Venice has been in the news lately – locals complain about day trippers ruining the island and have been demonstrating for years to cut down on the size and number of cruise ships coming up the Guidecca Canal. It must have been sadly satisfying for those protesters to witness the destruction of the Uniworld Countess river cruise by an out of control MSC cruise ship. I also heard one local complaining that a tourist had asked him when Venice closed for the day. He said it was as if Venice was a Disney resort. What a shame!
But there is still a chance to see Venice properly. You can enjoy a coffee at a stand up bar along with the gondoliers and it won’t cost you a fortune. Of course you have to see St Marks – but what a joy – I got to go there after hours and it was totally worth it having the Basilica just for our small group.
Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – a miracle really of primitive but effective engineering linking together numerous islands by bridges and canals and erecting beautiful buildings on stilts in the silty marshes. And it is like a maze – a real one! That’s what is such fun about Venice – getting lost. Only a local really knows their way around the winding alley ways and tiny bridges. But by getting lost you can discover so much more. Find out where the locals hang out and spend more than a day there. Hotels are generally more expensive on the island but the bonus is that when the cruise ships have gone and the day trippers have returned to the mainland you will have the place to yourself (well almost!).
Spend more days there too and venture away from the main sightseeing spots so you can find cafes that the locals would use. Take your most comfortable walking shoes – go find the Ponte de Chiodo – one of only two bridges in Venice without a parapet
So spend longer in Venice. Sleep in, start late – stay out till past midnight and see Venice by night. It’s beautiful and less crowded.
Cruising means ports – you start in one, you finish in one, you dock at others to get off the ship and explore. Some are wonderful and some are ugly – really ugly. Sometimes you might feel as if you are in a container warehouse far removed from the wonderful sights you signed up for.
So let’s keep with the positive and look at some of the most spectacular ports around the world – whether you are arriving or departing. Here are some of my personal favourites – please send me yours….
This is always a fabulous sight to behold, coming into the harbour in Malta. The sandstone coloured buildings seem to reflect the sunlight in a very special way. Malta, slap bang in the middle of the Med, has had an interesting history. Christianity was brought to the island by St Paul who was shipwrecked on the island in 60 A.D. Then the islands were conquered by the Arabs in 870 who were there for centuries until the island was bequeathed to the Knights of St John who ruled the island for 300 years. Napoleon stepped in for a brief while but the British soon saw to that. Malta was far too strategic and in fact was a godsend to the Allies during the Second World War.
Even if you don’t get off the ship you will be assured of views in every direction – but do get off and explore. It is well worth it.
It’s pretty hard to beat the experience of arriving into Venice port on a ship. But what size of ship? There’s the thing. There is a big movement to stop large cruise ships from coming right into Venice and I support this because the city is so precarious and so beautiful. It is something that needs to be preserved. The cruise ship in the above picture is the Star Pride which used to be with Seabourn and has now been taken over by Windstar. A beautiful little ship holding just over 200 guests – now that is the way to cruise into Venice. Those super large cruise ships are just too big for this port.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
The old fort dominates the entrance to San Juan, as it should. I love this port for the beginning of a cruise. It is worth taking the longer flight to get down there because once you start your cruise from San Juan you are deep into the Caribbean. Also I enjoy extra days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, far more than spending extra days in Maimi or Fort Lauderdale – sorry Florida! The Old Town of San Juan is a muddle of cobbled stone streets and great restaurants, the fort is very well maintained and the beaches are wonderful. A definite plus to any cruise.
How could I not include Cape Town, the most beautiful city in South Africa. I sometimes imagine those early settlers after having spent months at sea, suddenly coming across the sight of Cape Town across the waters with the tablecloth of cloud draped over Table Mountain. Once docked in Cape Town the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront offers a huge variety of restaurants and shops, fantastic sea food and wine at prices you won’t believe. Having grown up in South Africa I was lucky to experience Cape Town many times and it still remains one of my favourite cities.
Dubrovnik has become more and more popular, maybe thanks to Game of Thrones, or maybe just because it is a beautiful walled city that is a delight to experience. Now the cruise ships do not sail into the harbour seen in the picture above but just around the corner. Nevertheless, once you dock you can easily get into the old city which is superb. A tour around the walls of the city can be done with a handy audio guide and offers great photo ops. The walls were completed in the 16th century and protectively surround the old town. The buildings are well-preserved and range from baroque to Renaissance and Gothic. Paved with limestone, the pedestrianized Stradun (or Placa) is lined with shops and restaurants. In fact these limestone streets have been polished for centuries by countless numbers of feet that they shine like glass.
FINALLY – MY MOST FAVOURITE HARBOUR THAT NEVER SEES A CRUISE SHIP
Mullion Harbour, Cornwall, UK. This is where I grew up and in my humble opinion it is the most beautiful harbour in the world. The coastline in this area can be treacherous and has seen lots of action going back to attacks by Spanish galleons. Luckily for the Spanish a change of wind enabled their escape from Sir Francis Drake otherwise there might have been a different outcome. Many shipwrecks along this coast provided bounty for local “country folk” such as tea, fruit and coffee as they scavenged whatever might have washed up on the rocks.
It was also a haven for smugglers who were able to make good money by buying smuggled barrels of brandy from France and selling for four times the price in England. Good business for a little harbour. We had many happy afternoons there and our school swimming lessons took place in this very harbour. There were tons of crabs so there was a big incentive to not put your feet down. So … no cruise ships here. Just fishing boats that go out every day at dawn to drop the lobster pots. Pure bliss!
My sister and I could not understand it. It seemed that many of the men either driving the water taxi or working the tables in Venice must surely be in the movie business. Maybe Venice is a little like LA – Italian hopefuls end up there serving on tables while waiting for that big break.
They are so charming, these Italians. Maybe it’s all that good food. Caprese Salad like you will never ever taste in North America. Or maybe it is the fact that in true Italian fashion they have been “mothered” since they were little and just know how to turn on the charm when the women are around. Witness the Gondoliers! Ours told us he was close to 60 but didn’t look a day over 35 …. well maybe 40. I suppose all that “gondoliering” every day kept him in shape – and the fact that he was onto his third wife. As he told us – a wife is not like a washing machine. When a washing machine breaks down you call the plumber. When the wife breaks down you get another… Oh my goodness – I can just hear every feminist within a hundred miles screaming. The fact is he told us this story with a twinkle in his eye so who knows? Never trust a man with dimples, that’s what I say!
Not in bad shape for someone nearly 60! Just shows you what daily exercise and the Mediterranean Diet will do for you!
Now there are some who would like to be a gondolier but just don’t quite get the idea. Like this lad…. but let’s give him ten out of ten for effort.
Another thing about Italian charm …. it has longevity! We chanced upon this older very well dressed man sitting in one of the piazzas in Venice. My sister couldn’t resist getting a photo of him.
Was he put out? Did he feel his privacy had been invaded? Not at all! When a beautiful lady comes along and takes your photo he says what any civilised Italian male would say….. “Ciao Bella!”