Crystal Cruise, Part 3: Greece, Croatia and Italy
I'm checking in today on the last -- gasp! -- day of my Crystal Serenity cruise. In this newsletter, I will cover the ports visited during the second half of my Mediterranean cruise. I left off last time in Sorrento, in the shadow of Vesuvius, and from there we sailed to Greece.
The port of Katakalon is the gateway to Olympia, home of the ancient Olympics. I've been to the archaeological museum there and to the site of the original Olympic stadium, where games were first held in 776 BC. I highly recommend them both.
While some of my family went to stand in the footsteps of the early Olympians, my wife and I opted for the ship's excursion to a nearby beach, which included the use of the facilities at a luxury hotel and a long swim in the Ionian Sea. The water was perfect.
Then we were off to one of the highlights of the itinerary as far as I am concerned, an island I first visited as a college backpacker, on the $10-A-Day Plan.
Corfu is rugged and scenic, and its green and heavily forested hills are a stark contrast to many arid Greek islands such as Mykonos and Santorini.
Olive trees grace the valleys and low-lying areas, and beaches ring much of the island, both sandy and rocky varieties. Several of the beaches are easily accessible, but the most spectacular require a steep climb in and out.
We took a strenuous mountain bike ride that ran along the coastline before winding up into the hills, through clusters of faded, pastel-colored homes. The maximum elevation of the mountains on Corfu is 3,000 feet, and there are many excellent vantage points. Albania is only two miles off the coast and clearly visible most of the time.
I really, truly love Corfu, the friendly people and the gentle pace of life. I've wondered many times if the island was as beautiful as I remembered. I know now that it is.
From Greece, we sailed north to the picture-perfect Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia, where it's easy to lose yourself for a day in the narrow alleyways, historic churches, art galleries, shops and restaurants.
The self-guided audio tour along the high wall that surrounds the city is worthwhile, though it requires a good bit of stair climbing. Maybe it's the light, or maybe it's just me, but somehow colors seem richer here. From the top of the wall, the views of the red-tiled roofs and the deep-blue Adriatic Sea are spectacular.
We sailed on to Trieste, Italy's second oldest city, barely a hundred miles from Venice. It's perfectly laid out for cruise passengers, as ships dock across from the main square and a dozen shopping streets are within easy walking distance. There are tempting outdoor restaurants on three sides of the square and on the numerous pedestrian-only avenues in the area.
Trieste is a friendly place, but there's not a lot happening. In the morning, we jogged through the town and to the castle on top of the hill overlooking the harbor. In the afternoon, we hit the shopping district, and though I'm not much of a shopper, I managed to purchase my only souvenir of the trip -- Italian shoes.
They looked fairly normal surrounded by all the other Italian shoes, but back in our stateroom, beside my other clothes, they reminded me of the shoes Dorothy tapped together to get home to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz. Look out, Houston, here we come.
In the evening, the town of Trieste graciously saluted our ship's visit with a fireworks display in the harbor, which we watched from our balcony.
All of which brings us to Venice, our final destination. We arrived this morning and docked on the Grand Canal near San Marcos Square, the center of everything.
The square and the broad pedestrian boulevard along the Grand Canal were absolutely packed with tourists and counterfeit-purse peddlers, but relief was waiting only one block back from the water. There, the alleys are shaded and cooler and have fewer people, the shops and restaurants are not crowded and the real character of this unique city shines through.
We hired a gondolier for some water-level sightseeing, ate spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti and clams) alfresco and plowed down as many alleys and across as many bridges as we could.
Quite a few cruises begin or end in Venice, and some (like ours) include an overnight docked in town to allow passengers more time to explore. After dinner this evening, we'll head out for a stroll as the sun sets. When the lights come on, Venice is mesmerizing.
Tomorrow, I am homeward bound. To all my readers who have not yet cruised this region of the world, I say come to the Mediterranean if you can, and let the waves of history wash over you.
Stroll the stone streets of Mallorca, and pause in the shade of an olive tree that was alive when Columbus sailed.
Stare down at the killing floor of the Colosseum, where the grandeur met the cruelty of the Roman Empire.
Bike the switchback hills of Corfu. Swim in the Ionian Sea.
We'll help you see it all in a state of perfect serenity, Crystal-style.
Vacations To Go
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Crystal Cruise, Part 1: Mallorca, Rome and Sorrento
Crystal Cruise, Part 2: On board Crystal Serenity