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Corsica Education From The Diadema


AJACCIO, Corsica — The Costa Diadema is responsible for educating. A vehicle of learning. This newest ship in the Costa Cruises fleet of 15 regularly drops passengers off for a day in Ajaccio, a pretty town on the island of Corsica.

That’s where the education starts?

Among the things we didn’t know until getting off the Diadema:

• It is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, behind Sardinia and Sicily (although we probably could have discovered that by studying a map).

• Unlike the other two, it belongs to France…not Italy.

•  Everything that isn’t named Napoleon is named Bonaparte, or so it seems, in honor of its  most-famous son and the large house where he was born has become, as expected, a tourist attraction.

• Corsicans still don’t like the sea that surrounds them because they associate it with invaders (including malaria-carrying mosquitoes) even though none of them exist today.

• The man Corsicans regard as their greatest hero is Pasquale Paoli, the highly educated leader who was defeated by Napoleon, who wrote the island’s constitution and who was far ahead of his time in demanding equality for all, at a time when women were regarded as unequal.

• People came from all over the world to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s birth in 1969 and they ran out of beer — by 10:30 that morning!

Ajaccio-2Corsica today is mostly French and Italian, as you might expect, in what has for centuries been an uneasy relationship. It’s also divided between north and south, by mountains, and that relationship is regarded as “competitive” today. It’s only 50 miles from Italy and its second language (Corsican) is more Italian than French.

Ajaccio is in the south, the capital of the south, and it’s clear that — 200 years after his death — Napoleon is still an industry in the town where he was born but spent less than 10 years of his life. The statue of the famous French emperor is an exact replica of the one over his gravesite in Paris and a regular tourist stop for anyone who comes here on a cruise or a plane.

More and more Europeans are flying in to experience Corsica’s pristine and rugged geography. Green with pine forests, it’s called Ile de Beaute (which requires no translation) and its interior is a magnet for adventure tourists. Complementing that are sandy, unpolluted beaches all the way around the island, and going from the sea to the interior can take longer than it takes to fly to Switzerland.

Approximately 100 miles by 50 miles, Corsica is home to 300,000 residents, and many come from elsewhere. Our guide, Rollie Lucarotti, and her husband boarded their boat in England, sailed here 43 years ago and Ajaccio-Rollienever left. The first book written about Corsica was penned by a Scottish spinster, Thomasina Campbell, after she toured the island on a cart pulled by a pony, and her pockets were deep enough to build a church and a mansion on what is now Rue Miss Campbell.

Besides spectacular scenery and its ability to remain in something of a time capsule geographically, Corsica is also known for its perfume. Legend has it that the perfume is so unique that Napoleon could recognize the island with his eyes closed just by inhaling it.

Just one more nugget of information about Corsica, thanks to a 3,600-passenger vehicle of learning.

Ajaccio-6Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
May 10, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $439
Cost per day: $62

Cruising to Beaches of Normandy


Nowadays, most of us don't remember World War II. It's a horror story told to us in books, or movies or if we were fortunate (bold) enough to ask in conversations with fathers or uncles or older friends who saw it first hand.

One of the things they would all say is: "Never forget."

Next June is the 70th anniversary of the Allies' landings on the coast of Normandy, in northern France. To commemorate it and to honor those who fought, whether they came home or not, the D-Day Cruise will take passengers to spend a week on the coast. A couple of years ago, we had part of a day in a rental car in Normandy.

It wasn't nearly enough. 

The cruise is on the Silver Cloud. That means there is room for only 296 passengers. One of them will be Tom Brokaw, author of the book The Greatest Generation, which paid tribute to many of our predecessors. There are four other storytellers or historians going on this Silversea cruise, including Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson.

Five of the seven nights will be in Caen. More specifically, in Caen's harbor, making it the pick-up and drop-off point for daily tours to the beaches of Normandy. There are museums, battlefields, churches, memorials and — on the historic 6th of June — participation in 70th anniversary ceremonies at Omaha Beach.

On our brief visit, we spent hours at one of the museums.

It wasn't nearly enough.

Carnival Legend
12 nights
September 1, 2013
London (return): Alesund, Bergen, Stavanger, Oslo, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, Paris
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $58

Norwegian Ship Hot Topic Again


Rightly or wrongly, today we feel a need to come to the defense of a ship we love (Norwegian Epic) and a country we love (France).

The Epic was built in France three years ago. Among the ship's crosses-to-bear, and there were many, was that three fires broke out during construction. Nobody came right out and said so, but there was a sense the Epic's problems began when Norwegian decided to built its 11th ship in France. Most cruise ships are built in Germany and Italy.

Yesterday, a fire broke out on Norwegian's Getaway, which next year will become the line's 13th and finest ship. Is anybody superstitious about 13?

The effect of the fire was minimized almost as quickly as the "blaze" was extinguished. It was made to sound minor, but was major enough for there to be "significant smoke formation" and for the fire department to be called and for all shipyard visitors to be evacuated.

One more thing…

The Getaway's being built in Germany.

Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas
18 nights
April 24, 2013
Sydney, Noumea, Ile des Pins, Port-Vila, Suva, Apia, Pago Pago, Lahaina, Honolulu
Inside: $1,085
Cost per day: $60


Personal Touch to Transatlantic Cruise

Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on the Celebrity Eclipse, which arrived in Southampton early this morning, allowed us to do something special. No, not the wedding — our invitation never did arrive. The re-positioning cruise allowed us to take a ship “overseas” as both our fathers did almost 70 years ago, when they left home to help the free world stop a madman from Germany in what was already World War II.

Somehow, we don’t think our Dads crossed the ocean in anything remotely resembling the palatial vessel that is the Eclipse. They certainly weren’t sitting in a breakfast buffet 13 stories above the water wondering what kind of croissant to have with their coffee in the morning, and we can only guess they could likely feel every whitecap hitting the hull that encased their cramped sleeping quarters.

Yesterday, to get a small idea of what awaited them “overseas”, we headed for the beaches of Normandy when the Eclipse docked at Cherbourg, France even though we don’t know if either of them had ever been there. We do know that they were in the Canadian Army, and that there is a memorial saluting Canadian troops at Juno Beach, so named only because that was the code name Allied troops used on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

The Juno Beach Centre was the brainchild of families of the 45,000 Canadian soldiers who died — many in Normandy, is a non-profit facility and is staffed by young Canadians in four-month shifts. Without Juno Beach, the now-pretty town of Courselles-sur-Mer wouldn’t have a pseudonym and people like us wouldn’t make the trek from 90 minutes away to try to remember.

Of the many fascinating and intriguing stories and artifacts, one really caught our attention.

It was about a man and a tank. To the best of our knowledge, there’s never been a movie made about Mac Dixon and The Bold but maybe there should be, because in his native land he remains something of an unknown soldier.

He was on the amphibious tank when it was hit by German fire and sank before reaching Juno Beach early that morning. Once The Bold filled with water he was able to escape, and be picked up by a vessel retrieving soldiers like him. However, that boat was also sunk by heavy artillery.

Nobody’s quite sure how, but Mac made it to the beach, where he picked up a German rifle and joined the fight with the Canadian infantry. Three months later, he was wounded in action somewhere else and hospitalized for two months. Upon his release, he jumped back into action in Holland and Belgium, returning home after the war ended about four months later.

After the war, The Bold was pulled up on the beach and today (above) it sits in the heart of Courselles-sur-Mer. While it lives in perpetuity, Mac ran out of lives, as everybody does, and died…55 years later.

Better Chance to Avoid Dying Abroad

The front-page news in yesterday’s edition of USA Today was “Traveling abroad’s top risk: Roads” with a subhead that read “One American dies every 36 hours.”

The story is that traffic accidents are the No. 1 killer of healthy Americans traveling abroad…in other words, deaths not attributed to natural causes.

There is a (partial) solution. Travel abroad on a cruise ship. We don’t have the statistics to verify this, but it’s a fairly safe assumption that 1,820 Americans did not die on cruises to foreign countries since January 1, 2003, the date the study began.

Driving abroad can be hazardous, for a number of reasons. One is that in some countries they drive on the “wrong” side of the road. Hello there, England. That means the driver is on the “wrong” side of the car and the gear shift is on the “wrong” side of the driver. Another is it’s easy to get lost and confused, especially if English is not the first language.

And yes, cruise-ship passengers have been known to rent cars (guilty as charged) in foreign countries, so being on a ship doesn’t automatically mean you won’t be susceptible to a car accident, in a vehicle or on foot.

It reminds us of the first and only Dunn family European Vacation. We spent nine days driving around France, where the car, driver and gear shift are all okay. We left Nice (Monaco) bound for Grenoble. In a town called Digne, there was a festival…and a detour…and we made a wrong turn.

Once the map told us where we were, the road led to Lambert. It was two lanes paved at first, and eventually one lane gravel. It went up…and up…and up. It twisted and turned. Finally the driver said: “I can’t go any further.” By then, the road was too narrow for a U-turn.

On the left was a rock face. On the right, down…down…down, and no guard rail.

Turning the wheel, the driver inched the car back and forth, back and forth, until it had finally made a 180 and was pointed down the mountain, back to Digne. It was almost dark, and NOBODY knew where we were. A family of five could have become traveling-abroad statistics that evening, if we’d ever been found.

We never did find Lambert. We did find we liked cruising better.

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