MSC Splendida, Day 3: Genoa, known for its pesto sauce

ABOARD THE MSC SPLENDIDA — We have sailed into Genoa today, where the artists Caravaggio, Van Dyck and Rubens, among others, chose to live and where many of their masterpieces remain.

They no doubt ate a lot of pesto, for this town along the Ligurian coast is known for its wonderful green pasta sauce, made from basil leaves. They grow so many different varieties of basil here that it is said a true native Genovese can tell from one taste of the pesto sauce, which kind of basil made it.

It’s also the starting place for the famed Cinque Terre walking path, a gorgeous, slightly dangerous, spectacular route along the outer edges of the high hills of Liguria that we took several years back. After about the 500th up-and-down step my feet suffered plantar fasciitis from all the climbing and descending, but they recovered, and the walk was well worth it.

A wide variety of food offerings on the MSC Splendida

At noon, even from the ship, you can hear the bells of the famous Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa ringing. This is one of the original home ports of MSC, a family-owned business that began in Sorrento, and although the fleet now goes all over the world, the Mediterranean philosophy that “Life should be measured in moments, not minutes,” remains. Its philosophy of food and drink favors the healthy Mediterranean diet, but in standard cruise-ship practice, the Splendida allows you to savor more of it than you need, and you can savor it all day and all night if you so choose.

They still have first and second seatings on board at dinnertime, however, and yesterday we saw two young Italian couples, each with two very young children in tow, beginning their dinner at Villa Verde, one of the two more formal restaurants, at the second seating, which began at 9:30 p.m. Granted, one child was sound asleep in his stroller already, but two others, aged about 3 and 4, were awake and crying, likely from exhaustion. Presumably it takes even Italian children time to acclimate to the Mediterranean way of savoring dinner moment by moment well past one’s bedtime.

The food in every restaurant, at any time of day, is wonderful, and the wines and cocktails imaginative and varied. The bars offer a “Moscow Mule,” for example, made of vodka, Rose’s lime juice and ginger ale. It comes from England, although personally, I know of a “Moscow mule” in Russia whose initials are V.P. but I didn’t know, until boarding the Splendida, that there was a drink named after him.

The steak and taco specialty restaurant Tex-Mex offers seven different varieties of margaritas, including an “iguana margarita,” made with melon-flavored green Midori liquor instead of iguanas.

Sadly, most children today do not remember Shirley Temple, so nothing on the children’s drink menu is named after the famed child actress. Instead, the kids’ menu features drinks such as “Spiderman,” a concoction of crème de cocoa, pineapple juice, coconut cream and pomegranate syrup.

I was invited to the Yacht Club dining room for dinner, where I ordered cream of chickpea soup with mussel salad and rosemary, roast shi drum fillet over tomato coulis and tapenade of Taggia olives and a cheese plate of Roquefort, pecorino, provolone, asiago, fontina, and epoisse decorated with a strawberry sitting in violet jelly. It was accompanied by Le Vigne di Zamo 2012, a pino grigio from Venice. It was beyond delicious, and I didn’t have to dress in a costume or wait for a second seating as they do downstairs. The people who can afford this dining room wear anything they want and eat from 6:30 on.

The entertainment was quite impressive

Tonight’s entertainment was “Ricordando Il Maestro,” a tribute to the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. A special guest on board was tenor Alberto Jelmoni, who sang some of the arias for which Pavarotti was known. The finale featured a stirring version of “D’Essun Norma,” at the end of which the tenor and the cast turned and raised their hands to the screen at the rear of the stage picturing Pavarotti singing. It was a moving homage, especially on an Italian ship most of whose passengers and crew are based in Pavarotti country and who so loved one of their own.

On our way to Naples tonight, we passed by the island of Elba. Napolean had to stay there, but we’re eschewing a visit and moving on because we have an appointment tomorrow for which we’ve waited 40 years: Finally, a visit to the island of Capri.

May 19, 2014

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