Virtual trip: Prologue
Last October I decided to begin planning my 2020 long vacation. I had tentative thoughts to visit Alaska and then take the Canadian rail system from west to east, with a plan for the following year to take a repositioning cruise to focus on Italy. Both trips were means to explore new places, but also to give me opportunities to visit and take photographs of #cathedrals to add to volume II of #CathedralsToTheGloryOfGod.
By late October 2019, I found that the cruise I wanted to take from Anchorage/Seward south didn’t have available the cabins I desired to use. Other ships’ options wouldn’t allow me to visit Sitka, the old Russian capital of Alaska and the site of a Russian Orthodox cathedral, which were key to me for this trip. So, I decided to swap the 2021 plan for 2020.
Noodling around the web (to use a phrase my late travel agent Barbara used), I found a (relatively) inexpensive transatlantic crossing which would take me to Le Havre, France (rather than to a Mediterranean port) departing on Easter. The cruise line was MSC, the ship the #Meraviglia (Italian for Wonder.) I put my deposit down for an inside cabin on level 12. Then I began to explore my options along my way to Italy, and then where I might go, once I arrived there.
Always wise to tap the knowledge and experiences of others, I sought out suggestions from friends, family and neighbors. While most focused on my cathedral passion, I did get some excellent suggestions for places I might have missed. Typically, I read about major sites in the well-travelled locations.
My itinerary, kept on an Excel spreadsheet, slowly filled out allowing me to visit cathedrals along my path. The cruise ports of call would give me some opportunities to visit new (to me) churches, as well as go to new cities. Once I had my daily destinations selected, planning on using a Eurail pass, I began booking lodgings, tours, performances. My spreadsheet started filling up.
By early January, I had all my hotels reserved, with many prepaid. There is a web-based concierge service, ViaHero.com, which helped develop plans at several of my stops. I’d used ViaHero on my cruise stop in Havana in 2018 to great success, so it was a natural option for this trip. They assisted my plans for a port stop in Vigo in Galicia, Spain; in my first stop once debarking at Le Havre in Amiens, France; and in Venice and Florence, Italy.
In addition, I’d joined two online groups of cruisers that were making the same sailing – on CruiseCritics.com their forum is called a “roll call”; while on Facebook, it is a restricted group. Dialogs developed regarding activities onboard, as well as port excursions. Rather than the ship’s tour options, more seasoned cruisers were contacting local tour guides and making arrangements. Questions were posted and answered. It wasn’t until late February that any concerns about the #Covid19 virus began to rear its ugly head.
MSC cancelled the transatlantic cruise, along with all its Caribbean cruises on 15 March. I considered possibly flying to Paris or Brussels to be able to pickup the land portion of my trip, but by then northern Italy (Lombardy and the Veneto) were undergoing a lockdown, and I planned to start in Como and go to Milan. Regretfully, I made the decision that I would have to cancel the entire trip, and began the process of attempting to recover the $11K I’d laid out. Unfortunately, I’d booked at least half of my hotels as non-refundable, and the trip insurance I’d taken out put up a big disclaimer on its home page that it wouldn’t consider claims for cancellations due to the pandemic: only medical evacuations were to be covered.
So my time from mid-March until Easter was focused on cancellations and tracking recovery of funds. Mild depression set in as we all adapted to social distancing and quarantining. Many of my neighbors and friends asked about my trip, as a 12-week itinerary had many armchair travelers looking forward to following along with me (Facebook and my blog) as well as a post-trip report with pictures. So I decided to make this trip on the Internet – a virtual tour, and blog about it as close to daily as practical.