By Jill Smith
“Hola, Bonjour and Ciao,” – three forms of “hello” that I used frequently with the Traveling Wildcats on the Cosmopolitan Havens trip in November 2019. The trip was the first one of its kind I had been on, and one I will not forget. Our ship, the Marina, courtesy of Oceania Cruises and Go Next Travel, made its voyage from Rome to Marseille this past November. My husband, Ryan, a fellow UK grad, accompanied me on the trip. We landed in Rome on a balmy afternoon and got checked into the luxurious Marina. I quickly noticed that our week would be filled with fine cuisine on the ship. We tried most every restaurant aboard and never had a bad meal. We also enjoyed catching up with fellow Traveling Wildcats on the trip.
As you would suspect, we were very tired upon our arrival in Rome after a long day of travel. However, we did join the contingency of Go Next alumni groups on the ship at the opening reception and were able to meet fellow Traveling Wildcats and travelers from other schools on our first night. After mingling with everyone, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and rested for the next day’s adventures. Overnight, we made our way from Rome to Livorno, Italy. We were ready to depart for our excursion to Pisa and Florence early in the morning on day two of our travels.
By bus, we traveled with our group to see Pisa, including the Leaning Tower. I even introduced Flat Wildcat to the famous landmark. From there, we made our way to Florence where we enjoyed the downtown square and the many leather shops it had to offer. We also saw several magnificent Cathedrals. Ryan and I found our way to a couple of local eateries, where we enjoyed tasty pizza for lunch and a danish in the afternoon. Our day was soggy but memorable and our heads had no trouble finding their way to the pillows.
The next morning, we woke up in Ajaccio, France. We decided to take it easy that day and enjoy the amenities of the ship. The Marina departed mid-afternoon and headed for the next stop, Palma deMallorca, Spain. Temperatures were warm that day and we got out and explored the city with some fellow Traveling Wildcats. Together, we boarded a double-decker bus that stopped along the landmarks in the city, even making our way to an overlook of the city at the Bellver Castle. The view from the top was breathtaking! This turned out to be one of my favorite stops. Our second stop in Spain was Valencia. We boarded a bus to hit the highlights of the City of Arts & Sciences, one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.
In this district, we saw a conglomerate of buildings with unique designs, including one that looked like a mouth with teeth! We spent a couple of hours at the famous L’Oceanografic Aquarium, and enjoyed the views of all the sea creatures. We couldn’t help but think of our children while we were there, since they are big fans of any aquarium! We found some perfect souvenirs in the gift shop to take home. After leaving the City of Arts & Sciences, we went to downtown Valencia where we toured the city square, including the market where the locals buy meat, produce and other items. Before departing, we enjoyed a delicious churro from a local cafe.
Our overnight travel took us to Barcelona, Spain the next day. We enjoyed an excursion with several other groups, including a large contingency from Iowa State. We made our way on a chilly Saturday to view the beautiful Barcelona Cathedral and plaza. Afterward, we went to Sagrada Familia, a Gaudi designed spectacle of architecture that is expected to be completed in 2026. The size and detail of the facility was impressive and the tourists were plentiful. Five generations have now viewed progress on construction of the amazing structure.
After leaving Sagrada Familia, we made our way up to the National Art Museum of Catalonia, which provided a magnificent lookout over the city, an awesome sight to see. Flat Wildcat even enjoyed the views! On our way back to the ship, we passed the Barcelona Olympic Stadium, a sports arena used for the Summer Olympics in 1992. That evening, we had our group photo on the ship with the Traveling Wildcats and enjoyed dinner in the Grand Dining Room on the Marina.
Our final destination on our trip wound up being Marseille, France. Due to high winds and rough seas, we were not able to travel into our intended final destination of Monte Carlo. On Sunday morning, we joined a group on an excursion to Aix-en-Provence, France. Because it was a Sunday, many of the businesses were opening later, but we were able to observe and visit tenants at the flea market and see the quaint city. We had to grab some beignes while we were there.
In the afternoon, we joined some other Traveling Wildcats and went on a train ride that showed us views of Marseille. We made our way to the top of see the famous Notre Dame de la Garde. The architecture was amazing and we were even able to observe a church service that was in progress. The views from the outside the facility, overlooking the city were incredible!
On the last night, we gathered our belongings together and enjoyed one more meal at the Terrace Café. Ryan grew extremely fond of the lobster tails on the ship and had to enjoy his favorite cruise meal one last time. We made the long journey back to Lexington where we were greeted with snow as we de-planed. Our trip was full of memories and experiences we will enjoy for a lifetime! We were also proud to be traveling with UK alumni and enjoyed meeting and making new friends on the trip.
If you are thinking about traveling, give the Traveling Wildcats program a look at www.ukalumni.net/travel. I know you’ll enjoy it!