Med Cruise: Day 8 – Back to Palma

Leaving day is a bit of a muddle – our main luggage has disappeared, and we have to be out of the cabin by 8 am! Everyone was carting their hand luggage about with them – I took my time over breakfast, and chose porridge to set me up for the day. Transport to the airport was happening throughout the day, and all the cases had colour-coded labels to assist in the logistics of getting nearly 2,000 people safely to their various flights. We relaxed and read for an hour, and then found out that hand luggage could be left at a secure storage point in the Bounty Lounge. So we were free to head off into town relatively unencumbered.

We caught a bus into the centre from just outside the port terminal (1.50 euro) and strolled back into the old town.  I was now in pearl search-mode, but we could only find the ends of the spectrum – either a posh jewellers selling strands for 400 euro, or cheap accessories stores with fake pearls on dodgy clasps for under 10 euro.  There was only one thing for it – find that helpful pearl store we’d been in a week ago!  There followed a full-on session of map-reading and walking round in circles, but after a calming rest by a pond next to the Cathedral, we did indeed locate that very boutique.  And Centre Perles could not have been more helpful, even getting samples brought from their other shop so that I could get the exact length, size of pearl, and colour that I wanted. Roger negotiated a price, and they threw in a little dangle pearl charm for good luck (which I will add to my troll-bead charm bracelet).

We found our way back to the Placa Major, and tucked into some spinach croquettes, clamari, and compulsory manchengo as we enjoyed the street theatre.  I bought some flavoured fleur de sel to have in the kitchen as a daily reminder of our wonderful trip.

We took a taxi back to the boat in plenty of time for our bus transfer.  The plane was delayed slightly, but we made it home by 11 pm.

Cruise Tip Of The Day:  Make the most of your last day – stay on the boat if that’s what you loved the most, or head ashore if you prefer to get every last ounce of foreign delights.  And count the coins you have left to spend at the airport!

Med Cruise: Day 7 – Barcelona

The real impetus for going on this cruise was Barcelona. I’d never visited it before, but we found it impossible to find any cheap flights for a weekend trip. So when the itinerary of this cruise included the city, I was delighted.

It was a 9 o’clock docking, so we had a bit of a lie-in, and I managed to get a freshly made omelette for breakfast which was really good.  We were ashore by 10, and very quickly decided to take the open-topped hop-on-hop-off bus option.  I’ve always said this is the best way to get a feel for a new city, and it meant we could see lots of it without having to do too much walking.  In addition, the girl on the ticket desk was undoubtedly one of the best in customer relations I’d ever seen: the guy in front of us was determined he wasn’t going to pay the 24 euro ticket price –  he knew where he was going, and what bus to take, so did she have a map of the ordinary bus routes?  She found out where he wanted to go (Parc Guell) suggested that going by bus might take an hour and anyway Barcelona’s bus routes were really complicated, so why didn’t he take the Metro – nearest stop was just over there behind Columbus.

We set off, passing the Olympic village, before heading uphill.  The leaflet given out with the ticket price is very informative, and it only took me a short time to devise a Gaudi-themed stop-off plan. First stop was at La Pedrada, with its curvaceous balconies and ornate ironwork balconies.  We enjoyed an iced coffee while admiring that such architecture was almost 100 years old.

Next was the second most popular stop on the route – La Sagrada Familia.  Still unfinished, the level of detail on this cornucopia of stonework, rising above a haze of jacaranda trees,  is astonishing.  There’s about a 3 hour queue for tourists not as part of a tour group – if you really want to see inside, go as part of an organised tour, as they have separate entrances.  We did note that the shore excursion offered by the cruise ship did NOT include entrance to the cathedral, and also involved a 15 minute walk from the coach park, whereas our bus stopped right outside.

Back on the bus, we were aiming for Parc Guell, but the helpful information given over the headphones pointed out that it was a 10 minute walk up a steep hill, so we decided to leave that for a return visit some day when we are both in full health.  The bus tour continued past a Gaudi gatehouse, complete with dragon patterned gate, and then to what was the most popular stop – Barca football stadium.  We didnt get off.  Instead, we alighted at the top of La Rambla and pottered our way down.  I’d been warned so much about the dangers of pickpockets in this area that I didn’t have my phone with me, and only very little money.  We decided to eat inside, rather than on one of the pavement cafes, and shared a couple of starters at 111, part of Le Meridien hotel.  We continued our stroll enjoying ice-creams (Crema Cataluna for me), waved up to Columbus, and were back on board at 3.30.

The last night on board is tricky:  you need to pack clever in order to have your suitcase outside the cabin by midnight, and have left out anything you will need the next day, bearing in mind the hand luggage restrictions on liquids.  Some cruises have a formal night on the last evening – what a palaver that must be, trying to pack away your dinner jacket before going to bed!  And my quiz-buddies were successful in the X-factor competition (she was singing I Dreamed a Dream, he won with To Dream the Impossible Dream….too much dreams there shurely…) but what do you do with a bottle of champagne at 11 pm the night before leaving?  And where do you put your dirty laundry (this may explain the thong we found under our bed the day we arrived).

Cruise Tip Of The Day:  Take small bottles of shampoo etc that you can just leave behind.  Charity shops often sell gift sets of potions and lotions, and I took with me an almost finished bottle of cologne that I didn’t want to cart home with me.

Med Cruise; Day 5 – Cannes

It was meant to be Villefranche, from where I was looking forward to taking a trip to Monte Carlo, but the (very slight) swell meant we instead anchored off Cannes. I’d been here once before as a teenager on a family holiday, but it had been a very brief visit and a very long time ago! Roger had never been, so we decided to leave Monte Carlo for another time, and instead explore this starlet of the French Riveira.
The walk from the tender disembarkation point into town was one of the first times on this trip that we’d encountered street traders, selling handbags and sunglasses. But they were very laid-back, and we had no hassle at all as we strolled towards the famous palm-fringed seafront.
We had as usual picked up a map from the services desk, which we had found to be really useful for making your own way about, but a short explore towards the Old Town revealed that it was extremely hilly, and definitely not something Roger would be able to manage. We went back to a coffee shop overlooking the harbour for cafe frappes, and discussed options. He decided to head back to the ship, while I would go exploring on my own. Cannes is pretty safe, and my French is well able to get me through any situation I was likely to encounter.
I firstly climbed all the way to the church at the top of the hill, and spent some time just drinking in the glorious view.

I pottered back down past the tiny little shops and restaurants nestled tightly on each side of the street. Every available space on each tiny patio was filled with flowers and plants. My next stop was the market – a breathtaking array of fruit and veg.  The scent of strawberries filled the air, and of course being France, everything was displayed beautifully. There were teensy wild woodland strawberries, white aubergines, reminding me of their other name of eggplant, round courgettes, courgettes with their flowers still attached,  mushrooms and ceps, tomatoes of all sorts of shape size and colour,  tightly budded peonies, fish, cheese, cured meats…I could have soaked it all up for hours.

I called into the Cafe des Halles behind the market, which seemed to be frequented by a few market traders, and ordered a vin blanc, which came accompanied by a shot glass of gazpacho, a few baguette croutons, and some olives. Magnifique!
From the bus depot by the town hall, I took the No 8 bus, which is an open topped vehicle that runs along the seafront to Palm Beach. It costs 1 euro per trip, and is definitely worth doing for the great views. At Palm Beach I had a fantastic panorama of our boat moored out at sea, and was able to paddle in the warm waves lapping the shore.

Back in town, I called into Streckers, a beer and wine bar behind l’hotel de ville for a glass of Chardonnay (5 euro) and a rather large plate of cheese (10 euro).
I was back on board for 3, read for a while, did the pub quiz at 5, dinner at 7, and off to bed the old cliche – tired but happy.

Cruise Tip Of The Day: you will need more than 7 days worth of underwear, by the time you go for a swim, or to the gym, or shower and change for dinner. Or else be prepared to do some laundry during your trip.

Med Cruise: Day 2 – All At Sea

Our first full day on board was also the only day we spent all at sea, making the long crossing from Palma to Corsica. Cruise ships don’t go fast so as not to cause too much of a breeze on deck.
I joined the gym guy for his 8 o’clock “walk a mile with a smile” session, which was 5 times round the upper deck. 8 am is about the only time you could do that, as from then on it steadily filled up with sunbeds. I stayed in the gym area and ran on the treadmill for a while in a desperately last ditch attempt to look good in my next outfit – a bikini. I’d brought along a mix’n’match set of black bottoms, black and white bandeau top, and black and white tankini.  I also had a turquoise and white Billabong beach dress which had handy pockets on the front, thought the tie string neckline was the same as the bikini tops, which was a bit confusing.  Sadly, I also saw someone else on board with the same dress!

We lounged by the pool reading our Kindles – I was reading Game of Thrones, having been totally confused by the TV series and wanting to learn who was who.  Kindles are great, but one of the downsides is that you cant just leave them on your sun lounger while you go to the bar/ for a dip in the pool/ to the loo etc.

The weather was superb – I was conscious that I didn’t want to burn on my first day, so was slapping on the Factor 30, while Roger was intending to go as brown as he could.

Dressed for dinner in a dress of my daughters – her “Donna” dress, to be precise, which had graced the stage during her performance in Mama Mia.

Cruise Tip Of The Day: find out what facilities are on board – if there’s a gym, and you think you might use it, make sure you pack your trainers.

Med Cruise: Day 1

We set off on our belated honeymoon – a cruise around the Mediterranean! We’d booked it rather last minute, so I only had about 3 weeks to get ready, packed etc. I also wasn’t too sure what to expect from a cruise, this being our first one. I did some research on each of our stopping points, and noted the one “must do” in each, and noted them on my phone.
It was an early start – the flight was leaving at 6 am, so I wanted to be at the airport at 4, which meant leaving the house at 3, and setting the alarm for 2 am. It hardly seemed worth going to bed! But we did manage to drag ourselves away from the Queen’s Jubilee concert on telly, and got a few hours sleep.
I didn’t look too bad, given the hour…

Capsule wardrobe items: Gladiator sandals (M&S footglove), cotton turn-up trousers (from an organic cotton place on Lisburn Square that is sadly no longer there), tribal T-shirt (TKMaxx) and light shirt (Craghoppers). Battered old panama hat, and hand luggage which I bought at Banjul airport last time I was coming back from The Gambia. Grey pashmina from my daughter.

We paid £20 for extra legroom, but I found that I really didn’t like being separated from my handbag, which isn’t allowed to be stowed under the seat in front on these over-wing-exit seats.
Palma is a pretty big airport – but then Majorca is still a huge tourist draw for the UK and elsewhere. The Thompson check-in and transfer procedure was very smooth, and we were being welcomed aboard the cavernous Island Escape by about 11.30, heure locale.
the huge bulk of the cruise ship, Island Escape

Our first experience of the Beachcomber restaurant was pretty good, and I easily fround some grilled fish and salad for lunch. Some reviews had complained about the melamine plates in this restaurant, but that’s to allow you to take your food outside, or to eat by the pool.
We picked up a taxi outside the port, agreed a rate to take us to the cathedral, on my list of Palma musts. Entry to the cathedral costs 6 euro, but it is a stunning, vast cavern of space and light, with the most beautiful brightly coloured stained glass windows.
Leaving the cathedral, we called into a pearl shop – I’d said that I wanted a string of pearls as a honeymoon present, but we weren’t keen to buy anything in the first shop we found. But the assistant was extremely helpful, warning me to guard my handbag in the area round the cathedral, and giving us a map directing us to the little streets of the old town. We had a very pleasant wander of the tiny alleys, settling down to an iced coffee and some people-watching at a cafe on the Placa de Aeulia.
In Spain, Rog usually does the talking, but I managed to dredge my knowledge of Eurovision Nul-Pointers to remember that poor Spanish girl in her striped blue and white tablecloth dress, and recalled the word for boat. So I asked the taxi driver to take us to “la barca grande”. Which he did.
After the compulsory safety briefing (post the Costa Concordia disaster, it is a requirement that all passengers take part in this on their first day), we changed for dinner and decided to treat ourselves to the wine-and-dine package at the Oasis restaurant for £14.99 (all prices on the boat are in sterling). It was delicious.
carpaccio of beef

I wore a sleeveless black dress accessorised with coral jewellery, a coral wrap, and black fancy sandals. Felt very elegant!.

We found a quiet spot on deck to watch as the ship set sail at 11, and glided past the night-time lights of Palma…


Cruise Tip Of The Day: It can take a few hours for your luggage to get to the cabin, so pack a swimsuit and flip-flops, Tshirt and shorts in your hand luggage, so that you can change out of your travelling clothes.