Back from Europe

By | October 10, 2023
Carole in the courtyard of the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, at the "Sphere Within a Sphere" sculpture. She is posing with Theodore, aka "Adventure Moose".

Carole in the courtyard of the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, at the “Sphere Within a Sphere” sculpture. She is posing with Theodore, aka “Adventure Moose”.

We just got back from a two and a half week trip to Europe. We flew to Bilbao, Spain (in the Basque country) and hung out there for two days, then boarded the Norwegian Gem for an 11-stop cruise that began in Bilbao and ended in Rome. After three days in Rome we flew home. A kind fellow tourist (identity unknown) managed to give us both Covid-19 toward the end of the trip — our last full day in Rome and our travel day home were both miserable, and we tested positive as soon as we got to our house. (We did wear masks the whole way home, our diagnoses unconfirmed but strongly suspected.)

Other than one “sea day” as we sailed from Bilbao to our first stop in Lisbon, Portugal, we had a different stop in a different city every day, winding up visiting a total of six countries:

  1. Lisbon, Portugal
  2. Portimao, Portugal
  3. Cadiz, Spain
  4. Gibraltar, UK
  5. Motril, Spain (jumping off point for a bus trip north to Granada)
  6. Ibiza, Spain
  7. Palma, Spain
  8. Barcelona, Spain
  9. St. Tropez, France
  10. La Spezia, Italy (jumping off point for a bus trip inland to Florence)
  11. Rome, Italy (we also visited Vatican City)

We are not inveterate cruisers — this is our fifth cruise, ever:

  1. 2004 Western Caribbean — Royal Caribbean
  2. 2007 Alaska — Royal Caribbean
  3. 2017 Hawaii — Norwegian Cruise Line
  4. 2018 Baltic Sea — Norwegian Cruise Line
  5. 2023 Spain/Portugal/Gibraltar/France/Italy — Norwegian Cruise Line

What made this one different, other than the length (the others were not as long) was that I bid for a room upgrade weeks prior to embarkation, not knowing if my bid amount would be enough to beat out others bidding for the same upgrades. Apparently it was, because we were upgraded; it was to a two-bedroom (a master bedroom and a smaller kids’ bedroom) “penthouse” suite that was the size of two regular staterooms and which came with butler service — daily treats and fresh ice deliveries multiple times per day, stuff like that, with our morning scheduled room service delivered *exactly* at the specified time each day, and other little lagniappes of elegance. We were also entitled to priority debarkation each day and we got to have breakfast each day in one of the specialty restaurants rather than fending for ourselves in the main buffet. It was nice. It will be hard to go back to a regular sized stateroom if we cruise again in the future. (Note: it was not a “Haven” suite — NCL has a whole deck at the very top of the ship for the people who really want to lay out some cash; you can’t even get to that floor without a special keycard. We did not spend that much.)

Would we do it again? Yes. It was fun. But as I said, we are not inveterate cruisers; we’re averaging one every 5.2 years.

What was our favorite part? Carole really liked Granada and the forests around the Alhambra. I liked Cadiz a lot — it was a bustling small city with lots of color and life and beautiful views. We both would have enjoyed having much more time in Barcelona, but that stop was annoyingly short. We were allowed off the ship at 9 am or so after arriving from Palma in the Balearic Islands and we had to be back on the ship at 4:30 pm so we could sail on to St. Tropez in France. We saw Park Guell and the Sagrada Familia in a whirlwind of rush-rush-rush… and that was it. Carole says in addition to the above, she really liked Gibraltar — there was an actual zoo with macaques and lemurs and other interesting things down in the city, and then of course there were the views from atop the Rock and all the Barbary apes.

Least favorite? Well, other than the stop where we caught Covid … 🤒 The one stop neither of us had much good to say about was Lisbon, as we found it a somewhat shabby, rundown city with uncollected trash everywhere — everywhere we were taken on our two-hour “Panoramic Drive through Lisbon” tour took us past slums and rundown buildings. I’m sure there are nice areas, but we didn’t see them on what was meant to be a quick trip to the really cool stuff. (Our Baltic trip taught us the folly of booking nine-hour “See Every Damn Thing There Is To See” city tours; they left us exhausted and mentally wiped out.)

We’ll be sharing some photos and anecdotes, but please don’t feel compelled to pay any attention to them whatsoever. Other than being made to look at someone else’s baby photos (and I grant you that there are even people who enjoy doing that) I think having someone else show you endless snaps of fun places they went while you were at home punching a timeclock is at the top of a lot of people’s “No, thanks” lists. 🌍

P.S. Do not touch the apes.

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