The Love Boat Makes Final Voyage

Quail Love Boat
StefanoF, Flickr

The iconic MS Pacific, better known as “The Love Boat,” has made her final voyage.

Purchased for 2.5 million euro by a Turkish ship recycling company and taken to a scrapyard on the Aegean Sea coast of Turkey, the cruise ship will be stripped for metal and parts, as a renovation of the 42-year-old ship would have been too costly.

On the Aaron Spelling comedy, the Pacific Princess sailed between California and the Mexican Riviera from 1977 to 1986, with cruise director Julie, bartender Isaac and Captain Stubing at the helm. The actual ship had been decommissioned years ago and was languishing in Italy’s Genoa port, after sailing for Princess Cruises until 2002 and later Quail Cruises.Take a photo tour of the ship in its glory days here.

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Liguria: Salt, Sea, Sun And Stunning Views On The Italian Riviera

Corbis

Speedboat centurions and Apollonian wind surfers carved the waves far below us. Several hundred thousand bronzed bodies carpeted the beaches, lolled on rocks or guzzled and partied under sun umbrellas: The Italian Riviera was in full, raucous summer swing.

From where we stood, atop the silent, windy world, on the Via Panoramica behind the eastern suburbs of Genoa, it was strange to look down on the glam and think of salt, sweat and poverty. The Riviera isn’t exactly inexpensive or unsung. Yet the ancient salt route we’d been walking on since dawn, linking the briny Ligurian coast to northern Italy’s mountainous interior, is what today’s Via Panoramica and the well-marked network of serpentine, stony trails above the Riviera are all about: countless misery-etched miles far from the madding masses.
Sea salt used to be the main preservative in Europe. Traders loaded mules with precious “white gold” and trekked inland, sometimes traveling for weeks or months, until their salt ran out.

The bad old days are over: the salt trails are for happy hikers and madmen like me who like playing at mountain goat.

You’re right to ask: why leave the luxuries, delicacies, fun, sun and Mediterranean to scramble into Liguria’s harsh interior? Especially when the heat is not just blistering, but breathtaking?

salt route pigEasy: cool mountain breezes, quiet emptiness and views galore. Oh, and the mysterious enchantments of living history. If men, women and beasts of burden have been trudging on these trails since the Bronze Age, it stands to reason there might be something magical about the carefully placed, foot-scuffed stones. There is, and more: romantic ruins, gorgeous geological formations, wild flowers and herbs, teetering pines, feral oinkers, wild horses, hawks and a zillion migratory birds.

A longtime Riviera regular – every year my wife and I spend several months here – I’ve hoofed thousands of miles. This is one of my favorite suburban scrambles: no crowds, no Cinque Terre hype, just real-deal Italy minutes from downtown Genoa.

After a 25-minute train ride along the seductive shoreline, our local from Genoa to La Spezia stopped in Recco-capital of cheese-filled focaccia con formaggio. A bus from there whirly-gigged us up a river valley, past tumbledown perched hamlets, to the homely village of Uscio. There is no there in Uscio. The name sounds like uscita, meaning “exit” in Italian. Full of caffeine and loaded with water and picnic edibles we exited pronto uphill and west. The paved road kinks to reveal the double-diamond trail markers we needed.

It’s tempting to head north on the salt route from Uscio across the Apennines into Lombardy, a multiple-day excursion. But in summer it’s even more tempting to coil up the paved road to the seaside ridge about 2,100 feet directly above the waves, then head toward Monte Fasce and Genoa.
We reached the panoramic section of Via Panoramica via the woodsy salt route past a secluded, centuries-old chapel poised by a spring. The drinking water was pure and cool.

At Case Cornua above the coast village of Sori stands a rustic trattoria with house-made everything. Too early for lunch, we had cold water and hot espresso instead. Nearby are the skeletal remains of an unlikely luxury suburb. The builders had no permits, the development was nixed, but the little-used Via Panoramica, built for commuters who never came, and the amazing views, remain. Par-blind as I am, I could still see southeast to the Portofino Peninsula and Tuscany, and southwest practically to France.

salt route mountainsideThose views – plus the roughshod Apennines lying north – followed us on the rocky, roller-coaster route. It peaks and dips: The salt route, and other mule trails, branch and wind to infinity. Having galloped to safety from a herd of over-eager wild horses, and discouraged an outsized feral pig that wanted my pack, we found a pine grove and fell upon our picnic like the wolves that are making a comeback in the area. Now all we had to do was get back down to the coast. We slid and stumbled and clambered, polishing those ancient stones with our modern soles.

Sure, we’d cheated and ridden up part way. Did I feel guilty? Nope. Descending is even harder on the joints. No regrets. We sniffed the perfumed air and gawked at the creeper-tangled ruins of abandoned houses, the dark chestnut forests in clefts and folds, the hidden farmsteads and, as we neared the sea, the olive groves. What better reward at the end of a three-hour downhill obstacle course than a shady table, bubbly water and an ice cream cone in the swank seaside resort of Nervi? If only I’d brought my swimsuit.

Author, journalist and private tour guide David Downie‘s latest critically acclaimed books are “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James” and “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His Paris Time Line app was published in April.

In The Shadow Of Cinque Terre, Discovering The Treasures Of La Spezia

Will the loved-to-death, storm-martyred Cinque Terre ever see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Which tunnel? There are many, many tunnels between the wave-lashed coves and perched, pastel-painted villages of the over-subscribed, over-reported, and now brutally hobbled Cinque Terre.

Above all there’s a long, dark tunnel not of love but of disdain or disregard in the mind of the global public lying between the little-loved, unsung port city of La Spezia and the tourist mecca of the Cinque Terre 5 miles north.

The latest blow to the Riviera’s breathtakingly picturesque suspended villages came last September, with yet another flash flood and killer landslide.

While the world’s attention was focused on Sandy, smaller but similarly devastating storms hit the eastern Italian Riviera. Four people were seriously injured. Hillsides and hiking trails slid into the hungry Mediterranean’s waves. Since September, the authorities have closed not only the roller-coaster hiking trail #2 linking all five Cinque Terre villages, but also the celebrated Via dell’Amore seaside stroll between Riomaggiore and Manarola.Does this mean blissful silence and solitude as in the good old days? Sure, but there’s a price to pay.

The cafes, restaurants and hotels of Monterosso, Vernazza and the other three villages are empty for now. So too are the cash tills of the Cinque Terre National Park, where normally rangers sell tickets to mobs happy to pay to stride among the millions through the land of dreamy dreams.

Meanwhile, south in homely La Spezia, life doesn’t just go on – it’s positively hopping. After a morning of condolences in Monterosso and Vernazza, my wife and I de-trained famished at La Spezia Centrale and hoofed it down a long, wide, pedestrianized street of handsome buildings leading to the palm-lined port. Our nostrils twitched in the air. We were not being snobs: we were following the irresistible scent of fresh-baked farinata chickpea tart.

The scent wafted from La Pia, a cult, century-old, pizzeria-style place in the heart of old La Spezia’s tangled alleyways. Chickpea tart is a local culinary obsession. It’s blistered, yellow, soft and, in La Spezia, also creamy in texture.

Farinata is a favorite of the merchant marine and Italian navy crews that fill La Spezia year round. There aren’t many tourists at La Pia or anywhere else, unless they’re catching trains or ferry boats to the Cinque Terre, or maybe heading to Portovenere and Lerici to see where Shelley drowned.

Much about La Spezia is rough-and-ready. Seated in the centuries-old, raucous maw of La Pia, we wolfed our succulent farinata, devouring it off plastic plates. It was nutty tasting, redolent of olive oil, and it was divine.

Outside towering cranes swung over docklands. Ferries came and went. Fishermen unloaded everything from La Spezia’s famed mussels to flipping-fresh bass and slippery squid. One of the region’s biggest markets is here. It was teeming with humanity.

We’ve been to La Spezia many times; some of its restaurants and specialty food shops are among the favorites listed in my book “Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa.”

But in all the times we’ve visited, we’d never climbed the hilly knob in the center of town. From below it seems to merge Genoa, San Francisco and Montmartre, pleated with staircases. A sign pointed to a castle and museum. We’d never heard of them.

Atop a lung-bursting rise we spotted stegosaur-crenellations and scary battlements of the kind seen on better castles. They led to a ramp and gaping gateway. Inside the castle was spot-lit, dust-free, high-tech and artfully filled with display cases. The cases were in turn filled with exquisite antiquities. The only thing that wasn’t filled was the castle itself. We had it to ourselves.

The lonely ticket-seller gave us brochures and told us how to navigate this vast pile built in part in the 1300s but added to again and again, then transformed in the early 2000s into the municipal museum. Our footsteps echoed on stone floors. Beckoning us were local archeological finds from nearby ancient Luni plus other Bronze Age or Iron Age sites.

A finely sculpted horse’s head 2,400 years old might have inspired an Art Deco artist. Delicate painted ceramics of equal antiquity showed wild boars and lions. A mosaic sea goddess rode a monstrous mosaic sea monster, its mouth agape.

Jewelry, weapons, tombstones, plates, jars and architectural motifs; the displays led from one cavernous room to another, up ramps and staircases, higher and higher. At each turn a more gorgeous view appeared through one of the castle’s cannon-hole windows.

My wife spotted a bronze spearhead from 1700 B.C. A bronze hammer next to it was even older.

The beauty of these objects haunted me. The thought that men and women had fashioned them in and around La Spezia and Luni – about 10 miles away – all those millennia ago made my head spin. But it was the half-moon-shaped tombstones that mesmerized me most. And they were 5,000 years old or more.

By the time we clambered onto the uppermost outdoor terrace we needed fresh air. Several things struck me. First, how could such a splendid museum be so utterly unknown? Second, how could neglect by the global mob have been the fate of such a seductive small city? It was homely only if you didn’t take time to look at it, walk through it and eat its divine foods.

The answer was clear. I gazed at the seafront, the huge port facilities, the heavy industry far off in the suburbs, the navy ships, the ungainly high-rise apartment towers. This was real and I liked it. Over the steep, olive-stippled hillsides due west of La Spezia, through that long, dark tunnel, lay the answer: the dreamy, unreal Cinque Terre villages were just 5 miles away. La Spezia was safe. Like Genoa it was a city for the intrepid, individual traveler. I sighed with satisfaction. Alone atop our castle, we wondered if we should tell anybody about our find.

Author and private walking-tour guide David Downie’s latest book is the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His next adventure-memoir, to be published in April 2013, is “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James.” His websites are www.davidddownie.com, www.parisparistours.com, http://wanderingfrance.com/blog/paris and http://wanderingliguria.com, dedicated to the
Italian Riviera.

[Photos Credits: Alison Harris or David Downie]

Breaking: Fire breaks out on Costa ship near Seychelles islands

fireA fire broke out today on Italian cruise ship Costa Allegra leaving it adrift off the Seychelles islands. The vessel was carrying 413 crew members and 636 passengers from 25 countries, including eight Americans.

Costa Cruises told Gadling “today at 10:39 CET a fire broke out on board Costa Allegra in the electric generator room. The shipboard fire-extinguishing system and emergency procedures were activated promptly and special fire-fighting squads extinguished the fire.”

Italian Coast Guard commander Cosimo Nicastro told CNN that the ship’s captain confirmed the blaze was quickly extinguished, but the Costa Allegra’s engines are not working. The Italian Coast Guard has dispatched cargo ships near the Allegra to help, and the Seychelles is sending a motorboat, a plane, and two tugs to assist. No injuries or casualties have been reported.

In a statement, Costa reports:

“As a precaution, the general emergency alarm was sounded and all passengers and crew members not engaged in the management of the emergency reported to their muster stations.

Currently the ship is more than 200 miles southwest of the Seychelles and approximately 20 miles from Alphonse Island. Tugboats and other naval and aerial units have been dispatched to Costa Allegra.

According to standard procedures, Costa Allegra transmitted a distress signal and the relevant authorities were alerted, including the Maritime Rescue Control Center in Rome, Italy. Costa Crociere and the relevant authorities are actively monitoring the situation.”

Allegra is owned by the Italian-based Costa Crociere, also the owner of grounded Costa Concordia and a subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation.

Built in 1969 by the Wärtsilä Turku Shipyard in Turku, Finland as the container ship MS Annie Johnson, the vessel was sold in 1986 to Regency Cruises to be converted into a cruise ship under the name MS Regent Moon, but in 1988 was sold to Compania Naviera Panalexandra and renamed MS Alexandra, then sold in 1990 to Costa Cruises who rebuilt the ship in Genoa, Italy, entering service as Costa Allegra.

Flickr photo by JorgeBRAZIL

Gadling’s favorite destinations for 2011

gadling favorite destinations 2011

We travel a lot, to destinations both well-known and unfamiliar. In our defense, it is our job to travel like mad, to explore the world and then write about our discoveries.

Though most travel writers find something or other of interest in most places we visit, there are always those personal favorites that rise above the rest. This year, we decided to scribble our favorites down for you. Some of these spots we’re tipping for greater coverage in 2011, while others are simply tried-and-true favorites that we can’t stop raving about to our friends and the various publications that allow us to write for them. Over the course of this week, we’ll weigh in on our favorite hotels, airlines, gadgets, apps, and websites.

So, without further ado: Gadling’s favorite destinations for 2011.

Mike Barish. St. Kitts. I genuinely enjoy how locals and visitors frequent the same beach bars and restaurants. During evenings on the strip, I’d recognize staff members from my hotel doing the same thing I was doing: enjoying the ocean breeze with a cocktail and some jerk chicken.

Kraig Becker. Everest Base Camp, Nepal. For adventure travelers, a visit to Everest Base Camp is one of the best treks in the world. The 12-day hike isn’t just about the destination, however, as you walk in the shadow of the Himalaya each day, passing through sleepy mountain villages steeped in Sherpa culture along the way. The scenery, and altitude, is a breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Catherine Bodry: Ko Chang, Thailand and Sayulita, Mexico.

Joel Bullock: My favorite new roller coaster of 2010 is Carowinds’ Intimidator. Carowinds is located on the border of North and South Carolina in Charlotte in the heart of NASCAR country. It was only fitting that the park design a racing-themed roller coaster that bears the nickname of racing legend Dale Earnhadt. Intimidator is an exciting ride. It’s the tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster in the South East.

David Downie: As a general trend, I revisit places that have fallen off the tourist maps, or that have been taken for granted, and delve deeper into favorite destinations such as Paris and Rome, which are infinitely rich and fascinating and satisfying. Cities: Paris (art, culture, walks, museums, food, wine), Rome (art, culture, walks, museums, food, wine), Genoa (food, wine, scenic beauty, history, magically restored architecture), Bologna (food, food, food and atmosphere and architecture), Helsinki (scenic beauty, atmosphere, seafood). Countryside destinations: Burgundy (wine, food, vineyard and mountain scenery), Massif Central (hikes, scenery), Drome-Provencal (ditto, plus truffles and wine), Tuscany (art, culture, museums, wine, food, vineyard and mountain scenery), Italian Riviera (ditto).

Don George. (1) Peru‘s Sacred Valley. I finally made it there this year and was enchanted by scenery, history, culture, people, cuisine. Machu Picchu is of course life-transformingly amazing but the other untouted ruins all around the valley are equally amazing. (2) Kyoto, Japan. The cobbled back quarters of this ancient city are as enchanting now as they were when I first visited 30 years ago. Tiny temples, impromptu shakuhachi concerts, apprentice geisha in full splendor. (3) Aitutaki, Cook Islands. Incredible island scenery, hospitable people, stunning lagoon, peaceful and laid-back lifestyle, thriving dance, carving, and textile arts scene.

Tom Johansmeyer. If you’re a cigar smoker, nothing beats Esteli, Nicaragua. On just about any budget, you can spend a few days down there. Make a few calls in advance, and you’ll have the opportunity to tour tobacco fields and cigar factories. Even if you aren’t a smoker, it’s amazing to see such craftsmanship in action.

Jeremy Kressmann. Hanoi, Vietnam for its great history and architecture, awesome cuisine, and intriguing Cold War sights. Secondly, Laos. The rugged north of the country has great hikes and the buzzing cultural capital of Luang Prabang is totally worthwhile.

Grant Martin. Bogotá. Forget what you’ve heard about kidnappings, drugs and danger, Bogotá is the new cosmopolitan capital of South America. With quaint, brick streets, a buzzing commercial district and a hip, young population, there’s not much to dislike about this place. Get there before the rest of North America figures it out.

Melanie Nayer. Shanghai. The city of old and new hit a turning point when it hosted the World Expo, and set the stage for Shanghai to become one of the most talked about–and visited–cities in the world.

Sean McLachlan. Ethiopia. Friendly people, rugged scenery, historic sites, and great coffee. What more could you want? Beautiful women, good food, adventure travel? Ethiopia has all that too.

Laurel Miller. Ecuador, especially Cotopaxi National Park (see above), because it’s stunningly beautiful, uncrowded, and there are loads of outdoor recreational opportunities. Ecuador is an amazingly diverse country, kind of like a mini-Peru but with very low-key tourism. There’s also great whitewater rafting/kayaking and mountaineering, fascinating indigenous culture, beautiful colonial cities, delicious regional foods, and the people are wonderful. There’s so much more to Ecuador than just the (admittedly spectacular) Galapagos.

Meg Nesterov. Bulgaria is cheap, creative, and easy to explore. Several of my most well-traveled friends already rave about it. Go now before tourism overexposes the country.

Heather Poole. Positano, Italy. It’s just so beautiful and the food is amazing. I’m a flight attendant and I have a four year-old son, as well as a husband who travels over 100,000 miles a year for business. Our life is like a game of tag. So when it comes to vacations all we want to do is relax. I love to be able to sit on a balcony and let the vacation come to me.

McLean Robbins. Telluride. It’s not new, but as ski towns go it feels non-commercial and relatively untouched. You’ll find truly friendly people (and your fair share of under-the-radar celebrities), but also the country’s best extreme skiing. And it looks like heaven when it snows!

Annie Scott. I’m big on Vienna. It’s a magical city that embodies everything I think of when I think of Europe: culture, history, cathedrals and class. I think the Swiss Riviera may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Lake Geneva looks so pristine you could drink it, and the French influence gives everything from the dining to the shopping that elusive je ne sais quoi. Lastly, I had a marvelous trip this year in Zambia where the wildlife was rampant and the scenery was enchanting and unexpectedly dynamic: sweeping plains, dreamlike riverscapes and incredible trees. The thrill of being immersed in the bush is hard to match.

Alex Robertson Textor. Lima, Peru continues to pop. While the Inca Trail is old hat, Lima is emerging as a major destination on its own. Perhaps most notable is the Peruvian capital’s excellent restaurant scene, which is as disarmingly inexpensive as it is top-notch. I also have to mention green, rustic, jaw-droppingly beautiful Dominica as the Caribbean’s top adventure destination. Dominica has a number of fantastic eco-lodges that showcase the island’s natural beauty wonderfully and are priced reasonably.

Karen Walrond. As a diver, I love Cayman. Love it. Very touristy, but the diving is beyond anything I’ve seen, and i’ve been diving all over the world. And I’m partial to Grand Riviere in my homeland of Trinidad, which isn’t touristy at all. Between April and June, you can see Giant Leatherback turtles nesting in Grand Riviere.

[Image: Flickr | alepheli]