Category Archives: Europe

Places I’ve visited in Europe

Strolling around Palma de Mallorca

Sailing into Palma de Mallorca is beautiful and a highlight is the ability to see the entire Cathedral – a very large building that can fill a photograph.

While is looks like your cruise ship is close to the city centre, it is about a 30 minute walk or a one-way taxi ride that costs approximately 10 Euros. Fortunately, the cruise terminal will provide a shuttle bus for 8 Euros, round trip. Taking the shuttle, you will pass by one of the largest marinas for private boats – it seems to go on forever!

The shuttle will drop you across the boulevard from the Cathedral, which is a great place to start your own personal tour. Once you cross the street, you will find an information centre and the first stop for the hop on, hop off bus. You will also be at the base of the cathedral, which includes several parks and a pedestrian street that has several coffee shops and cafés. This is a very walkable city and it is easy to slow down, stroll and just wander through its streets.

If you want to get a good “lay of the land” or see more of the city, the hop on, hop off bus is a great option. It also includes a stop at the Bellver Castle that overlooks the city – giving you great views of the  harbour.

 

Changes at the port of Valletta

The first time I sailed into the Grand Harbour of Malta’s capital city, I was struck, as most people are, by the beauty of this place.  That was over eight years ago. I’ve sailed into this port three times now and, while it never gets old, there have been many improvements over the years.  From a cruise perspective, these changes make it so much easier to move from the port to the upper city and beyond.

Of course, you can still take a bus up to the main gate where there are buses to take you all over the island.  And there are plenty of taxis offering tours of various lengths. And even horse-drawn carriages. But now, there is also an elevator that will take you from the port to the Upper Barracca Gardens where you will find some of the best views of the harbour (and where they fire cannons).

For this trip, I did opt for a taxi so that my mother could see more of Malta. Our driver took us on a tour of part of the coastline. At the end, he dropped me off at the Upper Barracca Gardens and was able to drive my mother directly to the ship by showing the port authorities her cane. Sometimes, it is good to have this kind of assistance.

I spent the rest of my day wandering the streets of Valletta, visiting St. John’s Co-cathedral to see Caravaggio’s The Beheading of St. John and generally just enjoying being back in a place I love to visit.

Other travel notes … there are public toilets at the Upper Barracca Gardens. Always good to know!

The elevator *may* charge 4 Euros to use, however when I used it to go back to the port, there was no charge. There are also a number of shops, restaurants and bars lining the area near the cruise port as well.

A day on Mount Etna

Sailing into the port of Catania, Sicily was interesting because we could get a great view of Mount Etna and really appreciate the size of this volcano. When I was there in May 2017, it was not erupting, but there were some interesting cloud formations. It also seems that Etna truly is the heart of this land, down the very plants that grow on its slopes.

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Since I had never been to this part of Sicily before, I joined a small, private tour group – and was very happy with this experience! We were met by our driver and eight of us shared a van. Our driver was from the area and knew a lot about where we were going. He also knew about the current traffic conditions because many roads were blocked or restricted because of preparations for a G7 Summit meeting later in the month. With very few roads in and out of the area we were going, I felt sorry about how much this meeting was going to affect the local population.

Our first stop was a fishing village of Giardini Naxos. This was the first Greek settlement in the area and is celebrated with modern a statue of Nike. It has a beautiful sandy beach and many places to eat and drink along the coastline.

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We then headed up the slopes of Mt. Etna and started to see the views from a different perspective, from snow at the top of Mt. Etna, to the coastline of the fishing village.

We also got our first look at the town of Taormina and its magnificent Roman amphitheatre. For this part of the journey, we made two stops, one at a chapel that was built in a cave and one at the village of Castelmola. This is a charming village with great views and access to an Arab fortress.

We then headed back down to the town of Taormina – and what a zoo!  Everyone seemed to be converging on this town and there was construction and preparations going on every where for the Summit meeting. There was limited access to visit the Roman amphitheatre, with one of the major streets blocked.   However, I would love to go back and spend more time here, as it has charming streets to walk through and lots of shops and restaurants along with more great views of the coastline.

Our next stop was for lunch at a winery on the slopes of Mt. Etna. We visited the Gambino Winery, which is the highest winery on the volcano. We were greeted by a member of family who started our wine-tasting adventure. We had a delightful lunch that included tasting four wines with some typical Sicilian food: dried tomatoes, Etna area mushrooms and olives, local salami, several types of cheese, sausage in white wine, and salad. The views were spectacular and I took some interesting photos on the way (and I should mention that the wine was also quite good and plentiful!).

After lunch, we made our way back to Catania and the ship. It was a very nice day!

Cruising to Naples

Cruising into Naples means your are docked very close to the city centre, as well as close to ferries that can take you to islands such as Capri. For people with mobility issues, if you can walk a bit, there is an elevator to the main floor of the port terminal.

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Next, however, is walking past all the taxis lined up to offer you tours of Naples and the surrounding area. The tours offered did seem to be reasonably priced and included Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Naples (although most drivers did not understand that you might really like to see Naples). They really did not understand that I might just want to see things like this castle — and easy walk from the ship and where you can find the main stop of the hop on, hop off bus. If you can make it to the end of the port area, the hop on, hop off bus may run a shuttle to their main stop, Castel Nouvo. You can see this castle from the ship and the walk is not bad, but is slightly up hill. There was also a lot of construction when I was there.

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For me, I was ready to just explore the city. The tourist information centre in the cruise terminal provides a good map and directions. But, by the time I’d been bombarded by tour offers, getting on the hop on, hop off bus seemed to be an easy solution.

This bus has two routes — one along the coast and one up the hill that winds through the older part of Naples. I took both — but stopped along the way to try to find a specific church. The directions the bus operators gave me were a bit off, but I did see some other interesting churches and wandered through the old streets.

The Archaeological Museum is also a great place to visit in Naples. From the cruise terminal, walk to the Metro stop and get off at Museum — it is very easy! While I did not go to the museum this time, I always like to recommend it. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) had an exhibit from this museum recently. The exhibit highlighted their Pompeii collection.

I do not recommend walking around Naples if you have mobility challenges. The streets are narrow and uneven, traffic is bad, and directions are not always the best. But do find some time to visit Naples before heading off to Capri or down the Almafi coast. There are some interesting things to see on hidden streets.

 

Vatican Museum and how to dodge tour groups

One of the hardest things to do when visiting the Vatican Museum is dodging the tour groups. They are everywhere and always blocking the photo you are trying to take. Fortunately, photoshop can take care of some of those photos where a person’head or smartphone popped into the frame at the last minute. But, if you walk with a cane, well, the crowds become more than annoying. My first word of advice, order your tickets before you go in order to avoid the lines.

Then, there are all the stairs –and these are everywhere! The best thing to do? Ask one of the many guards for a way around. There are hidden back ways, elevators and long corridors that can help you get through the museum and to the Sistine Chapel. Thesee hidden jewels show more parts of the museum with less crowds. 

Eventually, you do catch up with the crowds but you can use this to your advantage, especially if you can negotiate some stairs. Sereptiously join a group as they exit through the back door! This brings you to St. Peter’s Basilica without standing in the long line outside.

Of course, the tour groups are still there, but you have saved time from walking back through the maze of the Vatican Museum to the official exit, then walking along the wall to St. Peter’s Square, then standing in line to enter.

Of course, you can enter and stand in yet another line to climb to the top of the dome, bit I think I will pass on that experience.

Yet another castle #AtoZChallenge

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Sometimes, it seems that there are so many castles!  This one is Egeskov and is still occupied but rooms are open to the public. The castle is built in such a way that the family could move to a separate halve, closing it off from anyone who might attack it.

There are also extensive grounds around it with different gardens, exhibits and other exhibits. One garden, Caroline’s Garden, is interactive, with various types of musical instruments like bells and drums that can be played. It was quite magical!

Wismar #AtoZChallenge

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My visit to Wismar was part of the Mystery Cruise. Again, we did not know where we are going, but we were sailing very carefully through a narrow channel marked with buoys. The captain then turned the ship around in this very narrow space and backing the ship up into an even smaller docking area. the good news is that we were right in the centre of town. Very impressive!

The city centre had a farmers market and a very ornate fountain that was once the main source of water. This central plaza was also surrounded by buildings that represented various architectural styles.

Our send-off at the end of the day included a concert from a male chorus signing sea shanties and a gun salute.