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Malta, Mallorca, Monaco and More
Across the Mediterranean in Ten Days
By Rubin Carson

When it comes to European escapes, the Holland America’s 1,800-passenger Westerdam has something for everyone, as we happily discovered during its ten-day "Mediterranean Mosaic" cruise.

Westerdam Stop in Malta

While cruise itineraries vary, "Mediterranean Mosaic" offers an excellent sampling of the ports visited on Holland America’s voyages in this region. We started at Rome’s port of Civitavecchia, where we were shocked by the Westerdam’s size. Operated by veteran British and Dutch officers and a well-trained Indonesian staff, this 85,000-ton giant rivals Vegas when it comes to mass. Built in France in 2004, it provides an Internet café, dining in all classes of restaurants, a movie theater, live entertainment showroom, casino, all deck handicap access, media center, teen video game room and mini-Disneyland for kids called Club Hal. The Greenhouse Spa and Salon is the largest such facility in the Holland America fleet, and the casino boasts slots and all the favorite table games.

While seven ports in ten days may seem daunting, it’s the norm on a cruise such as this one. We recommend concentrating on just a few areas of interest. Don’t try to see everything; instead, seek to get the most out of what you do choose to explore. That was our goal as we sailed into the following ports. Check out the highlights so you can make the most of your Holland America Mediterranean cruise.

Port 1: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

Designated a United Nations UNESCO World Heritage City, Dubrovnik was a prime target during the recent civil war. Stroll along smooth stone streets and view 13th-century churches and monasteries, museums, jewelry stores and the city’s famous medieval fortress. Not in the ship's guide is the Museum of the Church of the Holy Annunciation, situated three flights above a jewelry store in the main square. You are almost alone while surrounded by 14th to 19th-century Greek Orthodox icons. During the war they were hidden in the cellars of parishioners. The curator allowed that the miracle wasn't that the icons were saved but that each of the priceless relics was returned.

Port 2: Corfu, Greece

Situated between the heel of Italy and the west coast of Greece, this setting of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" appears out of the mist like a mirage. Don't be put off by the line of overly-decorated, touristy horse and carriages that await your arrival. Take one and tour Corfu’s well-kept residential districts. You get glimpses of secret courtyards, stone staircases, windows and balconies with women lowering baskets on ropes to street level for vegetable vendors to load up. Have the driver stop at the Lion of Menecrates dating from the seventh century B.C., which guards the Archaeological Museum. Inside are sculptured pediments such as the one from the Temple of Artemis; these are similar to the ones taken from the Parthenon.

Port 3: Valletta, Malta

The Giant Westerdam

In 1942 England's George VI awarded Malta's George Cross for bravery in honor of his heroic efforts during the during the Nazi bombing. You can still admire the ancient temples, shop on hilly streets and eat torta tal-lampuki, a local lampuki fish pie delicacy, in this United Nations UNESCO World Heritage City. Not to be missed is the St. John’s Cathedral built by the Knights of St. John and noted for dazzling mosaics and Baroque ceiling decorations. Unforgettable are two Caravaggio paintings, Saint Jerome and the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, facing each other from opposite walls. A magical glow surrounds the saints’ faces, though no discernable source of light exists. Malta's present Knights refuse to allow the masterpieces to travel—another lucky bonus for visitors.

Port 4: Palermo, Sicily

Dozens of cabs meet the Westerdam at Sicily's main port, providing an alternative to long shore excursions by bus. A twenty-minute ride deposits you at Monreale, a postcard perfect town overlooking a panoramic view of Palermo's beautiful bay. The real treasure is Monreale’s famous duomo. Austere on approach, the twelfth-century Norman cathedral’s interior amazes with colorful, lifelike wrap-around Byzantine mosaics, depicting scriptures and scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

Port 5: Monte Carlo, Monaco

Village of Eze

The fairy tale kingdom of Monaco, home to royals, glittering nightlife and Ferrari-hyped fantasies, is not everyone's cup of tea, unless you're an ex-Romanoff. Fortunately, one of the shore excursions stops at the village of Eze, a feudal redoubt perched between mountains and sea built to stave off corsairs bent on restocking their harems. While Eze offers plenty to do, make time for a stop at the Relais & Châteaux de la Chèvre d'Or. The renowned hotel complex features three distinctly different restaurants and a stunning view of the Riviera. Be sure to use discretion with the local Armagnacs and brandies. The Westerdam waits for no one.

Port 6: Marseilles, France

A Must: Bouillabaisse at Le Miramar

Due to drug cartels and municipal corruption, the second largest city in France has a bit of a dark aura, but seen from the Westerdam it is colorful and dramatic, especially the Vieux Port or old harbor. Literature buffs may enjoy taking the twenty-minute motor boat ride from the Quai des Belges to the Château d'If. This is the famous prison island where "The Count of Monte Cristo" was jailed in Alexander Dumas' novel. Once back ashore, sample Marseilles’ most famous seafood dish, bouillabaisse, at Le Miramar, which is a favorite with aficionados. Forget ordering it with lobster; it adds much to the price but nothing to the flavor.

 

Port 7: Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Monastery of Valldemossa

From the ship, a forty-minute bus ride takes travelers along beaches, lemon groves and romantic mountains to the Royal Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa, Reial Cartoixa. The great French/Polish composer Frederic Chopin and his lover, writer George Sand, were among its most famous guests, spending a miserable winter here. The stay prompted Sand to write "A Winter in Mallorca." While ailing from tuberculosis, Chopin composed three piano sonatas at the very same instrument that sits in a nearby palace today. The resident musician plays these pieces on the hour.

La Seo Cathedral of Palma

The tour then returns to Palma, which resembles a bustling, less-manicured Beverly Hills dominated by a massive, gothic cathedral, La Seo. Nearby beckon blocks of cafés claiming to serve fresh paella. The one sampled was a delicious mound of gleaming saffron rice, fresh shellfish and chunks of chicken arriving in the hot iron cauldron it was cooked in. Original Chopin and great paella—can you think of a better way to say "au revoir" to the Mediterranean?

For more information, visit www.hollandamerica.com.


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