MSC Lirica | Italia Infernale – around the world´s most famous “boot” in 4 days

How else could you circle the home of culinary highlights, desirable fashion and extraordinarily famous design in less than a week, if not by ship. By cruise ship, to be exact.

Yacht or sailing boat would probably be a little bit more exciting, definitely more exclusive, but hey, the price was right, the time even righter, so why complain?

Spreading wings for my four-days adventure
Spreading wings for my four-days adventure

The journey begins in beautiful Genoa, one of the largest and from ancient times of transatlantic crossings still highly known ports on the upper west coast. It is home port to MSC Cruises and also popular starting point for excursions to Cinque Terre National Park and the splendid Portofino (both are away around 1 1/2 to 2 hours by car).

Since the flight connections between Munich and Christopher Colombo airport did not offer a proper arrival time for the ship´s departure date, I had to plan an additional night before. But not the worst thing, as I have learned a few years earlier (learn here about my hotel recommendation).

Genova, as it is written in Italian, is utterly romantic. Its impressive and beautiful architecture is reminiscent of bygone glamorous and glorious days. Most of the splendid buildings pile up the hills around the several bays that the city was founded on.

Warm summer evenings awaken small alleyways and sleepy Piazzas to new life, when the Genovese toast to life during candlelight dinners, celebrating the Ligurian cuisine, life, love & happiness.

The perfect prelude for my 4-nights Med mini cruise from Genoa to Venice, making stop in Civitavecchia (Rome) and Dubrovnik (Croatia).

The pool deck goes well with the Mediterranean sun
The pool deck goes well with the Mediterranean sun

It is a warm and sunny Tuesday early afternoon when I arrive at Stazzione Maritime where MSC Lirica is moored. The Check-in has already begun and with my red Priority Boarding Card in my hands, I make my way to the ship.

My inside stateroom is located aft on Deck 9. Its interiors have seen better days (MSC Lirica is scheduled for dry dock in August 2015 for enhancement. Learn more about MSC´s Renaissance Program here) but are otherwise in good shape for the ship´s age (12 years). The same applies to the rest of Lirica´s public spaces (click here for the complete photo gallery).

But since I am not here to examine irregularities, I rather concentrate on the fantastic weather (no naturalness for April) and the beautiful scenery as MSC Lirica blows her horn and slowly leaves port 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure. People have gathered at the shores and wave us good-bye as we maneuver out of the port. I get goosebumps instantly (as always). This is what it must have felt like for the people centuries ago as they sailed towards an unknown future, leaving behind their lives and loved ones.

And even when I thought it could not get better, I meet a fellow co-worker and old friend of mine there on the aft deck. Together, we stare with delight to the fading horizon and the setting sun, immersing the sky in the most amazing orange explosion. Ciao Genova! A la prossima!

Taking a relaxed stroll in Civitavecchia
Taking a relaxed stroll in Civitavecchia

The next morning, I wake up in the port of Civitavecchia. From the pier it is only a shuttle bus ride and a few minutes walking to the train station from where you have easy access to Rome, the eternal city (for schedules and prices, check this link). As I have done this many times before, I decide to stay this time on the ship and in town. If you have never been to Rome, make sure to buy your train tickets online in advance and take one leaving before 8 am. All trains after 8 am are completely over-crowded, especially if there are several ships in port that day. The same applies for the return! Check especially the times carefully! Travel time is approximately an hour to/from Roma Trastevere (closest station to St. Peter´s, click here for a possible city tour).

So while the majority of the passengers (my friend included) have departed, I stroll for an hour through the town of Civitavecchia, spending a moment on the walkway next to the sea and enjoying a cappuccino and some Antipasti at this stylish corner bar (I could not find the name, but it is situated right at the corner of the main street Strada Statale and Via Giordano Bruno).

But before I head back to the ship, I have to send my picture postcard. If you need to mail anything in Italy, you will have to collect a number from a vending machine inside the post offices (stamps are ONLY available there). Counters have different jobs, some do letters and stamps, some do banking, etc. Therefor, make sure to get the “right” slip. Numbers are called automatically and payments are accepted in Euros only!

Sea days are best to find out your personal cruise paste…

As I return to MSC Lirica, I am cheering to the fading sun with my Sprizz Veneto. While the ship leaves Civitavecchia and heads to the open sea, passengers of every ship in port exchange cheers and waves. MSC Lirica navigates towards the South and before the evening concludes under the motto “Notta Italiana” (Italian Night), we wave green, red and white napkins to Italian pop classics and feast on Tiramisu and Limoncello. A little bit of Italy at sea. A little kitschy, yet fun.

The next day is a full day at sea. Sounds boring? Not at all. Sea days are particularly good for actually sleeping in and getting your individual cruise paste. While most of my fellow passengers enjoy the offerings of the onboard activity program, it is workout time for me before stretching out on one of those comfortable sun loungers on deck.

And workouts at sea are fun! Can you imagine to run your errands on the treadmill or work your abs or biceps while enjoying panoramic views of Sicily on one and the Italian mainland on the other side?

MSC Lirica passes the “Street of Messina” before entering the Ionian Sea. It is one of the busiest seaways in the world and the view is astonishing.

The rest of the day, I spend relaxed and wrapped up in towels on my sun lounger. The wind is chilly, but the warm sun caresses my skin while I listen to my favourite music and watch the other guests participating in the activities on the pool deck.

Dubrovnik´s historic part of town is a one-of-a-kind.
Dubrovnik´s historic part of town is a one-of-a-kind.

The second evening onboard is all about dressing up. It is gala night.  In general, I love to put on something fancy, but on short escapes like this one I rather keep things low-key. That´s why I decide to dine in the buffet restaurant today (another reason are my quite unspectacular neighbours at the dinner table). And since we will reach my second best highlight during this cruise tomorrow, Dubrovnik, I retreat with a bottle of proper prosecco and the amusing in-room video programme to my stateroom.

Energized, ready for the day and again blessed with outrageously good weather, MSC Lirica reaches early in the morning Dubrovnik, the “Adriatic Pearl” and also called “Croatian Athens”.

Dubrovnik and its historic part of town (UNESCO World Heritage since 1979) count to one of the most beautiful European cities around. I have never been before, so I step of the ship as one of the first ones after a decent breakfast on the outside terrace with view over the port and the other cruise ships.

The pier lies around 30 – 45 minutes by foot from historic Dubrovnik. If you walk up the hill and onto Franjo Tudjman Bridge, you can take amazing photos from the area and the ships themselves. For old Dubrovnik, you will have to go into the opposite direction. Most cruise companies offer a shuttle service (MSC charges 13 Euros), I prefer to walk though.

A great way to learn about a country is its food!
A great way to learn about a country is its food!

The route leads along the main street past panoramic viewing points and gorgeous and opulent architecture. Some of the buildings are abandoned or simply run-down, but you can guess how rich and elegant life must have been here long time ago.

Then finally, I reach the city´s ramparts that enclose the historic and world popular district which also serves as scenery for the popular TV series “Games of Thrones“.

I could spend more time here, but in the few hours that I have, I will have to decide wherever I want to circle the city on the ramparts or simply walk the narrow and enchanted alleys inside. I decide for the inside and am not disappointed.

Fascinated by the authenticity, the history and the atmosphere in this sacred place, I soak up every glimpse that I can. It is simply extraordinary! Click here for my full photo tour through Dubrovnik.

Unfortunately, time is running out. MSC Lirica is already sailing at 3 pm for our next and final destination during this trip. And while I have only seen a fraction of what Dubrovnik has to offer, I stare with enlightenment at the sea while the lily-white colossus steers its bow towards Venice.

With new impressions and all these colorful pictures in my mind, I close the chapter on Dubrovnik for this time. And while I stand at the railing being spoiled by the Mediterranean sun, I am anxiously waiting for the next highlight of this journey: The sailing on Canal Grande into Venice.

This voyage, just like a trip through the Stockholm archipelago, should belong to everyone´s cruise repertoire. Since more and more larger cruise ships are being banned from Venice´s busiest waterway (as an experienced cruiser I very much respect and support this controversially discussed matter), this experience is something absolutely extraordinary and should not be missed at any cost if you have not done it before.

Ask at the front desk the actual arrival time scheduled and at what time the pilot comes onboard (set your watch approximately an hour prior to the pilot´s arrival on the ship).

IMG_4765Sailing past Piazza San Marco with a panoramic vista from one of the top decks is priceless. Even if the weather is everything but gorgeous. But with all the unexpected sunshine I had the last couple of days, how could I possibly complain about the foggy and rainy welcome that this morning holds in stock for our arrival? It is almost spooky how the ancient buildings suddenly pop out of the fog while the city slowly awakens.

Just a few hours later, I stretch my head to catch the last glimpses of one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world before the plane dives into the clouds.

These past four days have vanished like ice-cream in the sun. In my baggage, eternal memories. Ok, you can get faster from Genoa to Venice, that is for sure! But touching three UNESCO World Heritage sites in one trip, three world-class destinations and hours of tranquility on the Mediterranean sea at the same time, come on! That is simply outstanding!

Safe & happy cruising, folks!

A priceless view! Even on a foggy morning.
A priceless view! Even on a foggy morning.

2015 Travel Trends | An HJ impression

This year marked the first time for me to actually visit the ITB (International Travel Trade Show) in Berlin on an official cause. I was attending the press conference of Norwegian Cruise Line (which I will be posting about separately) and also took some time to check out the other major travel trends for the upcoming year.

While there is no end in sight for the cruise industry´s climb up the popularity scale, the airlines have also taken the battle over world domination to new heights.

It is a struggle between East and West. The long-established network carriers, such as Lufthansa, face year to year stronger and stronger headwind from the Near East. Rivals like Emirates, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways churn up the market big time by offering unparalleled luxury aboard their fleet of brand new aircraft. They fly to almost everywhere in the world at mouth-watering prices, while trying at the same time to upgrade the  necessary transfer at hubs like Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Doha or Dubai to unforgettable shopping and leisure experiences.

These airlines have grown particularly strong to key destinations like Africa, Asia and Down Under and therefore are very attractive to European customers. While transferring to the US and South America via the Near East does not make a lot of sense, the upcoming years will, in my opinion, show, if Europe´s airlines can defend their eastern markets, or if they have to surrender completely.

But the fight ain´t over yet. Especially Lufthansa is trying to regain lost territory by re-organizing its brand with the addition of a new, low-cost operating platform called Eurowings. Yesterday, the airline revealed a long-distance concept with highly competitive prices from the airport of Cologne/Bonn to popular destinations, such as Bangkok and Phuket (Thailand), Dubai (UAE), Varadero (Cuba) or Punta Cana (Dominican Republic).

In the end, it is up to the customer though to decide, which product is top and which is flop.

Other than that, 2015 could be another fantastic year for the travel industry. Especially countries with a rich natural and historical background seem to be on the front line this year. Greece, for instance, Egypt, Tunisia, Latin America and the Caribbean were visited in high scales.

The same applied for adventure holidays such as nature trips to Iceland or New Zealand, icebreaker or container ship cruises to Antarctica or Fiji, as well as international luxury travel.

No matter which type of traveler you are and what lifestyle you prefer, there is plenty of ideas to get inspired by for your dream journey this year. So if you are in or close to Berlin, Germany between March 7 and 8, 2015, make sure to visit the ITB. A way more exciting way to “read” a catalogue…

Fantastic Waterways | Stockholm´s Archipelago

The atmosphere is mystical. Ice cold air, a light wind that tickles the tops of the firs, the rising sun that dips the surroundings into liquid gold while the ship moves almost silently through this fairy tale wonderland. Thankfully, my hands embrace the warm coffee mug, listening to the sound of breaking waves that roll over the islands stoney shores, the sight lost in the distance and geese flying in formation over my head. Sunrays touch my cheeks from time to time as we find our way along the curvy waterway.

Geese welcoming a new day...
Geese welcoming a new day…

It is a moment of pure joy. This kind of joy you feel, when everything is in natural order. When you realize, that everything out there is beautiful and that everything is the way it is supposed to be. It is just nature and you. I am overwhelmed and thankful being able to experience this extraordinary postcard moment.

With me are only a handful of other guests present. We do not speak, we just stand there silently. Astonished, content, soaking it up like children sipping their milkshakes through huge straws. Sometimes, our eyes meet, exchanging non-verbal agreements on how truly wonderful this instant is. I am in balance, at least as much as you can be in balance with yourself at 4:00am in the morning.

Being part of this is a lifetime experience. An empirical knowledge that once again makes very clear: Travel takes you places and makes you see. And then you understand.

Romance at its peak. Sunrise in the Stockholm archipelago.
Romance at its peak. Sunrise in the Stockholm archipelago.

Most larger cruise ships, that call on Stockholm during their itinerary, dock at Frihamnen in the east of Sweden’s capital. Usually, shuttle buses are provided at the cruise terminal and run between the port and the next available metro station Gärdet.

The Archipelago, that the ships have to pass in order to reach Frihamnen, is world-famous and consists of around 30,000 islands, skerries and rocks. The landscape is varied, its rich history omnipresent. Its genesis goes back to almost 800 Million years in history. Unique at every time of day, but to witness the awakening nature in the early morning hours is priceless!

The entire passage can take up to four hours or longer. If you want to catch the sunrise, it is recommendable to get up no later than 3 or 3:30am. That calls for discipline the night before, but is well worth every second of it though.

Melancholic and spiritual moments at early hours.
Melancholic and spiritual moments at early hours.

So, if you are planning to cruise Northern Europe in early summer and your itinerary includes a stop in Sweden´s capital Stockholm, you will have an appointment.

Enclosed, I have listed a few links for you, that might help you make the best of your stay in this wonderful city: