‘Africa & Mediterranean Grand Voyage’ with HAL

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 56 of the October 2011 issue.

(Second of two parts)

Last month I began describing the “Africa & Mediterranean Grand Voyage” that my wife, Flory, and I took with Holland America Line (Seattle, WA; 877/932-4259) in 2011. I continue my travelogue.

Kotor, Montenegro

On April 12 we docked in Kotor, a dazzling Mediterranean town, with many of its gorgeous white villas along the coast reflecting the sunlight and others perched higher up on the tall, gray, craggy mountainside.

Kotor is in one of Europe’s smallest countries, Montenegro, which has 600,000 inhabitants and became independent in 2006. The country’s breathtaking natural beauty plus watersports, hiking and mountaineering all close together make it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Small as it is, Montenegro has four national parks.

Our tour bus took us from sea level on a smoothly paved but perilously narrow, constantly twisting mountain road to the top at 7,000 feet, from where we had a bird’s-eye view of the Bay of Kotor with its spectacular Venetian coastal towns and its azure Adriatic waters.

Upon descending, we passed many attractive villages with appealing, red-tile-roofed houses. One village, Njegus˘i, although having only 50 inhabitants, still had 14 churches — a nostalgic memory of a time when the town had a larger population.

Venice, Italy

On April 14 and 15 the ship docked in Venice, historically the capital of the Venetian Republic and one of our favorite cities. Because of its beauty and its elegant artistic cultural tradition, it became, in the 19th century, one of the most fashionable tourist destinations in the world.

Today, its many attractions include the Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Grand Canal and the Lido di Venezia.

Venice is situated on 117 islands formed by 177 canals between the mouths of the Po and Piave rivers. The islands are connected by 409 bridges. In the city’s center, you can get around only by boat or by walking.

The renowned Grand Canal winds through the city from northwest to southeast, and if you can’t see the city on foot, you can take an inexpensive tour on the public, wheelchair-accessible Vaporetto 1, a water bus that serves all the stops along the Grand Canal and ends at the Lido.

Traveling the whole route takes about an hour one way and provides a wonderful view of a charming part of Venice.

Ravenna, Italy

On April 16 we docked in Ravenna in northern Italy. The city is famous for its buildings dating from the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries and for the mosaics that decorate many of the interiors.

The ship’s shuttle bus, which provided transportation into the center of town, traversed a delightful pastoral landscape with tree-lined roads, huge expanses of water and immaculate homes.

Alexandria, Egypt

Three days later we docked in Mediterranean Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city.

Our three tour buses lined up in a convoy with police escorts in front and back and a separate security officer inside each bus. Besides this, lookouts guarded the roofs of the buildings in the port area. This system has been in effect for a number of years, ever since tour buses were attacked by bandits.

Our ride took us along the 22-kilometer coastal highway, which was lined with ancient shopping areas and modern outdoor cafés and provided a lovely view of the Mediterranean coast.

After passing several fishing ports, we entered a garden in which Mubarak had owned two palaces and which could be visited by commoners only after the February 2011 revolution.

According to our guide, the tiny Jewish community of about 100 people is still very active, although it is much smaller (it has only one synagogue) than it was before the wars with Israel, when 10,000 Jews lived in Alexandria and congregated in 17 synagogues.

Port Said, Egypt

On April 20 we docked in Port Said, Egypt, at the entrance of the Suez Canal. I left the ship to buy antibiotics in a pharmacy and, despite the fact that the ship was surrounded by a high security fence and was chock-full of sentries, nobody checked my credentials.

Unfortunately, the pharmacy assistant was having difficulty finding the medication. Having had previous experience with the chaotic storage of medications in many third-world pharmacies, I joined the lady in her quest for my pills, and 10 minutes later I left the pharmacy with the antibiotics in my pocket.

On my way back to the ship, I was faced with crossing a previously quiet street now filled with a stream of incessantly honking and speeding cars. I wondered if a revolution was brewing in Port Said.

How could I ever cross that street? I inched forward in between the rows of speeding cars, held up my hand (like a policeman telling people to stop) and, low and behold, the cars stopped until I had finished traversing the road. Still mindful that there might be a revolution, I rushed back to the ship, where I found out that there had been no uprising, after all.


During the next two days the Prinsendam stayed in different destinations in Greece. Our first day was spent in Athens. Its outstanding monument is the Acropolis, a flat hilly area from which the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, overlooks the city.

The next day we moored in Katakolon, at the western edge of Greece’s Peloponnese Peninsula. The big attraction of Katakolon is nearby Olympia, where the first Olympic Games took place in 776 BC and where the ruins of temples and other buildings still can be viewed.

In ancient times, the Games were so sacred that even war was suspended during the competitions. The winners were hailed as heroes and assured of immortality.

The flame of the present-day Games is lit in Olympia, which is accomplished by reflecting sunlight from a mirror.

Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Our last landfall on this cruise was at Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira. Flory and I had visited this wonderfully scenic island about 10 years before.

Our first view of Funchal was as we remembered it, with lights flickering all over the mountainsides while the ship was mooring in the dark. After the sun came up, the majestic Madeiran peaks slowly seemed to rise out of the blue mist.

A mild climate plus colorful flowers, spectacular waterfalls and unforgettable scenic overlooks make this island a magic resort, a place we definitely want to revisit, despite the fact that on our last visit we were robbed after stopping at an overlook.

Besides its scenery, Madeira is famous for its wines and its lace. On our last visit, we visited a workshop where women were making magnificent lace tablecloths, runners and doilies.

While the island is only 35 miles long and 13 miles wide at its widest point, travel times there are much longer than you might think, since narrow roads climb and drop precipitously from one ravine to the next.


On this cruise, our fondest memories were of Cape Verde, Montenegro, Venice and Funchal.

I highly praise Holland America Line and its personnel for a superbly executed and most pleasant cruise, which I highly recommend to all travelers.

I also wish to thank Holland America Line for the amenities provided during our cruise.