One of our longer trips in 2011 was a visit to Bari and a Mediterranean cruise going to Italy, Croatia and Greece. My parents has always wanted to visit Greece and I thought a cruise would be a good way to get them out on a trip without the added stress of planning and organizing for some of their special needs as elderly folks. Well, turns out I was somewhat right.
Our holiday started in Mola Di Bari, my home town, at my parents place. Since it was early August, and very hot in southern Italy, we spent quite a few days at the beach and loafing around. We spent time exploring the nearby towns that Chris and I have not gone to visit before; one of these was called Poligniano a mare.
I love this village, it’s about 1/2 hr south of Mola and is still very much organized in the old world way. It seems to represent all of what a small town in Italy should; beautiful sea views, religious icons and narrow cobblestone walkways. Attached is a youtube video from the georgetubel. My pictures do not do justice to the beauty of this village, so I thought the video might help. I’m amazed that for as many times as i’ve been to Bari Italy, this is the first time i’ve visited Poligniano a mare, I will certainly go back again.
We also visited the town of Matera and it’s Sassi. This area became popular after the filming of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. The Sassi are homes built into the calcarenitic rock. The area was very poverty stricken in early years, but now enjoys some tourism thanks to Hollywood. We went to visit a few of it’s most popular sites, the Basilica Cathedral, sanctuary of St. Mary of Palomba, Madonna delle tre porte, and had lunch and a gelato in the main square.
The entire area is built on hills, and we walked everywhere, so it was quite tiring given that it was so hot and difficult to find any shade. We wisely left my parents at home, my mother would have never made it past the first church. The area is very interesting, there we great things to see and yes, this place is old!!
Another day trip in Southern Italy brought us to Santa Maria de Leuca. This area is at the southern most tip of Italy and is also called “the end of the Earth” by some. My parents came along for the ride on this one, about a 2 1/2 hr drive. My mother had never been there, but my dad had, albeit over 60 years ago! We explored some of the sites including the sanctuary, the lighthouse, harbor and of course the sea views. I’ve heard ravings about this area from my cousins who insisted I visit, but quite frankly I’ve seen much more beauty in other areas of Italy. Definitely not a do over and don’t go out of your way.
Now finally the highlight of our trip, the Mediterranean cruise; 7 nights on the MSC Musica. Below is a copy of our Itinerary, keeping in mind that my point for booking this was 1) so my parents could see Greece, and 2) the departing port was Bari, which is a 1/2 hrs. from home. Chris and I had been to Athens and Santorini before, but were were excited to see these islands again as well as a few new islands we had not visited previously.
DAY 1 BARI, ITALY boarding, getting settled and exploring the cruise line.
DAY 2, KATAKOLON (OLYMPIA), My parents and I had visited here before. Sadly, the ruins were really difficult to appreciate, there is very little left and the primary focus is shopping, so we didn’t want to visit again. We opted to go sit at the beach instead of going to olympia and it was a good decision. Such a beautiful beach, calm waters, crystal blue, soft sands, loved it!! Nice relaxing day.
DAY 3 SANTORINI, I was so excited for my parents to see Santorini! Chris and I spent a few days there 2 years ago and we just fell in love with it. We also loved having the opportunity to go back. Here’s the kicker, when on a ship in Santorini, you must get tendered off to the Island. When on a LARGE cruise ship, tender = LONG WAIT TIMES. It took us over 1.5 hrs to get tendered off, then when we finally did, there was a 1.5 hr long wait for the elevator (Santorini is on a hill), there is no way my parents could walk up, so we had to wait. We just used up almost 3 hrs of our 6 hrs on the Island. I was NOT happy. When we finally made it up, my parents hung around near the shops (close to the elevator) since they would need at least a 1/2 hr to get back down due to the crowds. Chris and I explored a bit and then later walked down the mule path and then tendered back to the boat. Our immediate next stop was Mykonos, and we never got off the boat. The only tours available were bar stops and dinners (it was late evening) and everything else was closed. I would rather spent a few more hrs. in Santorini.
DAY 4 PIRAEUS (ATHENS) We had been here before and wanted to explore some different areas. I set up my parents with a bus tour that would take them around the city, and to the Parthenon. There was minimal walking, but plenty of sites, so I thought it would work well. Here is where things fell apart a bit. Chris and I were off on a different tour, it was very much a walking intensive tour and we went to places in Athens that we did not get to see before as well as some familiar popular sites. As such, I didn’t think this would be a good option for my parents.
We make it back to the boat and my mother is laying down, not feeling well. My dad is not speaking to anyone and off alone on the boat somewhere. What happened? My dad decided that the tour was not going where he wanted it to go and walked off, leaving my mom waiting by the bus. At the time of departure, he was no where to be found. After a long wait and delay of the entire tour group, the bus driver asked my mom to board the bus as they planed to leave without him. My mother refused and sat on the front of the bus hysterical and refusing to move, finally my dad reappeared with video camera in hand, pleased with his adventures, oblivious to what he had done and how he was nearly left to become a resident of Greece! My mother is hysterical yelling and scramming at him and everyone else on the bus was naturally very annoyed with him.
DAY 5 CORFU (GREECE)
We signed up for a guided Jeep tour on Corfu and it was fantastic. Not only were we able to see so much of the island by driving around and experiencing some awesome scenic views, I was able to keep my parents contained in the back seat of the Jeep most of the time, so we had no issues! 🙂 It was fun, part of the tour included lunch, where we saw a traditional Greek dance and also had some great scenic photos taken. Afterward, we were able to spend a bit of time at the local beach. The water was cool and refreshing on a very hot day!
DAY 6 DUBROVNIK CROATIA Croatia is a beautiful country and I would like to explore other areas of it someday, namely Split. However, our cruise stopped in Dubrovnik which my parents and I have been to before, we didn’t book a tour since the main part of the town is walking distance right off the boat; we were just fine walking around on our own. My parents didn’t do much walking, they got off the boat but were content to sit at a nearby cafe and hang out with a small nearby walk for refreshments. Chris wanted to explore, so he and I went off on a short walk around town. It’s a nice little town but entirely too touristy and very much focused on the “boat people”, even a bottle of water was 5 euros. After exploring the town, we went to a small island to swim and hang on the beach until we were tendered back onto the boat for dinner and our next stop.
DAY 7 VENICE ITALY Ah Venezia! This was mine and my parents 3rd trip back to Venice, but Chris had not been here before so he was pretty excited about exploring the waterways and canals.
My parents stayed on the boat, they wanted to relax rather than explore so they were content to sit this one out (i’m thinking my mother was no longer willing or trusting my dad to stay in her line of site). Chris and I signed up for a gondola tour, which was fun but crowded since we had to share it with 4 other people. St. Mark’s square was alive with people as were most of the walkways and shops. Venice is becoming way to crowded, the canals are smelly and the prices outrageous. It loses its charm for me each time I visit. Chris found the canals and construction fascinating, but likely not somewhere where he is interested in visiting again.
DAY 8 BARI ITALY back home at the parents house in Bari and desperately needing some alone time! Happy to be able to go for a run next to the Sea and have some quite time. Reflecting back on the cruise, we really didn’t like MSC cruise line. The food was not very good at all, and the service was mediocre. They seemed to be very disorganized on tenders and as I mentioned above, the wait times were extremely long. The tours we took were nice, so we had no issues with those. In general, we have decided to swear off large cruises for a long time. We really prefer to venture off on our own and have time to explore the sites on our own terms. Larger cruise lines just don’t seem to offer enough flexibility to really explore the port/area and the offshore excursions become so focused on SHOPPING that the experience becomes quite disappointing. Although, for people like my parents cruising can be a nice way to explore different countries with minimal planning or fear of getting lost, renting a car, driving around, etc. Unless of course, you don’t listen to the tour guide and can potentially end up getting left behind!