I love cruises and how you can travel between stops so effortlessly with no packing and unpacking. In Malta, we went to the famous Blue Grotto where we boarded a boat that took us through all the caves and under natural bridges to see the stunning blue waters. After the boat ride, we rented a golf cart and, thanks to the cart’s audio guide and navigation system, we drove all around the clean, historic, and beautiful city with its lovely harbours and views.
Our next stop (and last day) in Greece was Corfu, known for its many castles. The reason for all these outposts, is for protection from pirates! Most of the small villages are not visible from the sea as they are hiding from the pirates who would sail by and attack. There are many villages on Corfu and it is Greece’s second largest island. We had a taxi-tour on this stop so we were able to see a few castles as well as a lot of fantastically scenic view points along the way. Topping off the tour was a refreshing swim at the beach before boarding the ship (it was one of the best swim of my entire vacation).
The port that I planned activities for was Dubrovnik, a Unesco World Heritage Site. This small walled city has survived many invasions, most recently by the Serbians in 1991. During this war, many of the old buildings were hit by grenades or shrapnel, some being burned down completely. You can see the damage by the age of the roof, the lighter the roof’s colour, the newer it is. However, the city of Dubrovnik pulled through this latest war as it has after so many other invasions and occupations and has since been restored to its former beauty.
The city was invaded by the Romans, pirates, the Napoleonic French and the Turkish! Most attacks were defeated thanks to its city walls, running for 2 kilometres and completely surrounding the city. Even today the drawbridge connecting the one of two entrance to the old city to the surrounding area is still in use. As we walked along the walls, the views were made even more stunning by the height of the walls. The water crashed into a sheer 60 foot tall cliff, on top of which was a 50 foot tall wall, perching the walkway over 100 feet in the air. Making the walls a daunting task to anyone wanting to scale them.
The last stop on our cruise was Venice. This remarkable city was made by refugees running away from the barbarians that were destroying the Roman empire. While the barbarians were excellent horsemen, they were poor sailors, so these refugees sought refuge in this large 550 square kilometre lagoon. These early Venetians had to figure out how to access a source of fresh water from a salt water lagoon, how to farm in the marshes, and most importantly for the existence of Venice, how to build on the soft sandy soil that made up the islands of the lagoon. To solve this last problem, they used poles driven into the islands to support the weight of the buildings.
After we had checked into the apartment we had rented, we walked around with friends from Vancouver we had met there. We visited two other islands in the lagoon, Murano and Burano. Murano is famous for its glass blowing, making beautiful sculptures, chandeliers, and vases of many colours, while Burano is famous for its lace making. In Murano, we were able to see how they make some of their glass products. The piece we saw them sculpt was an arm for a chandelier. It was amazing how the master worked with such precision and knew exactly how the molten glass would behave! On Burano, we saw an elderly woman making the lace, and I was surprised when our tour guide said that she was the youngest lace maker they have. Indeed, lace making will soon be a lost art which is unfortunate.
We attended a food tour while in Venice and tasted some of the local dishes. My favourite was a wine bar that sold small sandwiches that the Venetians eat every morning as a midmorning snack (after having a coffee for breakfast). Another stop was to sample the only coffee that is manufactured in Venice, which was very good. Before the walking tour all I saw while walking through Venice were tourist trap restaurants, but on the tour I found that in even the most tourist reliant cities, there are still little local gems of restaurants.