By Janet Steinberg, Travel Editor
My recent Silversea’s Silver Whisper cruise, from Lisbon, Portugal to Southampton, England, afforded me and 291 passengers from 14 countries a chance to experience one of Europe’s most captivating and diverse itineraries often overlooked by many cruise lines.
|SILVERSEA'S SILVER WHISPER|
Returning, once again, to cruise on the all-suite Silver Whisper did not disappoint. It was like returning to a friend’s luxurious yacht, or checking in to a favorite exclusive hotel. All the great amenities I had remembered awaited me in my veranda suite… lavish Bulgari amenities…bedding of my choice...a butler who pampered me and polished my shoes while I was out exploring the world. And of course, that bottomless bottle of champagne (and all other libations), mine for the asking, as I relaxed and watched the sea caress the ship.
It was a warm feeling to return to my home upon the sea; a home where I wasn’t nickel-and-dimed for beverages; a home where I could dine when, where, and with whom I desired; and a home where no tipping was expected.
|A SILVER WHISPER WELCOME BACK|
Sailing some 1418 nautical miles, Silver Whisper sailed me from Lisbon to Oporto, Portugal; Bilbao, Spain; Bordeaux, St-Malo, and Honfleur, France, ultimately disembarking in Southampton, England.
My first Silver Whisper shore excursion of the cruise, a 30-minute drive from the port at Leixões brought me to Oporto, Portugal's second largest city. As the tour bus drove along the Avenida dos Aliados, we viewed some of the city's most impressive buildings such as the 1915 train station, the 18th century Church of Clerigos, and the austere Se Cathedral, a 12th-century Romanesque building.
Following our city orientation, we headed down to the Ribeira quarter to enjoy a boat ride on the Douro River (River of Gold). The water afforded a totally different panorama of Oporto's skyline. On the opposite bank, we visited Vila Nova de Gaia, home to the port trade and numerous wine lodges. Most of them were established in the 18th century; their brand-name port wines are known worldwide. The tour culminated with a visit to W & J Graham’s Port House with an “oportonity” to learn the process of wine making, and a tasting of their fine Port wines.
|DOURO RIVER BOAT|
After an idyllic day at sea, our next Silversea shore excursion took us to Bilbao, Spain to visit the renowned Guggenheim Museum, Enroute from the port, we passed through the industrial outskirts of Bilbao and took in the splendid view from Mount Artxanda. From there, we continued down the city's main thoroughfare, Gran Via, which reflects Bilbao's 19th-century mining and industrial prosperity.
And then, there it was! Frank Gehry’s masterpiece in flowing titanium and limestone.
|THE GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM|
The tour continued with a drive to the Old Quarter, or 'Casco Viejo', located on the right-bank of the Nervion River. During the walking tour, we saw the 14th-century Gothic Cathedral, Arriaga Theatre, Plaza Nueva and the Bilbao Ria, which separates the old and new cities. Before returning to the port, the tour culminated with tapas (Spanish appetizers) and drinks at the Café Kiosko del Arenal.
Our next two days were spent docked in Bordeaux, France. On the first day, we opted for a Silver Whisper shore excursion that offered a panoramic view of Bordeaux and a visit to a winery that included a wine tasting. On day two, Silversea’s shore excursions offered a chance to visit the UNESCO village of St. Emilion or just explore the beautiful city of Bordeaux. But more about Bordeaux in a later article.
|OLD TOWN CLOCK/BELL TOWER|
On the 8th day of our cruise, Silver Whisper anchored at Brittany’s charming French town of Saint Malo. From there, her passengers could opt for a 45-minute drive to the Emerald Coast and the town of Cancale for a crash course in oyster farming.
|THE FRESHEST OF OYSTERS IN CANCALE|
Or they could choose the 1.5-hour scenic drive to Mont St. Michel. Mont St. Michel, (“Wonder of the Western World”) perched on a rocky pinnacle in Mont St. Michel Bay, was officially inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Joined to land by a causeway, this 13 th century Gothic Benedictine Abbey is one of the most visited sites in France.
In 2011, a state of the art dam was completed on the Couesnon River as part of a 10-year plan to rid the river channel of sediment and allow the water to once again flow freely around the mount. From the new 2012 Visitors Center near the dam, visitors can walk, shuttle, or ride a horse-drawn carriage, to the mount.
A climb of 365 steps will take you from the cobbled, convoluted streets to the base of the Abbey. If you wish to visit the interior of the Abbey, prepare to walk up another 197 steps. Not a trip for the faint of heart (or body) but an incredible site for those who take the excursion.
In the village, at the base of the Mont, you must partake in its culinary specialty…a light and frothy, overpriced omelet, La Mere Poulard is the most famous, and most expensive eatery, in which you can taste a Mont St. Michel omelet. The cooking of their world-renowned omelets is a big production enacted in the restaurant’s front window.
The following day in Normandy, Silver Whisper docked at Honfleur for a shore excursion that enabled us to relive one of the most historic events of World War II. Departing the pier in Honfleur, we drove to the small seaside town of Arromanches via the D-Day landing beaches of Sword, Juno and Gold. In Arromanches, we visited the Invasion Museum, dedicated to the largest landing operation in history…the June 6, 1944 invasion when the Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to attack the German lines. During our visit, we saw films and models that re-created the entire operation along the D-Day beaches.
After a typical French lunch at La Chenevière, a historic chateau located near Omaha Beach, we visited Colleville-sur-Mer, site of the American Cemetery.
The majority of the nearly 10,000 American soldiers killed at Omaha Beach are buried in this 170-acre cemetery on land given to the United States by France as a token of her gratitude. Here, 9,386 marble crosses and Stars of David are aligned on a plateau above the beach. A memorial contains the Tablets of the Missing, and a map outlines the battle sites of the Normandy beaches.
A Silver Whisper passenger laid a wreath at the base of the memorial, Taps was played over the loud speaker, and hundreds of visitors from all over the world stood with hand over heart as the Americans sang the Star Spangled Banner. At the gravesite of Pvt. Raymond Baumgard, my husband recited the Mourner’s Kaddish to memorialize the sacrifice that this young Ohio soldier (whom he had never met) made for our country.
|THE AMERICAN CEMETERY IN NORMANDY|
Ah yes…travel truly is the bitter with the sweet.
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer, International Travel Consultant, and winner of 38 national Travel Writing Awards.