Surf & turf

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - TRAVEL - By Char­maine Noronha

DOVER, Eng­land — I fancy my­self a back­pack-car­ry­ing, ad­ven­ture­seek­ing trav­eller, at home in hos­tels and on hik­ing trails. But there I was, on a lux­ury cruise ship, sip­ping wine with sil­ver-haired foxes, fox-trot­ting with male es­corts in the ball­room, and es­cort­ing my­self on a tapas-like tour around Europe, sam­pling cities for a day via ship, bus, foot and bike.

It was the bik­ing as­pect that had led to my un­likely so­journ on the ship, Crys­tal Cruises’ Seren­ity. Months be­fore, my cy­clist-en­thu­si­ast ears perked up when I heard about the cruise, with bik­ing-based ex­cur­sions in sev­eral port cities. The reg­i­mented itin­er­ary of a cruise, with its sched­uled ports of call, and the idea of spend­ing that much time on a ship wasn’t all that ap­peal­ing to me, but the prospect of bik­ing around a few dif­fer­ent Euro­pean cities was. So I packed my sneak­ers, some cute bike shorts and an open mind.

Em­bark­ing in Dover, Eng­land, I was sure I was the only pas­sen­ger haul­ing a back­pack on board when the but­ler as­signed to my cabin floor did a dou­ble-take at the sight of my lug­gage. But af­ter a rest­ful sleep, rocked by the waves of the At­lantic and the gen­tle hum of the ship’s en­gine, thoughts of hos­tels were but a dis­tant mem­ory.

On the first of my 10-day ad­ven­ture hit­ting seven cities in four coun­tries, my cousin and fel­low cruiser Olivia DeMello, I, and a few other cy­clists biked around Guernsey, one of the Chan­nel Is­lands, on cruis­ers we were given. We tra­versed the quaint, com­pact is­land, two-wheel­ing by fawn­hued cows, pri­mary-coloured fish­ing boats and Sec­ond World War bunkers. The next day we sam­pled wine on an evening walk­ing tour in Bordeaux, France, as we learned about lo­cal his­tory. In the hopes of work­ing off some of that wine, I ped­alled around the cob­ble­stoned streets and lush winer­ies of Saint-Émil­ion the fol­low­ing day.

I flew through Cádiz, Spain, moun­tain-bik­ing on rolling hills and sandy trails, down to the Mediter­ranean Sea un­der a blis­ter­ing sun. I shuf­fled on and off a bus from Lis­bon to Sin­tra, Por­tu­gal, past the beau­ti­ful Es­to­ril Coast, learn­ing tid­bits of Por­tu­gal’s past. I peered out into the dark­ness as we cruised through the Straits of Gi­bral­tar at night­fall, faint lights flick­er­ing on my left on the coast of Spain and the spotty lit coast of Africa to my right. The next day I kneeled be­fore the al­tar dur­ing a spe­cial Mass at La Sagrada Fa­milia, An­toni Gaudi’s mag­nif­i­cent church in Barcelona.

On the days I wasn’t ex­plor­ing cities, I ex­plored all the 1,070-pas­sen­ger Crys­tal Seren­ity had on of­fer. On board I waltzed, rumba’d and jived dur­ing dance classes with es­corts who taught us ba­sic ball­room steps and eti­quette. As I one, two, three’d, I se­cretly wished the danc­ing afi­ciona­dos would hoist me above their heads for my Dirty Danc­ing mo­ment.

I painted Por­tuguese tiles in the af­ter­noon art classes and at­tended a lec­ture about the pros and cons of Turkey’s bid to join the Euro­pean Union. Other lec­tures on board were led by Clint Van Zandt, the FBI’s for­mer chief hostage ne­go­tia­tor, and Jen­nie Con­gle­ton, who of­fered talks about the cul­ture and his­tory of the next day’s port cities.

I also ate. A lot. But it wasn’t my fault! It was hard to re­sist the de­lec­ta­ble good­ies of­fered at ev­ery turn. I dined on su­per­star chef Nobu Mat­suhisa’s sashimi and sushi cre­ations from the ship’s Silk Road eatery, I savoured crème brûlée in the opu­lent Crys­tal din­ing room and noshed on lob­ster tail and shrimp cock­tails in the af­ter­noon. I also in­dulged in high tea with Leona Wacht­stet­ter, known to all aboard as “Mama Lee,” who’s in Crys­tal’s his­tory books for hav­ing taken nearly 150 cruises in the last half-dozen years. I traded travel and cruise sto­ries with lovely el­derly cou­ples, many of whom were veteran cruis­ers. And in the evenings, Olivia and I swigged mar­ti­nis in the sa­loon and shook our tails in the dance club.

Mimi Weis­band, a spokes­woman for Crys­tal Cruises, says cruises with bik­ing tours in port have be­come a rou­tine of­fer­ing for the com­pany.

“It’s def­i­nitely an in­creas­ing trend,” she said. “The num­ber of guests choos­ing ac­tive tour op­tions is in­creas­ing. We have a lot of re­peat guests — or those who have vis­ited some of these places be­fore — and they are look­ing for new ways to ex­plore a des­tina- tion.” Bike tours of­fer a way to “get up close and per­sonal with a des­ti­na­tion... rather than just ob­serv­ing from a bus.”

Weis­band said that since the bike tours typ­i­cally ac­com­mo­date just 12 to 20 peo­ple, the par­tic­i­pants also of­ten de­velop a “nice ca­ma­raderie,” get­ting to know peo­ple with a shared in­ter­est.

When we made our fi­nal port call in Barcelona, I was sur­prised by how much I had en­joyed my­self. Turns out even a back­pack-car­ry­ing biker can find ad­ven­ture on a lux­ury cruise.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Woman bi­cy­cling on a street in Barcelona, Spain.

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