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Cruise Diary: Exploring the Med from Menorca to Venice

Dutch TV celebrity and travel writer Charlotte Van Hoorn recently cruised on ms Prinsendam’s Grand Africa and Mediterranean Voyage.

While she’s written heavily about the culinary side of cruising, she also enjoyed going ashore in each port and not only sampling local wine and cuisine, but taking time to see the sites as well. Enjoy her account of some of the ports she explored on her cruise.

This trip is following the routes of seafarers of long ago…

Mahon, Menorca

Whether visiting dusty ruins and museums of artifacts are among your interests or not, you cannot fail to appreciate this chance to glimpse lives lived in past civilizations. There is proof in the art, weapons and dwellings by that sea that there is little new under the sun when confronting human personal experiences; happiness and struggles in life and with death. So my take here is to concentrate on a thanks to the Romans for spreading viniculture throughout the Empire.

Menorca has evidence of some of the earliest settlements, back to 2500 B.C. and anthropologists don’t even know the name of the people for sure. But the local museum narrated the island’s history very well and it was worth it to me to visit it all because the tools, amphora and pottery shards were so full of detail, as was the jewelry and Roman glass that is always my own favorite.

Beautiful Mahon artifacts.

Beautiful Mahon artifacts.

Porto Torres, Sardinia

It’s a little early in the season to lay by the pool, but comfortable to stroll the town with the locals and admire the yachts harbor side. Assume I admired the local museum at the ruins excavation filled with Roman jewelry, glass objects and statuary. I highly recommend this tour because of the mosaic floors and Roman building skills, and the materials were thoroughly explained and we had a lively group of tour members with excellent questions. It’s a nice way to meet, sharing the experience, and I made a new friend to boot!

The photo of the breathtaking sunset describes the day better than I can.

Scenes from Sardinia.

Scenes from Sardinia.

Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor in the Adriatic is a legendary port of call. Its location tucked way back into branching fjords makes you wonder how the marauders and conquerors ever found it, much less maneuvered their vessels up and into the steep sided, narrow channels. The maritime museum was outstanding and well worth a visit, as was the 1,200 year old church dressed for Good Friday which was really quite a wonderment. The World Bank funds after an earthquake in recent years were put to good use and I hope the port stays on future itineraries.

Keep an eye out for Irena’s wine and gift shop at Stari grad 465 where she was so helpful explaining her family vineyard’s wines, one pictured below. Served cool, my choice was spicy without being harsh and I am glad to have accepted her recommendation and spent some time having a chat too. Meeting the locals is such the best part of travelling.

Sights around Kotor.

Sights around Kotor.

The 1,200-year-old church has a Roman and an Orthodox altar side-by-side. This corner of the world has borne so much strife that I wish that were a sign of a peaceful future. It is just overwhelming to realize that Western civilization was written here. Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Venetians, Turks, crusaders, and the modern day conflicts of our time as well. I wish the villagers well and bought a CD of the 809 AD church’s choir to bring back a memory of a thoughtful Good Friday.

Korcula, Croatia

This is a place of pilgrimage for any true lover of the open road ahead, whether by land or sea. It is the home of…drum roll… Marco Polo. To know where he came from after all that has happened for centuries after his time is just remarkable. I’ve experienced a number of HAL voyages with many enjoyable experiences in port and evenings of wining and dining aboard. However, this voyage I am just swept away by being so close and immersed in ancient history, the reason this itinerary appealed to me.

Maybe it is because I am not reading a history book, but sailing as the mariners did from island to island in the Mediterranean Sea. At first their courage overcame its mysteries and later they better understood it as being fraught with danger from the sea and foe alike. It is all quite romantic and I’m struck by the comparison that we, too, can make memories out of the same places, but so much more safely and comfortably.

Korcula is another fascinating call on the Grand Voyage.

Korcula is another fascinating call on the Grand Voyage.

Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna is the resting place of Dante, final stand of Roman Byzantium, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were there on Easter Sunday, too.

It was my luck to spend the day with the HAL History Lecturer Kate Ross who had been preparing us for this site of, arguably, the greatest quantity and quality of exquisite mosaics in one place and at the height of the art form itself. Ravenna is charming, pedestrian-only in the historic area and mindful of its place in history, smoothing tickets and access for what must be many visitors as the summer season begins. It was the point of retreat of the Roman Empire when Constantinople fell and by the last centuries of the Empire the art of architectural adornment using mosaics infused with gold had flourished to its highest level.

Ravenna's Byzantine mosaics -- just breath taking and humbling as well to experience such devotion made tangible. This is just incomprehensible to ponder the years of effort to produce such art. Truly there was divine inspiration.

Ravenna’s Byzantine mosaics — just breath taking and humbling as well to experience such devotion made tangible. This is just incomprehensible to ponder the years of effort to produce such art. Truly there was divine inspiration.

Again, Brett, our Location Guide, helpfully checked my own walking tour plan. Normally, I appreciate the value added of an excursion, but this being a holiday, guides were restricted in the places of worship and I would have access attending a service. After our bitter winter what with being snowed in more than once, I had plenty of time to use Google satellite to plan my route and read up in advance. Having Kate along was a bonus surprise and I thank her for her company, as well as finding the most scrumptious pizza.

It is impossible to portray the magnificence of the five of seven sites we made it to that day. Go to Ravenna’s tourist website, realize that it is a short train ride from Venice, an hour from Bologna and could be part of another visit to the tiny country San Marino for the day as well.

I see my future including more visits to Italy and taking the ship port-to-port is not only an adventure in itself but much more convenient that dealing with Italian trains or driving yourself. I still marvel at the glories to behold in that walkable old town of antiquity. The workmanship in precious stones, the breadth of such quality of design and execution. Thanks for including this in the itinerary HAL. And, in return, may I suggest a stop in Trieste in the future? I want to visit Italy more deeply.

Venezia, Italy
The Most Serene One … apropos because it is at its loveliest at dawn. Though not normally a morning person, I’ll make an exception for searching for St. Mark’s Square and the churches facing the Grand Canal at daybreak, as we enter the Venetian lagoon. What a sensational end to our journey and how convenient to stay aboard for an overnight because of the time we save being able to explore right away.

I’m glad a number of voyages terminate or originate here because I’d just add time, perhaps, on an HAL extended stay package. Now that I realize how close this port is to Ravenna, too, it is a no-brainer to plan on returning. In fact, you can have a different set of experiences with the same itinerary again. Proved that last summer by travelling up and back to Alaska. The chosen excursions were so completely different that it might as well have been 12 ports, not six.

But, I digress. I’m in Venezia and I can say “Gelato, piacere,” speaking Italian already! Floating by The Grand Canal like an angel above the rooftops and the piazzas is dreamlike. This visit the weather was dreary, but it only made the city more hauntingly beautiful. It was a movie set for a mystery or thriller and I really didn’t mind because I was dressed for the weather.

A final note because it’s the last post about this trip…

Charlotte and Libay.

Charlotte and Libay.

Last but never least, Libay, my wine steward, was such an exceptional crew member that she ranked as a highlight of my HAL experience. She was in evidence everywhere aboard, assisting so many guests who ate not only in the Fontaine Dining Room, but at alternative locations too: Pinnacle Grill, en-suite, private dining events… Each and every time, she tracked me down to deliver my stored bottle from my Navigator Series Wine List.

1 Comment
  • Laura Sklar

    Beautiful and enchanting writer, I agree with her about Venice experience.
    Hope to be cruising again soon with Holland♡. Always in my heart.

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