It's been a few weeks since we returned from the Mediterranean cruise, the winning prize for the 2006 Gather Travel Writing contest. The wonderful folks at Gather scrimped on nothing--every detail was attended to--flights, transfers, first class accommodations on the fabulous Wind Star.
We started the trip in Rome and made stops along the Italian, French and Spanish Riviera, and ended in Barcelona. The benefits of the smaller Wind Star schooner are significant. You stop in smaller ports, off the regular tourist path, and you have more authentic experiences in these locations because the port isn't innundated with thousands of tourists. That's why we were able to go to Elba Island, where Napoleon was exiled, as well as Portofino, Port Vendres, Nice, Monaco, and Coilluoire.
The boat travels at night, so every evening we set sail at sunset and pulled into port early the next morning. When leaving port, the ship's captain welcomed everyone back on board and lovely music started playing as the sails were unfurled. (Now they're all computerized, so it's not quite what we expected!) Still, the sight of the harbor at sunset and the shimmering Mediterranean was spectucular. Also surprising was the flat-screen TV mounted at the foot of our beds, the CD and DVD system in the room and the polished teakwood throughout. This was a far cry from the overnight ferry trip we made from Palermo to Naples with utilitarian metal bunkbeds and the metal showers with the drain in the middle of the bathroom floor!
The crew (mostly Indonesian) was very friendly and took the time to get to know us a little and our personal preferences in drinks and food. And speaking of food, there were always gourmet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, if we chose to eat on board. There were no planned activities on board, which suited us just fine. But there was a hot tub and a pool and an excellent gym, which we used mostly to compensate for the delicious meals we were eating.
At the end of the 7 days, we docked in Barcelona, and we had one more day to explore the city--which was perhaps the most architecturally beautiful place I have ever seen. This is another place which we are determined to visit again--as well as Nice and Rome.
Once again, I can't thank the folks at Gather enough for this wonderful experience.
As soon as I can, I'll be posting photographs of this wonderful experience, because words alone do not do it justice.