|An Anniversary Celebration on a Mediterranean Cruise|
For their tenth anniversary, a husband and wife explore something really special: the scenic, romantic Mediterranean.
A few years back, my family and I took a cruise of the Baltic region to explore our Scandinavian heritage. The cruise took us everywhere from St. Petersburg to Copenhagen, and we saw northern Europe in a way altogether different from a regular tour. The cruise was structured without limiting our freedom, and by sailing between destinations while we slept, we were able to experience much more than a conventional vacation.
If a cruise was the perfect way to see the Baltic, it had to be the best way to see the Mediterranean, but I had no idea where to begin. At my mother’s suggestion, I called her travel agent, Nancy. She asked me several questions about Laura and our lifestyle. I wasn’t sure what this had to do with cruising the Mediterranean, but I soon saw the method to Nancy’s madness. She was getting to know our personalities and preferences, and what she put together for us was, in a word, perfect.
One of our first stops was Barcelona, Spain. We opted to tour the town on our own, meandering the streets without a set plan. We began on La Rambla, a street perfect for a walking tour, starting at Font de les Canaletes, a legendary fountain that ensures a return to Barcelona to anyone who drinks from it. La Rambla then led us through an energetic district of street performers, 24-hour bookshops and the city’s biggest market, Boqueria. Later, we stopped for tapas at one of Barcelona’s oldest eateries, Café de L’Opera, before heading down to the fascinating Drassanes, the best-preserved medieval shipyard in the world. La Rambla ends at a place of exhilarating historical significance: the seaport terminus of Columbus’ trip to the New World. We then ventured into the stunning mountain-park of Montjuïc—the sunset was incredible here—where we found a restaurant renowned for its flamenco: El Tablao de Carmen. The food was fantastic—order the Catalan salad and sole fillet—and the tablao flamenco, a style that is completely improvised, was invigorating.
We then hit the open sea for Cannes, France. After telling Nancy that we wanted to experience more of the local culture and less of the touristy areas, she recommended we head for tiny Saint-Paul de Vence, about 16 miles west of Cannes. One of the most intact medieval villages in the Mediterranean region, Saint-Paul has been an arts community since the 1920s, a retreat for everyone from Henri Matisse to Tony Curtis. Today, its narrow, winding streets are lined with art galleries, perfectly suited to art-lovers like us. Saint-Paul’s art museum, the Maeght Foundation, is rightfully world-renowned for its collection of painters like Chagall—who is buried in town—and one of my wife’s favorites, Kandinsky.
But the best part of Saint-Paul de Vence arose when we stepped into a small café and spotted a group of older gentlemen playing a game outdoors. To our surprise, they invited us to play. Exchanging a “why not?” shrug, we stepped outside and the men eagerly began teaching us Petanque, a game similar to bocce ball. The Frenchmen took their Petanque very seriously—though they didn’t hold it against us when Laura beat them at one of the games, insisting they treat us to some Provencal wine to celebrate our anniversary before we parted ways.
Next we set sail for Livorno, Italy, the 16th century port for Florence and Pisa, and an important part of history. Livorno was one of the homes of the Etruscans, the true founders of Rome. And because of its proximity to the sea, Livorno has been home to Greek, Armenian, Dutch and Jewish immigrants for hundreds of years, and is filled with several gorgeous churches dedicated to each of these cultures.
Since we had both already been to Florence and Pisa, Nancy suggested we take an excursion to Lucca, 25 miles northwest. Lucca is entirely surrounded by medieval walls, and is a fascinating leap back in time. One stunning church, San Frediano, dates to the 12th century and has an ornate golden mosaic façade. It is also the resting place of the mummified body of Santa Zita, patron saint of housekeepers. Then there is the fifth century Duomo di San Martino, with a tower on one end and a parapet on the other that, Laura observed, makes it look like a film set. Inside is the Volto Santo, a wooden effigy of Christ carved by Nicodemus at the time of the crucifixion. Older still is the Anfiteatro, Lucca’s original Roman amphitheatre, now a collection of shops and cafes, which dates to the second century. Lucca was topped off with the perfect finale. At Buca di San Antonio, a charming trattoria, the restaurant’s staff pieced together that we were celebrating our anniversary, and suddenly the jovial owner was at our table leading everyone in a toast as one of the waiters sang a traditional Tuscan wedding song. It was almost too good to be true.
All of this is merely scratching the surface of all that we did on our trip. As we relaxed on the flight back across the Atlantic, we marveled that we had been able to pack so much into one short excursion. Nightlife, cathedrals, museums, history and sailing the open sea to a different location nearly every day: do anniversaries get any better?