How is a cruise going in 2022?

DOMINIQUE and SUSAN MERLE

Cruise ship occupancy has exceeded 75% and is increasing while COIVD-19 restrictions have been reduced and are decreasing at the same rate. Call it almost normal and cross your fingers.

On our recent 14 day, six countries, five seas Viking Sea cruise, masks were no longer required (less than 5% of passengers wore them), there were no daily health checks or periodicals, and no one ducked under the table when someone coughed or sneezed in the dining room.

We were never asked to show our vax records in any of the countries visited — Italy, Croatia, Greece, Monaco, France and Spain. Locals were so anxious to see tourists return to their shores, it was more like, “Show me the money!”

We embarked in Venice and concluded our Viking cruise in Barcelona, ​​visiting the glamorous cities of Rome, Florence and Barcelona, ​​but also spending time in lesser-known ports, those Rodney Dangerfield areas that “get no respect” .

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Like Chioggia, Venice’s new gateway to the Adriatic Sea. There were few gondoliers singing on the waters in Venice; the grand old lady has lost some of her charm. So we spent most of the day on the island of Chioggia, about a 30-minute drive south of the Venice lagoon.

With a population of around 50,000, Chioggia is a real slice of Italy, yet to be overrun by tourists. Corso del Popolo, the historic center, is a pleasant place to stroll and shop. At Piazzetta Vigo, you can enjoy a good lunch with drinks for less than $10. (A cappuccino alone can cost that much at one of Venice’s posh cafes.)

Fishing is the main means of subsistence in Chioggia, and there is a large market with fish so fresh that it still contains the aroma of the sea. Nearby are several medieval churches.

There is only one main road through Chioggia and it is as straight as a clothesline. Therefore, Chioggia is the target of Italian pranksters who claim that Chioggia has the worst drivers in the world because they can’t spin.

Our next port was Split, one of the oldest cities in Croatia containing the ancient Diocletian’s Palace built in 305 AD and named after the Roman Emperor. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many of the original structures have remained intact.

A maze of cobbled streets and alleys surrounds the Palace. In Peoples Square (Nardoni Trg) we were entertained by a show featuring Roman centurians and gladiators. It was done by professionals and lasted over an hour.

The next day, still in Croatian waters, we land in Dubrovnik, the country’s number one tourist attraction. As we had visited the famous fortified town on previous trips, we chose a tour called “Tastes and Traditions of Old Croatia”.

He was aptly named. Our first stop in the mountains after the village of Ston was at a 250 year old oil mill featuring a donkey. The owner gave us a demonstration of how olives were ground back then.

The donkey walks around the mill attached to a heavy round object which crushes the olives as it turns. It is both a crude and complicated procedure, but nonetheless fascinating. Donkeys or horses could crush enough olives to produce 200 kilos of oil per day.

After the donkey and olive show, we had a plate of charcuterie in olive oil and headed to our next event by the sea, tasting huge pots of oysters and mussels which were in the sea 15 minutes before being in our mouths.

We were told that oysters spawn as males by releasing sperm into the waters. As they grow over the next few years, they breed as females. They will then attach themselves to anything solid, including molds. So the mussels and oysters we were eating were still swimming together a few minutes ago.

Again, it’s complicated, perhaps even timely today, but there’s no denying the delight of this slightly perverted seafood duo.

Continuing along the coast, our next port was the Greek island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea, a favorite hideaway for celebrities, especially those involved in an ongoing scandal who “really want to be alone”.

Corfu has one of the largest public squares in Europe and a wide promenade once exclusively reserved for the local aristocracy. We didn’t see them or the celebrities when we visited, but it must have been laundry day for a splashing display of colorful clothes hanging from most clotheslines.

And now a full day at sea to enjoy our ship as we sailed to Naples. The eight-deck Viking Sea is an adults-only vessel that can accommodate 930 passengers and 550 crew. Viking cruises are often categorized as a luxury line, but that’s not pretentious or stuffy.

It’s a combination of Scandinavian elegance and Swiss precision. All rooms have balconies, dining options are excellent, and amenities include a thermal spa with jacuzzis, saunas, steam rooms, pools, several types of showers including a chain-operated wooden water bucket, and even a machine that dries your swimsuit in 60 seconds.

Despite the tranquility of every corner, the ship exudes a comfortable and friendly atmosphere, a bit like being in a boutique hotel. Over the years, the Viking Sea has won over 55 awards from cruise critics.

Being of Neapolitan descent, I found Naples to be like an old week at home for me, as I strolled through the historic quarter for shopping and snacking, including, of course, on the Marguerita pizza which was born here. Most other cruisers took trips to Pompeii, Sorrento or Capri.

On our next stop, we chose to spend the day in the port town of Civitavecchia instead of a 90 minute bus ride to Rome. It was another slice of raw Italy.

Located on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Civitavecchia has around 70,000 inhabitants. The butcher shops and markets you see are not for tourists, but for locals.

Consequently, the prices are much lower – would you believe a cappuchino in a beer garden for $1.50?

Now head up the coast to the port of Livorno on the Ligurian Sea. Livorno is usually the gateway to Florence, but we decided to spend part of the day in Livorno, followed by a bus tour of the spectacular Tuscan landscape.

Livorno is more modern than medieval, but has great seafood, high-end shopping, and also a section known as “New Venice” due to its many canals. The Tuscan landscape is often so breathtaking that it defies description. Bring an easel instead of a camera.

Then Monte Carlo, Monaco. We strolled past the Prince’s Palace and the famous Monte Carlo Casino, but had an early dinner on board the Viking Sea with a spectacular view of the harbor lined with some of the most expensive yachts in the world.

We could read the names of some of the biggest yachts and google the information that some cost around $1 billion and most were Saudi-owned. An interesting dinner conversation ensued.

Two ports to visit, first Marseille, the oldest (perhaps the naughtiest) city in France. Marseille is multicultural, not without delinquency, but it has its raw charm. We visited the big market in the old town called Marche des Capucins.

It looked like a world food fair. Next to the Lebanese bakery was an African spice shop with a Chinese vegetable stall on the other side, and so on.

This afternoon we went to Aix en Provence (often called XO by the locals because of the close pronunciation of the first two words). Paul Cézanne lived there and painted his masterpieces. Aix en Provence had a pretty public square with narrow streets filled with shops that led to it from all sides.

Last stop, Barcelona, ​​Spain’s main port on the Mediterranean.

We strolled down the famous Ramblas with its array of shops and restaurants, and ended the day with an early bird flamenco dinner show.

Just before leaving the next morning, we were lucky enough to pass Gaudi’s still unfinished Sagrada Familia. The crowds lined up as usual.

“When will it be finished?” I asked our tour guide.

He shrugged. “Why end? So no one will come.

Can you start traveling again like before? have you been? Should you be? Maria Mercedes Galuppo de Veuer has the story.



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Dominick and Susan Merle are Montreal-based travel writers with longstanding ties to Napa. Dominick is co-founder of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Assn. E-mail [email protected]

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