At the time of embarking the cruise, we had been touring Europe for two weeks already, visiting Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Rome, so by this time we were pretty tired of sightseeing. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to wind down than this cruise.
Not knowing what to expect, and having had zero time to do my obsessive googling in advance, we went with a very open mind and were simply blown away- both by the ship itself and the destinations.
We embarked in Rome, and then headed to Elba, Portoferraio, which is a tiny island- Napolean was exiled here. It was pretty awesome to wake up, open the curtains and have a panoramic view of a hilly landscape dotted with pastel coloured houses, surrounded by luminous turquoise water. I’ve said before that this was my favourite part about the cruise- waking up to a different, spectacular, view each morning. The ship pulled up right at the harbour, so we literally got off the ship and found ourselves on the street. The strict dress code at dinner (no blue jeans or shorts) required us to go shopping to get Rishav some formal pants, so we went to the tiny, dusty shops- all owner run, and by way of sign language and our pathetic attempts at Italian, managed to get him two really good pairs of pants.
We strolled around the coast, which was lined with bars, restaurants and ice cream shops. There is a huge fortress which is the focal point of the island, and we made our way to the entrance. We climbed and climbed, stopping to take photos along the way. The higher we went, the more beautiful the view was. We must have explored the fortress for about 2 hours before we got to the top. I loved discovering on our own, as opposed to being on an organised tour. It was also really nice to be away from masses of tourists and the hustle and bustle of a big city. We were so happy.
|This pic is overexposed, but it’s one of the few I have of us together. I hate those “proof that I was there” pictures, so most of our photos are of the scenery minus ourselves.|
|Featuring beautiful Azamara|
Trying to find Napolean’s house was such a fail. Maybe it was under construction, or not visible from street level, but we just couldn’t find it. We did come across typical Italian small town streets while walking around- hardly wide enough for one car, with washing hanging outside.
The next day, we docked in Livorno, half an hour from Pisa and an hour and a half from Florence. We spent the first day visiting Pisa- it was really cool to see the Leaning Tower but that’s about all Pisa has to offer…
We also visited a cathedral, but because my shoulders were bare, security gave me THIS to wear to cover my body :/ You need to remain covered as a sign of respect. I wasn’t very pleased!
We wanted to get back to the ship early, so we could have some time to relax ahead of the “Azamazing Evening” that had been planned for all guests. This is a local experience rich in culture, and comes complimentary with every cruise. Ours was a dinner in a castle within the rolling Tuscan winelands, with a Three Tenors performance. It sounded promising, and started off well, but lost momentum towards the end. We had to drive 1.5 hours to get there, and were met with the most gorgeous view. Because guests were split into two groups at two castles, the Tenors had to perform twice. Ours was the second performance of the night, and dinner had still not finished by 11pm, nor was there sight of the tenors. People grew tired and were dreading the 1.5 hour drive back, especially considering most had an 8am tour of Florence planned for the next morning. Nevertheless, the Azamara staff were very apologetic and most guests understood that it wasn’t their fault. It was only the second or third time they’ve done this type of event so I trust that next time it will be more organised.
The next morning, we were grumpily up bright and early- ready to explore Florence. I had heard so much about this city, so was really excited to visit it.
We started by visiting the most beautiful cathedral I have ever set my eyes on. The intricate detailing on the walls was just incredible. We also found free wifi at a dodgy looking cafe across the road and had the most delicious custard croissant in the world- I’ll dream about it forever. Soft, flaky, melt in the mouth pastry with cold, creamy custard.
When in Italy, you’ve got a problem if you don’t like Italian food. There are very few places to eat food that is not Italian. You can’t just grab a burger or a wrap and expect it to be good. These people do pizza and pasta- that’s it. We got SO tired of it after a while and were so grateful to be able to eat on the ship. This is lunch in Florence, doughy pizza base 🙁 Most of the other guests shopped up a storm in Florence- it is the leather capital of the world. Both our bags were already full to the brim, so I picked up some pashmina’s to give my family, but that’s it.
Our next stop was Portovenere, a small, medieval town which stretches north along the coast of the famous “Cinque Terre” or “Five Lands”, which is justifiably famous as one of the most stunning coastal regions in all of Italy. Once again, we woke up to a breathtaking view.
I was particularly surprised at the beaches on these islands- there is no sand, only pebbles and rocks! No one lets that bother them though, people just whip out towels and sit on the rocks :/
Again, the scenery was just beautiful- rocky coves juxtaposed with blue ocean, a lone yacht floating towards the shore.
We walked all along the coast, taking in the views, people watching and chatting. The more time we spent in Europe, the more we fell in love with it, and I really think that this trip gave us the kick start we both needed to realise that we’re going to be living our same lives in South Africa forever more unless we make a move. Now. Read this blog post to see how we’re going to do that.
|The dog has his own towel 🙂|
Back at the ship that night, Windows Cafe (the buffet restaurant), was hosting an indian buffet. After having zero spicy food for almost 3 weeks, we were on cloud 9! Azamara really goes all out when planning events on the ship- they put in so much effort to make the Indian buffet authentic, we even had a live singer crooning Bollywood tunes!
|The view from the ship just before we left, sunset was only at 9pm each night.|
As time passed, I grew more and more despondent that the trip was coming to an end. We had two more nights left before a crazy long journey back to SA.
I had no idea that our last two days would be the best of the cruise, if not the entire trip.
On the second last day, we were due to visit two ports, the first being Santa Margarita, a classic harbour town. We opted to stay on the ship for the morning- Rishav wanted to go to the gym and I lay around the pool reading while having pina colada upon pina colada. We were in the middle of the ocean, and it literally felt like I was in Mauritius. Who knew that a ship could give you a resort experience?! We even played table tennis- our favourite resort activity 🙂
After lunch, we docked at Portofino. I had never heard of Portofino before, but when I saw all the luxury yachts docked at the harbour, I knew that it was a luxury destination. There is a Louis Vuitton store, for God’s sake! On a tiny island! If you don’t believe me- here’s a blog post that Kylie Minogue wrote about her holiday there. Italian designers like Stefano Gabbana and Armani have houses there… I almost expected Leonardo di Caprio to step off one of those yachts- they were that amazing. As an aside, we went to a cafe on the harbour, ordered a coke without looking at the menu, and paid R180 for it. Ouch.
The next day, we woke up in Monte Carlo, Monaco! It was insane- every second car was a Porsche, Ferrari or Bentley. The entire state is only 2 square kilometers in size, the second smallest country in the world- after the Vatican. It was definitely something to tick off the bucket list but unless you have loads of cash to burn I’m not sure that there’s too much to do there. The wealth is just crazy though.
We went to the palace, saw the changing of the guards, visited the spot where the F1 race starts and finishes- which inspired us to book flights to Singapore on a whim. So, we’re going to the Singapore Grand Prix next month- a night race through the city. That’s another story for another day though 🙂
Dinner that night was an all white party on the deck. I honestly felt like I was a celebrity. Imagine being in MONACO, on a ship, with amazing food, cocktails, live music and everyone dressed in white. The staff moved all the deck chairs to make space for the tables, and it was amazing.
And that was the end of the cruise. The next morning, we woke up at 3:30am, got a taxi at 4:30am and drove to Nice to catch a flight to Amsterdam and then to Jozi.
I was SO depressed when I got back, and I spent most of the flight reading their brochure and planning my return. I’m going to take my mom next time- a cruise is a great family holiday because everyone can do their own thing during the day but still spend time together in the evening. They also really take care of older people and make sure that they’re comfortable.
I’ve been dying to visit Croatia but it’s such a mission to get there and to fly from one destination to another, so I think a cruise would be the perfect way to explore Croatia.
Azamara doesn’t only cruise through Europe though. They have cruises through India, South America and even Thailand.
Visit www.cruises.co.za for more details.