Monday, 4 June 2018

Cosmopolitan Classics - Marella Explorer's Inaugural Cruise

A series of articles covering our holiday on the inaugural cruise of Marella Explorer. We'll be calling at Palma de Mallorca > Day at Sea > Palermo, Sicily > Naples, Italy for Sorrento & Amalfi > Livorno, Italy > Nice & Villefranche, France > Palamos, Spain.

Click or tap each of the photographs below for the related article and photographs.

Parked In Palamos

Friday 25 May 2018. Our final port for the week is Palamos in Spain. Excursion trips include Barcelona but, as most cruises on the western Mediterranean call there, we have been there five times so we are going out on foot to explore Palamos itself.

Our route from the ship takes us past the marina. According to the map there is another, the other side of the small headland we are moored against. There is a local chap standing watching us at the point where the path joined the road. His whole attitude suggested he was thinking "bloody tourists!" I nod and say "Hola!" and before he can stop himself he has half smiled, lifted a hand in greeting and said "Hola!" back.

We decide to have a look at the other marina. We have to get to the other side of this. Walking to the end of the pier and taking the road seems preferable to clambering over it, so we follow the road to our right and ... clamber up the steep road!

There are plenty of chandlers and boat build/repair companies about. There's a few Euros worth of stock in this particular warehouse!

A nice jumble of rocks too on the other side of the headland. There are steps up from the road to reach a small path on the top of the rocks, so where I am standing is a lot safer than this appears!

There's something hypnotising about the sea washing over rocks. I stand, fascinated and in my own little world, until Miss Franny slaps my face hard a few times and we carry on.

We reach the other marina. It looks as though we might have to make quite a long detour to get to the road leading back into the town and we decide it is probably quicker to re-trace our steps and go round that way.

We walk up into the town and through its shopping streets which are enjoyable without being spectacular. We spend a good hour or more wandering through it, then decide we will head back towards the seafront and have a sit for a bit.

We find a vacant bench and sit down. After a while this couple start waving and then wave in unison and then dance up and down the beach. It looks as though they are waving at us but we don't know them from Adam. (Hello, Adam, what are you doing here?) They could be waving at people on the benches to either side, or to any number of people in the bar which is the building to the left. Whatever... They keep it up for a good ten minutes then he leaves her and instead of walking straight towards us, he walks at an angle until he gets close enough to crane his neck to stare at us properly, then he turns back to his wife who is still doing semaphores and dancing from side to side and he starts making chopping gestures at his throat. They have obviously mistaken us for someone else!

The Marella Explorer cutting a bit of a dash at her mooring. She's certainly dwarfing the boats in the marina!

We have a wander up the promenade and bump into John and Vera. John was one of three Johns in just six seats on the plane as we flew over. It turned out he was on the ship and we saw them most nights and exchanged a few words and later this particular night we will spend an hour with them having a drink and chatting. A nice couple.

It is very warm. We sit on another bench for a while and decide to go back into the shopping are so Miss Franny can buy the inevitable fridge magnet and a few other bits to take home. There's a lot of whistling and shrieking going on as we walk along one street and Fran spots the culprit - a parrot in a cage outside a first floor window over a shop. It could have been saying "Bring me in - it's too hot out here!"

The view from our balcony that afternoon. Some packing must be done before we head for our evening meal unless we are going to forego all the pleasures of bars, lounges and shows for the night. And we are not... Tonight we sail back to Palma de Mallorca for our flights home tomorrow. Our cases must be packed, locked, labelled and left outside our cabin by 2:00am so that the crew can pick them up and crane them in cages off the ship so we can pick them up off the dockside in the morning.

Saturday 26 May 2018. The following morning it has obviously rained during the night! We hadn't heard anything at all but we are told that the ship had sailed through skies lit by sheet lightning. We had noticed our first bit of movement on the sea, but it just gently rocked us to sleep!

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Nice and Villefranche

Thursday 24 May 2018. We anchor in the water off Villefranche and use the tender boats to disembark. We are on a half-day excursion to Nice which includes a ride on a road train.

The coach takes us on a time consuming tour of Nice's back streets however before the small train and thus our time on another tour disappears with little time to see the coastline of Nice. You know... the thing that people go to Nice to see... Once on the road train we do trundle along the coast for a short while, passing the harbour where a Club Med ship seems to be spraying water over any passing small boats!

The road train carries us on a winding climb up a hill to this viewpoint which was absolutely stunning. It might have been even better had the coach trip through the back streets not put me in a rather - how shall I say - somewhat exasperated frame of mind! We would have simply caught a train here from Villefranche to do whatever we wanted with our time, but we had been warned that they are suffering from industrial action and at best are unreliable for the day. Added to which it was Grand Prix weekend in Monaco, just the other side of Villefranche so trains going back would have been crowded even if running.

Looking a little closer to our viewpoint. The back end of the road train can be seen to the left.

Looking inland from our hilltop vantage point past another of those wonderful continental cast iron lamp posts.

Eventually the train returned us to a spot just behind the seafront and we wondered for a nano-second whether to join the guide on her walking tour - er... no... We crossed the road to the seafront with a sigh of freedom.

Amazingly the guy on the cycle rickshaw was from Yorkshire! We turned down his offer to take us around Nice's back streets however... Apart from having had our fill of back streets, even with ducking the walking tour, we had only 25 minutes left before meeting the coach to return to Villefranche.

We bought ice creams and sat breathing in the ozone for a bit then set off back towards the meeting place. I quite liked the grassed tracks that the local trams had.

Our route took us uphill a little bit, This was one of Nice's shopping streets just behind the seafront.

This was our rendezvous point. Just throwing a little appropriated French-English word in there. This is Place Masséna, nicely (see what I did there?) situated just a two minute walk from the Promenade, the old town district and the modern town centre. The statue is that of Neptune the sea god.

Another view of Place Masséna. Since the tramway was constructed in 2007 the square is mostly pedestrianised apart from a road running around the statue, where the road trains run from. The trams run on electricity from overhead wires but when passing through this and other areas of beauty, they drop their pantographs to roof level and run on batteries so that the main squares of Nice are not disfigured by poles and overhead cables.

Back on the coach and heading back to Villefranche. We have decided to have lunch in Villefranche itself before heading back to the ship.

We walked along the sea wall to the restaurant we had been to before with our friends David and Jeannie and from where I had sketched the view in 2013. This time we had a meal and very nice it was too. Just a burger and chips but I was asked how I'd like the burger cooking. So refined, the French! If they had been local I'd never be away!

My sketch from 2013.

Reminders of sketches and paintings were everywhere! This was the view from the small harbour from where the tender boats to and from the ship were operating.

And my oil pastel painting from last year inspired by this view.

What? You enjoyed the photo of me on the balcony the other day so much that you want another? Ok.

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Saturday, 2 June 2018

Lost In Livorno

Wednesday 23 May 2018. We come into the port of Livorno, primarily an industrial port.

A ship to the side of our cabin is already unloading large bales of wood pulp onto lorries and has still not finished when we leave the port at eight oclock that night.

The Kaluga, off our port side, is an oil tanker, built in 2003 and registered in Liberia. I was looking online for a reason why it might be apparently pouring water out of its anchor ports all day, but without any success. Any nautically knowledgable replies will be given due consideration!

From here, tours set out by coach to both Florence and Pisa. You can even do both in one day. We've been here before a few times so this time we have decided to have a walk through Livorno itself, though that will involve getting a shuttle bus through the port as it's a large and maze-like place with lots of lorries and cranes moving about so you are not allowed to walk through the port.

The shuttle bus drops us off at a shopping mall in the centre of the (admittedly quite small) town. But we have forgotten our map and have no idea which way we are facing... We do know that the town is ringed by canals because one year we took a boat trip along them. So I assumed that if we walk in a straight line we will eventually come to a canal. All well and good. Except that Miss Franny doesn't like walking in straight lines and keeps saying "We'll go this way..." until not only do I not know which way I'm facing but I have no idea how to get back to the shuttle bus stop!

So we just set off. I know the canals go all the way round the town so we are bound to come to them sooner or later even walking in zig-zags and as long as we can eventually find our way back we'll be ok. Worst case scenario is stopping people and asking for MacDonalds which might make us appear to the Italians like the ultimate in food buffoons but would get us to the bus stop!

And look-it! A canal. Now, as I said, we have previously done a boat trip along them. But as you can see here, they are set quite low down so from a small boat you don't see much apart from the top storeys of buildings...

From today's viewpoint we could revel in the architecture of such things as doors, kerb stones, all manner of things.

The sun was bright. The temperature was climbing. My vitamin D levels were replenished to bursting. I was running out of things to say...

At around this point we crossed a road, watching for cycles which, a bit like Amsterdam, have their own little road at the side of the main road and which seem to come in both directions regardless of what side of the road you are crossing. A young lady on a bike stopped and waved us on to cross which we did with a wave. As she started to push off, I saw another bike whizzing up behind her and saved her life (well, saved her from injury at least) as the prat zoomed by just an inch or two from her.

You can have too much of a good thing - even canals, so we went in search of a drink which I found in a deserted cafe. So deserted that there was no one in sight behind the counter... I called out "Ciao!" and there was a muffled acknowledgement from the door to the kitchens and I bought drinks and we sat at a table on the pavement watching people stagger past with bags overflowing with veg and fruit from the large market hall up the road.

A bit of shade came as a relief as we headed back - or forward - to wherever we were going, because we had no idea... Hey it's not even dinner time yet, no problem!

We ended up at a huge piazza. This is (though I didn't know it at the time) the Piazza della Repubblica and confused me by being built lengthwise over a canal. I mean - fancy doing that to a man with no map! It was built in 1844, requiring the demolition of one of Livorno's old city gates and joined the centre of Livorno to the east of the town where new districts were growing.

It had statues of both Ferdinand III and Leopold II, the latter being damaged by a crowd in 1849 and thereafter removed. He was seen as a symbol of Austrian domination. We picked a street at random and followed it all the way to a familiar bit and then for the first time in my life I felt a surge of relief upon finding MacDonalds!

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