Archive for March, 2016

Savona – Nice – Gatwick – Harborough

Posted in Uncategorized on March 31, 2016 by David Palmer

Last night we packed and left our suitcases at 11pm outside the cabin in readiness for the ‘Luggage Fairy’ to spirit them away. We were supposed to vacate the cabin by 8am which meant an early breakfast with a 7am wake-up.

We expected breakfast to be very busy but we had no trouble finding a seat and were soon joined by a Swedish couple who we had spoken to several times over this last month. With the last of the ship’s fayre taken on board we returned to our cabin to collect our rucksacks, watch a bit of BBC World News and then do a last check of belongings.

We had a last circuit of Deck 11before descending to our meeting point for disembarkation on Deck 9. As soon as we had settled into our seats Aylo turned up to say goodbye. He had thought he had lost his wallet in Eilat and had cancelled all his cards, this morning he found it under his bed. Easily done, I guess. It was nice he took the time to find us and wish us Bon Voyage.

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We were called early to board the bus and passing through the check-out facility we noticed our suitcases, we had been told they would be on the bus. We grabbed them and made our way to the coach and boarded. Looking through our window seat there seemed to be a bit of chaos outside as most passengers believed that the cases would be sorted for them. Our bus left on time.

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Savona to Nice is a lovely route, all the way along the coast with mountains most of the way on our right side. It was a dismal cloudy day, but as we passed Monte Carlo the sun came out and by the time we arrived at the airport I was regretting I had put on my fleece.

We had quite a wait before we could check in for our 4pm flight, not helped by the fact there was no bar. However the WiFi was fast and helped pass the time. Sue read her book. When we eventually did check in and navigate ourselves through the very severe security we found a lovely comfortable bar and sat on a sofa with refreshments and occupied ourselves reading and surfing. Sue noticed that as we sat and lounged, there was a small team of photographers flitting about the bar and restaurant clandestinely photographing us. We supposed it was for a promotional pamphlet for the airport or something similar. However, I do believe they are looking for a new James Bond and Mrs Moneypenny so it could be the start of a new career?

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The BA flight left on time and after complimentary cheese and pickle sandwiches and drinks we were soon on our approach to Gatwick through rain clouds. Our suitcases were among the first off the belt and after finding our carpark shuttle bus we weren’t long in picking up the keys to the Fiesta. The dash to put the suitcases in the car was under cold, stinging hailstones and was most unpleasant!

The drive back to Harborough was the usual stop start on the M25, but we made good progress and did it in the time that TomTom predicted. We drove through a snow shower in Northampton, brrrrrr!

Stopping to pick up milk in the Spa it was; heating on, kettle on and then looking through the mountain of mail. By 11pm we had unpacked, opened mail and Sue (believe it or not) had the washing machine turning over with a full load.

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! The bed was cold! As the next break is Iceland, it is good practice.

Livorno – Pisa

Posted in Uncategorized on March 30, 2016 by David Palmer

We didn’t berth in Livorno until 10am and by then Sue and I had breakfasted and were up on deck watching the proceedings. Another lovely blue sky day with a flat calm sea. The ship eased into its moorings among the many large and small ships of this very busy port without a hitch.

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The city itself starts at the exit/entrance to the port where its main street runs right into the centre. The port authorities had provided a shuttle bus for passengers to the port gates, but we had embarked before they came into operation and we walked the short distance ourselves.

It took us around 20 minutes to reach the Cathedral. A large and depressing building with very little internal light. Dingy is the word that describes it best.

We moved on to the old quarter, found the street market leading to the city market and meandered among the stalls. Sue tried on a few jackets, but couldn’t match size with colour and in the end no purchase was made.

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We wandered further and came across large piazzas with many statues. The city has the name ‘Little Venice’ because of the canals that wind their way through the city, we came across many of these, all choked with moored boats, probably berthed for the winter months.

We discovered the city castle and spent some time reading the information boards and admiring the views its elevation gave of the town. The shade provided by the many Umbrella Pines within its walls was welcome from the heat of the midday sun.

Digital Camera

Digital Camera

We returned to the ship via the market and just in time for the start of lunch.

We had booked an excursion to Pisa and after collecting our bus sticker form the Grand bar we  boarded our bus for the 40 minute journey to this iconic city. On the way we passed a large American military base, row after row of military hardware was clearly visible from the road. There was a lot of fire power here!

Sue and I with just a few others split off from the main group of passengers as they had a guided tour and we were going to do it ourselves.

The Cathedral, Leaning Tower and Baptistry are located within the ‘Square of Miracles’, entered through a fairly unimpressive gate. But once through, what a sight! We both agreed that it was on a par with the Taj Mahal, though the local hawkers here are pretty tame beasts compared to their Indian counterparts.

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Plenty of photographs taken including the popular ‘I’m holding the tower up’ shot. We attempted to buy a ticket to climb the tower, but the slot we would have been given matched the exact time that our return bus left. We visited the Cathedral instead. Huge, beautiful and well worth the free ticket price. The Baptistry from the outside was just fantastic, so I guess the inside was too. We didn’t have the time to investigate, but at 5 Euros to enter I am sure it was a bargain.

While waiting for the coach party to gather, Sue managed to purchase another Christmas bauble and then a couple of other items. We refreshed ourselves with beer and ice cream in a bar and Skyped Charlotte, Sarah and the boys who had been out for the day, before boarding our coach to Livorno.

Digital Camera

Digital Camera

We had a rest in the cabin before the evening meal. I spotted a very photographic sunset through our window and raced up on deck to take a few shots, but I missed the best.

The entertainment this evening was quite frantic. First we watched the dance troupe repeat their ‘Latin’ numbers of last night (brilliant again) then rushed to the other end of the ship to catch a show featuring a silent comedian from New York. Quirky of the wall humour.

Returning to our cabin we  packed our suitcases for disembarkation in Savona tomorrow.

Sea Day 12

Posted in Uncategorized on March 28, 2016 by David Palmer

What lovely sleep. No hurry to get up, and no-one rushing to catch an early departure excursion to disturb our slumber. After recovering from the shock of a searchlight of a window and eyes focussed, another lovely cloudless day was revealed. Little islands began to slowly slip by on a flat calm sea. Where were we?

Breakfast was fairly busy but we had no trouble finding a table. A couple of German ladies that we have already shared a meal or two before with joined us and we chatted about possible locations for the ship. It was thought that we were somewhere near the toe of Italy.

I spotted quite a large island slide into view so leaving Sue to her breakfast and conversation I left to take a closer look on deck. The island was from our angle, a perfect equilateral triangle topped with a shroud of thin cloud. I could see a small settlement of white washed houses on the lower slopes. It was Stromboli, not a place I would choose to live, even if this volcano has been dormant  for many years now.

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There was a meeting this morning for the English passengers to explain the disembarkation procedures. It was the same as the last time we landed in Savona so it was a bit of a waste of time, but reassuring for Sue.

We attended the morning quiz based on the shape of countries, but like most, we stood no chance as the winner already been on the ship for 5 months and obviously got 10/10, he had done the quiz several time previous. Hmmmmm.

After morning coffee we were on our way to watch a farewell show in the Grand Bar and I got in conversation with a Dane on education, politics and terrorists . Sue watched the show and said it was brilliant when I met her again in the restaurant for lunch.

During the afternoon we sat and watched a video of an excellent concert by the Bee Gees. The Dane from this morning, and his wife sat next to us. At the end of the concert he gave me a questionnaire to fill in for his work back in Denmark. I filled it in later on the loo, it seemed appropriate.

Returning to the cabin I broke my cabin card by sitting on it, but after a visit to reception it was soon replaced. We attended the next quiz on National Costumes and didn’t do very well, there are some weird styles out there.

After coffee and sandwiches at the back of the ship we returned to the Grand Bar to watch a superb ‘Swing’ dance show. The speed of dancing was just blurring, it is a wonder that feet and  hands aren’t shaken off with the exertion. I lost count of the number of tunes they ‘swung’ to, the pace was that quick, and they managed at least a dozen costume changes as well!

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We ate late again this evening and as expected there were very few eating at this time. The evening show was put on by some members of the crew, very amateurish but fun and a nice way to pass then time when there is only BBC World and Italian channels on the TV. If you have ever watched Italian television, Berlusconi has a lot to answer for.

Katakolon

Posted in Uncategorized on March 27, 2016 by David Palmer

With the clocks going forward one hour we were unlikely to have a lie in and it proved so. Those who had booked excursions were up and about rattling doors and talking in corridors thus ensuring that those not on a trip were awake.

Peeling back the blinds we were surprised that we were sharing our anchorage with another cruise ship, the MSC  Fantasia. Katakolon is only a small village that was originally the sea connection for Olympia, but today is just a small cluster of  tourist shops, restaurants and private holiday homes.

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For the first time there was thick cloud and drizzle. Despite this, after breakfast we put on our raincoats and wielding umbrellas we joined other hardy souls and ventured out.

The plan was to walk along the beach until we had seen enough and then return to the village and look at what the shops had to offer. As we hit the beach, miraculously the clouds peeled back revealing a sun that was determined to roast. Likewise, we peeled off the layers and continued with plan A.

We were joined by a large friendly dog who enjoyed our company and the ear fondling that went along with it. Sue kept an eye out for interesting shells and found several, I found half a dozen stranded starfish and saved their lives. Halfway around the bay we came across another amiable dog which scared our new friend and he beat a hasty retreat back home.

We tramped a little further before deciding to cut inland and follow the beach road back to the village. It was interesting to see the other side of the beach properties. Quite a few were up for sale. We came across many refuse bins in clusters along the roadside, piled high with garbage. It was obvious there had been no collections for many months. A sign of the austerity measures the Greeks are protesting about?

Returning to the beach we passed a bar with the proprietor just opening up, so we sat in the sun on the veranda watching fellow passengers pass by on their personal sandy treks. A few, on their return joined us to enjoy drinks and the view. As we were paying the bill it started to drizzle, so under umbrellas again, we ‘hit’ the shops.

Digital Camera

Digital Camera

Finding a few treasures (but with insufficient money) we returned briefly to the ship to get my wallet. After yet another Christmas tree bauble and a top for Sue we made our way back to our cabin and lunch. The sun had pushed away the clouds, the view from the restaurant, high up on the ship gave us a glimpse of the island of Kefalonia, which we were soon to pass after our departure at 2pm.

Digital Camera

Digital Camera

We attended a quiz in the afternoon with Aylo and Mike. Afterwards we discussed the 3:2 victory over the Germans last night before I returned to the cabin and Sue went to join an Easter Egg hunt on the top deck. She joined me a short while later, disappointed that the hunt had been cancelled as it was too windy and the sea had become quite choppy making it tricky to move around. She left sometime later to watch a musical event in the Grand Bar incorporating all the musicians onboard. I was watching the Boat Race and stayed to see both the women’s and men’s races (I may have dozed a little).

The evening meal was formal so smart togs were dug out and brush and smellies applied. We ate late again and as expected there were few in the restaurant.  Champagne was served.

The show was a ventriloquist. He had the difficult task of performing to quite a lot of nationalities and he did it admirably. I should imagine it is difficult enough performing to an audience in one language, to raise laughter from us all was brilliant.

We have a sea day tomorrow and the clocks go back one hour so no hurry to get up. Bliss.

Kalamata

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26, 2016 by David Palmer

Yesterday, we noticed that on the mountain tops in the distance there was snow, yet we had a lovely warm day. Today we expected Kalamata to be cold and cloudy as forecast, yet we woke again to clear blue skies and it was warm (20 degrees by lunchtime).

We had a full day in this fairly large mainland town, not leaving until 7.30pm, so again we had a lazy start. A first look at the town from the heights of Deck 11 were much more favourable than Heraklion of the previous day. We were berthed right next to the main road along the seafront, towering mountains extended on three sides and along the shore to the right of the harbour was  one long and pretty beach.

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We knew nothing of this Greek town so on disembarking Sue acquired a town map from the kiosk situated on the pavement alongside the port side of the ship. Helpfully, the lady circled the castle, museum and old town.

Most passengers opted for the town, but we headed along the promenade and the beach, on the premise that perhaps this sun would not last all day. Being Easter Saturday there were many families out for a walk, we couldn’t help notice how wrapped up in thick coats and gloves the locals were. How crazy we must have seemed to them in our t-shirts, shorts and sandals and how soft they appeared to us on such a lovely day.

We did discover several hardy Greeks taking a morning dip in the sea, but they could have been from Newcastle here on holiday. We didn’t bother to ask as both languages are beyond our comprehension.

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The beach is fringed with lots of picturesque bars and restaurants that we thought would be delightful to dally awhile in during the heat of the summer and watch the fishermen in their little boats going about their business.

With our beach combing completed we headed into the town in search of the the circles on our map. The areas of interest were located on the other side of the municipality, at the end of a very long and straight road that ran right through the centre and conveniently started at the exit of the ship. How considerate of the town planners.

With so much time to play with today we took our time and popped in and out of any shops that took our interest. As we passed through the centre it was noticeable that here was a meeting point for its inhabitants as the crowds increased considerably. Groups of families greeting each other in a convoluted way; hugging and much kissing of cheeks. Particularly among the men, I feel confident in predicting that this will NEVER catch on in Yorkshire.

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We found the town market. A very busy affair full of the usual produce, remarkable not only for the vibrant colours but the large variety of fruity and vegetables available at this time of year. We could see the castle located on a hill above the market and set off to find its entrance.

We did this via the discovery of a tiny church in a grotto underneath the castle walls. Scarily there was an open and thankfully empty grave in the earthen floor. Before the occupant returned from his shopping trip to the market we moved on. At the ticket kiosk 1 Euro secured our entrance and we made our way up to the ramparts. Much of the castle is in poor condition but it did provide excellent views over the town, perfect for a bit of camera work.

Back down the hill in the old quarter, we stopped and watched some masons involved in intricate carvings alongside the Medieval church in readiness for an exhibition to be presented inside, later in the month. Taking advantage of the sun we chose a nearby restaurant to sit and have refreshments. We had a nice chat with Charlotte on Skype and found out that it was raining and cold back home.

As we made our way back to the ship it began to get cloudy and there was chill in the air. After depositing rucksacks in the cabin (for once devoid of any packages), we attacked the Grill and again had a late lunch.

Disappointingly we learned that due to ‘operational’ reasons we won’t be stopping at Civitavecchia on the 29th, but at Livorno instead. We had an excursion booked and will now have to accept a refund or chose another from the new port. We shall see what is on offer.

Venturing out  later in the afternoon, it was quite evident that it had got cold and shorts and T-shirt were exchanged for trousers and a fleece. We ambled further up the beach road for half an hour before hot drinks and returning to the warmth of our cabin.

We watched the departure of the ship through our window, only noticing that we were moving when I caught sight of the end of the harbour wall sliding by. It was now too cold ‘up top’ for us reptilian travellers, which was a shame as through our peep hole we could see the sun setting orange and pink over the mountains scattering streams of rays heavenward through dark, silver lined clouds. Another great photo missed!

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We sat down very late for dinner and there were not many others choosing to join us. We took in the 9.45pm performance of Latin dancing. So colourful and fast.

For some strange reason we have to set our clocks forward 1 hour tonight and then tomorrow night set them 1 hour back. I hope my constitution doesn’t get upset by all this time warping. I just hope that Scotty has the Lithium core on line.

Heraklion

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2016 by David Palmer

Another slow start to the day. Looking out of the window we didn’t have the stunning view of a medieval castle to peruse, we faced acres of uninspiring tarmac covered with stacks of containers of all colours.

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The ship’s excursions had long since departed by the time we emerged onto the quay to board our shuttle bus to the port entrance. Though first impressions weren’t great, at least the run of warm and sunny weather we have been enjoying continued to greet us.

The Thompson Spirit was also in port, so we were expecting lots of Brits to be seen around the place and we weren’t disappointed. Sue picked up a city map from the information kiosk and we set off following the helpful yellow line leading to the centre. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of 100m when we came across some  ‘Hop on, hop off’ tour buses. With no plans made for this port, we hopped on.

We decided it would be a good idea to stay on the bus for its full circuit, see the various attractions highlighted on our map and then return to them. We knew that as this was Greece on a Good Friday, the locals would take this festival very seriously and shops, attractions and museums would be closed.  Only tourist shops would remain open as two ships were in port.

Around two thirds around its route we stopped at the entrance to Knossus. This was closed confirmed the driver. However, two passengers insisted on getting off. The driver enquired with a  staff member standing to one side and discovered that it was indeed open until 11am. It had opened specially just for the excursions from our ship and was then closing. We were off the bus like a shot and standing at the ticket office with Euros in hand. What luck.  The excursions were leaving while we entered, so, we had the whole site to ourselves along with the others that had jumped at the opportunity.

The Minoan palace of Knossos is accredited as being the site of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur and the story of Daedalus and Icarus. It is thought to be around since 3000 BC and was destroyed by an earthquake. It is a very unique site. Much was destroyed by the earthquake and a later major conflagration, but also much still remains and in quite a good state considering its great age.

It is easy to understand theories that the palace itself was the maze in which the mythological half/man half/bull presided when you see for yourself the multiple layers of buildings, structures, alleyways, roadways and watercourses. Some of which have been restored and really do give you an insight into the opulence of the place, with mosaics, wall paintings intricate masonry everywhere. As for Jordan, Petra is a place you must visit, so is Knossos to Crete.

We managed just over 2 hours at the site before the gates were shut and we had to catch the next ‘Hop on’ bus.

With plans amended we alighted next by the port castle and fish market. The castle itself was unremarkable and we gave it only a cursory inspection before heading into the city along the main route where all the tourist shops lay. Yes, Sue did manage to find a Christmas bauble for the tree.

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As it was a Greek holiday the centre was very busy with locals and tourists alike. At the very end of the street we were following we came across a parade made up of school children carrying national flags, the pavements were thronged with cheering locals (we assumed parents). Later we came across groups of families posing for photos with proud uniformed children holding the Greek flag.

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In Lion Square at the the centre of the city we found a restaurant with a high balcony and sat watching the crowd below while we had refreshments. It was fascinating observing how they celebrated; most carried little flags, all seemed happy and intent on engaging everyone around in conversation. And the sun shone.

Refreshed, we paid the bill and made our way back to the port via a different route to that which we had earlier trod. As we got closer we became aware that there were little ribbons of cruise ship passengers heading in the same direction, intent on not being left behind.

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Reaching the port terminal we boarded our shuttle bus and were soon up in the Grill restaurant enjoying a very late lunch.

Sue enjoys watching the ship leave port so she went on deck to say goodbye to Crete. I watched the breaking news from Brussels on the TV in our cabin.

When Sue arrived back in the cabin we shamefully napped until it was time for the evening show, a very good tenor who sang ‘passionate’ songs. Well we are aboard the Romantica!

The meal afterwards was a major disappointment. The Botticelli was advertising the menu as ‘Food for Connoisseurs’, Sue suggested that we give it a try. As usual the service was agonisingly slow, principally due to the system in operation for ordering and delivering the food. The waiters work hard, never stop moving or have time to chat with the passengers. We tend only to use this restaurant on rare occasions. We expected great food and received ill conceived, pretty but tasteless fare. Much of it went back. Sue’s soup was a cracker; pork jowl and seafood with cannelloni beans. When she ordered it the waiter informed us that it was a dry soup.  And it was. It went back.

It was later announced during dessert that the chef has 7 Michelin stars. Hmm, we thought they went up to 3 stars, but perhaps that is just for British chefs. Maybe they meant he has 7 Michelin tyres?

A very short trot around the decks this evening, it has got a little chilly. What is going on? Afterwards, reading the ship’s magazine in the cabin we spotted a typo error for tomorrow – Max temp 12 c?

No way. Goodnight.

Rhodes

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2016 by David Palmer

What a wonderful day. It began when we opened our blinds and there was the castle of Rhodes resplendent in the sunshine with the Greek flag flying proud.

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I had been to Rhodes before, with Nan, Sarah and Jamie. Sue and Charlotte had stayed at home because of the scheduling of the British examination boards. I remember the island with fond memories and was hoping to show Sue some of the sights I had visited in the Old Town.

We had a leisurely breakfast as we were not moving on until the evening.

Disembarking onto a quay that was only a few hundred metres from the castle walls meant that we were soon ambling along between the sea and fortifications. They are so impressive. You can imagine that any potential attacker would have been deterred and hence move on to easier plunder. The multiple layers of defence are practically intact, untouched by time or man.

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After negotiating the lower ramparts we struck inwards through the walls via a heavily fortified system of gates that for any aggressor would have meant certain death. The number of huge round stone ‘crushing’ balls lying around was testament to failed past conflicts.

Entering the Old Town we encountered a maze of narrow cobbled roads  festooned with shops and restaurants. Immediately Sue dropped into search mode and started investigating each shop in turn while I sat on a bench beneath the imposing walls and played ‘scratch my ear’ with one of the town cats.  Without Euros no purchase was possible so an ATM was located and the buying spree began. At this point Sue mentioned that we must not under any circumstances let our daughters know what a wonderful place this is for bargains. So I promised to keep quiet and not mention it when we returned home.

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A Christmas bell, a jumper and blouse, dress, glass trees for the windowsill and wooden Easter eggs were all securely packaged up before we exited through the castle walls 3 hours later and headed for the ship.

Back on board we deposited our ‘booty’ in the cabin and made our way to the restaurant. We met Aylo there who had been having a bad morning. He too, like us had spent the morning in the town, but for him it was a reliving of the time when he had visited with his now deceased wife and found it very upsetting. He was in tears. During lunch he asked if he could join us for our afternoon excursion into town and what could we say?

We met him again on the quay for our second attack, this time vowing to take ‘no booty’. Aylo was good company, he was very knowledgeable on all that we looked at and was an expert on where everything was that was worth looking at. The castle keep was a particular high point. Many photographs and the reading of information boards later we found ourselves back in the main tourist area where our earlier entrapment occurred.

A leather bag (Sue), a Gant T-shirt (me) and a Lexus baseball (Aylo) later found us in the main square. Deciding to quench our thirst on a gorgeously warm day we found a restaurant with the highest level of floors and secured a table with wonderful views of the town fountain, square and castle. On ordering drinks I was delighted to discover that my Mythos came in a litre glass boot. How novel and worth a photo.

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We stayed chatting and observing the people below for over an hour, enjoying the sunshine and ambience of Greek culture.

On our return to the ship, meandering through the maze of streets, it was a close call on several occasions not to enlarge our already large carrier bags. Sue and I vowed that we shall return here in the future and ‘spend’ more time to get to know the place better.

Back on board we again deposited bags in the cabin and made our way ‘up top’ for tea and sandwiches. Does this never end?

Sue watched our departure from the ancient harbour of Rhodes on deck, the sun was low over the town and the sky was  acquiring that mellow glow, reminiscent of  warm summer evenings in the UK (Charlotte on Messenger mentioned that it was tipping it down in Rothwell).

We went for our evening meal very late and caught the 9.45pm magic show. And it was magic! Novel, amusing, quirky and at times downright astounding. Where do they find these people? Frederiko Fontanili, you should be on the tele.

No late night walk along the deck, the sea was becoming rough and the swaying of the boat made it unsafe for Sue’s bone structure, so hand in hand it was down the lift (for once) and into hammocks.