Cruising The Mediterranean

Cruising The Mediterranean

Tuesday (March 27) & we are off to Marseille, where we will board our cruise ship to sail the Mediterranean for seven days. We have an early evening flight out of Frankfurt at 6.15pm. So, we head to the airport in plenty of time, arriving at just after 4pm.

First thing is to drop off our one bag for hold luggage which goes smoothly. With close to two hours up our sleeve before departure we decide to grab a bite to eat before heading through immigration & security. In hindsight, this was a mistake! Although we felt we had plenty of time it turned out that the holiday crowds at Frankfurt airport significantly impacted on processing.

Even though we headed to security at just after 5pm it took over 45 minutes to go through – then we had a ten minute walk to our departure gate. Despite arriving there at just on 6pm (our flight was scheduled for a 6.15pm departure) we were told that boarding had closed 15 minutes earlier!

Note to self – check what time gates close in future.

So, back to the departure hall to see what our options were for another flight. Turns out that Ryanair only flies to Marseille a couple of times a week, so the next scheduled flight won’t depart until 31 March – the day after our cruise sets sail!

Next option is a Lufthansa flight at 8.30pm – at a cost of €400 each (one way!) – ouch! I quickly check our options online (including hiring a car one way & driving)  but we have no real option other than to cough up the money & fly with Lufthansa.

Not the best start to a holiday we’ve been looking forward to for some time.

As it was, we only just made the flight – it took the booking consultant forever to make the booking & then we had to go from terminal 2 back to terminal 1. Luckily, Lufthansa doesn’t have the 30 minute gate closure restriction that Ryanair has!

So, we arrive to Marseille just before 10pm. Pick up our hire car & head to our accommodation.

I had let our AirBnB hosts know that we were running late & they were really patient with us. Checking in was intense as our host spoke less English than I speak German! Once again my schoolboy French education comes in handy!

Really nice apartment – in a modern complex & very secure, two bedrooms & a fully equipped kitchen. We have the run of the place.

MARCH 28 – MARSEILLE/CASSIS

Lazy morning this morning. We head to the local Carrefour supermarket (only a 10 minute walk from the apartment) to pick up some provisions for the next two days. We’ll be heading back to the airport at noon to pick up my brother & his family who arrive from London. They were supposed to arrive the day before but, like us, were denied boarding with a gate closure 30 minutes prior to departure!

So, we pick up Greg his wife, Jini, & their 2 year old daughter, Lana & head back to the apartment. It’s about a 30 minute drive from the airport – mostly on highways.

After settling them in to the apartment we have a cuppa & something to eat before we head out for the afternoon. I suggest that we visit Cassis – a small town on the water & not far from Marseille. Greg agrees – it’s actually a place he had wanted to go to!

It’s an easy drive, mind you, finding parking was not so easy!

There are a lot of roadworks around the town which further compounded the issue & the streets in these French towns are not that wide to begin with. We ended up finding an open air car park about a ten minute walk from the main town area.

Lovely place with a nice harbour around which there are plenty of restaurants & cafes. After walking around for a while we decide to grab something to eat at one of the cafes – right on the waterfront & not too expensive. Not before time either – Lana was letting us know that she was past being hungry!

After a pleasant light meal we headed back to the car & Marseille, admiring the coastal views along the way.

It was after 7pm by the time we got to the apartment. After we had something to eat & drink we all headed for bed – we have a big day planned for tomorrow, so we need our rest!

 

MARCH 29 -AVIGNON & PROVENCE

Didn’t get up too early, around 8ish. Had some breakfast & went over the planned route for the day which everyone was OK with so, first stop will be Avignon a large town in Provence about 90 minutes drive from Marseille. Avignon is renowned as being the former “City of the Popes” & boasts old palaces & architecture.

We could have easily spent a couple of days here as there is so much to see – much of the old city walls are still in tact & would be great to explore. As it was, we had a quick look at the “Palais des Papas” , Pont Saint-Bénézet (remains of an old Roman built bridge) & Avignon Cathedral, before heading off to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – a picturesque little town, famous for its waterwheels on the Sorgue river. We also stopped here for a bite to eat.

Next stop, Bonnieux, a hilltop village in the Luberon. We climbed to the top of the hill which featured an old church (unfortunately under restoration so we couldn’t go inside) & got an amazing view of the entire valley!

From here we pointed the car south & drove to the outskirts of Aix en Provence where we found a really nice restaurant & had dinner before heading back to Marseille & our apartment

MARCH 30 – ALL ABOARD

Today we’ll be boarding our ship, the MSC Divina. It’s reasonably new (launched in 2012) & quite large (around 3300 passengers), so we are all pretty excited. We need to be ready to leave the apartment at 11am but end up running a little late.

With the car all packed up we head off to the cruise port – about a 20 minute drive. The plan is for me to drop off everyone (& the luggage) at the cruise terminal & then for me to head into the city to return the hire car.

Originally we were to return the car to the airport but decided it would be easier to drop it back to their city depot. So, once we have the luggage sorted & our cruise boarding pass I take the car back to the depot via a petrol station.

Our car is a diesel so, I pull up to the diesel pump but the nozzle won’t fit the car’s fuel inlet! After double & triple checking that I was at the right pump & that the car did take diesel I realise that I have pulled up to a “High flow” pump – meant for trucks! Unfortunately, the service station has a one way traffic flow so I have to drive out, travel down the road for one kilometre, do a U-turn, drive back to the service station (I actually had to drive past as the road was a dual carriageway with a concrete divider separating oncoming traffic) & re-enter the service station – this time pulling up at a regular diesel pump!

Once the tank was full I could then head to the drop off location in the city, which was only 50 metres from the main railway station called St Charles. Mind you, getting there was a little trying as the satnav & I had a disagreement over what constitutes a “Veer right” & “Sharp right” turn – twice!

Got there in the end (but the satnav & I did not leave each other on good terms), dropped off the car & walked to the train station so that I could get a taxi back to the port & embark on the ship. Took a lot longer than I thought – the taxi queue was more than 20 people long & taxis seemed to be in short supply.

Finally made it back to the dock & met up with my wife, Iris – now we just had to wait for our turn to be called for boarding. My brother Greg & his family were already aboard as they received “VIP” treatment as “Yacht club” members (they had a suite booked whereas we just had a balcony stateroom).

It wasn’t long before our boarding group was called & we were onboard in no time.

Our cabin (stateroom) is a decent size – room enough for a double bed & a 3 seater lounge. Our balcony is large enough for a small table & two chairs, very pleasant. The bathroom is a decent size too.

The ship (MSC Divina) is huge – carries more than 3,000 passengers! Launched in 2012 it is certainly modern & very well appointed – the décor is deliberately opulent & the ship’s facilities are incredible – multiple pools, spas, games areas, restaurants, bars, auditorium (where onboard shows are performed).

The first thing we do is contact Greg & Jini & arrange to meet at their cabin – or should I say suite – it is huge! Separate bedroom & living area with large flat screen TV (but no balcony – ha!). They even have their own butler, Eric, who is at pains to point out that if there is anything they want all they have to do is ask!

We have a couple of drinks & then head out to have dinner at the upmarket “Le Muse” restaurant – very nice!

MARCH 31 – GENOA

Since leaving the port of Marseille the night before our ship has been sailing to Genoa. We wake up in the morning (a bit after 8.30am – we are on holiday after all!) to find ourselves docked in Genoa. After a quick shower we get dressed & contact Greg & Jini to arrange to meet for breakfast in the buffet.

We finish a leisurely breakfast around 10.30 & then head off the ship to the port of Genoa. We have decided to take the “Hop on Hop off” tour bus as a way to see the highlights of the city in the shortest time & the bonus is that they pick up & drop off at the end of the street where the ship is docked – easy to get to!

Unfortunately, the weather is not as good here as it had been in Marseille – it was overcast with short shower bursts here & there. Still, not bad enough to impact on us having a good time!

In the space of a couple of hours we had seen Palazzo Ducale, D’Albertis Castle, Piazza De Ferrari as well as numerous examples of renaissance architecture. Oh, yes & the fact the Christopher Columbus was born here was mentioned a few times!

Once off the bus we headed back to Piazza De Ferrari, where we found a nice restaurant to have a late lunch before heading back to the port area & boarding the ship.

Once aboard we all went our separate ways, agreeing to meet up for dinner at 8pm at the buffet – it’s the easiest restaurant for Greg & Jini, especially with Lana. After dinner we headed off to the lounge bar at reception, which was featuring a tribute to Abba (one for the girls, but their scotch tasted good!) followed by the Golden Lounge for a bit of late night Jazz. Lana was a hoot – all she wanted to do was dance to the music – she wasn’t happy when Mum & Dad told her it was time to go back to the cabin for some sleep!

APRIL 1 – CIVITEVECCHIA

When we awake we are again docked at a different port. This time it’s Civitevecchia – the main port for the city of Rome (a little over an hour away). Again, breakfast is taken at a lazy 9am. We all decide to stay onboard as we have seen this port (& Rome) before.

So we spend the day exploring the ship & relaxing in the bars & lounges. It’s a beautiful ship although finding your way around can be a bit of a challenge initially!

We decide to have dinner separately tonight. Iris & I register for our first main restaurant dinner (as opposed to the buffet) in our nominated restaurant, the Villa Rosa. We take the early sitting at 6.30pm & share a table with two French couples. They speak about as much English as we do French but we manage some pleasantries & even share a few laughs!

After dinner Iris & I return to the Golden Lounge for a few drinks & some music before retiring to our cabin.

APRIL 2 – PALERMO/SICILY

We headed ashore around 11am – after breakfast – & the first thing we did was sign up for a “Hop on hop off” tour of the city. It’s a really nice place with some interesting architecture & an amazing history! The tour takes a little over an hour, after which we do a little bit of walking around the main town centre.

Eventually we find ourselves on the waterfront & decide to grab some lunch at one of the many street cafes along the waterfront. We all have seafood & it’s delicious! Our lunch is periodically interrupted by local street hawkers trying to sell us souvenirs & some street entertainers. Mind you “Entertainers” is not a really accurate description – unless you classify someone rocking up with a ghetto blaster & doing a couple of ordinary dance moves or simply standing in the street & singing 2 bars of an unknown song before singing two bars of another equally unknown song entertaining. They all had one thing in common – the speed by which they came around the tables looking for donations!

We didn’t contribute as we didn’t want to encourage them!

After lunch we headed back to the ship – tonight is formal night & the girls wanted to get some rest before they prettied themselves up.

We had dinner with Greg & Jini in one of the ship’s more upmarket restaurants – it was good seeing everyone in their evening attire, it really adds to the atmosphere. After dinner we had drinks in one of the bars until after midnight – then it was time for bed. Tomorrow brings us to another port!

APRIL 3 – CAGLIARI/SARDINIA

Another day another city! And, again, another “Hop on hop off” tour of the city. Highlight here was being taken to the Castle of San Michele which has fantastic views of the city & port. Got some great photos of the ship, which dominated the vessels around it.

The streets in the old part of the city are quite narrow & fun to explore – there are so many nooks & crannies to peep into & the little shopfronts are really quite quaint!

One thing that was kissing though (unfortunately) were any old cannons – despite my best endeavours I could not fine one to have a “Surf” on anywhere! In the end I had to settle for a quick surf on an old anchor that was positioned at the entrance to the port!

APRIL 4 – PALMA/MALLORCA

This is our second last port before we disembark at Marseille & it’s the port we have all been looking forward to the most – so many good reports about this place, despite it’s catering to the German & English tourist demand with so many German & English style businesses – especially restaurants.

And it doesn’t disappoint! What a lovely city (the blue skies & high temperature might have heled!). The Cathedral of Santa Maria is amazing & certainly dominates the port area of town.

We took our time exploring here before walking into town & exploring the old streets. We end up at a tapas bar & decide to have some lunch, which was delicious!

Once we were “Fuelled up” we took advantage of a “Hop on hop off” tour to get an overview of what the city has to offer – ending up at Bellver Castle. This was an amazingly well preserved fortification & has amazing views of the surrounding countryside & the city.

By the time we got to this landmark it was pretty late in the day &, as the last bus left at 7pm, we had to make sure we caught it – it’s a long walk back to town from here!

APRIL 5 – VALENCIA

Valencia is a great place & certainly has a lot to see & do. However, we were starting to feel the effects of a different port every day &, because we have been to Valencia previously, we decided to spend the day onboard so that we could relax a little. It’s also our last day to take advantage of some of the ship’s facilities.

So today we ate a little, drank a little, rested on deck in the sun a little then drank a little more!

In the evening we were looking forward to one of the onboard shows – this one featuring a Parisienne theme but, unfortunately, they had to cancel that dues to an unexplained issue & replaced it with a tribute show themed around Frank Sinatra – wasn’t bad but wasn’t what we were looking forward to.

Jini was especially disappointed as she was out with us without Lana (Greg was doing the Dad bit in looking after her in their cabin)! After the show we decided to stop by at the “Golden Lounge”, one of the many bars onboard & our favourite as the band really gets the crowd moving!

We got back to our cabin at a bit after 1am to discover a note advising that our bags needed to be left outside the cabin no later than 11pm in readiness for tomorrow’s disembarkation (oops!). It would have been nice to have that note the day before!

However, there were still a lot of bags outside the cabins around us so we figured we would be safe to pack now & leave them outside before hitting the sack.

APRIL 6 – MARSEILLE

Sadly, the cruise comes to an end today &, even more so, we will say farewell to Greg, Jini & Lana. As “VIP” guests, Greg & Jini could pick their preferred departure time, so they did that to match with our allocated disembarkation time around 2pm.

The disembarkation process was very smooth & we picked up our bags without a hitch. But then we had to join the queue for a taxi to the apartment we had booked through AirBnB. This took a bit over twenty minutes but was very orderly – thanks, I think, to the cruise security personnel keeping an eye on the lines. Without them there I’m sure it would have been chaos!

Our apartment was only 20 minutes form the port & we were there in no time. I had to pick up the keys from the bottle shop downstairs & we go a bot mixed up as to which door led to our apartment but, in the end, we figured it out.

Greg & Jini were flying out later that evening, Iris & I were flying out the following morning. I headed down the street & found a little Carrefour supermarket & got some supplies to tide us over. Lana was very appreciative of the “Chippies” & biscuits. It was good to be able to spend a few hours together winding down until they had to head off to the airport, bound for London.

Iris & I had, originally, planned to explore a little of the surrounding areas – our apartment is right in the heart of the old port area which is full of bars & restaurants but, in the end, we decided to just chill in the apartment.

APRIL 7 – MARSEILLE/FRANKFURT

This morning we are up at 5am to get ready for our pre-booked Uber ride to the airport. Our driver is really pleasant & arrives bang on the prearranged time. The 25 minute drive to the airport was uneventful & when we got to the airport we were amongst the first to be there for our flight – we were not taking any chances this time!

Thankfully, check in & boarding went smoothly & we landed back in Frankfurt a little after 11am. Once we collected our luggage we decided to have a bit of lunch at a little airport café, situated adjacent to the area where we catch our bus.

The weather in Frankfurt had improved dramatically since our departure a little over a week ago. When we left it was cold & wet but today it was warm & sunny. We really enjoyed our lunch sat in the sun, which we finished just in time to be able to catch our bus – home, here we come!

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