Off to Sea to See What We Can See
Given that we exhausted Grandma by moving hotels so much during our last trip to Italy, we decided to let the hotel do the walking and try out our first cruise. Mom, Dad, Grandma and Simon were heading to sea on our first cruise, so everyone picked a favourite city that they wanted to visit. Then we checked the cities against the routes, and settled on a 12 day trip on Norwegian Cruise Line through the Mediterranean Sea.
The starting port was Barcelona. As we explored the city at night, I remembered the novel The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon which we had read in my book club. The gothic tale had presented the city itself as a character, and it made sense as we walked through the medieval section with its stone sculptures. We grabbed some fresh squeezed juice in the Boquiera Market and gawked at the whole sheep heads for sale in the butchers. We broke in our shoes gawking at the amazing buildings.
After a couple days, we boarded our floating hotel, the Norwegian Spirit. Grandma stuck a big gift ribbon to the door so we could all find our way back home. Then we headed straight to the drop in buffet and the ice cream machine. The pool came next, and then a visit to the library. Full of food and words, we fell asleep in our bunks, and woke the next day in France. Ca va bien!
The best resource to take on a Mediterranean cruise is Rick Steve’s Mediterranean Cruise Ports. He’s got a cheat sheet to tell you when you should pay for an extra shore tour, and when it’s better to muddle through on your own. We took the ship tours when there was so much to see or transportation was tricky. Rick Steve’s popularity with North Americans is immense. If he recommends a place, it will be full of people carrying copies of his books. Comparing notes on your Rick Steve’s influenced tour is a great way to meet fellow travelers.
In Rome, we looked for street cats and gelato. The city brought back memories of another book club read: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. They are linked short stories about a group of people working at a failing English language newspaper. Simon liked looking around Vatican City because we had a tour guide who pointed out interesting facts.
Athens, Greece was hot, hot, hot, especially on top of the Acropolis with all that marble and no shade. Simon busied himself taking photos of all the stray dogs and cats. We were thankful for Rick Riordan’s kids book Percy Jackson and the Olympians because Simon was familiar with all the Greek gods.
The cruise swung over to Turkey, and then back to Venice, Italy. It was here that we experienced the ultimate travel story, the one that you will be telling for fifty years! It was our last night, and my husband and I had decided to take a romantic gondola ride. Knowing how much Grandma loved Venice, I decided that it would be greedy not to share the experience, so we included Simon and Grandma in the plan.
The boat ride was lovely. Massimo the gondolier was chatty, and steered us through the smaller canals onto the Grand Canal. There he got into a heated argument with another gondolier on the main canal, shouting out Italian insults and slapping his butt. We found it inappropriate but amusing, and Simon made a little video of the drama, learning some new Italian vocabulary.
As we neared the return dock, we heard a motor approaching rapidly. Grandma and Simon were facing forward, and could see the approaching motorboat, but we didn’t realize what was happening until we felt the shudder of impact. The motorboat reversed and struck us again, throwing Massimo into the lagoon, and rocking the gondola until it almost tipped.
It was the other gondolier, returning to continue the argument. As we drifted away in the smashed boat, the gondolier was hitting Massimo in the water with an oar. Grandma’s Italian kicked in, and she shouted “Polizia”. We looked up to see a crowd of tourists on a picturesque bridge, all with cameras pointed in our direction.
The water ambulance came, and Massimo’s assailant retreated. We pulled ourselves along the wall to a dock. The Polizia however, did not arrive for 30 minutes. Our guess? It was the night Italy was in the World Cup finals, so they had better things to do. Their reaction to the incident? They called it “a little argument among friends”! They didn’t even want to take our statement until but we insisted.
Heading home, we found a TV carried out into the street. Tourists and locals sat together eating gelato and watching the game. We joined in and ate one for the road.
Would we cruise again? Probably not, as I like to stay in places longer to get a real sense of them. But it was an interesting culture to try, and certainly removed all the hassles of food and shelter. We got to compare cultures easily by seeing them back to back. We have good memories of chatting with the crew staff. The cruise show magicians were skilled, and the drop in buffet meals meant that everyone could find something to eat quickly.
Would we cruise in a gondola again? I might, but Grandma’s a non swimmer, and she’s sworn off them forever. Basta!