Taking a cruise through the Mediterranean was an idea I came up with when Stan and I first began researching our trip. At the time, the dollar was weak against the euro and the pound, and the idea was to save money by staying on a cruise ship, eating on a cruise ship, and spending dollars on shore excursions.
The experience of driving through the UK and France was very much like our personalities: on the go, enjoying the unexpected detour, savoring the picnic put together from the local bakery, and enjoying our B&B hosts. The cruise was going to require a shift in temperament and expectations. We would now have nightly dinner companions, we would dress up for our meals, and we would be on a strict schedule while onshore. It was also not going to be like a Caribbean cruise where we could go ashore…or not, where we could spend a few hours and come back to the steel drum bands, or where we could stay up late in the evening because we could always sleep a little later the next day. No…this part of the journey was going to require a much stricter schedule.
Teaching and Traveling
In terms of my teaching, I would now have ready to access to the Internet onboard the ship, but it would be expensive. I did budget for the Internet café, but my goal was to find cheaper access on shore. In addition, satellite connections are notoriously terrible, and if it is a sea day, it’s almost impossible to get a good connection for any length of time. Thus, I did several things to plan for these events: I would be working offline as much as possible, I would upload when I found a good connection, and I would plan my live chats (live web conferencing required my university) for a day or so before I got on the ship and the day after the cruise was over. This enabled me to meet my with my students for weekly live chats and ensure that I had a decent internet connection.
In what pocket of my backpack should I pack my evening gown?
But back to the cruise: Stan and I had each packed one backpack on this trip. Well, one backpack each and a carry on for our laptops, and that was it for 4 weeks in Europe. The bag of choice? The eBag Weekender. We still have them and frankly, they still look nearly brand new. They fit carry-on dimensions for air travel and mean that we did not have to deal with checking luggage. However…clothes that are great for hiking around Scotland or going on bike rides in Paris are not necessarily cruise attire. Plus, what about formal nights? No evening gown and high heals were going to fit into my bag. So, I ended up packing one long polyester (read: wrinkle-free) black skirt and one dressy black top. Two different necklaces would have to make the outfit look different enough on the two formal nights, and I would buy shoes on the boat. And for the husband? Stan just brought along a tie for his ensemble of 3 blue shirts and 3 pairs of khaki pants. Ugh…guys have it so easy.
Pardon me sir, but do you happen to have any different table mates?
We arrived to our first dinner on board our ship only to discover that we had been assigned a table for two. Stan and I looked at each other skeptically; we always enjoyed getting to know our table mates. Plus, we were ready to meet some new people after having spent the last 18 or so days together. I wasn’t ready for Stan to be quite so ready, however. He shifted about uncomfortably during the appetizers until I finally told him to get on with it and fix whatever was bothering him. He called the maître d’ over to our table and helpfully explained: “My wife and I have been driving around Europe in a very small car for the last 2 and a half weeks, and I’m ready to talk to some different people.” I’m pretty sure the maître d’ looked at Stan sympathetically. Sheesh! I was ready to tell the man I was ready for room service, but decided that it was just easier to go along. He assured us that he would have new arrangements made by the next evening.
The Côte d’Azur and the Best WiFi this side of Paris
The next day we arrived back in France, this time on the Côte d’Azur – the French Riveria. We would be visiting the small town of Villefranche, a quaint and colorful village along the beach with buildings colored in choral shades and water crystal blue.
The view from our table while we enjoyed lunch and wifi…
We tendered into the main cruise terminal area, and discovered signs for free wifi. Signs for free wifi are manna from heaven for those who work virtually. Almost as good as the next one we saw which was for a French café with free wifi. Yes! Even better. The café was attached to the terminal, open air, sat on the dock over the water, and had French food. What more could a person want in life? I could just live here, I decided. The other nice thing about French cafés and restaurants is that the waiters do not try to hurry you at all. They are paid a salary, and thus patrons can dine all day, if they like. Stan and I probably stayed for two hours, time enough to allow me to get caught up on my classes, and for us to have a great lunch.
We then ventured into Villefranche, visiting the quaint shops that sat on a nearly vertical hill overlooking the harbor. Cobblestone streets and beautiful colors make this town look just like I would imagine the Riviera to look. After 24 hours in Barcelona where we had not had the best experience, Villefranche was the perfect balm to our frayed nerves.
We arrived back to the ship around 5 p.m., enough time to rest and get ready to meet our new tablemates for dinner. We were introduced to a group of 6 people – and quickly learned that they had all had been reassigned, too. Oscar and Elena were a young newlywed couple from Miami who quickly got everyone at the table talking and laughing. There was another couple nearing retirement, and there was a widow and her traveling companion. (Ironically, three of us at the table were teachers, which provided much fodder for conversation, although it did leave me to wonder why as teachers we always seem to find other teachers to talk to about our profession.) Our tablemates would end up regrouping every night to share our experiences and decide who had had the better shore excursion. This became a favorite part of our day, as I realized that the best part of travel is getting to know people. When Stan and I were driving around the UK and France, the people we met locally were the highlight of our experiences. On the cruise, it became our tablemates.
One thing I did realize immediately: I had not planned any shore excursions for this portion of our trip. It was if being on a cruise ship and not having to book accommodations meant that I did not need to plan sightseeing while we were in port. We knew what we wanted to do in 2 or 3 of the ports but had no distinct tours in mind. Our tablemates, on the other hand, were much more with it than we were. However, I think Stan and I were just used to going where the day took us, and not trying to overplan every moment. As we cruised the Mediterranean, that attitude would be good at some points and regrettable in others. Hopefully, as I share our experiences, you will learn what works best for your family. One thing that is important to note: cruising in the Mediterranean is completely unlike cruising in the Caribbean. In the Mediterranean, the focus is on the destination, and less on the ship. For us, cruising the Mediterranean was a transportation option rather than a means of vacationing. More on this to be discussed in future posts!
Up next: Vernazza before the mudslide of 2011.