What, with 84 days of vicariously living an itinerary where much was preplanned, would I have done differently? The great 20-20 hindsight, even in virtual land, would make a few changes:
Transatlantic crossing: the MSC Meraviglia is an extremely large ship, and unlike some of my other cruises (all three) they don’t seem to plan for keeping their passengers occupied, particularly on sea days. Now, I admit, most of my information came from 1- and 2-week long Caribbean trips, with only a single or two sea days, but the only entertainment I found was the evening shows, 3 times a night in the Broadway Theater, occasional theme parties, and the captain’s introductory talk. With 4 consecutive days, one can only spend so much time by a pool, in the gym, shopping or drinking. When I sail across the pond, it will be a smaller ship, and I’ll probably be ready to pay more to have lectures, concerts, cooking and dancing classes, and the like, with less emphasis on class/caste structure.
Bump-and-run stops: I recognize that I have an obsession with visiting and photographing cathedrals. With very few exceptions, I would try to see at least one cathedral every day. Even virtually, by the time this trip ended, I was seriously close to “church-ed” out. The 25½th post, in Eguisheim, was a break in the journey. Maybe I need to see if there are more of those off-the-beaten-path type places to take a break. Maybe see if there’s a 3-4 day excursion that doesn’t require my planning, to interject in the trip (Alsace? Tuscany? A cruise on the Adriatic?). Plus, for places like Reims, where I only saw it for a few hours, add a day; the Modena-Emilia Romana-Parma day, stay longer in that middle town, and have the next day in Parma. And for Siena, not a day trip, but at least a full day; similarly, add another unscheduled day in Rome and Messina. Do a Mt Etna day trip from Catania?
For the Puglia and Amalfi multi-church runs with a private driver, similar to my Vigo/Galicia trip, find a way for a little more time or break it into two days. Of course, in Spain, I was on the ship’s clock, so that might be difficult.
Statistics: had this been actual, I would have been travelling by train using an Eurail pass. Previous experience taught me that you keep a written track of every train you ride where the pass is used, which has to be sent with the used pass back to Eurail. I would probably, in my overly analytical mode, have also calculated the value of these rides, to compare to my actual prepaid outlay.
Cathedrals: counting the number of cathedrals, pro-, co- and ex-cathedrals for this trip, I came up with 137, elevated by those two days with drivers in Puglia and Amalfi, and 4 of which I’d visited before. I don’t even want to count how many churches and basilicas.
Lodging: if I don’t count the ship, I had lodging reservations at 45 establishments.
The blog postings: counting this one (and there will be one more, on my research process), there was a blog posted for each day of the virtual trip, plus prologue, epilogue, end-of-cruise, and Eguisheim. 88 in total. The posts contained over 2,900 photos, and more than 164,000 words.
If you want chronological weblinks for each blog posting from earliest to last for this virtual trip, contact me by email through this website and I can email it to you. Or you can process them from the blog, which stacks them from newest to oldest.
Post-trip reflection: the trip was cancelled in mid-March once MSC decided not to sail, and it was deemed unsafe to fly to Europe from the USA due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were over 100 financial transactions for prepayment of lodgings, the cruise, tours, performances and transportation that had to be cancelled and then tracked, as I was just one of many who were suddenly unable to travel and had sent money overseas. The Italian government authorized the issuance of vouchers instead of returning cash, and some establishments where non-refundable transactions were made did not acknowledge the extraordinary circumstances of the times we are in currently. As of my “return”, I’ve managed to recoup 80% of the low 5-figure total I’d prepaid. In some instances, I had to get the credit card banks to dispute the charges, a process still underway.
Would I make this trip in the future? A conditional yes, depending on both my health and the conditions in the places I would visit. I expect that there would be some initial itinerary changes, as I don’t anticipate a transatlantic cruise docking in Le Havre again, which would change the French-German-Swiss trajectory, plus any of the cruise-base excursions. I do want to make this trip, as I’ve now invested both the time developing the itinerary, and the time researching and writing the blog – I’d be better prepared than any trip I’ve made. I’d hope to meet my ViaHero and GuruWalk concierges that I’ve worked with by email. I’d also probably change some of my lodgings, and definitely not book non-refundable, nor would I book so far in advance. I could probably use an agency, but I typically select my lodgings based on proximity to the train station and then closeness to the church(es) that I want to visit, with nearness to restaurants also a factor. Now an elevator becomes more important as I find I can’t always heft a 50-pound suitcase up multiple flights of stairs.
Bottom line, I still love to travel, hate being tied to my residence, and accept the need and requirements of responsible social distancing. I will decide on my future travel based on careful consideration and research, and how safe I might expect to be. I don’t want to become a recluse. And I do want to photograph more cathedrals so that I can publish a second volume of #CathedralsToTheGloryOfGod.