Call us anoraks if you like, but we don’t like surprises, and therefore, for the last two weeks we’ve monitored our two flights on Flightradar. Almost everyday the Cardiff-Amsterdam flight has departed late… and the AMS-VCE flight has had a gate change and then arrived in Venice over an hour late.
Today the gods of travel smiled; all of our departures were on time (minor ATC delays) and arrived within 5 minutes of the scheduled time.
For some reason, the airport to ship transfer took forever. I think we were waiting for another flight doing what ours usually did… arriving late. Payback?
On board just before 6pm, we decided to go to the World Café whilst our cases were delivered. A very good plan and a very good meal. Since we were last on board the Sushi section has been significantly upgraded. Can you eat too much sushi? I tried!
As we returned to our cabin, our steward (Darius) was hovering to greet us. First impressions? One of the best we’ve met (and we’ve met some very good ones.).
Unpacking and settling in complete. Off to Murano (of glassmaking fame) tomorrow.
Winter is Coming? Not today it’s not! Temperature around 24C (75F) and clear blue skies.
The complimentary shuttle took us to Pile, the Old City and it’s just as impressive as it’s billed to be. If only there were fewer tourists (can’t complain too much, being 2 of them).
Dubrovnik itself is very hilly, rising almost immediately out of the Adriatic and the Old City Fortress is built into the hill side. Lots of steps to move between certain parts, but usually worth the effort.
Despite my opening remark, the Game of Thrones obsession is still evident, but only just. I’d heard it had taken over - it hasn’t any longer. A few tours on offer and last season’s t-shirts on sale.
It’s a go-explore destination. Trying to follow a map is doomed to failure and, in any case, there’s something interesting to see around almost every turn. Follow some small alleyway and come out to a spectacular view across the bay or some ancient edifice.
There are several markets, both touristy items and local produce with lots to look at (and smell in the case of the fish market). Euros and dollars are more easily used, but still not everywhere. Almost every street and alley is lined with shops, again ranging from touristy junk to good quality items and souvenirs. Handmade lace was Margaret’s choice - you can actually watch ladies stitch it at their stalls.
Another feature of the city… Cats, lots of cats. Well fed, clean and not even slightly feral; simply everywhere.
Back on board for lunch on the Aquavit. Can anyone think of a better view to enjoy whilst eating (far too much) good food and wine.
The afternoon was enjoyed doing nothing much at all - enjoying the sunshine, the views and a good book.
Dinner in The Restaurant. OK tonight, but not its finest hour. Being British means curry is Curry (Capital Letters), not a barely spiced stew with plain rice. Manfredi’s tomorrow, so all will soon be forgotten!
Corfu is our next port. Never been to Greece so fingers crossed.
An excellent day today.
We visited the islands of Burano and Murano on a Viking organised excursion. Before booking this, we’d looked at the do-it-yourself options, which seemed substantially less expensive and equally possible.
Aren’t we glad we didn’t for several reasons!
The first issue is geography. Venice, on the map, looks quite compact. It isn’t. The 118 islands cover a very large area. We’d thought a trip to another island was a fairly short journey (it looks that way on a map). The journey from the port to Burano took around an hour. Burano to Murano, 30 minutes. The journey back, 40 minutes. Public transport timetables (boats!) would need a lot of luck.
Then we come to Public Transport Boats. They’re old, dirty and seem to have far fewer seats than passengers. Standing for these long journeys (and the Venetian Lagoon isn’t a mill-pond by any means) - nightmare!
However, our chartered tour boat was comfortable (by comparison) and ran to the arranged timetable. The tour guides worked as a team, had perfect English, were well informed and had a brilliant sense of humour.
Burano was an amazing surprise. It’s fascinating and delightful. We could have happily stayed there all day and would return there at the drop of a hat.
Murano wasn’t quite as charming and, as you’d imagine, is glass sales central. The glass making demonstration was well presented and fairly interesting, if a little brief and stage managed.
The factory has 2 shops associated with it. One for millionaires - most pieces had at least 4, and more often, 5 digits before the decimal point. The second had quite expensive, but affordable items. The problem? Once you’ve seen the seriously good stuff, the regular stuff seems second rate (well… it is, isn’t it!).
We had a stroll around. A quite pleasant place, but mostly shops selling glass wares.
We sailed out of Venice mid-afternoon en route to Split, Croatia.
Dinner tonight was a Chef’s Table. We were giving it its final chance. And the verdict…
A pretentious waste of time and shipboard space.
It’s pretending to be “Michelin Star”. Set menu, paired wines. Tonight we sent one course back as it was dreadful. The Chef admitted the recipe he was OBLIGED to use was wrong and he knew it, but couldn’t change it. (He proposed an alternative cooked to his own recipe - wonderful!!!!) In fairness, the other courses were delicious.
Paired wines? A full bodied red wine with cod? (When queried… “the truffle in the accompanying risotto makes the pair") - Sorry, there was never a chance of these working together. (BTW - it was the "cooked to death" cod that went back).
With so many excellent other dining options, this one needs to change.
Split, Croatia tomorrow… and our 46th Wedding Anniversary.
Definitely a hot one today - 27C (82F) and clear blue skies. It’s an island so there were fresh breezes making it perfect sightseeing weather.
We took the included “Panoramic” tour. We always enjoy these because you’re given a short coach tour of the location, followed by a walking tour (which we opt out of and take the shuttle back).
Today’s took us through a few villages to “Mouse Island” for a scenic photostop. And very scenic it was, too.
We returned to town and strolled around the narrow streets and squares, stopping for a tea (her) and a beer (me). If you’re here try the local brew. It comes in three basic styles: dark, red & lager. I went for red. Nothing quite like anything I’ve had, but wouldn’t hesitate in having a few more!
Whilst picturesque, the town is souvenir central. If you’re looking for something made from leather or olive wood or want to fill up on olives or herbs, this is the place to come. To be fair, most of the items appeared to be fairly good quality, especially the olive wood items.
Their vendors are best described as “proactive” but accept a “no thanks” with a smile. All-in-all we enjoyed the morning browsing and chatting to a few of the locals.
Lunch in the World Café. The chef was having an inspired day. It’s usually good - today was top restaurant quality on a buffet. The Pastry Chef should be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Services to Cruise Passengers.
Another quiet afternoon (becoming the norm) digesting lunch before Manfredi’s.
I once said that Manfredi’s was the best Italian Restaurant outside Italy. They’ve updated the menu. I think many restaurants in Italy now might have trouble competing. All the old favourites are still there (except the mushroom risotto ☹️) and several new additions that are simply divine.
Unfortunately, our waiter forced me to try multiple items per course so now I’m just about able to walk without assistance.
A day at sea tomorrow. If I lock myself in the stateroom????
Defying the forecast for Rome, here it was 25C and a near cloudless sky.
And, what a surprise. For those of you, maybe like us, who thought Civitavecchia was just Rome’s dockyard - big mistake.
As proof, yesterday, in Naples, I found just 8 things worth pointing my camera at; today, 35. We strolled around for over 2 hours and it was tired feet rather than loss of interest that brought us back to the ship.
There’s lots of seriously old stuff here, none of it famous, but just as interesting to look at. There’s a bustling local community, everyday shops and a thriving food and fish market (we just love browsing open markets).
There is a beach front with cafés and shops, the port area with a local fishing fleet and rich-peoples’ yachts.
Cruise ships are docked at the extremities of the Port, but shuttles are provided, individual buses allocated to each ship. They run “regularly” (a difficult concept in Italy) but sufficient to say, you don’t wait around very long. It’s takes about 10 minutes to the town bus terminal.
If you like Italy, simply because it’s Italy, you’ll love Civitavecchia.
Our now traditional afternoon followed - coffee, tea, books, sunshine and digesting lunch (which was once again outstanding).
This evening, dinner in Manfredi’s, where they have implemented a new policy. “If the diner can still walk at the end of the meal, you didn’t try hard enough”.
I mentioned I'd been thinking about the Dover Sole, but the daily special (fish) was monkfish, which I love. Problem solved. He served me with both (including all the sides).
There was a dessert with a chocolate sauce. Didn’t fancy chocolate sauce. “Can I have ice cream with it instead?”. Brought a bowl with 4 scoops of vanilla gelato to keep the dessert company.
Margaret expressed regret the mushroom risotto was missing from this version of the menu (they now have three menus in rotation). Solution? Chef cooked her a mushroom risotto.
The Chef de Cuisine then appeared at our table and said if there was anything “missing” or we’d like tweaked, just let him know.
People ask us, “Why do you keep going back to Viking?” Pretty obvious, isn’t it?
Tomorrow, we’re going on an all-day excursion to Tuscany. If Heaven was relocated to Earth, Tuscany’s where you’d find it.
There’s Italy and then there’s Tuscany, and today Tuscany decided to showcase everything it has on offer. In warm Tuscan sunshine we drove around 90 minutes to San Gimignano, one of its showcase Cità Alta, smiling down on the olive groves and vineyards of the region. There’s someting unique about the light in Tuscany and its ever present hazy glow.
San Gimignano is simply beautiful. Medieval buildings, narrow alleyways, open piazzi, and all manner of interesting sights, shops and viewpoints. If it has just one tiny downside, it’s very steep; getting to and getting around the town is a little challenging. The centre was just busy enough to feel alive, although I’d imagine in the high season it would be much busier.
After an enchanting two hours looking around and sitting in a café, we travelled around 5km to San Donato, a tiny village that’s part of Italy’s Tourismo Agricole scheme. It helps to bring small villages back to life with support if they provide tourist accommodation, local organic produce and education.
Our destination produced wine and olive oil (good choice).
We were given a brief education in the production of wines and olive oils and then provided with a Tuscan Buffet which included the farm’s produce.
A table laden with local meats, cheese, breads and salads, refilled as we all set about emptying it. Wine by the ever refilling carafe, with the meal ending with local sweet strong wine and local biscotti (which you softened by soaking them in the sweet wine).
Plenty of time was left to walk off this “light” lunch, which is what the itinerary said it would be. We strolled the property and the village. Truly beautiful, truly rural, truly Tuscan.
Back on board ship feeling that unique brand of tiredness that only follows a busy but remarkable day.
Yesterday (Wednesday) was a day at sea. A millpond with full sun and very soft breezes. The highlight? We sailed past Stromboli Island at 8pm. An active volcano. Never ever thought I’d see that. Photography “challenging”!
“See Naples and Die,” the Romans said. They were right - it leaves you feeling that way.
It’s chaotic (and in Italy, that’s understated). Wall-to-wall traffic. As elsewhere in Italy, traffic regulations are only suggestions; here they’re more like challenges. Red lights? Very decorative, but meaningless. Traffic lanes? Either side is an option for motorcycles. Traffic flow direction? Irrelevant. And pedestrians? Clearly keen to fulfil the Roman mantra.
We took the panoramic tour, which seemed to circle around city streets (which includes a one-way system, copied from the original Greek Labyrinth) passing a few interesting buildings - just a few. The route was further enhanced by half the city’s roadways being excavated for a new metro line.
We stayed on the coach at the end of the “tour” and travelled back to the ship with a dozen or so other travellers. Quite a shame, because our guide, a Swiss-German lady was exceptional.
We love Italy, so it was a little disappointing. Many other people took various tours to, and around, the Amalfi coast. They were very well-subscribed tours. We’ve already visited Pompeii and Sorrento, so had decided to give Naples a chance. You’re allowed one mistake!
Another option we’d thought of, was taking the Fast Ferry independently to Capri, about 45 minutes away. However, we were unsure how easy this would be. It would have been straightforward. The ferry leaves about 100m from the cruise terminal entry point.
So back on board for another exceptional lunch and time on deck with Mt Vesuvius as the view. Not so shabby, really.
For a break, we went out to explore the Terminal Building. It is, in fact, a small shopping mall with mostly quality goods on sale (and the usual junk). What struck us as funny…
There are just two ships docked, the other being the Italian based MSC Fantasia. Italians operate their own port security. At Gate B (MSC Boarding) were 3 security personnel (so long lines) and 4 or 5 carabinieri armed with automatic assault rifles. At Gate A (Viking) were 5 security personnel (no lines) chatting to each other and not a policeman in sight. Così italiano!!
Dinner in the restaurant tonight hit new heights. A Parrotfish on a shellfish couscous main course has become the stuff of Legends.
Rome tomorrow and there’s a General Strike in Italy. Warnings about problems and delays on tours. We were of a mind to stay in Civitavecchia anyway. “Lunga vita alla rivoluzione rossa” (Long live the Red Revolution).
Our last day on board, today
We arrived in Barcelona to a slightly overcast and misty day. Our plan was to visit Montserrat in the morning and tour Barcelona in the afternoon.
That didn’t work out too well. Our Montserrat tour returned with about 20 minutes “turnaround” for the afternoon excursion, we were too tired to be bothered anyway and Montserrat had satisfied every “touring” need we’d had for the day.
If you have the chance, go there.
For some it’s an important Christian site and a few of our number welcomed the opportunity to worship there.
For everyone else it’s a spectacular complex, built into the side of some serious mountains, with the most breathtaking views from above the clouds of Catalunya. We were told that, if you take the funicular to the very top of the mountain, on a clear day you can see all of Catalunya and the island of Majorca. (Today was misty; we didn’t try).
Our one hour journey took us to a small town at the foot of the mountains and we took a public service train to the monastery. The track is so steep and windy the train has to employ a Rack & Pinion system.
Our guide was just our sort of guide. On arrival she spent no more than 5 minutes offering the history pitch. Another 5 minutes of orientation and then left us to our own devices to explore.
Clean mountain air. Views to die for and all manner of little gardens and pathways to stroll apart from the beautiful monastic buildings.
An incredible experience.
We journeyed back by another route which took in more amazing views across the countryside. This is definitely a tour to put on your excursions' bucket list!
Dinner and farewells ended the day. Oh, and of course, packing, but for me that’s just a spectator sport!
An easy disembarkation, airport transfer and flights home.
This itinerary has been one of the most enjoyable on which we’ve travelled. There’s quite a chance we’ll repeat it one day.
The Viking Star’s docked here as well and it’s nearer the town. What’s the bet a few of our less observant co-travellers try to board the wrong ship!
A beautiful, warm and sunny day, and a fascinating city to visit.
Docked just 5/10 minutes from the “Old Town” we decided to skip the organised tour and do our own thing. To be honest, we prefer this when possible - you don’t spend most of the time stopping to learn things you’ll have forgotten within a few hours.
It’s a lovely place to walk around. Narrow alleyways and open squares. Cafés by the hundred. If Viking weren’t feeding us every few hours, their food looked really good and inexpensive. For example, one restaurant was serving a 4 course lunch for the equivalent of £11 (US$14). And the pastry shops - my arteries hardened just looking through the windows.
The city felt totally safe & relaxed and the people accommodating and friendly…
Except, one drawback. Almost nowhere would they accept Euros or Dollars and credit cards weren’t widely accepted either. The number of ATMs in evidence spoke loudly of Croatian banks making a fortune from fees. Get some currency before leaving home.
However, we found an artisan stall with the most unusual wood artwork and persuaded the owner to accept Euros (he did, at the official mid-market rate!). Then we spent an enjoyable 15 minutes chatting about EU politics and Brexit - the first time I’ve found anything about Brexit enjoyable for the last 2 years!
Back on board for lunch. Waiting in our cabin, a bottle of bubbly, a cake and an anniversary card from Viking. My stomach’s flying home as excess baggage if it carries on like this!
We had a relaxing afternoon and came across a friend, Charaine, the onboard Cruise Consultant. We had a really good chat, made plans to have a dinner together and also booked an appointment to discuss a future booking.
Dinner in The Restaurant was exceptional. Those who know me, know I find something not quite right with anything I’m served. Tonight, try as I might, I couldn’t. Four absolutely perfect courses.
This wedding anniversary thing is becoming a production. Last night, cake and fizz served at our table. Lunchtime today, cake and fizz waiting in our room.
Tonight, at dinner, the Sommelier asked would I like a “special” bottle of wine with dinner. I thanked him, but declined - I was enjoying a really nice Cabernet Sauvignon already.
So, back in the room, a very, very good bottle of red is waiting and, just as I staggered in (they’d forced me to drink a lot of the wine at dinner), a tray of chocolates appeared for Margaret, who doesn’t drink any alcohol at all.
Viking certainly know how to celebrate!
Before setting off on this journey, we’d decided Monte Carlo would be a low point. I’d been here before and found it hilly, pretentious and overrated.
We’d planned to visit Nice, independently, by rail, but, after a tremendous but tiring day yesterday, decided “Too much like hard work.”
So… The walking tour sounded dangerous. This place is hillside central. That option was quickly ruled out.
We met some cruise-friends in the evening and we’d been right. It was described as a route march from which their legs and feet might take days to recover. The tour only visited the Royal Palace area so they didn’t even visit the iconic Casino area.
We decided to try the Hop on Hop off bus service. Turned out to be the best €42 we’ve spent in quite a while. (€21pp Seniors)
There’s a stop just 2 minutes from our docking and it runs every 15 minutes (-ish). It tours Monaco from end to end, following parts of the F1 Grand Prix route. Stops include everything you might (or might not) wish to see.
We spent 3 hours seeing all of Monte Carlo and had a totally enjoyable morning.
There are gardens near the Casino - beautiful. You can visit inside the Casino without any fees or need to gamble. The Palace Square is spectacular. Venture back from it for some of the most incredible views of the harbour.
We decided that if you let the bus flatten the hills, Monaco is a good place to visit.
The afternoon and evening followed what has become a pattern. We had room service for lunch on our balcony with sun lit Monte Carlo as a back drop. Reading and relaxing until another spectacular dinner in Manfredi’s.
This cruise is contending for the "Best Itinerary” award..
Provence is one of the most beautiful regions of France, but not so much its Capital.
We took the panoramic tour and drove quite a distance to see not very much. Some beautiful views across the bay, a magnificent hilltop cathedral and not much else of note. The tour was made worse by promised photostops being delivered as slow drive-byes - how you’re supposed to take a half decent photograph through a reflective bus window still remains a mystery to me.
Free time was in the Vieux Port. Its harbour was filled, quay-to-quay with yachts and fishing boats, and a “today’s catch” fish market; individual fishermen operating from stalls next to their docked boat.
One totally surprising structure on the waterfront was a large reflective canopy. Everything on the pavement below was mirrored on the “ceiling” above. Weird and wonderful.
The rest of the area had little to show and was, in any event, the scene of an extensive programme of pedestrianisation - might be nice when it’s finished, but for now…??
Most of the tours provided by Viking today were to some of Provence’s most charming and beautiful locations: Avignon, Aix, Arles. As we’ve visited these but never Marseille, we thought we’d have a look.
We think we’ve come up with a way to “spot the duds”. If nearly all of Viking’s optional tours leave the port city, then don’t bother with the port city. Anyway, that’s going to be our new rule from here on in.
We were invited to tour the Bridge today along with around 20 other guests.
First surprise. It's on deck 6, just about 7 cabins down from us. The Watch Officer spent as long as we wanted answering questions, both interesting and stupid, about all aspects of the maritime functions with great courtesy.
We also discovered (by keeping our eyes peeled) that there are cabins on this (and presumably other decks) beyond what appears to be the ends of the corridors. Officers’ quarters.
Very interesting experience indeed.
The day ended with another excellent dinner in The Restaurant as we set out for Barcelona.