On the first night at sea, after the flurry of arrival, a luscious dinner, and before the fatigue of traveling took its final toll (a plane to Paris, then one to Barcelona), a walk on the upper deck was desired. It was quiet up there; the sound of the waves gentling lapping against the side of the ship and a slight breeze accompanied our stroll. As I rounded the aft side from port to starboard, I stopped rather suddenly in awe of the sight before me. High in the night blue cloudless sky, a bright white moon shed its luminous light on the deep inky Mediterranean – its reflection, shimmering on the water, spread as if in open arms of welcome. Surely, this was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen! And so began the trip. The white, iridescent moon accompanied the ship each night – it was something to which to look forward at the end of tremendously busy days.
The first port of call was Marseille – we elected to take a small tourist train to the Notre Dame de la Garde which sits on the highest hill in Marseille – from this vantage, the breathtaking panorama of the city beneath with the azure blue of the sea glistening in the sunlight, surrounded us. We had hoped to be able to visit Chateau d’If – the prison island made famous in Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo - but the island was closed on Sunday. It was visible, though, from the basilica. There was much to see in Marseille, but we were only able to walk a bit in mid-town because we soon needed to return to the ship, and dinner. The next day we docked in the small, natural harbor of Villefranche, France - passengers had to take a launch to the pier in order to reach shore. The town, on the hill beside the sea, the epitome of quaintness, welcomed passengers. Where to go, what to do? Nice? Monaco? No, we choose Eze (a town in two, one by the sea, and one way up on a hill). Eze sur Mer was a short train ride from Villefranche. Eze de Village (the first Eze), and medieval Eze, was high up on the hill. A short bus trip up an amazingly hair pin road and Eze de Village was before us. Shops were delightful, but I wanted to see the medieval village. More winding roads and a very steep walk! Finally we were in the village of cobblestone streets no wider than a cart’s width and charming buildings. An ancient protective wall surrounded the village, which is mostly shops now, but one can still feel its vibrancy. We could see the ship anchored in the Villefranche harbor from the castle ruins atop Eze de Village.
After returning to Villefranche and the ship – the next port of call was Livorno. This is a very busy, industrial port city in Italy; we took a shuttle, a bus, a train (a 30 minute ride), and another bus to the Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa (to the Duomo and piazza where the famous Campanile dominates). And so we spent our third day – then, back to the ship via bus, train, bus and shuttle! Next was the port city Civitavecchi, an hour from Rome. Well of course, we had to take the train to Rome (past Vatican City) to the main Stazione Termini and walked, yes, walked to the Colosseo and then the Fontana Trevi (and threw a coin into the fountain). One can not help but be awed by all the wonderful architectural wonders one passes on such a traverse – the Forum, churches, piazzas, Roman columns. Rome is fantastic! The next to last port of call was Napoli (Naples) – the ship docked at the main maritime terminal and passengers disembarked right in front of Castle Nouvo (a 12th century edifice) near the main part of the city and now the “city hall.” A 30 minute walk to the train station (dodging very fast cars) and a 15 minute train ride deposited us in Ercolano – the site of Herculaneum (a sea side resort covered by lava when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD). This was “molto bello” – not as large as Pompeii, but just as impressive with its many frescos and mosaics still preserved in the rooms of the remains. I couldn’t leave Naples without having some “real” pizza and some fabulous wine! Yummm, superb – nothing like it, not to mention the atmosphere!
The last day of the cruise was spent at sea – returning to Barcelona. The moon still accompanied us in the evening. The fantasy was soon to end. But, not quite – Barcelona beckoned. After saying good bye to the ship, only one day was available for visiting this “home” port. Barcelona’s diversity and cultural wealth soon enthralled us. Its architectural wonders (Antoni Gaudi’s works are genius – especially the most famous Sagrada Familia) wide streets and the wonderful La Rambla (which is a historic avenue leading to the sea ending at a monument to Columbus). All was alluring, to say the least. A day, there, was not enough, but the time came to depart. Moon over the Mediterranean, I’ll see you again. Barcelona, I hope to be back!