Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cruise Day 4: Livorno.

Livorno pictures HERE.

This is the dilemma with cruise ship travel: to a large extent, the itinerary of any given day is dictated by the ship’s schedule. True, even without the ship (unless you just got off an airplane and lit out) you’d be bound by whatever reservations you made as you planned your vacation; but cruise ship schedules tend to put you ashore in the morning and dictate an all-aboard around suppertime. So you have a limited time each day to explore the port, or to choose between several options. If it’s a place you’ve never been before, the choosing can be hard.

And so it was in Livorno. Most people use this day as a jumping-off point to nearby Pisa (to see the leaning tower) or to head a bit further afield to Florence. We debated—Florence seems like a place to see—but we were both a little tapped-out from a week of travel (following hard on a long-ish week in New York). So we decided we’d rather make a short day looking around Livorno than to spend 4+ hours in transit for 5 hours on the hoof in Florence. (It always feels odd to me to depart a new place I haven’t explored for some OTHER place I haven’t explored, even as I acknowledge that the other place may be more noteworthy.) Nobody said anything very complimentary about Livorno, but it turns out to be an interesting town with a big water presence. We walked around and saw some Venice-like canals and an old fort that, apparently, was occupied by post-WWII squatters until the 60s. From there we just walked at random and stumbled upon a great street market that we spent a couple hours exploring. It was all quite un-touristy compared to the usual cruise ship fare—as with Marseilles, the giveaway was the preponderance of socks and underwear at many market stalls. There was a fish and food market in an old building next door to the outdoor market, so we roamed those stalls as well. Compared to the tourist sites we had seen thus far, it all seemed a bit tired and low-rent, but honestly that was refreshing.

And that was pretty much the whole day. We made it back to the ship after about four hours and close to 10 miles, with enough time for a short nap and a leisurely swim and snacks (in other words, standard cruise ship daily life).

One oddity was the evening’s entertainment on the ship. There is a big showroom which can hold about half of the ship’s 2200 passengers, and so the evening’s shows are repeated twice, once at about 8:PM and another at 10:PM. The shows are about an hour, and they rotate among the ship’s cast of singers and dancers, a comedian or juggler or the like, a couple small musical acts, and some kind of ethnic show from the ship’s complement of Southeast Asian employees. Additionally, there are three or four other musical things going on throughout the ship: there is always a piano bar (which is surprisingly well-attended for what sounds to me like—well, it IS—lounge music); there’s a solo guitarist up in the “Crow’s Nest,” a bar at the uppermost deck at the bow of the ship—with a spectacular view of the sea ahead—a small dance combo in the center atrium at a bar there; and the house band typically plays rock and roll favorites somewhere else on the ship for three or four hours a day. On this cruise, for the first time, I see a group called the B.B. King’s Blues All-Stars playing in a large performance space every night. This is something new. They seem quite good, though I’ve only listened to them in passing. There’s generally a string trio or quartet on most ships that plays a couple hours in the evening, and I’ve sampled them on each cruise. The quality varies from quite marginal to really very good. On this cruise the classical fare is provided by a violinist and pianist. I could only stand a few minutes of this, though the pianist seemed quite good (I confess the solo violin is a particularly difficult instrument for me; I just don’t like the tone in general, and I HATE the constant, waggling vibrato).

So I try to sample everything, if briefly. But beyond that I don’t typically do their entertainment.

But on this cruise the surprise was an actual concert pianist in the main showroom! (A Chinese-Brit whom I did not know and whose name I cannot now remember). This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this in the main showroom, and from the description—“Concert Pianist”— I quite expected her to be more new-age or even have a showtunes trio accompanying her. But no! She played Liszt and Chopin and Beethoven and one of her own compositions. And she was quite good indeed. There were, of course, only about 200 people in the audience, but they were receptive and gave her a rousing ovation at the end.

So unexpected but delightful!

No comments: