We felt it was time for a "restful trip" and decided on a cruise on the western Mediterranean which started in Barcelona and ended in Rome. We had been before to both Barcelona and Rome, and several of the cruise port stops, and we decided that would make it a relaxing voyage. We started out with 3 days in Barcelona, and ended with 3 days in Rome. The cruise took place at the end of April, 2015.

We decided to go again with Oceania cruise lines, which we used for our Baltic cruise 2 years ago. That cruise was on the "Marina". This cruise would be on the "Riviera", sister ship to the Marina. We were very satisfied with Oceania on the previous cruise and I can report that we weren't disappointed on this one either. The ships are pretty much identical, including the specialty restaurants. We even met crew members on the Riviera whom we had met on the Marina. Here is a link to our previous Oceania cruise.

Here is a list of the cruise ports:

In Spain:
In France:
In Monaco:
In Italy:
Barcelona, Valencia, Palma de Mallorca 
Monte carlo
Portofino, La Spezia, Livorno, Rome (Civitavecchia)

As noted above, we started with 3 days in Barcelona. We stayed at the Hotel Sixty-two, which is a four star hotel located right on the most prestigious street in Barcelona – Passeig de Grācia. In fact the name of the hotel is its address on this iconic street. Service was great, and the room was spacious and well appointed. We had an executive room which had a little balcony overlooking the main street, but there was no problem with noise. Here's the little balcony to the right.

Our only complaint would be the price and quality of the breakfast. The quoted price for breakfast is 18.50 Euros per person. They offered us a discounted rate of 14 Euros p/p if we had breakfast all 3 days we were there. We checked out the breakfast buffet the first morning and decided that it just wasn’t worth anywhere near the quoted price. Fortunately, there are plenty of breakfast options within steps of the hotel.
Another big plus with this hotel is that just steps away from the entrance is one of the busiest metro stops (Passeig de Grācia) of Barcelona. 3 metro lines run through this station. 

Our first full day in Barcelona was La Diada de Sant Jorde (St. George's Day). I knew about this day before  our arrival, but I had no idea what a huge festival this is in Barcelona. It is Catalunian Valentine's day, but it has become a huge commercial success, and it looks like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving day all rolled into one. A merchant confided to us that it is the biggest commercial day of the year in Barcelona.

It is a day when tradition requires that women buy their men a book, and the men buy their women a rose. The book connection comes from the fact that St George's Day falls on April 23 which is also the anniversary of the deaths of Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) and William Shakespeare. It is also known as Lover's Day and Rose day. Here is a very comprehensive description and history.

The main streets, particularly the Ramblas, are filled with book stalls and flower stalls and tables - even more than usual. In many venues around town, authors sign their books for the public. The streets are teeming with hordes of people, and it's one big party all over town. At one point we could barely get into our hotel, as there was a book signing in the lounge, and there was a long line blocking the front entrance.


We strolled down the Passeig de Garcia, which almost connects directly to the Ramblas, and walked the length of the Ramblas to the Columbus Monument (Mirador Columb). At the Columbus Circle. we had a light lunch at a restaurant called "Cava Universita", a family run place since 1858. After a light lunch, we continued along the Ramblas de Mar, a new (I think it's new) direct connection between the end of the Ramblas and the port. Here we visited a brand new shopping center (pic to the left) called Maremagnum.

After the Maremagnum, we took a "rickshaw" to get to the port cable car with the intention of taking it to Montjuic. To the right is a picture of our rickshaw driver, who took us on a nice little tour of the Barceloneta, the old fishing village which was used as the Olympic Village in 1992. Most say that this little inner city village lost most of its character with the running of the Olympics in 1992. This cable car ride is also a tourist attraction, as it is a 7 minute elevated ride with great views of the city. A round trip ride on it costs about 11 Euros.


historic legacy of montjuic

the cable car

things to do on montjuic

jewish cemetery on montjuic

the montjuic castle
Unfortunately, (I assume because of the holiday goings-on all over the city), there was a more than a 1 hour wait for the funicular. We gave up on the idea and negotiated a discounted ride with the rickshaw driver back to the nearest metro station. The ride to the funicular was 10 Euros, and the ride back (without the tour of Barceloneta) was 7 Euros.

The next day, we did go up to Montjuic, which is a hill located above the city with several interesting attractions. The views are very nice, and the area is very "pastoral" with lots of greenery and wooded areas. It's very nice  place for a stroll.We were interested in visiting the Foundation Miro, the museum built to house the works of the Spanish artist Joan Miro. We enjoyed our time on Montjuic and enjoyed our visit to the Miro Museum very much. Here is a  picture to the left

me with one of miro's creations

the view from montjuic

As for getting to Montjuic, there are several ways to get there. We took the tram to "Paral-lel" one of the L2 or L3 Metro stops,  where there is a small funicular which goes up to the top. This funicular is part of the city metro system and doesn't cost extra and is included in the normal metro ticket. It's not scenic at all, but it's very convenient. You can also get to plaza Espania and from there take a bus, a taxi, or walk if you are in a good shape to walk up. For part of the way up there are escalators. To the right is a picture of one of them which includes a very elaborate fountain.

an escalator leading up to montjuic

the magic fountain
From Montjuic, we walked down in the direction of Plaza Espania - the grandest, (in my opinion) of the many plazas in the city. On the way, we passed by the National Art Museum, the Magic Fountain, and ended up for lunch at a rooftop restaurant in "Las Arenas", a new shopping center built inside a converted bull ring. If you do visit Las Arenas, go up to the 5th floor where there are about 8 restaurants and a wonderful view of the city. To the left is a view of the fountain with Plaza Espania in the background and to the right is a view of Los Arenas.
las arenas

On our last morning in Barcelona, we visited the Boqueria Market, and ate at the iconic "El Quim de la Boqueria" restaurant for brunch. The market is huge, but the restaurant is tiny, with the customers sitting around the bar with no room for anything besides the food. Also, there is a food display between the server and the diner. It's all quite chaotic but the food was very tasty, and the experience is one of a kind. Pictures of the market to the left and the restaurant to the right.

We ate at 2 very good restaurants while in Barcelona. One was "Acces", where we met 2 friends we would sail with. Picture of the 4 of us to the right. The meal was very nice. The service was exceptional and food was very good, although not great. Among the dishes we had were an appetizer of pata negra ham, cannelloni with oxtail in a cream sauce, broiled scallops with potatoes, duck breast, risotto, and broiled hake. The restaurant has a nice and varied menu and the prices were reasonable. To the left a picture of the broiled scallops. 

The other upscale restaurant we ate at was "Lasarte".  Lasarte is a 2 star Michelin restaurant opened by the renowned Basque chef Martin Berasategui. We missed dining at his main restaurant, (simply called Berasategui) during our recent trip to San Sebastian, so we decided that we shouldn't miss this opportunity. The restaurant is beautiful, the service was  perfect and all the dishes were sublime. They were also very accommodating, switching dishes that we couldn't or didn't want to eat. They simply substituted an acceptable dish from the other tasting menu. 

The only complaint we had was the restaurant was a little noisy, although most of the noise came from one large group (about 12) dining in a private room nearby. They made a lot of noise and we could hear everything. 
We had the "Lasarte Menu" which has about 7 courses, at a price of 130 Euros. There were 4 or 5 small appetizers which preceded the 7 courses listed on the menu. As I said, all the dishes were great, but the outstanding thing in this restaurant was the presentation. Every dish had its own special serving "platform" which was artistically beautiful. Instead of describing all the dishes, I will just post a few representative pictures below.

sea cucumber tempura
each line is a differently flavored butter
smoked eel with green apple and onion sauce  beet risotto with sweet gorgonzola and stewed eel
petit fours

We very much enjoyed the pintxos bar/restaurant located right near the hotel. We had a snack there more than once and it was also good for breakfast (which we didn't take at the hotel). They opened early, had good strong coffee, and a nice selection of baked goods as well as small sandwiches (boccadilla) which suited us just right for breakfast. The name of the restaurant is Txapela, and we later discovered that there are 3 of them in the city.


We boarded the Riviera on Saturday. I wrote a review of this cruise on the "Cruise Critic" site which you can access by clicking here. I mention it because if you are interested in taking any kind of cruise anywhere in the world, the Cruise Critic site will be very useful for you. It includes useful information about the cruise lines, specific ships, ports of call, and even provides a forum for people who want to organize private port tours.


Our first port of call was Valencia. I organized a private tour with 8 other ship passengers, making us a group of 10. I booked with "Tours in Valencia", founded and run by Suzie Aņon y García. I arranged everything by email directly with Suzie, and she was flexible and understood exactly what we wanted. Our tour guide was Gaby, and he was informative and entertaining.

about  horchata

best horchata parlours

how horchata is made

horchata, drink of the gods

a simple recipe for horchata
We visited the "City of Art and Sciences", a cultural and entertainment center with stunning architecture, located on the outskirts of the city. It is situated along almost two kilometres of the dry river bed of the River Turia. See the picture to the right. 
the city of arts & sciences
We also visited the city center where we saw the local highlights, and also visited a popular bar serving "horchata", a local drink made from tiger nuts. It's sweet and unusual. Links to the left. We finished at Gaby's favorite tapas bar where we had a delightful and fun lunch. Valencia is also noted as the the birthplace of paella and we had planned to end our tour with a good paella at a good restaurant, but we all enjoyed the tapas at Gaby's favorite restaurant so much that nobody was hungry for paella.


Jews get
their due

hidden for generations

Breakthrough for Mallorca's chueta
Palma de Mallorca is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands in Spain. Palma is located about 300 KM south of Barcelona and 300 KM east of Valencia.  The island is a popular tourist destination for those interested in sun and fun.

The Palma Jewish community has a rich history, and is home to one of the best known communities of descendants of forcibly converted Spanish Jews, called the "Chueta".  I booked a "Jewish heritage walking tour" with a local company called "Mallorca Private Tour Guides" to find out more about this community. The tour took 4 hours, and our tour guide was Mateo, who was very informative, and explained to us that his family probably included Chueta in their past.



We toured the Jewish quarter, and visited the main highlights of the city, as well as the cathedral which was one of the most impressive cathedrals we have ever seen. This Gothic cathedral, known as "Le Seu", is probably the city's major landmark. It is huge and visible from many places round the bay, although the main attraction is its interior.

What sets this cathedral apart is that famed Spanish architect and artist Antoni Gaudi was involved in its 19th century restoration. He introduced several artistic ideas, including new furniture, altarpieces, and a new method for coloring the stained glass. Despite Gaudi's innovations, the most impressive element inside the cathedral is a wall sculpture made by still living Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo.

in palma
old town

 in the jewish quarter of palma

Barcelo built this sculpture between 2001 and 2006 and it depicts the miracle of the fishes attributed to Jesus. It is incredible, and even somewhat disturbing when you see it at first, however, after Mateo's very detailed and clear explanations, it all became clear and very impressive. Check out this site to see some great pictures of this work as well as a little background and history.


Unfortunately, high seas prevented our docking in Marseilles. We continued sailing and docked at Monte Carlo in the evening instead of he following morning. Those who wanted to gamble at the casino could do so all night, however they were requested to return to the ship by 5 AM, as the ship had to move to a different dock.


We set anchor just off Monte Carlo and took tenders to shore. At the tender dock, the "Hop-on-Hop-off" tourist bus awaits. We took the bus, which cost about 20 Euros per person, and used it to get around the city. We have been to Monaco before and didn't have any expectations or plans.The city is famous for extravagence, but the streets are crowded and noisy because of construction.

We stopped at the center where the famous casino is, and had 2 cups of coffee and a piece of cheesecake for a mere 24 Euros. After our coffee and cake, we went back to the ship. Many of the ship's passengers got on tours which took them into Provence.


As with Marseilles, again because of high seas, we couldn't dock in Portofino. Instead, the ship arranged that we dock in Genoa instead. That suited us as we had recently an enjoyable visit to Genoa,  and didn't mind another visit.
We didn't do much in Genoa. We just walked around, visited the old port, had lunch in the old quarter, and did some good shopping.
the old port
in genoa


La Spezia is close to Cinque Terra, the very popular Italian seaside cliff towns. Many of the passengers took various means to get there, either organized tours, or public transportation. Unfortunately, it was May 1, which is a holiday in Italy, and the weather was windy, cold and a little rainy, which spoiled the day for many people. We spent our day on the boat.



livorno synagogue
Livorno is a starting point for visits to Tuscany, and Florence. Most passengers did this, but we had a mission to take care of in Livorno. Alisa's family lived in Livorno several generations ago. It was a Saturday, so we visited the main synagogue and took part in Saturday services. Alisa chatted with several of the congregants and found one that knew people with her family name, and another who was a mutual friend of a friend in Israel.

la vecchia senese in livorno
After the synagogue, we strolled around and found a very nice local restaurant for lunch. The name of the restaurant was La Vecchia Senese, and it was just around the corner from the cathedral (and the synagogue). This is a typical local Italian restaurant which looks simple, but serves great food, in a friendly family atmosphere. We arrived early and the place was empty, but it quickly filled up with Italian families. I didn't notice any tourists here. I had a great octopus salad which is pictured to the right. Alisa had a tasty dish of fresh fish which was just perfect. To the left is a shot of the interior of this simple family restaurant. 
octopus salad at vecchia senese

If you ever take a cruise which stops in Rome, you should be aware that the port which services Rome is called Civitavecchia, and it is about 45 miles from Rome. It is a ride which takes more than an hour by car, without traffic. There are trains but you have to get to and from the train stations at both ends. We hired a shuttle company called "Rome Shuttle Limousine". The cost was 110 Euros, which is a good price for a private shuttle. We ordered it online, and we had a courteous and polite driver in a very nice car. If you wait until you arrive in Civitavecchia, it will be much more expensive.

at the vatican
We've been to Rome a few times. I just don't remember the last time we spent more than a few hours there. This time we spent 3 days and the highlight of the visit was our tour of the Vatican. We booked a tour called "Pristine Sistine" with a company called "Walks of Italy". This is the way to go if you want to visit the Sistine Chapel and actually see and hear something. The tour enters about an hour before the chapel is opened to the general public. It’s not cheap and you have to be at the meeting point by 7:25 AM. The meeting point is at a bar-café right next to the Vatican and you can grab a bite to eat or grab a cup of coffee there. We were divided up into groups of about 12, and each group had its own guide. Our guide was Alisa, who was very good.

The main advantage is the early entry to the Sistine and the entry to St. Peter’s Basilica with no waiting in line. You won’t quite be alone – you will enter the chapel with several other similar groups, but you can still appreciate the chapel with a reasonable number of people and not the hordes that are there after the general opening.

vatican museum

piazza st peter
The tour continues with the museums, but by the time you get there, they are open to the public and are packed with visitors. The tour lasted almost 4 hours, and ended in St. Peter’s Basilica, with absolutely no waiting to get in. When we left the Basilica, we saw that the line to get in snaked all around the piazza and the waiting time was at least 4 hours.

We stayed in a hotel called Albergo del Sole Al Pantheon, which is located directly across from the Pantheon. If you get a street front room, you will have a direct view of this very busy piazza. If you want to be in one of the busiest spots in all of Rome, this is for you. The piazza is crowded and noisy for about 18 hours a day, and as soon the sun comes up in the morning, there are visitors there to photograph the pantheon in the early morning light.

We usually stay in central locations, but generally not this central. We prefer a quiet street close to the center. However, I have to say that the hotel windows are built for it, and when they were closed, it was amazing how quiet our room was. We had a small suite directly overlooking the square. Our room was called the “royal suite”, but in fact was a very modest room and a half, although the bathroom was fully modernized and the shower was great.
piazza of the pantheon

"royal" bed
As for the hotel services, the staff was most helpful and breakfast was one of the best we have encountered in Italy. Unfortunately, we were able to fully enjoy the breakfast only once out of our 3 days there, because we had to leave early on 2 of the days. The kitchen staff were very helpful and even on the 2 days we had to leave early, they did their best to feed us properly.

We spent most of our time in Rome just walking around. The Piazza Pantheon is right in the middle of everything. We strolled on the Via Del Corso, we visited the Trevi Fountain (which is dry and under renovation), we visited the Piazza Navonna (one of my favorite spots in Rome), and we had some memorable meals.
piazza navonna

truffle tasting at adhoc
One of the restaurants we ate in was AdHoc, a gourmet restaurant with an interesting opening to the meal. If you make a reservation here, you are also invited to visit their gourmet truffle shop which is just around the corner from the restaurant. They invite you to the truffle shop 30 minutes before your dining reservation to enjoy what they call a "truffle aperitif". You are taken downstairs to a tasting room (pic to the left), and given a light sparkling wine, and a tray of 10 different truffles spreads on slices of bread. It's very original, and very tasty.

As for the meal, the tasting menus here are different than most. There were 3, and we took the "sea tasting" menu. Like the others, it had 4 courses, but each course had either 2 or 3 different items on the plate. It was interesting and the food was mostly very good. An example is to the right - on this dish of "appetizers" is a prawn in a foam, smoked salmon, and seared scallops. We took the menu with matched wines and the price was a very reasonable 79 Euros.
3-piece appetizer at adhoc

Everything wasn't perfect. The restaurant is kind of cramped and the waitresses had to squeeze through to get by our table which was snug up against a wall full of wine. (Fortunately they were all young slim girls.) In the "pasta" course, there was vermicelli with bottarga and burrata cheese (very tasty) , and a gnocchi dish with salmon and smoked asparagus. The gnocchi was nothing special, and Alisa doesn't like gnocchi anyway, so she barely touched it. The waitress noticed this, and they took the price of the gnocchi off the bill, and also gave us a nice bottle of spumanti to take home (to the hotel anyway). That was a nice gesture and clearly showed a well- managed restaurant.

dessert at

Desert was also a multi item affair with 3 different flavors of creme brule. Picture to the left.  Also, if you make a reservation on the internet, they advertise a 10% discount. I did, but by the end of the meal forgot all about the 10%. The restaurant is located very close to Piazza Popolo and all in all was a pleasant evening.

great pasta at campana
We also at at La Campana, which is advertised as the oldest restaurant in Rome. Campana serves “classic” Roman cuisine. It’s very simple to sum up our meal – good simple Italian cuisine, served in a friendly atmosphere. At 7:30 when we got there, it quickly filled up with tourists. I expected this, but I was pleasantly surprised when, as the evening rolled on, local diners slowly replaced the tourists. We had antipasti which were self-served from the antipasti bar, then, pasta with porcini mushrooms, rabbit cacciatore, and a fried fish platter. Everything was delicious, as we had expected.

the antipasti bar at campana

open kitchen at l'angolleto
L’Angoletto is one of those restaurants we keep finding in Italy, which remind us  over and over that it’s tough to go wrong when picking a restaurant in Italy.  I had been suffering from an upset stomach for about 24 hours and we canceled a reservation at what was supposed to be a very nice restaurant for our evening meal.  However, as the day wore on, I felt better and better, and we decided to eat out, but at a restaurant as close as possible to the hotel.

This restaurant was recommended by our hotel, and was located very nearby, in a small quiet square about a 2 minute walk Pantheon. We loved it. It was empty when we arrived, but our waiter was very charming and accommodating. We explained to him my situation and we decided on a simple dish of pasta with fresh tomato sauce. It was just perfect – and my stomach felt great afterward.
Alisa had a delicious dish of fish with potatoes and vegetables. Afterwards, we shared a glass of nice grappa. (good for the stomach!) This was our last meal before our departure from Rome, and it was very enjoyable.

alisa's tasty fish dish at l'angelloto











This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa".  It describes one of the many trips we have made together. We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can.  Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.                 

            Enjoy your next trip!!                                                                                    ~Steve & Alisa~

UPDATED: June 16, 2015