Saturday, 18 July 2015

Cunard Cruise, Mediterranean

Day One - At Sea

A day at sea is always amazing, especially around hot countries. Our day consisted of sunbathing, swimming, dancing and eating - a lot of eating! Afternoon tea, followed by dressing for Formal Night.
Matt and I on our first formal evening
Day Two - Corfu
On the Old Fortress Walls, looking over Corfu Bay
Corfu was hot! After spending a couple of days on the air-conditioned boat, the sharp change in humidity and temperature was very noticeable. The walk from the port to the old town was two kilometres and consisted of walking past the old port, the new port and the new fortress. Corfu’s old town is made up of tiny streets that connect together to create a maze of quaint houses and small shops. Corfu has been occupied by many different nations and evidence of this could be seen everywhere from Venetian townhouses and small alleyways to British bandstands and cricket greens.
A view over Corfu

Whilst walking past a jewellery shop, we noticed signs that indicated that the shop was in partnerships with several cruise lines. Upon stopping to look at the sign, the owner approached us, explaining all about her store and partnership with cruises. The owner was lovely and created an amazing first impression of the native Greeks on Corfu, She also informed us of the key sights in the old town.

Strange metal sculpture
With our new knowledge, we headed east – out of the little streets and towards the old fortress. This structure could be seen from the harbour and provided many beautiful scenic photo shots. Corfu looked beautiful from here with so much blue sea and many large yachts. The rich architecture, which had much resemblance to Venetian architecture and the buildings seen in the French Rivera, could clearly be seen, with big bell towers and the town hall. When we initially got off the boat, we could see a cross like structure on the top of a hill. Jokingly Matt said we were going there – obviously we ended up climbing the hill to see it. It was a strange structure that looked like a radio mast that had been turned into a religious structure.

Matt and I at the tallest point of Old Town, Corfu
Upon exiting the old fortress, we headed towards the church. The journey there led us past the museum of Asian art and the Cricket green. The buildings were amazing and some still had original features, such as the archways over the road.

We finally finished our day trip off with a trip to the beach. Although the water was a perfect crystal blue, it wasn’t as warm as I had expected! Although the ship had informed us that it was 27 degrees, that is still 10 degrees below body temperature and it was noticeable!

The Old Fortress
Most interestingly, we arrived in Corfu a few days after the Greek Eurozone crisis. It was suggested that we could only withdraw €60 from an ATM. However, upon arriving on the island, every cashpoint we came across was “temporarily out of service” although most places still accepted credit card!

On the sail away from Corfu, we were able to move along the coastline up to the north of the island. This section of the island is renowned for its beautiful beaches and holiday resorts. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see them from the boat, but we were able to see the beautiful mountainous countryside that ran alongside it (and Albania)!

The streets of Old Town, Corfu
Day Three - Kotor
A small village in the Gulf of Kotor
Montenegro was never a place I had thought about for a holiday. Although it is based around the Mediterranean and blessed with warm temperatures, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Finding this country on the cruise itinerary was exciting, I didn’t know what to expect.

An early morning fisherman
The passage to Kotor was based down a huge fjord-like inlet of the Gulf of Kotor. This passage inland started at 5.30am and we go up to watch it.  We ordered breakfast to the side of the boat so we could eat and watch the huge cruise liner pass little costal towns on the path in. This was spectacular! All around us were huge rolling mountains and pretty villages. Many of these villages were likely fishing towns as there were lots of fishermen and equipment set up. The scenery may have been some of the best I have ever seen.

Old Town, Kotor
Kotor (like Corfu before) has been occupied by many other nations. It was founded by the Romans and stayed under Roman rule until the breakup in AD 476. Since then it has switched between occupation and being an independent republic. Many of the cities buildings were built during the 300-year Venetian rule from 1420 – this Venetian influence can still be felt today.

A view from the city walls over the Bay of Kotor

When we finally docked in Kotor – a World Heritage Site - at 8am it wasn’t a disappointment. City walls that encased the houses and snaked up the mountain bordered the old town. It was already starting to get warm at 8am and TripAdvisors top rated thing to do in Kotor is climb the City Walls. Not wanting to do this when it is too hot, we left straight for the wall climb, whilst it was still in the shade. 

The boat is the biggest building here!
Kotor Harbour
The walk was steep, there were two paths – one that was made of shingle and is quite slippery and the other was steps, 1350 steps in total (or 675 single leg squats per leg as I like to think of it). The views all the way up the climb were amazing. The huge cruise liner looked out of place settled in the beautiful bay and surrounded by mountains. When we finally reached the top we were able to take in all the scenery next to a Montenegro flag! The walk down was much simpler, but the sun was now overhead – I felt sorry for the late risers who were just starting this walk, it was hot enough without direct sunlight! After climbing the mountain, it was clear why this was one of the best things to do in Kotor.

Montenegro flag on the top of the city walls
Upon arriving back into the old town, we wondered round the old cobbled streets. Unfortunately I felt the town was highly touristy and now 2000 cruise passengers were wondering the streets, cluttering the town. We headed to Kotor’s “shopping mall” which was very small, but did have free Wi-Fi (which was amazing after not having it on the boat).

We popped back to the boat for lunch and afternoon tea (with it literally being parked in the town). In the evening (when it was cooler) we were able to explore around the town – there wasn’t much except residential housing, but we did get a beautiful shot of the boat in the bay. Many of our fellow cruise passengers jumped on a hop on hop off tour of the surrounding towns which they said was really good and easily worth the €15 price tag!
The boat from the shore

When leaving Kotor, it was dark so we were unable to see the beautiful scenery at night, but did get to see the glow of the small towns on the water.

Day Four - At Sea

Another day at sea - another day of sunbathing and eating. Today we were on the highest deck so we had a constant breeze over us, causing us not to feel the heat and get slightly sunburnt!

In the evening we had another formal evening.

Matt and I on our second formal evening
Day Five/Six - Venice
A canal in Venice
I have already been to Venice a couple of years ago, but I have heard this is a romantic city that is best enjoyed with someone. Thankfully this time I had Matthew with me to enjoy it! The temperature was around 7 degrees hotter in July than it was last time I went in September and it really did make a difference – not just whilst walking around in the backstreets, but also with the larger and busier crowds that were attracted to the city.

One of the prettiest
churches I have visited
Our initial journey into Venice began at 6am when we picked up a pilot to help our Captain (Captain Philpot) manoeuvre the boat down the Venetian Canals. This means our boat sailed past the Lido and then past the main Island of Venice. We were very close to the island as we sailed in and could see people walking around. Two tugs attached themselves to the front and the back of the boat to drag to cruise liner around on sharper turns and prevent any accidents. At 6.45am our boat sailed past St Marks Square – we were able to see the Basilica and the giant clock tower very clearly from the balcony! It was really beautiful to see the square from here (even if this may increase the chances of the square flooding!).

St Marks Basilica - under construction!
We spent our first day seeing the usual tourist sites – the Rialto Bridge, St Marks Square and St Marks Basilica. Then doing the usual Venetian trick of wondering around the small canals and pathways to see Venice away from the crowds. We stopped for (what we hoped would be) traditional Italian Pizza. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great (but with the price we paid, I don’t know what we were expecting!). My favourite parts of Venice are when you find long passageways and canals without a person in sight, when it is completely empty. In these places you get to actually see what Venice is like and appreciate how magical and unusual this city really is! It also takes a much nicer picture when there isn’t thousands of people’s heads in the way.

Our second day in Venice was dedicated to doing things that I hadn’t done before – the Venetian Islands.

The Grand Canal in Murano
Murano was located about 30 minutes away form Venice on a waterbus. The journey was hot as the bus wasn’t air-conditioned by the views of Venice from the water were spectacular. Murano is famed for its glass – Murano Glass. The island has many museums and glass blowing displays. As soon as we got off the boat locals were inviting us, free of charge, to their glass blowing factories. These were in fact, just shops with the glass created in their factories on display to buy.

A view up the canal to the main square
We walked through the little paths of Murano, which felt like a quieter Venice, with less water. The main canal running through the centre and not most pathways! The main tourist centre was lovely with little shops and fantastic displays of Murano glass. It wasn’t quite as easy to get lost here as the pathways all lead to this section, but it was very beautiful.

Buranos multi-coloured houses
The trip to Burano from Murano was the longest and took around 40 minutes – although the distance wasn’t huge, it was across open water that was speed limited. Out of all of the Venetian Islands, Burano was easily my favourite. It is famed for its lace and the multi-coloured houses that are found on the island.

Burano was a lot less busy than its neighbour Venice!
The houses were amazing and their colours reflected in the canals that lined them. Most of the houses had curtain doors also – I assume to let air but not heat into their homes. We searched the island in hope of ice cream, but kept ending up down small back alleys (not the most likely place!). The whole island could easily be walked on foot within 30 minutes to an hour, dependent on your speed.

We finally managed to found our ice cream right next to the boat stop after walking the entire island and even some pathways twice!

Burano and its beautiful coloured houses

The church in Torcello
Torcello was a last minute decision – we had the day water pass for €20 and it was only a 5 minute waterbus ride from Burano. I didn’t know what the island was famed for when we arrived and I was excited to find out. Unfortunately I never did, I’m still not sure it’s famed for anything - it was so small. There was a church and a museum and I’m not sure there was anything else on this island!

Venice from the Grand Canal

All in all, the second trip to Venice and the surrounding Islands was amazing. It was great to see new things on the return trip and to be reminded of how much I enjoyed it the first time round. I only wish I was able to see the islands at night and see how they came alive and glowed in the canals!

Overall, the cruise was much better than anticipated, even if we did come home 10 pounds heavier!

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