It was two years in the making and finally on April 19, 2010 the Celebrity line’s Equinox sailed from Forth Lauderdale to cross the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea. Because of the 2008 budget crisis the 2009 cruise had been cancelled, but Seppo Palokas, our tour director, had difficulty selling trips even for this spring. It seemed that six days on Atlantic seemed too boring for most people who otherwise would have liked to visit the four European countries: Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. As it turned out the brave ones who participated could prove that boring it was not. This was a group of 13 people which later increased to four (4) more.
During the six days which later extended into eight, before we were able to set our feet on the land, there was a multitude of things to do. We went exploring the different parts of the ship: the restaurants, shops, auditorium, fitness center, swimming pools, spa, sauna, photo galleries, art galleries, etc. One of the “rare” specialties of the ship is the custom-designed, outdoor glassblowing studio created in collaboration with the Corning Museum of Glass – something never before seen on a cruise.
Of course one of the most important things on a cruise is eating. On Equinox you could have a fixed-seating dinner at the Silhouette dining room or eat buffet style at the Oceanview Cafe. For more intimate dining, at a cover charge, you could choose from some specialty restaurants of Italian, Asian or French cuisine. Our Finnish group was usually seen at the dining room enjoying the excellent cooking of the Equinox chefs.
The name Celebrity on this cruise line means that it includes celebrities on its ships. They performed in the auditorium for night or afternoon shows. On this ship we had a chance to see and listen to Shirley Jones tell about how she was discovered, about her life in films and the Partridge Family programs, and how she was able to combine all this with rearing her own family. The series concluded with her view of her costars, who in films were the men in her life. There also was a chance to study foreign languages: Spanish, Italian, and for us Finns, Seppo Palokas gave lessons in Latin.
After having crossed the Atlantic Ocean we reached Lisbon, Portugal. Our first port was supposed to have been the Azores, but we could not land there because of rough seas. The four hour bus tour in Lisbon took us first to the highest point of the city to admire the view. Then we drove around the streets to visit the Jeronimos Monastery, containing the sarcophagus of Vasco da Gama, and also to view the April 25th Bridge. This city still used streetcars, a mode of transportation not so common any more. After walking along the uneven cobblestone streets in the old city and doing some tourist shopping, it was time to return to the ship.
The next port was Cadis in southern Spain, founded in 1100 BC on a long strip of land. It was a beautiful city with old historic buildings surrounded by stone walls. Our combined bus and walking tour took us to the Plaza de Espana where our guide introduced us to an old Baroque Church and a near-by archaeological museum. We continued along the narrow cobblestone streets to a beautiful square where we could rest. For those who wanted to see Seville there was an opportunity to take a whole day bus tour.
It was during the night that we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain on our left and Morocco on our right. After spending a day on the ship we reached Barcelona. Having just enjoyed two days of beautiful sunny weather, the morning we landed in Barcelona was cloudy and a bit chilly. However there was going to be an interesting bus tour of the city awaiting us. I wondered how much of it would I remember since I was there 45 years ago. As it turned out on this occasion I saw parts of the city I had not seen earlier. The Medieval Gothic Quarter and the Cathedral were followed by street scenes where we saw the famous Gaudi houses. The next stop was the Sagrada Family Church, the building of which was started in 1883 but was never finished. It’s continuously being built. The tour continued to the section of the city where the 1992 Summer Olympics took place. We had a chance to take a walk at Montjuic Hill which gave a nice view over the city and the harbor area. But now it was time to return to the ship. Meanwhile my travel mates Raija and Kaarina had taken their own walking tour along the famous Barcelona Ramblas walking street.
Next morning it was Nice (Ville France) in France. The scenic French Riviera was the bus tour that most of our group had joined. And beautiful it was. A mountain was on our left and the ocean on our right below us. The road wound past the many palatial estates. Real estate is expensive over here, we heard the guide telling us, and we could believe it. One of the Grand Prix tours kept us away from Monaco (here again Raija and Kaarina made it by train), but we could look down from the bus and get a glimpse of the castle where Princess Grace had lived. The guide showed us the fatal curve of the road where she had lost her life. Riding these narrow curvy roads was like being in another world. After the four hours with all the souvenirs, it was back to shore and to board the tender boats to continue the trip. Shirley Jones was still with us I noticed.
The final destination, Civitavecchia, came early next morning. The night before we had packed our suitcases, and we were ready to leave the ship with fond memories. Now it was towards Rome. Our guide Anne and the chauffer Mario were waiting for us. We were hit by morning rush hour traffic. It had taken me 46 years to get back to Rome. First we arrived at the Colosseum where our other guide Anthony was ready to tell us about the big shows that took place here hundreds of years ago: the lions, the gladiators, etc. From there it was a walk to the Forum Romanum where the ancient Romans lived. This was the city of seven hills, Romulus and Remus.
By now it was already afternoon, and we could enter our hotel where we would stay for the next three days. Day two was rainy and we were heading for the Vatican. Just like the morning before there were long lines of people waiting to get in. Anthony was ready for us, and took us past everyone to this spectacular building via its long hallways with wall paintings and tapestries to the marvelous Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. We were speechless and awestruck by his work.
The next marvel was St. Peters Basilica. Michelangelo’s Pieta, a marble statue of Mary holding the dying Jesus on her lap. It was just as I had remembered from my previous visit. This time, though, a see-through glass was installed in front of it to protect the statue. It had been vandalized previously but was now repaired.
After our scheduled tours we had one and half days of free time for individual sightseeing. Some of us took a double-decker bus tour around the city. Terttu and I tried the subway system and successfully got to the Spanish Steps. From there we walked through the winding streets to Piazza Navona and its three fountains. The artists were selling their paintings, the surrounding restaurants were ready for customers, and there of course were plenty of tourists like us. We needed our rest and decided to try some Italian pizza. Sorry to say but we much prefer the American pizza. Finding our way back to the hotel was getting too complicated, so it we took a taxi. Other tourist traps that we ended up seeing were the Pantheon and the Fontana de Trevi where our pennies were left in hope to return to Rome again.
On Tuesday night after the special Italian dinner our guide Anna had planned for us, we had a chance to view Roma at night. The five course dinner with desert and coffee was periodically interrupted by a handsome Italian tenor accompanied by his accordion playing partner. Some of us left the restaurant with autographed CDs.
As far as our small traveling group was concerned we got along quite well. At dinner we were divided into two different tables. Seppo and Irmeli, Raija and Kaarina, Aila, Terttu and I were sitting together. At the second table were Eija and Pirjo, Irmeli and Harry, Tuulikki and Kathy. Before the last formal dinner Seppo, our tour director, invited us to a cocktail party with some piano music. The English-only speaking four people joined this party that consisted of Alice and Harry and Harry’s two daughters Susan and Dianne. These four last mentioned people joined us in Rome.
During the cruise we had three dress-up dinners. The photographers seemed to be everywhere. After viewing pictures you did not need to buy them. All of us had some different interests. Kathy joined the dance lessons that were given every day. Tuulikki listened to lectures especially in architecture. Eija and I saw some health professionals and ended up having acupuncture. Terttu walked during the morning and in the afternoon went to sauna and swimming, sometimes with me. We all saw first class shows at night with talented performers. Some of us also liked the afternoon movies; some simply relaxed and enjoyed the live classical music in different spots. I need to tell that Alice and Harry were newly weds. They had both lost their spouses and found each other later in life.
On the morning of Thursday, May 6, it was time to say good-by to Rome and leave for the airport. The Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokul had erupted again, and the volcanic cloud was approaching Spain. We got our departure in time and were able to fly to Newark by Continental Airlines. Three of us Terttu, Pirjo and I got off there, others continued to West Palm Beach. Tuulikki flew to Kennedy and Raija and Kaarina went to Finland.
This was a trip to remember. At least three of us have already signed for next year’s South American Adventure. Hope to see you then.
Photos courtesy of Google and Usasuomeksi