meow! Posted April 28, 2004 #1 Share Posted April 28, 2004 continued from Part I ... The day after embarkation was a sea day. That gave people time to rest and to familiarize themselves with everything on the ship. As most passengers were from North America, it was also a welcomed opportunity to recover from jet lag. The weather was variable, and the sea was somewhat rough in the morning, but it settled down in the afternoon. In fact, throughout this two-week cruise, the weather had been unstable, changing from windy, rainy to sunshine and then back to rain again in the course of just a few hours. Before this cruise, we were under the impression that the Mediterranean Sea, being an enclosed sea, should be a lot calmer than waters open to the oceans. That turned out to be an over-simplification. In fact, it was mainly the strength of the wind that affected the waves. If the wind was strong, any significant pool of water, even Lake Huron for example, could throw up a tempest. MARSEILLE The next day we docked at Marseille, France. It was Easter Monday, and just about all shops were closed. We took a taxi tour, and the driver told us that because it was a holiday, he had to upcharge us by 30%, to 50 euros per hour. His taxi had four small lights at the top, right below the "TAXI" sign, and these lights were in different colours, signifying four different rates for weekday, holiday, day time and night time respectively, with the most expensive more than double the least expensive! He took us to a hill top cathedral, where we bought postcards and stamps to send to ourselves, as souvenirs of actually having been there. This method was cheap, memorable, and would not add to our luggage weight. Then he took us through some playground, apparently one of the few places still open on a holiday, and also around town. We noticed that throughout the Mediterranean region, just about all hotels clearly displayed their number of "stars" at the main entrance. We were told that the star ratings were granted by some quasi-official hotel association, and not simply claimed by individual hotel owners. We ate a "crepe" at a streetside stall, paying two euros. As there was not much else to do, we returned to the ship. MONACO On Tuesday, we anchored at Monaco, and tendered ashore, just to see the Silver Cloud docked right beside where our tender landed. Someone told us that Silversea had a permanent docking space in Monaco, riches could bring convenience, we guessed. From where we landed, we had to walk for five minutes to a local bus stop, where we took a bus to the downtown area. Monaco was a minuscule country with an area of only 4 km long and 1 km wide, and a population of around fifty thousand, but filled with tall concrete buildings. Real estate agencies were everywhere, advertising on condominiums which cost from one million euros for a 500 sq.ft. studio to several million euros for a 1200 sq.ft. two bedroom. There were no income or inheritance taxes, a real haven for the rich, and in stark contrast to the neighbouring French territory just a couple of blocks away, which had distinctly poorer housing and was burdened with crippling taxes. At the city centre, there were taxi stands where taxis could be hired for 60 euros per hour. We took one to the neighbouring Villefranche, and then onward to Nice, the closest city with an airport (for those who wanted to arrive at Monaco by air). Then we returned to the casino area in Monte Carlo, where we ate ice cream at a road side cafe instead of gambling. This gambling town was probably more sophisticated than even Las Vegas, so we were told. We then returned to the ship an hour before sailing time. PORTOFINO The next day we arrived at Portofino, Italy, where we again anchored. The tender took us right to the tourist landing, where there were a few acres of flatter land lined with brand name boutiques and expensive reataurants, and encircled on the other three sides (like a horseshoe facing the water) by steep rocky cliffs. We bought a couple of keychains and magnets, again light and cheap. Then we sat down for a cup of coffee and an ice cream, which in themselves were over priced. When the bill came, we discovered an additional 6 euros per person "cover charge", for the piece of table cloth cover! Naturally, we did not leave any tip. We asked the few taxis parked nearby for their rates, and were told that they would charge 120 euros per hour, and we prudently declined. This tiny enclave apparently existed solely for the tourist business. LIVERNO The next day, Thursday, we docked at Liverno, Italy. There were several taxis parked right beside the ship. We were lucky enough to meet a driver who spoke reasonable English, who was willing to give us the whole day for 220 euros. (The usual price was 310 euros for a van carrying six passengers, but it was already 11 a.m., and with only the two of us, so he was willing to take us at a reduced rate rather than waste his day.) He took us all the way to Florence in about an hour, driving on the highway at 100 to 110 km/h (speed limit 90 km/h). We stayed at the city centre for several hours, also visiting the statue of David. The male cat yielded to the female cat's wish to buy a locally made handbag, our only piece of significant purchase on this trip. Italian leather goods were usually well made, and far cheaper and therefore more worthwhile than their French brandname look-alikes. After Florence, the driver took us to Pissa, again about an hour's journey on the highway, at 110 km/h. There, we took pictures of the leaning tower (be careful from which direction you viewed the tower), and went into the neighbouring cathedral, to see Galileo's hanging lantern. Then we took the country road drive back to Liverno and our ship. The entire excursion took seven and a quarter hours, just in time for boarding again. Thinking that the effective rate was only 30 euros per hour, and the driver was nice, we tipped him 20 euros. Oceania's bus tours would cost some 150 euros or more for a couple just to go to Florence. Paying a little more, we took in both Florence and Pissa, with freedom, privacy and convenience. Taxi had always been our favourite mode of excursion. CORSICA The next day, our ship docked at Bonifacio, Corsica. It was originally scheduled to anchor, but lucky enough to dock, especially in this foul weather. We usually would not mind overcast and gentle rain, but this was something else. The torrents of pouring rain, coupled with howling winds were truly debilitating. The cruise line arranged for a bus shuttle service half way up the hill, to the small commercial area. Unfortunately, the bus stopped next to an open garage, still a block or two from the shops. Unable to run through the storm, some people just hid in the garage, waited for the next bus to come to bring them back to the ship. The weather had ruined this day, and we were faced with a rocky ride overnight to Rome the next morning. One crew member told us that the sea was rougher then than when they crossed the Atlantic a few weeks ago. CIVITAVECCHIA This is the mid-point of our cruise. We docked at Civitavecchia, and several taxis were right beside the ship soliciting for business. We aked one driver whether he could speak English, he said he could, but we ended up guessing each other most of the way. He wanted 250 euros for the day, we told him that the Florence driver charged only 220. He said because Rome was bigger, he had to charge more. While we had been to Rome, Florence and Pissa two decades ago and needn't go again, we still yielded at this opportunity and grudgingly agreed. In fact, the distance between Rome and the pier was around 80 kms, closer than the 100 kms or so between Liverno and Florence, it still took him over an hour to reach Rome. Of course, we went close to the Vatican, but didn't try to get inside because of the tremendous line up required that Saturday. Then we went to see the coliseum, some artificial stone cliff fountain, and endless statues just too numerous to remember. Finally, he took us to the Spanish Steps, with all the brand name boutiques where the female cat stayed a while just for window shopping, before returning to the ship. This excursion took seven and a half hours, but since we already had to pay 250 euros, and the driver was not really communicable, we did not further tip him. ... to be continued. 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