Saturday, April 25 — Embarkation in Barcelona, Spain
Our group of 20 Badger travelers arrived throughout the day in Barcelona. Oceania representatives met us at the airport immediately upon exiting the baggage claim. After a 45-minute motor coach ride, we arrived at the dock, where we embarked on the Oceania cruise ship M/S Riviera. The embarkation process was simple and fast. We had the rest of the afternoon to grab lunch and acclimate ourselves to our new “home” for the next eight days. From the moment we arrived, we knew we were in for a very special voyage on an elegant ship staffed by a crew of attentive and friendly individuals from all over the globe. That evening we enjoyed an incredible get-to-know-you welcome reception sponsored by Go Next. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet not only my fellow Badger travelers, but also those from other alumni associations who were sharing this cruise with us. At 7 p.m., we set sail for what would soon become a truly remarkable and memorable eight days exploring the coastal hideaways of the western Mediterranean region.
Sunday, April 26 — Valencia, Spain
Today’s excursion encompassed the best of modern-day Valencia and the historical heart of this charming city. We first visited the amazing cultural complex known as the City of Arts and Science: five distinctive buildings designed by famous Spanish architect and sculptor Santiago Calatrava. We then drove through the downtown heart of the city before taking a guided tour of the Oceanographic Center — Europe’s largest marine park. This museum features 45,000 samples of 500 distinct specimens of aquatic life from marine environments all over the world. This was a great opportunity to see all of the gems of the Mediterranean Sea.
Monday, April 27 — Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Today’s excursion took us on a guided tour of Palma’s city center, which features Palma’s Gothic-style cathedral and the Royal Palace of La Almudaina. Although a quick downpour drove us under cover for a few minutes, it afforded us the unexpected opportunity to grab a quick cappuccino and elegant pastry from a quaint bakery. After the rain subsided, we continued on with our city tour and then had free time to practice spending some Euros in the many small shops that lined the streets. We then boarded our motor coach and headed up the hills to the small village of Esporles. There we got to enjoy a very entertaining flamenco show while enjoying a delicious tapas lunch featuring Spain’s famous sangria.
After lunch and back on board ship, we had the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Many of us took this opportunity to bask in the sunshine on the pool deck. That evening we attended the captain’s cocktail reception.
Tuesday, April 28 — Day at Sea
Today we were supposed to visit Marseille, France. Unfortunately, 95-mile-per-hour winds and nine-foot swells did not allow us to dock in Marseille. This then became an unexpected day at sea. (We were able to dock at Monte Carlo later that evening.) While it was a bummer not being able to visit France, it did allow us to catch up with a little down time. The ship’s staff was also very proactive and quickly arranged for several extra onboard activities for guests to enjoy. Our group of Badger travelers took part in a team trivia contest against five other Big Ten alumni groups. We all had a blast and ended up tying Nebraska for first place.
This evening featured our private Badger reception — the perfect opportunity to really get to know our fellow Badger travelers. This soirée was complete with the singing of “Varsity” and a group photo, followed by a group dinner in the grand dining room. It was a terrific ending to our day at sea.
Wednesday, April 29 — Monte Carlo, Monaco
Today we went on a guided tour that featured the highlights of the Principality of Monaco. We started the day by driving down a portion of the circuit of the Grand Prix to Monte Carlo. We first stopped at the Exotic Gardens (Jardin Exotique) for a photo-taking opportunity of a panoramic view of Monte Carlo. We next paid a visit to Monte Carlo’s famed Grand Casino, where we got an inside look at the glamorous gaming and slot rooms. From there we ascended to the Old City part of Monte Carlo, known as “The Rock.” This walking tour featured the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly married (and are now entombed); and the Palace Square, where we saw the daily changing of the prince’s palace guards. The remainder of the day was at our leisure for exploring the great scenery, shops, and restaurants of Monte Carlo.
Thursday, April 30 — Genoa City, Italy
Today was supposed to be a day anchored outside the charming resort town of Portofino. Although high sea swell would not allow us to tender to and from the ship as planned, we instead docked at nearby Genoa City. Luckily, we were still able to enjoy basically the same scheduled excursion from this new port. Our day featured a regional train ride from Genoa City to the palm-dotted beach city of Santa Margherita, where several of us enjoyed a delightful lunch along the sea. (Nothing like having a Margherita pizza in its namesake city!) After exploring the central areas of Santa Margherita, we took a 20-minute motorboat ride over to Portofino (an essentially car-less town), where we hiked up the lush, green cliff to visit the Church of Saint George, Brown Castle, and the Faro Lighthouse, where a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea awaited us. After spending a little time exploring the many little shops in Portofino, we headed back to the ship. This day was undoubtedly one of my favorites!
Friday, May 1 — La Spezia, Italy
Today’s journey took us by motorboat to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Portovenere: a colorful and sheltered fishing village known for its outstanding beauty and traditional way of life. Upon disembarking the motorboat, our guide took us through the medieval main street Via Capellini, which is lined with fashionable shops, charming cafes, and earth-toned architecture. Along the way, we were able to sample freshly made pesto, olive oil, and several varieties of focaccia. At the end of Via Capellini, vaulted walkways and stairs led us up the cliff to the Church of San Pietro. This black-and-white-striped marble church sits perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. Near the church, we got to view Byron’s Cove, a rocky area where the poet Lord Byron used to swim, and where he supposedly took inspiration for his various works. After the guided part of the tour, we had two hours of free time to explore more on our own.
This evening, the Badger travelers got together for a farewell happy hour that allowed us to reconnect as a group one last time prior to our final excursion day.
Saturday, May 2 — Livorno, Italy
Our final day of the cruise took us on a guided tour of “Fascinating Florence.” From the dock in Livorno, we met up with our guide, Sam, and boarded a motor coach for a two-hour scenic drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside. En route, Sam gave us an excellent introduction to the city of Florence, including its history and its current state. Upon arriving in Florence, we first drove to the Piazzale Michelangelo: a terrace on top of a hill that features a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David statue and incredible, panoramic views of Florence and the Arno Valley — the perfect photo opportunity. From there we traveled to central Florence and visited the Academy of Fine Arts: home to Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David, which was carved from a single block of marble. After a brief period of free time to explore additional artwork in the museum, we set out on our walking tour through central Florence. This walk included seeing the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) and the Franciscan Gothic Church. One of the highlights for me was visiting a local craft-artisan shop where Florentine stone mosaics are made. After the guided tour, we had a couple of hours to explore more of Florence independently. For me, this included shopping and a lunch of potato gnocchi smothered in rich tomato-basil sauce, followed up with a big scoop of tiramisù-flavored gelato! (Can you say, “Mmmmm”?) Following our two-hour ride back to the dock in Livorno, we were welcomed back to the ship by a red-carpet greeting from the ship’s staff, complete with hot towels, beverages, orchestral fanfare, and applause: a truly wonderful way to wrap up our last excursion.
Sunday, May 3 — Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
Today was disembarkation day and the bittersweet “Arrivederci” to the Riviera and to the many new friends we’d made over the course of our eight-day cruise together. Fond memories of the people and places that made this voyage so special will be with me for a long time to come.