A Mediterranean Cruise on NCL’s Gem
by Curt Remington
The summer before last, my wife and I strongly considered touring Europe in a small car with our three almost adult-sized daughters, none of which have mastered packing light. Thank god we had the sense to opt for a cruise, where we could leave our luggage in our cabin, our daughters in another cabin, and avoid driving altogether.
Our Mediterranean cruise departed from Barcelona, visited Malta, made three stops in Italy, one in France and back to Spain. That was a lot of ground (water) to cover in a week, but we managed to see a lot, have a great deal of fun and still had time to relax, once-in-awhile.
Our excitement started at the Seattle airport, after a long, slow, traffic-filled drive. In a tone of dismay, an anxious airline employee announced that those of us flying to Europe were probably too late to get on the plane. As I stood in line, trying to practice meditation techniques, images kept creeping in of our ship steaming across the Mediteranean without us. We managed to get our bags checked and made a mad dash across the airport, just barely making it on our plane. Our flight did include good food and movies, making that part of the journey quite pleasant.
After getting our luggage situated onboard the ship, we set off for a self-guided walking tour of Barcelona. First off, I have a confession to make. Although we’d done lots of traveling throughout North America, mostly to mountains and beaches, none of us had been to Europe before. We immediately noticed that things are quite different, in a very cool way. The buildings are older, with intricate architectural details. The cars are smaller and more fuel-efficient. And, most of the people seem to speak a foreign language, Spanish I believe. Go figure.
We wandered down Las Ramblas, a very pedestrian-packed street, and off into narrow brick alleys lined with shops. Passing through Plaza Real, we made our way to The Cathedral of St Eulalia, which was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries. What an incredible church, with many ornate side chapels. On the walk back, we passed a variety of statues ranging from modern pieces to a 197′ tall monument to Christopher Columbus, located where he landed after his first trip to the Americas.
Our day at sea was spent in recovery mode, exploring the ship (NCL’s Gem), eating and sleeping, after a long day or so of traveling. Speaking of days, that was quite confusing. We seemed to have lost one somewhere, crossing all those time zones.
Valletta, Malta is stunning in early morning light, from the deck of a cruise ship. The cliffs lining the water, and most of buildings (dating to the 1500’s), are made of limestone. With a map in hand, we set off for another walking tour. Our stops included the Upper Barrakka Gardens, with panoramic views of Grand Harbour. St Johns Co-Cathedral, the Palace of the Grandmaster and the palace armory, with an enormous collection of armor and weapons from the days of the knights.
Pompeii, Sorrento & Capri, Italy
Our first day in Italy included an amazing number of sights. We docked in Naples and boarded a bus for Pompeii, where we toured ancient Roman remains that were buried by a volcano in 79 AD. From there, the bus took us to Sorrento. The ride itself was an incredible experience, forcing me to totally rethink my notion of the proper space between buses, tiny cars, scooters and pedestrians. After getting used to the many close-calls, I took note of the scenery along the Italian coast. It’s spectacular, with cliff-top houses, trees and winding roads overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean.
Along with the scenery, I loved the warmth and friendliness of most Italians, and the poetic beauty of their language. The pasta and wine we had for lunch was quite good too. Next, we boarded a hydrofoil which seemed to fly us to the island of Capri. I’m running out of scenic adjectives, so you’ll have to look at the pictures. This is one place I definitely want to return to. From the waterfront harbor, we took a funicalar (cable car up a very steep hill) to the top of the island. If you have lots of money, there is truly glamorous shopping up there. Being more frugal, my wife and I walked to a park overlooking the steep eastern shoreline and the Faraglioni Rocks.
For me our guided tour of Rome was a highly anticipated highlight to our trip. During my clairvoyant training, we looked at many past lives, including three of mine in the Roman army, one as a charioteer and a few other lives in Italy as a farmer and a painter. My past life ties to Rome made seeing it very exciting for me.
Rome did turn out be incredible! Have I used that word yet? Anyway, we visited an ancient underground part of Rome, below the Basilica of San Clemente. I felt like I could almost remember those past lives, making our way through dark passageways. From there, we walked to the Colosseum and toured the inside, looking down on the site of many bloody battles. It’s been estimated that 500,000 people died in games there.
Back on the bus, we made our way to the Vatican, quickly passing one historic site after another. It would be easy to spend many days touring Rome.
St Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, has so many incredible details that we could have spent hours there alone, like St Peter’s Tomb which brought back memories of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons : A Novel. Vatican City holds far more than we had time to see, like the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. Like my grandpa used to say, save something for next time.
As for museums, we did visit the Uffizi in Florence the next day. It’s one of the oldest and most famous museums of the Western World with paintings dating back to the 1200’s, including works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Boticelli and many more. We also visited the Duomo, a massive white marble church. Other stops included the bridge of Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno, more beautiful churches and the Piazza della Signoria with its statues, including the Fountain of Neptune.
Florence has quite a history. It was originally established by Julius Caesar in 59 BC and is considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. It also served as an important financial center and the home of many famous artists.
After three whirlwind days, hanging out in a quaint French village (Villefranche) was just what we needed. It’s located between Nice and Monaco, with train service to either. Instead, we just wandered around town at a very relaxed pace. Sights include a waterfront fort and marina, shops, outdoor restaurants, cascading flowers and beautiful buildings. One of my highlights was when a French tourist confused me for a local and asked for directions. I think I told him that he doesn’t speak French. Eventually he threw up is arms and drove away.
During the trip home, I contemplated our vacation, the amazing sights we had seen, and my many past lives throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world. It made me much more aware that we are citizens of planet Earth, not just the United States. We are all connected, and we would benefit from acknowledging that connection and working together. Along with that thought, I dreamt of all I have yet to see in Rome, other parts of Europe and the rest of the world. There are 98 pictures from the trip in my gallery.