Correspondent Marilyn Green is sailing on the new Viking Sky. Her second dispatch follows:
What a difference 25 or 30 degrees makes! So many times I've wandered around the southern Mediterranean in the summer heat and crowded streets, and had to go back to the ship before I was ready, out of sheer exhaustion.
But today it's in the low 60s in Sicily, the sun is shining and there is only a sprinkling of residents on the sidewalks -- heaven! The new Viking Sky is on its first cruise, sailing from Rome to Barcelona, and the timing couldn't be better for this itinerary. We've had nothing but gorgeous weather and even the most jaded passengers have perked up and enjoyed exploring with plenty of energy.
What we have here is the perfect combination of ports and scheduling. The classical destinations are on everybody's bucket list, but I've seen travelers become faint in Pompeii and Herculaneum in summer and struggled with the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in Naples and Rome. This is a completely different story.
Our temperatures are running in the 60s and 70s, the crowds have vanished, and everyone is coming back from even full-day shore excursions full of stories and enthusiasm and carrying bags from buying sprees.
The itinerary is a big success. "I've never been to Tunisia before," a couple of well-traveled passengers told me at lunch, going over the map of ports of call. "This is a great cruise."
The mixture of cities Rome, Naples and Valencia with Trapani, Tunis and Palma de Mallorca makes a delicious classical stew, and in this cool weather the passengers are setting off to enjoy the sights without sunblock and coming back fresh.
There are so many pluses this time of year: the lower airfare; the relaxed locals chatting pleasantly, unfrazzled by hordes of visitors coming through; the opportunity to sample the real life of the destination.
On the ship, travelers from Minnesota and Sweden chatted while they soaked up the sun at tables on the deck behind the World Cafe. Others dozed in the Winter Garden under the filtered light.
Since we are staying in the ports late into the evening and a light jacket is all anyone needs, guests can easily fan out to try drinks or dinner in local cafes. We did this in Trapani, a town I have fallen hopelessly in love with, feasting on local dishes like busiate with pesto alla Trapanese -- pasta with a rich pesto made with almonds instead of pine nuts, enjoyed in an uncrowded restaurant with a relaxed staff.
"This is the time to come," a couple told me in the elevator as they headed back from an evening stroll after a day sampling the olive oils and wines of the region.