A couple weeks ago, we completed our latest vacation. We had never been anywhere in southern Europe, so a cruise around the Mediterranean was a great way to see a lot of interesting new destinations in one trip. Here is how things went:
- 09/07 - Travel Shenanigans: As originally booked, we were supposed to connect in Washington, D.C. on our way to Barcelona, Spain. We got to D.C., boarded the flight to Barcelona, and then didn't leave the gate. Initially, ATC put us on an overwater hold due to weather. Then, when we were cleared to depart, the tarmac at Dulles was closed due to lightning. So, even though we had clearance to leave, no one could push back our aircraft. Eventually, we left the gate and started taxiing towards the runway. But then we were informed that the ETOPS certification for that aircraft had expired and that we had to go back to the gate. We waited some more before they finally decided to cancel the flight. We spent about 6 hours on the plane, having gone nowhere. We then had to wait forever to get re-booked. United re-booked us on Delta through Atlanta and put us up at a nearby hotel. So, being delayed by a day, we lost the chance to explore Barcelona. We'll just have to visit another time. We got to bed that night around 3am.
- 09/08 - Travel Shenanigans (continued): But that wouldn't be the end of the travel insanity. When we tried to check-in that morning for our Delta flight to Atlanta, we ran into errors and they said we had to go back and speak to United. The United agent looked at our record and stated that the United agent from the night prior shouldn't have re-booked us on Delta using the most inane reasoning. Because we paid for our flights with miles, we only could be rebooked on a Star Alliance carriers. In other words, if we had paid in dollars then they would have allowed the rerouting on Delta. We wondered if there was even any seats left that would get us to the ship on time. At one point, the agent asked us what our first port was. We were not amused. Luckily, they were able to re-book us through Munich to Barcelona. But now our flight didn't leave until that evening. So, we used our Priority Pass to enter the Turkish Airlines Lounge, where we camped out until our flight.
- 09/09 - Embark in Barcelona, Spain: We landed that morning in Munich and then flew to Barcelona. After arriving in Barcelona, we went immediately to the port and boarded our ship, Holland America Oosterdam. This was our first time on Holland America. Impressively, our bags arrived at our cabin before we did. Our vacation could finally begin.
- 09/10 - Marseille, France: In Marseille, we started by taking a shuttle bus to the Old Port, where we explored for a bit before getting on a hop-on hop-off bus. We got off and visited the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde, which sits on a hill overlooking Marseille. We then visited the Marseille Cathedral and surrounding area.
- 09/11 - Monte Carlo, Monaco: Our ship anchored near Monte Carlo, Monaco. We did a small group tour of the French Riviera that started by visiting the sights in Monte Carlo. Next, we visited Nice, France. Lastly, we visited the small hilltop village of Èze, France.
- 09/12 - Livorno, Italy (Florence & Pisa): The ship docked in the port town of Livorno, Italy. From there our tour took us first to Florence. In the Accademia, we saw Michelangelo's sculpture David. We had a guided tour of the other sights in Florence before being given time to explore by ourselves. Then we were taken to Pisa. We saw the leaning tower, as well as the cathedral and baptistry. Unfortunately, the inside of the cathedral was closed the day that we were there.
- 09/13 - Civitavecchia, Italy (Rome): The ship docked in Civitavecchia, Italy, which is about 35 miles from Rome. Our tour visited the Trevi Fountain, National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, Trajan's Column, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, and the Arch of Constantine. Later, we went to Vatican City and saw St. Peter's Square and St. Peter's Basilica. One day in Rome is certainly not enough time to see everything, so we definitely plan to return to Rome in the future.
- 09/14 - Naples, Italy: After docking in Naples, Italy, our tour started by visiting the Sorrento Peninsula before going to the Amalfi Coast. Bad traffic caused our planned visit to Positano to turn into a drive-by viewing. Although, we were still able to stop in Amalfi for a visit. In the afternoon, we had a guided visit to Pompeii.
- 09/15 - Messina, Sicily, Italy: We docked in Messina, Italy and then started our tour of northeastern Sicily by going to Taormina. After exploring all the sights of Taormina, we were taken to the hilltop village of Castelmola. We were guided around the village and taken to the top of the hill to enjoy the views of the surrounding area. After lunch in the village, we returned to Messina where, among other things, we saw the Messina Cathedral and Clocktower.
- 09/16 - Day at sea: We spent the day sailing the Ionian Sea between Messina and Corfu. It was nice to have a relaxing day to do nothing after all the busy days beforehand.
- 09/17 - Corfu, Greece: After getting off the ship in Corfu, Greece, we took a taxi into the old town and did a self-guided tour. After exploring for a bit, we made our way to the Old Fortress. We climbed to the top of the fortress and enjoyed the views of the city. After that, we explored more of the old town before returning to the ship.
- 09/18 - Dubrovnik, Croatia: The walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia is a place I've wanted to visit for a while and was a requirement when browsing itineraries for this trip. We took a shuttle bus from the port to the old town and started exploring the Stradun and side streets. After seeing the old port, we made our way to the cable car. We rode it up to Srđ Hill, which stands at around 1,300 feet above nearby Dubrovnik. The views of the city were outstanding. After lunch, Kara did some shopping while I went and walked the western part of the city walls. Lastly, I briefly visited Fort Lovrijenac, just outside the city wall.
- 09/19 - Kotor, Montenegro: I feel like Kotor, Montenegro is the hidden jewel of this itinerary. It's not a place most people know, but it is a picturesque town on a bay surrounded by mountains. Since we didn't have that much time in this port, we got off the ship pretty early in the morning. So early, in fact, that while we were exploring the town there was hardly anyone else out and about. After walking from one side of town to the other, we hiked a trail leading from town up the mountain towards St. Ivan's Fortress. The views were spectacular. After returning to town, we explored some more and then returned to the ship. Around 2pm, our ship departed. Because our route through the Bay of Kotor was scenic, the crew opened up the bow of the ship, which is normally closed to passengers. So, I watched our departure from there.
- 09/20 - Venice, Italy: Our arrival into Venice, Italy took place just after noon. The route from the Adriatic to the port took us past the entire city, which gave us a great view of everything. After we got off the ship, we went to Piazza San Marco for a self-guided walking tour. I took the elevator up the Campanile bell tower and enjoyed the views of Venice. After exploring the piazza, we started walking back towards the ship crossing the Grand Canal at the Accademia Bridge. We then walked to and visited the Basilica dei Frari. Lastly we walked back to the ship via the Scalzi Bridge and Piazzale Roma.
- 09/21 - Venice, Italy: Early in the morning, we left the ship for the last time and placed our bags in a luggage storage facility because we had a tour that day. Our guided walking tour started near the Rialto Bridge and visited a ton of places. Before lunch, we went on a gondola ride for about a half hour. After lunch we visited St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace. After the tour, we returned to pick up our baggage and then went to our hotel.
- 09/22 - Flights home: To return home, we flew from Venice to Zürich to Chicago to Nashville. Although, due to long customs lines and a terminal change, we very nearly misconnected in Zürich.
It was an incredible trip. I’ll post pictures here when I am done with them, which might be a while given how many pictures we took.