Join Nikita Chawla as she cruises along the picturesque towns and sun kissed shores of the Mediterranean
A cruise off the Mediterranean is something many dream of, and my sister and I just decided to make it a reality. Wanting a holiday where we can truly relax and not play Race against Time to cover a fancy checklist, we scheduled our annual rendezvous halfway across the world (she hails from Sydney) and embarked on an unforgettable journey which (in retrospect) we would cherish for the rest of our lives!
Armed with sunscreen, avomine (for sea sickness which I never experienced), shades and extra memory cards we boarded our cruise liner from the port of Civitavecchia (Rome).
This 7star luxury hotel on sea was complete with Swarovski staircases, sports bars, bowling alleys, coffee and wine bars, private jacuzzis and tanning beds, the quintessential spa, a tennis court, basketball court and even a mini football field!
The vessel sauntered across pristine blue waters against a vast expanse of blue sky. We docked at a new port city every other day (we covered six ports in eight days) with the option to get off and tour a new city in a different European country every 24 odd hours.
However, with world class recreational facilities on board, the mere thought of getting down made me guilt-ridden. Should I attend the White Night party on Deck 14 and give the jive salsa lesson a miss or skip both and woo lady luck a the casino? How about the Master Chef at Sea my sister wants to compete in and the troupe that’s tap dancing in a bit? I caught myself obsessing over ‘what’s happening out there?’ more frequently than I’d care to admit. Sleep eluded me and gave way to a certain restlessness which is accompanied by FOMO (Yes, the Fear of Missing out is real). Until now I used to think this was just another word loosely thrown around by whimsical teenagers or the less decisive folks, but now I knew better!
After this I would inhale the cool morning breeze and capture that picture perfect sunrise on my DSLR. These eight minutes of uninterrupted solitude in the lap of nature made me realise how much of a getaway my frayed city nerves needed. Soon these periods stretched on to half an hour and my ‘me time’ became a safe haven where I could just ‘be’. The sea has a vast heart that calmly absorbed and accepting whatever I threw at it. No questions asked, no judgements made allowing me to commune with nature making it a holyday.
Set against dotted coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea, each port city is thematically connected yet somehow manages to hold its own. Our room was at the far end of the ship and the balcony view to die for! Each morning we were greeted by a huge colony of noisy silver gulls and breath-taking scenery. A Chinese couple stayed in the room adjacent to ours and without fail fed them bread religiously. The lady would toss the crumbs and the husband would snap away as the birds swooned at lightning speed to lap it up.
With four restaurants to choose from (buffet and a la carte all on the house) the spread ranged from Mexican and Italian to French as well as Sushi. The food was free flowing, the spread lavish with over 100 dishes to choose from! If you’re non vegetarian (this means eating absolutely anything and everything that moves) then Ship buffet is nothing less than Paradise! Pasta in octopus sauce, sautéed shrimp salad, bacon delicacies, oysters and clamswith ostentatious presentation…you get the picture. The vegans had options too in the ’health corner’ or the all-day breakfast. My desi taste buds craved home food every now and then but as a seasoned traveller it’s nothing I couldn’t manage.
While the sun kissed shores of southern France make for ideal holiday destinations, the delightful towns lying inland proved to be equally worth a visit. Our tour was designed to savour two such jewels, starting with a 40 minute drive to Aix-en-Provence where we admired the Cathedral of the Holy saviour. This cathedral boasts of a richly decorated Gothic façade with elaborately carved doors and is flanked on the north with an unfinished tower. The other wonder was the Mazarino Quarter, a 17th century residential district where we spent a leisurely afternoon shopping for souvenirs and the famous handmade soaps of Marseille. Far away from the maddening crowd, this port city nestled on the French Rivera is the perfect mix between tradition and modernity interspersed with generous a dose of culture, art and heritage.
Afterwards, we ambitiously boarded a hop on hop off train tour the neo- byzantine Church of Notre Dame de la garde Basilica.
Camera, Steady, Go! Palma de Mallorca
The next morning we opened our curtains to the breath taking shores of the western Mediterranean. One look and we knew we had to get off! (Our over enthusiastic Chinese neighbours had already left).
The photogenic Palma de Mallorca is a land rich in natural beauty, cultural heritage and tradition with notable ancient Arab influences. Our tour lasted about 6 hours and so did our camera battery. We visited the seafront promenade, Palace ofAlmundaina, La Lonja (the Moorish old Town) and the marketplace but it was the majestic Santa Maria Cathedral that stood out with its labyrinthine historical quarters. This 13th century Gothic masterpiece was built on the foundations of a former mosque and I was whisked away to an era of romance and chivalry as our guide shared anecdotes. Just when I thought I had seen all the city has to offer we strolled on to the picturesque lanes of the old quarter en route to a 17th century courtyard setting, opulently styled with birdcages, fountains and piles of fruits. I sipped a glass of refreshing sangria and savoured the convivial atmosphere under an unforgettable indigo sky.
By the time we got our bearings right and learnt about the various entry and exit points of the Ship, the trip was over! Looking back it feels like a surreal experience where the days flew by, an illusion of sorts far, far away from the current reality of this urban concrete jungle I call home. Of course I have photographs and memories to validate the existence of this sweet dream which, if given a chance I would never want to wake from!