Friday, July 4, 2014

Vacation 2014: Wrap-up.

(Sorry. No pictures. Isn't 2,600 enough?)

And so it ends. Flying now above the North Atlantic on our way to Detroit, we are left to chew on a vast collection of impressions and experiences. This certainly ranks as my favorite vacation thus far. Apart from our brief flights thru Amsterdam, I had never seen any of these places we visited. And each one seemed in some way to top the last, such that the days seemed to get better and better as we went.

Part of this is, I think, just a readiness to take in whatever the day holds in store. I’m always eager to explore a new place, and so each new day is a no-lose proposition. But it’s also the case that each of these places is more interesting than I expected. I knew I’d love Venice and Rome, and I really wanted to see the streets of Monaco. But I had little expectation about Marseilles or Livorno or Naples or Corfu or Taormina or Dubrovnik or Kotor. And they all turned out to be fantastic.

Looking back, I think only in Taormina did our usual strategy of just hitting the streets and seeing what we see as we walked around miss its mark. The tender port for Taormina was actually a little coastal village that was nice enough. But it sounds as though the actual village of Taormina proper was spectacular and very worth taking the trouble to get to it, up and over the mountain range visible from the coast. But in every other case we just picked a place or shop or region we wanted to see, and just let the days happen to us. Especially in the bigger cities that’s a failsafe proposition. But even in the smaller places it worked.

I think our routing was a bit odd. We went very slowly from Taormina over to Corfu, taking our day at sea where one wasn’t required travel-wise. then from Corfu we bypassed Kotor to go to Dubrovnik, then went back to Kotor and subsequently had quite a haul to make it to Venice. We had to leave Kotor early—14:00—and steamed continuously to make it to Venice by 13:00 the next day. There must be a reason we didn’t go in order (Corfu, Kotor, Dubrovnik, Venice), but it would have gotten us to Venice sooner, which would have been cool. But I’m just thinking aloud. This takes nothing away from any of the ports.

One thought we had—not really a complaint, but more an observation—that we might apply to future trips: a cruise that hits 10 new places in 12 days makes for quite a number of new things to process. And it might be wise to restrict ourselves to that or to maybe only a single other place in addition. Getting to Europe (or, if it happens, to Australia or Southeast Asia or wherever) is enough of a trial that I think the smart money is on squeezing everything one can out of one’s visit since coming back is difficult and uncertain. We began this cruise with five days in Barcelona, and that may turn out to have been the best part of the same vacation. After this more leisurely stay, we both declared Barcelona to be our new favorite travel destination, and I can’t help thinking this is because we had the most time there. If we had started with five days in Rome (or ended that way), we both think that might have become our favorite place. I think there’s a place for little day-visits to these smaller countries; one would simply not need more time in Monaco or Livorno or Kotor, for example. But a little time to get to know a bigger place brings definite rewards.

I also find myself chewing on the whole cruise experience. I have a number of friends for whom this would simply not be their cup of tea as a means of travel, probably for the very reasons I allude to above: these little day-visits overwhelm the senses and do not allow the experiences that a longer visit does. We initially said that this would be a great way to get a general overview of these places with an eye on whether we’d want to come back and explore further. Well and good. But I find myself saying every day like a mantra: Everything Is Better On The Ship. I’ve said this before. Doing even the most mundane things on an ocean liner makes them a wee bit magical. I don’t know that this itinerary, say, by car, would have had the same impact as arriving by ship affords. But the ship is, well, magnificent. And not least because it’s your home and your hotel and your commissary and it travels with you! You wake up every day and your hotel had moved! How cool is that? This is offset by 1) the realization that no everyone will be so nourished by the ship, and 2) the reality that everything you see is accompanied by one or two thousand other people getting off the ship to see it with you (or more in a big port like Venice or Rome where several cruise ships dock daily). We almost never do the ship-sanctioned activities, but there’s no getting around a big influx of tourists to the little village you’re attempting to explore on your own.

To be fair, it was a great group of tourists on the ship (a third of the 2,200 passengers were Aussies!); there were very few whining, privileged Americans that we saw. And most everyone we saw ashore was polite and friendly and appreciative that people allowed the disruption of their little idyllic villages for a few tourist dollars. For the first time in 10 years of cruising, we actually met and befriended people on the cruise. We had dinner on two occasions with people we met on the ship, and both were fabulous couples. A shame that we’ve all come from such far-flung places; it’ll be hard to connect again. But I want to take a minute to celebrate what we had rather than lament what difficulty it may bring!

After a week in NYC and then these three weeks in Europe, I think we’re both well ready for some down time at home. Alas, Susan has a Broadway Theatre Teacher’s Workshop back in NYC this next week. So we have another week to wait before downtime can begin. Still, a couple days at home seem welcome.

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