Cruising the Adriatic and Dalmation Coast
The rugged backpackers have settled in for a little bit of luxury. About a month ago we were looking to see if we could find a repositioning cruise from New Zealand back to Canada in May or June. I stumbled across this cruise that takes us to places like Israel and Cyprus. We had absolutely no thoughts about taking a cruise or spending nearly as much time in Europe as we have but the lure of going to Israel seemed pretty cool to us even if it is only for a couple of days. And the price seemed right to us. For 21 days it was $1399 plus tax which seemed quite cheap to us. A hostel in Europe can be 30 € and then getting around, meals, etc. is quite expensive. This cruise put accommodations, meals, and transportation in under $100 per day for us.
The cruise started in Rome. In my last blog, I wrote about our few days in Rome before the cruise. We got to the cruise ship for 1pm which was the earliest we could embark. The port for Rome is in Civitavecchia which is quite far from Rome. We took a train which was only $20 total for the two of us. When we got to the port, lots of people were very confused. We could see our ship there. There were lots of busses for a Princess cruise taking passengers to their ship but we did not see any for Holland America. Lots of people were walking and so we just followed the crowd. We walked a long way before people realized we were going the wrong way. It was very hot and we were carrying our heavy backpacks. As we were walking back, a nice Princess cruise bus driver stopped and picked us up. We told him we were with Holland America and he told us to get on. The bus was empty. He drove us all the way back to the bus line up for Princess and we hopped that he had not misunderstood us. He told us to stand there and wait for a Holland America bus. Sure enough, one eventually came. So much for coming early to the ship because we waisted two hours finding a way to get to it.
Once aboard, we found our room. We booked the cheapest room possible on the ship but they put us up a little. We had received emails asking us if we wanted to upgrade but it was still costly. We went to the front desk to ask if an upgrade was still possible and the guy told us the ship was full. He took our names but we never heard anything.
After we left Rome we had a day at sea. Down around Italy, through the Straits of Messina between the boot and Sicily, and up around the other side through the Adriatic. At 6am the first morning we passed a volcanic island but there was not much to see as it was still dark. At about 8am we were going through the Straits of Messina which is a very narrow passage. On the second morning we arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
My first time in Croatia. I think what interested me the most was the modern history of Croatia. This cruise focuses a lot on ancient history. There is lots of information about the Romans, Ottoman-Turks, Greeks, Venetians, etc. However, I can remember the breakup of Yugoslavia in my lifetime. Dubrovnik is an important port town for Croatia. In the early 1990s it was the location of a long battle. Serbia-Montenegro attacked the port town from the hills above while the Croatian army used the sea to restock its forces. Not many of the homes were undamaged and you can see which ones have new roofs and which ones have the old roofs by the colour of the clay shingles. The Old City of Dubrovnik is contained by a wall that completely surrounds it with strategically located fortresses all the way around. The wall was built to protect against attacks by Venetians and others but it proved to be very important in modern times as well. The thing to do as a tourist is to walk the wall. We got an audio guide and listened to the history as we made our way around the 2km circuit. It is not far but there is a lot of climbing of stairs as you make your way around.
Next port was Venice. We have both been to Venice before. I had entered the GPS coordinates for St. Mark’s Square on my watch. As the crow flies, from ship to square was only about 2km. However, if you have ever been to Venice you would recall that the canals make it almost impossible to go in a straight line. It turns out that it was easier just to follow the San Marco signs. We saw the requisite sites in Venice. We crossed the Rialto Bridge on our way to St. Marks. We did the walk through the Basilica. We did not go into the Doge’s palace or climb the tower. It was kind of like our visit to Rome. We were happy just to wander around and see things again without feeling the need to tour everything again. Just wandering the streets and absorbing the feeling of being in Venice and watching the people was good enough.
Our stop in Venice was actually two days. We used the second day to relax on the ship. When we booked this cruise, we wanted to get some relaxation time. However, this cruise is very port intensive and there are not many at sea days. We made day two in Venice an at sea days for us. We worked out in the gym, sat by the pool, sat in the hot tub, and watched a movie. It was nice.
The next stop was in Ravenna, Italy. It is a small town much like all of the other towns we have seen lately. Churches and old buildings. We actually spent quite a bit of time accessing the internet. Using the internet on the ship is very expensive… 75 cents per minute. In the Piazza del Popolo in Ravenna there was free wifi. It was a good chance for us to catch up. After that we went to see Dante’s tomb. I just finished reading Dan Brown’s Inferno recently which was based on Dante Alighieri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy. Dante was forced to leave his home in Florence and so ended up in this area.
Our next port of call was Split, Croatia. Again, Split is like the other port communities in this area. There is a walled old city and the new city is outside the tourist area. It was Saturday and there was a market on. Nic loves markets although we did not buy anything. I think we circled the area twice. We also walked along the beautiful new waterfront promenade. There were tables set up by local sports teams and clubs. I am assuming they were trying to sign up new people. We also saw a stage on which a group of special needs kids sang and did a dance dressed as angels. They were so proud of themselves that it was truly moving.
The next day we arrived in Kotor, Montenegro. We wandered through the old city and found the entrance to the stairs up to the fortress. The climb is quite steep with lots of uneven steps. The information that we had said that it was a 90 minute climb but I think it was more like 30 or 40 minutes. At the top there is quite amazing views of the town. On the way down we went through a hole in the wall (literally) and walked to a little old church in behind. We sat and ate a sandwich that we had brought with us from the ship. After climbing back down to the old town we wandered around a bit. It is always nice just to explore and pop into the small shops to see what they are selling. I think what is most spectacular about Kotor is that it is kind of like a fjord. The ship entered the port through a very tight passage and then anchored off of shore. We tendered into the town. Bigger cruise ships cannot get into this port because it is so tight. We seem to be tendering in a lot even when other ships are docked. Lots of the history we heard about this area was the ancient history. I am not sure if this area was isolated from the wars in the 1990s but we did not hear any of that.
October 28th was my first time in Greece. We arrived in Corfu for a national holiday. We are not exactly certain of the holiday except that it either commemorates the Greeks saying no to Hitler or to Mussolini. We walked into town from the ship. We went to the Old Fort and climbed up the highest point. There was a parade for the holiday and we waited for a while but eventually gave up waiting for it to start. We saw a couple of marching bands but the crowds were building and we decided to roam around some more and then head back to the ship for lunch. We thought we would find the beach but when we did there was not really any beach to speak of. Maybe during low tide there would be something but the water was up quite high. I am not sure how a Greek person would take this but this town seemed much the same as Kotor and Split to me. Lovely and lots of ambiance but quite similar to the other towns.
Yesterday we stopped in Katakolon, Greece. It is a town in which nobody lives (I think) however it comes to life when a cruise ship appears. The purpose for the port is that it is the closest point to Olympia. We took a bus for 10€ return from Katakolon to Olympia. Olympia is the site of the original Olympic Games and the site where even today they light the torch for the torch relay for both summer and winter Olympic Games. The site is ruins today but you can get a sense of what it was like 2000-3000 years ago. There is also a museum of the artifacts that they have found at this site. We went to Olympia with a couple from Charlottetown, PEI who had a Rick Steves travel guide. We had never heard about Rick Steves before but apparently he has a PBS travel show that lots of people use to prep for their trips. They were very nice to adopt us and read about Olympia to us as we made our way around. Another couple from Tampa, Florida who were on a Princess Cruise also joined us and they also had the Rick Steves guide. It was a lovely day with very nice people.
One of the interesting things we learned is that there are cheaters statues. If you were caught cheating at the games, your fine was that you had to purchase/build a statue of Zeus for this area. Interestingly, the plural of Zeus is Zane (not sure why that is interesting but it stood out in my recollection). Men competed naked and women (when they eventually started competing) competed with one breast exposed. The running races were set up such that they ran towards the gods. There is a section where the judges sat to observe and on the other side of the track is a platform where one sole female goddess stood to observe. Like the modern olympics they had an athlete’s and judge’s oath/pledge.
Today we are in Napflion, Greece but Nic is not feeling well. I am not sure if she ate something bad last night. Last night was Surf and Turf at the fancy restaurant. Steak and lobster for our entre along with both jumbo shrimp cocktail and escargot for an appetizer. Later that evening there was a happy hour reception in one of the bars for people from Commonwealth countries but I think it was mostly Canadians. Finally, there was a late evening dessert extravaganza. In all, it was a lot of rich food and a few drinks. It was also formal night. Minoo gave Nic a couple of dresses and shoes when we were in Geneva so she looks quite lovely and fancy. I bought a tie on one of the first days on the ship for $10 but with my normal travel clothes I don’t feel very formal.
In the first 11 days there were 3 formal nights. People are dressed up quite a bit. You can even rent a tux for the duration of the cruise. We have sat with many very interesting people at dinner. Only once have we eaten alone. That is mostly because we do not have reservations and we tell the guy at the restaurant that we are willing to sit with others. We have not even waited once yet to get a seat. You will have to wait for a seat if you are looking for a private table. The only time we sat alone was the night when we had planned on going to the buffet but forgot that it closes at 8pm. We were in our backpackers clothes and they stuck us in the back corner behind a plant. It was not a formal night and I doubt that he intentionally tried to hide us but that is what it seemed like.
We learned once on board that Holland America has an older clientele usually. Most of the passengers are retired and everyone we have met is very interesting. We have met many Canadians and over the last couple of nights several Americans. Everyone seems genuinely interested in hearing about what we are doing and about our travels. Our only other cruise that we have taken was on Norwegian and it was spring break out of Miami. It was filled with partying university students. I would much prefer this group. The only thing that takes some getting used to is generally the early times for meals. We have missed meals or almost missed them several times.
Tomorrow, we will stop in Piraeus (Athens). This is the end of the cruise for many people. There are many that are staying on like us though too. Others will get on as well. We will just stay on board tomorrow likely. When we are done the cruise in another 10 days we will be back in Athens. We have booked a few days for ourselves then. The next leg of the cruise is the exciting one for us. We will stop in Jerusalem where we have booked a Jerusalem and Bethlehem tour. We will also stop in Haifa where we have booked a Nazareth and Galilea tour. We will also have stops in Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. We took this cruise to relax and rest. We may need a rest after it if keeps going the way it is.