THE PARADISE TOUR: EUROPE ALONG THE MEDITERRANEAN COAST - 6 MUST VISIT PORTS.
The better half of 2013, six months to be precise, Barcelona, in Spain was my Home Port and I got a chance to celebrate Europe with its rich history and breathe taking landscapes. I will be writing firsthand about six ports that I visited in Italy, France, and Spain and the places it has to offer. Each Port is unique and enchanting, but the most important part is the surrounding regions which offer an easy access to some of the most sought after places in the world. Europe is fascinating. It will stop you in your tracks every few steps and force you to marvel at its richness, past glory and history.
The six ports, not in any order, are:
• The Cruise Port of Barcelona - Europe's liveliest city and Montserrat in Spain
• The Cruise Port of Naples - home of the Pizza Margarita and one of the world's oldest living cities; Capri - the Island of Love; Sorrento - The Honeymooner's Paradise with a once in a lifetime visit to the lost city of Pompeii and the awe inspiring Mount Vesuvius
• The Cruise Port of Civitavecchia and the richness of Rome with its Roman History, Architecture and awe inspiring Monuments followed by the world's smallest State, Vatican City
• The Cruise Port of Livorno, gateway to Pisa with its seven wonders of the world - The Leaning Tower, the Baptistery and the gorgeous Cathedral with a trip along the Italian Coast to the UNESCO World Heritage village of Cinque Terre
• The Cruise Port of Marseilles in France, voted the European Cultural Capital of 2013 and 2014 with its historic quarters of Viex Port, the Cathedral of Noctre Dame, The Castle of If: Count of Monte Christo Fame and visit to Avignon, the Palace of the Popes
• The Cruise Port of Palma de Majorca in the Balearic Islands of Spain with its Moorish Casbahs and the amalgamation of Moslem and Christian conquests and gorgeous views of some of Europe's oldest Stalactite and Stalagmite Underground Caves in Hams, trip to Porto Christo and the party capital of the World – Ibiza.
- The Cruise Port of Barcelona - Europe's liveliest city and Montserrat in Spain Barcelona is one of Europe's busiest cities, whether by land, air or sea. It offers an easy access from Asia or the Americas to enter Europe and its fascinating regions. It was my first Port of call as we entered Europe sailing across the seven seas from Miami.
The cruise port of Barcelona is massive and has two main terminals where a number of cruise ships dock. It is very conveniently located near the center of Barcelona - The Las Ramblas, an easy five minute bus ride from the cruise port. At the end of Las Ramblas is Placa de Catalunya, Barcelona's center place and home to the city square. It is from here that you can plan your visits to any of the places in and around Barcelona.
Barcelona has a distinctive modern yet old world charm. It is home to one of the world's greatest architects - Antonio Gaudi and his impressionist work can be seen all along the buildings of Barcelona. In fact, it is his name that the word "Gawdy" was termed but his buildings are an architectural genius with unique designs, patterns and geometry. The best thing about Barcelona is that it is extremely walkable. Although the city is spread out and is the capital of the Catalan region, the old quarters of Barcelona are not to be missed as they will offer you unique experiences of Spanish yet extremely modernistic experiences.
The city has tons of things to do and see so it will be advisable if you can book yourself into the Barcelona Bus Turistic - Hop on Hop off Tour. The counters are located very conveniently all across Barcelona and you will not miss it. The Bus Turistic offers three lines and almost all of the major attractions are covered by it. The best part is that the busses overlap at major junctions and if you plan your trip well, you can change buses with the same ticket and see almost all that is important. This city is home to the famous Football Club Barcelona and you cannot miss a tour to Camp Nou. Other must see attractions are Sagrada Familia - the extremely massive and unfinished Church of the Holy trinity, which will take another fifty years to be complete, the Las Ramblas - heart of Barcelona and will offer you charming experiences as you walk around, Museum of Catalan Music, Palau Guell, Park Guell, Barcelona Contemporary Museum and the History of Barcelona Museum or MUHMBA, La Pedreda, Museum of Naval History, Barri Gothic will offer you glimpses of Europe dating back to the 13th Century as you walk around this old quarter of Barcelona, The Picasso Museum is another must in Barcelona as you will see the art genius's masterpieces in person, The Cathedral of Barcelona and its immediate central areas are impressive and grand, here you will also find Antonio Gaudi's original studio. The village of Montjuic rises 700 feet above the city's commercial port and has cafes, boutiques, art galleries and museums. Not to be missed is Museu Arqueologic, Fundacio Joan Miro and The Museu Nacional d' Art de Catalunya. Once you are done with all the sight-seeing act like the Spaniards and have long unending sessions of tapas and chilled fruit sangrias all afternoon and evening. A must try is also their national dish, the Paella.
Montserrat - which is a little over 80 kms away from Barcelona and you can travel by bus or by train from the Metro station, is another gem that is hidden away above the top of a mountain, which is around 4,000 feet high in the Catalunya regions. The bus ride to Monserrat is unforgettable and the mountains offer panoramic views. This is a monastery which has the Holy Black Madonna. In fact, an interesting thing to note was that Hitler's general Himmler had also visited this Monastery during the reign of the Third Reich as they wanted to have the Black Madonna, but the Monks hid it! Today is has a Museum and the Placa de Santa Maria. In the afternoon around 1 pm, an all-boys choir group sings the most harmonious choirs I have ever heard which resonates all along the place - it is quite magical.
- The Cruise Port of Naples - home of the Pizza Margarita and one of the world's oldest living cities; Capri - the Island of Love; Sorrento - The Honeymooner's Paradise with a once in a lifetime visit to the lost city of Pompeii and the awe inspiring Mount Vesuvius.
Naples is one of Europe's oldest living cities and offers fascinating discoveries all along. Its easy access to the World Heritage Site of Pompeii under the towering shadow of one of the most famous volcanic Mountains, Mount Vesuvius has enthralled us all throughout the history lessons. A chance to dock in this city was therefore a rich introduction to Italy. The city is your typical introduction to Italian life, chaotic, full of noises and traffic that can almost knock you down! In fact, if you are from India, it might not seem so dangerous, considering our very own Schumacher wannabes roaming the streets quite often now! But, this is Italy and they make it up with their food, wine and animated gestures. This is a nation of beautiful people and once a while you will find someone straight out of the Milan or New York Fashion Week ramp, walking next to you! Style, perfect attire and slim figures make you want to head straight to the gym....it is that infectious!
That apart, Naples is also a rich historical treat! Do not miss a chance to see the ruins of Pompeii which are preserved well right up to the mummies! This place was buried under the Volcanic explosion of Vesuvius in 79 AD and remained forgotten for more than 1700 years before the excavation began. This fascinating piece of living human history is worth a lifetime's visit. The place is huge and you will need almost a day to cover Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum. While in Naples do not miss the National Archeological Museum, The Galleria Umberto, Teatro San Carlo which is the world's oldest Opera House, Castel Nuovo, The Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte or simply book yourself into the Hop On Hop Off bus for a great ride of all important places. Naples is the birth place of Pizza Margharita and make sure you gorge on a thin crust pizza as the experience would not be complete. A huge favorite to savor the Pizza is now in the Restaurant which was made famous by Julia Roberts in the movie – Eat, Pray, Love. You can also book an excursion to visit the mouth of Mount Vesuvius by a 4#4 drive and this is another fascinating journey as you climb up to the mouth of Mount Vesuvius. The Islands of Capri and Sorrento are a must visit if you plan to stay in Naples for a longer period. You have to take ferries from Naples to reach either of these two destinations. However, once you are there…it is heaven! Sorrento the island cliff top town was known as the “city of Sirens” in Greek mythology where mermaids would sing beautiful songs and lure seamen to death. This place is full of history and offers a delectable glimpse of art, architecture and wonders of the bygone era. Capri is one of the most famous islands in the world and most Hollywood celebrities have either visited or are visiting. Shopping is great in Capri but really expensive.
- The Cruise Port of Civitavecchia and the richness of Rome with its Roman History, Architecture and awe inspiring Monuments followed by the world's smallest State, Vatican City.
Civitavecchia is a small town in Italy which is the Port of Rome and takes about an hour and a half by bus or train to get into Rome. Having said that, you will obviously realize as you start exploring that Rome is impossible without at least three days in Rome. It is that big and far too many places of interest to miss! This was the heart of the glorious Roman Empire and throughout the ages much of the Roman grandeur, architecture is still intact in Rome, today the Capital city of Italy. This is a busy and bustling city with treacherous traffic and people passing by in colorful Vespas from every possible way onto you! As you walk around Rome you will never have even a moment when the camera is not shooting because it is that gorgeous! I for one, never wanted to come back from Rome. From the olden days, since Cleopatra of the old Egyptian Empire who entered the city of Rome by the river Tiber and its surrounding seven hills which lie in between the city, Rome is where Leonardo da Vinci and Michaengelo lived and created their masterpieces. Today this city is a great mixture of history, art, architecture and high fashion. The uber luxury brands are all present and rightly so because Italians have an amazing sense for fashion and appeal.
Start at Piazza de Popolo, the People’s Square and walk your way into a magical kingdom as you travel down the land of the ancient Egyptians and Romans who defined grandeur, pomp and show in this eternal city. As I think of writing about Rome in a few paragraphs, I realize how difficult it is to even start describing this city and how unforgettable this greatest of great cities is! So, I will only write about a few of the most important and must not miss attractions in Rome: The Colosseum, Piazza del Colosseo; the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill; Vittorio Emanuele Monument (Piazza Venezia); The Pantheon (Piazza della Rotunda); The Trevi Fountain (Piazza Trevi; open 24 hours) is where you definitely have to toss a coin and promise to come back, the Spanish Steps and leading up to Trinita dei Monti; Galleria Borghese and the National Museum of Rome. Rome's most magnificent shops are clustered on streets branching off from the elegant Piazza d'Spagna (the Spanish Steps). The most chic stores are found on Via Veneto and Via Condotti; more mainstream (and affordable) stores are on the long Via del Corso. Take a coffee break at Antico Caffe Greco (Via dei Condotti 86), a place to see and be seen since it opened in 1760.
The smallest Country in the World and yet some might say, the most influential - Vatican City is in the city of Rome and it will be highly advisable to book your tour online. On Wednesdays, the Pope comes out of the famous window in Vatican and crowds gather in thousands to seek his blessings - not essentially a good time and day to see Vatican. The must visit Museo Vaticano or The Vatican Museums are once in a lifetime visit and if you love art, architecture, History this is a treasure house where some of the most important paintings, masterpieces, historical things and things of the bygone era are preserved well. This is a very important part of peoples culture in the world and will require half a day in the least to explore. Be sure to carry additional batteries for your camera! St. Peter's Basilica, Piazza San Pietro is the Holy Place for Roman Catholics across the world and this square is one of the most impressive manmade structures you will ever set eyes on. As you walk around it, you cannot help but open your mouth in awe. Civitavecchia, the Cruise Port is a small little town and has a gorgeous coastline. You will be quite happy to find delectable restaurants and souvenir shops and as you pass your time don't miss Fort Civitavecchia which is at the beginning of the Port.
- The Cruise Port of Livorno, gateway to Pisa with its seven wonders of the world - The Leaning Tower, the Baptistery and the gorgeous Cathedral with a trip along the Italian Coast to the UNESCO World Heritage village of Cinque Terre.
If you take a sneek peak into the map of Italy, you will realize that Livorno lies in the Tuscany region of Italy - one of the most celebrated and sought after destinations in the world. This is also the gateway to the town of Pisa, Cinque Terre, Florence and Venice....dream destinations. The Tuscan region of Italy is dotted with picture perfect landscape and as such the climate is extremely good, no wonder you have some of the finest wines being produced in this region. I will refrain from writing about Venice as I could not make it to this place for lack of time and I wanted to stay in Venice and explore. So till my next trip, which I hope happens soon, let us explore Pisa and Cinque Terre.
Situated on the banks of the River Arno, Pisa in Tuscany is a gorgeous city that is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Although, quite unknown in our parts of the globe, Pisa also has one of the most famous Universities in the world and has more than 60,000 students in its rolls. The Leaning Tower is located in the Fields of Miracles part of Pisa and as such the city can be divided into four distinct regions. The entire city is walkable and you can spend hours roaming the streets of Pisa. The Cathedral, The Baptistery, Campo Santo Monumentale, Museo del Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie for some really good artwork and Piazza dei Cavalieri the historical city center are some of the not to be missed attractions in this place. If you have time, you can also do a tour of the University Botanical Gardens. While in Pisa, do not miss the Italian Restaurants serving delectable Italian gourmet. The festival of Luminara and the Game of Bridge both held in June annually are two gorgeous festivals highlighting history and culture of the regions. Cinque Terre refers to five lands which lie in the Tuscan region of Italy. The area is rich in Tuscan landscapes and offers a great introduction to the region, people, culture and natural bounty. Manorala, the town perched on top of the hills for centuries is an unforgettable town and you can pass your time walking all along the narrow alleys, staircases and walkways as every route offers you a rare glimpse of Italian Village life.
- The Cruise Port of Marseilles in France, voted the European Cultural Capital of 2013 and 2014 with its historic quarters of Viex Port, the Cathedral of Noctre Dame, The Castle of If: Count of Monte Christo Fame and visit to Avignon, the Palace of the Popes.
Voted the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2013 and 2014, Marseille is the second largest city in France and the largest Port in the country. For centuries, this place has seen an infux of peoples and cultures from all across the globe and more than 2,000 years later today it is a melting pot of French, Egyptian, Roman, African and Arab influences. This is a gorgeous city and is a treasure house. For first time visitors, a real glimpse of France. The main area is the region of Viex Port or Old Port with its inner harbor and countless cafes, places of interest, museums and city. The Train ride to the Cathedral of Noctre Dame is a must from Viex Port and this enchanting ride across the city to the top of the Hill is definitely a must. A visit to the Cathedral of Noctre Dame, which is the highest point in the city of Marseille, offers a panoramic view of the sea and the glorious city below. Other places of interest are: Basilique St-Victor, Cathedrale de la Major, Musee Cantini and Palais Longchamp. A boat ride to The Island of Chateau d'If as made famous in the novel by Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Christo is a must see attraction. The city of Marseille is a historical treasure house and you will find ample things to do, see and eat all around. Avignon is famous as it is the city to which the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century. The palace they built, 'Le Palais des Papes,' or the Palace of Popes, is the world's largest Gothic edifice and is a stunning masterpiece. They have several Wine Tasting and Tours available so book a tour and enjoy. It is a little far away from Marseille, about an hour and half by road.
- The Cruise Port of Palma de Majorca in the Balearic Islands of Spain with its Moorish Casbahs and the amalgamantion of Moslem and Christian conquests and gorgeous views of some of Europe's oldest Stalagtite and Stalagmite Underground Caves in Hams, trip to Porto Christo and the party capital of the World - Ibiza.
The Port of Palma Mallorca or Majorca is the capital of the Balearic Islands. This age old city for long has been a subject of numerous conquests both by the Arabs and the Christians and as such both cultures have left indelible marks in its soil in terms of culture, art, architecture and history. This place will remind you as much of Turkey in certain quarters as much as any other mainland European city. Its small lanes and narrow alleys in the Old City, where the majority of tourist attractions lie, will transform you to a dreamland where the best of both civilizations can be savored. The architecture reflects the Moorish and Renaissance styles freely all across the city and has blended perfectly in this gorgeous sunny port with a beautiful harbor. Porto Pi is a major Shopping Center near the Port of Palma Mallorca and has numerous outlets, convenience stores and restaurants to spend quite some time. Places not to miss are: La Seu or the Palma Cathedral which is by far one of the most impressive Cathedrals across the world in its design, presence and magnitude. The Cathedral complex is massive and contains two sides, one which is the seaside and another city side. The Cathedral also houses the artwork of Antonio Gaudi and the famous Rose Window stained Glass; Palau de l'Almudaina - Carrer Palau Reial; Museu de Mallorca, The Es Baluard Museum of Contemporary Art, Banys Arabs, Basilica de Sant Francesc, Placa Major - Palma Square, Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro and the Palma Aquarium. Two other places which you can definitely explore by road near Palma are the town of Porto Christo and one of Europe's oldest Stalactite and Stalagmite Caves in Hams. If you are going towards Hams do visit one of the Pearl factories which give you an insider's guide to the famous Mallorca Pearls.
Ibiza, the party capital of the world is a short 40 minute plane ride from Palma and is not too expensive. If you do have a few days planned in Palma, Ibiza is a definite must on your Itinerary. This gorgeous Island in the Balearic Islands is not only a Party Haven but is gorgeous with breathtaking landscapes and places of interest. The region is dotted with Pine trees all over and will offer you a delightful paradise for that perfect vacation you were looking for!