Spain, Malta, Italy, and France
09/07/2008 - 09/14/2008
We started our cruise of the Mediterranean in Barcelona, Spain. A quick tour of the city took us through the Las Ramples area, which is a busy market in the old section of Barcelona. We also visited the L'Eixample district, and the Gothic quarter. Barcelona is famous for its diverse architecture, both old and new. La Sagrada Familia Church and Casa Batllo (pictured below) are famous examples of Antoni Gaudi's work.
The next day we boarded our cruise ship, the NCL Gem, and headed out to sea. Our first port of call was Valletta, Malta. The ship docked in Grand Harbour, which provided a terrific view of the city and surrounding coastline. Valletta has a mixture of European architecture, with a Turkish flair. We toured the southern part of the island, stopping at Sliema Harbour, and the fishing village of Marsaxlokk.
The history of Malta goes back to the Bronze Age. The Tarxien Ruins, dating back to around 2500 B.C., have some interesting rock carvings on display, along with other artifacts. Travelling back to the ship, we passed by Vittorisa Waterfront, which is home to the Maritime museum and some very impressive yachts.
The following day, we docked at the port of Napoli in Naples, Italy. We only had time to see a small portion of Naples; it is a very large city. We walked through the downtown area, passing several piazzas and fountains. We spent the majority of our time on the island of Capri. Known as the Island of Romance, it was absolutely beautiful, and proved to be Ann's favorite stop on the cruise. We visited the fabulous Giardini Di Augusto gardens, with terrific views of the Marina Piccola below. Capri town has small winding streets, filled with designer name stores. We stopped at Piazza Umberto and Piazza Vittaria for some window shopping.
The other main town on the island is Anacapri. This town does not receive as many tourists as Capri, and we found it much more enjoyable. We visited the Cassa Rossa, and the Chiesa St. Michele church. On the way back to the ferry terminal, we stopped at a small cafe and enjoyed the local drink - Limoncella.
We arrived at Civitavecchia the next day, hopped on a train to Rome, and used the metro system to get around. Our first stop was St. Peter's Square and the Basilica. The church is huge, and has fantastic paintings and sculptures. The interior is very ornate; all of the ceilings and domes are painted with amazing murals. We also walked through the tombs, and viewed the burial place of Pope John Paul II.
Our next stops were the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Arch of Constantine. In the afternoon, we visited the Baroque area, stopping at Trevi fountain, Piazza Navona, the Fountain of Four Rivers, and the Panthenon. Feeling absolutely exhausted, we then headed back to port.
Livorno, Italy was our next port of call, where we hopped on a train to the city of Florence. The Duomo-Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence dominates the skyline. The cathedral has beautiful designs, with very intricate stone carvings and paintings. We then visited the Galleria dell'Accademia, home to Michelangelo's 'David'. This museum is full of sculptures by many different artisans, along with some spectacular paintings. However, the highlight is definitely the sculpture of David. The sculpture is very impressive, and the level of detail is simply amazing. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed in the museum, so we walked to Michelangelo's square to take pictures of a replica that is on display.
Florence is very picturesque, and Ponte Vecchio Bridge and Santa Trinita Bridge both provide great views of this Tuscan city. On the way back to Livorno, we stopped at Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower and the Duomo of Pisa. It was a lot to see in one day, and we made it back to the ship with only 10 minutes to spare.
Our last port of call was Villfranche, a small town found along the French Riviera coastline. We took a local train and visited Monaco and Monte Carlo. This is definitely a town for the rich and famous. The marina is filled with luxury yachts.
We walked along the harbour front and stopped at the the famous Casino et Salle Garnier. We next visited the Palais Princier, home to the Grimaldi Royal Family, and watched the changing of the guard. Set high above the city of Monte Carlo, this area was used as a defensive position and still has cannons looking out over the cliffs towards the sea.
Overall, we were impressed with the cruise. However, due to the tight schedule, we only had time to see a few of the highlights that each port had to offer. It felt a bit rushed compared to some of our other trips.
Our next stop is Porto, Portugal. From there, we will work our way back to Lisbon in time for our flight home later this week.
Steve & Ann