Has it really been a month since I wrote on this blog about my (at that point) upcoming trip to Europe aboard the Norwegian Jade? Hard to believe. What a month it was! I had a fabulous trip to five cities in four countries in 10 days. You’ll be reading a lot more about my trip in the coming months, and I’ll be sharing some photos of the beautiful places I visited. But today, I just want to do my usual post-trip recap of random observations and trip notes.
An Inauspicious Beginning
I had hoped I’d get at least a little bit of sleep on the nine-hour overnight flight to italy. Nope. Didn’t happen. I also hoped this would be the trip that would break my unlucky streak of getting sick on airplanes en route to my vacation destination. That didn’t happen either.
I started feeling ill about an hour after they served us breakfast on the plane. Could have been something I ate on the plane, could have been the dinner I’d forced myself to eat at the Philadelphia Airport food court the night before. Who knows. But there I was, after shuffling bleary-eyed off the plane, standing second in line at passport control at Marco Polo Airport when the urge to vomit hit me. I haven’t known panic like that in a very long time.
But “all’s well that ends well”. I was nauseated for the rest of the day, but I didn’t throw up, and somehow I not only made it to my hotel in Mestre, but, after resting for a few hours, took the train into Venice for the afternoon and got lost wandering the maze-like streets and bridges of this watery city. I think it was the sight of the Grand Canal sparkling in the bright sunlight that revived me. I saw my first real Italian gondolas (dozens of them) and took my first vaporetto ride.
I was completely incompetent during my first day in Venice (and probably periodically for the rest of the trip as well). I couldn’t articulate any of the Italian phrases I’d learned. I tripped entering a restaurant and one of the girls working there laughed at me. Taking the train back to Mestre from Venice was an exercise in confusion, and I kept having to ask people around me what to do. Yep, I was the Village Idiot again.
I’ll never embrace looking like an idiot, but I’ve come to expect that this will happen when I travel to countries I’ve never been to before, where I don’t speak the language, when I’ve been awake all night and can’t think straight. As someone who used to be a perfectionist, I feel I’ve come a long way in my ability to accept this truth of travel–and to keep traveling despite it. I just keep reminding myself: I’ll never see those people again, right?
Healthy Enough to Board a Cruise Ship
The next day, I felt back to normal again, just in time to grab some breakfast at the hotel and head into port to board the Norwegian Jade. When you board a cruise ship, you have to fill out a health questionnaire that asks things like “Have you been exposed to Ebola recently?” and “Have you experienced diarrhea or vomiting in the past 2 days?”
Behind me in the check-in line, an American woman snarked to her friend “I don’t think I f**king trust Americans to tell the truth on this form.” She had a point. I mean, when you consider how much money is involved in a cruise, who’s going to cancel at the last minute when they can’t get a refund?
Well, this American did tell the truth, and because I had to answer “yes” to one of the questions, I fully expected to hear from the ship’s medical staff about a health assessment during the first day or so of the cruise. I never did. The check-in agent also didn’t bat an eye.
No wonder cruise ships have norovirus outbreaks. They ask the questions, but don’t really care about the answers. (Don’t worry, even if I’d had a 24 hour stomach bug, I wasn’t contagious at that point–and I have very good hand washing skills.)
In other news, I didn’t get seasick on this cruise! Whoever invented Bonine, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
A Trip Full of Surprises
I expected to be disappointed by the Jade, since it’s one of Norwegian’s older ships, not as big as the Epic or Breakaway (both of which I’ve been on), and without the same entertainment options in the evenings. But I actually really loved the Jade. You would never know it’s an older ship. Everything was spotless all the time. The shows were terrific, the food was delicious–and my upgraded balcony stateroom rocked! (I got an upsell offer 4 days before my trip that was too good to pass up–so I didn’t. Boy, was I glad I spent the extra money.) Not everything aboard the ship was perfect–more on that in a future review–but overall, I had a great experience.
As I mentioned in my sneak peek post, the itinerary for this cruise was fantastic. I did pretty much everything I wanted to do on this trip, and I feel I had the perfect amount of time in each city. But my reaction to the port cities we visited surprised me.
Somehow, I got it into my head that Dubrovnik, Croatia would be so much more beautiful than Split, Croatia. Turns out, Split edged out Dubrovnik just a tiny little bit in my heart. Don’t get me wrong. They’re both lovely coastal cities with rich histories and the kind of old architecture I love. Both are well worth visiting. But there was just something about Split that got under my skin. I could see myself returning there some day.
I also expected to like Athens, Greece and the Acropolis better than Kusadasi, Turkey and the ruins at Ephesus–because of all the Greek literature and philosophers’ writings I’ve studied over the years and because, you know, it’s more famous. Again, I was so wrong. I LOVED Turkey! It was so beautiful. Everything was lush and green and the ruins are amazingly well-preserved there. I think I liked Ephesus even better than Pompeii, which is saying a lot.
I had read a lot online about what a long, arduous walk it is to climb the Acropolis in Athens. I didn’t think it was any big deal at all. It was, however, brutally cold that day, and nowhere more so than on the Acropolis, with the wind blowing so fiercely, I thought it was going to knock me off my feet a couple of times. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re shivering uncontrollably, so my excellent tour guide unfortunately didn’t get my full attention when we weren’t on the bus.
It wasn’t just the weather that impacted my feelings about Athens. The Acropolis was mobbed, and my time there felt rushed, so I never had the opportunity to stop and soak in the enormity of standing at what is the artistic and philosophical center of classical civilization. I was also saddened by the vast amounts of graffiti scrawled over walls and buildings all over the city. It made the city look dirty. Perhaps my expectations for Athens were too high.
Plus Ephesus had cats. Lots and lots of stray cats who were so cute I just wanted to scoop them all up and bring them home. So Turkey wins.
Solo, But Not Solo
For a solo trip, I actually had company a lot of the time. If you ever take a cruise, do yourself a favor and become well-acquainted with the website CruiseCritic.com. The forums are enormously useful for learning about the differences between cruise lines and ships, for asking questions about port cities, signing up for private shore excursions that can be cheaper than the cruiseline’s, and for reading reviews. But the most important thing you can do here is sign up for your cruise’s roll call.
Our roll call had several events set up throughout the week we were aboard ship, including a Sail Away out of Venice, a first night group dinner, a Meet and Greet with ship’s officers (and each other), a lunch, a slot pull, and more. Before I even boarded the ship I had “met” other travelers via the forums and met more the first night aboard ship. I never had to eat dinner alone during the entire week. I also shared some breakfasts and lunches with fellow cruisers, as well as my Croatian shore time.
I had so much fun with all these new people on my cruise, that I was really sad to leave them on the final day. Three of them were going to stay on the ship for the cruise to the Greek Islands the next week. I really wish I could have done that cruise, too. Thanks Rochelle, Betty,Tracey, Rhonda, Renee, Karen, Ann, Paul and Laurie for making it a great week!
On the flip side, I felt a little guilty (but just a little) that I never attended the nightly solo traveler gathering aboard ship. Not once. I was always busy.
Back Where I Started
I never did make it to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. On my last day, I was content just to wander Venice without a plan. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant claiming to be the first pizzeria in the city and later, bought a chocolate gelato at a nondescript little stand in some alley somewhere. I took hundreds of photos. It was my idea of the perfect day in Venice.
Yes, it was unbelievably crowded. There are exterior renovations going on at St. Mark’s Basilica and the Rialto Bridge, so I have no picture-postcard photos of them like the ones you see in travel magazines and want to duplicate. But that’s the reality of a popular tourist city like this. And it’s easy to see why it’s so popular with tourists. There’s really no place like it in the world.
This was the most expensive trip I’ve ever taken. I still get sticker shock thinking about how much money I spent. But it was worth it. It may not have been a perfect vacation, but I had a wonderful time and would do it all over again, even if it meant being sick again upon arrival and sitting for two hours again on the tarmac in Venice on my way home, being awake for 27 hours before I could sleep in my own bed, and freezing my ass off again in Athens.
I think that says a lot.