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Day #12: Palermo, Sicily

There are a few places that we always seem to face bad weather in. Bavarian castles come to mind. And, alas, so does Palermo, Sicily. It actually looked to be a fine day when we were sailing into port, but by the time we’d left the ship dark storm clouds were gathering.

Within a few minutes of walking in to the city, it started raining. Then it started raining harder. And, then it started to hail. Thankfully, it stopped within a few minutes. But, we spent most of the morning walking in and/or trying to avoid the rain.

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While this made our day slower going, we did manage to allow Mom to get a sense of Palermo. We visited a few churches along the way too. Most importantly, I managed to get us some cannoli (freshly made just for me) from a little pastry shop. We thoroughly enjoyed them back aboard the ship. Indeed, Libby thought it was probably worth braving the weather just for the cannoli.

P.S. I’m now a few days (like three) behind in my blog posts. I managed to get briefly sick on the last evening of the cruise (I’m fine now), and we had some trouble with the planned rental car (Avis had the reservation for the wrong month). So, we ended up just staying in Rome, which worked out fine. I’ll provide more details later. :-)

Day #11: Tunis, Tunisia

Today was a momentous day for Emerson. With our landing in Tunisia, she’s made it to all seven continents–a little after her fourth birthday. Of course, it’s doubtful that she’ll remember most of them at any level of detail. But, I had a goal of getting her to all seven prior to her going off to college, and we had the means/ability to pull it off now (which might not be possible in the future — who knows?). So, if we can do it again when she’s a bit older: great! If not, she’ll at least have the knowledge (and photos) that she’s done it once and hopefully will have a sense of being a citizen of our relatively small world.

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Now, on to Tunisia…

Not knowing exactly what to expect, we opted for an organized shore excursion. Most were variations on similar themes, but we picked one that visited the remains of Carthage and a village called Sidi Bou Said.

The area that was ancient Carthage is now mostly buried under a fairly upscale suburb of Tunis. What’s more, much of it (especially after the Punic period) was hauled away and reused to build later settlements. As a result, the sights are relatively modest in scale and scope, though the Roman baths and water reservoirs were relatively impressive. The baths were also situated ideally overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

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Sidi Bou Said is a picturesque village located on a hillside along the coast of the Mediterranean. While it doesn’t have any individually “must see” sights, the town itself is generally a pleasure to experience. Although, I suspect some may be turned off by the somewhat aggressive street vendors hawking their wares (they’re more pushy than those in say the Caribbean, but far less so than the “gold medalists of touting” found in Egypt).

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Overall, we liked Tunisia. It was a better experience than Egypt; less enjoyable than the UAE and Oman. But, I’d certainly return there again… I’ll be interested in seeing how their fledgling “true democracy” grows in the coming years. I hope it works out well for them.

Today’s box score: +1 country (Tunisia)

Day #10: Cagliari, Sardinia

We arrived in Cagliari to a beautiful morning and departed the ship shortly after it was cleared by the local authority.

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Cagliari is a rather hilly town with most of the major sights located on top of the hill around or inside the of castle walls. So, we undertook the hike, which was a bit steep in places but was generally pleasant in the cool temperatures.

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We visited the remains of a Roman amphitheater and let Emerson play in a park before continuing to the modest yet enjoyable archeological museum.

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After the museum, we strolled through the old town and visited the Cathedral, which was perhaps one of my all-time favorite churches in Europe. Opposite the Cathedral was a museum featuring (primarily) Italian minimalist and op art, which is a personal favorite style of mine. This made for an unexpected and welcomed diversion from the normal diet of old religious art on offer in Italy… :-)

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We then walked back down the hill and through town before returning to our ship. All in all, Cagliari was a very pleasant surprise as we didn’t have a lot of pre-existing expectations going into this port.

Today’s box score: +1 “county” (Sardinia)

Day #9: At Sea

Today was our one and only day without a port visit. While I don’t generally love such days, it was a nice respite from our sightseeing. Libby and I enjoyed the jazz brunch in Le Bistro.

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Emerson also tried out Splash Academy (the ship’s kids’ club) for the first time and loved it. Otherwise, we mostly spent the day relaxing, reading, and playing with Emerson. For dinner, we ordered NCL’s 24×7 pizza to our cabin — it was pretty uninspiring.

Day #8: Valencia, Spain

If yesterday was a tour de force in efficient independent travel, today was almost anything but that. In all honesty, I didn’t do a great job of preparing for the ports on this trip, figuring we’d figure it out as we want along… of course, this has been my modus operandi for years now. So, why change?

Unfortunately, my guidebooks had limited or no information about Valencia. So, we started at a bit of disadvantage. As a result, I just arranged for a $12/pp. shuttle offered by Norwegian to take us into the historic district of town (some distance from the pier). This seemed like perhaps a dumb move (as the shuttle schedule was fairly limited and $48 would be a lot of cab fare), but it turned out to be accidentally brilliant (as the cabs drivers had a strike / protest in the middle of the day)!

While logistics made out planned visit to the science museum and planetarium impractical, we enjoyed strolling around the historic center of Valencia. We visited a number of churches, including the cathedral, which Emerson always seems to particularly enjoy. We also visited the Mercado, which I think rivals Barcelona’s La Boqueria. We bought citrus, strawberries (and then more strawberries at Emerson’s request), and orange juice — all of which was delicious.

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I was also especially enamored with the public citrus trees that perfumed the city. I picked a tangerine and ate it (not sure if that’s allowed or not) much to Libby’s chagrin. But, it seemed like the thing to do.

Libby’s parents took a bus tour of Valencia from the ship, which allowed them to visit the Cathedral as well.

For dinner, we all had an excellent meal at Cagney’s, the ship’s steakhouse.

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