The Cruise - French and Italian Riverias
Trip Start Aug 07, 2006
24Trip End Ongoing
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EasyJet are a cut-price airline that is a market leader over here and they now run easyCruise, which runs around the French and Italian Riviera. What's more it is aimed at young people! (So it wasn't going to be your average cruise with old people playing shuffleboard and a 10pm curfew). They do a circuit of 7 ports so you choose how long you go for and thus what ports you stop at.
We arrived in Monte Carlo, Monaco for the start of our four night, five-day voyage. Cruise ships are always white, but this one was bright orange from head to toe and stood out like a sore thumb in the glitzy marina
The boat was really nice; decent rooms, two bars, restaurant, jacuzzi, gym, etc, but when you saw it next to another cruise ship it was tiny in comparison. One thing you did have to watch out for was that onboard prices were in British Pounds even though you were travelling in countries that used solely the Euro, so a meal would be the same price in pounds, making it more expensive if you weren't careful. (e.g.- pizza on shore = 7.5 euro. Pizza on boat = 7.5 pounds (about 10 euro)).
Many of the ports weren't places that we would have gone to and they didn't have a lot of tourist value, so we approached it as more a chance to wind down and get some sun. We definitely got the sun, and we saw some cool stuff along the way!
Monaco is a tiny principality built on the side of the cliff in Southern France. This place oozes money. As we got off the train we realised the station was under a mountain, so we had to walk down a long marble lined corridor to the city
Our next stop, Genoa was your typical Rivera town. Its officially Italian but being close to the border most people spoke both languages, and it had a very multicultural feel to it. Once again we walked around and tried to get a feel for the place, but probably our favourite part of being in this city was our discovery of tapas. Tapas is where you go into any bar, order a drink, and they shower you with free nibbles. Olives, fries, salami and ham sandwiches, pastries, pickled onions - you name it we got it. For free! A backpackers dream!
Actually, let me step back a little bit and explain to Riviera way of life before we get too in-depth. The day starts for them at a normal sort of time and they go to work. At about 1pm everybody closes their shops (town dies) and goes home for an afternoon siesta to avoid the heat. Even the tourist information centres and banks shut. They return at about 4pm all ready to go again and do a couple more hours work before they go to the bar for tapas
I may get myself into trouble here, but Italians can't make pizza! We have had some great pizza in Amsterdam and Belgium, and in France we had it almost every day. (Pizza over here is different to NZ, the base is much thinner and the toppings are much fresher. It doesn't ooze fat the way it does in NZ.) When we crossed the Italian border though everything just went horribly wrong. It's hard to explain why, but whatever they are doing they forgot to question why it tastes so bad. The tomato sauce tasted weird and it was covered in this awful gluggy cheese, sort of the texture of feta, but without the flavour. Sadly, they love it their way so I don't think things will change in the near future. They do redeem themselves however with their stunning gelatos and fantastic foccasia breads, both of which we sampled at least once every day. One interesting meal Jonny had (not being able to read the menu) was a spaghetti pasta with a simple tomato sauce except it had masses of whole mussels (shell on), baby octopus, and squid mixed through it. An interesting combination, but oh so tasty
When you think of the Mediterranean you think of golden beaches and warms seas. In reality though the beaches around here are gravel (or even rocks), and the water is quite cold (Auckland's are probably warmer). What was more amusing though is that the locals and visitors thought these rock inlets were paradise and it couldn't get any better. As we made our way along the coast every rock outcrop that looked marginally flat had a bronzed body on it, every gravel patch was lined with umbrellas and striped changing rooms (that of course you had to pay to use). After coming from Thailand where the beaches actually were golden and warm, this was probably the biggest let down of the area.
Although the cruise is aimed at younger people, about half way through we got invaded by oldies. (Well they were at least our parents' age.) Jonny was sure he recognised one of the guys, and it turned out to be Murray Mexted. (Big rugby legend and commentator, for those of you who don't know. Like Liz.) The whole group was ex-rugby players from NZ, Australia, South Africa and the UK and their wives. They have a loose social network where they all play a drinking game called spoofing and get together once a year. And this was it. Man you should have seen those guys party. They totally shamed all the young folk. They got up, sunbathed, drank all after noon, disappeared for dinner, and returned about 10pm when the music was cranked up and the drank some more and had a bit of a boogie. We can only hope to be as lively at their age.
Sadly the cruise had to end and we departed in Nice, wondering what we were going to do with ourselves to fill in the five days left before we fly back to the UK. We'd had a great time and the thought of lugging our packs around again was not that appealing.