Sometimes it’s best to have no plans. Our original itinerary called for a morning visit to the island of Gozo and a trip to the Blue Grotto, but for “operational reasons,” whatever those are, the captain brought us straight to Valletta where we’ll be until late tomorrow.
Thus without a planned excursion, we ventured off the boat and into a horse-drawn carriage that let us off in the town center just in time for thunderous fireworks and a music-filled religious parade featuring the massive statue you see on the reverse side heaved up and down Valletta’s hills by 10 grimacing acolytes.
We were so exhausted by the sight that we immediately repaired back to the ship for a lunch and a nap. Upon awakening at 3:30p we leapt onto a Hop On-Hop Off bus for what the guide told us would be a three-hour tour. Hunkered down in the open air top deck we noted with dismay that the bus seemed to be taking us far out of town into the sun blasted countryside at 100km/hour — too fast even to hunt Pokémon — but then arising out of the dust we saw a vision, the Mdina, Malta’s 17th century walled capital. It’s called the silent city, populated by 300 live souls, and thousands of dead ones in the Roman catacombs below the cathedral. We hopped off, never to see our bus again, and ventured into the most amazing city. Disney could have built the Mdina if he’d only had a little more imagination. Lisa and I have lots of pictures. Just ask.
Tonight we go to a classical music concert in a nearby chapel. We’ve had an amazing day thanks to a little luck and the spirit of adventure.
Hello dear ones! Today we are in Sicily, but our picture is looking back to yesterday in Positano on the Amalfi coast.
I woke up at four this morning to watch the ship sail through the Strait of Messina – the two mile wide channel between the toe of Italy’s boot and the triangular soccer ball that is Sicily. We docked a few hours later at Giardini Naxos under a blaring hot Mediterranean sun.
1800 feet above the port is Taormina, a city beloved by Goethe, Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, and Ronald Dahl. Another thousand feet more and we alighted in Castelmola, a tiny town built on a hillside under the shadow of Mt. Etna (which last erupted only a few weeks ago).
We ate marzipan cookies covered in pistachio nuts and drank excellent cappuccinos in Caffè San Giorgio where Churchill and Rockefeller did the same years ago. I believe we also used the same WC as these eminents, but I could be mistaken. After a stroll through the town we returned to Taormina which is nearly as crowded as Positano. We did try some delicious authentic Sicilian pizza and the local beer before heading home.
Back aboard the Encore we are resting. To tell the truth all this sightseeing is a little wearing. We’re going for a soak in the hot tub and an early bedtime. Tomorrow is Valletta, Malta and we are blissfully excursion free.
What a day! We hired a guide with the hopes that we could see Amalfi, Positano, and Pompeii all in one stroke but it was not to be. An unprecedented three cruise ships had arrived all at once and roads were closed for inspection due to the bridge collapse in Genoa, so traffic was impossible.
We decided to save Pompeii for another time and spent the morning walking in Amalfi. After an amazing sfogliatella and coffee we got in the car for the 45 minute drive to Positano. As Simona our guide said, mama mia! Giant tourist buses clogged roads built for donkey carts and the drive became a comic opera filled with Italian curses and gestures. When we finally arrived in Positano we walked down to the beach for a typical seafood lunch and a glass of sweet wine then hopped a boat back to Amalfi and our ship.
Unfortunately the Amalfi coast in high season is so choked with tourists you can hardly move. Nevertheless there’s no denying these hillside towns’ photogenic charms. We will come back in the off season.
There are so many beautiful pictures from our day in Amalfi and Positano that I can’t pick just one. So I’ll leave you with the quintessential postcard shot of the sun setting over the island of Capri as we bid farewell to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Tomorrow, Sicily!
Here’s Lisa chatting with a local from Poggio, a tiny town high atop Mt. Cappenne on the island of Elba.
Napoleon was exiled here for nine months but it seems he got around even more than George Washington. Even the pizza places have signs saying “Napoleon ate here.”
Poggio is famous for chestnuts and charcoal. Chestnut trees cover the mountain and the charcoal was used to purify the iron found nearby. The hills used to be infested with Tuscan wild pigs, but they were all turned into salami some time ago.
We hiked a trail built in the 8th century by the Lombards to an ancient chapel in the sky. Which oddly also featured a Pokestop. Then back down for a typical lunch featuring boar stew and polenta. We were on the last tender back to the boat and as soon as we boarded the Captwin hauled anchor and set sail for the Amalfi coast.
We’ve been blessed by calm seas and smooth sailing but we miss you all. And fast Internet. And Niners games.
Bonjour from Monaco! So ends the first half of our cruise.
We tried very hard not to gloat as most of the ship’s cohort headed home today heaving heavy sighs. We debarked with them for a day of sightseeing in Monte Carlo, happy knowing that we’d soon be back on board for another 11 blissful days. This is the longest either of us has ever been away from home, but so far we’re handling it gracefully.
We were in Monaco for several days last year so we chose the lazy tour and rode the top deck of the Hop On Hop Off bus around town hunting Pokémon and shooting pictures.
Now we’re back aboard sipping drinks poolside and waiting for another gorgeous sail-away sunset. We don’t even care that we’ll be missing an Apple event in a few hours.
Lisa’s picture of the port of Monte Carlo featuring our ship is on the flip side. The Mediterranean really is that blue.
Tomorrow we head to Italy; Elba, Amalfi, Positano, and Pompeii await.
Love to you all – wish you could be sailing with us!
Today’s a sea day as we make the 500 mile run from Ibiza to La Lavandou in the south of France.
There’s nothing lazier than a sea day. Breakfast in the café – a triple mocha and an almond croissant for me, a cappuccino and fruit for Lisa. Then upstairs to our cabana on deck 12 to listen to books, play cards and do crosswords until lunch. It was rainy in the morning so we had the hot tub all to ourselves. By afternoon the sun was out and we enjoyed sunset on the deck while playing cribbage.
The crew on the Encore is universally jolly: our cabin stewardess, Sarah from Ireland, the sommelier, Nataly from Ukraine, our waiter, Miguel from Portugal, hotel manager Lynn from Belgium, and Jennifer our Maitre d’ from the UK. They’re all so friendly and helpful. We want to take them home with us.
Today’s picture is from our aerie looking down on the pool deck. It truly is a sight.
Lisa is standing in front of the “mystic” rock that inspired Stephen Spielberg’s rock from Close Encounters. At least that’s the story the locals tell.
Today we 4x4d off-road to get away from the discos and see the nature and beaches on the west side of the island. Let’s just put it this way, we’re glad to have survived the ride. But we got a good look at wild Ibiza.
That’s our last stop in Spain.Tomorrow’s a sea day so we’re going to take it easy. Then we’re headed for France.
We’re sailing out of Malaga, Spain at sunset. The band is playing at the pool, we’re nibbling on our nightly in-room caviar (!), and editing our photos.
The big decision tonight is where to eat dinner: Italian night on the back deck, steak at the Thomas Keller grill, or the Chef’s Dinner in the main restaurant. I’m lobbying for the sushi bar; I hear the toro is really good. There’s always in-room dining. Life is so tough shipboard.
Malaga is a pretty little vacation town. The flip side is the view from the old Portuguese fort overlooking the town bull ring. You can see our ship in the distance. We took a tapas tour with Fernando, a philologist who loved talking about how many English words came from Arabic. We’ve been blessed to have exceptional guides on this trip. They’re all locals with great style and stories.
Tomorrow, Cartagena, a town founded in the 3rd century BC. Cartagena comes from the Arabic words for New Town. New indeed!
Yesterday was a sea day so we did nothing but lounge about. It was a perfect (non) Labor Day.
Today we traveled into Seville, about an hour and a half from the port of Cadiz, and saw the amazing Plaza de España and the Real Alcázar, the palace of the king of Spain (when he’s in town). The Alcázar dates back to the 13th century and combines Moorish and Gothic architecture with beautiful gardens and fountains and the most lovely detailed plaster work we’ve ever seen.
On the flipside Just a bit of the Seville Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the the world and truly awe inspiring. Tomorrow on to Portugal! Love to you all,
Just a quick note because the ship is about to sail and we’ll be out of cellular range until Tuesday.
Valencia is amazing – an undiscovered gem on the Mediterranean. This is where paella was invented but they make it with chicken not seafood.
Also home to an amazing group of buildings by Santiago Calatrava, the designer of the whale next to the 9-11 Memorial in New York. On the flip side is one the group. It looks like a giant eye in the sun.
We’re having a blast. Just had caviar service before dinner at the Thomas Keller restaurant on board. Next stop Cadiz!