I am starting to feel like Lord Byron.
Well, except for the fact that I am alive -- and he isn't.
What the poet Baron and I have in common is that I am about to head off on a grand tour of the Continent -- something that Byron's class did in the early 1800s in the hopes of learning culture and meeting the cream of European society who still managed to have a head upon which to place a coronet.
There is one big difference with my Grand Tour. OK. Two. Most of my tour will be by sea. And I am not going to try to topple Turkey's rule over Greece. I have already had my one big dabble in switching out Greek governments.
In ten days, I will be on the road -- eventually, arriving in Barcelona where this great cruise will begin. But I have a request for you fellow world travelers. I have looked through the 78-page booklet describing the ship's excursions. They are -- how to put it kindly -- lacking in interest. At least, to me. Not to mention that they are all quite expensive.
The few activities I have chosen have a certain theme -- in keeping with the Grand Tour theme. I want to see as much art as I can in the short time that the ship stops in each port. So, if you have some ideas, feel free to share them. Especially, if you know the names of perfect guides in any of these cities.
And restaurants. If you have a favorite place that provides the type of food you can get nowhere else, please let me know. Food trumps art even on a grand tour.
Here is the list of ports and what I plan to do.
One of my favorite cities in Europe, and a place I could easily retire if it were not for the crumbling Spanish economy.
I will stay there three days before the cruise begins. The ship will be docked for an additionally two days. My plan is to spend time in the Picasso Museum and the Miró Foundation, and to make a closer study of the Gaudi pieces around town -- especially, Sagrada Família.
And I will try to fit in a performance of the Catalonia National Symphonic Orchestra, even though it appears they may be playing one of my least favorite pieces: Ravel's Bolero. I will miss the opening night of Die Walküre at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. The ship sails Marseilles on that night at 11. The fat ladies will not have sung until midnight. (It is a five-hour opera with intervals.)
I was there a couple of years ago. The city itself does not offer much. I am booked on a tour to St. Remy -- the village where Van Gogh was institutionalized briefly. There are no paintings to see. At least, no originals. I am deluding myself, of course, that I will see what Van Gogh saw. In the same way Edward Kleban did in Gaugin's Shoes.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Monaco is a yawn. All I need to see of it is a blur of yachts in the basin as my tour heads off to Nice to visit the Mattise and Chagal Museums. I have seen neither.
Calvi, Corsica, France
Help! THis is ne of those ports where I have nothing planned. I have visited south Corsica, and I cannot imagine there is much more to see in the north. Anyplace that needs to tout itself as the "fabled" birthplace of Christopher Columbus is really scraping the bottom of the sauté pan.
This is the port for Pisa and Florence. Pisa has very little to offer, but Florence is my favorite city in the world. I will probably take a transfer from the port and spend the day at the Uffizi. Even that will be tight. The ship sails at 7 PM. It is almost a felony to restrict anyone to that short taste of this practically perfect city.
It also means missing dinner at Enoteca Pinchiorri. That is enough to make me doubt my sanity in booking this cruise. So close to gastronomic heaven -- yet so far away.
La Goulette, Tunisia
I am a George Patton fan. For that reason alone, I am taking a tour of the ruins of Carthage. Maybe I will meet my former self.
Palermo, Sicily, Italy
No idea. Other than meeting up with the Black Hand, none of the tours interest me. Again, I could use some help here.
This one is easy. Other than looking into the great maw of Vesuvius's crater, the place to go is Pompeii. And I will.
Civitavecchia is the port for Rome. The last time I took the train into Rome, it took us close to two hours in a carriage that was crammed as full as any Tokyo subway at rush hour. With the added bulk of tourist luggage. The excursion list offers very few options. The Vatican tour looked interesting, but the museum tours are not expedited. I suspect the post-sainthood crowd will still be in town, as well.
I could use some suggestions.
Messina, Sicily, Italy
Nothing has floated my boat in this port. Ideas?
Malta is completely new to me. But the suggested tours could be right out of a Thomas Cook brochure. Do any of you have anything fascinating you could suggest?
Argostoli, Kefalonia, Greece
This island has a lot of memories for me. But I need some good ideas. I need to visit some places that are not haunted with the specters of lost loves.
Kerkira, Corfu, Greece
I have visited Corfu enough times that I may abandon all pretenses of looking for culture -- there is very little there -- and head off on a mountain bike tour. Any other ideas?
I was forbidden from entering the former Yugoslavia. So, all of the following cities will be new to me. I have no interest in spending time at the beach. Anyone know a good tour guide?
There is a very expensive boat trip to Albania. (Doesn't that sound like the opening line of a novel about international kidnapping rings?) Other than that, I have no plans.
One of those odd little islands that look as if they would be at home in the Canadian Gulf Islands. And I have no idea what to do.
Here, I return to my art theme by visiting the Ivan Meštrović Gallery. There are almost 200 of Meštrović's sculpture in the museum. He has long been a political hero of mine -- fighting both fascism and communism in his homeland. It should be a very interesting experience to see the collected works.
The Venice stop will be 4 days. Two days on the ship. Two days in a hotel. The only plan I have so far is to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. And there are certainly plenty of Venetian masters to see around town. It would also be nice to see a performance in the new opera house. It burned down when I was last in the city.
I am always open to new places to see.
So, there is the list. It would be great to weave in some of the places you have always wanted to see or that you have enjoyed visiting. After all, you are all coming on this trip, as well.