Uncharted Mediterranean – with TCS
It seems a long time ago that I was approached to be the ‘lecturer/expert’ on this very special tour of the islands of the Mediterranean. And with all the paperwork, forms and emails etc I was a little anxious about the whole enterprise. But with the World Cruise completed (131 days – 80 performances), and the Arctic Quest cruise only just finished (77 days and 35 performances), I made the most of the four days gap I had at home in Spain, to do laundry, repack and head for Malaga airport again for the short hop to Barcelona. It didn’t start so well! I had been told a car would be there for me…but, no car! A phone call to the destination hotel and I was told to get a taxi. I did. On arrival at the very nice hotel, El Palace, I found the TCS welcome team had gone for lunch. So I ambled down the streets of Barcelona to a small restaurant and filled up with some delicious mussels, chips and a beer. Back at the hotel the welcome could not have been warmer and I was given all sorts of stuff – name badges, lists of guests, programme details and a wheelie bag with all sort of useful items!
A gala dinner that night allowed me to introduce myself formally to the 28 guests on the tour, and to meet some more personally. Many already knew each other from previous TCS trips.
And so the routine started. The luggage is collected directly from the room and you don’t see it until you reach your next room. Small buses convey the guests to the airport and once there entrance is generally achieved through some ‘backdoor’ building, of the type reserved for those travelling incognito – I presumed this was where Lionel Messi and the rest of the Barcelona Football Club effect their flights to away games. The whole operation is slick and very select.
The private jet is commodious with a staff of about 4 flight attendants and a ‘chef’. My seat was of business class standard (despite having been told I was in ‘economy’!) Drinks and food are served in abundance – and quite speedily, as we rarely had a flight of more than 90 minutes. The ‘staff team’ sat at the rear – Eszter, from Budapest, the group leader, Ester from Portugal/Florida, second in command, Dan, the tour Doctor from Arizona, and me.
At each stop we experienced no problems with passport or immigration control, our bags were whisked away, and we were escorted by local ‘support’ guides to small buses for our onward journey to the next luxury hotel, lunch stop or tour.
At 10 am on the first full day I was boarding the jet in Barcelona , and at 12 I was being guided around the cathedral in Palma de Majorca!
Briefly the itinerary and highlights were as follows, we had two nights in all of the hotels, except in Sicily, where we had three:-
Majorca – to the Belmond La Residencia Hotel, a gala dinner with live guitar music, and the next day was a tour to Valldemossa with a short Chopin concert.(I did a talk on the History of the Mediterranean)
Corsica – Casadelmar Hotel, the day started with a rather long wasted journey to the town of Sertin, but it filled in time. The hotel had lovely views of the sea and Porto Vecchio, a BBQ by the water, and a tour of Bonifacio, with a choir singing in a ruined church followed by a private boat trip along the cliffs and caves of this amazing coastline. (A talk on the Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte)
Malta – the Phoenicia Hotel, with a tour of M’Dina and a gala dinner in a Royal Palace, with transport there in vintage cars, and of course, a string quartet playing throughout the meal. ( a talk on the Three Great sieges of Malta)
Cyprus – The Four Seasons Hotel, and a tour of Pafos and its mosaics and lunch on the waterfront. A dinner at the home and gallery of a locally famous sculptor and artist involved a beautiful setting with far too much food , but several guests bought pieces from the artist at around $2000 each!(a talk on The Crusades)
Crete – on arrival we were taken into the hills for a village experience including a lunch in the village square with live Cretan music (of course) and then by helicopter (5 at a time) over the hills and mountains to the Blue Palace Hotel on the side of the hill over looking Spinalonga Island and the village of Plaka. A tour of Knossos, a cocktail cruise around the bay and a meal on the waterfront at Plaka with live music (including a few songs from me!!)
Bodrum, Turkey. To the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (a room so big I’m not sure I saw it all in my two days there!) The obligatory tour of Ephesus, and a lovely gullet cruise in Bodrum bay to the castle for a meal in the castle courtyard (with live music). (A builder’s crane nearby had been fitted with a big spotlight and it was swung over the yard to illuminate the dinner!)
Sicily – The Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo in Taomina. An evening tour of the Greco/Romano theatre and a gala dinner preceded by the usual cocktails, and for entertainment? Three tenors arrived! (a talk on the history of Sicily). A ‘trek’ tour into the foothills of Etna and a ‘rest day’ but an extra talk as voted in by the guests – ‘Gaudi’ in anticipation of our return to Barcelona.
Sardinia – Hotel Castello Forte Village Resort. A tour of the city of Cagliari, it’s museum and back streets and the next day a tour to the ancient ruins of the Nuragic civilisation and an excellent ‘farmhouse’ lunch. Both evenings were free to dine in the hotel restaurants.
Barcelona – a return to the Palace hotel. A tour of the Sagrada Familia and dinner in the first Gaudi ‘house’ Casa Vicens. This was a ‘first’ for me, as I performed some songs (with a rented guitar) at the cocktail reception – first time performing in a Gaudi house that is! The evening ended with a tenor and a soprano singing 4 songs, with piano accompaniment……but the guests wanted another song from me!
And so back to reality, back to Malaga, shopping and laundry.
A taxi to the airport and the usual check-in…no premier treatment this time!
My overall impression is good. The speed of the tour is the major factor I think. With the private jet the transport is swift and slick, on the whole the hotels were of excellent quality and most of the tours were good, especially in respect to the size of the group, rarely more than 8 or 10 in a guided party. Meals were of high quality also, and each stop had some ‘extra’ arranged – a choir, live music, singers etc. Comments around focussed on how the group had engaged with each other, no factions or cliques and no health problems – in fact my travelling companion, the doctor, had almost nothing to do except find a band-aid for a grazed knee!
Coming so soon after the long cruises I feel was not too good for me, and maybe my energy levels were down a bit, but I gave it my best shot…it remains to be seen what happens next!
For me, it’s going home, filling up the hot tub and taking it easy for a while with less food, and less alcohol.!