A celebration of ten years of marriage deserves a very special travel adventure. Exotic and far away destinations that involve great food, wine, history and romance were the criteria for this trip. Years ago I would have arranged for us to travel by planes, trains and automobiles, however, this year, we went by ship to explore Mediterranean Empires. This itinerary took us to the Aegean Sea, the Adriatic Sea and the Sea of Marmara to visit beautiful locations and fabulous ancient cities while enjoying the comfort of traveling on board Holland America’s newest cruise ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam.
This adventure allowed us to spend several days in northern Italy prior to our twelve day cruise. We also spent two days in Venice at the end of the cruise. We sailed as far South as Santorini, Greece and East through the Dardanelles to Istanbul and points in Asia and then back to Venice.
We chose this particular voyage for the ports of call and the opportunity to see so many places rich in history and culture. As with all of our travel, we were very interested in learning more about the local foods and cuisines in each of these destinations.
Traveling by cruise ship has become one of our preferred methods of travel outside of the United States. It offers the simplicity and ease of moving between destinations without packing and unpacking between points along the way. It eliminates much of the coordination and planning and makes your vacation less stressful while offering an ever changing view and agenda to new and exotic places. Most newer cruise ships offer luxury accommodations and specialty restaurants that make the onboard experience a memorable one. Admittedly, this is not deep immersion in to the people, places or culture of any specific place. However, it offers an opportunity to experience the essence of a region or country which may stimulate your interest for future travel destinations.
No matter how many times you board a ship, there is a real sense of excitement as you prepare to embark on a new journey. As you pull away from the dock, the deck of the ship is lined with passengers waving goodbye. The ship’s horn blows, the band plays and champagne flows while everyone stands at the rails as the embarkation port fades into the distance. We are all filled with anticipation of exciting destinations and new experiences that lie ahead.
The Nieuw Amsterdam was first launched from Venice on July 4, 2010. This ship, named after New York City (formerly called Nieuw Amsterdam), pays tribute to its namesake with its interior design and art collection. Walking down the wood paneled halls surrounded by art and artifacts, you are transported back to a more elegant time.
Beyond the ports of call of this cruise, we were also interested in the onboard culinary events. Holland America Line has partnered with Food & Wine Magazine to bring their guests The Culinary Arts Center. This state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen is host to cooking classes, chef demonstrations and wine seminars. Many of their cruises have guest chefs. There are also cocktail making classes and beer and wine tastings offered during the cruise.
The Mediterranean Empires itinerary included eight ports of call including: Venice , Italy (our embarkation and debarkation port); Kotor, Montenegro (once part of Yugoslavia); Piraeus, Greece (Athens); Istanbul, Turkey; Mykonos, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey (for the ruins in Ephesus); Santorini, Greece; and Split, Crotia.
A trip of this nature offers great opportunities for beautiful photographs as well as learning more about the food cultures in these countries. While seafood prominently appears on all menus, the spices and techniques of preparation and presentation were quite different. With each destination, our senses were heightened by the sights, smells and sounds on the streets and in the markets.
Walking through Split, Croatia to the fish market was invigorating as local fishmongers called out to customers to sell their daily catches. We marveled at the “sea creatures”, many of which we have never seen before. The beauty of the pedestrian walk with its cafés and outdoor diners enjoying their fare while overlooking the shimmering blue sea was a moment to remember.
Each day brought opportunities to explore new and exciting places. We visited historical sites, markets, enjoyed a local lunch and of course, spent time meeting and speaking with the people. We would arrive back at the ship exhausted, but energized from a full day of sightseeing and our fill of the local food and spirits.
The sail away from each port provided an opportunity for the Executive Chef and his culinary team to showcase stunning buffets with foods representative of the port we had just visited. This was often accompanied by local wines and music.
June is a very hot month in the Mediterranean. We had incredibly sunny and dry days with soaring temperatures throughout our journey. The sun tends to sap your energy, so we ate dinner and found our way back to our cabin most evenings. We were too tired for many late night activities.
The Nieuw Amsterdam offers four restaurants in addition to the Lido Restaurant, which is the casual dining option. Two of the specialty restaurants were standouts: Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind. For an elegant evening surrounded by crystal chandeliers and fine cuisine, Pinnacle Grill offers a more formal and intimate dining experience. Pinnacle Grill was also host to the Le Cirque Dinner that takes place on each Holland America cruise. Partnering with the famed maitre d’hotel turned restauranteur Sirio Maccioni, founder of Le Cirque Restaurant of New York, these evenings are a diversion from the Pinnacle’s Grill’s regular fare and offer a creative menu such as Lobster Salad “Le Cirque” and Sweet Corn Bisque.
Tamarind Restaurant, with its Asian flavors of spice and heat and colorful setting, piqued our interest many evenings. This Pan-Asian specialty restaurant and its accompanying bar, the Silk Den, are located on the uppermost deck and offer stunning panoramic views perfect for watching the sunset. The menu choices were plentiful, including sushi and sashimi. We became regulars and quickly developed a friendship with our servers.
We dined at each of the four restaurants at least twice and for those nights we were in port, we ventured out to experience a local dinner. I will share more about this in future articles.
As with all adventures, they must come to an end. This itinerary gave us the opportunity to visit far away places and experience the foods and cultures of several very different countries. While we were not completely immersed in the culture of these places, it was the perfect way to awaken our interest for future travel. We are already planning the next trip.
Over the next few months, I will be sharing much more with you on the ports of call, the people and the food as well as some of our experiences in Italy. If you have specific questions regarding this itinerary, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment or send me an email at email@example.com.
Here are two additional articles about our on board culinary experience and interview with Chef Ken Oringer of Clio in Boston, Massachusetts:
* Disclaimer – Holland America Line provided one media ticket and three dinners during the cruise. We paid for the additional cruise ticket, all port taxes and fees, transportation, additional dinners, port excursions and alcoholic beverages while on board the ship. I was not compensated in any way for this post and as always, the opinions expressed here are my own.