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Cruising: One week on the MSC Orchestra

4 months later, and I finally wrote about the Mediterranean cruise trip Mum and I did!

Barcelona, Spain

We started in Barcelona, and had some time to look around before embarking on the cruise. Upon arrival, we had some initial challenges carting heavy luggage around; Mum's suitcase handle had broken in transit, and the metro station we had to use had no elevators or escalators! We stayed overnight at Hotel Canton, which was simply furnished and very reasonably priced - definitely recommended for travellers on a budget. We arrived in the afternoon, and after checking in, we wandered down La Rambla/Las Ramblas, checking out the markets and curiosities along the way. We walked until the Plaça de Catalunya - the big city centre square - and then headed back the way we came. We stopped at one of the many little tapas restaurants for dinner, where Mum was able to try asking for things in Spanish! Having just arrived from a big week in Kenya, we had an early night.

The next day was embarkation day! We had breakfast at Artisa Barcelona, which was a nice start to the day: I had brioche, Mum had a croissant, and we both had orange juice and coffee. We wandered some more around Barcelona, heading especially to the Arc de Triomf, which is quite different in style to the one I am used to in Paris! We then made our way to the Christopher Columbus statue on La Rambla, where the bus to the cruise port departs. We went through security, boarded the ship, explored, and sat out on the deck drinking non-alcoholic cocktails as we sailed out of the port. We met a lovely French grandmother and her grandsons who were sitting at our table, so I had an opportunity to speak a little French with them! It was then time for dinner in the well-stocked buffet area, as thunder at lightning crashed in the distance.

Ajaccio, Corsica (France)

Our first stop was Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. We walked down to Place Foch and the markets there, and I attempted (unsuccessfully) to convice Mum of the merits of proper French cheeses. I also failed to understand the word "argan" (as in argan oil) in the Corsican French accent. Our mission to see the three statues of Napoleon was, however, successful; I had thought we would only have time for two, but we managed to see all three. Along the way, we wandered past the historic Castel Lombardo citadel, which has been there since the 12th century. After climbing up to see the third Napoleon statue at Place d'Austerlitz, we took a break for baguette and cheese. Next up was Napoleon's childhood home (which is now a museum), followed by the cathedral around the corner. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach before heading back to the ship.

Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy

In some ways, I wish we had stayed in Civitavecchia to explore, but when Rome is on your doorstep, you can't pass that up! So, once we arrived at the port, we took several forms of transport, eventually arriving in Rome, at the Roma Termini station (I think). We headed directly to the Colosseum, passing the Pyramid of Cestius, the Porta San Paolo, the Circus Maximus, and so many cobbled roads and ancient ruins along the way! We had already bought our tickets online through the official site, so were able to avoid the queues. In hindsight, it would have been great to do a tour, in order to really get into the history of it all. Although I knew a fair bit already, there are so many little intricate details that only an experienced guide would be able to tell you about. After exploring the Colosseum, we got lost amongst the incredible Roman Forum/Palatino Hill. We could have spent an entire day there. Alas, we didn't have the time for that. After all those ruins, we were hungry, so we ordered the obligatory when-in-Italy pizza at one of the many, many little restaurants lining the streets of Rome. After lunch, we joined the queue to see the Pantheon, which was enjoyable (the Pantheon, not the queue). We checked out a little church as we left, and then went to get gelato. Ah, the gelato! Queuing in any sort of reasonable manner was not a thing at this shop, so we waited about 20 minutes just to order! It was good gelato, but not worth-a-20-minute-wait gelato. We ate by the Trevi Fountain, and then began the trek back to the boat. Thanks to that gelato, we missed the bus, then the train, so when we arrived back in Civitavecchia, we were running late, and had to catch one of the (prepared) taxis, who were lined up waiting for late cruise ship passengers. Thankfully, it was cheap, and we were not the last back on board the ship. I think we made it with about 20 minutes left before the ship departed.

La Spezia (Cinque Terre), Italy

La Spezia is another place I would have liked to spend more time in, but I would not give up the experiences in Cinque Terre! What a beautiful area of Italy! We did the five towns, starting with Monterosso and working our way back by train. Monterosso is a beautiful little town; outside the train station, the street is lined with trees and flowers, and the pastel tones of the buildings are very cute. We walked up the hill and around the corner, up to the Convento dei Cappuccini. From there, we passed the statue of Saint Francis of Assisi as we descended. We looked around a little longer, and then went to the train station. Next up was the fishing town of Vernazza, where striking primary colours give the place its own character. We went up to the Castello Doria, which has a tiny stairwell, but an amazing view of the town. We had lunch in Vernazza, which consisted of more focaccio and pesto than necessary, and more pizza. After lunch came the town of Corniglia - the only town which is not accessible by boat. Climbing up that many stairs in the strong summer heat is not the most enjoyable thing in the world, but the views are incredible. Naturally, we had to have some gelato. My gelato was, of course, the honey flavour! We went to Un Mare di Yogurt, not knowing about the gelato wars in Corniglia, and we enjoyed it! We checked out a little chapel that we passed before heading back to the train station. Manarola was next; it was also beautiful, but probably the least memorable for me out of the five. We walked down the streets up to where the boats where, then stopped in at some shops, which had some unique and beautiful items. Our last stop was Riomaggiore, which, conversely, was probably the most memorable of the five. We had a quick look in a church, and then we met Andrea. This elderly coquin (I don't know the Italian translation!) of a gentleman was very interested in the two ladies from New Zealand, and tried to charm us into giving him a kiss. Mum was apparently one of the wonders of the world. He gave us his address, and told us to send him a copy of the photos we took with him. We finally managed to extrapolate ourselves from his company, and continued exploring Riomaggiore. We found another church, where a wedding was going to take place later that day. A classical singer was in there rehearsing, up by the organ. While I am not the biggest fan of the Lloyd Webber "Pie Jesu", I was tempted to join in! We took far too many photos of the beautiful landscapes around us, and eventually headed back to La Spezia and back to the ship.

Genoa, Italy

It's a shame that Genoa (Genova) is not better known, as it is an excellent place to visit! Between Christopher Columbus history, beautiful architecture, and stunning art, it really won our hearts. Trying to get to the city centre from the port was a little difficult, but thanks to my opera knowledge of Italian, we were able to communicate enough with two kind Italian men, who accompanied and directed us through to the centre. Grazie mille, lads! We also managed to explore some of the Genoa backstreets before finally reaching the tourist areas. Once we made it in, we started with a church (being Sunday, and all!). The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata was impressive with its intricate and stunning interior detail; it definitely took Mum's breath away! I was interested in seeing the Teatro Carlo Felice; we didn't go in, but it was nice to see from the outside, with the street artists in front of it. The whole Piazza De Ferrari area is lovely, and from there you can easily find all the other tourist things. We went over to the Piazza San Lorenzo, and got a coffee from a little café there. We went into the foyer of the Palazzo Ducale and had a look at the antiques for sale there. We were thinking about checking out the museum, but decided to go to the Palazzo Reale museum instead. Before heading there, we had a look inside the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, which is unique for its mix of architectural styles. On our way to the Palazzo Reale, we passed the Torri di Porta Soprana and Christopher Columbus' house, and oops! stopped for some lasagne! The Palazzo Reale museum is fantastic, and, as it was the first Sunday of the month, it was free! There was also an extra exhibition at a very low cost. After getting plenty of ideas for home décor at palatial levels, we went back to the Stazione Maritima (which is itself a work of art) in order to get back on the ship.

Cannes, France

When we arrived in Cannes, we bought a ticket for the ferry, and went over to the Île Sainte-Marguerite. This island is full of history, and offers great views of Cannes from across the water! The ruins of Fort Royal are interesting to visit, but unfortunately the museum there is closed on Mondays, as is the cell of the Man With The Iron Mask. Nevertheless, we spent plenty of time getting a good overview of the site. After that, we took a walk on the island - getting to know the woods and the beaches, and discovering old WWII sites. We took the ferry back to Cannes in the late morning, and checked out the city itself. It is a picturesque place, but is more for the luxury tourists. We went up to the Notre Dame d'Esperance church, where there are fantastic views. We only saw the inside of the church for a couple of minutes before they shooed everyone out at midday. We continued walking around the hill to the Musée de la Castre, which we enjoyed - it was free for me as a student with an EU visa, but Mum had to pay a few euros. We climbed up the tower for some excellent views! No trip to Cannes would be complete without seeing the famous Palais des Festivals et des Congres of Cannes, where the Cannes Film Festival is held. We couldn't go in, except to the little tourist shop. However, there are casts of handprints outside from many famous people. It is the Cannes version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. After checking out the film festival site and wandering down by the luxury shops, we stopped for crêpes. We walked around the port area before taking a tender boat back to the ship.

Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Palma was very hot and very beautiful. We started at Bellver Castle, which was interesting and gave us incredible views over the city. It was a bit of a struggle in the heat, but it was worth it. We went down into the city afterwards, walking through the Old Town, and over to the cathedral, which was grand and impressive. The interior décor has many features added/changed by Gaudí, with whose work we became quite well acquainted in Barcelona. We checked out a mall and then found a casual little restaurant after spending quite some time in the cathedral. We ate pasta (well, I did - I don't remember what Mum had, actually), and decided we were too tired to hang around. Some cruise passengers stayed out that night, as we were leaving port later in the evening than at the other destinations. We, however, went to bed.

Back to Barcelona

We disembarked in Barcelona, taking one of the official black and yellow taxis to Hostal MiMi Las Ramblas. It is very well located, but rather tricky to find! After checking in, we had coffee, and took the metro to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, which is yet another building with impressive architecture, beautiful interiors, and amazing views. There is a huge collection of medieval art in particular, and I enjoyed commentating with modern-day takes on what was going on. Tapas were again on the menu afterwards.

The next morning started with breakfast at Federal Café, followed by a visit to Park Güell/Dr. Seuss World (Gaudí, actually, but the style is similar!). Casa Milà was next; we didn't go inside, but looked from outside and from inside the tourist shop. After that, we went to the old Barcelona cathedral, including going up to the roof, where you can look out over the city. We had planned to go to the Sagrada Família earlier in the day, but I hadn't done my research, so I didn't realise just how popular it was. Luckily, I was able to book tickets online, for the early evening. We spent a long time here, getting accustomed to Gaudí's vision, aesthetic, and the whole history of the structure. It is truly a work of art. We spent our last night in Barcelona up by the Magic Fountain (just below the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya), where there are light shows during the summer. The next day, we began the long trip back to New Zealand.

Notes and tips:

- Be aware of the extra fees onboard the MSC Orchestra - drinks packages, room servicing (morning and night), laundry, internet. You may be paying an extra couple of hundred euros/dollars/etc.

- I used the Ulmon CityMaps2Go app, TripAdvisor, and several other internet sources to plan our outings each day. We didn't spend a lot each day - we planned what we wanted to see, leaving time to find food and relax from time to time.

- Read reviews!

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