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MNTravelogue
2010 Mediterranean Cruise:Italy, Croatia, Greece and Montenegro


Wilfredo (Sonny) Valenzuela
Mon 5th July 2010



Photos: Sonny Valenzuela, Bettina Rivera and Eddie Flores
May 31 – June 7, 2010, On Board MSC Armonia

Our road tours in Europe during the past years have been wonderful journeys of discovery and adventure.  We wanted no less this time, especially for several members of this year’s much bigger tour group who have not seen Europe before.
 
MSC Armonia group basecamp for 8 days
 
 
Onboard group photo while departing from Venice
 

There were 27 of us from 5 countries - 8 from the Netherlands (my sister Quiding and her husband Eddie, long-time friends Ton and Mellie, Angel and Nora, Ana and Margarita) 2 from Belgium:Dirk and Pat; 4 from the Philippines (my brother Danny and his wife Cindy, and Cindy’s sisters Annie and Bettina);  2 from Australia (Cindy’s sister Frieda and her husband Rico); and 11 from the United States (Cindy’s brother Arnel and his wife Ginny, Cindy’s cousin Kate and her husband Ito, my brother Boy, his wife Teng and their friends Ray and Zeny, my brother Jun and his wife Iou, and me.)  To facilitate coordination and planning, we opted to go on another Mediterranean cruise, followed by a land tour that I asked my good friend Luca from Italy to organize for us.
Venice PRIMAVERA HOTEL welcome dinner-arrivals from DC-Sydney-Belgium-Holland-LA and Philippines

Venice-Italy

We arrived in Venice the day before the cruise started.  Our flights arrived at different times, so we ended up touring Venice prior to the cruise in two separate groups.  Venice was just as enchanting as the previous times I have seen it.  But I was determined this time to see the exquisite interior of the Byzantine Basilica of St. Mark.  I have never gone inside the Basilica.  I was wearing shorts the first time I tried to enter the Basilica 19 years ago, so I was not allowed inside.  In subsequent visits, we got there late in the day and the Basilica had closed.  Determined not to make the same mistakes again, I wore long trousers this time and made sure that we got to Piazza San Marco early.
 
Venice Piazza San Marco view from MSC Armonia
 
 
Onboard Group photo with Steffan
 

Touring Venice involves a lot of walking, especially if you get lost in the maze of streets of this queen city of the Adriatic, like we did.  By the time we got back to our hotel, we were eager to have a delicious dinner of fresh seafood.  Primavera, where we stayed during a previous trip to Venice some 9 years ago, is much improved.  The rooms are now air-conditioned, and the bath towels are nice and thick, unlike the cloth diapers we were provided to use as towels 9 years ago.  The cloth diapers are still there, but thankfully just as hand towels.  However, the absence of an elevator still made transporting our luggage to our rooms a challenge, daring our mature bodies to haul heavy luggage up the steps.   But the price was right, and the grilled seafood they served after our long day’s walk around Venice was excellent.  Even Arnel, the chef de cuisine in our group, was impressed.

The Port of Venice is newly upgraded and check-in at MSC Armonia was a lot more streamlined than what we experienced 5 years ago.   We were on the ship and having our first snack of pizza and pasta in no time.  We were disappointed that MSC now charges for coffee and water during dinner.  But our waiter Steffan went beyond expectation to make our dinners enjoyable.   We had multiple helpings of the main course each night, wine on the house, and even magic tricks, all courtesy of Steffan.  By the time the cruise was over, Steffan had become a good friend.  He even invited us to his wedding in Romania next year.  The first coined word from our experiences during this trip is steffanic, meaning, service so good that it is beyond one’s expectation. 

Dubrovnik-Croatia

 
Dubrovnik walking tour
 
Dubrovnik Garret, Orquid, Nora, Ana, and Mellie
The ship sailed across the Adriatic Sea in the course of the night.  We reached the old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia midday the following day.  Although I have seen this medieval city on the Dalmatian coast before, our competent tour guide made the experience seem novel all over.  With his scarred face bearing testimony to his first hand encounters during the siege of Dubrovnik by the Yugoslav army in 1991, he gave his own account of the war as we walked through the squeaky clean streets of the walled city, giving the tour a dramatic personal touch.  The beautiful city of Dubrovnik has recovered remarkably well from the war, and is deservedly a favorite tourist destination once again.

Corfu-Greece

From Dubrovnik, the ship sailed to the island of Corfu in Greece.   We toured the town center and the palace of Achilleion that was built for Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria.  The palace is now a museum.  It houses many paintings and statues of Achilles, the mythical Greek hero of the Trojan War, including a prominent statue of the wounded hero in the imperial garden that overlooks the Ionian Sea. 
Corfu Statue of wounded Achilles in the imperial garden of Achilleion Palace
 
Corfu group photo at the palace
 
 
Corfu view along the route to the palace
 

Athens-Greece

Onboard Ito and his neo-Jimi Hendrix look
From Corfu, the ship proceeded to the port of Piraeus near Athens.  After a quick bus ride through the bustling city, we hiked up the Acropolis for a close up view of the ruins of the Parthenon, an enduring reminder and symbol of the glory of ancient Greece.  Our tour guide was adept and, with flair, he gave us a detailed description of the architectural design and geometric characteristics of the ancient temple on the Acropolis.    

One of our disappointments during the cruise occurred upon our return to the ship from the tour of Athens.  Gone are the round-the-clock snacks.  There were no snacks available when we got back on board.  So we took advantage of this time before our second-seating dinner to consume Rico’s fine bottle of liquor on our deck’s balcony at the ship’s stern.

Cindy celebrated her birthday on board that night.   Quiding arranged for a birthday cake to be served.  After dinner, the group spent the night dancing.  It was a lively evening.  Kate and Ginny brushed up their cha-cha.  Ito had hair again before the night was over, as one of the ship entertainers donned him with an Afro wig, giving him a neo-Jimi Hendrix look.
 
Athens The Parthenon
 
 
Athens site of first modern Olympic games
 
 
Onboard Surprise birthday cake for Cindy
 
 
Onboard group photo-Cindy birthday
 
 
Onboard Eddie as 1st runner up Mr Armonia competition
 

Eddie danced the night away, setting himself up as front-runner for the Mr. Armonia competition the following night.  He was already popular on the ship, after losing,  then recovering his camera during the check-in procedure following our excursion the day before.  Another guest who owns a camera that looks just like Eddie’s picked up Eddie’s camera inadvertently.  The other gentleman’s camera is actually much newer, but Eddie had taken a couple of hundred pictures that he did not want to lose.  Suspecting that the ship crew was not showing sufficient sense of urgency to expedite the retrieval of his camera, Eddie threatened them that he would file a lawsuit if anyone saw the bed scenes that he claimed were still stored in his camera.  He was scrupulously cross-examined by Danny and Jun as to whether he was snoring in deep sleep in those bed scenes.  Nevertheless, the threat worked and Eddie promptly recovered his camera.

Argostoli-Greece

Our last Greek port was Argostoli on the Ionian island of Kefalonia.   There was not much time to shop in Athens, so we spent the afternoon during this last stop in Greece shopping and relaxing over beer in a street café, while Annie merrily pranced among the bewildered pigeons in a nearby park.  The next day in Kotor would be a contrast in physical challenge.
 
Argostoli after a visit at the TITI establishment
 
 
Argostoli at the plaza playing with the pigeons
 

Kotor-Montenegro

The medieval city of Kotor in Montenegro is nestled by a beautiful fjord.  Montenegro (Crna Gora in Montenegrin), formerly part of Yugoslavia, is situated just south of Croatia and north of Albania on the south eastern Adriatic coast.   The stunning scenery, as the ship navigated the Bay of Kotor to reach the secluded location of the city, is reminiscent of the fjords of Norway.    We could have enjoyed the day just strolling along the narrow pedestrian streets of the old town.  But upon seeing the ruins of a castle, prominently visible high on a steep hill that overlooks the bay and town of Kotor, we knew we wanted to do something different that day. 

The castle within the Fortress of St. John sits atop the summit of the precipitous hill.  Ramparts of the medieval fortification snake around cliffs. The hike to reach the ruins of the castle that hot sunny day was challenging, but well worth the effort.   The view from the castle was no less spectacular than that from the ship as it navigated the inlet, thus, introducing another new word in our tour vocabulary – kotoric - a view so breathtaking that it is worth running out of one’s breath to see it.  Kotor was the highlight of the cruise for me.
 
Kotor view of fjord
 
 
Kotor hilltop castle-viewed from town center
 
 
Kotor hiking up the hill to the castle of St John
 
 
Kotor Bettina at St John castle-overlooking town
 


Ancona-Italy

Our last stop during the cruise was Ancona, a medieval town and major seaport in the Marche region of central Italy.  A tour of the town included a visit inside the12th century Romanesque cathedral of St. Ciriaco.
 
Ancona Hilltop cathedral of St Ciriaco
 
 
Ancona 13 wells of Ancona
 

By the time we returned to Venice, Eddie had been crowned runner-up in the Mr. Armonia contest, though we all thought he deserved the top spot with his extraordinary performance as a cross-dressing strip-tease dancer.

We were all set for the land tour of Italy, arranged by our Italian tour organizer and good friend Luca.  (Check out his website at www.centroitalianlimo.com.)  Luca’s friend Ardi was already waiting for us at the port in Venice when we disembarked, ready to drive us in his bus on what would be an unforgettable tour of Tuscany, followed by an equally memorable tour of Rome, Naples and Pompeii with Luca.

But we will save this story of adventure and discovery in Italy for the next issue of the MN Travelogue.
 
Loading the 24-seater van to start our Tuscany land tour
 





YouTube production/editing by: Rico and Frieda Enriquez




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Write a Comment
C.Ledesma
Tue 6th July 2010
The Netherlands
as I said before -
Sonny Valenzuela should publish a book on his travels.
He's a very interesting writer.
Makes one want to see the places he has been to, and use his account as travel guide!
 
Effie Marks Mendoza
Tue 6th July 2010
The Hague, NL
Wow! This is fantastic travel blog. Descriptions are so clear and picture shows everyone really had a GREAT time!And that bonding with siblings, families and friends is remarkably making more closer!
 
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