NCL Gem Cruise into the Adriatic

The short but sweet 5-day cruise took us from Venice, Italy (actually Trieste) down the Adriatic Sea into countries to the east of Italy; like Croatia, Montenegro, and Greece. As per my previous blog we had spent a few nights in Venice and made the 2-hour train ride to Trieste to catch our cruise ship, the Norwegian Gem. The actual train ride was cheap and probably the easiest way to make your way to Trieste for any cruise ship departure at only 15 euros per person. It was a pleasant ride with about a dozen stops along the way arriving on time as scheduled.

I had heard that our cruise ship would only be a short 10-minute walk from the train station but we decided to just catch a taxi anyway and I was sure glad we did! Yes, it was a short distance for certain ships that had docked nearby, but ours was actually 2 kilometers to the south of town at another set of piers. Good thing our taxi driver knew this and he got us to exactly where we needed to be, right at the luggage drop-off area. The check-in process was quick with the “gatekeeper” checking your covid tests, vaccination cards, boarding pass, passports, etc. before you could move on to the actual check-in desk where they scan your passport, take a photo, and give you your key card for entrance and access to the ship. There was the obligatory photo op and security screening, and within 30 minutes you were onboard!

As usual, we make our way to the cabin to drop off my carry-on luggage and get a feel for the location. Then it is time for our first beverages and lunch. After lunch and since this was my first cruise at the platinum level with NCL I received 2 more specialty dinners coupons for 2, we headed to make the reservations for those and confirm the others I had made in advance. Then time to explore the ship and a few more beverages along the way. We then still had time to unpack before the departure time of 5pm, as our luggage was already at the cabin door. I have liked cruising these last few months because the ship’s capacity has been lower. Not sure if they are per plans or just the way it is for now? But I like it! This cruise has about 1500 passengers with a capacity of about 3000, so 50% full is going to be nice for us.

No sea days on this short cruise and we dock the next afternoon in Kotor, Montenegro, heading out to a tour thereafter. Tenders are being used here because there is no large dock to accommodate cruise ships and we get ashore at about 3pm to start our tour called Kotor, Perast, & Our Lady of the Rocks Church. I know many people do not like ship tours, but with the $50 shore excursion credit and the security of never missing the ship’s departure; I have started to find solace in them. Especially in new ports where I am not at all familiar with the sights to see.

Entering the Bay of Kotor with the Dalmatian Mountains above the cities

A short bus ride through Kotor and to Perast we disembark and walk the rest of the way down towards the village of Perast. Perast is an old town in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, and has roots back in the neolithic period 12,000 years ago with it being known as a fishing village in the 1300s. Subsequently, it was ruled by the Venetian Empire, French Empire, and Austrian Empire and eventually became a part of Yugoslavia before gaining independence in 2006. It is very quaint and from what I can see first-class hotels location. I am seeing private golf carts, top-end luggage, and butlers to boot! I decide to take a few photos of these seaside hotel signs to research later what I assumed…….. these are 400-550 euros per night places! We visit the small church in the village known as St. Nicholas Church from the 17th century and remember St. Nicholas as the saint most associated with Christmas and Santa Claus because of his gift-giving generosity.

Short walk back to the shuttle boats to take us to the island where the Lady of the Rocks Church is located. This famous church was constructed upon an artificial island that was built with rocks and 100s of old ships sunken with rocks. The legend has it that some fishermen had found a picture of the Madonna and Child in the waters here in 1452 and after each successful return they would drop another rock in tribute to her, so over time, an islet appeared here. Then they decided to create a real island and build a church in tribute. It has an interesting set of silver votive tablets around the inside of the church that fishermen had created over time in tribute. Definitely worth a visit!

Our next day takes us about midday to Corfu, Greece for our next port of call. We had decided to do the Hop On Hop Off tour taking us all around the area of Corfu from the Old Port to Mon Repos Palace and back. We get off along the way at various locations including a small dock area where stairs lead you into the clear cool waters of the Adriatic to cool you off from this hot sunny day! Near the end, we do some family souvenirs shopping and a pound of fresh big cherries for a snack.

Day 3 is the highlight of the cruise with the stop in Dubrovnik, Croatia. This old walled city dates back to the 7th century and is very famous as a tourist destination and designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. Occupied by the Venetians at its inception one sees the Venetian touches similar to Venice in the architecture. Originally built with multitudes of balconies, which the earthquake in 1667 destroyed; there are very few left today because they were no longer allowed. Then under Napoleon’s French rule, Austrian rule in the 19th and 20th centuries, only to become a part of Yugoslavia during World War II. After a fight for independence in 1991, it finally became the central city of Croatia. The unique walled old city with no vehicle traffic is the highlight of Dubrovnik. Our tour takes us by bus around to the top of the city for a view of the Croatian Riviera with a snack and wine stop at Winery Brajkovic. Croatia is the country where Zinfandel originally came from via plantings taken to California’s Napa Valley. We finish the day walking around inside the walls of the old city. One can see why the Netflix series “Game of Thrones” chose this area for their filming, with so much history and unique architecture!

As we continue to the next port of call; Split, Croatia we planned on taking a tour of the seaside villages of Sibenik and Trogir first and then ending up in Split another walled city. The highlight is the upper views of the Dalmatian mountains as we have to cross a portion to get to Sibenik which is another historic city where the Krka River flows into the Adriatic. We walk along the boardwalk marina area where we see several interesting sailboats and yachts to end up at the Cathedral St. Jacob. Taking over 100 years to construct it was made entirely from stone and considered one of the largest such churches in the world. Sibenik boasts not only one but two UNESCO World Heritage sites; one of only 5 cities in the world to do so! The Fortress of St Nicholas is the other, at the entrance to the St. Anthony Channel. The Cathedral was one of the first times that human figures were used on the facade and you can see that it was a learning experience with different sizes of each as well as some disproportionate sizes.

After long walk and short visit of Sibenik we head back via the bus towards Split with a stop in Trogir. Another UNESCO World Heritage site for its Venetian architecture in the center of town. It is a very cute and private entry bay to the Adriatic side of the city’s marina. This whole area along the coasts boasts over 249 islands for endless uninhabited getaway beaches, perfect for your privacy and seclusion.

We finish our tour back in Split, Croatia where we see the oldest parts of Croatia. Split’s history goes back to the 2nd or 3rd century BC and has a palace built for the Roman emperor and became a Byzantine city. Later it was inhabited by the Venetians as well, then the French, and then the Germans during World War II. Just like Dubrovnik, it became part of Yugoslavia and eventually the free nation of Croatia in 1991.

Our final day takes us back to Trieste, Italy and we decide to take the tour that goes around Trieste, with a stop in Muggia and finally back to the airport in Venice. In Trieste, we head up to the highest point and see the overview of the city and visit the Cattedrale di San Giusto Martire. It was originally built in the 6th century and dedicated to Saint Justus, soon to be destroyed during an invasion. It was subsequently rebuilt as 2 churches between the 9th and 11th centuries and then rejoined as one by removing its naves in the 14th century as we see it today. The Venetian tiles inside remind me of the constant Venetian architectural influences here.

We planned to spend one more night in Venice, Italy so getting back to the airport was the best way to catch the water boat busses back to the Gugli stop. Our hotel this time was nearer to the train station and was called the Venice Times Hotel. A very nice B&B with breakfast included in a small outdoor garden area; it was nice to sit outside in the morning. That day and evening we bid our farewell to Venice by eating twice at the Grand Canal side restaurant Ristorante Roma, near the Ponte degli Scalzi with a picture-perfect Grand Canal view!


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