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Wednesday, 02 July 2014 14:24

Mediterranean Ports

Written by  Lillian Africano

CruiseThere are Med ports I would gladly visit again and again. A pre- or post-cruise stay is recommended for several - because there is just too much to see and do in a single day.

Athens: The glory that was Greece is still here, evidenced by centuries-old monuments alongside high-rises, neoclassical buildings, tavernas, cafés and shops. A pre-cruise stay is recommended for itineraries that start here.  Major tours include the Acropolis, the museums and the great temples of Zeus. But it’s being part of Athenian life for a while, lingering in the cafes, having a great mezze with some ouzo or local beer in a taverna that makes for a satisfying feeling of having actually “been there,” instead of just passing through.

 

Barcelona: Here, too, an additional day or two is needed to get a sense of the city and the culture. Highly recommended are tours that feature the work of Antonio Gaudi, Barcelona’s most famous architect, who created sensuous, fantasy-like buildings. Some tours include extended visits to his greatest works - La Sagrada Familia cathedral and the public Park Güell - and brief drive-by views of other Gaudi buildings. With additional time, it’s possible to visit some of the city’s seven World Heritage Sites, the Gothic Quarter and walk tree-lined Los Ramblas, a feast of cafés, shops, street performers and flower sellers.

Istanbul: This city of infinite variety where Eastern and Western cultures meet demands more than a single day. It’s a city of mosques and minarets, sultans’ treasures, crowded bazaars, and holy Christian landmarks -- and it’s also a chaotic modern city that was the capital of three empires: the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. There are tours that focus either on Ottoman sites or on Byzantine sites; both include a short visit to the Grand Bazaar. Also noteworthy: a Jewish heritage tour that also includes a Grand Bazaar visit. With a one-day stopover, the best choice is a city tour that includes at least some of the major sites: Topkapi Palace (former residence of the Ottoman sultans, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, the Hippodrome and the Grand Bazaar.

Mykonos: Of all of Greece’s islands, this one is the most fun. It’s a bustling beauty with glorious beaches, waterfront cafés, delicious food (especially fresh fish) and shopping. The largest town is Mykonos town, also known as Chora or Hora; inland is the village of Ano Mera. The Hora walking tour includes all the major landmarks. For history buffs, the “must-have” tour is to the island of Delos, a World Heritage Site. Birthplace of Apollo, this vast archeological site includes temples, homes, statuary, a theater and a small museum.

Nice: Extra days would be bonus in this walk-able Riviera city - because it’s within easy driving distance of such destinations as Cannes, St. Tropez, Monaco and Eze. When time is limited, “Best of French Riviera” tours can include Cannes, St. Paul-de-Vence and Monaco. More concentrated are the city tours, the Cannes walking tour, the Monte Carlo walking tour and the Eze walking tour.

Palma de Mallorca: This pretty, sunny port, capital of the Balearic Islands, has a long and colorful history that’s reflected in the styles of the churches and buildings. Time in port can be pleasantly spent on one of the inviting beaches or meandering along Palma’s winding streets to visit castles and churches. There are city tours, also excursions to Valldemossa and the Drach Caves which usually includes a visit to the famous Majorca pearl factory.

Rome (Citavecchia): If the itinerary permits, more than one day is a must. The Imperial Rome version includes major sites like the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Arch of Constantine, Trevi Fountain, Vatican City and more. The Eternal City tour includes access to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums. With more than one day of port time, exploring on foot is a “realer” way to experience the city, to visit at leisure the Colosseum, the Pantheon or the Forum, walk the fashionable Via del Corso, savor the Italian meals, and to sample the exquisite gelato.

Santorini: Santorini lives up to the gorgeous photos of dramatic whitewashed cliff-top houses, hotels and churches, photo-worthy caldera (volcanic craters) and black beaches. The Thera volcanic eruption in the second millennium B.C. gave rise to the legend that the lost city of Atlantis lies beneath the bay. Some passengers may wish to simply enjoy lunch at one of the clifftop restaurants, take a leisurely stroll and do some shopping at the many upscale boutiques. It’s possible to ascend the cliff from the port to the city by donkey, most passengers either take the cable car or a shore excursion. The most popular tour may be the one to the exceptionally beautiful
Oia Village.

Venice: Beautiful, romantic and unique, this fairytale city deserves an extended stay. Centuries ago, the city was a wealthy world power; today La Serenissima is a magnificent grande dame, still enchanting - in spite of the armies of tourists. Many first-timers splurge on a romantic gondola ride on the Grand Canal, either through the cruise line or on their own. An espresso at the legendary Caffé Florian, the oldest in Italy, costs about ten bucks, but that experience is priceless when the musicians (March-October) provide a romantic serenade. There are excursions that visit the Basilica di San Marco, the iconic Torre dell’Orologio clock tower, the Doge’s palace and other landmarks, as well as boat trips, to the island of Murano to see glass blowing and to Burano to see lace-making.

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