This was a trip that was planned for my husband and I, but then he passed away unexpectedly six months prior to the cruise, and it became a healing trip for my son and myself.
We arrived in Barcelona after a long flight from South Africa, the afternoon before our embarkation on the cruise. After having booked into our hotel in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, and still hyped with excitement, we decided to explore the area. What a wonderful experience! My son and I spent the evening wandering around through alleyways and piazzas, taking in the sights and sounds, till the late hours, with a feeling of absolute safety. The next morning we woke up early, and grabbed an early breakfast and some coffee at one of the local cafes. We strolled through the narrow old streets of the Gothic Quarter, fascinated by the Gothic architecture and gargoyles on almost every building. We took the opportunity to visit Barcelona Cathedral, which has the most magnificent "flying buttresses", vaulted arches, ceiling paintings, chapels, statues, paintings and stained glass windows. Having some time at our disposal, we wandered down La Ramblas, amazed at the sights and sounds and visited the food market, filling our senses with exotic smells and tastes. We then hopped on and off the underground metro trains, like seasoned locals, for a bit of sightseeing to Gaudi's magnificent architectural wonder, La Sagrada Família. This is an amazing architectural landmark, and an absolute "must see" experience for visitors to Barcelona. After a full day we headed back to our hotel in order to check out, and took a taxi to the cruise embarkation point at Barcelona harbour.
Embarkation was quick and smooth, with friendly welcoming and helpful staff. I splurged a bit on a couple of drinks packages which included beers, ciders and wine. We were shocked but pleasantly surprised at the size of the MSC Preziosa. Our cabin was neat and tidy, comfortable, tastefully decorated and had all the necessities required. This included air conditioning, interactive TV, telephone, wireless internet access (for a fee), mini bar, safe, as well as ample cupboard space. The shower room and toilet, although small as expected, was clean and more than sufficient for our needs. This was absolutely sufficient for sleeping etcetera, especially considering that we did not intend spending much time in the cabin, in any case.
Barcelona is an awesome city. Clean, vibrant and very safe, with an excellent public transport system. We strolled through the narrow old streets of the Gothic Quarter, fascinated by the Gothic architecture. We took the opportunity to visit Barcelona Cathedral, which has the most magnificent "flying buttresses", vaulted arches, ceiling paintings, chapels, statues, paintings and stained glass windows. La Ramblas, is something that must be experienced. Gaudi's magnificent architectural wonder, La Sagrada Família, is a must see.
We made use of the "Hop on, Hop off" tourist sightseeing bus. Although Marseilles has beautiful historical architecture and a vibrant cosmopolitan atmosphere, it is extremely dirty, with rubbish lying everywhere. There is a general sense of neglect and it is evident that there are many homeless people (refugees?), hanging around and sleeping under highways, bridges and derelict buildings.
Like Marseilles, Genoa is rich in historical architecture. However, parts are extremely dirty and there is a general appearance of neglect. There is definitely a problem with unsavoury characters, vagrants and pickpockets hanging around.
We arranged for a local taxi driver / tour guide to take us sightseeing to Rome. As we were a group of six people this was relatively cheaper and less limiting than any of the excursions. We ended up seeing most of the popular attractions in Rome. Many of our fellow passengers told us that we were very fortunate because we saw much more than they did.
We made use of the "Hop on, Hop off" open top tourist bus, which was relatively inexpensive. We also walked around sightseeing, with the aid of map. Wonderful historical architecture and very friendly people. Some areas however are a bit dirty and risky.
Malta was one of the highlights of our cruise. We once again engaged the services of a local taxi driver / tour guide, at a very reasonable rate. We visited Mdina, Rabat and Golden Bay, all wonderful experiences. We also went to the Hagar Qim temple archaeological site, which was a total waste of time. The entrance fee is extremely expensive and not worth it. The tour takes about ten minutes as there is very little to see. The relative inexpensive motorised dinghy tour to the Blue Grotto, was however an experience of a lifetime and one of the must do excursions on Malta.