Archive for August, 2009

Italy Day 10 – Last Day

Day 10                   Rome                     Hot

 Please note there are several more photos up on the Gallery on our Blog site.

 After another leisurely breakfast, we headed off on foot to further explore Borghese gardens.  Trusty map in hand and via some back streets, we found the gardens and wandered through them for a couple of relaxing hours.  We found a lovely lake in the gardens, with the usual ducks and a little boy throwing bread to them.  We could have hired a row boat, but thought that may be pushing our luck a little bit. 

We also came across part of the old Roman walls, through which traffic still passes.  Richard was able to take some photos of the gates, which he had previously tried to get from the bus, but the photo had not turned out very well.

We walked back to the hotel and we were quite amused once again at they way the Italians park – we saw several Smart cars parked sideways to save room – and we even saw the smallest car we have ever seen. Its length was less than the width of the car it was parked beside!  There is a photo in the gallery on our blog.

We have been amazed at how close the Italians park their cars, sometimes with less than a foot between the other cars.  We have no idea how they get them out!

By 11.00 we were back at the hotel to have our showers and do our final packing, ready to check out of our room by 12.00.  We adjourned to the lounge to enter some more information onto the blog and to check emails, as we are being collected at 2.00pm for our trip to the airport, which will probably take about 45 minutes, depending on the traffic.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Italy.  The scenery and historical places we have visited have been absolutely amazing.  We’ve said it before, but history does come to life when you walk the same streets as the ancient Romans did many years before us. Places like Rome, Florence Pisa, Verona and Venice have to be seen to be believed. 

We have had no problems communicating with anybody, although sometimes we needed to use a mixture of English, Italian and sign language!

All of the people that we have come in contact with, have been friendly and helpful.

We have tried, wherever possible, to eat the traditional Italian foods of the area and found them to be very tasty – in fact, they appear to be more subtle flavours than the meals that we get from the Italian restaurants at home.  Richard has commented on many occasions that the wines are also more subtle and somewhat sweeter than the wines he has had in Australia.

We have been surprised that the weather has been so hot and humid.  We had packed a tracksuit/jeans, just in case the north of Italy was cool, but these clothes never left the suitcase!

While we are disappointed that our holiday it Italy is over, we are looking forward to returning to London to spend some more time with Janet and Adrian, helping Janet to celebrate her birthday and then heading off on our next adventure… to Ireland.

Arrividerci Roma !

Italy Day 8 and 9

Day 8           Rome                     HOT

 After a leisurely start to the morning, we caught a taxi about 9.00am and headed for the Pantheon, which we were not able to get into last weekend.  We were pleased that we did get to see it as it is an amazing building, which is round with a domed roof, which was a single casting, with a whole in the middle to allow the dome to move and absorb the affects of minor earth tremors.  It was particularly nice to be able to see this building without the huge crowds of tourists that had been present at all the major attractions last weekend.  Rome appears to be fairly quiet – maybe it is just the changeover between one set of tourists going home and the next lot arriving today.

We took this opportunity to revisit The Trevi Fountain, to take more photos and to buy Richard two silk ties from Beny, the place that Katharine bought some for him on her visit to Rome with Tim and Rach a few years ago.

Then with a map in our hand, we through caution to the wind and headed off through the winding streets with long Italian names, to find the river Tiber, which we did.  As it flows through Rome, it is not a very wide river.  By now it was approaching the middle of the day and siesta time (for the Italians) and it was getting very hot and humid, so we decided it was time to return to the hotel Albani to get out of the sun. 

The plan was to have lunch here at the hotel, but on arrival just after 12.00, we discovered that, no, the lunch area and bar are closed between 12.00 and 3.00 every day – nice to see that serving the tourist guests doesn’t interfere with their siesta time!  We raided the mini bar and found some chips and a cold drink to tide us over until 3.00 when we were able to get a sandwich.

After uploading our blog and photos we headed off on foot to explore the area around the hotel and to see if we could find an entrance to the adjoining park and maybe some shops.  We walked around the perimeter of the park, but unfortunately, we were not able to find an unlocked gate.  We did however, find, several blocks away, the equivalent of a David Jones/Myer department store and with the aid of a helpful shop attendant, were able to find a grocery store where we purchased some essential supplies like cashew nuts and bottled water.

Around 7.30pm we met up with Dennis and Lauree, as previously arranged, and headed of to a local restaurant for dinner.  When we arrived there, we were surprised to discover two of our other fellow tour group, Cal and Diane, so we sat next to them and the six of us enjoyed a leisurely meal and some drinks, laughed and chatted about nothing in particular, but just enjoyed each others’ company.   We headed back to the hotel for a nightcap with Cal and Diane.  A lovely night was had!

 Day 9           Rome                     Hot

 With no definite plans in mind, we had a leisurely 8.30 breakfast, and ran into Tom and Laurel in the dining room – they were going to catch a train later in the morning to take them to their ship for a cruise. 

After checking the map for interesting places that we had not previously visited and also trying to find somewhere that would keep us away from the main tourist population, we discovered the Villa Borghese, a large parkland area reasonably close to our hotel.  Borghese also houses Rome’s Zoo, so we called a taxi and off we went.  The Zoo was interesting – a little run down – but the animals seemed to be well cared for. 

We visited the giraffes, zebras, said g’day to a wallaby who was more interested in preening itself than saying g’day to us, elephants, brown bears frolicking in the water.  We even found some interesting cats for Janet to add to her collection of cats from Greece – a tiger and some lemur cats, Madagascar style.

Here Kitty kitty....

Here Kitty kitty....

Cats Madagascar style

Cats Madagascar style

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were disappointed that we couldn’t get any really close photos of the tigers or lions but by the time we got to their areas, it was getting on towards mid-day and they were resting in semi-concealed, shady places.

We concluded our visit to the zoo with a sandwich and cold drink and decided that our hotel looked close enough for us to walk, which we did.  We walked past the Galleria Borghese and the Borghese gardens. The walk back to the hotel only took us about 20 minutes and we were able to walk on the shady side of the streets, so we were quite pleased with ourselves.

The next couple of hours were taken up with reading and resting and listening to books.  Richard is enjoying being able to listen to his talking books on his Ipod.

We are planning to just hover about now until dinner time, when we will probably catch up with Dennis and Lauree again for dinner in a local restaurant.

Italy Tour Days 5, 6 and 7

Day 5           Florence to Venice via Verona             Sunny and very hot

 Today, we travelled up and through the Apennine Mountains and through some very picturesque agricultural countryside.  We like the way Italians build roads – when you come to a hill, go through it!  We were surprised at the number and length of the tunnels that we drove through. 

Our coach is very comfortable, with plenty of leg room, reclining seat backs, tray tables and air conditioning, with individual air vents.  Aida has a system where each day we rotate our seat positions by moving 5 seats in a clockwise direction.  This means that everyone gets a turn at the front and the back – very fair system!  Our luggage is delivered to and collected from our rooms on the days that we are travelling so there is no lifting of suitcases for us to worry about.

When we got to Verona, the medieval setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we walked through the narrow streets to see Juliet’s balcony and to take photos to record our visit.  There is a statue of Juliet there that is supposedly lucky if you rub her “chest”, so we have a photo of Richard doing that!

We were given lots of free time to have a walk through the very clean and charming market square – we walked past the Verona Arena to the square.  We bought a sandwich and sat in the lovely little park to eat it and soak up the atmosphere.

We arrived in Venice late in the afternoon – the bus dropped us a short distance from our hotel as he wasn’t able to come any further because of the canals.  Our suitcases were delivered by boat, and we walked the short distance along the canals and over several little bridges to our hotel, the Hotel Carlton and Grand Canal, which is on the Grand Canal.

We couldn’t believe that we were actually walking along the canals in Venice!

After checking in to the hotel, we went for a short stroll to check out the area, had a cuppa and met the rest of the group at 5.45 where we were taken to an area where Globus had organised Gondola rides for us all.  There were 6 of us in each gondola and e spent almost an hour gliding through centuries-old canals, being serenaded as we went under famous bridges, past lavish palaces and quaint piazzas.

After that wonderful experience, we caught private water taxis and were taken for a Venetian Night Out in a lovely restaurant for a tasty four course meal with local wine – Richard has discovered the local red wine and had one or several!!!

After dinner, Aida took us for a walk through the back streets, ending up at St Mark’s Square, where we were delighted to find several musical groups entertaining both the paying customers and lots of people who were just happy to stand and listen.

One group would play and when they we were finished a few pieces and stopped for a break, the group outside the next restaurant would start and this continued around the square for some time.

After a lovely evening, we met Aida and were taken home to our hotel in water taxis.

 Day 6                    Venice                             HOT and HUMID

 At 8.00am we were collected by private boat and taken for a lovely ride through the canals to the waterfront, just past St Mark’s Square.  We met our local guide for a tour of the Doge’s Palace (the Doge was elected by the people, like a president or prime minister), which was an impressive building.

From there we went through a secret passage, across the Bridge of Sighs to the prison cells.  The Bridge of Sighs is so named because, as the prisoners were being led across the bridge, they were able to catch their last glimpse of Venice, knowing that they wouldn’t ever get to see it again, and so they sighed….. so the story goes!

From there we went to see a demonstration of glassblowing, a dying art.  We were impressed with how easy the glassblower made it look and how quickly he produced a jug.  Richard bought Sandy some Murano earrings and necklace as a souvenir of their visit to Venice.

The group dispersed to do their own thing and we  went up into the belltower, where we had a magnificent view over the whole of Venice, approximately 7 square kilometres, and also over St Mark’s Square , itself.  The bell in the clock opposite has two figures that strike the bell at 9am, 12noon, 6pm and 12midnight (see photos in the gallery).

We met up with the rest of the group and Aida took us to our private boat for a cruise past the islands of San Giorgio, Santa Elena and Lido to the picturesque fishing village of Burano, which is famous for its lace and pastel coloured houses.  We had a lovely lunch in an air conditioned restaurant – it was very, very hot and muggy outside!

After lunch, we had plenty of time to stroll through the many lace shops, where we made some purchases, before heading back to the boat for our ¾ hour trip back to Venice.  Aida then organised for us to take a the bus (water bus) back to our hotel – it stopped across the canal, so we only needed to walk a short distance alongside the Grand Canal, and over two bridges before we were home at the hotel.

After a much needed shower, we downloaded our photos and did our blog before getting packed and organised to leave Venice tomorrow morning to head back to Rome.

We have really enjoyed our first visit to Venice.  It is such an unusual place, having canals instead of streets – it is such a different way of life.  History and culture seemed to come to life with an entirely new perspective – like so many of the places we have been fortunate to visit, the things that we have previously learnt about, have come to life with a vitality and beauty that is really difficult to put into words.

 Day 7           Venice to Rome                         Hot

 We were up early and went for a walk along the canal in the strange misty, foggy morning, and came back in time to see our suitcases being loaded onto a little open boat to be taken along the canals to the bus.  Richard was able to get a great photo of the little boat shrouded in mist and our suitcases balanced seemingly precariously. We also saw a delivery boat and a green garbage boat – very interesting!

Today was a long day as it was time to make our way from Venice back to Rome, some 570 kilometres, mainly along the Autostrada, retracing our steps from Venice to the outskirts of Florence through the fog and then down to Rome. The drive through the Tuscany region was beautiful, with its mountains and fertile farming areas, including Aida’s favourite sunflowers. We stopped for a morning tea/comfort stop and then again for lunch, arriving in Rome at about 3.30.

We have come back to the Albani Hotel (the same one we stayed at last weekend) and were pleased that they have given us a much nicer room on the other side of the hotel from where we were last time.  Our room has a private balcony overlooking the park and is very modern with mauve walls, lime green carpet, bright floral curtains, white bedspread, tiled bathroom with panels in different bright colours – orange, mauve and blue.  It sounds revolting, but is very nice!

We had a shower, did some washing and then got “tarted up” for our Farewell Dinner.  We were taken in the coach to a restaurant in the centre of Rome, where a room had been set up for our tour group.  We sat with a lovely couple from Canada – John and Rosemary, who we seem to have a connection with, and Tom and Laurel, who are also lovely. 

We had a delicious five course meal, traditional Italian style.  Richard has been so impressed with the food as you can see by the photos and Sandy has managed to eat some of the courses as they made them especially without garlic.  There was a more than ample supply of red wine, which Richard has consumed at meal times, and has also taken a liking to the Italian beer, Nastro Azzurro, which he drinks at other times. Sandy won a bottle of bubbly by getting the answer correct to a question asked by the proprietor of all of us. Richard thought his luck had changed when he saw a reasonable sized coffee cup heading his way, thinking that he was going to get more than just two mouthfuls, as per the Italian Espresso way, but alas, the cup was only ¼ full and he had his usual two mouthfuls of black, sweet coffee!

We had a young couple, Chris and Sarah, on their honeymoon, and they shouted each table to a bottle of bubbly. We were entertained by a local flautist, Maurizio Orefice.  All the girls headed off to the ladies and took their cameras with them!  The ladies bathroom had lots of fresh flowers. At the end of the night, the proprietor came around and gave all the ladies a fresh red rose – maybe just so that he could kiss us all !!!

After dinner, Rafaelle and Aida took us for a drive in the coach, to see Rome by night – absolutely beautiful.  Rafaelle was even able to stop at St Peter’s square and the avid photographers were able to get off the bus for a few quick photos.

On returning to the hotel, we met up with some of the group for a goodnight drink in the bar.  We were able to say goodbye to a lovely family, with Italian background, Franco and Franka and their two delightful teenagers, Elisa and Anthony.  (Sandy told Franka the story of her sister, Maria’s friends, Frank and Frances!) We also met a lovely couple from the United States, Janet (!) and Phil.

We met so many lovely people on this tour – too many to mention here in this blog.

As most people will be checking out at various times tomorrow morning, starting from 5.00am, we said most of our goodbyes tonight.  We have an extra two nights in Rome for more adventures.

Italy Tour

Day 1           Athens to Rome               Hazy – smokey/blue skies & hot

 Our taxi, arranged by Globus, picked us up at 5.30am to take us to the airport for our flight to Rome.  We checked in and got through all the formalities with no hassles whatsoever.  We were told that we had to be there 3 hours before, but for quite a while, we were the only people sitting in the departure area. 

A Globus coach picked us, and several other people from our tour up and took us to our hotel in Rome, which was a 40 minute drive.  We finally arrived at our hotel at about 1.15pm.  Sandy finished off the postcards, while Richard had a rest.

The tour group were taken out to an authentic Italian restaurant for a lovely meal, to get to know each other.  There are 43 people in our tour group – the ones we have met so far are really lovely.  Most of them come from Canada or America, with a few from other places – we are the only Aussies.

 At the restaurant, we were entertained by two Italian musicians, who sang and played the guitar and a flute.  After a couple of vinos, we were all singing along and having a really good time, with much laughter.  RJ has discovered Italian beer – he is trying to try the local beer from each place we visit.

 Day 2           Rome                     Blue skies    hot

By 8.15am we had breakfast and we were in a very short queue at the Colosseum. Travelling with Globus has lots of advantages – as happened in the Greek Islands, we seem to be able to get into areas first.  This is really good because we are getting to see areas like the Colosseum without thousands of other tourists being there.  We met our guide, Stefano, who was using a system supplied by Globus called “The Whisper”, which is a system where the guide has a microphone and the rest of us have a small radio receiver attached to a lanyard worn around the neck.  The radio receiver has an earpiece, which means that we can all hear what the guide is saying, while he can continue to walk in front of us, saving huge amounts of time as we don’t have to stop and gather around him to hear what he has to say.

The Colosseum was amazing.  The stories and photographs that we have seen in our history lessons don’t come anywhere near to showing the size and former grandeur of this ancient architectural masterpiece.  The walls in the outer ring are 50 metres above ground and more than 100,000 cubic metres of travertine were used to build it.  The amphitheatre took 10 years to build and was used for ceremonies and games.  It could hold approximately 70,000 people, who came to watch the gladiators in combat.  The eighty arches at ground level led, via a system of internal corridors, to the 160 outlets that took the visitor to his place on the steps of the cavea, which was borne by arches and vaults.

We then went out to the Great Square of the Colosseum and passed under the Arch of Constantine to the Roman Forum, which was the commercial, religious, political and legal centre of the city, to the Square of the Roman Forum, through an Olive Grove to the Arch of Severus and viewed the valley of the Forum, where our guide explained what it used to look like.

We saw the Arch of Septimus Severus and the Temple of Venus, before heading across the River Tiber to the Vatican City to St Peter’s Square.  After a short wait to get through the metal detectors, we were able to go into St Peter’s Basilica, which was absolutely beautiful.  Again, the size and grandeur need to be experienced as our photos will not be able to show it properly – as well as the fact that there were quite a few people there and it was hard to get photos.

Standing before the altar was a moving experience.  Outside the Basilica, we were able to get a photo of some Swiss Guards having a chat to a priest.

After lunch and a short rest, we were taken back into the city, via the old Roman Wall – there is only 9 miles of it left.  Firstly we walked down the Spanish Steps to the lovely Fountain at the bottom and then on to the Statue of the Virgin Mary, before continuing our walking tour to the Trevi Fountain.  Both of us tossed a coin into the fountain – 1 coin to return to Rome, 2 coins for a new love, 3 coins for a divorce, or so we were told!  The Trevi Fountain was bigger than we thought it would be and there were hundreds of people gathered around to toss coins and take photos.

We then continued on past Hadrian’s Temple to the Pantheon, where we could only get a small glimpse of the interior through the gap in the doors as it was closed – very disappointing as we can remember how impressed Katharine was with its interior.  It was built in honour of all the Olympian gods, in about 27AD.

After a short break to get a large Gelati ice cream – the best we have ever tasted – we had a look around the Piazza Navona, which was built on the racetrack of the emperor Domitian. We saw the Church of St Agnus and the Fountain of the Four Rivers, before being taken back to our hotel, the Albani.

A group of us then went for a walk to a little local restaurant, where we had a lovely meal and enjoyed the company of some of our new friends, before returning to the hotel and falling into bed, exhausted after a wonderful day of sightseeing in Rome.

 Day 3           Rome to Florence             Blue Skies    Hot

 Because the Vatican Museum was closed yesterday, we left the hotel early this morning and went to the Vatican Museum, where we saw some ancient tapestries, sculptures and paintings which lined the corridors leading to the Sistine Chapel.  Once again, Globus had arranged for the group to get into this area of the Vatican one hour before normal admittance time, so we were able to move through the corridors leading to the Chapel and view the Chapel before it became crowded with other tourists.

We were not able to take photos – Richard was not game because of the number of guards and that the whole group could have been evicted.  The ceiling that Michelangelo painted is truly a masterpiece and we could have spent hours there to be able to look at each individual fresco in depth.  The upper segments of the walls tell the story up to the time of Moses and the other side tells the story up to the time of the Last Supper.

Then we all piled on he coach to head to Fiorenze (Florence).  We stopped at a Services (a roadside café attached to a petrol station) for lunch and they had great freshly made sandwiches, pizzas etc. 

Our next stop was at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Sandy’s sister, Maria had told us how commercialised the area was and how it took ages to actually get to the Tower, but even that didn’t prepare us.  We were overwhelmed by the huge number of street vendors along the pathway that led to the Tower and also the number of tourists that were there!

We went through the entrance gates, Porta Santa Maria, where the view was great.  We could see the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, lawns with people either sitting or lying on then just looking at the Tower, and many people visiting the street vendors.  We were given time to take photos and have a look around, before we had to make our way back to the meeting place, to board our little train, which took us back to the parking area – there is no parking anywhere NEAR the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

We continued on through Tuscany, arriving at our hotel, Hilton Metropole, at about 6.45pm.  We had a nice leisurely dinner in the hotel restaurant with the others, before heading back to our rooms at about 9.00pm to download photos and get some sleep.

 Day 4           Florence                          Sunny & Hot

 We left the hotel just after 8.00am for a walking tour of the centre of Florence.  The tour took us through the narrow streets, to the Academy of Fine Arts, an unassuming very plain building, which houses the original famous statue of David, by Michelangelo, together with some of his other sculptures and a number of prized paintings.  Michelangelo died in Rome, aged 89, and was brought home to Florence to be buried.

The statue of David was created in 1504 when Michelangelo was only 26 and is a masterpiece of the Renaissance period.  It was moved from its original position outside the Town Hall so that it could be preserved.  We were taken with the size of the statue and the attention to detail shown by Michelangelo, who had studied anatomy – you could see the veins on the back of his hands as well as on his neck; the muscles in his legs, arms and abdomen; and even his ribs.

This was something that Sandy had wanted to see for a while now and she was very moved by the experience.

We walked leisurely through the streets, following our guide, Andreas, (who was using the Whisper) to the Piazza del Duomo – the cathedral which was quite amazing with its white, green and pink colours – which stand for Faith, Hope and Charity.  We saw the Baptistry door made of Bronze and Gold too.

We then went to the Piazza Della Signoria where we saw a sculpture of the Doubting Thomas at the church of Orsan Michele on the way.  The square has an open air display of statues made of marble and bronze and they had a copy of the statue of David in its original place outside the entrance to the Town Hall.  There was also a statue of Hercules and a Bronze and Marble Fountain with Neptune at the centre of it, called The Neptune Fountain.

We then walked to the Piazza Santa Croce (the Holy Cross) where we saw the Holy Cross Basilica.  We were taken into a leather shop where they talked to us about leather clothing and some people bought leather jackets, bags etc.

We had lunch with another couple at a lovely little outdoor café overlooking the square where we had lasagne, which tasted great – Richard had an Italian beer and Laurie and Dennis had wine. Dennis is an American entertainer and motivator and a very funny man.  He and Laurie are just delightful.

Then we headed back to the hotel to do our blog and have some quiet time before getting tarted up to be taken out into the Tuscan Hills to enjoy a traditional Florentine meal, in a picturesque setting, with musicians to entertain us.

Greek Island Tour

Day 1 Maidenhead to Athens Sunny and Warm

Our taxi collected us from Maidenhead at 6.30am on Sunday 16 August to take us (Richard, Sandy, Janet and Adrian) to the new Heathrow terminal number 5 for our flight to Athens, Greece.

We arrived in Athens at 2.00pm local time to a beautiful clear blue sky and a warm afternoon with a slight breeze.  Our Globus representative, Elpida, was waiting for us and took us to the awaiting bus – yes we had a bus just for the four of us – and the bus took us to our beautiful hotel, the Divani Caravel, where we got organised and went up to the rooftop pool for lunch – and Janet had a swim.  We then met with Elpida and the other members of our group – 8 if us in total. Elpida explained what our itinerary was for tomorrow and stepped through the procedure for embarkation to the MS Aquamarine.

We then went for a walk in the twilight and found a kerbside restaurant, where we had a lovely traditional Greek meal, before returning to our hotel for the evening.

Day 2 Athens to Mykonos Sunny and windy

By 7.15am, we were on the bus for our city tour and then down to the port of Piraeus for our first glimpse of the ship that will take us on our adventures around the Greek Islands.  We met Beverley, who will be our Globus Tour Guide, (for the 8 of us).  There are several major tour companies with passengers on this cruise and each of the groups has their own tour guide – lucky for us that ours is so small – we are getting really great individual attention!

The ship has 7 decks – our state rooms are on the 3rd deck from the top (the Promenade deck), below us is the restaurant, buffet, lounge etc and under that are the other 3 passenger decks.  Our cabins have a view out the windows on the port side of the ship.

The ship left the dock at 11.00am and headed out into the Mediterranean Sea.  Shortly after that, we had a lifeboat drill and after the Captain had inspected each of the lifeboat stations, we were able to get on with enjoying ourselves.

After checking out the ship and working out where everything is, we had lunch with 2 of the other members of our group, Debbie and her daughter, Katie, who are from Pennsylvania and seem to be really lovely.

It became very windy, with a lot of white caps, and we were restricted from some of the outer decks, so we came back to our room and had a chat about our shore excursions among other things.

We arrived at Mykonos at 6.00pm and were amongst the first passengers to be called to disembark.  Beverley had suggested that instead of us having free time on Mykonos, she would love to take us for a walk through the town, pointing out the “special” places.  Needless to say, the 8 of us quickly agreed.

We spent approximately the next 3 hours wandering through the narrow streets and along the shore line, exploring this fascinating place.  We saw many of the traditional small churches, the town square, the fish market, the multitude of diverse shops tucked away amongst the narrow windy streets – in some places the streets would barely allow 3 people to walk side by side.

Every building on Mykonos is white – window frames, doors, domes and balconies can be of any colour, but the buildings and the grouting between the stone paving is white.  This was an amazing sight as some of the houses are built into the rocky hillside.

We also saw Little Venice, which was built in an area called Alefkandra, where the early ship captains built the houses, right on the shoreline, with their back balconies facing the sea so that they could check out everything that was coming and gong in the harbour.

Overlooking Little Venice, were the symbol of Mykonos, the famous windmills, which were once used for grinding wheat and barley, using the force of the strong wind that blows into Mykonos all year round.

We enjoyed a traditional Greek snack, Gyros, which is a toasted round flat bread, filled with chicken, onion, tomato, tzatsiki and potato and folded up like a cone, which is then put in a cone shaped packet for you to eat the snack from – it was delicious!

After walking around for quite a while, we decided to get a traditional crepe before heading back to the buses to take us back to the boat after a wonderful time on Mykonos.

After a couple of pints for Richard and Adrian and a Tropical Island cocktail for Sandy and Janet, it was time for writing our blog and off to bed, while our ship sails on to Kusadasi in Turkey for our next onshore adventure.

Day 3 Kusadasi and Patmos Blue skies, no clouds, hot 35 deg

After an early morning wake-up call at 5.30am and a nice breakfast, we disembarked the ship at 7.00am.  Overnight the ship had sailed from Mykonos to Kusadasi (this is pronounced Koosh-add-iss-ee in Turkey).  A fleet of buses met us to take various groups on different tours.  We met our tour guide, Can (pronounced John in Turkish) as we were off to explore Ephesus, one of the biggest outdoor museums in the world.

Ephesus is the site of an ancient Ionian city which is still being excavated and restoration is being carried out on some of the structures as significant parts are found.  So far, 10% of the lost city has been uncovered.

We were impressed with the columns and remains of the ancient city that we were able to walk through.  Some of the things we saw were:  Marble roads, the remains of a significant library, the temple of Hadrian, the fountain of Trajan, the gate of Hercules and the incredible semi circular theatre constructed in around 150AD.

Janet was taken with the number of cats roaming the site and took lots of photos of them.

It was an incredible experience to be able to walk in the footsteps of history.

We were then taken back to Kusadasi via a scenic drive and past the farmer’s markets to the shopping area, where we got to see authentic Turkish carpets that had taken several women up to 2 years to make.  We could have purchased one and the government would have funded sending it to our home address anywhere in the world.  Unfortunately, the one that Sandy really liked cost approximately 6000 euoros…….maybe next time!  Sandy bought a new pair of ear-rings (she lost one of hers somewhere between London and Athens).

We arrived back at the ship, tired but happy with what we had seen.  Globus arranged for Beverley to shout us a free cocktail before lunch. We spent the afternoon relaxing while the ship sailed to the island of Patmos.

We disembarked at 3.30pm by tenders, as the ship could not berth because the water wasn’t deep enough.  Our bus and tour guide took us on a drive up into the hills, where we able to see the most stunning landscape and views – the port, Skala, and the ship lying at anchor, were spread out below us.  We were shown what is believed to be the place that John, the Evangelist, wrote the book of Revelations – the Holy Cave, which is also called St Johns Grotto.

After returning to the ship, we had a lovely 4 course dinner in the dining room, where we all came dressed in blue and white for the Greek Night and then were entertained by the ship’s crew, singing and dancing Greek style.

Day 4 Rhodes Blue skies very hot 39 degrees

Overnight, the ship sailed from Patmos to Rhodes Island, where we disembarked to join a land tour at 7.15am that took us to Lindos, a 45 minute drive in the bus.  By the time we got there it was already over 30 degrees and we knew it was going to be a very hot day.  The entire town of Lindos has been officially designated an archaeological site, which will ensure its preservation.  Its acropolis stands on the peak of Mt Philerimos – it has a beautiful colonnade and on a high platform, the Temple of Athena Lindia.  When we arrived at bus parking area, we first had to walk down a fairly steep hill for about half a kilometre and then through the narrow streets of the old town and then it was up, up and up even more!  We walked up about 300 steps to start with to the base of the medieval walls constructed by the knights of St John in the 13th century, where we had a brief rest (10 minutes) while our tour guide gave us historical information about the Knights of St John and Temple of Athena.

We then walked (trudged) up the narrow steep rock staircase, which eventually widened out as it entered the old Temple.  It is fantastic to see that the Greek authorities are reconstructing these sites as segments are being uncovered.  We would like to return to these sites in a few years’ time to discover how much of the old buildings/structures they have been able to reconstruct using the original building materials.  When we reached the Temple of Athena, which is considered to be the most worshipped temple of the Ancient Greek world, we were treated to some of the most spectacular views we have seen.  Words will not do it justice, nor will our photos which you will be able to see too, on our Blog Gallery.

After, many photos, and having consumed quite a large amount of water, it was time to carefully make our way down the stone/pebbled paths back to the waiting bus.

Next stop was a pottery maker, who whipped up a vase in about 2 minutes flat using traditional methods, including turning the wheel by foot.

Then we were taken back to the town of Rhodes where we walked through part of the old Medieval City of Rhodes.  We walked down through the Chevaliers Road and viewed the Palace of the Knights of St John – the Grand Masters Palace – and the Knights Hospital.  This is an unusual place because there are still more than 6000 people living and working within the walls of this old city, in the very same buildings in the Knights lived 6 centuries ago.

We returned to the ship for lunch and relaxed for a while until the hottest part of the day had gone and then the four us caught the shuttle bus back to Rhodes town, where we had a nice 20 minute walk to a lovely beach called Elli Beach.  The water was absolutely beautiful and Sandy, Janet and Adrian went for a swim while Richard sat in the shade and minded the bags.  The beach itself is quite unusual for us Aussies, as it was very pebbly and the shoreline was crowded with beach lounges and umbrellas with hundreds of people enjoying themselves in the water and lying in the sun.

Tonight, we were invited to the Captain’s Cocktail Party, where we all got “tarted” up and officially met the Captain and had a photo taken with him.  We were also introduced to his senior officers and given free drinks and hors douvres.  Beverley, our onboard Globus Tour Guide, joined us for the Captain’s Cocktail Party , which was great as she is always a lot of fun.  Then we went into the dining room for a fun filled evening with the rest of our group.  The food was good and when it came time for dessert, all the lights went out and the waiters and assistants did a parade of Baked Alaska (which was alight) and serenaded us with a selection of songs.  Everyone in the dining room clapped along loudly and joined in. Our waiter, Christoss, has been entertaining us with his own unusual sense of humour, including not allowing Sandy to miss one of the 4 courses and brought it to her and told her to eat it as it would be good for her – much to the others’ amusement!

After a stroll around the deck with Janet and Adrian, it was time to come back to our cabin and write our blog.

Day 5 Crete  and Santorini Blue skies very hot

Heraklion was our starting point for our Taste of Crete tour, which departed the wharf at 7.30am.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable morning at a much easier pace than yesterday.  We drove through the lovely countryside, looking at the Cretan’s 2nd and 3rd highest income earners – grapes for wine, and olives for oil and many other products.  The 1st highest income is tourism.  The number of tourists that visit Crete and the other Greek Islands each year far outweighs the number of permanent inhabitants.

We drove through Knossos, out through the country, which looked like a patchwork quilt of vineyards and olive groves side-by-side growing on hills and in valleys, to a little town called Peza to the Minos-Miliarakis winery.  Here we watched a video about how the Cretans used to make the wine and how they make it today and then had a little taste of a white wine, a red medium wine and finally a red sweet wine.  Apparently, the mild winters and hot, dry climate of Crete, and the sun and the northerly breezes off the Sea of Crete, ensures a great growth cycle of exceptional local grape varieties.

We continued on through the countryside to a place called Archanes, where we walked through the local little streets, stopping at the Archanes Museum where they had a great archaeological display.  Then we were taken to a café/taverna and treated to a taste of the Cretan food and music.  We were each given a little plate with a spinach pie, a cheese pie, a honey puff, with some local yoghurt and honey and some cheese and olives.  We had a herbal tea and Richard and Adrian had some Raki, which is basically Ouzo without the aniseed.  While we ate, we were entertained by a man and two young ladies, dressed in traditional Greek clothes – they performed several traditional Greek dances for us – while two men played traditional Greek instruments. Then they made us all get up and taught us how to do a very simple Greek dance, which they put more complicated steps in as we got better, dancing around the taverna holding each others’ hands up high and having a wonderful time!!!

We were adopted by one of the local dogs when we first got off the coach, and he walked along with us, seemingly protecting us from other people and vehicles as they passed our group.  Any of the locals who passed by our group got barked at the same as any vehicles – it was quite amusing.  The Greeks seem to have a far more tolerant approach to stray dogs and cats.  They allow them to roam, giving them scraps and every year they are rounded up and given a health check and immunisations and checked to make sure they are desexed.

We were then taken back to Heraklion town for a quick look and then back on the ship top head to Santorini.

As we were approaching Santorini, we stood out on deck to watch the imposing sight of the island getting closer.  Santorini still has an active volcano, which over the centuries has caused problems.  In 1650BC a huge eruption occurred that changed the island’s shape from a circle to a crescent shape, and also caused the inner part of the crescent to have sheer cliffs rising 1100 feet out of the sea.  The white washed towns are built at the very top of the mountain/cliffs, and the houses, viewed from a distance, look as though they are snow on the top of the cliffs.  Some of the houses look as though they are gripping onto the side of the colourful cliffs – you can see the many layers of different periods of volcanic activity.

The ship arrived at Santorini around 4.00pm and we were disembarked by tender boat.  Our impressive bus driver drove up the narrow, steep, hairpin bends from the port of Athinios and drove us to Oia (pronounced Eeyah) along the eastern coastline which is much flatter and has beaches dotted along it.  When we arrived at Oia, we were taken to the town square and “let loose” to explore his amazing place.  We walked down narrow little streets with houses and shops built on and into the side of the cliffs.  (Some of the little shops were spilling out onto the walkway.)  Like in all of the islands, the houses are painted white, with blue rooves to match the blue of the magnificent Aegean Sea.  We walked to the old castle ruins, took many, many photos which will never be able to do the scene justice!

The coach then took us to Thira, the capital of Santorini, which is also situated on the cliff face. We walked through the town of Thira and then we had three options for getting back down to the tenders – walking down over 600 unevenly spaced steps in a zig zag pattern or riding a donkey down those same steps or riding in a funicular that traverses the cliffs in approximately 2 minutes.  Guess which one we chose?  The funicular ride was spectacular as it was very very steep and offered us a fantastic view of the caldera and the many different boats and ships waiting just off the base of the cliffs.

We watched the sun set from the deck of the ship and as we sailed back towards Athens, we marvelled at how beautiful the sight of Santorini is at night.  It was like looking at thousands of jewels sparkling on a tiara or a little hat – as the towns lit up on the top of the cliffs.  Words can’t possibly describe this incredible sight!

Athens Sunny hot, but a light breeze.

Today, we woke up aboard the Aquamarine, in the port of Piraeus – Athens.  The idea of going to sleep in one place and waking up in a new port has been fantastic.  Being able to travel at night has meant our waking time has been able to be used for sightseeing, exploring and relaxing, not just watching the waves roll past the ship.

We had an early wake up call, had breakfast and disembarked the ship at 7.15am.  By 9.00am, we had settled our bags into our hotel rooms and were ready to explore Athens.

We went to the National Archaelogical Museum, where we enjoyed wandering through the many exhibits.  We had lunch at a lovely little outdoor café near the museum – we sat in a section that had a roof and there were little puffs of mist directed from the ceiling towards us at regular intervals to keep us cool.

Then we went to the Greek Parliament, which was built in 1834 as the palace of the first Kings.  We saw the monument of the Unknown Soldier, with two guards, called Evsones, who were dressed in traditional Greek uniforms – good photo opportunity!

Then we came back to the hotel to complete our blog, have a swim and get ready for our farewell dinner.

The Globus coach picked us up at 5.30pm and took us for a lovely tour to a point high above the harbour (not the port where where our ship was) and gave us the opportunity to take some lovely photos.  Then they took us to a lovely restaurant, Memories, with a view of the Acropolis high on the hill.  We had a lovely meal and watched the sun go down, silhouetting the Acropolis, which was then lit up with many lights.  During dinner we were serenaded by a man and then after dinner he got us all up dancing.

A lovely way to spend our last night in Greece.

Summary of our impressions:

We have absolutely loved out short time in the Greek Islands and if we had to pick our favourite, it would probably be Santorini, with Mykonos and Ephesus coming a close second.

The scenery was even more beautiful and diverse than any of the picture postcards or brochures we had seen.

The people that we came in contact with were all happy and extremely friendly.

We learnt lots about each island’s history and culture. One of the interesting things we learnt about was that on most of the islands, there is a tradition that when the children get married the parents often give them a house.  What often happens is that the parents start building these houses long before the children are even old enough to get married.  So, the houses are built, bit by bit, as the parents can afford it, so there are many houses in various stages of construction. Houses that are being lived in can still have the reinforcing rods sticking up out of the top floor, ready for another storey or a roof to be added.  Apparently, if the house does not have a roof, it is not deemed as not being finished, and therefore taxes do not have to be paid.

We were lucky that our ship was usually in port first so that we got off on our shore excursions first, because, in most of the ports we visited up to six cruise ships would be in port at the same time that we were, with most of them carrying in excess of 1000 people.

Our first cruising adventure has been wonderful!  The ship was very comfortable, the crew were fantastic – happy & helpful – and our Globus Tour guide, Beverley was absolutely amazing.  She made sure that everything went like clockwork – she has built up brilliant relationships with the ship’s crew and the island’s tour guides, which meant that we were extremely well looked after.

So, all in all, we have had an absolutely wonderful few days in the Greek Islands, with Janet and Adrian to share it with us.

Resting Between Adventures

We have spent the last three days in Maindenhead, relaxing, catching up with the washing, etc.  On Friday night we spent a lovely evening with Janet and Adrian’s friends, Hilary and Andy and their son Oliver (Emily was working).  They made us most welcome in their home where they had organised a lovely BBQ in their beautiful back garden.  Lots of laughter and a good time had by all!

THE PHOTOS have now been posted to the blog site.  To view them, you need to go to the blog site, scroll down the right hand side until you get to the photo gallery – start from the bottom and work your way up to the newest ones.  We have kept them in the same sequence as the blog posts.  Please note, they have not been edited yet, so horizons may still be crooked and buildings a little distorted.

To view the photos, click on the album you wish to look at.  When it loads it automatically starts a slide show – if you would like to view them at your own speed, click on the pause button on the left hand side at the bottom.

As there are the odd one or two photos, we have not put captions on every photo, but you should be able to work out what they are because they are aligned with our blog post.

 So now, we are all packed and ready for the taxi to collect us tomorrow morning at 6.30am for our flight to Athens to begin our adventure in the Greek Islands.

We may not have access to the internet until we get back to the hotel in Athens, but will post our blogs as soon as we are able.

Scotland Tour Day 12 and Day 13

Day 12         Edinburgh to Scarborough         Sunny with a few clouds

With the excitement of the previous night still fresh in our minds, we headed off to explore Whitby on the north east coast of England.  Our original plans had been changed – we were supposed to be staying in Whitby, but Adrian received a telephone call from our accommodation, Woodside Villa, on Saturday to say that they were cancelling our booking because they had doubled booked, despite the fact that Adrian and Janet had booked it in January!  So, as Whitby was completely booked out, Janet had booked us an alternative at Scarborough, a little further south.

When we got to Whitby, we discovered that almost everyone else had decided to go to Whitby as well!  We drove, stop start, into the town, only to discover that all the parking areas were full and there were dozens of cars lined up waiting for a parking spot.  As all of us had previously been to Whitby, a unanimous decision was made to continue on to Scarborough.

We arrived in Scarborough mid afternoon, got booked in to the Crown Spa Hotel, which overlooks Scarborough beach and all went for a walk.  We headed down the stairs, which were set into the hillside, to a café for afternoon tea – our first Devonshire tea of the trip!  We then walked along the footpath to take in the scenery of our first English beach.  The beach was sandy, but had quite a bit of mud on it that the children were playing in.  The tide was out, so the water was a long way out and of course, there were no waves.  There were donkey rides for the children and the bit that amazed us the most was that there was a huge sideshow alley type of thing at the end of the pier and all along the main road leading to the pier. 

Scarborough Harbour and beach

Scarborough Harbour and beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We watched with interest, while the life boat was being returned to its shelter for the night – drawn up the beach by a tractor with tracks.

 

Life boat

Life boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had showers and headed off to the lounge for a drink and a chat about what our favourite parts of the holiday have been.

 

DAY 13        Scarborough to Maidenhead      Sunny, then cloudy, then rain!

After breakfast, we headed off to York, driving past the Old Town Walls.  We found a parking spot and went to the York Minster, which we were looking forward to. 

York Minster

York Minster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

York Minster is the largest medieval gothic cathedral in Northern Europe.  York Minster was originally a Roman Catholic church, but has been part of the Church of England since the break from Rome, initiated by King Henry VIII in 1534.  It is truly a magnificent building, with many beautiful stained glass windows and sculptures.  One has to walk around inside to actually appreciate the size of the building and its high sculptured ceilings.

We continued our journey home to Midenhead – we were amazed at the number of motorways and large A roads that Sean took us on! 

Not long out of York, it started to rain, which summed up our spirits.  We were disappointed that our lovely road trip had come to an end, because we had enjoyed Scotland’s diverse countryside, being able to catch up with Thelma and Dennis, as well as Uncle Sandy, and being able to share this part of our holiday with Janet and Adrian.

We started our journey with showers and rain – it had been predicted that our trip may encounter cold and rainy conditions throughout the mainland of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides, but apart from the first couple of days that we had showers, the weather has been very kind to us and has been quite warm.

We arrived back in Maidenhead at about 3.30pm, did some washing, shopping for essentials and are all sitting doing our blogs and catching up with emails etc.

Apart from poor Adrian, who has to go back to work for 2 days, the rest of us are planning a quiet time in preparation for our next exciting adventure together – to the Greek Islands.

Day 11 The TATTOO !!

Day 11                   THE TATTOO !                                  FINE and reasonably warm

 The Tattoo was everything that we thought it would be! 

Our seats were absolutely perfect thanks to Adrian booking them the minute they were put on sale in December last year!  We were sitting in the East stand in row R in the four seats exactly in the middle.  The East stand is the one that faces the castle.  The seats were cosy, with our knees firmly implanted on the back of the seat in front and our elbows held in at our sides, but we could see everything! Once we got settled, we asked a man two rows in front of us to take our photo, which he kindly did!

 

Us at the Tattoo

Us at the Tattoo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While we were waiting for everyone to get seated, there was some pre-show entertainment by a pipe band.

Then it was time for the show to begin!  Not one, but two jets zoomed overhead, flying low over the castle to open the show.

Among our favourites were the Tongan Royal Corps of Musicians, the Top Secret Drum Corps who were amazing and, of course, the Massed Pipes and Drums. 

The Tattoo

The Tattoo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had gone prepared with ponchos to protect us from the rain that everyone was predicting and heavy coats to ward of the expected cold winds.  Fortunately for us, the skies remained clear and we used the coats to soften the plastic seats as the weather was very kind to us and was quite warm.

It was awesome to actually be in the stands at last for a real life performance of an event that we had religiously watched on television for many years, wondering what it would be like to actually be there and here we were!! 

The Tattoo had lived up to all our expectations!

Scotland Tour Day 11

Day 11                   Coupar Angus to Edinburgh                 A few showers

After another leisurely breakfast, we reluctantly said our farewells to Thelma and Dennis and headed to Stirling Castle, then on to Linlithgow, to the Dalzell family castle, called The House of Binns, which was built in 1612 on 200 acres of parkland overlooking the River Forth and across to the highlands. Richard was impressed that they have peacocks in the grounds of the family castle, because he remembers that his dad always had a peacock feather at their home.

Unfortunately, we were not able to see inside the castle as it is only open to the public between 2 and 5 in the afternoons. 

 

Dalzell family castle

Dalzell family castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, we did take some photos, before moving on to face some chaotic traffic in the City of Edinburgh.  Poor Sean struggled with the number of road closures and detours, where he was telling to turn right for example, but the road was closed so we had to turn left, and he came up with an alternate route, only to find it closed also.  Eventually, after Janet rang our accommodation, The Knight Residence, and received some very helpful directions around the closures, we arrived at our very comfortable two bedroom apartment for tonight’s stay.

After getting settled in, we went for a walk to find some lunch and a Tesco shop to buy something to cook here for dinner.  Then we walked “the 18 minutes” (according to Google) up to Edinburgh Castle and found the official Tattoo Shop and purchased an official program for tonight’s performance.  We will be heading back to the castle for the 9.00pm performance and have our fingers crossed, as the weather is fine at the moment, but light showers are predicted for about 10.00pm!  More about the Tattoo tomorrow!

Scotland Day 9 and 10

Day 9 and 10                   Aberdeen to Coupar Angus                 Sunny

 We left Aberdeen and headed south, stopping at Braemar for  some photos – we were not able to stop at Balmoral Castle as the Queen was there and we forgot to pack our invitation to afternoon tea!

We continued on through the mountains passing through some spectacular scenery at Glen Shee – the photos just do not do it justice!  Glen Shee is one of the major ski resorts in winter.

Glen Shee

Glen Shee

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived at Sandy’s cousin’s place at Coupar Angus in the middle of the day.  In the afternoon, we sat and chatted with Thelma and Dennis and Uncle Sandy (Sandy’s uncle – Alexander, shortened to Sandy – a bit confusing sometimes). Uncle Sandy is a true Scotsman, who wears his kilt at all times.

After a fantastic dinner of Beef Steak Pie – our favourite – and pavlova, we spent the evening having a few wee drams, laughing, talking, having a few wee drams, laughing, playing some quizzes, having a few wee drams, until after midnight.

After a leisurely start on Sunday morning, we piled into two cars, collected Uncle Sandy from his home and headed off to Alyth to show Janet and Adrian where Sandy was born, then on to Auchenleisch, where Sandy’s father and mother lived with the family when they were first married.  We then drove into Glen Isla, to see the hotel that they had their reception in and the school that he would have gone to as a boy.

Auchenleisch

Auchenleisch

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then went to the Backwater Dam and the Reekie Linn falls before heading off to the Glen Isla Golf Club for lunch and then to the Meikleour Beech Hedge, which is the tallest beech hedge in the world – and the house in behind it, is where Sandy’s sister, Maria was born.  Then we drove to Uncle Sandy’s house for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Scottish Family

Scottish Family

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we got back to Dennis and Thelma’s place, they taught us how to play Shuffleboard, which they learnt to play on their annual holidays to Teneriffe.  There was lots of laughter when we weren’t playing well and screams of delight when we got a good score.  Eventually, each of the four of us made it to a score of 100. 

Shuffleboard

Shuffleboard

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a lovely roast beef dinner and some more pavlova (mmmm mmm), we “had a soft seat” (one of Thelma’s lovely expression) and proceeded to have a few more wee drams (not as many as the night before), some more blether (chatter, talking), and lots more laughs, before heading off to our beds, after spending a wonder 2 days with Thelma and Dennis!!!