Our arrival in Civitavecchia, Italy was welcomed with more than excitement. I was ECSTATIC! Stoked to rid myself of the kids who burdened us the entire crossing and stoked to welcome my parents aboard for their first time in Europe! Before work started that day, Rob, the DJ and I headed out to get a couple quick photos, browse the market, and get a delicious subway sandwich. The market had all kinds of wonderfully fresh produce, bread, and cheeses of which we purchased enough to total at least $15 in an American grocery store, yet the total only came to a welcomed surprise of only about six euros.
Spending the next day with mom and dad in Palermo, Sicily was so wonderful but we got a bit turned around unfortunately and after maybe two and a half hours looking for either the catacombs or the archeological museum, resorted to a taxi to assist us in the search of our preferred destination, the Capuchin Catacombs, created in the sixteenth century. Of course we didn’t wander in circles for the whole two hours, we had yummy pizza and mouth-watering gelato to hold us over. We finally arrived at a blocked off entrance to the catacombs after talking down the cab fare to half as much and him assuring us the tourist hotspot was open. Turns out there were another forty minutes before the workers returned from siesta. I guess none of us really knew what catacombs truly were… I suspected maybe some statuettes of remembrance, tombs, and perhaps elaborate caskets and memorial plaques. Nope. We descended into the cool air of the massive grave only to be confronted with decomposed bodies hanging off the walls in gridded increments everywhere we looked, clothed in scraps rotten and eroded from centuries of stillness. The remains of 8,000 mothers, fathers, children, soldiers, monks, elders, and babies hung, laid, or were posed throughout the entirety of the cave-like structure. Nothing kept the wandering tourist hand from holding its skeletal counterpart except for the eerie concept. Despite the grotesque, twisted bodies and features, the catacombs were well lit, providing an unobstructed glimpse at each and every horrid pose these poor corpses were positioned in. Needless to say that was probably not only my first time visiting catacombs, but also probably my last time.
In our next port of Tunisia, we opted to hire a private cab to take us to some of the better-known sites, but unfortunately the driver led us to too many uncomfortable shopping situations – markets where we were hassled, followed, even insulted. We did see a few nice views but overall we weren’t too impressed with the treatment we received. I understand that as foreigners from distinguished countries, we depict a stereotype of having money out of our ears, but in reality, we didn’t come to purchase useless cheap trinkets imported from other countries. I am all for supporting underdeveloped economies, but I’d almost rather make a donation than be bothered by vendors to by stuff I’m not interested in. I really had hoped to learn more about the culture and customs of the area and would normally not be in a rush to return to the comfort of our ship, but I have to admit that relief was in the air when we began heading back. I can only say no and be hassled for it so many times.
After our lone sea day we headed out in Barcelona for an exhausting day of gorgeous views, architecture, and tapas! The amazing Spanish coastal city provided a fantastic distraction from some potentially serious happenings on the home front (I am proud to report back with positive news). We met mom and dad beneath the iconic Columbus statue after being released from an inconvenient, last minute abandon ship drill. Luckily not too much time passed and before we knew it we were on the top floor of a double decker hop on hope off bus watching the city go by. Since the 1992 Olympics took place in Barcelona, the city had been built up to accommodate and continues to remain a beautiful hub for art and recreation. Sculptures and biking paths line the streets. Green space and trees are found in the city center as well, offsetting the numerous beautifully crafted buildings and shopping districts. We took a side trip to the century-old Segrada Familia, the famous basilica often affiliated with the Spanish city. While impressive, I had seen it so many times in photos that in real life I guess it didn’t strike me as breathless, but I should probably read up on it more to fully appreciate it… That day happened to be a holiday so all the locals as well as tourists and cruisers were out and about as well, plus all the shops were closed. Good thing shopping wasn’t our goal. After a long day walking and riding around, mom and dad left us to take the sky tram while we went for a short walk down the famous Remblas to find Rob a chocolate shop his cravings couldn’t resist. On the way back to the port shuttle, the streets were blocked off and full of police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, a crane, and even a helicopter. It was the strangest thing. We aren’t exactly sure of the story but it there was some sort of emergency at the top of the Christopher Columbus statue that required assistance. We didn’t stick around to see what happened but heard from others that it ended positively. Thank goodness! I would definitely spend a lot more time in Barcelona if I could – maybe eventually in the future.
Unfortunately, I spent the following port of Monte Carlo, Monaco on board working all day, but I am so thankful that my wonderful team allowed me only one day of work instead of several. All I can say is that from the tenth deck, starboard side, the city is gorgeous! And I think mom and dad had a great time, took lots of pretty photos, and enjoyed their two overpriced pizzas they shared with Rob.
Since our final full day in port had been changed from Santa Margherita to La Spezia, Italy due to changes in anchoring laws within protected marine environments (most likely due to the fact that the keel of the Concordia is now resting on a marine wildlife reserve), our plans weren’t really solidified until just before heading to bed the night before we dropped anchor. With options between a nearly 3 hour round-trip jaunt to Pisa and its leaning tower – you know, the one that no one has ever heard of; a maybe thirty minute trip each way to Portofino (where we had planned on going before the itinerary shuffle); and a last minute idea to take the local train to the coastal medieval towns of Cinque Terre. I am so so so pleased to say we settled on the last idea. Fifteen minutes tendering to shore; twenty-five minutes walking to the station; twenty minutes waiting on the platform; thirty minutes riding the train; and sixty minutes wandering around until Rob joined us in town. First of all, the weather could not have been more perfect for our adventure in which we knew not much about. While waiting for Rob’s train to arrive, mom and I marveled at the diamond-like glittering of the sand under the bright sun; and collected sea glass and washed-up pieces of mosaics and tiles from the beach. Gorgeous views surrounded us, spotted with ancient walls and towers that no doubt protected the coved town of Monterosso, the furthest of the five villages from La Spezia, for centuries. We walked a very short portion of the famous hiking path that takes nearly 5 hours to complete, probably only 15 minutes of it and it definitely required effort – narrow, steep walkways up the sides of cliffs that drop off into the churning water dozens of yards below. We decided to head back for a drink on the water to soak up the sites a bit more before returning to La Spezia, and thus ending our final day in port together.
It’s clear that my parents’ first time in Europe (and North Africa) provided wonderful memories, opportunities, and of course lots of photos. I am so pleased to have shared it with them I think it is safe to say that they have the European travel bug. I know mom plans on being back on the ship with us before the end of the summer! Let’s hope it pans out! I will miss having them around more than I can say but I know that my bank account, liver, and sleeping patterns will enjoy a break from the whirlwind of entertaining, exploring, and working. Only one month from today until Rob’s lovely family joins us for the day in Newcastle! We are so grateful our families have been able to visit this contract. It’s such a rarity to get even one visitor. So lucky!