A Solo Odyssey
Travelling solo has many benefits. Cruising alone has even more. You befriend all manner of delightful folk, like the 93-year-old man I met in a Marseilles café, who’s been enjoying coffee there every day of his adult life.
I wouldn’t have engaged him had I been with a friend or lover, yet despite my terrible French, I discovered over a bowl of the region’s iconic Bouillabaisse and glass of pastis, a famed local aniseed and spice beverage, that we both love dogs. When I whipped out my phone to show him pictures of my hounds, he burst into an aria worthy of a standing ovation, drawing my attention to another plume in Marseille’s cap – opera.
With the waiter doubling as interpreter, I discovered my new friend was a retired opera singer and that Marseilles, the second largest city in France, boasts an 1800-seat opera house, Opera Municipal de Marseille.
This grand building opened in 1924, and with its urn-shaped auditorium, three rings of boxes, two balconies, a gallery and a sculpted frieze by Antoine Bourdelle, it’s a must-see.
My new friend also directed me to the best shop to buy triple-milled scented soaps (there are many in Marseille). I picked up a plentiful supply before heading back to The Viking Star, the luxury cruise liner I’d boarded in Barcelona three days earlier.
first stop, Barcelona
Pictured above (from left to right): The pristine streets of Monte Carlo; Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
Marseille is the second stop on this Odyssey, Barcelona being the point of embarkation. Flying direct from Sydney via Dubai was seamless, but I’d strongly suggest a Middle Eastern stopover to combat jetlag. I battled my transatlantic flight fatigue by kicking off the cruise with an on-shore Flamenco Excursion and tapas dinner, with plenty of sangria, of course.
The following morning, a massage in the ship’s spa knocked away a few more cobwebs and energised me enough to explore Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. I revelled in its colourful parks and historic cathedrals, before stopping by a bodega for paella and Rioja.
Returning to the ship, in The Viking Bar I sparked up conversation with a wonderful Canadian couple, who insisted I join them at Manfredi’s Italian restaurant. After an exquisite dinner with sommelier selected wines, we decided to team up as travel companions, proving you’re never hungry, thirsty or alone for long on a cruise!
Monte Carlo elegance
That Sunday in Monte Carlo was sleepy. The streets were clean and quiet, aside from a few neatly placed clusters of empty premium liquor bottles, evidence of an elegant soiree the previous evening, no doubt.
The farmers’ and flower markets were coming to life as I passed by luxury yachts bobbing rhythmically with the morning tide, and by midday the town was elegantly alive. Luxury cars glided along the same roads on which the annual F1 Grand Prix is held and impeccably dressed folk strolled the glamorous street malls.
At a cosy eatery on Rue Princess Caroline called Shangri La, I inhaled a salad abundant with the spoils of the Mediterranean and washed it down with local Rosé.
Back on board, a full body massage had me so relaxed I ordered room service (from Manfredi’s) and an in-house movie and let gentle rocking of the ship leaving port quickly lull me to sleep.
Feasting in Florence
Pictured above (from left to right): The Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River in Florence; L’Opéra de Marseille.
Livorno Port services Florence, Pisa and Siena and Viking Cruises offer onshore excursion to all of these destinations. I took the Florence on Your Own daytrip. Firenze has long been my favourite Italian city and its resplendent sights, sounds and smells made my heart sing.
I spent a small fortune on jewellery, scarves and Pinocchio paraphernalia, before settling into a ‘local favourite’ eatery, Vini e Vecchi Sapori Di Costantini, where I lunched on a magnificent bowl of creamy pasta.
That night, a five-course degustation dedicated to the ship’s single travellers added extra centimetres to my waist and more friends to my on-board squad. Held at The Chef’s Table, it featured wine reflective of the region, matched perfectly to each seasonal, locally-inspired course. The conversation flowed as freely as the pairings and I left smiling, satisfied and excited for Rome the next day.
The last time I was in Rome, I so enjoyed exploring typical tourist hotspots that I wanted to retrace my steps on the Rome on Your Own tour, which drops you in the middle of town for a few hours of solo exploring.
The brisk blue-sky day provided the perfect backdrop in which to race around the Trevi Fountain, the Mouth of Truth and the Colosseum.
I happened across a small laneway eatery where I washed down a delicious Caprese salad, pizza and gelato with a Frascati. Back on board, I booked in for another massage and again, enjoyed room service and a movie.
Pizza in Naples
Pictured above: A polished wood water taxi whizzes through the waters of Venice.
In Naples, the Canadians and I had the same sole intention – to eat at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, the iconic pizzeria made more famous by 2010’s Eat, Pray, Love. We thought we’d be queuing for hours, but the crowds outside were merely tourists taking selfies.
Mozzarella dripping from our chins, we remarked how the no-frills restaurant, which opened in 1906, produced such incredible flavours. There are only two pizzas on offer - margarita and marinara – each boasting rich tomato flavours, with no meat or other vegetables, and made in a traditional Napoli pizza oven.
Later that night, we found room for another feast at Manfredi’s, finishing the meal with nightcaps at ‘our local’ – The Viking Bar.
The following day was spent cruising the Ionian sea, which gave me a chance to explore the ship, enjoy the spa’s snow grotto and steam room and get set for the next day’s onshore excursion– ‘Corfu By Mountain Bike.’
This 15km expedition saw us pedalling through picturesque parishes and along the foothills of Pantokrator, Corfu’s tallest peak, taking in awe-inspiring views. Then, it was on to the hamlet of Saint Marcos, where a beer and afternoon snack preceded the downhill ride back to ship.
Dubrovnik – a local look
Pictured above: Azure waters in Dubrovnik.
Cruising into Dubrovnik, the sunrise turned the sky shimmering gold and reflected on the ocean and medieval wall, making the entire arrival seem like the second coming of Christ.
The Canadians and I hired a local taxi for four hours. For just 140 Euro, our cabbie drove us to spots that many tourists don’t see, including ruins in the village of Bosanka, left devastated by war in 1991-92.
After a few hours, he delivered us to the seaside town of Cavtat, and his favourite eatery, Restaurant Leut. The sun sparkled on the azure sea as I enjoyed truffle pasta and struggled to recall a richer, more relaxing experience.
The town of Split, Croatia, is renowned for its olive oil and the ‘Flavours of the Dalmatian’ excursion allows you to view traditional olive oil pressing and bread making. There was also plenty of homemade sweet treats and limoncello, a digestif staple in the Mediterranean.
Pictured above: The Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Sailing into stunning Porto di Venezia was a fitting end to this incredible Odyssey. Entering the channels of Venice, we enjoyed sparkling wine on the Bridge, drinking in the majesty.
On my previous trip here, I set off on foot from my pensione, intent on spending the day at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. As is many a Venetian tourist’s fate, I became lost, and arrived at the gallery seven hours later, only to find it closed. This time, I wasn’t risking it…a polished wood water taxi took us to its door in under 20 minutes.
Once inside the 18th Century Grand Canal palace, we admired the modern artworks, displayed in what is believed to be ‘one of the finest museums of modern art in the world.’
Later, we came across a canal-side eatery, La Zucca, where we devoured marinated, fried sardines and squid ink risotto. With our bellies full, our water taxi sped us back to the ship for a siesta, or in my case, my final spa facial.
That night, my new friends and I enjoyed a bittersweet farewell dinner at Manfredi’s, followed by nightcaps at The Viking Bar as we planned our reunion aboard The Viking Star for the very near future.