From July 20 till August 1, I escorted a group of 54 on a Crystal Serenity cruise from Monaco to Dover. This journey was characterized by calm seas and mostly sunny skies and an interesting variety of ports-of-call. Monaco, the world's second-smallest country (can you guess the smallest?), is known for its James Bond-friendly casino, the Oceanographic Museum founded by Prince Albert I in 1910 and perched spectacularly on a cliff face, and the palace where Princess Grace lived during her reign. Alas, many sites forbid photos; but the memories linger on. Our first stop was Barcelona on Spain's Mediterranean coast. Barcelona offers many enticements; I chose to walk through the narrow, winding streets of the Gothic Quarter to visit the Picasso museum (no photos, please!) and from there to check out some of Antonio Gaudi's architectural splendors. The Church of the Sagrada Familia is his best-known, and it might even be completed in this century. I didn't go in, but there was a shore excursion that included mass in the church. A day at sea gave us leisure time and our first group seminar. I had time for my favorite pastime - dancing! Crystal is one of few cruise lines that still has Ambassador Hosts on hand to dance with single ladies. What a pleasure to dance with a man who knows all the dances and does them well! Have I mentioned the cookies? Crystal has a constant supply of WONDERFUL cookies!One of my favorite ports was Gibraltar, a British enclave on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet. At the base of The Rock are the Alameda Gardens, founded in 1816. We strolled through them before taking the cable car to the top of The Rock for the splendid views of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. The Rock is home to a thriving colony of Barbary apes (macaque monkeys), the only wild monkeys in Europe.
Next was the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. A friend dragged me to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga so we could admire Bosch's "Temptation of St. Anthony." Bosch's sense of fantasy was equal to Anthony's temptations. Our hired driver then took us to the Tower of Belem, the Monument to the Discoveries, and the Jeronimos monastery where Vasco da Gama is interred. And finally he took us to a hill overlooking the city with a terrific view of the river and our ship in the harbor. It was a marvelous day. Oporto, best known for Port wine, lovely parks and churches, also has the Lello bookstore, which advertises itself as "The third most beautiful bookstore in the world." (No photos, please, but they are happy to sell you some!) There is also remarkable mural-like graffiti in Oporto as well as in Lisbon and Spain. As a lighthouse junkie, I traveled from Ferrol to La Coruna to visit the Tower of Hercules, the oldest lighthouse in use today. Built in the second century C. E., it is also the second-tallest lighthouse in Spain. Didn't have time to indulge myself by walking to the top - maybe I'll have to return some day. A visit to the old town was fun with local arts and crafts and entertainment. Another popular excursion from Ferrol was to Santiago de Compostela and the Church of St. James, a pilgrimage destination since the 9th century.
Next stop was Bilbao, home to hot chocolate, churros, and the famous Guggenheim museum. The museum and its outdoor sculptures are terrific, but we found the exhibits uninspiring. An entire floor dedicated to Yoko Ono...really? Our last port was Bordeaux, France where we spent two days. Most of the excursions went to wineries and vineyards, with the most popular destination being the town of St. Emilion. I preferred to stay in the city where I took a ride on a 1906 carousel. Then we prolonged our childish delights by splashing through the Water Mirror, a huge (5,850 square meters) rectangle made of granite flagstones that is covered with less than an inch of water. An ingenious computerized system alternates the mirror effect with fog - dream of standing in the mist illuminated by the Jardin des Lumieres (Garden of Lights) on a hot summer evening! We said good-bye early Friday morning when the Serenity sailed into the British port of Dover, England. Nothing like viewing those white cliffs at daybreak. A beautiful end to a wonderful cruise. **** The Vatican, at .2 square miles, is the smallest country in the world. Co-Author, Snow Philip