It seems a lot of people have trouble pronouncing our next port of call. Civitavecchia. It is pronounced (chiv-vita-veck-ia), it just rolls off the tongue once you know how. Again as with a lot of these ports it is not that picturesque and is filled with lots of container ships and tankers. That's said it's a beautiful morning although that dogged northerly wind seems intent on hanging around and pegging the temperatures back a few degrees.
I emerge out onto the balcony and look down at the dockside to a scene of organised chaos. I guess most people are up and about early and heading into Rome today. A fleet of coaches waits patiently for its bleary eyed passengers to emerge from Liberty’s white underbelly and whisk them the 40 or so miles to the Eternal City.
We have an excursion booked today through Royal Caribbean but not to Rome. We have visited Rome on a number of occasions and even spent Christmas there one year. Peter found an interesting half day tour on the Royal Caribbean website before we left and we decided that would be preferable to staying on the ship or visiting the small unexciting town of Civitavecchia itself. However the tour is not till the afternoon and so we have all morning to ourselves.
We have an early lunch in the Windjammer. Don’t think I have witnessed it so quiet before and we don’t have a problem finding a table. Fully sated we head back to the cabin and grab cameras and hats etc. We also apply some bug spray to any exposed skin. Out trip today is to Lake Bracciano and Anguillara Sabazia. The lake is about 50 miles to the east of our position and 25 miles north of Rome.
We head down to our waiting coach and are greeted by our tour guide Jackie. We are surprised that she is British, although she has lived in Italy for 24 year. Our fellow excursionees are all very prompt and we get to leave before our allotted time. We head north for a short while to enable us to join the main motorway (Autostrazza) southwards. All this while Jackie is narrating the history of the area, going into great details about the importance of her hometown of Tarquinia. It was chief amongst the 12 cities of Etruria with the Etruscan’s considered Italy’s first civilisation.
We soon turn of the Autostrazza and head eastwards until we reach the town of Bracciano. We are not stopping here but as we reach the southern end of the town we make a stop so that we can take pictures of the impressive Castello Orsini-Odescalchi. Back in the 15th century is was the feudal home of the Papal families of Borgia and Orsini. In more recent times it has formed the backdrop of many a celebrity wedding such as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. We skirt around the edge of Lake Bracciano towards our next stop Anguillara Sabazia. It only takes about 20 minutes and we have about an hour to look around and enjoy this small lakeside town. Some of our fellow American tourists are excited to learn that a couple of episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond were filmed here. Having heard of the show but never seen it, we are less excited. We climb up through some narrow pretty streets to take pictures of the lake before heading down to a small café for Gelato and Expresso.
Back on the bus we head back toward the coast and the Cento Corve Winery. Cento Corve means 100 Crows and it’s run by the Callacciani family and has an excellent reputation. We are greeted by the owner and his family before being invited to try 6 different wines, 3 whites and 3 reds. They are all excellent. We are then invited to try an ancient vintage called Giacchi which again is excellent. A table set up with meats, cheeses and breads and we spend a leisurely hour or so enjoying all that Cento Corve has to offer. Sadly we can’t stock up on any wines like some of our fellow guests as we would not be able to take on-board the plane for our journey home.
Although only a few hours long our excursion today was informative and interesting and the wines at the end were the icing on the cake.
The port where we dock in La Spezia is nowhere near as glamorous as Villefranche. I open the curtains to a working port full of large ship containers and tall cranes. There is a lot of clanging and banging going on but we are not hanging around the ship today so we don't mind. We have breakfast in the Windjammer before heading ashore.
La Spezia is mainly used as a port to enable people to visit Florence and Pisa. We had visited there on a previous cruise and that fact plus the 2 hour drive to get there meant we wanted to visit somewhere else. Just north of La Spezia is the world Heritage Site called Cinque Terre (pronounced chink wa terra). It means 5 Lands and is a remote part of the coastline dotted with 5 small picturesque villages that can only be reached by train or boat. They are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. There is a coastal pathway you can walk but we certainly don't have the time and energy for that. We decide to visit what is claimed to be the most picturesque of the 5, Vernazza.
We catch the shuttle bus that takes us the short distance to the entrance to the port. From there we follow the signs to the station. It is a beautiful sunny morning but a wind has picked up overnight and there is a slight chill to it as evident by all the locals wearing scarfs and jackets. We are in Ts and Shorts, they must think us crazy but 20c to us is summer. The walk was longer than anticipated and we ended walking 3km just to get to the station. We catch the 11.10 train to Levanto which is very busy but we managed to nab 2 window seats. Not that there is much to see as much of the journey is in tunnels. We stop at the first 3 towns and catch glimpses of the dramatic coastline. We alight in Vernazzo and walk down the narrow street to the picturesque harbour where the strong winds are smashing large waves against the harbour wall. It is indeed very pretty but it really only takes about 15 minutes to see everything. We take plenty of pictures before heading back up to the train and the journey back to La Spezia.
La Spezia is quite a large modern town but there don't seem to be a lot of people about. We wander through its streets whilst making our general way back to the port. We stop in a supermarket to buy some sweets to take back to work with us next week. We emerge near the marina and walk along it towards the ship. There are some very dramatic and tall mountains in the distance but the view again spoilt by the ports cranes. We hop back on the shuttle and return to Liberty.
We have a late lunch at Johnny Rockets today which is very good. Camille, our server leads her team during the customary dance routine to Donna Summer and as always we leave full having turned down dessert. The chilly wind prevents any sun bathing today but after Peter heads to the gym I find a nice little sun trap down on deck 4 where I listen to music for a hour or so.
The captain announces that we are about to leave port shortly after 7pm and that the winds would die down after midnight and the temperature in Rome will be warmer as we now start to head southwards.
Liberty sails into the small bay at Villefranche just as the rising sun lifts above the horizon and throws its light over the pine clad hills that surround the small town. The bay is dotted with small fishing boats that bob gently as Liberty's bow thrusters churn up the tranquil waters. We are soon anchored in place and tender boats are quickly alongside and taking guests ashore for their excursions.
We breakfast again in the main dining room before returning to the room to gather our things and heading out. We take the lift down to Deck 1 and board one of the tender boats. It only takes 10 minutes before we are docked in the small harbour. We walk the short distance to the small train station to catch the train to Nice-Ville station. There a number of people on our platform but there seem to be 10 times as many on the other side all headed to Monaco it would seem.
It's only a short distance into Nice itself and we are soon walking down what seems to be their version of London's Oxford Street, a busy thoroughfare full of large department stores and boutiques. We carry on for a mile until we come to a large open plaza called Place Massena. From there we head into the old town of Nice. Full of narrow winding streets it is very picturesque and there seems to be a surprise around every corner. Small shops selling souvenirs that are not tacky, art shops, shops selling candied fruit (a specialty of Nice). We take pictures of the impressive Opera House before entering the Cours Selaya. This is the famous open air market that is held daily except for Mondays. We gawp at the amount of fresh produce on display, it all looks so delicious. Magnificent flower bouquets are on show at some stalls with prices a fraction of what you would pay for similar back home.
We head out onto the broad avenue that runs along side the beach in Nice. Slightly disappointed that the beachfront of pebbles rather than sand and so it does not compare to Cannes lovely beachfront. We head eastward to the Hotel Suisse. I had read about a lookout point above the hotel that gives really good views over Nice and the coastline. Most people climb the gruelling steps to the top but I knew there was an elevator that would take you there but it's not very prominent and most people miss it. We found it and we emerged at the top to a magnificent view of the city below us. We had cold drinks at a small cafe at the top before walking back down (much easier going down than up). The pathway led us down past small waterfalls and through sun dappled woodland before reaching another corner of the old town.
By this time we had walked miles and so we found a small restaurant where we ordered toasted Paninis/Baguettes before walking back up to the train station to head back to Villefranche. Once there we explored the small town itself, stopping to order beers and use the wifi at a small bar. We caught the tender back to the ship mid afternoon and relaxed in the Solarium for a while. Peter then headed to the gym and me to the cabin where I spent late afternoon on the balcony.
Pre-dinner drinks were in the Diamond Lounge. No one we knew were there and so we went to the Schooner Bar where we find Joyce and Jerry and their friends. Just as we sat down they start an Abba Music Trivia Quiz and so we formed a team and joined in. We started well but fell down on some of the later ones that we should have known. We scored 17/20. A Swedish couple won with 20/20 Surely they should have been handicapped? Their national anthem is Dancing Queen isn't it? We were slightly less miffed when they were handed their prize. A book containing 4 walking tours of the ships artwork.
We all split after this. After the time delays at dinner the first night we have switched back to My Time Dining and so we have a table for 2 where we find service to be much better. Our head waiter is great and takes time to explain the menu and make his recommendations. His assistant waiter is a little glum and we make it our goal to illicit a smile out of him before the end of the week. We are still trying. I order Thai Chicken Salad to start and follow it up with Sea Bass for my main. Both very good. I don't recall Peters exact choices but I know he enjoyed.
We try our hand in the casino without much luck before going to the Catacombs. This is the ships nightclub and tonight they are having a silent disco. We tried this for the first time on Brilliance of the Seas back on February and really enjoyed it. There is a lady handing out headphones at the entrance and explains there are 2 channels to choose from by flicking a switch on the side of the headphones. One channel is Pop/RnB and the other is Rock. No guessing which we choose. We are soon dancing around with other guests. All perfectly normal until you take of the headphones to a room silent except for people singing along themselves. After an hour we head to Sorrentos for some Pizza and some glasses of water before retiring for the night. Tomorrow La Spezia in Italy.
We sleep soundly and awake shortly before we dock in Marseille. The sun has just risen and casts a golden light over the dramatic limestone coastline just north of the city. We berth just ahead of MSC Poesia which has followed us up from Barcelona. Also with us in port are Grand Holiday (an ex Carnival cruise ship) and Costa Mediterraneo. We breakfast in the Rembrant Dining Room. As usual I have my Eggs Benedict and Peter his classic breakfast.
The port is a good 30/40 minute drive from the centre of Marseille and so we opt for the boat transfer to the old port which will take about 30 mins. I had devised a walking tour of the Panier or the Old Town before we left the UK. The boat drop off is at a point mid way through the walk but as it's a circular walk we just start at that point. First stop is the magnificent Cathedral for some photos before heading into the narrow winding streets of the Panier. It's very steep and hilly which is something you don't realise when looking at googlemaps of the area. Luckily the really steep hills are all downward for us. We stop at a shop selling soaps and purchase some different scented ones which are neatly packaged and labelled for us. We emerge near Vieux Port and wander past all the fishing boats and yachts that are moored there.
From there we rejoin my walking route and head to Fort St Jean which has a really good photo point looking back down at Vieux Port and over to the impressive Notre Dame de la Garde which stands atop a hill in the distance and is reminiscent of the Sacre Cour in Paris. By now we are feeling a little tired. The forecast in the Cruise Compass today was mostly cloudy but it was mostly sunny and hot. We head back to the shuttle boat which is soon heading out across the bay to our ship. Everyone seems in good spirits and when the captain plays some music over the speakers a couple of ladies get up and dance in the aisle. A game old chap even gets up to join them and what he lacks in rhythm he makes up for with enthusiasm. Back on board we head to the Solarium to relax by the pool for an hour or so after which Peter heads to the gym and I go back to the cabin to blog.
Tonight is formal night and so we dress accordingly. After the debacle of the hired tuxes on Adventure earlier this year we are relieved to find everything fits perfectly. We meet up with Joyce, Jerry, Gail & Dennis and head to the Diamond Lounge. Eric & Tom are also there so we drag chairs over and sit outside as the evening is warm and balmy. We catch up on what each of us did that day. The automatic door from the lounge to the outside seating area causes much mirth as it turns out to be very tempermental and doesn't always open leaving people stranded either side.
We all split up at 8.30 as we have a reservation at Chops Grille. Margaret our server from Jamaica is excellent. We order a bottle of our favourite Chardonnay, Mer Soliel, before I order the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail and the 9oz Filet Mignon (medium rare). Peter orders the Crab Cakes and the same steak as me but medium. The shrimp are colossal and delicious. The steak is gorgeous as always. I have the Huckleberry Cheesecake for dessert and Peter orders the Red Velvet Cake which he finds a little disappointing.
We don't do much else that evening as we managed two bottles of wine with dinner and Peter feels a little sozzled and I am not far behind. We retire at 10.30 commenting that we don't go to bed that early at home. Still a nice long sleep is very inviting when you are stuffed.