She was a small, severe woman with a big cigarette and bigger black eyes that narrowed as she frowned at my Missouri driver’s license.
Above: Those who arrive in Venice a day prior to the cruise departure can experience a romantic gondola ride.
In Title: Always perfect blue Mediterranean skies present a magnificent backdrop for the pink cathedrals on the island of Santorini. Bruce N. Meyer photos
“No motorcycle,” she said harshly, her words sharpened by her Greek accent. “No, no, no,” and she all but tossed my license back at me.
To prove I had motorcycle experience, I pointed to a nasty scar on my right leg, hoping that the 35-year-old relic of my wilder teenage days riding the back roads of southern Illinois would be enough to break the language barrier.
“No, no, no,” she repeated as my husband and I walked dejectedly to the door of the rental office wondering what would be our next best option to explore Argostoli and the island of Kefalonia.
But in a few minutes, apparently met by the fact that she had turned away too many tourists and too many scooters were sitting idle that day, the woman appeared at our side.
“You ride?” she asked with a knowing smile, pointing to my leg. “You ride.” And it was no longer a question.
Soon my husband and I zipped away while other Americans, maybe as fully qualified as I but missing the jagged proof, were left to explore on two feet rather than two wheels.
A Mediterranean sampler
Argostoli is the port of call on Kefalonia, one of three Greek islands we visited on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise on Holland America’s Zuiderdam. And it might have been our favorite simply because of the laughter we shared over the motorcycle incident.
But who is to say what is the favorite or the best on a trip that begins in Venice and ends in Barcelona with days in between filled with the whitewashed buildings of Santorini; the intriguing history of Dubrovnik, Croatia’s walled city; or the uncompromised and eternal beauty of cities such as Rome, Florence, Naples and the Isle of Capri.
This itinerary would polish off visits we had previously made to Italy and Spain while whetting our appetites for Greece and Croatia. And that it did. The Greek islands were magnificent, and cruising is such a practical way to see them.
But here’s a little tip for visiting Greece. Stand in line for the funicular to the top of the caldera, which is Santorini, or take the donkey ride. We thought we would be energetic and walk the trail to the top. More than 900 steps later, we received the work- out of our lives.
At Livorno, Italy, we signed up for the shore excursion to Cinque Terre. This area north of La Spezia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was named a national park 10 years ago and attempts to preserve five remote villages known internationally for an expensive dessert wine called sciacchetra.
Cinque Terre is the smallest national park in Italy and is extremely popular for hiking and is crowded in the summer months. And the steps local farmers climb every day to tend their vineyards rivaled the caldera steps on Santorini.
Civitavecchia is the port with access to Rome. However, the ancient city is about 50 miles inland, so by the time travelers manage the train or traffic via bus on a shore excursion, their time is extremely limited to see Rome. We arrived on a Sunday, the day the Vatican museums are closed. Between heavy traffic, outrageous prices and limited access, in retrospect, we wished we had stayed in Civitavecchia, a tranquil fishing community with castles, forts and cathedrals right on the sea.
But for those who’ve never been to Rome, go ahead and take one of the many shore excursions. After all, there’s only one Coliseum, one Sistine Chapel and one Trevi Fountain.
The improved Zuiderdam
At the time of our cruise in June, the Zuiderdam, one of 13 ships in the Holland America fleet, had just returned to the seas from dry dock following a $35 million upgrade.
Improvements include a new upscale lounge adjacent to an expanded Pinnacle Grill, the elegant fine dining restaurant. More tables here provide better views and greater privacy for intimate dining.
The Internet center is now combined with a New York Times-sponsored coffee shop in an inviting facility called the Exploration Café. Passengers can work the New York Times crossword puzzle, check out books from the library and enjoy an espresso or latte while checking e-mail and other news from home.
The Zuiderdam is now fully wireless, and even our cabin at the far aft of the ship had a strong signal. But unless you have to spend a great deal of time online, it will be considerably less expensive to seek out an Internet café in port. We easily found them everywhere and for just a couple of Euros, (less than $5) we could spend 30 minutes online. Compare that to 100 minutes for $55 on board the ship and decide what works best for your budget.
Otherwise, we found the Holland America cruise to be a great value and a fabulous way to explore the wonders of the Mediterranean.
Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.