Mediterranean Odyssey from West to East - Barcelona to Rome
Cruising the Mediterranean is a delight in anyone's books but with over a thousand miles of seawater between the Straits of Gibraltar and the Middle East, many cruise companies offer shorter trips with a choice of cruise destinations covering either the Eastern Mediterranean or the West.
The languages, culture, religion, food and people change visibly with every port of call and the facilities on board offer some holidaymakers all they need for a relaxing break, but I wanted to see as many places as I could and discovered that, twice a year, the ships are 'repositioned' to take up new routes for the summer or winter seasons, to meet anticipated passenger demands for the two week cruise market.
This transition usually takes place in March or April and again in the Autumn as the cruise ships take up their new positions.
Mediterranean Map Showing Some of our Destinations
A few years ago, I found a cruise which fitted around my husband's work pattern that was sailing from Spain to Cyprus, taking in Italy, Malta, Greece, Egypt and Israel, finally disembarking in Limassol, Cyprus 12 days later.
As the cruise took us to several exciting places, I've divided this article up into six bite-sized chunks. although it was all one journey.
The itinerary offered several places on my wish list, now all I needed was to persuade my seafarer husband that a cruise was a good idea – not just a busman's
We booked with Cruisedeals
and chose a Thomson cruise called 'Ancient Odyssey' aboard the Thomson Celebration
. It promised visits to many ancient cities, each had something historically fascinating on its doorstep while the hustle and bustle of modern life buzzed all around.
As the cruise started in Spain, we flew from out local airport at Newcastle to Barcelona to board our ship with a chance of seeing a bit of this lovely Catalan city before we sailed that evening.
La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Barcelona
We were up at the crack of dawn, or maybe before then, to join our flight and everything seemed to be okay but at the other end there were some delays, and we joined our ship rather later than anticipated, which left us no time to see Barcelona and the lovely Gaudi Cathedral
I'd hoped to visit.
Nevertheless, the holiday had started and we sat outside on the after deck sipping our drinks until an enormous moon shone overhead. We sailed that evening towards our first destination Roma.
Colin's first drink on board
Let's get this party started
The crossing took 2 days so the first night on board was spent discovering the ship, the restaurants, choosing our excursions and enjoying the on board entertainment. I'd checked out some of the excursions at each port of call online before travelling, which helped. As I'm visually impaired, the main objective for me was making sure I could manage some of the trips that were on offer.
The on board presentations answered a lot of questions and there was an array of tours available for people of all fitness levels, hopefully something for everyone.
Dome of St Peter's in the afternoon sun
Of course the main attractions are St. Peter's Cathedral and the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
– with it's priceless works of art, especially from Renaissance period.
La Pieta by Michelangelo in the Vatican Museum
My enduring memory of my first visit to Rome is of the exquisite La Pieta by Michelangelo, which was carved from a single block of marble and which shows the desolate Mary cradling her crucified son, Jesus.
The Creation of Adam at the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo
The equally amazing Sistine Chapel, with precious artwork from Renaissance masters such as Rosselli, Boticelli and Michelangelo, who were commissioned by a series of Popes to create awe inspiring images depicting scenes from the Bible is also a 'must see'.
Then, there's the mighty Colosseum, which stands alongside the Forum as a testament to the glory of the Roman Empire. Another unmissable. If ever you create a 'bucket list' Rome has to be on there.
As we had been to Rome before we chose to just take the bus from the port of Civitavechia (which is about 2 hours drive from Rome) into the city centre and make our own way around.
We arrived just in time to hear the end of the Pope's Sunday morning address to the people in St. Peter's Square as we disembarked from our coach and received instructions from our guide on what time to be back.
St. Peter's, at the heart of the Vatican City, is about eight miles from the other attractions in Rome so, armed with a map, we travelled on the Metro system from the Vatican towards the Trevi fountains
Spanish Steps, Rome on Marathon Day 2011
What we didn't expect was that the Rome Marathon was taking place that day and there were many more people around the city than we had imagined. It all added to the magic of being in one of the world's most ancient but vibrant cities as we listened to the melodic, sing-song Italian language in full-flow as spectators called out to support the marathon runners.
Trevi Fountains in the Heart of Rome
Colin throws a coin in the Trevi Fountains
We ambled around the city streets soaking up the atmosphere and joined the throng beside the fountains and threw coins into the water to ensure our return to Rome – as romantic tradition dictates.
Not too far from there we admired the designer shops along the Via Condotti
and visited the Spanish Steps (Scala Spagna), in the heart of the city.
Restaurant prices are high in areas like this, but a few minutes walk away from the main drag, the delicious aroma of traditional Italian fare such as pizza and pasta led us to a street full of restaurants where the food was on offer for very reasonable prices. Today was a day for just 'being in Rome' and we couldn't have enjoyed it more.
Here's a video we made earlier.
We'd already worked out where the nearest Metro station was and how to get back to our pick up point so the next part was a doddle. The Rome Metro system seems to cut across the city like a big letter X with the 'Termini' station at the centre. Once you've worked that out, it's easy peasy – except that the system is not very disabled friendly. We didn't see any lifts (ascensore)
Only steps and escalators (which I find difficult).
We arrived back at our departure point near St. Peter's with plenty of time to look round the square and enjoy the afternoon sun.
Statues of the Saints around St Peter's Square
Swiss Guards at the Vatican