Georgina Cruz, a seasoned traveler and frequent Holland America Line guest, recently cruised on the Grand Mediterranean and Africa Voyage aboard Prinsendam. Wondering if our Grand Voyages are your dream getaway? Read below for a peek into her exotic vacation!
The second part of our 54-day Grand Africa & Mediterranean Voyage turned out to be for my husband Humberto and me as memorable as the first. Passing through the Pillars of Hercules, Prinsendam ventured into the Mediterranean, the centerpiece of the voyage. According to legend, the pillars were parted by the strong arms of Hercules – how cool is that?
In Gibraltar, we took a tour to Europa Point, Europe’s southernmost point; The Rock where we were delighted to see the antics of the Barbary Apes (including one who swiped a lemon popsicle from the cafeteria and enjoyed it while visitors’ cameras clicked!); and we toured St. Michaels’ Cave, now a venue for concerts. One of our favorite cruising regions in the world, we were happy as clams, as we believe, like British scholar Dr. Samuel Johnson once noted that “The main object of traveling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean.”
Highlights in the Med included several Italian ports that charmingly occupied our attention beginning with Genoa, that vibrant maritime city with a harbor front newly renovated by noted architect and native son Renzo Piano of the George Pompidou Center in Paris fame. The harbor front is now a modern center filled with shops and cafes as well as such points of interest as the Genoa Aquarium and the Biosphere, a glass dome more than 65 feet in diameter filled with plants, trees, birds and other animals. Other Genoa attractions include the 16th century Palazzo Ducale, once the home of the ruling Doges; the Christopher Columbus House, where the explorer spent his childhood; and the baroque Gesu Church, a Jesuit Church that boasts two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens.
Additional Italian ports included Livorno for tours to Florence and Pisa with their treasures of Renaissance art like Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia in Florence and the world-class view of the Leaning Tower in Pisa. More options from Livorno included tours to explore Tuscan gems like exquisite medieval Siena with the relics of St. Catherine, and quaint towns like Lucca and San Gimignano. Some guests, who like us had been to Florence, Pisa and other destinations in Tuscany, opted for strolls in Livorno to see its “New Fort” (that dates from the 1600s) and colorful buildings at and near the Piazza della Repubblica.
A call in Sorrento provided opportunities for tours to the lovely isle of Capri and the breathtaking Amalfi Drive, which we never fail to take to be delighted by its emerald waters and the picture-postcard-perfect towns of Positano and Amalfi among others, where we picked up a bottle of the local lemon-flavored liqueur, limoncello.
On our evening in Sorrento, a wonderful folkloric group, Sorrento Folk, came onboard and entertained us with tarantellas in our Showroom At Sea –a fun and lively performance that included audience participation with Humberto joining in and playing a traditional instrument along with the band.
Stops in Naples, for programs to Pompeii, and, of course, great pizza and pastries; and Cagliari, Sardinia, offered a chance to explore this less-often-visited island with its five-mile Poetto Beach and its old section, Castello, with its medieval walls and 13th century towers.
A big highlight for Humberto and me was a “Best of Rome” full day ship’s tour. It took in all the de rigueur sights of the Eternal City: with the colonnade by Bernini that symbolizes an open-arms welcome to the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica with Michelangelo’s magnificent Pieta sculpture of Jesus and Mary, the Colosseum (including a visit to its impressive interior that could be flooded in ancient times for mock sea battles), the fabled Tiber River and the Trevi Fountain. No matter how many times we go to Rome, we always head to the Trevi Fountain to throw in a coin that according to the classic movie, Three Coins In The Fountain, ensures our return (it keeps working for us!). The tour also featured a walk to the ancient Pantheon (temple to all gods in Roman times, now a Catholic church) and to the elegant Navona Square with its lovely fountains and included a typical Italian lunch with pasta and wine. Delicious!
But we were not done yet. Other highlights still in the Mediterranean included several stops in Spain including Barcelona, where the La Rambla pedestrian street – always lively – and Antoni Gaudi masterpieces like his emblematic modernism Sagrada Familia Basilica and amazing houses like the Casa Batllo awaited,
We went on to Malaga, with its Cathedral with a single bell tower, ancient Roman Theater, and noted Picasso Museum, devoted to the arguably most influential artist of the 20th century in the city where he was born; Cadiz, with its impressive golden-domed Cathedral, City Hall with a statue of legendary Hercules who is hailed as the city’s founder, and less-often-visited-but-just-as-captivating Valencia with its Old Town with its Cathedral and its beautiful Miguelete bell tower, the Basilica of the Virgin, Central Market and Silk Exchange, as well as the futuristic architecture of Santiago Calatrava in the City of Arts & Sciences, and not to mention the delicious paella valenciana, the city’s wonderful rice dishes that are world-famous. This was our second visit to Valencia and last time we had taken a guided tour, so this time we explored via the hop-on/hop-off bus with two routes and convenient stops at key points of interest.
Stay tuned for the last diary for Georgina’s Grand Mediterranean and Africa Voyage.