Sunday, 11 September 2016

Italy

We had opted for a trip to Pompeii and this included Sorrento as well. Some very fine inlaid furniture is manufactured here and of course we were directed through the premises of one such place.
The quality of workmanship - no doubt about it - was superb but while we could admire the finished pieces, we were happy to leave and spend an hour or so browsing the small streets before it was time for lunch.

Beautiful little boutiques held some really gorgeous linen ladies clothes and some serious money could easily have been spent here, however I restrained myself and only bought a few small gifts for family.

Heading back north we came to Pompeii and so joined the throngs of tourists following their little flag carrying guides through the ancient and astonishing ruins.

We had visited Pompeii in 1973 and found, that while some more excavation had been carried out and more areas opened to view, we thought that some areas where before wall frescos still had fairly bright paint, now they had faded considerably.

We were also not impressed with the giant 'antique' statues that had been placed in various areas supposedly to enhance the ruins - but in our minds were a distraction. I did my best to take photos from different angles to avoid them. It was an extremely hot day with hoards of other sightseers so after several hours of walking around, it was a relief to finally be driven back to our ship in air-conditioned comfort.

With only one more night before we finally disembarked at Civitavecchia we had a last 'dress-up' gourmet dinner, visited the live show one last time and said goodbye to the wonderful "BB King All Star" blues band which performed each evening and which we usually dropped in to listen to for an hour before bedtime. Great music from this band!

Cases packed and left outside our door for transporting off the ship, we slept well in our comfortable cabin (ahem, 'stateroom') and sailed through the night to dock in the early morning. We finally left the ship about 9.30, picked up our baggage and took the shuttle bus to the rail station for an hour's trip to Central Rome. 

Piazza Navona

By 1.30pm we were checking into our small hotel and were delighted to find that it is literally just around the corner from the wonderful Piazza Navona. On our own, we 'did as the Romans did' and had an afternoon rest in the heat of the day and ventured out later to explore the Piazza and sit outside the Cafe Bernini with delicious thin crust pizza with glasses of beer and rosé. 

Cooling off with an Iced Coffee - Roman style
Later after sundown, the Piazza comes alive with the surrounding restaurants spruiking for business, street sellers trying their best to sell you 'selfie-sticks', buskers playing accordians and singing and street artists sketching. Tourists and locals promenade all around and it is just a great place for people watching.  

The second last day of our trip was a day to ourselves in Rome and after breakfast on the hotel's rooftop terrace we headed out for a "Hop on, Hop off" coach tour around this amazing city. We had visited here in 1973 (as well as Venice and Pompeii) and again noticed many changes. Where were all the Vespa motor scooters (a la 'Roman Holiday') whizzing around the cobbled streets? It seems the Italians have up-graded and now either ride bigger motorbikes or drive small cars. Why was it so quiet with no horn tooting and impatient gesturing? In 1973 it was a cacophony in the city centre. No more although the traffic was just as heavy as before.

Rome still astonishes, though. Narrow cobbled streets lead hither and thither and often you turn a corner to find a building centuries old nestled in amongst modern structures. We turned another corner to find ourselves facing hoards of people gathered around the Trevi Fountain, so many that it was impossible to get near it.  We remembered throwing a few coins in the fountain in 1973 - so I suppose the tradition was fulfilled as we had indeed returned to Rome.

Our walk continued and soon around another corner was the astonishing Pantheon, built by the Emperor Hadrian in 110AD as a temple but which has been a church for the past 1400 years. It is just jaw-dropping - amazing architecture and beautifully preserved and a great pleasure to visit.

Our flight home didn't leave until evening next day, so our final hours were spent - you guessed it - at the premier Roman attraction, the Colisseum. 
Of course there were thousands of others all queuing up in the morning heat to tour through this amazing and iconic site. We managed to save a bit of time by booking tickets online, although we still had about a half hour queuing. 
Much restoration work has been carried out and I was amused to find that when we visited in 1973 the place was over-run by stray cats, but these days - not a kitty to be found!

All too soon, but only after we had a farewell pizza at Cafe Bernini, we were headed for the airport and and an uneventful flight home. Leaving Rome in 30 deg heat - we arrived home in Melbourne twenty-four hours later to a very chilly 7 degrees. Back to winter weather with memories of heat and such wonderful trip experiences to make it all worthwhile. 

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Rhodes, Santorini - the last of our Greek visit

Rhodes – We docked in the historic harbour (one of three) which is quite close to the ancient gateways leading into the old town. It is quite lovely and our guide today took us on a brief coach trip outside the city walls then returned to show us the Palace of the Grand Masters which had been built in the fifteenth century by the Knights of St John. Later some of it had been destroyed and it was rebuilt by Italians around the mid 1930s for the use of Mussolini. He died before he could visit it (and a good thing too!).

There were numerous children busking - usually playing and accordian and sometimes singing and mostly it was "Never on Sunday" or Zorba's Song (from Zorba the Greek).

The weather still hot and sticky but thankfully with a cool breeze always there to cool us, we were invited to visit yet another museum. This time we decided to sit out in the shade of a tree in a nearby café with cool drinks and wait. Good choice we thought.

Before returning to the ship we had some free time so browsed the many small quality craft shops lining very old paved alleyways and always nearby some very ancient buildings to remind us of the centuries of history around us.

Rhodes is a lovely place – one we’d be very happy to return to some time.




Next day was Santorini - another much looked forward to island.  We sailed into the caldera – the centre of an extinct volcano - very early in the morning and anchored in the only spot in this very deep harbour that the anchors could reach (top of a submerged ‘island’).



We were taken ashore in tenders and from there to coaches which took the very steep zig-zag road to the clifftop.

As you’d imagine there were quite spectacular views and even more when we reached the small, very high villages where it seemed they were perched side by side on the crest of the old volcano, some almost seemed to be slipping down the sides.




A few narrow little streets were the only places where vehicles could reach and most were like alleyways only for walking – or donkeys which are still used today to transport goods and brave riders up and down the steep alleys in the middle of towns. Again the countryside was very dry and rocky but vineyards were plentiful and here they are grown quite differently. Vines are left to grow in a mound on the ground rather than trained up wires, the reasoning being that the spread of the vine mound keeps the soil beneath shaded from the hot sun and aids water retention. A visit to a winery for some tastings and with such really nice wine and very cheap, we took a couple of bottles back to the ship.

Our time in Greece ended with Santorini with a 'sea' day and a bit of relaxation as we sailed into Italian waters.


Monday, 29 August 2016

Albania and the Greek Islands

We sailed late afternoon on Thursday from Venice, and with a first full day at sea, we had time to explore the ship and find our way around then on Saturday we arrived in Albanian waters, and this stop was the substitute for Ephesus in Turkey which had been cancelled due to political unrest. It was a mystery to most of us – only being open to the world in the 1990s after the fall of Communism. We were taken by coach across country to an old fort – built 1804. (There seems to be a complete disregard for road rules here especially when parking!) It was quite interesting and picturesque however the country has a long way to go before it makes even two star tourism status.


Sunday the 7th – Corfu. Only a couple of hours sailing and we were docking in Corfu. This sightseeing tour took us diagonally across this beautiful island to a Monastery situated high on the clifftops by the sea. Only problem we had with this trip was the very serious guide. She had a very strong accent and a sing-song voice with ”a” added to every word. Very difficult to listen to for long stretches, and sadly, she tried to fill every second of the three hour trip! Ah well.

Monday, 8 August – Olympia (Katakolon) – Great excursion today, with an excellent good humoured guide.
We had about a half hour coach trip to the ancient Olympic site with its excavated ruins. Despite the heat, our guide directed us to the best shady trees – those with some excavated remains just right for sitting on. He pointed out the uses of the various buildings and stadiums and told some extraordinary stories from ancient writings about the actual games in those far off times. So different from the modern games. 
We were taken next to a restaurant and as well as traditional Greek lunch we were treated to four traditional Greek dancers showing us the old folk dances of their land. Of course, there was the ‘Zorba the Greek’ music and dance although we were told this is not a traditional Greek song/dance. One of the dancers even enticed Peter to join in, sadly the ancient Greek gods were on his side as my camera chose that particular time to run out of battery ‘juice’. His lucky day.

Tuesday, 9 August – Nafplion – We began with a walk around the old town, then went by coach about an hour’s drive away to the Corinth Canal. The tour included a boat ride through the very deep and narrow canal built back in the 1890s.
It must have been a wonder of its time, and cut about 100 miles sailing around the bottom of this big peninsula. Today’s ships, though, are too big to make use of the narrow canal and so it seems it is only used for tourism.

Wednesday – Athens. This was to be a 7 hour excursion and with the temperature predicted to reach the high 30s we were not especially looking forward to the climb up the Parthenon. However all went well and we managed the climb despite the heat and the crowds of other sightseers.



 The views were superb and the Acropolis and other nearby temples were awe-inspiring. By the time we made it back down and found our coach, we were ready for lunch. Not yet though – we had an hour’s guided tour through the National Archealogical Museum and I must say it has some absolutely wonderful gold exhibits from the very earliest times of the Minoan Empire as well as stunning Greek – and a few Roman – antiquities.

One that absolutely amazed us was this jaw-dropping one of a leaping horse with a small african slave mounted on top

Lunch was provided for us at a Radisson Hotel and it was lovely to sit and eat Greek food and chat to our fellow passengers. Our excursion ended with an hour’s shopping time before being taken back to the Oosterdam and cool air-conditioned relaxing bliss.  

Mykonos – Another very hot day and not one we were looking forward to surviving. It was, though, quite a lovely relaxing morning being driven around this island and hearing its history and stories. All houses (no higher than ground floor and an upper floor) are painted white with woodwork trim in a different colour but usually blue. Very simple architecture but really lovely to see when sited on the dry, and rocky hillsides with the very blue sea below. Inviting beaches with many beach umbrellas and sunbeds – unused at the early time we were there but very popular later in the day. We visited yet another monastery but this one now only used as a museum as the last monk departed this life several years ago. In the nearby square we were invited to sit and enjoy a glass of Ouzo and a plate of Greek savouries at a shady restaurant while chatting to fellow passengers. While I liked the savouries, I must say I didn't take to Ouzo - reminded me very much of a cough syrup my mother used to give me as a child - but good to try different tastes of the country you visit.

Nearly at an end to our Greek Odyssey now - Next episode we visit Rhodes and Santorini before we venture into Italian waters.