Getting to Europe the old-fashioned way

We took slow travel to a new level as we spent 21 days travelling by ship from Santos, Brazil to Venice, Italy.  Along the way, we stopped at six ports of call in Brazil and five ports of call in Europe.  We spent a total of nine days at sea of which five were consecutive days as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

From the moment we made the decision to travel to Europe by cruise, we had been looking forward to it.  Even the tragic accident off the coast of Italy and the untimely incident in the Indian Ocean just weeks before our departure date could not dampen our enthusiasm.  Settling into one room for three weeks instead of the usual three nights, eating  familiar food that would be readily available, making no travel arrangements, taking a break from being tourists – this is what we were focusing on.  Yet within minutes of boarding, or maybe it was in the long line-ups during the tedious embarkation process, I recalled how much I don’t really like these mega cruises.  The crowds, the line-ups, the pushy tourists, the lack of personal space, the loud obnoxious cruise director who thinks everybody wants to play bingo or learn how to salsa by the pool, the absence of peace and quiet – it all gets on my nerves after awhile.  And we would be on this ship for 21 days – what was I thinking??

Main Dining Room

The ship

Costa Fortuna excelled in mediocrity; from the food to the entertainment, everything was completely adequate yet nothing was remarkable or memorable.  Only nine years old, this ship already seemed rather dated in its gaudy décor, but maybe that’s just the Italian style.  It had all the standard amenities you would expect on a large ship – two restaurants for sit-down meals, one upscale restaurant (for a surcharge), a large cafeteria style dining room for breakfast and lunch, a multi-level theatre for nightly entertainment, a large casino, several bars and lounges, a couple of pools and a few hot tubs, a spa and gym, and a children’s play area.

Main Theatre

Of the 3,000 passengers on board, the majority were Brazilian, followed by Europeans.  I would guess the average age was 60+.  We were definitely in the minority based on country of origin, language and age.  The nightly entertainment in the main theatre seemed to target the majority demographics – think Lawrence Welk and you’ve got the picture.  There were plenty of activities planned each day if you were into that sort of thing.  You know, things like arts and crafts (let’s paint ceramics or make paper boxes or paper flowers), dancing lessons by the pool, daily bingo, and games like “Tiles Tournament”, “Belly Smackers Championship” and “Hula Hoop Championship”.  Sorry I can’t offer more details – we were too busy relaxing to get involved.

Ports of Call in Brazil

We explored all the ports of call independently using local transportation that included taxis, buses and metro systems.  We had several electronic guide books to help us figure out what we should see in each port of call as well as the research that I had done in advance when we had internet access.

Ipenema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Of the six cities we visited in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, Ilheus, Salvadaor, Maceio, Recife, and Fortaleza), Rio was our favourite and we wished we had more time to spend there.  In Rio, we walked along the infamous Cococabana and Ipenema beaches, enjoying spectacular scenery from Sugarloaf Mountain and sipping refreshing coconut milk which came complete with a lesson from an English-speaking local who showed us how to eat the soft, unripened coconut flesh afterwards.  Simply delicious.

Salvador, Brazil

While every city had miles of beautiful beaches, we enjoyed the beaches in Maceio the most.  The turquoise waters were crystal clear and warm like the Caribbean; no signs of pollution like the other beaches.  The worst port of call was Recife which we visited on a Sunday when everything was closed; perhaps this only served to highlight the filth and decay in the historic part of the city where we were saddened to see so many down and out homeless people.  Salvador’s historic district, Pelourinho was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.  This area dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries and boasts numerous richly decorated baroque churches, tiny squares, beautiful old colonial mansions, and cobblestone streets. Yet when we visited, I felt like I was on a set in a theme park – it was so contrived and touristy including the ladies dressed up in local costume offering to have their picture taken with you – for a fee of course.

Maceio, Brazil

Our appreciation of Brazil deepened as we visited each city.  While we may not have been wowed by every port of call, they all shared some things in common: gorgeous beaches, cleanliness (except for Recife), friendly locals who were always happy to help you in spite of language barriers, and beautiful climate (hot, humid and sunny).  We definitely want to return to Brazil one day to explore it in more depth.

Lazy, hazy days at sea

I got a cold again on this cruise but somehow timed it perfectly to align with our days at sea which were spent lazing around, amusing ourselves with books and movies, working on our computers (writing and photography) and working out.  It was idyllic as was the weather: sunshine every day and hot (low 30’s) at the beginning with the days gradually getting cooler (low 20’s) as we headed north.  We adjusted to the European time zone gradually by setting the clocks one hour ahead for six consecutive days which for a while really messed us up – we were staying up until two or three in the morning and sleeping almost until noon – easy to do with an inside cabin and no natural light, but we had nowhere pressing to go or things to do so it didn’t really matter.

Ports of Call in Europe

We loved every single port of call in Europe to the point where we are fantasizing about how we can relocate to any of these destinations: Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain), Malaga (Spain), Valletta (Malta), Corfu (Greece), Dubrovnik (Croatia).

Malaga, Spain

Puerto de la Cruz, San Tenerife, Canary Islands

We docked in Santa Cruz on the island of Tenerife, the largest and most populous of the seven Canary Islands. After exploring the downtown area for a couple of hours, we hopped on a local bus and headed to Puerto de la Cruz, on the north end of the island.  It was love at first sight for both of us; the European architecture, the charming café’s along the pedestrian-only streets and the gorgeous waterfront completely enamored us.  Just as we were thinking this was the place to retire to, we stopped in Malaga next, on the southern coast of Spain in an area known as the Costa del Sol (coast of sun), and we fell in love all over again.  Picasso’s birthplace offered a breathtakingly beautiful cathedral, an ancient castle and fortress, plus the beautiful European architecture, charming café’s and a gorgeous harbour.

Valletta, Malta

We were disappointed when we arrived in Malta on Good Friday to find everything closed for the holiday. Luckily we had been there on a previous cruise so we had already seen many of the highlights.  Our afternoon took an unexpected turn when we met a very nice English couple (Angela and Harry) and their two grandchildren (Skyler and Joseph) while we were enjoying a beer on a patio.  As we engaged them in small talk, we learned they had retired to Malta five years earlier. This was a great opportunity to learn about what life was like on this small island.  Much to our surprise, as we finished up our drinks, Angela invited us back to their place to see where they live. Harry took us on a bit of a walking tour to their maisonette which was a lovely 2 storey home similar to a townhouse.  After a short visit over a cup of coffee, Harry kindly offered to drive us back to the ship, taking the scenic route and pointing out all the highlights along the way.  It turned out to be one of our most enjoyable ports of call!

Corfu, Greece

Our visits to the last two ports of call, Corfu (Greece) and Dubrovnik (Croatia) were only a few hours long – just enough to get a glimpse of each city but not long enough to really see or do much.  We still enjoyed these cities.

While this cruise had its shortcomings, it was perfect for what we needed – transportation from South America to Europe and some rest and relaxation. We arrived in Europe feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next continent, starting with Italy.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

After spending just one day in Venice, we headed to Florence, Italy, where we met up with my sister Sonja.  It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks as we try to cram as much in as possible.  I’ll share the highlights from Florence, Milan, Venice and Rome in the next few posts.

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

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4 Responses
  1. Angus says:

    Nice to see you guys back on line. I don’t think Janet and I could handle 21 days on a cruise ship. I think 10 days is about our limit.

    What’s with all the copyright notices that seem to have appeared in this posting? Makes it look awfully professional. Maybe someones going to publish a book and retire in Europe?

    • christina says:

      Hi Angus,
      I was happy to get off the ship after 21 days and I think the fact that I got sick for about half of it actually worked in my favour in terms of not minding being on the ship for so long. Otherwise, I found it rather long and often boring. Chris, on the other hand, enjoyed the down time and used it quite productively working on his photos and doing tutorials related to the photography software he uses. What a contrast to our Antarctica cruise that was almost the same duration yet was so informative and fun that we were really sad when it ended.

      Chris is exploring how to make money from his photos via onlline photo sites like We’ve met a few people in our travels who have been quite successful at this. I think I’ve finally convinced Chris that his photos are awesome (I’m his biggest fan) and should be shared with the world. He’s been experimenting with a technique that turns his photos into something that looks more like paintings. Some of the photos are just incredible. The type of art you would frame and hang on your walls. We’re working on creating a photo gallery on our website where he’ll showcase more of his talent. Hopefully we’ll get that up next month when we’ve got some spare time on the farm.

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi Chris and Chris! Fellow traveler here, dying to know what vineyard you’re be working at for room/board… Currently doing that on a horse ranch in Patagonia for 3 months and planning to be in Italy in Septemberish. I would be eternally grateful for the info!!!! Grazie mille!

    • christina says:

      Hi Michelle
      Just sent you the info via e-mail. We’re arriving at the farm next Friday so I’ll be sure to write about our experience throughout the month we are there. Ciao!