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Cruising the Western Mediterranean

There are many ways to tour the romantic cities of the Western Mediterranean, by car, by train, even bicycle. However, I think the most delightful, especially if you yearn to be cosseted and pampered is by cruise ship.

From the moment my husband, Tom, and I embarked the Noordam of Holland America Lin, we experienced a previously unkown level of cosseting and efficiency. Let me be clear, we are experienced cruisers, you might even say we have abandoned other traditional forms of travel. What is there not to like? Your hotel room travels with you, meaning you only need unpack once, and th most mundane decisions are taken care of, leaving you free to concentrate fully on your destinations.

After departing from Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, we cruised leisurely along the Italian cost to Livorno, the port and gateway to the Region of Tuscany. Livorno is only a few kilometers from the city of Lucca, a mostly undicovered gem of a medieval city. Then we were headed to Pisa.

I had previously considered myself to be, most likely, the last remaining human to view the legendary leaning tower, but this turned out not to be so. There were thousands of tourists in the city, all seeking the perfect spot to create the highly original photo of appearing to prop up the tower. Yes, it really does lean, and so does the church nearby.

There are many seasoned traellers who disdain "shore excursions," I am not one of them. I find it a relaxing way to see the highlights of a destination, without having to fuss over bus schedules, maps and local currency, all the while keeping one eye on the clock to ensure you don't miss the ship departure time.

A new innovation, for me, was the clever use of radio receivers on which to listen to the guide's commentary. This greatly enhanced the experience by eliminating yet another minor irritation of group trvael.

But back to the ship. Everything about the Noordam appears to have been designed with the passenger in mind. How? Let me count the ays. First, the very smooth embarkation process. Holland America Lines has created an efficient documentation process that enables passengers to download fll the required information at home, at their leisure. So when you arrive at the port you need to do little more than present a passport ans recieve your boarding pass and board the ship.

Second, details, the smiling face of your room steward, the waiter that rembembers your drink preference, dining facilities to suit your style, be that formal or casual.

Thirs, my favorite destination, the Explorations Cafe, a combination of library, internet facility and cafe outfitted with cushy leather chairs and footstools, with enough books to keep a bibliophile contented for months.. I would have stayed all of the day, taken meals and possibly slept there, had my husband not declared a fook intervention necesssary.

What's a girl to do? Go shopping of course! The shops of the Noordam have been enticingly arranged to tempt your shopping senses with a department store ambiance and wide arrary of goods and prices.

Fourth, the food! Where to begin? From room service to the elegance and haute cuisines of the Pinnacle Grill, all were models of taste and temptation. Even the no-so-humble buffet was a destination in its own. A themed "Taste of Tuscany" was an opportunity to delight your taste buds with an array of choices from antipasti to to gelato. I can foresee more shopping in larger sizes if this continues.

Fifth, itineraries. Our cruise would take us from Rome to Tuscany, Monaco, Barcelona, Mallorca, Sicily and Naples before returning to Rome. All the gems of the Western Mediterranean Sea, with just the right combination of ports of call and days at sea to rechard your batteries for the next destination.

What a way to go!

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