Tuesday 16 June 2015

Travels and travails...

Well hello there... Alex of "Madagascar" fame and all his chums were on the cruise with Andy, myself and our chums, Billy and Catherine... as we sailed the Western Mediterranean Sea at the beginning of June. We have gone on a cruise with our chums before when we explored the Adriatic. However this time it was sailing from Barcelona to call in at Palma, Marseilles, La Spezia, Civitavecchia and Naples and as you know my love of Italy would be satisfied by visiting the three major seaports on the west coast of Italy with their associated tourist attractions, such as Pompeii.

What we didn't know was that the cruise ship we were going to be on was the largest cruise ship in the world ... or so we were told. If that fact isn't true, I would hate to be on an even bigger ship than the Allure of the Seas. It was plenty big for us... 6000 passengers and 2000 crew!

Allure of the Seas
The main attraction for me was going to be visiting Cinque Terre when we docked in La Spezia. This has been an area that I have long wanted to visit. You can only travel along this coastline by train or boat and it was the area that Shelley and Byron loved in bygone years. It is a cluster of five villages that are sheltered from the storms and are far removed from the bustle of city life.

La Spezia

 Andy and I were signed up for a 9 hour "trip" visiting three of the five villages. This trip involved a bus journey along the top of the hillside, from where we could see the most southerly village, Riomaggiore.
This was just enough of a peek to realise how secluded these five villages are from the usual motorway frenzy.

The bus parked above the second village, Manarola, from where we enjoyed a long walk down the hillside into its' quaint rolling street to catch a boat trip to Vernazza and then another boat trip to Monterosso. From the boat we were able to see the village of Corniglia perched on an outcrop of rock, well fortified from the pirates of long ago who terrorised this stretch of land and its' inhabitants.

However we weren't terrified. We were enchanted, as many before us had been, by the  steep mountain terrain behind the sleepy villages.

The land had been worked over centuries in terraces, to grow crops including the famous wine of the region and yes we did a fair amount of wine tasting that day! We had the most amazing two hour lunch at Monterosso before getting the train back to the bus for the return journey to La Spezia. The train of course was 40 minutes late... the doors wouldn't open and the 250 of us that were on the trip found it exceedingly difficult to get a seat. This can be a typical Italian local service train journey. I have "enjoyed " many such experiences in Italy when travelling by train. Italy's trains can turn a travel into a travail at the drop of a hat.

I always ask people "what was your best bit?" from any experience. It consolidates the whole experience and means that appreciation is always foremost in your thoughts. You would think from my love of all things Italian, it would be the visit to Cinque Terre or the inspiring tour of Pompeii. However it was actually a visit to a hideaway setting in Marseilles. This once hospital/hospice was so peaceful and healing that it could calm the most anxious of souls. It was just like an oasis in the desert... a place to stop and rest before continuing on your journey.

 It is what I consider to be the best architecture for a healing environment, with its' balconies and its' windows, wide open to the world outside and yet the whole building is hidden away from the city itself. It is no longer a hospital but is still a place of healing, as just sitting in its' shady cloisters and walking around the sundrenched olive trees, gave us chums, a most welcome pause...

This pause, this interlude of peace, showed me that when on any trip, any journey... whether travelling by boat, bus, car or plane... the best moments in life are savoured in the hidden away treasures of time shared with pals and the unexpected gifts that appear when you are open to receive...