8 DAYS AT SEA – SEARCHING FOR 7 PORTS

In the early 1920’s, my parents as young children along with their families made the long arduous journey across the Atlantic to land on Ellis Island and open the gates to America.

It had to be an exhausting experience that probably took almost two weeks.

By contrast, we recently did a reverse passage on a luxury cruise ship with good food in a comfortable cabin and many ways to occupy our time.

What a difference the years make.  Our trip went from Miami to Rome—and I’m sure it was a lot more enjoyable than theirs.

We arrived in Miami for an overnight at the airport and it was humid supreme.  We boarded the Oceania Serena the next day and had lunch while waiting for our cabin to be ready.

The ship left on schedule at dinner time for our first day-and-a-half at sea.  With a first-class gym, jogging track, lots of outdoor lounges in the shade or sun and five choices for dining, it went very quickly.

When the ship is full, it houses 684 passengers with a crew of 400 representing about 50 different nations.

Our first stop was St. George, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Bermuda.  It’s a delightful sunny isle only two hours by plane from New York or Miami.  The water is beautiful blue and they boast pink sand beaches.  It was a delight.

Now we were off to five days at sea and our first test.

It was great.  Totally relaxing and they had several lectures and games available.  There was nightly entertainment for those who want and a small casino.

Before we knew it, we arrived in Funchal, the capital of the Portugese island of Madeira, situated some 350 miles from North Africa.  The island is lush and mountainous with a mild, sunny climate, conducive to the growth of the many varieties of exotic plants and trees to be seen blossoming in every direction.  The clear warm waters of the Golf Stream surrounding the island provide a natural recreational facility, as well as a good fishing source.

The orange slate tile roofs of most homes and buildings present a striking picture.

For over 100 years tourists have enjoyed its rugged volcanic peaks, beautiful tropical coastline and a climate that’s never too hot or cold.  Madeira lace and Madeira wine are both still produced here in the Old World tradition.

And then one more day at sea to reach Malaga, Spain.

Malaga is the sunny capital of the Costa del Sol, famed for its beaches and mild climate, and gateway to Andalusia, with its Moorish architectural heritage in Granada and the Palace of Alhambra.  The city’s Alcazaba is an 11th-century citadel sitting in majestic splendor overlooking the African coast.  It contains three magnificent palaces and graceful gardens with ornate fountains.  In addition to their rich cultural heritage, Malaguenos are also very proud of their most famous citizen—Picasso, for whom there is a museum commemorating his birth here.

Next it was on to Cartagena.

Cartagena is a historic port city located on the southeast Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula.  As it has been from ages past, Cartagena remains an important outlet to the Mediterranean.  When sailing into port it is easy to imagine that this is the exact same sight that awaited the ships of the early Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, Barbary Coast, pirates, the Spanish Armada and ships from France and Great Britain.

In a somewhat unusual timing for a tourist town, the museums and the on/off buses were all closed on Monday.  We found a nice harbor cruise to replace the other attractions.

After an overnight sail we arrived in dynamic Barcelona with all its famous architecture; from the magnificent medieval buildings of the Gothic Quarter to the Modernist movement typified by the work of Antoni Gaudi.  Though his materials were stone and metal, his forms were organic, awash in curves, swirls, and colors.  His masterpiece is the amazing Church of the Sagrada Familia, colossal and as yet unfinished, though construction began in 1882.

Barcelona is the most important city of Catalonia as well as being the administrative capital.  With a population of approximately three million, it is the second largest city in Spain and the largest on the Mediterranean.

The on/off bus has three separate routes which cover the alluring highlights of the city quite well.

We then went on to visit Marseille, the second largest city in France and the largest port in the Mediterranean.  This delightful old city is quite charming, not the dirty old port town I imagined.

It also serves as the gateway to the popular area of Provence.

Now it was on to our final stop to spend a day visiting the famous world of glamour, sophistication and sun-drenched luxury.  Saint-Tropez, France is a wonderland of gorgeous beaches, gorgeous yachts, beautiful people and fashionable living on the French Rivera.  It’s another world.

When we arrived the next morning in Civitavecchia, the port city of Rome, Italy, we have covered 5,083 nautical miles which translates to roughly 4,300 land miles.

All in all, a very enjoyable sojourn across the Atlantic.

We took this cruise because we liked the timing and the itinerary, and to explore two questions:  How would we like so many days at sea?—answer, most definitely; and, could we entertain a 30-day cruise later this year from Capetown to Singapore with many attractive port stops along the way?—answer, definitely not.  Sixteen days was long enough.

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