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01 August 2016

Joan and Tony's Latest Star Clipper Adventure - July 2016

Thursday - 14th July

Arrived in Rome, usually we would take the train from the airport direct to Rome Termini but this year we decided to arrange a private taxi transfer through our hotel. Walking into the arrivals hall our driver was waiting holding our name plaque and carrying Joan's suitcase (not mine) he escorted us to the car and just 35 minutes later we were pulling up outside our hotel. A relaxing and stress free start to our holiday and well worth the 50 Euros charge.

Once again in Rome we stayed at the three star Raffaello Hotel and were once again very impressed. This small hotel is ideally located in the centre of Rome and offers great levels of service. One great little touch added since our last visit is the guest lounge serving complimentary tea and coffee all day. Another lovely touch after checking in to our room was a knock on the door and the concierge presenting us with a chilled bottle of white wine as a thank you for returning to the hotel.

With two full days in Rome we had pre-booked a 48 hour hop on hop off bus pass with jump the queue tickets to both the Vatican and the Colosseum. After a quick change we jumped on board and, listening to the English commentary, completed the full circuit whilst planning our route and visits for the next day.

Following another change and a drink on our 5th floor balcony, our meal this evening was a simple affair at a local Italian restaurant comprising a starter of ham and buffalo mozzarella followed by spaghetti bolognese for Joan and spaghetti carbonara for me.

Friday - 15th July

After a very good and early breakfast we set off on board the hop on hop off bus for our first stop of the day at the Vatican. Arriving early the queue to enter the Vatican museum was already 2 and a half hours long! However our jump the queue ticket meant we could walk straight to the front and enter immediately. We would highly recommend that anytime you visit Rome you pre-book jump the queue tickets.

The Vatican museum is breath-taking and takes much longer to view than you expect. Definitely best to get there early. After 3 hours we left the Vatican and decided to walk along the river to Trastevere, one of the nicest areas of Rome, with quaint little streets, and squares filled with restaurants and bars.

After a drink and very light lunch we hopped back on board the bus to visit the Colosseum, again brilliantly there was no need to queue! And then back to our hotel to change for dinner. Fancying a good pizza, we asked the hotel for recommendations and were directed to a superb family owned pizzeria that still used traditional stone fired ovens. The pizzas were superb and with starters and a litre of house wine the total cost was only 48 Euros!

Saturday - 16th July

After a leisurely breakfast we walked to Rome Termini to catch a train to Civitavecchia. The train service from Rome to the port is excellent and at only 5 Euros for a 1 hour 20 minute journey, it is an incredible value for money!

Arriving in Civitavecchia at 12.30, too soon to embark the Star Flyer, we decided to have lunch at the Alta Marea, a family run seafood restaurant just opposite the station, right on the seafront. The food was amazing and if you like seafood and have some time to kill in Civitavecchia we would highly recommend that you visit this restaurant.

Leaving the restaurant it is only a short 10 minute walk along the promenade to the entrance of the port, with the sails of the Star Flyer clearly visible. Arriving independently, getting to the ship is simple. Entering the ports gates, just ahead on the right hand side is a cafe where the free shuttle busses stop. Depending on the number of cruise ships in port the shuttle will either take you direct to the Star Flyer or to the main transfer area where you will board a dedicated Star Flyer coach for transfer to the ship.  Our next Star Clipper adventure was about to begin!

We boarded and were greeted by Captain Mariusz Szalek. We were given a glass of champagne and then proceeded to the library to check in (it only took a few minutes). We then made our way to our cabin to freshen up whilst we waited for our luggage to be delivered. After dinner all guests are invited to head back up on deck for the first sail away, as always a magical experience!

Sunday - 17th July

The first full day of this cruise was spent at sea. A lovely, relaxing day and a great opportunity to make new friends as guests mingle on deck or in the bar. As well as the usual daily activities (yoga, keep fit, walk a mile), today also offered the opportunity to take part in water aerobics, learn 'how to read a sea chart' or listen to the captain's story time.

This evening, along with our fellow repeat passengers, we were invited to the captain’s cocktail party on the aft deck.

Monday - 18th July

Located at the heart of the beautiful Bay of Angels, Cagliari is quite a hilly town with lots of steps. The Star Flyer tied up so there was no need for a tender service. Cagliari has a number of interesting, winding streets filled with small shops and boutiques, and an interesting main street lined with open-air bars and restaurants. There is a large amount of work currently being undertaken to improve and pedestrianize a number of the streets.

Having already made a number of new friends we decided to enter a team into tonight's music quiz, as usual we did not win! Due in part to too much wine and too little music knowledge!

Tuesday - 19th July

After a leisurely morning on board, Star Flyer tied up right in the center of Trapani at 1 o'clock. Trapani is built on a low lying promontory, disembarking from Star Flyer a short 10 minute walk through the centre of town brings you to a number of popular beaches. The town itself is quaint with narrow streets offering a good selection of bars and restaurants (with many offering free Wi-Fi).

After dinner a group of us persuaded Peter (the on board entertainer) that it would be a good idea to have an ABBA night, he was happy to oblige. This turned into a brilliant evening with the dance floor permanently filled until Tony and a fellow guest were encouraged to try their hand at karaoke! (Note to Tony - do not sign up for talent night!!).

Wednesday - 20th July.

Luckily today the Star Flyer didn't arrive into port until lunchtime, affording us the opportunity to have a lazy morning, an opportunity appreciated by all on board!

Today's port of call is Porto Empedocle, once again Star Flyer is able to tie up in the centre of town. The cruise director did advise, during her port information talk (which she gave every day), that Porto Empedocle was not the most interesting of towns and that the main reason the Star Flyer stopped there was for the popular 'Valley of Temple's' excursion.

She was 100% correct, as strolling ashore after lunch we discovered that the town consisted of one pedestrianised main street with a number of bars and restaurants offering free Wi-Fi. Stopping for a glass of wine, the owner insisted that we sample some of his freshly baked bread, still warm. Moving on, by the third bar our little group of two had grown to a group of eight and, several glasses of wine later, Porto Empedocle had become one of our favourite little towns!

Another fabulous day that ended with a beautiful sunset!

Thursday - 21st July

Very excited this morning as today's port of call, Gozo, would be the first one of the sailing that required a tender. Anchoring offshore at 8 am, we had eight hours to enjoy this lovely little island. The port at Gozo was very small however there were numerous taxis and we negotiated a round trip fare to Victoria (the capital) for 30 Euros. 

Victoria is a quaint little town, with an attractive market square filled with bars and restaurants, and many winding streets filled with shops. The citadel has recently re-opened and the new visitors centre offers a stunning audio visual tour through the history of the island (free of charge).

We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the square, pizza, pasta, wine and water for under 40 Euros. The taxi driver returned to pick us up at the agreed time and then a tender back to the ship.

This evening’s entertainment was a very entertaining game of Mr & Mr's which we did not enter as after 34 years of marriage the risk of getting a question wrong did not seem worth taking!

Friday - 22nd July

Star Flyer sailed directly into the stunning grand harbour in Valetta and tied up alongside at 8 am for an eight hour stay in this beautiful city. A short walk from the ship brings you to the glass fronted lift which, for 1 euro, will take you up to the centre of Valetta (going down the lift is free).

Valetta has been awarded the European City of Culture for 2018 and was undoubtedly one of the highlights of this itinerary. Many pedestrian streets filled with market stalls and quaint local shops next door to famous international brands including M&S and Next.

A bonus was that our visit coincided with Malta's International Jazz Festival, so we were able to enjoy some live music whilst we ate our lunch. Sail away from Valetta is a magical experience, leaving at 4 o'clock the captain sounds the ship's horn as we pass the castle and is answered by a shot from the forts main cannon. With all sails unfurled, Conquest of Paradise playing and thousands of tourists lining the castle walls, everyone on board feels very special!

Interesting entertainment tonight as after dinner on the aft deck the 1929 movie 'Around Cape Horn' is shown.

Saturday - 23rd July

A relaxing morning onboard, before Star Flyer anchors off Giardini Naxos, the port for Taormina, at lunch time for a 6 hour stay. We have now been here many times and it is one of our favourite towns. Taormina is built on the top of a hill which offers superb views of the Star Flyer in the harbour below.  Whilst it is possible to get a local bus we would highly recommend taking a taxi to Taormina.

Taormina consists of one main pedestrianised street filled with shops, bars and restaurants and numerous narrow streets leading off. Many of the restaurants down alley ways on the right hand side have outside terraces with amazing views of the bay and Star Flyer. At the far end of the main street you will find a street to the magnificent open air theatre, originally built by the Greeks and then restructured by the Romans.

Sunday - 24th July

Today we were anchored off Lipari, one of Joan’s favourite places (every time we come here she gets a new pair of shoes). The area around the bay is reasonably flat with just a few small inclines, however, it is well worth taking the short but very steep flight of steps up to the church and museum. On reaching the top you will have stunning views down over the town and port and of course Star Flyer floating in the bay.

Tonight was Captain’s dinner, always difficult to choose between the lobster or the Fillet Mignon. A beautiful evening as always, finished with a talk from the captain and a complimentary glass of champagne.

Monday - 25th July

Star Flyer anchors off Amalfi. Amalfi is a lovely little town with very narrow streets, although scooters and cars still manage to use them. Lots of shops to explore and a good choice of open air restaurants and bars. Well worth the effort of climbing the steps to Amalfi's famous cathedral which is located right in the centre of the town.

Departing at 16.00 Star Flyer has a short journey before anchoring off Positano at 17.30. (Very exciting day today as we had two sail aways). Star Clipper sailings are extremely sociable and you never fail to meet new friends. This cruise was no exception and as Positano offered our only late night departure we suggested to a few people that it might be a good idea to have dinner ashore.  It was agreed that anyone interested would meet in the bar at 18.00 which led to a group of 14 of us boarding the tender for dinner in town.

Although there are numerous restaurants along the seafront, one of our group who had visited Positano before, suggested that if we were willing to climb a few stairs we would find a selection of restaurants with stunning views over the bay. 20 minutes and thousands of steps later 12 of us made it to the top, 2 friend’s unfortunately giving up. After a reviving glass of Prosecco, kindly paid for by the guest who suggested the climb, we all agreed that the effort was well worthwhile. A beautiful open air meal on the terrace overlooking the bay with Star Flyer clearly illuminated by her ships lights as the sunset. If you are fit and don’t mind a climb we would highly recommend the restaurant Albergo Montemare. It was thankfully much easier going down especially after a few more bottles of wine.

Sail away in darkness with all the ships lights on is a particularly magical experience.

Tuesday - 26th July

Our final full day sees Star Flyer anchor off Ponza for a short 3 hour stay. Ponza is a pretty little port with a good selection of shops, bars and restaurants surrounding the small bay.  It was a beautiful day and the captain delayed sail away for an hour to allow guests to swim in the sea off the gangways. An area was cordoned off by the sports team between the two gangways with floats put out for guests to relax on when not swimming. Final night dinner onboard is always emotional if saying goodbye to new friends doesn’t reduce Joan to tears, then watching the crew waving their national flags as they wander throughout the restaurant singing “we are the world" most certainly will.

Wednesday - 27th July

After breakfast we bid farewell to the captain, crew and new friends and sadly left Star Flyer once again. Travelling independently, from the ship to Rome is very easy and cheap. Leaving the ship, you cross the road and flag down one of the passing free shuttle buses. The bus will take you to the main transfer terminal where for 2 Euros the railway shuttle will take you direct to Civitavecchia railway station. with up to 4 trains an hour the wait will never be too long and at only 5 Euros the value is exceptional (journey time approx. 1 hour and 20 minutes). One tip ; if there are several cruise ships in port you may find that the trains can get very busy, so to guarantee a seat it is worth waiting for the second train due to depart.

Arriving in Rome we once more checked into the Raffaello for one final night before an early transfer back to the airport for our flight home.

Another amazing Star Clipper cruise is over however we have met some wonderful people (you know who you are if you are still reading this) and are already making plans for our next Clipper adventure and we hope some of you will join us on board.

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