AFLOAT AMONG NATIONS

May 30, 2010 in Mediterranean | Comments (19)

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The towering figure of MSC Magnifica

(This is a wrap-up on the earlier posts onboard MSC Magnifica on the Mediterranean – 24 April to 1 May.)

MSC Magnifica is a gleaming white, brand new queen of a ship with a vast interior loaded with everything you expect on a cruise – from pools, bars, restaurants and shops to gym, spa, casino, cinema and a theatre that holds 1500 people. Towering up to the 13th and 15th floors, the boat offers 1500 cabins most with private balconies.

We  cruised for seven nights – an adventure in multicultural living.

The ship bubbled and simmered with voices, like a veritable Tower of Babel. Occasionally a loudspeaker would boom into higher life, like a god in the sky:  “Bonjourno”.  Italian would be followed by English, French, Russian and other tongues.

In the a la carte restaurant included in the fare, we found ourselves among quiet Swedes needing to shout a little to compete with the background of more talkative nations. In the buffet restaurant the voices seemed to ricochet everywhere.

But we had our retreat – our cabin high up on the 10th floor was a pleasant and comfortable home – with wall to wall windows and drapes, and the luxury of our own balcony where we sat in sun and wind  away from the crowds on the decks. The bathroom had place for our make-up and the shower was always hot. At night we fell asleep with the sound of the waves.

Other places where luxury of calm prevailed were the spa, hairdresser and beauty salon and some decks that mysteriously remained quiet.

Magnifica has a happy lively feel – but since the main thrust is touring, the partying is quite serene. You are tired at the end of the day, and after a long dinner  plus one of the nightly shows,  you take a few drinks at the bar, browse in the shops,  or sip some decaf – and head to bed. And . I didn’t see a single drunk person – quite a contrast to some cruises I might name…

The route 24 April to 1 May brought a tantalizing taste of different cultures – inviting further travel to  Venice, Bari, Katokolon, Izmir, Istanbul, Dubrovnik, Venice… and tours took you to ancient ruins like Ephesus and Olympia, cathedrals, mosques and markets.

Tours were well organized in an Italian kind of way, considering the vast numbers to get off the one or two gangplanks on arrival at ports. For those of us who chose to go our own way, freedom was sweet, but a little overshadowed by the fear of not getting back to the boat in time (and the difficulty of finding where the boat would dock).

MSC Magnifica is in pristine condition, and they have thought of everything to provide luxury – except perhaps the reception. They need not one, but 10 reception desks to get up to luxury level for all those 2500 passengers. It’s hard to be caring and answer all questions when you have such a pressure of people, and such a range of passenger nationalities.

There was so much to do and explore onboard that you could spend seven nights there and still not see it all.  My favourite spot was one of the deck bars where I drank hot, fragrant latte macchiato (only 1.9 eur), with nut icecream on the side. The air under the retractable glass cover was relaxingly humid like a Finnish sauna, though the noise level was more Italian. There was also a vast deck with glass sides for shelter, and others higher up. Hundreds of sunbeds were dotted around ( usually taken) and bubbling Jacuzzis and imitation palms added a kind of lazy lushness here and there.

The décor is extraordinary – kind of art deco fringed with glitz. The theme is waves and ripples, so the walls all curl and sweep around, and every surface is decorated with wave-like mouldings and textures, with colours changing as new spaces open, and little lights studding the roofs. It does suggest action – and action there was.

All the time something is going  on with 2500 passengers being treated to nightly bands, ensembles, concerts, gala dinners, markets…and the all important ”travel agency” where you crowd around some girls trying to rapidly sell tours. A constant topic of conversation at meals is what tours you will do at the next port. We shared information as information was hard to come by.

Passengers – who are they? Italians were the biggest contingent, Croatians, Swiss, Germans, Austrians, Swedes  – those are the ones I met. But I heard Russian, French, Spanish … and others I cannot name.

Age range on our cruise was wide – with very few young singles, but lots of couples with young children (playroom, children’s pool, underwater world, video arcade). There was also quite a contingent of active pensioners – who enjoyed the tours, dressed up for dinner, watched the shows and sunned on their balconies when time was over, looking very healthy and rosy….

I met a Swiss woman Margaretha Weber who flew her daughter back to Zurich from Istanbul, as she felt there were too few people her age (18) – and felt the disco at midnight was too late after all the early risings.

A little questionnaire I carried out among 6 Swedish passengers gave the reception the lowest points:

Average number stars  out of 5:  Service 5, Shows 5,  Ship facilities 4.8, Cabins  4.3, Food 3.9, Reception 3. Most excursions were considered good.

Service refers to mealtimes. There were four restaurants (one buffet and one a la carte were included in the fare). The waiters, all from Bali I was told, were totally attentive and tried so hard you wanted to cry on their behalf if they made a mistake.

For a day by day account – see the old posts under the blog written on MSC Magnifica.


More tapas and palaces

May 9, 2010 in Spain | Comments (0)

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Saturday 8 May  (Madrid – continued)

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A long day of exploration.

We walked a huge circle for 6 hours, with little stops. Starting after a leisurely breakfast at La Rotunda, Westin Palace,  we walked up the area rich in tapas bars (Barrio de las Letras). Along C. del Prado, watching the area get more tired and more closed and graffiti decorated, till we came to a wide open square Plaza Mayor surrounded gracefully by low buildings with spires and arches. The old city area Madrid de los Austrias is a confusion of small streets in every direction. We found a tiny square with trees and stopped  out of the cold wind at sunny tables for a drink.

Finally, the stated destination of our walk emerged: a very big wedding cake eruption of pale stone called Palatio Real.  The view from here was recommended by the concierge  – we glimpsed green hills and smoky mountains through the iron gates, but did not feel like joining the queue to get in. Free opera was in process in front of the real palace, with the most extraordinary voice radiating out into the ether. Among others she sang Carmen, which was so haunting in its Spanish setting one felt the tears well.

Into the cathedral Almudena. Austere awe-inspiring Gothic heights, intended to amaze and inspire the spirit to feel small and strive heavenwards.

"Modern" Almudena cathedral windows

Light filtered in through extraordinarily colourful, bright and somehow abstract windows. “They look so modern” I said wondering where the haloes and beatific faces were. Did some artist long ago react against all the sombre black and brown?

The Maria in a gigantic oil painting was a nun wearing a black habit. This lady is a patron saint, and yet another virgin.

Below the Palace and cathedral are formal gardens laid out invitingly with paths between sculpted  trees, ponds and monuments. We popped into a modern coffee bar for nice café latte peeping towards the view (small cup only 1.5 euro) and use of loo (no toilet paper). Only our luxury hotels offered toilet paper – it’s important to carry some with you when out on the town in Madrid.

Past a tiny square Encarnacion (with yet another sculpture)  along some narrow streets and we were in Gran Via. This broad and busy  road skirts the entertainment area – the Soho or Broadway of Madrid. Gran Via represents the modern city, with shop after shop from the big chains like Zara, H&M to smaller clothing boutiques. I must see the prices I cajoled:  really lovely apricot and brown floral with Jane Austen waist (bare arms though): only 15 euro, and lots more lovely inspiring affordable clothes. That boutique thumping with music seemed to be a local brand.

Heading east we turned left into Calle de Fuencarral which the Hospes concierge had told us edged the heavy metal area. This walking street is young Spain, with streams of young adults, small trendy boutiques and plenty of jeans shops. A flashing light Sex Sells highlights Diesel jeans. Turning right into Augusto Figueroa we had now found shoetown – shoe shop after shoe shop. Must check prices, I again cajoled my partner. Plain leather boots and sandals from 20 eur, but most up around 80 or 90 euro, Meanwhile hunger showed this area had less to offer in way of eating possibilities.

Then we crossed the Paseo Recoletos, the mighty avenue with all its sense of pomp and victory, monuments and fountains, over to another important thoroughfare, Calle de Sortero. Now we were in an area of elegant apartments, well kept, with some little trees nurtured – enough to bring again the sound of birds rather than only traffic. This is the area of designer shops – we came across an  Armani store with a sale on. A textured jacket in grey with piping was going for 260 euro. The boring thing was most of the shops had siesta till 4pm. I managed to find a tapas bar that for all the lack of English could sell me a tortilla francais – which turned out to be a French roll with an omelet inside. Delicious when starving.

Still heading east near Plaza de la Indpendencia (where Hospes is situated) we turned down to Calle de Alcala, the broad avenue that sweeps past the northern end of the Retiro park. Here we found  some restaurants and cafes spreading onto the broad pavement, with menus outside – at least they were open.

La Taberna del Toro - serene out animated within

The avenue was rather serene compared with Thursday and Friday. It seemed a nice place to eat and the menu reasonable (3 courses for 15 eur/ see photo ). But we decided instead to have a café latte (1.5 eur). Inside was more traditional bar with bullfighting pictures, TV, and animated Spaniards. The dining room at the back down a corridor of bullfighting pictures was small and totally packed with lively diners at tables bearing checkered blue and white oil cloths. So while the shops close the people dine (or sleep).

We crossed over into Retiro park. The air was fragrant with green  growth – amazing air after the streets that undeniably bear the odour of petrol and rubber. Tucked away inside the park is the lake. It was dotted with small boats. Along one side was a “lakeside” promenade where people strolled as if by the seaside.  The odd stand sold jewellery and restaurants spread their tables. It seemed far away from Madrid city life and smelt of water. We took a break on a bench just being and watching locals play ball with their tiny tots.

Back at the Westin Palace we collapsed after our 6 hour stroll. Then I was reincarnated as myself, and within five swift minutes had walked to The Prado. It stirs in the belly, realizing that such treasures are rising out of the history book with real brush strokes from the 15th and 16th centuries. I lingered in front of names from old memory, like Tintoretto (painting of a subtly alluring courtesan, pink in the desired places), Goya (the radiantly  living man in richest red robe and hat – a cardinal?) and others like Andrea del Sarto, Velazquez…

Back at the Westin Palace I now sat in the lobby to meet my partner, enjoying seeing the debutantes (or wedding guests)  go by, or be photographed on the stairs. Unashamed posing this way and that, as if these young girls needed to get better angles than their all round beauty.

We had already discovered on Friday night that turning left from the Westin Palace you came to an area of trendy tapas bars and small restaurants/bars. Then they were totally packed – not a chance of squeezing in for a meal.

So Saturday night we aimed to get there early. 7.30 pm they were already nearly full. But we finally slipped into Los Gatos eyeing some tables set for dinner.

They were reserved, so I was given a barrel to sit on. Had a really nice evening, starting with beer and tapas sitting on the barrel (2.5 eur each for tapas – a slice of fresh bread piled with cold meats of various kinds, or cheeses, fish….whatever).

Roof mural Los Gatos floating above beer and tapas

Los Gatos is a place of fun and fantasy. The Last Judgement has God or Moses holding a beer on the ceiling. Bikes are affixed to the wall, which is also decorated with frescoes of skeletons quaffing alcohol.

 

When the group arrived to claim the tables, mountains of mixed delicacies were put out in plates, and later bowls of mixed tapas (on bread).  Finally they left and we got to sit on a throne and a barrel in what felt much like a back room though exuberantly decorated with carnival figures, and a naked woman languidly reclining across the tiled wall.

A group of Spanish people joined us in that space: three women (Montse, Noelia and Alicia) and two men (Carlos and Pin).  The latter was an animated football enthusiast, hanging onto his phone to find out the score of two matches. He had a lot to say on that and life in general, I guess, though I didn’t understand a word. Alicia, next to me, explained that his girlfriend Noelia was NOT passionate about football – she was tired of Pin’s passion for it.

From left Alicia, Noelia, Pin, Montse, Carlos

They were all from other areas of Spain, were good friends, often tried to meet, and some of them worked in Madrid. This area of tapas bars was very fashionable and popular with the locals, she explained, as tourists tended to go elsewhere. We ordered langoustines (12 euro for 12) and a salad with sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and lettuce that tasted of nature and a nice sauce.  Beers put the bill up – though they were modestly priced at around 2.5 eur each. It wasn’t me who drank all those beers.

Sunday 9 May

Today Madrid was empty. The boulevards and circles that held a living coil of cars when we arrived  were now revealed, quiet and stand-offishly elegant.

The hotel too had a demure air. A few people at breakfast, and only me at the Reception to check out. We wandered out of the grand doors onto the wet pavement under a wet sky, waved a hand for a taxi, and were immediately speeding along the empty avenues  as if we had screamed Follow that Car, or “Catch my plane – I am late”. In a mere 20 minutes we were dropped at the airport for 33 euros fare, plenty of time to spare. The journey from airport to hotel on Thursday had taken 40 minutes and cost 31 euros.

This afternoon we are back in Stockholm to an erupting spring, young golden green and white ranunculus (vitsippor). The maple leaves came out in the 4 days we explored Madrid.

The most expensive latte I had was at The Palace – 6.9 eur, though it was a more traditional version in a big round cup with percolated coffee and hot milk poured from silver jugs and was called Caffe con leche (the Spanish name for coffee with milk). We drank coiffee all over the place, mostly costing 2.5 euro.


MADRID: TAPAS AND PALACES

May 7, 2010 in Spain | Comments (105)

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FRIDAY 7 MAY

Westin Palace Madrid 4.30 pm

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Westin Palace cupola - a magical place

Under the domed glass roof of The Palace. Commissioned as a “royal palace for visitors”, it trails glory and extravagance from yesteryear. Now it is Westin Palace Madrid, a jewel in the Starwood and Westin crown. Truly royal, apart from the eager customers at reception hoping for upgrade based on loyalty. In those days you didn’t upgrade so easily to this.

In front of me as I write, a woman poses for a photo, and demonstrates that The Palace is a landmark or even a destinatsion in its own right. In the middle of La  Rotunda restaurant, under  the centre of a stained glass cupola, she sits on a circular bench facing outwards, to the circle of classic columns that hold the glass dome up like a temple to Art Nouveau.

The lobby leads up steps  towards this “holy” space, harking back to Royal times, with inlaid marble floors, glittering chandeliers,huge tapestries  and inlays of patterned glass. Sitting in the Westin Palace lobby is an experience in itself, watching not just overnight guests but society belles of Madrid come and go.

Spanish high society comes here for weddings, debutante balls or whatever needs exquisite romantic surroundings and international service. Like flipping through a Vogue catalogue we saw  girl after girl walk past in killer heels, long glossy legs and bare arms, attired in rich colours, glossy satins and sometimes strapless mini evening dresses, bare shoulders gleaming with young skin.

Apart from the Rotunda restaurant, public spaces include the cosy Asian Gallery restaurant , a traditionally dark bar lounge serving tapas, a stylish business centre, and a gym. The Asian restaurant was a good choice for a late arrival to Madrid last night – thus avoiding cutting evening winds outside. Attracting people from the city with its cosy Oriental ambience and food, it offers quite reasonably priced dishes, main courses from around 15 eur, some starters for 7 eur. Bamboo shoots and brown mushrooms was a bit boring, but shrimp rolls (starter) very nice.

Obviously since the days it was created to serve kings it has been renovated to create more uniform size bedrooms (468 rooms and suites).  But the feel of those days is sacred – not just because it is a good business idea. This building is protected by law as a cultural treasure. The spa for example has been a long time coming because of regulations (now planned for 2012).

All over the place is antique furniture from those palatial days, or copies in the same style.

Our newly renovated room (Executive room) on the 5th floor gives an inviting olde-world feel in warm and sandy beige, with a combination of striped wallpaper and medallion fabric on head board and surrounding wall , along with old prints, and a few items of classic furniture. Of course, as the Westin brochure will tell you it has a heavenly bed (with trademark), not forgetting a delicious marble bathroom in the same warm beige with toilet and bidet (hand shower and overhead shower on bath).

 

We were shown a few more rooms by Isabella (senior international sales manager). Premium with view (30?) were very desirable  – especially because of The View and two chairs and table in the bay window. Most overlook the Fuente de Neptuno, a generously gushing fountain in the middle of a traffic circle that still bears the grand name of Pl Canovas del Castillo.  A table and couple of chairs in the bay window have the pleasure of that view.

Then if you need more room and can afford it ( c. 3000 eur/night) you can upgrade yourself to an executive suite (c. 180sqm  – also with a view but perhaps not of Neptune). Some features include separate shower, dressing room, office, lounge/dining room. Then with a Royal Suite you really go palatial with original furniture and effects. Nowadays it is celebrities  and ambassadors who stay in the Royal Suite – there are more of them than there are kings – but is fine enough for a king too. Very traditional, the Royal Suite has a master bedroom with drapes, lounge, separate dining room gleaming with black and gold, library with beautifully bound books, and a few modern things like Jacuzzi bathub, separate steam shower and a kitchenette.  That is for the butler of course – unless you are a celebrity chef.

There are two room types below our Exec room which we did not see.

HOSPES MADRID

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Afternoon.

We had lunch today at Hospes Madrid, on Pl. de la Independencia.  Fine buildings surround the traffic circle and on the traffic island in the middle is a big ornate arch. Not yet sure who they were independent from – was it from the Ottoman Empire? The only information I can find is that the arch in the middle was once the gate into Madrid and is called Puerto de Alcala; it was ordered by Carlos III because he thought that the previous gate was not fine enough.  The Puerta de Alcalá that we know today was completed in 1769.

The Hospes  hotel restaurant (called as in all Hospes hotels Senzone) is intimate and paneled in dark wood, with a view out through French balconies of the “square” (round).  A special Spanish style lunch had been prepared for us, and served with easy and leisurely pace along with friendly personal attention, over a period of more than an hour. Pelle reported that the Spanish style beef dish was superb – braised (I guess) topside (I guess) which in its succulent darkness just feell apart.

The Hospes Madrid lies close to Buen Retiro park – a huge green area comprising some 100 or so city blocks – guests can order a hamper for a picnic lunch in the green park with its romantic lake, stylishly clipped bushes and tall leafy trees plus a multitude of pathways (round what would have been city blocks). I imagine in the old days the elite rode around savouring neatly nurtured nature in horse and carriage.

Talking to Hospes Madrid’s front desk (Alvaro) armed with a map and a pen we discovered: It is also close to a big attraction: the posh area of designer shops north of the park.  It is also close to ( c. 10 minute walk) the Prado and its fabulous Renaissance  art collection (walking south), or walking west  the entertainment area  (Madrid’s Broadway), the gay area and the heavy metal area.  It is a little further to the traditional area where the tourists usually go, with its tapas bars and sights of old Madrid.

The hotel is built in a fine residential block, so it is very much part of old Madrid. We were greeted by the GM Maria Ripoll – redolent of the charming hands-on feel for which the hotel is known. Only 40 rooms, the Hospes is very personal and very pleasant, full of cosy corners, angles, stairs and surprises. There is a terrace eating or sitting area encircled by walls, and a couple of cosy lounge areas, a spa, fragrant with delicious incense, tiny gym.

We saw a Junior Suite with view (four of them have views out of a total of seven Junior Suites). Downstairs is a lounge with white furniture. Upstairs is a really charming attic bedroom with dark beams contrasting with bright white walls. Space is tight and used to the utmost … inventive, cosý, charming.  The bath on the landing is in full view of the bed, and there is a separate shower and toilet.

The deluxe room (like the standard room but with view) number 103 had a French  balcony, I  noted. Diego, the sales manager who showed me the room, corrected me with a smile. “No not a French balcony – a Spanish balcony”, he interjected. (In other words not a real balcony, but a balcony railing enables you to open the doors  and stand in the breeze admiring the view). Nice marble bathroom with shower (no bath tub).

It is now 1855 hours. It’s been raining and thundering. We sit in eternal afternoon under the cupola at The Palace with areas of transparent glass that show the brightness of what might be sun returning. Longing to go out and explore…

20.30

Now we sit at Westin  in El Bar del Palace.

A man trails sound around us from his clarinet. A girl in a very short black dress displays smooth brown legs in killer heels – silver and black. She is one of four Spanish girls living it up with a sortie to The Palace. They present a  classic sight.

The Leg

The high Heel

The slender Ankle

The Shine

The Youth

The Body creating angles that speak about love that might be and dreams that might take shape. A man joins them and his smile is so vivid you see he is charmed…

Nice thing about Westin, it is placed between two worlds of  Madrid. Like an island, taking up its own small city block, it looks over the enchanting Neptune sculpture and fountain. This belongs to grand, majestic,  Imperial Madrid with its avenues sweeping through, its treelined boulevards, eruptions of art in sculptures adorned with angels and other myths or certainties. It’s a clean and open Madrid. A splendid triumphant Madrid that ruled an empire.

Within a few steps up the hill from The Palace the old Madrid closes in. Intricate wrought iron railings, narrower streets, atmosphere  and signs distinctly foreign.  As you get higher the tapas bars increase. There is a square Plaza Santa Ana with open air cafes  – then more tapas bars and now a bit more decrepit, a bit less smooth. Next square has a Two star hotel. Turn right – very cheap cafes and No-star hotels. Around the large square and Puera del Sol metro there are swarms of people (always there I was told) – a general darkness in their clothes (brown black) giving a drabness edging on draining to the spirit. We saw crowds in a street coming down to the square – reminding of  black ants swarming in a line. Suddenly I realized my imagery was going sinister due to hallucination from hunger.  It was now around 8pm and I had not eaten since lunch.

We crossed the crowded square and I confessed: I am terribly hungry. Began peeping into all bars and restaurants no matter how much graffiti or other signs of neglect. Suddenly magically, as if a line was drawn, we were in an area of almost no people – austere street of banks and offices guarded by people in uniform.  We had made Calle Alcala. No tourists, just some respectable locals. On the left (according to our source at Hospes) if one crossed Gran Via one would come to the heavy metal area and trendy, Bohemian, Gay area. Now we were along a wide clean area of jewellery shops. But I wanted only food…

Let’s head back to the hotel I said and find some tapas bars nearby.

It was 830pm when we got to the Westin Palace and too hungry to go any further I agreed to have the longed for tapas and beer there. The aubergine and paprika tapas I had was unforgettably delicious (5 euro). The beer did not seem that reasonable but was no doubt a fine brand (10 euro/33 cl).

Saturday 8 May

A long day of exploration… see next page


Day 8 – Venice

May 1, 2010 in ITALY,Mediterranean | Comments (3)

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We cruised into Venice cruise port at 9am. Logistics dominated day 8. But we succeeded in managing a visit to Piazza San Marco by refusing the advice of the girls at Reception.

They told me I had to be on the transfer at 1230 from the port to get my flight at 1710 (almost no time in Venice). Fortunately I got a second opinion. The tour desk tried various diagnoses of the situation and finally came to a remedy. Tour VCE03 would get us back for the 2pm transfer which would absolutely, for sure, get to the airport by 3pm – more than two hours before departure. That would be 3 hrs 30 mins in Venice plus charming boat transfers to and from the port.

VCE03 – St Marks’ Square and airport transfer.

And so we got to see the simply marvelous city. The totally fabulous city. Its domes and towers rose above the floods of people off the cruise boats and local Venetians enjoying the public holiday of First May. Above the confusion of people in St Mark’s square and stands selling T-shirts or Venetian masks, the basilica of St Mark rose ebulliently, flambouyantly, opulently, making an intricate skyline.

Built in the 9th century, it was added to in different centuries (mostly the 14th), so it is a mix of Byzantine and Gothic, with sculptings and sculptures, arches,  mosaics, domes and pillars. Much just stolen or taken from other cultures further East. Sometimes it went the other way round – the horses for example were taken by Napoleon and later returned to Venice.

The Golden church is indeed gold. Its mosaics so glittering so impressive, looping into the curves and domes. We took some photos before we discovered we should not.

After that feast of Venice treasures we wandered down a side street and met a gondola station in a canal. Didn’t take much to persuade us to take a  ride for 60 euros. We have no idea whether we bargained ourselves down or up.

The willing or too willing guide was told we wanted silence. We have been on a boat with too much noise. Now we want it quiet I said to his apparent dismay. I think he loves guiding. So we said ok just tell us a few things when we see the sights. It was as we dreamed – or better. A sunny day, green glistening water, quiet backways, a little mossy and crumbly – plenty of beautiful arched bridges, and some other gondolas passing by – one with a singer standing and delivering Italian songs. Because of the quiet moments and lack of people it actually felt less touristy – though its obviously the most touristy thing you can do in Venice. Our guide was very happy when his one item of information got us pointing and taking pictures just like proper tourists – it was the home of Cassanova. And our history did include that gentleman.

Next we called on Luna Baglioni hotel, where I had arranged to look and take pictures. This is the first hotel in Venice, and a stop during the crusades. Its in a charming spot, on a side canal, with its own gondola stop. And it is saturated in history and Venetian romance, with old Venetian garments on display, and the perfect combination of wallpaper, chandeliers, flowers, furniture – presenting the classic romantic Venice.

And then some shopping. Aleah bought a load of masks – apparently all made on the islands of Venice.

Back to logistics. We met our transfer on the quay at 1.30, got to our bus transfer via a nice boat ride at 2.00, and to the aiport at 2.45.

The only sad thing was we met our Swedes who had a wasted day, sitting at port and airport…

This is biggest complaint I have about MSC.

We cruised into Venice cruise port at 9am. Logistics dominated day 8. We succeeded in managing a visit to Venice by refusing the advice of the girls at Reception. The other Swedes at our table sadly failed to get into the marvelous city, and spent the 7 hours after arrival at the boring port or in the airport. They were not even allowed to stay on the boat. Cruel, truly cruel!  Most had chosen that cruise because it included Venice.

Reception told me I had to be on the transfer at 1230 to get my flight at 1710. As it was a public holiday, they said, the 2pm transfer would not get us there in time. One would perhaps have an hour in the city of Venice. A kind girl at Reception told me that if I really cared about getting to Venice I should leave my luggage in the port, take the shuttle to the railway station and then boat to St Mark’s square. On return to port – should take a taxi to the airport.

Fortunately I got a second opinion. The tour desk tried various diagnoses of the situation and finally came to a remedy. Tour VCE03 would get us back for the 2pm transfer which would absolutely, for sure, get to the airport by 3pm – more than two hours before departure. That would be 3 hrs 30 mins in Venice plus charming boat transfers to and from the port.

VCE03 – St Marks’ Square and airport transfer.

And so we got to see the simply marvelous city. The totally fabulous city. Its domes and towers rose above the floods of people off the cruise boats and local Venetians enjoying the public holiday of First May. Above the confusion of people in St Mark’s square and stands selling T-shirts or Venetian masks, the basilica of St Mark rose ebulliently, flambouyantly, opulently, making an intricate skyline.

Built in the 9th century, it was added to in different centuries (mostly the 14th), so it is a mix of Byzantine and Gothic, with sculptings and sculptures, arches,  mosaics, domes and pillars. Much just stolen or taken from other cultures further East. Sometimes it went the other way round – the horses for example were taken by Napoleon and later returned to Venice.

The Golden church is indeed gold. Its mosaics so glittering so impressive, looping into the curves and domes. We took some photos before we discovered we should not.

After that feast of Venice treasures we wandered down a side street and met a gondola station in a canal. Didn’t take much to persuade us to take a  ride for 60 euros. We have no idea whether we bargained ourselves down or up.

The willing or too willing guide was told we wanted silence. We have been on a boat with too much noise. Now we want it quiet I said to his apparent dismay. I think he loves guiding. So we said ok just tell us a few things when we see the sights. It was as we dreamed – or better. A sunny day, green glistening water, quiet backways, a little mossy and crumbly – plenty of beautiful arched bridges, and some other gondolas passing by – one with a singer standing and delivering Italian songs. Because of the quiet moments and lack of people it actually felt less touristy – though its obviously the most touristy thing you can do in Venice. Our guide was very happy when his one item of information got us pointing and taking pictures just like proper tourists – it was the home of Cassanova. And our history did include that gentleman.

Next we called on Luna Baglioni hotel, where I had arranged to look and take pictures. This is the first hotel in Venice, and a stop during the crusades. Its in a charming spot, on a side canal, with its own gondola stop. And it is saturated in history and Venetian romance, with old Venetian garments on display, and the perfect combination of wallpaper, chandeliers, flowers, furniture – presenting the classic romantic Venice.

And then some shopping. Aleah bought a load of masks – apparently all made on the islands of Venice.

Back to logistics. We met our transfer on the quay at 1.30, got to our bus transfer via a nice boat ride at 2.00, and to the aiport at 2.45.

The only sad thing was we met our Swedes who had a wasted day, sitting at port and airport…They weren’t even allowed to stay on the boat as they had been promised and were forced to take an early transfer. So they missed Venice. This is biggest complaint I have about MSC.

Still – thanks to their tour desk we had the most perfect day in Venice -and got home safely, well fed and saturated with impressions and experiences….