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NCL Epic 6-14 July: Cruising the Med, Part II

Telephoto view of Catedral de la Verge de les Neus / Catedral de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves / Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snows, Ibiza/Eivissa
Catedral de la Verge de les Neus / Catedral de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves / Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snows, Ibiza/Eivissa

Day 5 – Ibiza: Breakfast in Taste of oatmeal, juice, corned beef hash, with the coffee I’d prepared up in the solo lounge. We were in port, I was near a window, but I didn’t have my phone so I couldn’t check the overnight emails. I returned to the cabin and backed up the camera and phone, then prepared for a day off ship, headed down to join my excursion at 10:30. It took about a half hour to get organized on the pier – I had #31, the same group number as the day before, (should have played it at the roulette table?) and we boarded our bus. [A “perky blonde” appeared as we queued, breaking into the front of the line and brought her group, pushing the rest of us back and annoying a whole bunch of us.] Off in the distance, situated on the hill of the old city, the cathedral awaited me. Using the telephoto features, I braced and got a few pictures.

About a half hour later, we reached the village of Sant Josep. Ambling through the town from where the bus waited, we came to a church where we stood under the porch overhang, listening to our guide discuss the history of the village and its environs. The church, the town square, the tourist shops and, most important, the WC. I spent my time looking at the hillside, lush with trees.

Back on the bus and further along around the island, we came to a park where we unloaded and walked about, looking off to the monadnock thrust offshore. Apparently magnetic, it confounds sailors. Off to the east was a bay and a beach, albeit down a steep cliff. It was a great 15-minute photo break.

Islands of Es Vedrà and Vedranell, Ibiza
Islands of Es Vedrà and Vedranell, Ibiza

Bay and harbor, from viewpoint
Bay and harbor, from viewpoint

We continued on to the port of Sant Antoni de Portmany, where we dined at Es Nàutic. With floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out into the port, we settled into tables running the length of this glass wall. Tapas of sliced hams, garlic mayo, olives. A green salad with avocado. Fried squid. On the table were bottles of wine, the red a Rioja from La Salceda (’19). Two men then appeared, presenting what looked to be a paella pan, however, it was the local variation called Fideua, where small pieces of pasta replaced the rice in this seafood dish. I found that one end of our table had a good group – fun and adventurous. Two desserts were offered, and I went with the local variation on bread pudding. (The alternate looked like lemon slush.)

Leaving the restaurant, we set about crossing the island back to our ship. I checked with the guide, and my options were to get off somewhat distant from the old city so that I could taxi up to the cathedral, and then taxi back to the port, or to stay on the bus to the port and taxi to and from there. As it was approaching 4:30, with last call at 5:30, I decided that I would visit the Catedral de la Mare de Déu de les Neus another day. I’d seen it, but not stood in its shadow.

When we reboarded the ship, I did head up top to take more photos of the cathedral, but they were overly hazy, not as good as those I’d taken in the morning. (The sun’s location in the sky is everything!) Back down to the lounge, and it gradually filled with returning beachgoers. The challenge game was blackjack, where my 20 was beaten by 2 with 21. The prize was a deck of cards, which I hardly needed. A group set off for dinner at 6 at Taste, but I remained and chatted with a guy from Adelaide, and then a woman my age from Bolivia. I got into long pants, and headed down to Manhattan.

As is my wont, I selected three appetizers: country style pâté, asparagus and artichoke risotto, and shredded cabbage salad. And a glass of the house cab. The waiter served the risotto first, where I found the pesto good, but really couldn’t tell if there were other veggies. The pâté was a mousse, flavorless, and the greens, relish and biscuit were just there. And the salad was crunchy, with huge croutons and a shaving of cheese. For the main, assuming that the kitchen was staffed by sub-continent Indians, I went with the Balti lamb tikka. Rowell, the sommelier, showed up with a ’19 Chateauneuf de Pape, which he opened and immediately vigorously agitated. (This goes against everything I’ve learned from Sudsy!) Albeit very young, it turned out to nicely match the lamb. Tender and well-seasoned, there was a crunch from the haricot vert and thinly sliced onions, and the bed of what I would call latke made for a perfect course.

From the top of the dessert

menu, I selected the apple and pear crisp, at the recommendation of our waiter. With a cup of mint tea, I found the cobbler to be good, the vanilla ice cream creamy. The crunch on top included toffee, which enriched the dish. The tea, albeit Lipton, was hot – something was actually hot for a change. I'd had a great view throughout dinner of the entertainment.

Day 6 – Barcelona: From getting up to breakfast took 20 minutes, however I went to O’Sheehan’s for breakfast of oatmeal and sausage.

O'Sheehan's Breakfast menu
O'Sheehan's Breakfast menu

Oatmeal with hot milk, raisins, brown sugar (and sausage)
Oatmeal with hot milk, raisins, brown sugar (and sausage)

Back to collect the camera and onto the pier by 9:15, but it took 45 minutes to find a taxi. Meanwhile, I spoke with two educators from Los Altos (California) who were leaving the ship and heading to Toronto. [While the Epic boarded and debarked passengers at most ports, Barcelona is the most significant boarding port in the itinerary that loops between there and Civitavecchia.]

Facade: Catedral de Terrassa / Catedral del Sant Esperit / Catedral del Espíritu Santo / Cathedral Basilica of the Holy Spirit
Catedral de Terrassa / Catedral del Sant Esperit / Catedral del Espíritu Santo / Cathedral Basilica of the Holy Spirit

Once the taxi was underway, it took 47 minutes to reach Terrassa with a fare of 65€. Dropped off at a corner down Carrer de l’Església, I climbed the narrow street as the façade of the Catedral de Terrassa / Catedral del Sant Esperit / Catedral del Espíritu Santo / Cathedral Basilica of the Holy Spirit filled the right-hand side. Three large arches with tall metal gates face west, with the more northern opening out to a long, tree-filled Plaça Vella. The nave vault rises to 4-5 stories, with large stained-glass windows creating a clerestory, placed above the five arches leading to side chapels. In the apse, a half-dome illustrated angels in pale blues on white, a monument to the Holy Spirit rising above the circular baldachin over the high altar. Against the curved wall are highly carved images above the two levels of choir seats.

Leaving the cathedral and strolling about the plaza, I spotted a bell tower behind what appeared to be a second façade. Mature trees on the south side of the plaza (as well as panel vans) compounded the difficulties of getting “that shot”. Continuing the gentle slope down the plaza from the church, it turned into a shopping promenade (Carrer Major). At the crossing of Carrer del Forn, I spotted a taxi rank, and, in my broken Spanish (Catalan would have been useful) I asked about going to Sant Feliu.

Tower and side view, Sant Feliu de Llobregat Cathedral / Cathedral of Saint Lawrence
Sant Feliu de Llobregat Cathedral / Cathedral of Saint Lawrence

About 30 minutes later (and 35€) I was faced with finding the local cathedral. I was dropped about a block away on Carrer Vidal I Ribas, so approached the Sant Feliu de Llobregat Cathedral / Cathedral of Saint Lawrence from the rear along the tree filled Carrer Pi I Margall. A tall stone and red brick bell- and clock-tower rises high over the street. With three aisles, the central nave has a clerestory rising to a flat coffered vault, covered with elaborate markings. At the crossing, an octagonal dome, decorated in gold on black, acts as a lantern. The presbytery is modern, a white and gray marble altar on a step rise over the step rise of the sanctuary space from the nave floor. A hung crucifix is boxed by an open square, baldachin-like, and the rear of the apse holds chairs for the choir and the cathedra. I found the building to be light and airy, welcoming, with a nice mix of older, classical and newer, modern blended well.

Leaving by the west entrance, the exterior view was somewhat better than the scaffolding I’d walked along when I arrived. After a delivery truck finished and moved, I got a satisfactory image. I walked around the small plaza, noting the clever way the city has protected its pubic trees – with statues of a figure sitting at the base, holding. I popped into a salon and asked if they could help getting me a cab back to the port, and, using my phone, hired me a taxi. I wound up going back to near my drop off point to meet him, but soon we were underway. I recognized the bridge we used to cross into the port, and 40€ lighter, reboarded the Epic, passing many newly boarding passengers.

As it was after 1pm, I figured to have lunch at O’Sheehan’s. Unlike a number of ships I’ve sailed on, NCL has one restaurant/bar open at all times. Seated at a hightop, I had chicken wings and a cobb salad. The wings had been parboiled, so were fully cooked, but the sauce was mild; there just wasn’t enough lettuce in the salad for me – I need my ruffage! Over lunch I spoke with my neighbor, and Irish woman from Wexford. We covered Ireland, social behavior and Trump. After a piece of carrot cake for dessert, I climbed to the pool deck and surveyed the Barcelona skyline. While hazy, I was able to get a few shots of the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia, which is usually the first “cathedral” in Barcelona that anyone mentions.

When 5:30 rolled around, I was with Cathie and Janet, two others who hadn’t left the ship, to greet the newbies as they straggled into the solo lounge. A new staff, Paul from the Philippines, took over the NCL portion of the solos, doing introductions and starting with the three “hold overs”. Ten of us headed down to Tastes for dinner. My starter order was fried wontons, seafood chowder and a spinach salad. Beef medallions for the main with a glass of a different CdP for wine, followed by lava cake and chocolate torte for dessert. The group broke up, with some going to Howl at the Moon, while others were heading into town for a bit of night life before our late sailing departure.

Day 7 – Cannes: Getting up at 8, I hustled down to Taste for oatmeal, only to have slow wait staff serving a leisurely breakfast. With my camera and journal in hand, my tender group number was called and I was soon underway, getting to the pier about 9:40. I had used ViaHero and my concierge Paul to arrange my day in southeastern France, visiting 3 nearby cathedrals (as Cannes doesn’t have one.)

My driver-guide Maxime Bismuth was at the gate, and we soon were off into the seaside traffic that defines Cannes on our way to Antibes. Paul’s itinerary was very specific, selecting the route and providing suggestions for the travel narrative. I took a bunch of “moving shot” out the window with the A14 phone.

Front angled view, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Immaculée Conception, Antibes
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Immaculée Conception, Antibes

Approaching the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Immaculée Conception in Antibes, the narrow yellow building with a pink façade with white and papal-yellow trim backs onto the Promenade. With three doors, thick square columns define the nave and the three aisles of this dark church. Natural lighting comes from small windows above and behind the shrines along the nave floor, skylights above the gallery, and stained-glass windows in the clerestory.

At the east end behind the altar are two narrow arched windows, a rondel above of translucent leaded glass, and then an arched window in the presbytery entry arch. An open door provided a glimpse into the sacristy.

Maxime had stayed with me, albeit he left me to my picture taking. Rejoining me, he suggested that we walk for a bit in the open-air market, Le Marché Provençal. The permanent covering kept it cool underneath, as well as protecting the produce being sold.

Back to the car, he soon was wending our way out of Antibes, with the modern high-rise apartments filling the coastline. Paul had indicated that it would be industrial, but not in my vision. We did see the tourist mecca St Paul de Vence over across a valley, but skipped that madhouse. About noon we arrived in Vence where another crafts market was underway, this time protected by umbrellas and the established trees.

Cathédrale  de Vence / Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Nativité
Cathédrale de Vence / Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Nativité

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Nativité has four aisles, with individual chair seating in three. The fourth southernmost aisle seems to be an add-on starting with the Tour St Lambert, and then filled with three autels (altars) to saints, and a separate chapel of the Evangelists. Two also are across to the north. The central nave walls are without ornamentation, leading to the sanctuary in an arch with a pale green-gray background.

An open metal framed table with a cloth-covered stone slab topper serves as the main altar, the high altar behind it in the presbytery more traditional of carved marble. With a significant history, the upper level holds a museum, which includes treasury items, as well as removed statues, archeological finds and an older wood carved cathedra. It also afforded a great view of the ground floor.

Leaving the cathedral, we turned a corner and sat for lunch at Taverne St Véran. Paul had made a reservation, and I asked Maxime to join me. Ordering from the specials board, I got Petites ravioles de Royans crème d’artichaut.

After a leisurely meal, we got back to the car and began heading west towards the next cathedral in Grasse. Paul had suggested a deviation if we had time, and so we detoured to Tourettes-sur-Loup.

Per his guidebook, the town is a typical Provencal village on a rocky outcrop on the edge of the Prealpes d’Azur. Formerly, the local industry was flower growing, a source of orange blossoms, jasmine and roses for the perfume industry in Grasse. Now the money comes from local artist, tourists, and the annual violet festival.

Front facade, Cathédrale Notre-Dame Du Puy / Grasse Cathedral
Cathédrale Notre-Dame Du Puy / Grasse Cathedral (former)

After 15 minutes we resumed our trek towards the perfume capital of the world. Parking underground in a public garage, we walked to the former Cathédrale Notre-Dame Du Puy which is known as the smallest cathedral in France. Set back on the Place du Petit Puy, buildings bracket both sides, but the belltower to the rear is visible from the street. The single surviving central door is up curved matching stairs of eleven steps, above the entrance to the crypt. Inside, the thick dark gray stones give a weighty feel to the narrow and dark space.

Paintings hang of the aisle walls, the ceilings of which are carved gray stone and support the gallery above. In the central nave, the vault is unadorned stone. The apse in the east end is deep with carvings on the arches overhead, gilded with gold. Niches along the sides are filled with standing statues of the evangelists. From the thirteenth century, it feels very old. For the art lover, there are three original oils by Peter Paul Rubens hanging on the walls, and I particularly liked the framed decoupage of flowers.

A great view unfolds from the square, over red tiled roofs, with trees adding green and building walls of white, expanding out to the hills to the south. A signpost announced the “sister cities”, pointing towards them and giving the distance.

We wandered through town towards the Fragonard store, where displays and vats showed the distillation process for the essences used in their parfums and eaux de toilette. I got myself a new scent, Vétiver, which I now alternate with my old standby, Azzaro which I’ve used since my first Paris visit in 1977.

Time was fleeting, so we returned to fetch the car and then begin the trip back to the port.

With no further journal notes for the day, I know that I returned in time to board the ship, and my phone photos show that I had dinner at Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouse that used my one specialty dining chit. We were initially sent off to the huge salad bar, and I made two trips, albeit not overloading my salad plate. After surveying the wine list, I selected a ’16 Rioja Gran Reserva, Tradición H – that’s Gordon in the background.

Servers approached with sword skewers and big knives, offering meat options. Chicken drummies came first, followed by bacon-wrapped chicken and braised sausages. A slice of prime rib medium rare soon gave way to my first filet mignon. A small bite was the best the server could offer when he brought the pork tenderloin by, before a favorite, the grilled pineapple showed up. A piece of pork roast and another filet about filled me with my protein quota (for the week?) Curiosity got the better of me when I saw the dessert menu, wanting to try the chocolate coconut tres leches cake; Gordon got the banana caramel meringue tartlet.

Day 8 – Livorno I: As I’d booked excursions both days of our overnight in Livorno, Thursday saw me up and consuming a muffin with coffee in the solo lounge before I climbed down to the Epic Theater to join my tour group at 8:20am. The sixteen of us were guided to the half-bus by Noemy at 9:30. Soon we were off, through the marina and onto an autoroute, heading over the agricultural flats to the hills, reaching Volterra just before 10:30. From the bus drop, we had a nice view out from the hilltop to the flats below and the distant hills out on the horizon. Noemy handed off the group to the local guide, Cristina who slowly took us around the top of the ancient city.

She explained about the political and military changes that Volterra had experience, took us past an open-air market where jewelry called out to the women. She passed the cathedral, its tower, and the baptistry, briefly talking about them, and then moved to continue the tour through the ramparts. We came across a small orchestra rehearsing in a courtyard. Having checked, there wouldn’t be much time for us to visit it, so at 11 I politely (and quietly) excused myself and headed into the Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta.

Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta / Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Mary, Volterra
Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, Volterra

A single tall black door in the center of the building, set between two white marble columns, brought me into the nave. Black (almost blue)-and-white, in the marble tiled diamonds of the floor pattern, to the stripes on the walls and arches, set the general color theme. Pink marble columns supported the intricately designed vault, filled with coffering of gold-gilt crosses and octagons, traversing from the door to the crossing. Few window openings, indirect lighting provided a warm golden glow. Large oil painting hung on the walls of the altars in the transept arms, dome-like vaults filled with more framed art. In the presbytery, a modern altar is forward, its face dressed in carvings of white, with black highlights. Behind, the high altar, faced in silver on brass, and topped by pink marble, sits in front of the apse wall and chrome organ pipes.

To the north was the sacristy, which also functioned as a museum with some of the treasury on display. Further along would be the campanile and a small cloister. Across the pavement was the octagonal baptistry, which has a marble full immersion font at its center. Narrow slit windows, stacked for two levels, are set in the stone walls. One wall is decorated, a niche filled with an altar with a mural depicting the Assumption filling its arch. While unimpressed with the baptistry, across and next to the cathedral was a display space that included several historic horse-drawn funeral carts. The space recalled where a body might be “waked”, as there is an altar at the end.

I headed back to the bus drop through dark narrow streets, and the group was soon boarded and on its way to a sheep farm, surrounded by the golden fields of dry grass so familiar to Californians. Welcomed inside Fattoria di Lischeto at noon, our appetizer was a shared plate of four cheeses (ricotta, sposo, ezzelino and pecora nera) and a fondue. The primi was a pasta, fettucini with a meat ragu. Dessert a crème-topped tiramisu.

Sheep grazing in field, Fattoria di Lischeto
Sheep grazing in field

After lunch, we ventured outside to stroll for a bit, getting pictures of the distant landmarks. Many had hoped to see sheep (we were, after all, visiting a sheep farm) but they were elusive. When we stopped for a photo op of a sculpture on the hill, I pushed my telephoto and was able to share a view of the herd.

When I approached Naomy to get dropped off in Livorno so that I could visit the cathedral, she advised me that company policy prohibited any stops but those on the tour. (She did write down the names of three other notable churches that I should visit.) As it turned out, the route back didn’t get anywhere near the city center. So I coughed up the 7€ to get a round trip ride on the shuttle, and headed into town at about 3:30. The Cattedrale di San Francesco / Cathedral of St. Francis was closed until 5.

Exterior, Cattedrale di San Francesco / Cathedral of St. Francis, Livorno
Cattedrale di San Francesco / Cathedral of St. Francis, Livorno

I poked around nearby shops, visiting the TIM phone store to get a reading of the texts (in Italian) that had been arriving daily on the new phone, only to learn they were marketing. Further wandering, I came to the shuttle stop and saw a sign indicating the last shuttle was at 5pm. Not noticing it was for the MSC ship that was in port too, (the last shuttle for the Epic was 2300) so I got back on the next shuttle and returned to the ship. After taking a shower, I took my camera and Chromebook to the lounge to do my backups.

Slowly folks returned to the ship, and we had NCL Paul make a reservation for 10 of the solos at Taste for 6:30. When we finally sat down, there were 7 of us. I had two salads, the roasted beet and the pear and gorgonzola, and then the white cheddar and potato soup. For a main, the bang bang chicken and shrimp. Dessert was the brownie s’more.

I wrote no observations about the meal, but I was tired and ready to crash. Gordon and I agreed to book the bus back to Rome, as the trains would be on strike. I thought briefly about heading to the top deck to sit and do emails, but chose instead to just get horizontal, writing a bit more of the blog when I got to cabin 11532.

Day 9 – Livorno II: I’d booked another 6-hour excursion, to join a wine tasting and lunch in San Miniato. When booking, the start time was 9:30. This time I was in Group 32. We headed off, leaving at 11, taking a similar route inland as the tour the day before as far as Pontedera, then continued heading inland. Arriving on a hill on the other side of the valley where the old city of San Minato rose, we were greeted at the Cosimo e Maria Masini vineyard. An organic and biodynamic farm, we were led out to the fields to observe the vines while learning about their farming techniques, as well as the regulations to follow to earn the “green” designation. Walking back to the buildings, the winery process is done mainly in concrete, using gravity feed. As in the fields, the fermentation and aging process has limited (or no) chemicals involved.

Multiple views of Cosimo e Maria Masini Vineyard & Winery, San Miniato
Cosimo e Maria Masini Vineyard & Winery, San Miniato

Our group of 20 was then led out back, where we sat at long tables under an arbor to have lunch. We started with a young pecorino, and plates of salami and mortadella. The wine served was “annick” a Tuscan sauvignon blanc and vermentino blend. This was followed by a paté-like spread on toasted rustic bread, and a spicy meat-and-cheese spread on baguette toasts. These were accompanied by a rosato/rosé, “matilde”, a blend of sangiovese and sanforte. (The latter is rare red varietal grown in Tuscany.) A thick soup-like course followed, pappa al pomodoro, made with tomato, olive oil, basil, balsamic and cheese. “Sincero”, a red blend of 30% sangiovese and 70% cab (both cab franc and cabernet sauvignon) accompanied the soup. A basket full of biscotti, a cookie made of egg, flour, almonds and sugar, finished off the meal. Many of us enjoyed a bit more red with the dessert.

While sales were being done (I joined, getting three bottles each of “cosimo” and “sanforte” shipped to Florida), folks took a WC break and took photos of the vistas.

Telephoto shot of Cattedrale di Santi Maria Assunta e Genesio, San Miniato
Cattedrale di Santi Maria Assunta e Genesio, San Miniato

Asking if we were going to visit San Minato itself, I learned we would be returning to the ship directly. Off on the top of the next hill stood the tower of the cathedral, so I pushed the zoom, planting the camera firmly on the table, and got a hazy photo of Cattedrale di Santi Maria Assunta e Genesio. We left shortly after 2:30, returning in an hour, and boarding the ship.

Heading to the lounge to update my journal, I described the tour as a simple visit to a bio vineyard and winery. My notes reveal my disappointment being twofold: the tour only lasted 4.5 hours, not the 6 as promoted; and we didn’t actually visit San Minato. More of the group returned to the lounge that evening, as we sailed at 7pm. For those debarking at Civitavecchia the next morning, it was our last meal aboard. I went to Manhattan as a group of 8, sitting at the end of the table with Leslie who wasn’t feeling well. [I heard a few days later from Merrie, her friend, that she’d gotten a bronchial cough from contact with Bill and Leslie. They were all still on the ship. I guess I’m lucky or healthier?]