Cruising the Western Mediterranean

Booking Alitalia to Rome was a mistake as even our Italian friends now tell us. It is Western Europe's version of Aeroflot. We had only allowed six and a half hours between the arrival of our plane and the departure of our cruise aboard the Costa Pacifica. The plane was three hours late landing in Rome, only an hour of which was Alitalia's fault.  An hour out of New York, an ill, later presumed dead, passenger forced the plane to turn back--to Boston, where we waited for the doctor (A fellow passenger jumped up and offered his aid. “I'm an emergency room physician, may I help?” The reply from the stewardess “No, thank you”. Oh well, guess he died.), for refueling, and for a flight plan to be filed.  Any other airline would have done the three in parallel, then increased the subsequent cruising speed. Not Alitalia.

The first bag off the belt did not appear until 45 minutes after we'd landed. After an hour and forty five minutes, we received two of our three bags. During the 105-minute delay, we tried several times to file a missing luggage report with Alitalia; their personnel always refused--"just wait five more minutes." We had no alternative but to head for the cruise terminal without filing a report.  Oh, and the shuttle cost E125, so much for our plan to take the train, free with our Eurail pass.

Boarding was simple—it always is when you're the last to board. We reported our missing bag to the Costa purser; they contacted Alitalia on our behalf with a full description of the bag; they gave us an overnight kit and slippers, loaned us two bathrobes, and comped out laundry (express service!) for our entire stay aboard.

Before leaving Italy, we returned to the Alitalia office at the airport--”We cannot open a file, now; files may only be opened on the day of arrival.” Still, they admitted having traced our bag to New York, and “promised” to send a telex to JFK with instructions to send the bag to us. They didn't. (P.S. Our departure flight on Alitalia to Paris left an hour late.) After our return home , we made repeated attempts to contact Alitalia via the phone numbers and email addresses on their website; finally, we got through! “You're lucky,” we were told, “We were about to send the bag onto room.” (Not surprising, considering that our bag still bore a luggage tag directing for its being forwarded onto to FCO (Rome) two weeks earlier. But, eventually, Alitalia-JFK did send our bag to LAX via Delta and it only cost us two-hours of road travel and $3 for parking to retrieve it.

 

Our ocean-view cabin on the second deck of the Costa Pacifica was incredibly spacious; one of two diagonal-shaped cabins over the fantail. We could and did sit in the window on many occasions. Bed quite comfortable, firm mattress. Warm comforter. Excellent temperature control. Very helpful cabin stewardess. But woke one morning to the smell of bacon--and, alas, breakfast was not served for another hour.

Choice of buffet sit-down breakfast (with possibility of ordering over-cooked eggs) or buffet on upper level with truly wonderful omelets. Breakfast best meal of the day.

Dreadful pizza always available. Was it us or the Pizza? I asked an Italian passenger who said, "Pizza was dreadful." (Majority of passengers were European--Italians, French, German, Brits and made for interesting company.)

Entrees, appetizers and soups were almost always inedible. The exception were the wonderful Italian cheeses.

Serving staff were surly and quick to forget requests for water or tea.

Music everywhere, afternoon and evening. We danced each night and many joined us on the floor--musicians excellent. (And after the ballroom dancers left, the discos opened).

No free in-room movies or lectures.



Our itinerary was excellent, but Costa, quick to sell their own tours, provided little aid on getting to town. The exception was free shuttle in Civitavecchia and $6 per person shuttle in Barcelona.

Savona is readily accessible from the port. Though still jetlagged, we walked through the charming town. Dorothy's casual clothes, toiletries, and our battery charger were all being held hostage by Alitalia so she needed to at least buy her Nivea lotion. She found after purchase that Nivea in Europe is not the same consistency or fragrance (way too strong and lingering) than in the States. Hoping to replace a pair of jeans, we priced casual wear on the town. For a pair of ill-fitting cheap jeans they wanted E16 (US $24). Everything was so overpriced for the value that we just decided to move on. And they say the dollar isn't worth much, ha!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

Landing in Barcelona, a $6 pp shuttle brought us to the foot of the Rambla, where we followed a walking tour I'd found on the web. The expected buildings were there but so were large numbers of unemployed Morrocans.

Then on to the Boquera (an extensive outdoor market) and a tapas bar where we had our best meal since leaving the States along with a pitcher of Sangria. Phil ordered Sizzling chorizo braised in Asturian Cider, Salt Cod Fritters, and I talked him into a plate of Sizzling Shrimp in garlic-butter sauce. This accompanied by their Toasted flatbread with tomato, olive oil and cheese. Oh we were so stuffed afterward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's a long, long walk from the port into Mallorca and I'd recommend that everyone take the city bus at the port (the bus is marked "airport," but it also stops at the center of the city). Still the walk took us along the yacht harbor and then up briefly to two antique windmills Quixote might have visited.

From the city center, we took a E5 cab ride to the Pueblo Espaniol which features recreated architecture from the 13th century on for all parts of Spain and the Canary Island. Recommended.

The accompanying photo shows a number of the buildings in the Pueblo with part of the Palma de Mallorca skyline in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



A taxi is essential to get from the port of Tunis to the Medina and, subsequently, to the ruins of more distant Carthage. The Medina consists of a maze of narrow alleyways lined by stalls on either side; one entire section is devoted to clothes, another to jewelry and so on. We were taken aside by an amiable conman who led us at breakneck pace to his friend the perfumer who offered to sell us for 20 euros, no 10, no 5, the rare essences of perfume. Our guide then demanded money for his children, five Euros, please. Thankfully, he did lead us to a lane which led out of the market before he ditched us. I gave him a $1 US which he looked at scornfully. (Actually everyone on our journey looked at $US scornfully.)

If you're not careful, your cab driver will take you not to the ruins of Carthage but to another outdoor market. There you are liable to encounter a hustler who will insist you give him 5E after you take the picture. I gave him $1US in the face of his intense scorn

 

 

 

 

 



Our driver did throw in a tour of the Presidential palace as well as the innumerable villas and apartments reserved for the President's cronies. By begging his favor, we also got to see some  ancient Roman era cisterns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 







We took a bus tour of the Isle of Malta (the only real stop was at a glass factory--warning: it takes a good 10 minutes to get to the rest rooms from the factory. We watched them forming the molten glass into vases) .

 


 

The tour left us at the entrance to Valletta (the ancient main city) perched high above the port. The entrance was lined with stalls, and although a McDonalds and Burger King were to be found within the walls, I led us back to a shack where all the bus drivers seemed to be ordering their meals. There were no prices or items posted; Phil asked “what have you got?” and they brought a huge plate of stewed rabbit. As they placed it on the table the waitress assured us it was one portion. We asked the price- E10. We counted our Euros and came up with E9.72 but they assured us this was fine so we dug in and enjoyed.





















Valletta was home to the Knights of Malta and their headquarters is not to be missed.

















With a map of the Sicilian town of Palermo in hand, we headed for the principal sights only to come unexpectedly upon a museum of contemporary art, the high point of our tour!

There is a great deal to see in the city, with many impressive buildings and statues from the previous centuries.

As well as architecture that is truly for the birds:





















These next two photos were taken at the Chiesa di S. Cita



























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We were exhausted when we completed our uphill climb. This may explain why the way back to the ship led us into a narrow alley, home to an outdoor market with fresh fish and cephlapods of every description on display. The thing about narrow alleys is they immediately challenge the Italian driver to see how fast he can go (as in the movies) without actually hitting a pedestrian or overturning a stall.























Our cruise ended in Citiviavecchia but our trip was not over. Three cities and three days of train travel lay ahead.

In Rome, the Vatican didn't completely live up to our expectations. Take St. Peter's Square for example:

Though, St. Peter's itself was unmarked by advertisements.





























We much preferred the Colosseum and the adjacent ruins; alas, a fatal error in the Ancona train station prevented our returning a second time.































At the Hotel Maikol, our room overlooked the Plaza Vittorio Emanuele iii The delightful Bulgarian proprietress asked us what time we would like our breakfast- delivered right to our room. She suggested that I order the Cappucino. We chose 7:30a and it arrived right on time, consisting of sweet rolls, toast with a side of jams and Nutella, yogurt and orange juice for two. I had the Cappucino and it was delicious, the spoon sat on the thick foam. Phil had a cafe latte and it was plenty for two plus a carafe of hot milk.

Our last night in Italy was back at this charming hotel and to show how charming those who run it are: Breakfast is served from 7:30 – 10:00a. We were leaving by 6:15a so we told her we would have to decline breakfast and she prepared a tray for us that night so we would have a meal for in the morning. The only thing missing was the coffee, she told us to make room in the frig for the juice and yogurt. They were very flexible and the customer service was outstanding.

















While in Venice, our room at the Hotel Abbazia overlooked a charming courtyard and gardens with seating. Breakfast was Buffet-style and there were rolls, meats, cheeses, hot hard boiled eggs, pastries, fruits, juices and coffees and hot chocolate, jams and Nutella. We each made a sandwich for the road.



























Venice or Rome, fast food is always available.



















Though we usually chose to eat in sit-down restaurants such as in Rome (Monti D.O.C., overpriced to begin with, the proprietress made three attempts in a row to overcharge us) and the Antique Mole in Venice (a neighbor trattoria just off the former Jewish Ghetto offering outstanding food).



Still, we'll remember Venice most for the canals. This trip we decided to forgo the Vaporetta and walk across to the other side. It was like trying to navigate a maze. We stopped along the way to gaze into a chocolate shop- an old man and woman were eating hot chocolate with spoons and we decided to try it. We shared a cup and it was so rich and hot and wonderful but also very filling, I couldn't drink a cup by myself and noticed that the woman couldn't finish hers and gave it to her husband who did finish it! We did fine on our adventure until we tried to find our way back, it had gotten dark and nothing looked the same going the other way. We got lost but a local took pity on us and took us back to the bridge we needed to cross.























Our final destination before we returned to Rome, was Ancona on the Adriatic Coast.

















This area does not anticipate the English-speaking and with some difficulty we made out that we must take a city bus to our hotel (in another city) and first buy a ticket for the bus in a tobacco shop. It was a long long walk up the hill to the Hotel Turning in Falconara Maritima. Still, the view from our room window was outstanding. We had dinner in the restaurant downstairs. The portions were too big and not like any other place we had eaten in (catering to tourists here?) But the food was delicious.



The next morning, departing for Rome, we made a fatal error, not realizing that bin (or track) 3est was not at all the same as track 3 where we waited in vain. The result was a three-hour delay and the need to take a train regionale (a local) rather than the express on which we had reservations. If life hands you lemons...we took a city bus to a hilltop overlooking the ocean. I was content to sit and enjoy the view, but Dorothy insisted on following a path down to the water (easy) and then up again (hard).























The trip from Ancona to Roma was the most scenic of all. Consider the view of Umbria we had from the train.