Cruising has become a popular pastime among Israelis. During 2012, approximately 100,000 Israelis took a holiday on the waves. Half of them did so on ships operated by local companies sailing from local ports; the rest took cruises on vessels sailing from ports in Italy and Greece, the North Sea and the Caribbean.
Taking a cruise is very enjoyable because it enables one to visit a number of countries without having to rush through the corresponding number of airports. Dispensing with the need to go through an airport is one of the advantages Israelis have of taking a cruise from a local port. In the past, locals could board Greek cruise ships in Haifa or Ashdod. Greek cruise companies such as Royal Olympic Cruises included Israel on their itineraries, and holidaymakers could embark and disembark at Israeli ports.
Currently, the only cruise company that takes on Israeli passengers is Mano Cruises, a local operator that owns two ships, Golden Iris and Royal Iris. Mano operates cruises on the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the Aegean seas.
I took an Adriatic cruise recently, visiting ports that were more or less a reminder of the glories of the thalassocratic states, such as Ragusa (Dubrovnik), Ancona, Kotor and Venice. These were wealthy states whose livelihood was based on the sea, ports with large commercial ﬂeets that thrived on sea trade.
As they were very wealthy, they constructed magniﬁcent public buildings. These were states with very little land territory. For them, everything came from the sea.
The Adriatic cruise I took was a 12-day holiday on the Golden Iris, the 17,000-ton, 400-cabin ﬂagship of Mano Cruises.
Spring, late March, April, May or autumn are the best times to take such a cruise, as the weather is nice and cool. In the summer, the Adriatic Sea can be very hot and humid.
Furthermore, in late spring and autumn, the major tourist spots around the Adriatic are not crowded.
After boarding the ship, the ﬁrst hours are very important because that is when passengers reserve a table for meals for the entire cruise. Meals are an important element on any cruise. They last quite a while, so the choice of table partners is important.
Dinner lasts from an hour to 90 minutes, so one should try to choose a table with interesting tablemates. Choosing a ﬁrst or second sitting is also important. The dining room is not large enough to accommodate all the passengers in one go. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style on deck or in the dining room, but dinner is a more formal affair. It is served in the dining room in two sittings. The ﬁrst is at 7 p.m. and the second is at 9.
On a long cruise – ﬁve days or more – the second day out is one of relaxation and exploring the ship. There are no ports of call that day. The Golden Iris has a large outdoor pool, but taking a dip on a cold March morning can be challenging, so I preferred sitting on a deck chair soaking up the sun and reading a book.
The ﬁrst port of call on the Adriatic was Chania on the Greek island of Crete. The Venetians ruled Crete from the 13th to the 17th centuries, and Chania was their seat of government. It remained the capital of Crete during the Ottoman period and during the brief period of its semi-independence.
Many of the ﬁne buildings in the city are the embassies and consulates built by the great powers during that period.
The second port of call was Corfu. A large Greek island at the entrance to the Adriatic, it is saturated with history and was one of the strong points of the old Venetian commercial empire. This is evident with the many strategic locations across the island, which helped repel several Turkish sieges.
In 2007, Corfu’s old city was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From Corfu, the ship sailed for one complete day to Venice, where the ship remained for 12 hours. This may not seem like very long for such a historic city, but it was enough. The area of Venice is very small. If one plans well, one can see most of the places of interest in a single day. My suggestion is to do it on foot. Venice is made up of many islands connected by canals.
But there are sidewalks along many of the canals, bridges link the various islands; and on the islands themselves, there are narrow streets and alleys. On foot, one can better take in the character of the place.
But I would also suggest a trip by gondola through the Grand Canal.
A tour of Venice should include a visit to the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica and its historic piazza, the Palazzo Pisani-Moretta complex of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and the island of Murano, home of the famous Murano glass.
Another must-see is the Jewish Quarter.
It has six synagogues with modest exteriors but palatial interiors. The quarter is divided into three: the Ghetto Vecchio, the Ghetto Nuovo and the Ghetto Nuovissimo. As the community grew and prospered, the Jewish Quarter was enlarged and the buildings became more lavish.
The six synagogues represent the different ethnic groups: the Grande Tedesci (Great German) for the northern Ashkenazim; the Canton for Ashkenazim from France, mainly Alsace; the Grande Spagnola for the Spanish and Portuguese; the Italiani for the Italian Jews; the Levantina for the Jewish merchants from Muslim countries, mainly the Turkish empire; and the Luzzatto Synagogue, the second synagogue of the Italian Jews.
The next port of call was Dubrovnik, or Ragusa of old. Like Corfu, the old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because it is one of the world’s most well-preserved medieval cities, Dubrovnik has many buildings from that period. The circular wall enclosing the old medieval city is more than three miles long. The city is now part of Croatia, but in its heyday it was an Italian maritime city state. It never attained the prominence of Venice, but in the 13th century Ragusa came close to rivaling Venice as the premier commercial depot in the Adriatic.
During much of their history, Ragusa and Venice were commercial rivals, but they shared the same fate – their independence was ended in 1806 when Napoleon included them in his kingdom of Italy. With the fall of the Napoleonic Empire, they became part of the Austrian Empire. With the fall of the Austrian Empire, Ragusa became part of Yugoslavia and was renamed Dubrovnik, while Venice became part of Italy.
The next port of call was the old Adriatic port of Kotor. It is surrounded by thick walls built during the Venetian period. It has a very well-preserved medieval town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The last port of call was Agia Nikolaos. A resort town on the island of Crete, it is the only place on the itinerary with no historical connection to Venice.