Azamara Journey Barcelona to Barcelona - November 9th, 2008- Or a Cautionary Tale of an Adventurous Woman with No Means
I had been eyeing the Azamara Journey's November itinerary that included Corsica AND Valencia since I first saw it earlier in the year. I thought I would never be able to make it because my work schedule would be too busy for me to take the anticipated 14 days off it would take to enjoy it. So imagine my surprise when I lost my job two weeks before the ship sailed. With the economy heading for an iceberg, I thought I would take my pleasure first, before I take my pain.
I have sailed on cruise ships before (Silversea, Princess, Windjammer Barefoot, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity), in fact, I think I am a cruise junkie. The Journey is, I think, cruise number ten or so for me. I also cruise by myself, which means I have to limit the amount of cruising I do, because it is more expensive, so I try to get the most "bang for my buck." My travel agent helped me to get an extremely good single rate on this cruise, enabling me to have a verandah cabin for less than the cost of an ocean view. I also received shipboard credit, which kept the entire amount of the cruise less than the cost of shorter cruises I have taken on other lines.
I made my own flight arrangements, so I have only myself to blame for going through Heathrow (do not do that...it is so annoying), but I highly recommend Expedia, because they allow you to book a hotel for fewer days than your flight plans. I was able to book the round-trip flight from San Francisco and hotel for the night for less than others paid for a round-trip ticket. The hotel I stayed at, the Vincci Maritimo Barcelona, was a very chic, three-star, high-styled newer hotel, near the trendy Diagonal shopping center. A Metro stop was literally at the corner, so I was able to poke around Barcelona after a night's sleep. I took in the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Gaudi masterpiece of a cathedral. I walked the Ramblas and took in the Barcelona energy. The Spanish have a beautiful city with lots of history to embrace.
I was filled with anticipation as the taxi sped me to the ship at around 2:30 pm on Sunday. The pier was not crowded. The security people were unhurried. As I walked up the gangplank, I was struck by how the ship reminded me of a home. The size does not pretend to overwhelm you, as do the megaships. Instead, there is a cozy feeling. A young steward with Champagne who led to my cabin greeted me. My butler emerged and introduced himself, pointing out all the amenities that awaited me. I was in 7029 on the Starboard side, a bit forward. My cabin was gorgeous. Mirrors tricked the eye to think the room was larger than it was. The slider to the verandah opened effortlessly to let me breathe in the sea air....ahh...home again! Every nice day I was out on that verandah for breakfast. Every rainy day I had breakfast in the cabin. It was only toward the end of the cruise that I ever went to the ninth floor Cafe for the elaborate and extensive breakfast fare that most passengers raved about. For me, the ease and quiet of rising and having coffee in my room was an exercise I enjoyed.
As many other reviewers will tell you, the bathroom is small. If there are two of you traveling, you will probably notice how small the quarters are, but for those of you who travel solo like me.....jackpot! The toiletries, by Elemis, are very nice. My butler brought me extras so I have some for home.
I felt the sail-off was a bit subdued, but then, I think people may have still been exploring the ship. I don't think I realized how many people were on the ship at any time other than at the muster. People really kept to themselves, and I never noticed a crowd or a line at anything.
First night dinner I was the guest of a gracious hostess, Doreen Allen. We met at the muster, and I joined her group of sartorially splendiferous, well-travelled friends for my first of twelve gourmet nights of dinners. I just have to tell you that there is not a bad meal on this ship. Although I took the chance to go to both Prime C and Acquaviva, which are sumptuous and the service is a lesson in attentiveness, I would say that you are experiencing fine dining in the Main Dining Room, so if don't get to the specialty restaurants, you will be fine. The veal chop is wondrous. If it's on the menu, you must have it.
Our first port, Marseilles, has a reputation of being a motley, somewhat unsavory place. I intended to go inland to Aix en Provence, but instead ended up touring Marseilles for the day. It was wonderful! I think when I had tried to visit it by road before it had seemed forbidding and dark, but from the sea, it was just another port town, full of fish restaurants, cafes, bars, churches, and relics just like any other port.
Monaco is an access point for Nice, St. Paul de Vence, Eze, or other interesting places. That it has to be its own little gambling principality is its own business.
Portofino drowned in November rain and began the rainy weather we had throughout Italy. The stalwart village faces the sea in its tones of ochre, red, and tan. I highly recommend you take a look at the mausoleum behind the chapel in Portofino. You'll see pictures of the residents, now passed, in their prime. Most are life-long fishermen, or sturdy wives, legacies of families, and some young children. Off in a separate section in the rear of the area, set off by an iron gate, is the Protestant cemetery.
A word of caution? If it's rainy, be very careful when walking up and down the stone stairways. I twisted my ankle and was just glad to be able to get back to the ship. If you are unlucky enough to hurt yourself in this way, the Medical Clinic keeps walking boots that will allow you to walk, in a fashion, without crutches. (They'll charge you $30.00 until you return the boot).
At our next port, Livorno, many tours went to Florence or Pisa and other passengers made their own arrangements. Just a word of caution on bus tours from Livorno to FlorenceThere isn't time to spend as much time as you might like, even in such off peak times, in the Academia and the Uffizi. With commute time thrown in, there is just time to gloss over the many sights of Florence. The shore excursions from the ship cost $700 for a couple....$350 per person. Some passengers were very disappointed. I heard other passengers were very satisfied by private arrangements they made in smaller groups.
Civitavecchia is a friendly small town in itself, and I was willing to forego Rome because of my self-imposed handicap (the boot), however, I managed to stump to the train station, and was able to buy a birg, an all day ticket for train/bus/metro for $9. I ended up leaving the train at Trestavere, where I took a streetcar further into Rome. I then walked up to the Piazza Rotunda, smack into a student demonstration protesting cuts in education. The students were intent on being heard by banging pots, waving flags, and shouting slogans, Police were out, helicopters surveyed from overhead, and Italy expressed itself. I continued up to the Trevi Fountain where no protesters could ruffle the calm of the falling waters around the beautiful sculptured horses and men. I made it up to the Metro station and took it to Roma Termini. I caught the 5:17 to Civitavecchia, due to arrive at 6:37. The ship was scheduled to sail at 6:45. I stumped off the train at 6:37, frantically looked for the tax driver who was not in his taxi cab in front of the station. Three minutes later he appeared and asked, "did you want a taxi?'" We sped toward the ship with me urging him to go faster all the while. He pulled up in front of the ship. The steward opened the taxi door, and as I boarded I was told "no hurry, we are still waiting for one more person." I have never been that late to board—and had pictured myself hiring a fishing boat to catch up to the Journey on its way to Corsica.
In Corsica it was still raining. The Moorish looking profile of Bonifacio rose to a height along the Corsican coast. Corsica is a very wild and interesting place, but off season, it is hard to grasp the feeling of the Corsican culture. The launch took us to the dock in front of the old fort of Bonifacio, and the ship offered us a shuttle for $8 that was available to us all day. Well, the shuttle only went about a quarter mile at best, albeit steeply, and was only used by most people once. A group of passengers had formed and our "band of gypsies" from San Francisco, Roseville, Connecticut, Minnesota (and sometimes Charleston), did our best to explore the streets and paths along the Bonifacian coast. I noted some of the Corsican specialties for sale, such as knives, wine and jewelry with a shell in the center. There were also some wonderful little French clothing shops with horrific Euro prices. The rain was daunting though, and I am afraid that Bonifacio got short shrift on the exploration that day.
The next day we arrived at Malaga, Spain. Known for its beaches and its location in the Spanish Costa del Sol, I loved this small, ornate city. I hiked up to the ancient Muslim fortress above the city, the Gibralfaro, and walked along the parapets where soldiers must have defended the fort easily. I looked down at the bull fighting ring and the sculptured gardens with its promenade below. I was reminded of how life must have been along this seaside promenade long ago. It is still a lively port. I found my way to Antigua Casa de Guardia, on the main promenade. Opened in 1840, this wine tasting establishment is a way station for locals and tourists alike. Oak casks behind the counter hold wines and ports of local vintage and they are very good. For one euro, you can have a glass of wine. On the wall behind the casks is a picture of John Wayne bellying up to the counter of this popular place.
Our first day at sea was a lovely opportunity to savor the amenities of the ship. The Library was full of current titles. The fitness center had lots of machines, all in good working order, and fitness experts who conducted classes in pilates and yoga. Bingo sessions thrived. The Trivia Teams were fiercely knowledgeable. The Art at Sea Auctioneer passed out champagne. The Captain had a reception that was well attended. At 4 o' clock, on my way to Tea, I passed a couple on the stairs. The husband was remarking that he thought they would have so much time to do things today and where did the time go? It seemed the ship was endlessly fascinating.
Sometime after nightfall, during dinner, we passed the Rock of Gibraltar, on our way to Casablanca in Morocco. It was a good thing there were stabilizers on the ship, as everyone raced to look out the starboard windows.
In Casablanca, I bought a ticket to the land tour of Casablanca and the Hassan II Mosque, hearing that the mosque was one of the largest in the world and one of the most opulent. Indeed, the mosque is quite impressive. It can accommodate 50,000 men inside the mosque, and 75,000 men outside in the courtyard. Oh, and 5,000 women up in the rafters on the second floor. And, come to think of it, where were the women? Occasionally, we would see a pair of shrouded women getting into a taxi, or in a car, but very few women in public. Only men sitting in tea bars, in stores, asking us for tips, taking us into tourist shops. The bus tour took us proudly into the wealthy section of Casablanca, and into the neighborhood by the king's palace.
Back on the ship, the mood was very mixed. Most people had not enjoyed Casablanca that much. Those who had gone into the souk (the REAL souk, and not the tourist stores the tour guides deposited us at) came back with stories, both good and bad, of what they saw. The souks can be very earthy the farther back into them you go.
We passed the Rock of Gibraltar in daylight the next morning. It was impressive, if partly shrouded in clouds. The amount of ship traffic was amazing. The passage between Gibraltar and the mountains of the North African coast cannot be more than 3 miles. As the day passed, we made our way toward Valencia, our last port on the return to Barcelona.
Valencia is an exciting city of contrasts, and my main reason for choosing this trip. I had seen the unreal pictures of Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences in a magazine and had to see it with my own eyes. Architect Santiago Calatrava suspended all rules, it seems in constructing this masterpiece of a public esplanade where museums, theatres, aquarium and open spaces are housed in buildings that inspire. Reflecting pools mirror arching steel structures and lines and curves jut everywhere. The aquarium complex takes hours to visit—I took three hours to visit all the parts, for a ticket price of $25.00. The dolphin show is impressive, as are most of the exhibits. This was only the second time I have seen Sea Dragons in an aquarium.
Near the complex is one of the Calatrava's famous bridges that challenges the engineering world. There are five, I believe, in the city.
I was energized by this city that apparently considers art and architecture as important basic elements. I visited the Museum of Fine Arts (free admission) as well as their gorgeous tiled train station before heading back to the ship.
I began to miss the ship on the last night, as I said goodbye to friends, and realized how quickly I had come to like the ship, and how quickly the staff, the cruise director and the officers had learned my name. I thought about how I would miss coming to my lovely stateroom, finding the bed turned down and my fresh fruit waiting. I'd miss sliding open the balcony door and sitting out in the sea air. I'm still fantasizing about the veal chop for dinner.
So, as I brave the worsening job market, I will be motivated to get my next job, if only to pay for my next cabin on the Journey.
Ciao bella! Read Less