Our driver, Hakeem, picked us up at 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 5, to whisk us off to our beloved Santa Barbara airport to begin our exciting adventure to the Mediterranean.
Our first short flight took us to LAX, and after a two-hour layover we were off to Philadelphia where our layover was three hours. By now we were both pretty weary from getting up so early and sitting around waiting for our flights.
Finally, we boarded our plane to Lisbon and quickly settled into our comfy business-class nest to get ready for the six-hour flight. After a welcome glass of champagne and a delicious meal, we enjoyed 3-4 hours of sweet sleep.
The Lisbon airport pushed our tired senses almost to the limit as we valiantly navigated its expansive walkways, never-ending shopping areas and hard-to-read signs. After two or three false starts, we finally arrived at the lounge where we waited for the next three hours, completely exhausted.
Enjoying Beautiful Madeira Island.
At last, it was time for our quick flight to Madeira Island. The hour and a half trip put me over the edge of tiredness. I was stuck in the back of the plane in a very small middle seat. Thankfully, cold air flowing from the vents helped keep me from feeling claustrophobic. I made good progress reading my Kindle book, Go Tell the Bees That I’m Gone, and soon our plane bounced through the high winds and landed with a jolt on the very short runway.
We picked up our rental car that my daughter, Pam, and her husband, Jeff, had arranged and drove the short but very windy way to our incredibly beautiful VRBO overlooking the expansive Atlantic Ocean. Charming, white-washed homes with red tiled roofs dotted the impressive mountains on three sides of us.
After having caught up on our sleep and enjoying a quick breakfast of yogurt with fruit, we all settled in to check out our emails. Then it was off for our first excursion—the Hop On Hop Off bus to explore the island.
What fun that was! We toured the island from a bird’s eye view—up the steep windy streets and along the cliffs overlooking the beautiful ocean.
We learned that the Madeira Archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal and comprises four islands: Madeira, Porto Santo, Desertas and Selvagens. The Madeira Archipelago is home to about 265,000 inhabitants, with 120,000 living in the capital, Funchal and about 5,500 living on the island of Porto Santo.
We marveled at the breathtaking landscapes, dense forests, verdant hillsides, volcanic mountains, lushly-colored flower gardens, and beautiful passion fruit vines. Discovering the beauty of Madeira proved to be very enchanting. Every evening a different restaurant along cobblestone streets greeted us with delectable treats, including our new favorite local fish, Scabbard.
One day we rode the gondola up a steep mountainside and wandered through incredible botanic gardens, past a majestic waterfall, and up to a beautiful church. Then we climbed into the crazy make-shift toboggans for a wild ride down the steep and winding streets, ushered by two expert guides. The locals call it street sledding. What fun that was–and pretty scary!
Actually, these gondolas, called Carreiros do Monte, have been used for over 100 years. Originally the local people used them for quick transport from the village of Monte to the city of Funchal. It took about ten minutes. Monte is known for its beautiful, lush gardens and splendid views of the city and beyond.
Next, was a walk through the expansive farmer’s market, including the local fish market where people come every day for the freshest fish unloaded straight from the boat and carved by expert fish mongers, followed by a walk through the charming old town area with every kind of merchant imaginable. We ended this day with a casual lunch at our beautiful VRBO and a dip in the warm pool overlooking the breathtaking ocean and city below.
On Sunday, 10/9, our third day on Madeira Island, we drove to the western side of the island. It is not as populated as the capital city, Funchal, but equally as gorgeous with so many picturesque locales.
We started out with a one-hour drive to the village of Monte Moniz where we visited the natural ocean pools. We all donned our bathing suits and found a place for our towels near one of the pools. Then we ventured toward the water. It turned out the water was really cold, so only two of us went all the way in. The others put only their feet in the frigid water.
Next, we went to a quaint little restaurant, called Marcel’s, for an early dinner. We enjoyed the local fish, Scabbard, and some of their renowned cod croquettes. The owner, Marcel, could not have been more charming, telling us all about this sweet village and giving us tips for our visit.
Our drive home was uneventful except for many stops for photo opportunities and numerous impressive long tunnels carved into the mountainsides. Once we were settled back in our comfortable VRBO, we each got busy getting caught up on our emails and posts.
On Monday morning, after a quick breakfast, we headed out to walk to the highest cliff on the island, 1,700 feet elevation. What incredible views of the rugged rock formations plunging down to the raging sea below, surrounded by beautiful white-washed homes with red tiled roofs blanketing the steep hillsides. When we got to the top, we stood on a glass bottom viewing area where we looked down to see the amazing view below.
Then we drove to a sweet little fishing village with a harbor surrounded by brightly colored boats. We made great friends with our charming waiter, Donny. After lunch he took us inside for a photo shoot behind the elaborate bar. What fun!
After that we explored the old town area. Pam and Jeff went shopping while Dennis and I enjoyed a glass of wine in an outside cafe tapping our toes to the musical trio across the walkway.
One thing we enjoyed twice is going to the top of Reid’s Palace Hotel downtown to sip their special cocktails while marveling at the stunning vistas below. Our favorite drink was called Fine Poncha. The main ingredient, poncha, is a local liqueur. They also use special honey and sugar cane produced on Madeira Island. There were two versions of a poncha drink: Poncha, which is the traditional local concoction, and Fine Poncha, which is the hotel’s specialty. We experimented and found that we all preferred the Fine Poncha.
After four glorious days exploring and enjoying Madeira Island, we boarded a plane for the two-hour ride to Lisbon. Thankfully, we had first-class seats, so we weren’t stuck in the back again.
As soon as we arrived at the gigantic Lisbon airport, bustling with thousands of travelers of every sort, we found a taxi, loaded our luggage into the trunk, and piled into the car. The congested traffic made the 15-minute ride into a 40-minute frustrating slog through the narrow streets teeming with people.
We finally arrived at our hotel, Mondial, unloaded our bags and then tried to move them out of the middle of the street while Dennis was paying the taxi driver. It turned out that the cabbie stiffed us! Dennis gave him a $100 bill and expected change back. But the guy quickly took the money, hopped into his cab, and drove off through the mass of cars and people. The hotel concierge said it should have cost only $15 for a cab to take us from the airport to the hotel. Lesson learned!
After unpacking our bags and taking a short rest in our room, we began our walk to the restaurant where we would have dinner. Lisbon is known for its many hills, and we trekked up lots of them, walking along the beautiful mosaic tiled sidewalks. Our restaurant sat high on a hill overlooking the city. We all agreed that the food, the ambiance, and the service were superb. Since it was dark when we finished eating, we took a cab back to our hotel.
On Wednesday 10/13, we spent the day walking around Lisbon and taking a three-hour tour in one of the popular Tuk-Tuks. Our walk all over the Lisbon harbor area, the Jeronimos Church and Monastery, and checking out the many impressive statues and old buildings yielded each of us 15,000 steps. We were hot and tired by the time we got back to our hotel. After a delicious meal at a restaurant specializing in local cuisine, we gladly retired for a good night’s sleep.
The next day, we walked to the historic St. Jorge Castle, which dates to the 8th century BC and is an important part of the history of Lisbon. It served as a place of fortification for the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors, before its conquest by the Portuguese in 1147.
After that, we walked back to our hotel to pack our bags for the check in to our cruise on the Oceania.
Sailing away to the Mediterranean for 11 days on the Oceania.
Our taxi took us within a few hundred yards of the ship. After showing our passport and proof of vaccine, we (Pam, Jeff, Dennis, and I) boarded the ship along with 1,046 other passengers. We found our room, 11063, a beautiful penthouse suite with a balcony overlooking the expansive ocean and unpacked our bags. It felt good knowing we would not have to repack for another 11 days.
That evening we enjoyed a delightful dinner with Pam and Jeff and their charming friends, Jeff and Anna Silberman. Our ship sailed all night while we slept in our very comfy beds, rocked to sleep by the gentle waves.
The next day, Friday the 14th, we docked in Seville, Spain. Pam and Jeff had arranged for a day-long tour of the city while Dennis and I stayed on the ship exploring the 15 decks and enjoying a leisurely lunch. It turns out that we were glad we didn’t accompany Pam and Jeff because they said their tour was so bad that they requested a refund.
That evening we ventured to the Horizons Lounge for a cocktail and then enjoyed a delicious dinner together in one of the many lovely dining rooms. After dinner, Pam and Jeff retired to their room and Dennis and I went dancing to 70s music in the lounge until well after 11:00. His lighted gold shoes, a birthday gift from his son just before we left, were a big hit with everyone.
Saturday, we docked at Casablanca, Morocco. After a delicious breakfast in our room, brought to us by our diligent butler, Kuldeep, we joined Pam and Jeff for a tour of Casablanca. Our first stop was the Hassan II Mosque, one of the most beautiful and largest mosques in the world. Its minaret is the tallest in Africa.
We were assigned a tour guide who spoke English and were told to remove our shoes before entering the holy mosque. We all marveled at the expansive space, tall ceilings supported by giant pillars, and elaborate tile work. After a while, the guide took us to the bottom floor where we all sat down on the carpet and heard about the incredible history of this beautiful monument and the fascinating practices of the Muslim worshippers.
When we arrived back at the ship, Dennis and I took a welcome nap since we were pretty tired from the previous late night and the day’s activities.
That evening, after pre-dinner cocktails in the lounge, we all enjoyed another scrumptious dinner in yet another lovely dining room. And then, Pam and Jeff retired to their room and Dennis and I went dancing to the Motown music until well after 11:00. We met many interesting and fun people on the dance floor.
At some point, the captain informed everyone that the ship was experiencing technical difficulties and would have to remain in port until the problem was fixed. It turned out that we didn’t leave port until 2:00 a.m. This meant that we would not be able to stop at our next planned destination, Gibraltar, UK. We were disappointed because we had planned to ride e-bikes to the top of Gibraltar and explore the area. Instead, we had a leisurely day on the ship.
On Monday, 10/17, we docked at Cartagena, Spain. Our excursion this day was a tour through the city and surrounding area riding on the back of a bright orange three wheeled motorcycle. The weather was perfect and the ride exhilarating. We rode through the beautiful town and then turned to climb the hills outside of the city to an area called Portman where we marveled at the breathtaking panoramic views of the ocean and city below.
It was interesting and a bit disturbing to hear that centuries earlier, the Romans had enslaved the entire city of Cartagena to work in the silver mines. The abandoned mines and houses of the workers remain on the mountainside today. A quiet testimony to a very sad time for many.
And the disappointment continues to this day because the mines created excessive pollution in the ground for many miles. Even today it runs into the sea infecting the ground, the beaches and the water. We found it so strange that beautiful homes and golf courses had been built right next to this destruction with seemingly no concern for the ill health effects of the contamination.
The end of our ride took us to an ancient amphitheater, built by the Romans. Interestingly, the Cartagena workers discovered the old amphitheater as they were building a new amphitheater. No one had any idea that the ancient one existed. So, they built the new one next to the old one.
The next day, Tuesday, we pulled into Palma de Mallorca, Spain. We had not scheduled an excursion, so we took the shuttle bus into town. We walked a while and then found a place to rent bicycles. Interestingly enough, it was the same place we rented bikes four years before. We decided to use electric bikes since that is what we’re used to now. Leaving the shop, we navigated through busy streets and sidewalks with lots of vendors and tourists.
Finally, we found a lovely bike path hugging the stunning coastline. We pedaled to the impressive Palma Cathedral and took lots of photos. As we continued our trek, I noticed that Dennis was getting further and further ahead of me, and I was getting hotter and hotter. Eventually, I realized that my bike had no power. I turned the power back on several times only to discover that it kept shutting off. I couldn’t tell Dennis because I couldn’t pedal fast enough to catch up to him. Since he didn’t have a rear-view mirror, he couldn’t see there was a problem. I decided to just make the best of it and keep pedaling at a slow speed. But I got hotter and hotter in the intense sun and high temperature until I was bathed in sweat.
After about an hour, Dennis stopped and saw me far behind. Of course, when I told him about the broken power meter, he thought he could fix it by turning it back on. No. Ultimately, he realized there was something wrong with the bike, so we pedaled back toward the bike shop to get another bike. I was so hot and sweaty and desperate for a cold drink and a way to put cold water on my face. We ordered a cold drink at an outdoor cafe but when I went into the restroom, I found that they only had a blower to dry hands, so I used toilet paper to mop my sweat off.
Once we replaced my bike with one that worked, the remaining two hours of our ride was very enjoyable, and it felt like the temperature cooled off and it actually got breezy.
Barcelona, Spain is one of our favorite cities. We arrived there on day seven of the cruise, Wednesday the 19th. We were scheduled for a tour of a vineyard and lunch in the Cortina region at a winery called Llopart.
Our shuttle bus pulled up to the beautiful property after a 45-minute drive from the ship. A very entertaining wine tour guide greeted us enthusiastically. He was so engaging–energetically speaking with his hands, his feet and his entire body. He told us so much about the sparkling wine made at this beautiful winery.
The Llopart family first settled on this property in 1389. In 1887 they made their first sparkling wine, which is aged in the bottles for an average of 14 years. The first bottle of wine they made was on display and is now 175 years old. They make 400,000 bottles of wine per year from the 250 acres of vines. Today they have 11 varietals.
As mandated by law in Cortina, they use organic farming methods and harvest their grapes by hand. We learned that the average age of each vine is 55 years and that they don’t use irrigation because it dilutes the quality of the wine.
To create the bubbles in the sparkling wine, they add a bit of sugar and yeast to each bottle for the second fermentation. He pointed out that Prosecco is a bit inferior because it has only one fermentation. They turn each bottle 1/8th of a turn every day for 21 days. The guide told us that France, Italy and Spain produce 50% of the world’s sparkling wine, with California being in fifth place.
After our tour of the vineyard, we sampled three of the sparkling wines and then we went to a spectacular lunch at the restaurant next door to the vineyard. There were so many courses that we thought we would burst. It was all so delicious so we kept eating!
After five hours, we arrived back at the ship and quickly took a nap and then got ready for a scrumptious dinner with Pam and Jeff.
On day eight of our cruise, we docked at Provence, France, the birthplace of wine making, beginning in 600 BC. Our first winery was Domaine de Saint Ser, which began making wine in the fifth century. In France, they refer to the region a wine was produced rather than the varietal. So, this one was Saint Victoir. The wine-making all over France is highly regulated to ensure only high-quality wines are produced. We learned that each appellation has its own set of regulations and there are 480 appellations in France. This winery produces 120,000 bottles yearly.
After our enchanting wine tasting, our driver took us to an area with lots of shops, an old town area, and charming restaurants. We walked around a bit and then Dennis and I found the perfect place for lunch: Entre Midi et Deux (between Noon and two). Dennis had a delicious chicken salad with carpaccio and yummy slices of Parmesan cheese and I had a risotto dish with clams, scallops, and very large shrimp. It was so delicious!
Our next winery was Chateau d’Aix en Provence at Chateau Beaupre, an old farm built in the 17th century. The same family has owned it since 1855, with four generations of winemakers. Our guide pointed out three cypress trees standing together next to their entry. He said that anytime a traveler saw three cypress trees together, the message was one of warm hospitality. They stand for drink, food, and a bed.
On day nine of our cruise, 10/21/22, we landed in Ajaccio, France. A sweet coastal town renowned as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. We toured the town rather quickly and returned to the ship to rest and have a bit of lunch. That evening we enjoyed a pre-birthday party for Jeff Hoffman in their suite.
The next day, Saturday, we arrived in Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy. We had scheduled a guide to take us on a kayak tour. So, we met him at 10 a.m. and off we went toward the shore. Dennis and I had single kayaks and Jeff got in the front of the guide’s tandem kayak. I quickly noticed that the waves were pretty big and it was a bit windy. Normally that would be fine, but these kayaks were very different than the sit-on-top boats we were used to at home. They were much less stable and did not respond as quickly to the paddle positions. Nevertheless, we enjoyed an invigorating paddle for a couple of hours.
On day 11, Sunday, we docked at Palermo, Sicily, Italy. We slept in a little late because we were out dancing the night before until 11 pm. After a leisurely breakfast, we took a shuttle into town and walked up and down the charming streets, absorbing all the various cultures and languages. We found a sweet sidewalk restaurant and, after quite a while were able to order our lunch. Right when they were serving our lunch, my phone rang. I hesitated to answer it because it said “Unknown.” But I’m glad I did because it was the ship calling.
Evidently, we were supposed to be on the ship by 2:30 and it was now later than that. We were surprised because most days the ship didn’t leave until 5 or 6 pm. The ship called us four times, each time wanting to know our location. We scurried around to get our lunch to go and to pay the bill. Then we walked as fast as we could toward the ship.
We had no idea whether they would leave us behind or not. Thankfully, we had our passports with us and credit cards. So, we could have taken a flight to Rome if we had to.
Soon we realized they sent a van to pick us up near the dock area. For some reason, as we walked toward the ship after exiting the van, three Italian police officers tried to block our way. We couldn’t understand what they were saying. We only knew that we had to hurry to the gangway. We finally boarded the ship at 2:50–the last ones on board.
The ship left five minutes later, which was five minutes before their intended departure. So, it all worked out well, thankfully.
But we enjoyed a delightful dinner together that evening in the main dining room. Then it was off to bed for our final night on board the ship.
Two glorious days in Rome.
The next morning, after docking in a city near Rome, we were up bright and early to finish packing, eat breakfast in our room, and prepare to be out of our room by 8:00 a.m. We found our driver easily and headed off to our last adventure—two days in Rome.
Our hotel was old, quaint and similar to a B&B. The proprietor and owner were very friendly and helpful. After getting settled in our rooms, we set out to do a little exploring on our own. What a big city with lots and lots of tourists, locals, and traffic!
Pam had arranged for a driver to give us a seven-hour tour of Rome. So, early the next morning we all left to find our driver who, thankfully, was waiting for us just outside our door. He was a charming man named Franco.
Franco took us to the beautiful St. Peter’s Square where we marveled at the many ancient buildings in the Piazza Pio XII. We were particularly impressed with St. Peter’s Basilica. The inside of the Rotunda was breathtaking, especially the magnificent dome.
As we drove along, Franco explained that Italy is led by a prime minister, elected by the people. Their president is not elected but appointed, performs only official duties, and lives in a building with 700 rooms! Franco drove us by the Pantheon, which was built in 27 BC. We didn’t go inside because Pam and Jeff had already seen it and there was a long line waiting to get in.
Next, we drove by the Coliseum which was built in 82 AD by 20,000 Hebrew slaves from Jerusalem. I was reminded of so many violent biblical stories associated with that site.
He pointed out the Umbrella trees, which are typical of Rome. They are very tall pine trees with skinny trunks and shaped like a very large umbrella at the top.
We stopped in Malta to look through the famous Aventine Keyhole which would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. If you bend down and look through a large keyhole in a plain metal door, you can see the Vatican in Rome. Pretty quirky.
We drove by the Catacombs where 5,000 Christians were martyred by being crucified upside down. And then we walked along the famous Appian Way on stones over 2.000 years old.
Next Franco took us to the Castel Grandolfo, which is the summer residence of the Pope, overlooking the picturesque Lago di Papa. We were all in awe as we walked around the beautiful grounds and inside the spectacular site.
Our next stop was the Theodosian Basilica, believed to house the tomb of St. Paul. It is also known as the St. Paul Basilica and is the second largest Catholic Church in Rome and one of only two churches that the Pope has lived in. We were all enthralled as we walked around marveling at the brilliant gold ceilings, mosaic domes, elaborate alters and impressive statues and paintings.
Now it was lunch time and Franco took us to a charming restaurant overlooking a beautiful lake. It looked like something out of a foreign movie. The restaurant has been run by generations of the Pagnelli family and boasts a wine cellar housing 35,000 bottles of wine. Our server generously gave us a tour of this incredible cellar built under the restaurant.
We all returned
to our hotel tired and ready for a rest. Later that evening we took a cab to our restaurant, Al Morro, where we celebrated Jeff’s 65th birthday with a delicious and memorable dinner. We even enjoyed gelato on our walk over to see the whimsical Boat Fountain, the steep Spanish Steps (we climbed to the top), and the famous Tivali Fountain.
Time to head home.
We were grateful when we found a taxi to take us back to our hotel so we could pack and get ready to leave for the airport early the next morning.
We exchanged goodbye hugs and went our separate ways to check in to our flights home. When Dennis and I located our check-in area, we discovered that, for some reason, our reservation had been changed and we had no seats on the sold-out flight! We were supposed to fly to New York in two hours, then to LA and finally to Santa Barbara. Thankfully a supervisor came to our rescue and booked us on a flight leaving in a few minutes directly to LA. We hurried through the various check points and arrived just in time to be the last passengers to board. Thank heavens we always travel light, with just carry-on luggage; otherwise we would not have been able to make that flight.
The 12-hour flight home was enjoyable since we slept for several hours, had excellent meals, and lot of good wine. Because of the time zone difference of nine hours, we arrived at the LA airport mid-morning. The next flight to Santa Barbara wasn’t until 10 p.m. so we arranged to take the Airbus home. The two-hour ride went well, and Hakeem met us at the drop off site to drive us home. It felt so good to be back in our Heavenly Perch, overlooking our beautiful city and ever-enchanting ocean.