Thursday, 31 May 2018

A Wander Through Palermo, Sicily

Monday 21 May 2018. Marella Explorer is on her first cruise. We are on Marella Explorer. At eight o'clock in the morning she slides into Palermo after a day at sea and we prepare for the first port of our cruise.

We have no excursion booked for today. We've never been here before so will just get off the ship and have a walk round. The map we got from Destinations Services last night shows a few things of interest.

This is our first chance to see the pointy end of the ship without walking off the dock into the water and almost everyone stops on their way out of the port to take a photo or two. A great many taxi drivers, bus reps and more desperate men eager to give piggy back rides are waiting to accost us outside the port gates. It doesn't put them off having watched us refuse a score of their colleagues before we reach them. We have to cross the road and get into the city streets before leaving them behind.

I read that Palermo is not the richest of cities. Not that I'm entirely certain what makes a city rich... There are some wonderful buildings and some areas of poverty but that is surely true of most cities? I find these little quirky kiosks enchanting and even the wall full of old overlaid posters on the left adds somehow to the city's character.

But amongst the more neglected areas are some green oases, piazzas and impressive buildings with some good architecture. We came off the ship armed with a map but having plunged into the streets straight way to avoid the press of taxi drivers etcetera, we ended up heading off at an angle to where we wanted to go. This is the Politeama Theatre which holds an audience of 950 and was opened in 1874. The statuary over the entrance represents the Triumph of Apollo and Euterpe, flanked by two knights on horseback.

Before the theatre is a statue of Ruggero Settimo a Counter-Admiral of the Sicilian Navy who retook Malta from the Napoleonic forces and who later became Prime Minister of Sicily following the 1848 revolution that brought about the independent Sicilian Kingdom. This did not last more than a few months however and he spent the next 12 years in exile in Malta, returning to act as the first President of the Italian Senate following the Unification of Italy.

We sat on the low wall to the right whilst I got my bearings on the map and worked out which direction we needed to go to find the old cathedral of Palermo.

Setting off again, we soon came to the Massimo Theatre. This opened in 1897 as the largest opera house in Italy. Above the seating of the stalls there are six galleries of seating. An audience of 1381 can be accommodated.

The final scene of Godfather III was shot here.

Another old kiosk, housing a news stand and tobacconists shop.

Whilst the Mediterranean area certainly gets the heat, it is a dryer heat than we get in the UK and more conducive to the longevity of ancient cast iron lamp posts.

Our route to the old cathedral took us through a maze of narrow streets, most half the width of this at the most and filled with market stalls and the bustle of people, scooters and dogs. We got lost and were trying to head back to the main streets when we overheard someone pointing out the way to the cathedral to someone else. We followed the path indicated!

One stall had a section of tuna, cut crosswise behind the gills. It was at least 12 inches in diameter. Here, we have reached the cathedral area and a protected section of Roman mosaic flooring.

The Roman paving was just to the side of the cathedral grounds and was behind me as I took this photograph. Palermo Cathedral was first built in 1185 though most of what is visible today dates from the 14th and 15th centuries and a great twenty-year project from 1781-1801.

The grounds were well laid out and there were lots of people walking about. A group of novice nuns were taking turns to dance with visitors and then take group selfies with a great deal of laughter and enjoyment. I don't know what they are going to do about Maria...

The portico of the main entrance dates from c1465.

The cathedral is connected to the Archbishops' Palace by arches across the street.

Porta Nuova. It was originally built in the 1400s, and after Emperor Charles V's visit in 1535 after defeating Tunis it was rebuilt in a more ambitious style in 1583/4. Unfortunately it was burned down in 1667 but was rebuilt once more two years later.

On the other side there are two pairs of telamons (supports in the shape of human figures) in the form of the defeated Moors.

Under the canopy glimpsed in the previous photo we stop for a latte machiatto - our favourite Italian beverage (though Limoncello comes close...)

The Praetorian Fountain was built in Florence in 1554 and in 1573 was bought complete with statues by the Senate of Palermo. It was dismantled into 644 pieces and arrived in Palermo the following year, requiring the demolition of several buildings to create a space for it. Unfortunately some statues had been damaged in transit and others were missing altogether so it was 1581 before it took its present appearance.

We walked the length of Via Vittorio Emanuelle which took us downhill all the way to the coast near the port.

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Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Marella Explorer Inaugural Cruise Sailaway

Saturday 19 May 2018. Having joined the Marella Explorer in Palma de Mallorca for her first ever cruise under that name, 10:00pm saw us on our cabin's balcony to watch the gap between ship and dock widen as we cast off.

As we slid away from the dockside and began to turn round in the dock there was a huge explosion and we jumped out of our skin. Luckily the reason was clear to us. Anyone on a balcony on the other side of the ship must have experienced a moment's nervous shock before they realised that fireworks from the dock were celebrating the ship's first cruise in style.

As the ship slowly swung about her length we got the full effect of the display.

It carried on until we had turned about 180 degrees meaning that the ship's bow was now pointing in the direction of the exit past the harbour wall.

Meanwhile Aida Prima, still moored opposite our recently vacated berth was in full party mode with Katy Perry's Firework song clearly coming across the water.

Her own light show was fairly spectacular!

It certainly showed up that of the tanker moored behind her! We were moving a bit more quickly here so a bit of blur crept into the photo. I'll try harder next time...

We leave the harbour with the coastline of Palma behind and an aeroplane climbing into the sky, having just taken off, in the centre of the photograph. We will spend Sunday at sea as we cross the Mediterranean to Sicily, docking at Palermo on Monday morning.

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Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Marella Explorer Cruise Ship

Having introduced the cruise yesterday, almost the first thing we did, as it was a new ship to the fleet, was to nip round taking some photos. However it's such a big ship that the following photos are from throughout the week 19-26 May.

Although we boarded her in Palma de Mallorca, Marella Explorer was too long to get a good photo from the dock. This was taken a couple of days later, in Palermo, Sicily. Explorer started life as MV Galaxy in 1996 for Celebrity Cruises, being renamed Celebrity Galaxy in line with company policy in 2008.

In 1998 the BBC featured her in their programme The Cruise, which made a star out of onboard singer Jane McDonald. She (the ship) transferred to TUI as Mein Schiff in 2009 and became Mein Schiff 1 a year later when the company mislaid their imagination and named another ship Mein Schiff 2 - unfortunately something they thought was a good idea to be replicated about the fleet... We are on her first cruise as Marella Explorer. Explorer 2 will be along before all that long.

Miss Franny is in Cabin 9108 on Deck 9. Luckily it is our cabin or someone would have been annoyed... We have a balcony with two chairs, a table and a hammock. I don't think I'll be clambering in and out of a hammock somehow...

In the middle of the ship is a high atrium, stretching upwards from Deck 5 where the Reception Desk and Destination Services are, up to Deck 8 which has a Gamer Zone for people with twiddly thumbs and The Attic which houses a library.

On the way up, Deck 6 has a Coffee Shop around the atrium space and Deck 7 has the Broad Street Shops. Gents should be wary in this area...

Against the wall of the atrium is a three storeys high video screen which shows scenes such as seascapes and waterfalls and which can be very spectacular.

There is a selection of seating around the ship! This is a decorous way of sitting on it... Others chose to curl along it! (Actually Miss Franny did shortly after this photo...)

There seemed to be pianos all over the place! But only one pink one. The Lounge was on Deck 6 between the atrium and the main restaurant which we shall see in a moment.

This little space is located between the Lounge and the restaurant lifts on Deck 6.

Latitude 53 is the name of the spectacular restaurant which occupies the rear of the ship on Decks 5 and 6.

Yet another piano sits on a space halfway down the steps from one level to the other and we heard it tinkling a couple of times as we had our evening meal.

Looking forwards from the stern windows. We ate in here every night on the row of tables for two against the wooden partition on the right. This was the station of waiter Rohman and his team.

The Squid and Anchor, at the rear of Deck 7, was a version of an English pub. I helped lighten the load of cans of Guinness a few times here...

Our corridor. This is half only of the full length of the ship as the cabins at either end of the ship had smaller balconies and the corridor fore and aft was closer to the side of the ship and out of sight here.

Way up at the top of the ship, Deck 12 had a Crazy Golf course!

Looking down from the gallery on Deck 12 over the Pool Deck on Deck 11, we are dodging the fitter passengers as there is a jogging track around the opening to Deck 11. I can't remember just how many times it was to run a mile, but if you were training for a marathon you'd have been dizzy before being tired! Keep an eye open for the biggest rubber duck on the seven seas!

The same view from the other end. On balmy evenings you could watch films on the big screen. Here it is showing something called "Virtual Band" - studio recordings of a live band on a stage. These featured in some of the bars and as a musician myself I was disappointed that a bigger ship and more bars did not mean more live bands and musicians. There was no atmosphere with the films; you couldn't interact or ask for requests and applauding was meaningless, not that anyone did... It's stuff like this that makes modern audiences so unthinking when seeing a live artist - talking loudly, never applauding and being so ignorant as to approach mid song to talk to the artist. How on earth do they think you can talk and sing at the same time? There should have been at least two party bands onboard and more cabaret-style singers/duos.

The Indigo Bar (Indigo / Outdicome) was aimed at younger cruisers.

It had a nightclub with booths and dancefloor and sometimes hosted "silent discos" which I surmise (I didn't try it) means you wear headphones and dance to your own choice of music whilst texting and trying to avoid any actual contact with (ugh!) another human being. What a world we are creating...

Indigo also has the onboard casino. On our second ever cruise in 2005 I won £75 on the last night and immediately cashed in my chips and haven't gambled since then. No point in pushing my luck...!

Coming down to Deck 11, this is the bar that faces the pool. The pool area is smaller and with far less seating than the older ships in the fleet. Probably because with so many cabins having balconies that it was felt unnecessary. I recommend reading Isaac Asimov's book The Naked Sun to see what happens eventually when people become too scared to be in the presence of another human. But then... how many younger people read books these days?

Luckily there are still several places where you can happily nudge accidentally and bump into and even talk and make friends with other people on the ship. It's a very rewarding exercise. The Market Place on Deck 11 is the informal self-service restaurant. We used it when on excursions that were too early a start to allow us to use the waiter service restaurant in Latitude 53.

Marella Dream remains my favourite ship in the fleet, though I suspect we will find ourselves on the bigger ships again at some point. Meanwhile I'm looking forward to another trip on the Celebration later on in the year! Blimey - and I haven't told you all about this trip yet!

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