CRUISING THE ADRIATIC




It's been a while since we managed to get a holiday together.  This year has kind of run away with us, so it was great to relax and get away with your BFF from everyday life - we even managed to keep away from our phones - at least for some of the time!

Anne C here - I had always wanted to visit Venice and Dubrovnik, so when we found a P and O cruise which took in both of those fabulous cities, we knew we were onto a winner.

MALTA


We flew to Malta, which was our embarkation port - a place where neither of us had previously visited.  And what a fabulous surprise that was! Valetta is such a pretty resort, with beautiful old buildings, friendly people, a harbour with amazing yachts, and stunning turquoise sea.

Malta has a great climate, even in October (although it did briefly rain while we were there), English is widely spoken, and they even drive on the left hand side of the road as we do.  The island has been invaded many times over the centuries and this is reflected in the mixed architecture which owes much to a Moorish influence with beautiful pale honey coloured sandstone and Baroque buildings courtesy of the later of the Order of St John during the 17th and 18th century.




We had only a couple of days there, staying at the Grand Excelsior Hotel, but we managed to wander round the streets during the day, and found a fabulous little restaurant, recommended to us by Anne H's daughter Lizzy, who had previously visited The Harbour Club.


We would love to go back  to Malta, since there was obviously much more to see, with prehistoric temples - the remains of which are actually older than the Egyptian pyramids at Giza, churches and beaches. The marina held some very impressive yachts but typical of Malta are the ancient Luzzu boats which are very brightly painted and which historically were used to ferry sailors from their vessels to the port.



Malta has some of the earliest archaeological remains in the Mediterranean, dating back to around 4000BC. Phoenicians and Greek traders were followed by the Carthaginians and the Romans.  St Paul was reported to have been shipwrecked and converted the island to Christianity. Turks and French later ruled until 1814 when Malta became British and developed as a port - leaving it open to attack by German and Italian forces during WW11.

There are palaces, churches and museums to explore, but sadly we did none of these due to lack of time.  There are also beaches to the north of Malta, and nearby islands including Gozo with its Megalithic Temples and sandy beaches.  Certainly plenty to see next time!




Despite the fabulous ship - the Oceana  I began to feel sea-sick as soon as we left port - surprising since on my last cruise, it never affected me.  A quick visit to the doctor for some pills sorted that out and we headed for the Croatian town of Zadar in central Dalmatia.

ZADAR


Much of Zadar, under control of Germany,  was destroyed during by allied bombs in 1943, with 70 percent of the city reduced to rubble. Sadly they were once again under siege in the early 1990s when Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Much of what was left of the old city was destroyed, but a beautiful new city has prospered and is now one of the leading Croatian cities.




Once again there are museums and churches to visit.  We walked along the promenade and heard the famous sea organ - the Morske Orgulje - set into the steps of the quayside.  The sea forces air through pipes, creating a fairly other-worldly sound.  Nearby is a Monument to the Sun - solar powered cells (sadly surrounded by barriers) which apparently give off a spectacular light show as the sun sets, but unfortunately we didn't stay that long. 





We visited the Church of St Donatus, a very plain 9th century circular building which is used for classical concerts because of its amazing acoustics, while in front of the church are the ruins of the Roman Forum, built between the 1st and 3rd Century, and which we were surprised to see were open to the elements and children played in the remains.

There are beautiful buildings and squares in the town, all with stunning marble cobbles.  Shops sell beautiful turquiose and coral jewellery, but at a price.  We sat at an outdoor ice cream parlour to match the world go by, and ate the largest - and most delicious gelato ever!

Lunch was in a restaurant next to the promenade, which looked like an old French chateau with torn shutters and peeling walls, but as we sat outside under the trees, it was one of the most perfect moments.  Each enjoying a glass of Aperol Spritz and pizza, with Sade playing softly on the loudspeaker and the sun beating down was one of my memorable highlights. We had never previously heard of Zadar, but it is such a beautiful city, it is well worth a visit.

Back on board we were told that our next port, Venice, would give us a longer stay as our embarkation had been put back until later the following day, meaning we wouldn't have time to visit Sibernik, so would go to Split instead.  (This suited me anyway because I had wanted to go to Split but felt it was too far from Sibernik for a day trip! However Anne H had previously visited Split so was disappointed not to visit somewhere new.)

VENICE



A very misty dawn broke over Venice as we arrived, which we were told was quite normal for October.  We didn't dock in the centre since it is well known that large cruise ship have caused problems in the past and are due to be banned so close to the city.

Venice of course is a series of islands, and we opted for a trip to Murano, famous of course for its beautiful coloured glass.  Our small tender collected us from the ship and took us to the dock of the Marco Polo Furnace, where we watched a demonstration by a master glass blower and then browsed the beautiful jewellery, ornaments and glassware made on the premises.  A quick stroll through the centre of the island uncovered many other glassware shops,but we didn't have time to explore the rest of the island before we were back on the launch heading for the famous old town.  



We made our way past the crowds along the water front and over several bridges - stopping briefly to look at the Bridge of Sighs (more on this later) as we headed for our gondola ride.  Since we were on a pre-paid tour, it meant that we shared our gondola with four strangers, so had to perch side-ways on stools since the first on board got the forward facing two seats, which rather spoiled it for me. So if you're going to visit, opt to pay privately for yourselves (more expensive obviously) but at least you get a better ride!






The canals were very busy and at times we log-jammed with other gondolas and even a couple of speed boats, but the buildings were stunning.  We later learned that all the footings, set very close together, to the buildings are made of wood, which you would expect to rot, but apparently not, since the water actually preserves them. It certainly makes you wonder about the architects of the past.  Incidentally Italy has indeed created many famous architects, including Andrea Palladio, of which his Palladian style still exists in grand houses in the UK and around the world.



We did go a little overboard (not literally) with lunch however.  Our beautiful sandwiches and tea were taken at the famous Florian's in St Mark's Square, complete with music from a fabulous string quartet.  We did look at the prices before we ordered however, since many tourists have been caught out at the cost.  Our meal cost us 30 Euros each - ok, expensive but it was a one-off and worth it for the people-watching!




We strolled around the city - taking in another gelato of course - you can't go to Italy and not have ice cream - stopping for photos of the Rialto Bridge, which surprisingly to me had shops on it which apparently help to pay for its maintenance.




Our next choice was whether to visit the Doges Palace or St Mark's Basilica, but seeing the queue into the Basilica would have taken about two hours standing to get in, it was a no-brainer.


Again the Doges Palace was a surprise for me.  I was expecting a palace with furniture, which it may once well have had, but this is the powerhouse of the Serene Republic and ceremonial sea of the Doges. This palace was equivalent to our houses of parliament, with a prison thrown in for good measure.

Instead there were various council halls, decorated with enormous paintings and frescoes, beautiful ceilings, antechambers, a chapel, an armoury complete with weaponry, and some apartments, but no velvet drapes and horse-hair furniture!

The prison is accessed by a bridge from the palace by the 17th Century Bridge of Sighs, so named as the prisoners took their last look at the outside world.  The cells were extremely creepy and as we went deeper into the prison, we couldn't find our way out as we wandered around in circles!  Fortunately we managed to get out and made our way by tender back to our ship.

We left Venice even later than planned but Anne and I were intrigued about how we were to get back to the open sea - which we had passed earlier in the day, and which seemed to be a long way from the dock.




Standing on the balcony in our PJs (!) we were astounded at the skill of the captain as he negotiated between the buildings - ancient and modern. What had seemed like a wide waterway when we were in a small tender, was reduced to a stream in a 2,000 berth ship.  We also watched the pilot boat as it came alongside and the pilot hopped over from our ship to his small boat. Fascinating!

When I started writing this I didn't realise how long it would be so I will  split into two  and complete next week.In actual fact, each city we visited is worth a blog on its own, but I don't want to bore you.  Obviously we didn't spend a huge amount of time in each place, but we hope this gives you a flavour of our travels and whet your appetite for a trip yourselves.

Happy cruising!


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