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My Cruising Adventures - The Mediterranean (2)


April, 2017


Ship - Norwegian Spirit






Our first day ‘in’ Barcelona was actually spent outside the city. Our plane landed early in the morning, we picked up the car and headed north. Our destination was the National Park and Abbey of beautiful Montserrat (which is Catalan for Serrated Mountain).

We didn’t let the Rain in Spain dampen our enjoyment of the impressive monastery built into the side of the mountain. But even more enjoyable was hiking around the unique geology and hermitage ruins atop the mountain’s peaks. Especially as the sun came out while we were up there.

And almost as much fun, was riding the inclined railway, cable car and funiculars up and down Montserrat  mountain.





On our second day ‘in’ Barcelona, we didn’t even manage to remain in Spain! But it was Rich’s birthday, so hopefully you’ll let us off. In fact, we jumped on the Autopista to Carcassonne in Southern France.

We’ve been to Carcassonne before, but this amazing Medieval Citadel was well worth a return visit. It was fun introducing our friends, Jamie and Amy, to this magical place. We even got to play a round of the board game Carcassonne, which first drew us to this remarkable place, whilst sitting on the city wall!






Finally, we made it into Barcelona itself. We spent two and a half days exploring this beautiful city.

We’d heard some really great things about Barcelona and they all turned out to be true. We loved the city. 

Our first full day there started on a high. Literally. We visited the Sagrada Familia (which, incidentally, our apartment overlooked... see the photo to the left), including ascending one of the towers for an unparalleled view across the city. The Sagrada Familia is unlike any cathedral we’ve visited before, and absolutely beautiful.

Highlights of the rest of our time included a visit to Park Guell, the Eixample District (taking in Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Casa Batllo), Plaça Espanya, Montjuïc, La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter.

But perhaps the most unusual thing we saw was the Paradiso Pastrami Bar, a cocktail bar (I didn’t have a drink myself, of course), which you enter through a fridge in a sandwich shop!





We arrived in Marseille in the middle of a rain storm, but didn’t let it dampen our spirits. We started with a great (if soggy) view  of the old port from Parc Émile Duclaux, before heading up the hill to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde for an even more spectacular view across Marseille.

We then headed out of town to visit the picturesque fishing port of Cassis.  

With the clouds clearing, our driver dropped us back in the old harbour, from where we wandered up to the Abbaye Saint Victor. Back beside the harbour, we accidentally ended-up having lunch in the restaurant that features in the movie Love Actually.

Having failed to get inside Fort Saint Nicolas, which appears to be permanently closed, we strolled the whole way around the old harbour to Fort Saint Jean, which we were able to explore. From there we wandered down to the Cathédrale La Major, from which we caught a taxi back to the ship.





By the time we got to Monaco, we’d left the rain behind us and so arrived in glorious sunshine. We spent the morning walking the entire Formula 1 track, taking in the sights and place names that were already so familiar to us from years of watching the Grand Prix set there. 

Of course, one of the highlights was going inside the famous Casino Monte Carlo, although disappointingly, there was no sign of James Bond. The Japanese Garden provided a peaceful oasis from the hustle and bustle of Monte Carlo.

After lunch we headed up the hill to tour the impressive Palais Princier, Monaco’s royal seat of government, and on to see the F1 cars in the private automobile collection of Prince Ranier III. We ended our day with a quick refreshment stop at the famous Rascasse Cafe.





Livorno is the port for Tuscany, including Pisa, Florence, Sienna  and San Gimignano. As we’d all visited these amazing places before, we decided to hire a car and head up the coast to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cinque Terre.

We caught a boat from La Spezia. The view of the five isolated fishing villages of Cinque Terre from the sea, was unbeatable. Although we docked at four of five of the villages on the way, we stayed on the boat until Monterosso al Mare, the westernmost of the five. From there we backtracked by train to Corniglia, which we explored on foot, before catching the train back to La Spezia.





Civitavecchia is primarily the cruise port for Rome, but we decided to avoid returning to the Italian capital, and again picked up a hire car to explore the area outside the city. Whereas the previous day we had ended up with a Fiat Panda, today Rich had the pleasure of driving an Alfa Romeo in Italy!

Our first stop was the ruined Roman town of Ostia Antica, which rivals Pompeii  in size. If an entire 2000-year-old Roman city wasn’t enough, in the afternoon we headed to Cerveteri to explore the impressive and seeming endless tombs of the Banditaccia Etruscan Necropolis, which date back to the 7th century BC.





Once again, we’d visited the main sites near Naples, namely Pompeii and Vesuvius, on a previous trip to Italy so we decided to spend our day in Naples itself.

I say ‘in’ Naples, but we began our day more than 100 feet beneath the city, in the Roman and Greek tunnels of Napoli Sotterranea, which was simply amazing. We filled the rest of the day exploring the UNESCO World Heritage area of Naples. We visited the Duomo, took the funicular up the Castel Sant'Elmo for incredible views of the entire city. From there we descended through the Spanish Quarters to the Piazza del Plebiscito, the glass domed Galleria Umberto I, and the Castel Nuovo.

And of course, how could we leave Naples, birthplace of the pizza, without trying the local delicacy?!


Iraklion, Crete



Iraklion (also spelled Heraklion)  wasn’t just our first stop in Crete, but in Greece as a whole.

Avoiding the big bus tours, we hopped in a taxi and made a beeline for the ancient palace of Knossos, arriving there well before most of the day’s other visitors. The palace was impressive, although a little spoiled by the overenthusiastic reconstructions of the early 20th century archaeologist who excavated the site.

Next we headed down into town, to the Archaeological Museum, where we marvelled at the impressive displays of artefacts found at Knossos and throughout Crete. After a tasty traditional Cretan lunch on the busy 1866 Street, we explored the old centre of Iraklion on foot, making our way down to the Venetian fortress.

Unfortunately, this must-see item on our list of things to do in Crete had closed minutes before our arrival. I hope we’ve learned our lesson: always check opening hours beforehand!





We jumped in a taxi from the Port of Piraeus to meet up with our guide Marialena Christopoulou at the base of the Acropolis. As we climbed the hill we were virtually alone. The ruins looked magnificent bathed in the golden early morning sunshine and we had the site almost completely to ourselves.

We hung on Marialena’s every word as she introduced us to the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the National Archaeological Museum and so much more. We had a yummy snack of different spanakopita, before making our way to the Ancient Agora through the lively Plaka district.

A marvellous day in Athens culminated with us watching the changing of the guard at the Greek parliament buildings.





Zadar was our last port of call, and represented a welcome return to Croatia. We spent the day wandering around the picturesque old town on foot, starting at the impressive Sea Organ, which converts wave energy into haunting music.

But perhaps the highlight of the day was the former church of St Donat’s, in which you can clearly see how earlier Roman masonry was used to construct the later building.







I can’t over emphasise what a joy it was to return to Venice, and finally get to introduce Jamie and Amy to my favourite city in the World!

We spent much of our time there visiting familiar locations, but with fresh eyes, as we focussed on perfecting the storyline for Jaspa’s Journey 5: The Ses Collector of Venice. We also got to explore a couple of places, which had previously been beyond our grasp.

The first of these new locations was the deserted Island of Poveglia, situated in the lagoon about three miles south of the heart of Venice. A former plague island and mental asylum, Poveglia has the unenviable reputation of being the most haunted island on Earth.

Yet without doubt, the most exciting place we got to explore during our visit was inside the famous Venetian Arsenale, which is normally off limits to most visitors. Thanks very much to Captain Luca Pegoraro and the Italian Navy for allowing such amazing access.

We also had great meetings with craftsman Piero Dri, whose workshop will feature extensively in The Ses Collector,  and not forgetting Elena Zambardi and Chiara Montan of the Puntomose project, which is designed to protect Venice and its lagoon from future high water events.

Keep your eyes peeled for Jaspa’s Journey 5: The Ses Collector of Venice... it’s going to be a cracker!


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