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WESTERN  MEDITERRANEAN  CRUISE
A photo-illustrated travelogue of the Western Mediterranean port cities.



If you want to see Mediterranean Europe and you have only a limited amount of time; and you don't want to pack and unpack every day;  and you want to avoid anxiety over transportation and lodging,  take a cruise ship. That's why we booked this cruise on Holland America's Noordam .  Nine ports in ten days, plus we tacked on a couple of hotel days at each end of the trip.   Lisbon to Rome with seven ports in between.


Left-Click on any picture to see the full size image.

Altis Hotel,  Lisbon
We arrived in Lisbon at dawn. Our hotel manager was kind enough to allow us a very early check in.  We had found and booked the Altis Hotel on the internet.   It is centrally located, well maintained and quite comfortable.   It also has three excellent restaurants and a helpful, friendly staff.

Two days of exploring Lisbon only scratched the surface of its rich history. Things not be be missed when in Lisbon are: The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, The National Museum of Coaches, The Monument to the Discoveries, The Torre de Belem, The Elevador de Santa Justa and the Summer Palace at Sintra.

Click Here for more Lisbon pictures.

The embarkation process on Noordam went quite smoothly and our luggage was delivered to our cabin within minutes of boarding.  The public areas of the ship appear to be in remarkably good condition considering it is now the oldest ship in the Holland America fleet.   For the record, Noordam is 700 feet long and is listed at 34,000 gross tons.   Its maiden voyage was in 1984, and on this cruise it is at passenger capacity of just over 1200.    At 5:00PM the gangplank was stowed and Noordam entered the Tagus river channel from which the great Portuguese explorers set sail on their voyages of discovery.

Shortly before noon on the following day we passed Cape Trafalgar, the site of England's greatest naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars.  By early afternoon Noordam docked at Gibraltar and most passengers boarded busses to tour the "Rock".   It happened that this day was a Gibraltar National Holiday.    Parties, street dances and festivals were in full swing.   All the celebrants wore the national colors of red and white.

st. michael Some of the things to see and experience in Gibraltar include: The Cable Car to "The Top of the Rock", The Barbary Apes, The Great Siege Tunnels, St. Michael's Cave, the battle scarred Moorish Castle and The Hundred Ton Gun.

Click Here for more Gibralter pictures.

 

The next day we spent at sea on our way to Barcelona. The weather was perfect so the Captain changed course to the Balearic Islands so that we would round Majorca and approach Barcelona from the southeast. 

Ttraditionally, the dress for dinner is designated as "formal" on cruise days which are spent at sea.    The information packet which passengers received with their tickets indicated there would be three formal nights, three informal nights and four casual nights.  


Cloister geese in the
cathedral in Barcelona Lots to do and see in Barcelona.    There is no way one can absorb more than just a small bit of the flavor of Barcelona in the ten hours we were here.   The ship had arranged for a variety of different tours for passengers who wished to be escorted.    We chose to walk up the La Ramble to the Gothic Quarter, then caught a cab to the Sagrada Familia.   From there another cab to the Picasso Museum and then back to the ship.     (Note: None of the MacDonalds in Barcelona accept U.S. Dollars.)
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A professional flamenco troupe performed in the main lounge for passengers in late afternoon just before we sailed on to Marseilles.

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Marseilles is France's second largest city and the principal shipping port for the entire Western Mediterranean.    Marseilles is industrial blue collar.  There are only a few things in Marseilles worth seeking out, but it's main tourist feature is that it is the gateway to one of the most beautiful regions of Europe.   From here it is easy access to Avignon, Arles, Aix En Provençe, Cassis and Le Baux.  Tours to all of these destinations were made available by the ship.  We chose Aix En Provençe which is a forty minute ride from the city.

Aix
en Provence Aix is the old Povençal capital and it filled with twenty centuries of history.   But there is nothing stodgy about Aix.  It is the home to two universities with a young population and a college town dynamic. The twisting narrow streets of the Old City can only be explored on foot.   No motorized vehicles are allowed.  The visitor will find many open squares or plazas and lots of trees. There are also a number of fountains fed by the thermal wells which fueled the old Roman Baths.   Because of these wells, the romans named the cityAquas, now corrupted to Aix.

Click Here for more Aix en Provence pictures.

 
After a very interesting day in Aix, we spent a relaxed evening on Noordam.    Cocktails in the Peter Hein Lounge (there are four other equally comfortable bars), and dinner with six other delightful passengers who we have gotten to know rather well over the past five days.  After dinner there was, as always, entertainment in the main lounge and "Cigars Under the Stars" on the Upper Promenade Deck.

Thursday morning Noordam drooped anchor in Porta a Mare, the bay of Alghero, Sardinia.    There are no large ship docking facilities here so we went ashore in the ship's tenders.

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, but off most American tourist itineraries.    In Alghero there are vestiges of the many civilizations which passed this way.   There are Roman and Carthaginian ruins, a Genoan fortress and a magnificent sixteenth century Spanish Cathedral.    The streets are named in both Italian and Catalan and most residents are bilingual. In the old town section there are many shops and pleasant outdoor cafes.   Pizza and seafood are the most popular restaurant menu items.    At 2:00PM we were back on the ship and we're soon underway for Tunisia.   

Click Here for more Sardenia pictures.

 
By this time most passengers have learned their way around the ship and have developed some opinions about the crew with whom they interact.  Here's mine.  The Shore Excursion staff needs a lot of help, and Noordam Crew the ship's photographer has never read the book on Customer Relations.   On the other extreme, our Cabin Steward, Yogi, anticipated just about everything we might want or need.  The Beverage Stewards were efficient, neat, polite and friendly. It's obvious the enjoy their jobs.  Particularly outstanding were Mary, who worked in the Horn Pipe Lounge and Paul ("Anton") in the Piet Hein Lounge.

A new day, a new country, a new continent.   Tunisia, North Africa.  We docked at La Goulette which is the port city for Tunis.  We opted for an all day tour which took us into the Medina, to the Bardo Museum and to Carthage.
North
Africa

The old walled city within Tunis, The Medina, is a maze of twisting and winding streets many of which are only wide enough for a camel and a man.  The street layout, by design, provides shade and cool breezes as a protection from the hot North African sun.   Tunisia is Muslim and, by definition, conservative.   Bare arms and legs are frowned upon by some residents.  One gets the impression that if it wasn't for the money, they would rather we weren't here.



FORTOGDEN'S
TRIP REPORTS,
PHOTO ESSAYS
and
TRAVEL PAGES



The ROTTERDAM
Mediterranian Cruise 2006


The RYNDAM
Mexican Riviera
Cruise


The RYNDAM
Mexican Riviera
PICTURES


The ROTTERDAM
Panama Canal Cruise


The NOORDAM
Mediterranian Cruise 2000


The M/V NOORDAM
Caribbean Cruise


The
SCHOONER LEGACY
cruising the
ABC Islands


M/V AMAZING GRACE
Sailing From
Trinidad to Tahiti


The
AMAZING GRACE
in the Caribbean
A Trip Report


HMS SURPRISE
The Maritime Museum
of San Diego



The SICILY Pictures

The MALTA Pictures

The TUNISA Pictures

The ROME Pictures

The LISBON Pictures

The PANAMA CANAL Slide Show


The Pictures from
TAHITI, BORA BORA
and MOOREA



HILL AFB
Historic Military
Aircraft Pictures



The
LAS VEGAS Pictures



The HEBER CREEPER


The GOLDEN SPIKE
Historic Site






OTHER
FORTOGDEN
WEB PAGES


NAUTICAL TERMS
Used in
COMMON EXPRESSIONS



THE WIT AND
WISDOM OF
STEVEN WRIGHT



THE MYSTERY of
THE MARY CELESTE



The BATTLE of
THE SAINTES



TRASHY SIGNS,
SLOGANS & OFFICE MOTTOS



YOU MIGHT BE
a REDNECK If...




The DANCING
BABIES' DISCO




NAVIGATE WITH
FORTOGDEN
SITEMAP






The Bardo Museum is a gem.   There are layers of history here.   It houses artifacts and statuary, but its central attraction is the floor mosaic of the Roman and early Christian periods which have been lifted and preserved.   The Bardo is by itself good reason to come to Tunis.   

Carthage is not just a big expanse of ruins.  It's an upscale residential suburb of Tunis.   There are archaeological sites scattered throughout the city.  Very little remains of the Punic Carthage of Hannibal. The Romans sacked and razed that Carthage in mid-second century B.C.

Click Here for more Tunisia pictures.

 
Malta The Noordam arrived in Valletta, Malta in early morning when the light sparkles off the white stones of the sixteenth century battlements. Perhaps nowhere in the world is a harbor so picturesque and so architecturally imposing as here.

Valletta was built in the late 1500's after the Knights of St.John had withstood the epic siege of the Turks in 1565.   The Knights (now called the Knights of Malta) remained in control of Malta until Napoleon removed them in 1798.  The French, in turn, were kicked out by the English in 1800.   Malta remained a British Crown Colony until it became independent in 1964.

We were able to visit The Mdina and the town of Mosta.   A walking tour of the city of Valletta included the Palace of the Grand Masters, St. John's Co-Cathedral, Fort St. Elmo and the bomb scarred War Museum where, during World War II, the Allies planned and directed the invasion of Sicily.    All things considered our
Malta experience was the most rewarding so far on this cruise.  

Click Here for more Malta pictures.

 
Next stop: Palermo.

Just as the Germans bombed Malta, the Allies pounded Sicily and particularly Palermo. Many of the bombed out buildings and facilities along the waterfront still stand as ruined shells. It appears the prosperity that has benefited most of Europe has not yet come to Sicily.   However, Palermo still offers a wealth of interesting tourist experiences.

Holland America had put together five different tours of Palermo and Northwestern Sicily. We chose the one which included a visit to Cefalu, a small seaside resort town about forty miles east of Palermo.  This proved to be a good choice.  The visual trip along the coastal highway was filled with the blue Mediterranean and rural countryside. Cefalu is one of the places on earth where the architecture blends with the landscape and you can't help feeling good about it.

Click Here for more Cefalu pictures.

 
On the next morning we arrived in Civitavecchia, Rome's port city.  This was the final stop for our cruise.  Most all of the passengers chose to tour Rome and then return to spend the night on board before debarking the following morning. We signed up for the tour of St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum.  This was a mistake.

The handling of tour groups at St. Peters is like a production line.   Each group is allowed a short period of time.   The crowd in the Basilica was elbow to elbow. Don't even try to hear your tour guide.   Forget about taking any pictures unless you are eight feet tall.   The Vatican Museum was just as frustrating.   After waiting in the courtyard for over an hour, we were allowed in and hustled down a couple of corridors and into the Sistine Chapel for ten minutes.  If one wants to avoid the waiting and the frustration, one would be best advised to go on your own.

The next morning the debarkation process went smoothly except for the few passengers who had early flights home. Since we were staying over in Rome for a couple of days, we were among the last to leave the ship.  We arranged through Holland America for a bus transfer to Rome, which is about fifty miles from Civitavecchia. The bus unloaded us in the center of Rome at the Piazza Barberini from where we took a cab to our hotel.  

The Hotel Piazza di Spagna is in a 17th century building one block from the Spanish Steps.   It has sixteen rooms on four levels and has been operated by the same family for three generations.  It is in the middle of the finest shopping area in Rome.    We booked it through the internet and are fortunate to have chosen it.

Armed with a guidebook and a map, we spent two terrific days soaking up a lot of what Rome has to offer.  The visual history is a bit overwhelming.  There are vestiges of each period of Rome's 2700 years from the Iron Age huts through to the present.  The best way to see and appreciate all of this is to (1), know what you are looking at (hence the guidebook),   (2), pre-plan your route (the map) and (3), go from place to place by taxi (because it's really fast and an adventure in itself).

Click Here for more Rome pictures.

 
Epilogue:     The trip on the whole was well worthwhile.  We set out to see the western Mediterranean port cities with the least possible hassle, and that's what we got.   Lisbon, Barcelona, Malta and Rome were outstanding and deserved much more that the few hours allotted to them.   

Holland America provided the transportation and it was done in good style. Noordam's public areas were meticulously clean.  The stewards and waiters were efficient and friendly.  Beyond that, the ship was in business to sell the passenger as much as possible... tours, jewelry, wine, liquor, art prints etc.  Each department an accountable profit center. The ship's operations officers were aloof and mostly stayed out of sight.  We came away with the distinct impression Holland America was well into the process of becoming "Carnivalized".

After Note:  In November 2004, the Noordam made her final cruise under the Holland America flag.  She was sold toThomsom Cruise Lines and now sails as the Celebration.   A new Noordam, a Vista class ship, went into service in 2006.  During the winter it is based in New York for Caribbean cruises.








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