinner well after midnight.

Barcelona manages to combine sophistication with a very cool, laid back attitude. We stayed in the Hotel H-10 Montcada for two nights before the cruise, right on Via Laietana which is a main street bisecting the Gothic District, where according to Toibin, there was a major shootout during the early days of the Spanish Civil War.

Our ship sailed at 10:00 PM Tuesday night and arrived in Marseille the next day. We found a taxi driver named Patrick who spoke only German and French, but between sign language, our Spanish, and all of us wagging heads, we managed to get in a great tour of the city.

Marseille was followed by a long day in Florence. Actually, the ship docked an hour’s ride from Florence, where we walked the town from one end to the other, across the Ponte Vecchio, which is lined with gold merchants on either side of the bridge. We also waited in line more than 3 hours to get into the museum to see the statue of David. But that meant we couldn’t get to see some of the other museums, which, of course, means a return trip to Florence sometime in the future because it’s a place that requires a few days, at the very least, to see most of it.

Rome was busy, beautiful, and amazing with the narrowest of streets opening into the widest of plazas. It is all beautiful, from the Trevi Fountain to the Church of St. Mary of the People, to the Pantheon, to the Vatican. I only wish we had more time there. Rome was a long and wondrous 12-hour day of touring, but to do it justice, Rome really screams out for a week or two of intense exploring and adventuring.

By the time we reached Rome we were getting used to the fact that all things are relative, especially when considered from the perspective of the automobile. A VW bug is a large car in Rome, while a Smart Car seems average, and compact means the ubiquitous scooters that dart everywhere and are really the only kind of motorized transportation that is suited for the very narrow streets that predate the automotive age by nearly 2,000 years.

The day after Rome found us on a tour of the Amalfi Coast with stops at Pompeii, Salerno, and a short boat ride to the Isle of Capri. While I was generally aware of the archeological excavations at Pompeii, I was astounded at how large the city was when it was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago. Most, though not all of ancient Pompeii has been recovered, and it’s well worth the time to spend a day going through that ancient city.

I’ve been diligently taking photogrphs, though the computer center on board this ship does not offer any access to a USB port and I won’t be able to upload pictures until I return to California in mid-August.

So you’ll have to do your armchair traveling via words alone until then. I’ll post pictures when I get home — presuming the current travel restrictions allow me to get home — and once that’d one I’ll get back to poker content.

Right not we’re on our way to Istanbul. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.

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