After the amazing adventures Venice had to offer, it was off to an even bigger and better one. On July 11 we embarked on the Ms Oosterdam with Holland America cruise line. This was my fourth cruise, second one that I am able to recall very well and truly experience to its fullest. The only problem with being 18 on this cruise line in my experience, is that there are very few people around my age and that most of the people are usually retired. But, the people that I've met and about to meet really are the most down to earth and genuine people I've interacted with. To those that are reading this that were apart of this amazing adventure, you're so amazing and I hope to be able to keep in touch and share more adventures with you in the future.
Going to new places, meeting new people, these are the moments that change your perspective. Wherever this journey takes me next, is besides the point. It's not about where you go, it's about what you do and who you choose to become along the way that matters.
- Matt Komo
Mediterranean Cruise July 2018
VENICE - BARCELONA
DAY 1/2: Embarking & Sea Day
Cruises: a place where you're trapped with other people for who knows how long, for 16 hours a day, there's no escaping them so might as well befriend them. If you've been on one before, I'm sure you've felt that first night anxiety trying to meet new people and awkwardly strike up a conversation. Luckily for me I met a few people right off the bat and merged groups with another that had a very interesting way of forming. Gabby's game plan to steal Colbie's basketball turned out to be one of the best decisions on the cruise. A group of 5 soon became 10, then 15, 25, and kept growing and growing as the cruise went on. This was perfect because our second day was a sea day which meant we were all forced, yet again, to socialize with each other. Chilling with Piña coladas along the pool and having deep talks all day soon became routine, we were living the life. Staying up until 2 AM and having to be up and ready by 7 AM each day wasn't our best idea, but who cares, we were having the times of our lives.
DAY 3: Dubrovnik, Croatia
You're probably wondering the same thing I was, where the hell is Croatia. Who would've known this would be one of the most beautiful countries I've ever visited. The day started off taking a sketchy drive to the top of Utvrda Imperial (Fort Imperial). The windy, narrow, one-lane road led us to the best view in Dubrovnik by far. From there you could see a panoramic view of the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Otok Lokrum island, The Old City, and the New City.
After this we walked around the Old City. Our amazing tour guide Marina took us along tons of side streets each having tons of history that we would've never known about just walking on our own. Learning all of the history each little piece of architecture had, visiting a local market and trying new foods made this little city so much more special to visit. If you walk just outside of the walls and down a few side streets you would end up at a cliff side bar called Ala Mizerija with easy beach access. If you're up to it, swim out a couple hundred feet and scale the rocks for a perfect cliff jump spot with an audience. At the time, one of my friends was up on the wall and a heard lady yelled "Some person in a black bathing suit just jumped off of one of the cliffs!"... That person ended up being me and when I was told someone freaked out about me jumping, I died from laughter and was probably one of my favorite highlights from this stop. After a few drinks and some swimming, we went and got some lunch at the main restaurant outside the walled city called Dubravka. I had the lobster pasta and it was beyond amazing. If you love seafood, go to this place and you won't be disappointed.
Sadly, after that it was just about time to go back on the ship and head off to the next stop. Everyone I met was so welcoming and happy in Croatia. Maybe it was because they were about to go into the finals for the World Cup, but who knows. It was such an amazing country and I will definitely be going back very soon.
DAY 4: Sarandë, Albania
Yet again, you're probably wondering where in the world is this place. Arriving, it felt kinda like Cabo where everything is along the beach and there's less and less as you go inland. Not gonna lie, I did get a sketchy vibe arriving but I did feel safe at all times. Albania is apparently an up and coming country with tourism increasing significantly over the last few years. Traveling teaches you to seek new perspectives, be open to new adventures and experiences. If you have this mindset wherever you go, you will have the best time of your life.
The day started off by walking along the boardwalk on the beach. It was pretty cool because on your right you'd have a sandy beach with super blue water and on the right you'd have an area that felt like a small downtown city. The downtown area was mainly businesses and not too much shopping from what I saw, along the beach area was the spot to do souvenir shopping. After the little walking tour, we took a bus inland to Blue Eye National Park. This place was something else. You'd walk down this dirt road into this forest and once you got past the main set of trees there was a river with crystal clear water. Being from SoCal and not seeing water like this often, I was hyped. Once we got to the actual "Blue Eye" there was a little lookout point where you could stand and look down into it. So naturally I made sure it was okay to jump off of it and into the Blue Eye. Everyone was freaking out about how cold the water was and I had already felt it and it was about the same as back home, so it wasn't really a big deal. I had given my brother my camera to get some shots while jumping in but somehow he had forgotten to press the button to take the picture. Not gonna lie I was kinda glad he didn't, it gave me an excuse to do it again. So I jumped off again and got the shot for the gram and we were on our way back to Lëkurësi Castle. Driving there I noticed that there was a lot of half-finished and abandoned buildings which threw me off. Still not exactly sure why they were like that but it gave a little edge throughout the rest of the drive, as if driving a massive tour bus down one way dirt paths wasn't sketch enough. The overlook was super cool, you could see the cruise ship near the main town and the mountains off to the side. The best time to go would be around lunch or dinner time because wasn't really anything up there besides a restaurant and souvenir shop.
DAY 5: Olympia, Greece
Now I'm not a history junkie at all, but man I was excited to see Olympia. Being able to see the first Olympic site from 776 BC was hard to process through my brain. Like, how could something from that long ago still even be here? Besides sharks, I can totally understand how they survived that long. ANYWAYS... Even arriving there at 8 in the morning it was already scorching hot. On the drive, our tour guide mentioned how there were tons of abandoned houses along the way because of their huge economic crash 5ish years ago and that they left to seek a better life. What really stood out was about how kids move out of the country by 18 years old, that's how bad the economy still was. It may sound bad, but I honestly thought "perfect, it's a great time to take advantage to explore the Greek islands while it's dirt cheap." It's sad, but true. About an hour bus ride later we made it to the site. While walking around I realized I'm at a place that is in almost every history book around the world. It really opened my eyes and made it that more special to have the opportunity to see this place because who knows how long it may be there. If you visit make sure to have some photos of how the site looked when it was all put together, trust me it makes it a lot crazier to see.
About two hours later our tour left and drove to a vineyard overlooking the coast and did some wine tasting. But, before we walked around the villa and got to see the whole process of making some of the most famous bottles of Greek wine. Seeing the hundreds of barrels of wine in the almost pitch black basement was crazy, it really gave a perspective on how much effort goes into a single bottle because they have to sit there for years. After walking through we finally got to taste the wine, and holy crap it was good. Personally, I thought the red they gave us was tolerable but the white was absolutely amazing. After drinking a little bit too much of it, we went back to the bus and I instantly knocked out, which was nice because it was about an hour ride back. Also it helped catch me up on my sleep since I was getting less than 5 hours each night from hanging out around the ship at night.
DAY 6: Sea Day
Sea days are always the most fun... and interesting on the ship. You're stuck there for a full day trying to figure out what to do around the ship (atleast for the teens). Most of our day consisted of sleeping, eating, and hanging out by the pool. Other than that, there really wasn't much for us to do. At night is where all of the fun begins. Being the curious teens we are, we wanted to explore more of our new home that we were still on for the next 6 days. Along our adventure, we found an elevator that we never knew about. Naturally, about 13 of us managed to get in this elevator meant for 6. I personally didn't go in because I wasn't about being squished in a small space like that, plus it only went up one floor so me and a few others took the stairs. So we went up the floor and waited... and waited. We saw that the elevator was still on the 10th floor so we pressed the button and nothing happened. We all looked at each other with that look knowing something was wrong, but nothing too dangerous. So we went back to where everyone went in and heard talking but very quietly. I pressed my ear up against the elevator and heard everyone in there and my friends with me that they were stuck in the elevator. We knew that they were totally fine so we had some fun and vlogged a little bit of it then got help. About 5 minutes later they were all out and thankful we hadn't forgotten about them. It was a good laugh to have after it was all over and something unforgettable.
Just when we thought that the night was already at its peak things got WAY more interesting. Just think, it's 2 AM, you're in the middle of the ocean, just hanging out with some friends and you hear the last thing you want to hear on a ship... The alarm. We all gave each other the "you've got to be kidding me" look. Everyone started talking while the captain announced that there was a first degree alarm and some other stuff you couldn't really make out because of everyone talking, besides "get to your stations". Cue about 30 teenagers running for their lives. Luckily a crew member saw all of us and told us it was only for the crew and to chill out and wait for announcements. It took us about a solid 5 minutes to calm down until the captain told us what was going on, a fire. He was so calm about it which made you feel calm and safe, it was weird. At that point we all decided to call it a night because who knew what was going to happen next at that point.
DAY 7: Naples, Italy
I was amazed but more confused when docking in Naples. You saw a few super old castles scattered across a modern downtown area. But nevertheless I was excited to see what was in store for the day. After eating some breakfast we hopped on a tour bus for a panoramic tour and little walk in the main square. If you live or have visited Southern California you know how terrible and crazy drivers are. It's safe to say that is NOTHING compared to drivers in Naples. It's as if all traffic laws you know and love are thrown out the window and is now a free for all. I felt safe being in a giant tour bus but I couldn't help wondering how people in cars felt. The tour guide said that everyone expects the worst to happen and that there are actually very little accidents that happen. Trust me, I was beyond surprised when I heard that but I went with it.
Most of the tour was spent me looking out the window at the insanity that was going on around us. It was seriously so entertaining and amazing to see that somewhere else had worse drivers then SoCal haha. Once the tour ended we walked around on our own and found some pizza. Literally anywhere you walked there would be some restaurant that offered either pasta or pizza, so finding a place wasn't a problem. Gelato too, it's a must when in Italy.
Besides eating, walking around, and shopping I felt like there wasn't much to do. There was a few castles that you could walk through but nothing too special. Honestly don't see myself coming back here unless I had to come back for some reason.
DAY 8: Rome, Italy
Rome is another place that everyone has to hit on your bucket list when traveling, there's so much to see. From the cruise port, it was about a 45 minute train ride and it drops you off about 10 minutes walk from the Vatican. Turning the corner to reveal the main square was surreal. You get overwhelmed by the giant pillars that stand above you and the sheer size of the whole place. We got there in the early morning so there wasn't too many people there yet. If you decide to go, go as early as possible because it gets overrun by people so fast. After walking out of the main square, we got one of those hop on hop off bus tours, which I think is the best thing to do while there. It's a little pricey but the convenience of not having to get a taxi and try to communicate with the driver is so worth it. The bus stopped super close to each of the attractions, so it made it easy to get to them and get back on the bus. My favorite was the colosseum by far because of the history behind it and how it looks present day after how long it has been standing there.
While making our way around the city on the bus we decided to stop off by the Trevi Fountain to get some lunch. We learned that just walking around with no plan at all was the best way to do things because you always find some hidden gem, which we did. Literally right around the corner from Trevi we found a restaurant called Oggi Roma Gourmet-Cafe. GO THERE! Make sure you're hungry too when you go, we ordered the full sized pizza when we went. I'm not even joking when I say it was half the size of the table... it was absolutely massive and stuffed us. When the waiter told us it was big I didn't really think much of it so I ordered a lasagna too. That had to be the best meal I had the entire trip, including Venice too. It is worth going out of your way to go if you're hungry when in Rome. There is also tons of gelato nearby too which is the cherry on top of this little area of Rome. After making a couple more stops we started to make our way back to the train station and recover from the 8 hours of walking. The one thing that sucks about cruises is that you have to cram as much as possible into one day, which can sometimes make it less enjoyable because you want to see everything you can and often don't get a break. Nevertheless, it was still an awesome day and to be able to see everything we did was awesome.
DAY 9: Florence/Pisa, Italy
Florence was our 4th stop in Italy and easily one of my favorites, there was so much to do and see around the place. We had a private driver so we got to hit up wherever we wanted in Pisa, Lucca, and Florence since we were on our own time frame. Our first stop of the day was the leaning tower of Pisa. Seeing it in the distance as we got closer and closer was super trippy, it boggles my mind how this thing doesn't fall over. Getting there early is a must because by the time we were about to leave there was triple the amount of people there than when we first got there.
Next stop, our driver suggested going to this little countryside town called Lucca. This city was absolutely amazing, it felt like a hidden gem. There was barely any tourists and just all locals (which made it sorta hard to communicate). We walked a little stretch along the wall but not the entire 2 or 3 miles but I definitely want to come back and either bike or walk it. Sadly, our time here was limited if we wanted to spend a lot of time in Florence so we headed off for a nice hour drive along the countryside.
After a much needed nap during the car ride, we arrived to Florence to a sick overview called Piazzale Michelangelo. It gave such an amazing panorama of the city with surprisingly not too many people, I think that is something you have to do before going into the city. It shows you the sheer size of the city and that there's so much to explore. There were tons of places to shop and sadly we didn't really have the time to if we wanted to see as much as possible. Oh well, it gives an excuse to go back at least. Wandering around the city, we managed to find the most beautiful cathedral I've seen (at this point) called Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower or Florence Cathedral. There was just so much too see in such little time in this area, we could've easily broken this into 3 separate days to enjoy each place to its fullest.
DAY 10: Monaco
Day 10 is when things started to hit hard, the cruise was nearing the end and that meant we had to make the best of it. Imagining leaving the amazing people I met on this cruise was the last thing I wanted to think of. Since we had a long port call, we were able to go out and explore this tiny but amazing country.
Since the port isn't big enough for our cruise ship, we had to tender in. Once we got close we saw a mega yacht docked with a helicopter casually parked on the top of it. That set the mood for the day for sure. We started out taking a driving tour around the whole country, it's crazy that it took less than 30 minutes to cover the entire place. Our first stop was the Grand Casino and let me tell you, that place was next level. The architecture and interior design of the place looked like a castle mixed with a giant cathedral. It was safe to say a surfer kid from California didn't belong here at all, but nevertheless I managed to not get kicked out. The plan was to go back later in the night to gamble but, I needed a suit to get in which ruined those plans.
The rest of the day was spent walking around and exploring. A group of friends and I walked almost to the border of France to find a fun little beach to cliff jump by. We didn't really succeed because access to the cliffs were super limited but we managed to find a little spot right by one of the tunnels around the country. It was a fun way to end the day and relax before another long day tomorrow.
DAY 11: Toulon/Marseille, France
When we were pulling up to Toulon it instantly reminded me of a perfect little beach town, almost like downtown San Diego. There was a cool are where you could shop, eat, and just hang out right outside of port. Our tour went to Marseille so it didn't really provide much time to explore the area but Marseille totally made up for it. The whole area was a giant city square with a beautiful harbor in the middle. It had that Europe and beachy feel to it which was perfect for me. Honestly I could see myself coming back here and staying an extended period of time, only thing keeping me from living here is the lack of waves sadly :((.
After we did some exploring around the city (along with a failed mission to find a France football scarf) we went up to the Cathedrale La Major at the top of the mountain right next to the main square. To get there though you had to go up like 200 steps which was terrible since it was like 95 degrees haha. But it was so worth it, you had a perfect overview of the whole providence and out to the sea. We went inside the cathedral and it did not disappoint at all. Walking in to all of the cathedrals in Europe you get a whole different vibe than back home, it's almost dead silent and everything is just so big. Being in there is really calming and relaxing so after the 8 hour tour so far it felt really good. Heading back down, I discovered a sort of secret elevator and took full advantage of it.
DAY 12/13: Barcelona, Spain
The dreaded last day is here. Since the ship came in around 12, our friends all had breakfast together before we all split off for the day. We were all coordinating the whole time to see when all of the meetups would be once we got back and possible future trips could happen. We shared tons of laughs that morning and got in a heated chess game before we headed off for the day, safe to say I suck at chess.
The weather had predicted thunderstorms for the day but it didn't look like it was gonna happen which got our family all excited to head to Sitges for some beach time. If you've ever been along the Newport jetties, that's how Sitges looked like but with a couple of beach bars which was awesome. The only difference was that there was actually parking but somehow tons of people. The mobs of people that were there got cleared out about 2 hours later when the thunderstorms came in and the beach got completely empty. It seemed like everyone had the same idea as us to go eat lunch because every restaurant was full. After going back and forth for about 30 minutes we finally found somewhere to eat. Being a seafood lover, going on this cruise was perfect because everywhere we went it was so good, that was my go to for anywhere we went. We had another hour or so to kill so we got lost in the alleyways and checked out some of the local shops and even found a cool little surf shop. I wish we had more than one day here just because there was so much to do and tons of nightlife from what it seemed like. It gives me an excuse to come back one day.
The actual final day was super rushed because we had to be at the airport by 12 to get to our flight on time. But we didn't really have much time yesterday to explore the actual city of Barcelona. We chose the quickest tour to cram in all of the highlights of the city. The main one was Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia (or the Barcelona Cathedral). There was a bride and groom right outside the Cathedral, so it kinda turned into a little photo shoot with the other photographer. It was such a perfect spot for a shoot like that and I'm stoked that I could experience that so candidly. We got to check out the inside after and it was the most insane thing I've ever seen. The size and everything else about it was just so mind boggling. The picture below doesn't do it justice at all, it's just something you have to experience for yourself.
Sadly after that, it was time to head back home. It was definitely hard to leave and go back to reality because everything just felt so relaxing and away from the real world. Onto the next adventure.
If you have made it this far, thank you. Your support means everything and I hope you enjoyed it.
To those on this cruise reading this, you're all amazing and I can't wait for the next adventure with you elves ;)