Tag Archives: Mediterranean

Mediterranean Cruise — Wrap Up Observations

TouroMedWe visited Greece, Italy and France, but all told, I think it is more accurate to say that we visited a meta-country, Medi-tour-anea.

Discounting Santorini and Rome, each place we visited was coastal, geologically similar, invaded by the same set of conquerors in pretty much the same order, and today’s people stood with their backs facing inland. In several places, guides spoke of the ruling country as if it were a separate and either tragic or comic entity holding them back from…something (though not particularly in Corsica).

Elba  006aWhile this sense of being held back was verbalized, we found the communities were also bound up by centuries (at least) of history they could not or would not let go of.

These places sell the past — the stories, the citadels, the architecture, the art, the agriculture, the archeology are all about what was. And yes, that was a big part of the draw, but we got the feeling of a time eddy as well. Kings and princes and pirates variable hundreds of years dead are almost treated as contemporaneous in terms of their impact on current affairs. Except for the externalities (buildings, roads, autos, internet, etc) we could have been in any of a score of centuries. The daily and seasonal human commerce were the same.

Clearly, there were linguistic differences, but the Mediterranean equivalent of the trade language Swahili — in this case English — also contributed to the feeling of meta-country. True, it varied from place to place, but we found it difficult to attempt the national languages — Tourist-facing people simply were used to using (good) English. Local dialects, like Caribbean patois, were used to maintain a wall of verbal privacy, but they didn’t do much to hide body language.

Would we go to these places again? Probably not. There are more and other places on our flexible (to the point of floppy) list. Would we recommend others go here? Yes! We North Americans tend to think of 250 years as a long time; for the coastal fringes of the Med, 250 years is a parenthesis. This alternate perspective is useful and instructive. Continental North America, since the end of European colonization, has never been invaded (militarily). Since habitation, the coastal fringes of the Med have rarely gone a few decades without an invasion (counting pirates), and those invasions were generally of the pillage, burn, rape, enslave variety.

Now, arguably, they are invaded by tourists every year and while there is a sameness to this, each year’s invasion brings new cultural pressures as the rest of the world moves faster than the coastal fringes of the Med. We saw few people under the age of 30/40 and many of them were from the northern Adriatic. Like many small cities in North America it appears that migration toward the major cities is aging small communities into modern ruins. Although to be fair, many leave for work elsewhere and come back for the tourist season.

Ah, yes, our winged chariot...

Ah, yes, our winged chariot…

We are glad we did this. We are especially glad we did it under sail on a small ship. It was far more intimate this way, and we felt less like galactic invaders visiting a small planet.

Time to head for the Florida and Bahamas where we will consider “where to” next.

Mediterranean Cruise — Monte Carlo & Nice (The Aquarium)

Aquarium 045This is a small aquarium with an emphasis on quality and kids. The the visual environment pulls one under the water with pulsating blues. Exhibits stress embracing and caring for the marine environment, and of course the gift shop is at the exit. Photos are uncaptioned as the beauty speaks for itself. Click on first one to scroll.

 

Mediterranean Cruise — Monte Carlo & Nice (The Museum)

Museum 038I’ve wanted to visit this place since meeting Jacques Cousteau when I was in college. It was different than I expected but did not disappoint. Please enjoy the photos. Photos without captions don’t really need them. Click on first one to scroll.

 

Mediterranean Cruise — Monte Carlo & Nice

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Click for Details

When we woke in Monte Carlo, it was clear we had fallen prey to cruise ship kennel cough. We didn’t feel as rotten as we eventually would, but our edge was definitely dulled. Here we had to call the hotel for a pick up. I snagged a satellite link long enough to make arrangements and then began the frenzy of goodbyes. We missed a few. We made a few, but most of this had been taken care of the night before.

Our waking view

Our waking view

The van picked us up after the usual — “if all our bags are together when picked up, why are they all scattered throughout the mass when we need to load them?” It took less effort than it seemed, but like I said, our edge was off.

When we arrived at Le Meridien our room was waiting, but we left quickly to catch the Hop On – Hop Off, narrated, open-topped tour bus to do the loop around the principality. Our main targets were the changing of the Guard and the Oceanographic Museum.

We were early to the changing and walked around the surroundings taking pictures of beauty and wealth. One thing that struck us throughout the day was the cleanliness of the place. But we were back in the world of all the gift shops sold the same stuff, and all the stuff was fixated on the Monaco Grand Prix.

The noon-time changing of the guard was memorable, but it wasn’t Buckingham Palace.

We rejoined the bus to arrive at the Oceanographic Museum hungry and made our way up to the rooftop cafe. It reminded us of a small airport restaurant. With family style tables and table cloths it also had the feel of church supper. The menu was extensive. We had pasta. Very good fish & pasta — last time we had food that good in a museum was at the National Museum of the American Indian in DC. The Italian  family next to us had a youngster sleeping in a stroller, and as manic as the wait staff was, they always came to a screeching halt and maneuvered silently past the child before resuming their headlong rush. It was so consistent it looked choreographed. When we left the restaurant at the same time as the family, I complimented the child in Italian and his mother broke into a radiant smile (probably amusement at my Italian). There would be echos of this later.

The museum was not what we expected. It is essentially the record of one man’s life as an oceanographer, Prince Albert I. Jacques Cousteau who was also the Director here was completely missing — I had hoped for something but understand why he was a silent and invisible presence; it’s the Prince’s principality after all. The history, design, decor, exhibits, aquarium were captivating, and we spent quite a bit of time here.

But our missing edge, the weight of lunch and the overcast sky were all murmuring, “take a nap.” And we went back to the hotel to deal with post cards and to rest a bit.

When dinner time rolled around, we were inclined to skip it. Instead we opted for something memorable — within the hotel. The hotel restaurant was quiet when we entered and that lasted for about fifteen minutes when two large groups began arriving — a family reunion and a group of about 20 clerics. We were glad we got our order in beforehand. We had an excellent white Beaujolais (rare, but far from the most expensive table wine they offered), salt baked sea bass, mashed potatoes garnished with sauteed spinach, bread, and a pastis each for dessert. The tab was just shy of $300 US. The portions were modest. The Value Added Tax on the food was 34%, on the wine 17%, and on something else 11%. Prandium Cave!

The next morning found us feeling about the same. We went down for our included breakfast expecting coffee and a croissant. Instead it was a full on breakfast buffet with excellent food. Given what these usually cost and Monaco’s VAT, we evened out the dinner bill — a bit. Once we cleared the room, we were sitting in the lobby waiting for the limo that had been told the wrong time to pick us up, and the father of the sleeping child walked by and said, “Oh, Hi,” and stopped for a chat. He was Norwegian married to an Italian — his accent was vaguely…Minnesotan. It had been their family having the Reunion — 40+ folks had come to that dinner the night before. It was a delightful conversation that left us feeling good about the end of this trip… and then Yves showed up.

Yves of the beautifully maintained vehicle, the excellent suit, the excellent English, the sunny attitude raised our spirits even higher — until he revealed he was a graduate of the University of Texas (his English having come from there and being a hotel manager very near our house in LA). When we told him I was an Aggie, he not so solemnly had to inform me we had lost to Auburn the night before — heh, heh, heh. The trip to Nice was simply fun. When we arrived at the new airport, he parked the van, walked us and luggage all the way to the check-in counter and waited to say au revoir after we were done!

We arrived at our concourse with less than an hour to wait and by the time we seated ourselves in the new and different pods of the upgraded aircraft, we both realized we were not going to feel very well for the next few days. The flying didn’t help. By the time we pulled into the hotel in Alexandria, VA, we knew we needed medical appointments… I guess a few gallons of hand sanitizer just isn’t enough.

It was a wonderful trip. We are thinking of rejoining the ship in Monte Carlo in the future and sailing coast-wise along France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and the Azores before crossing to St. Martin.

There will be three galleries — Monaco to Nice followed by The Museum (12/4) and then the Aquarium (12/5). This was a visually rich day. Also, Monte Carlo is tightly packed, so some of the camera angles reflect that.

Please enjoy the photos. Photos without captions don’t really need them. Click on first one to scroll.

Mediterranean Cruise — Calvi, Corsica

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Click for Details

Back in French speaking (well not really) Corsica, the day started brilliant blue and progressed to high clouds with trash smoke hovering low, pretty quickly turning everything milky. These were the first post tourist days after a rain. In Calvi, our port, there was another citadel, but given Bonafacio, we imagined this one. As much as we enjoyed the scenery, this might have been a good day for hanging around the waterfront in a cafe. The port was upwind and burning was not allowed.

Flag

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Basically we visited two mountain villages Pigna (abandoned for decades and being turned into an artists’ colony — the 102 colonists were not home) and Sant Antonino, population 93, all but 10 of which were somewhere else when we arrived. Both are part of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Our guide, Aida(!), made up for the sleepiness of the excursion (people were zonked from lunch and some snored) by offering a longish (for others) history of Corsica. She was a teacher in Germany and got tired of German winters. She is a good teacher.

Observations:

  • Private mausoleums here are a big deal. Most are bigger and better constructed than the homes of their future occupants.
  • There appear to be more people in the mausoleums than outside.
  • Burning trash is a big deal.
  • Sheep are a big deal.
  • The French Foreign Legion (barracked here) is a big deal.
  • Cats own the place.
  • Knives for gutting someone who has insulted one’s honor are a big deal. Most are made here.
  • When tourist season is over, shop keepers may not even say bon jour.
  • These folks are very ambivalent about Napoleon. Seems he did less for Corsica than Elba, and as a tourist attraction he is a fading draw.
  • The Corsican method of serving fresh squeezed lemons will simply remove your teeth before you finish the glass.
  • Corsica is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,

Please enjoy the photos. Photos without captions don’t really need them. Click on first one to scroll.

Mediterranean Cruise — Costa Smerelda

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Click for Detail

Costa Smerelda on the Sardinian coast is the ultimate “if you have to ask how much” stop on this cruise. Tourists & seasonal residents here can drop $10,000-30,000 each a night at the discos. Vladimir Putin has a small (17 chimney) place here. Others of greater and lesser notoriety have built into this enclave established by the Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan (IV). Service workers here do very well. This was Princess Diana’s last stop before her death and the hotel room is an unrented shrine. Although accounts vary as to whether she stayed there, since Al Fayed’s yacht Jonikal was moored in the Bay.

Beyond the understated human excess, the area is beautiful and we enjoyed the tour which included the first wine tasting that was one! Casa Mancini did a great job with wine and food and a stunningly simple and clean facility. We think they may have been used to tourists with (quite) a bit more money. We’re not sure how much of the excellent wine was bought or ordered, but we know the tour guide had our return time wrong and we stayed longer here than intended…there was no food left.

From there we went to an archeological dig actively being excavated. This was a tower community called a nuraghe. These were bronze age communities built for protection, production and storage. There are thousands on Sardinia! I grew up fascinated with the Med, Homer, the Bronze age, and archeology, and I had never heard of these.

The one we visited is Nuraghe La Prisgiona. Its excavation is funded by lottery collections. We lingered here too as people were fascinated by the place and had to be rounded up for the docent’s presentation before we entered the 3400 year old tower. The sun was dipping when we left.

Our tour guide got a phone call from the Captain as we left the dig about the time we were supposed to be back at the ship. After the call, the guide sort of shrugged and said something like, “late is late, and I still have things to show you” (in the complex and very Latin sounding Sardinian) — and he did at the same pace we had been making before the call. We got the feeling he was not unique among Sardinians in his dealing with small adversities. Notably, he left the bus before we reentered the gated port facility.

We heard nothing aboard, but the gangway and anchor chain started up as the last passenger stepped on deck. And by the (second) Captain’s Dinner, the Captain was in his usual form.

Please enjoy the photos. Photos without captions don’t really need them. Click on first one to scroll.