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So….. here we go again....another much
anticipated adventure, this time in the Western Mediterranean on an
Oceania Cruise Lines ship,
the Insignia. The cruise is to start in Barcelona on
April 18th and end in Athens on May 2nd. Our plan is
to arrive two days early in
Barcelona to spend some time there (which proved to
be a fortuitous decision), and an extra day in Athens at the end and fly to Santorini
for the day.
A short explanation is in order here….
We originally booked a ten day cruise for May which included a couple of places
we were anxious
to visit, particularly Barcelona and Santorini. A few months
before our scheduled date Oceania asked us if we would switch to a fourteen
trip in April with no additional cost, plus they would pay for any additional
costs we might incur in changing our plans, which we
accepted. Santorini was
not included in the new itinerary, therefore our little side trip at the end.
As has become my habit on trips like
this I pay attention at the very start to the “omens”, meaning I believe that
the earliest signs of good
or bad indicate what is to come. As usual I was
right at least for the beginning.
The earliest omen: after a very short
wait and check-in at the Lufthansa counter at YVR for the first stage of our
journey to Frankfurt was
an almost offhand comment by the young lady at the
check-in desk…."The departure time is delayed one and one half hours”.
almost didn’t catch it, but my subconscious must have been alert….. After
getting her to repeat that I asked how we were going to catch
flight in Frankfurt to Barcelona seeing as we only had a one and one half hour
of transfer time between the flights.
Her response was intended to be
reassuring, “The pilot can make up most of the time en route”. I didn’t believe
her and in the end we
arrived exactly one and one half hours late and had
missed our connecting flight.
Checked in, boarding passes in
hand....what more could be bad? Little did we know.
The flight to Frankfurt was normal
except for the fact that we were in coach and there was not an abundance of leg,
or any other type
of room. To make matters worse, as I had anticipated, the
jerk in front of me leaned his seat back as far as it would go for the whole
You may ask why we travelled coach, when, if you read our recent voyage
journals, you would know that we were set on Business Class.
In short, in the cruise package air fare
was included. The cost saving for using points and not taking their flights was
about four hundred
dollars. We didn’t think it was worth 240,000 points to save
that little, and to travel coach. I am not convinced we made the right
At this point we had not twigged to what
caused the delay, and what was to come. In his after take off announcement the
apologized for the delay but commented that they had to dodge the dust
cloud from the Iceland volcano. Still didn’t twig.
So we arrived at Frankfurt, got onto a
bus because there were no bays left at the terminal building (another clue the
meaning of which
would become clear later) and were shunted to the terminal.
After clearing the minimal customs stuff
we entered a world of total and mind boggling chaos. We couldn’t believe our
There were thousands of people milling around, trooping from one part of
the terminal building to another and all of them looking pissed off.
clue what was happening. Actually we both assumed this was normal for Frankfurt
airport. I was beginning to believe that the widely
touted German efficiency
was a lie.
After asking a couple of uniformed folks
where to go to find out about getting rebooked to Barcelona we got into a line
up which, at the
pace of movement, soon seemed like a two to three hour wait. We asked some more questions and we were directed to yet another
Still no clue on our part…….
Another question to another uniform led
us to a third line up, which turned out to be the right one. It was only a one half
hour wait to get to a
person at a desk. During this time we saw a couple of
teams of what were obviously TV camera crews and announcers. One of them
approached Marsha and asked if she was German…. No interview there! We wondered
what was so newsworthy, but still no clue.
As soon as we arrived at the desk this
time and we told her which flight we were from the agent said “Oh!
Vancouver!”, and proceeded
to print boarding passes for another flight to
Barcelona an hour or so later.
Now that we had a flight, Marsha began
fretting about our luggage. Nothing we could do about that, so I suggested we
just go with the flow.
At this point, after we got our new
flight settled we started to pay more attention to what was going on and gradually the
light started to shine…..
All aircraft traffic in Europe was totally disrupted by
the aforementioned volcano. People were stranded everywhere in Europe because
their flights had been cancelled due to airports closing, caused by the ash
cloud from the Iceland volcano. This is why our flight from
get a gate, they were all occupied by planes from cancelled flights.
Hence the chaos.
Now we had a clue, and the flight to
Barcelona was uneventful and mercifully short. Our luggage was among the first
onto the carousel.
We cabbed it to our hotel, right in the middle of the
tourist district. Those reading this who are familiar with Barcelona will be
able to place
it just two blocks from Las Ramblas and across a courtyard from
the main Cathedral.
The Hotel Colon was as good as the guide
books and internet said it was and we were delighted with both the hotel and our
room (see the circle
in the picture.).
We had a balcony overlooking the square below and the Cathedral on
the other side. The square was buzzing with people coming
going in all
As soon as we checked in we wanted to
find out about the volcano and air traffic so we turned on CNN to see the news.
As it happened
the story at that moment was about the problem. We quickly found
out that Frankfurt airport had been totally shut down while we were in
We had been booked on the last flight to
leave Frankfurt for Barcelona before the closing of the Frankfurt airport!!!
I am still trying to decide if we had
experienced really good luck, or a brush with disaster, or both. As it turned out of the
680 passengers that our
ship can carry, 200ish didn’t make it to Barcelona in
time even though the ship stayed there an extra day. Some caught up with us at
ports we visited over the next few days. I guess I have to conclude that we
were lucky to get here at all, never mind, on time.
If we hadn’t planned a
couple of extra days in Barcelona we would not have made it.
Soon after we made our booking on this
trip Marsha came across a chat room on Cruisecritic.com which provided the
travellers to hook up with others going on the same cruise.
Marsha posted a note there and in very short order she connected with two
couples who were interested in sharing the cost of excursions in the various
places we were to visit. We didn't want to take excursions
cruise company as they are very expensive and we don’t really like the herd
mentality which goes along with full busloads
I know, I know,
we’re geriatrics too, but we’re young ones.
One of the couples is from South
Carolina and the other from Florida. As it turned out over time, Gary from
South Carolina is a master
organizer. He, Marsha and Kathy shared the bulk of the arrangements, and Marsha made
our arrangements in Venice for just the two of us,
where we would be for two
After we unpacked our Barcelona bag we
went out into the square and wandered around amongst the throng who were
the same thing. In the square was a semi-permanent chatchke
market selling a variety of “antiques” and some pure tourist stuff. After
wandering around we went to a small restaurant on the edge of the square and had
a terrific meal. Then we walked through some of the
narrow streets near the
square, sampled the local gelato, and then to bed.
The Chatchka Market in the square and
the little side streets at night.
Next morning our new BFF’s
from Florida, Kathy and Charlie, met us in our hotel restaurant and we spent the rest of
that day with
them, touristing. We agreed to spend a good part of the day on
the hop-on, hop-off bus going around the circuit so that we could then
where to get off and on the next day. This turned out to work very well and
allowed us to pick what we were interested in.
The Heads and the Simmons' very quickly developed a warm friendship. We spent
several hours on the bus getting off for lunch
and a minor shopping expedition.
We arranged to go for dinner together
and Kathy was anxious to go to a restaurant which had been recommended by her
the Four Cats. We launched our excursion from our square and Kathy and
I vied as navigator. She had a map and I had my iPhone GPS.
I think it was a tie. We arrived in the correct street and went into the restaurant. We had a
terrific meal, and then we asked for the bill.
When it arrived we discovered
that we were not at the Four Cats at all, but a different restaurant. When we
told our server he laughed
and told us that both are owned by the same
person. He then called over the owner who took us four doors down the road to
Four Cats and gave us a tour of the charming restaurant. We booked a reservation for the next night.
This kilometre long street which is pedestrian only is in the centre of Barcelona’s business district and
over time has changed so that
the stores cater to tourists. There are some very “high end” (I hate that
expression!) stores along the way. In what would normally be the road
myriad of booths selling the usual: magazines,
candy, souvenirs… but also something else: small live animals, mostly birds.
Vancouverites – think
Robson Street in Spanish, actually Catalonian. This
dialect is spoken only in that region of Spain and is quite
are very proud of their heritage, and make no bones about
After our meal at the 4
Cats - Not! we wandered down Las Ramblas getting our first feel for the place.
Also scattered along the street were
many people selling a variety of kitschy gimmick stuff, and a large contingent
of folks miming in various
and complicated setups. We have seen these before,
here in Vancouver, in Ireland, in London, but never so many and none with such
complex costumes and setups.
Street mimes on Las Ramblas - there are
actually people inside all of the regalia!
Although Las Ramblas is very touristy
(even though we saw many families enjoying the place too), but not offensively
so. It's a very
colourful place to spend an afternoon or evening.
When we arrived in Barcelona we immediately noticed
how ubiquitous motor scooters, and to a lesser degree motor bikes are used....
everywhere weaving in and out of traffic and
squeezing themselves through totally impossible spaces. Easy parking and
cost must be a major incentive.
We spent our two days roaming Barcelona and
taking in the interesting style of the place. Much of the getting around was via
hop-off busses, and much by old fashioned walking.
One of the most talked about personalities when
Barcelonans talk about their city is the architect Antoni
Gaudi (1852–1926), We saw several
his buildings while bussing and walking. They are hard to miss. On day two we
hopped off at the site of the La Sagrata Familia Cathedral,
which he worked on
for about 40 years before his death, and is still unfinished to this day. We
spent a couple of hours wandering around
the Cathedral and going to the very top
of the spires and then walking down a very tight circular stairway. It was quite
The "SOS" sign is due to the fact that work
only goes on here when there is money, and all of it comes from donations and
The strange part of this is that parts of the
cathedral are now one hundred years old and in need of cleanup and repair while
new parts are
continually being added.
Kathy, being an old hand at this stuff had
brought with her a little device to plug multiple earphone sets into (she called
it her spider).
This is what they all looked like at the Cathedral. This device saved having to rent four audio systems.
Unexpected bonus - being at the right place at
the right time and not knowing it......
We were very lucky that we were staying where
we were because on Saturday afternoon we saw, from our balcony, on the courtyard
below a large number
of folks performing a local Catalonian dance the name of which I don't know.
After a few minutes of observation
certain elements became clear. There
was a band playing a variety of songs from the Cathedral steps. Scattered around
the square were
groups of 10 - 15 people in circles, young an old, performing a
The first element I noticed was that each
circle's centre was a pile of jackets and sweaters. What could be a better way
of keeping your
eye on your stuff. The dance was very formal with prescribed
steps which all dancers did in strict unison. Their faces were expressionless.
The tempo of the dance sped and slowed down from the directions given by one
member of the circle.
There were several informal gatherings dancing
in the square, and one very formal one near our hotel. The latter were all young
were coaches helping them get it right.
I was fascinated with the discipline of it all and the seriousness of these
young folks. I think that the
young dancers probably dance in competitions.
This spontaneous dance session happens every
Saturday night at this spot. The tubby guy in the brown T-shirt was giving the
After watching this for quite a while
Cathy and Charlie arrived and watched with us and then we walked to the real
Four Cats and were led to
our table as if were VIPs. At the table were four glasses of champagne
courtesy of the owner. We had another terrific dinner.
The 4 Cats (Charlie, a serious beer
drinker was given a 4 Cats mug). The 4 Cats bar - Ceramic tile is very big in
After walking and enjoying the sights and
sounds of La Ramblas we ended up back at the square in front of our hotel. We
of the side streets that led off the square at random, and right away ran into a
group of folks standing around at the intersection of the narrow
street and what looked like a driveway into the back of the cathedral. There was
a guy set up there in this little out of the way place with a
CD player and speakers and he was singing opera to the gathered folks.
It was an amazing sight to stumble across and
once more proved the value of taking unplanned side trips as you stroll around.
finished the song he was singing called on a lady who was standing in the crowd
and she came out and proceeded to sing.
After listening to these amazing singers for a
while we continued on our quest. We found a gelato place and of course could not
without tasting some.
This sculpture below was on the side of a church visible only in this little
laneway we were exploring.
Insignia - the cruise begins
On the morning of the 18th we packed our bags
and headed to the nearby berthing area where cruise ships dock. The taxi driver
exactly where Insignia was berthed and we got there with no fuss.
Checking in and boarding the ship was as
painless as you could imagine. They took our bags the instant we got out of the
taxi promising to
deliver them to our stateroom. The staff at the check in table
were very welcoming without a trace of being forced. We were to find that
the whole of the cruise the staff were amiable and friendly. We never
once passed a crew member in the passageways and stairs who did
not greet us
with a smile and a word. We also didn't stand in a line up even once during the
Oceania is known as a premium line at the
upper end of the price scale (although this cruise was right in there with the
bigger ships as far as
price is concerned). They have only four ships, three
small ones like Insignia (her sister ship is Regatta), and one new larger one.
Another is scheduled to start cruising in 2011.
After receiving our identity cards we were
directed to the Waves restaurant on Deck 9 to wait for our room to be ready, and
to enjoy a
buffet lunch. There were already a number of
passengers on board many enjoying the buffet lunch. After that we snooped
around the ship
to get our bearings. Even though Insignia is a "small" cruise ship,
at least by our standards, carrying only 680 passengers, it sure seemed
Our stateroom was on Deck 7 forward under the
We had chosen a room the same size as the veranda rooms, but without the
veranda. This gave us a little
As we were to be ashore all day at each port and cruising at night
our large porthole was good
enough. On a different kind of schedule we
probably would opt for a veranda room.
Our stateroom was ready earlier than expected
so we found our way there and dropped our carry on stuff. Our bags arrived a
It was a very pleasant room and as soon as our
luggage arrived we unpacked and our attendant took our suitcases away. It felt
great to be settled in
our home for the next fourteen days.
While we were getting settled the long arm of
the volcano ash problem's effect on flying in Europe caught up to us. The public
came on with the cruise
director telling us that due to these problems the ship would be staying
overnight in Barcelona instead of departing
that night to allow late comers to
catch up. We actually had a number of passengers arrive at each of the ports we visited
for about a week.
We missed Mallorca but got another day in Barcelona. Not a bad trade, we
Before dinner, at 5:30 was the obligatory
emergency drill in which all guests had to don life vests and go to the dining
room, or theatre,
for direction. After some words
about safety and all that stuff we were escorted out to the deck to be lined up
and instructed what to
do in the case of a real emergency. I am positive that
there felt like an ass parading around in the life jackets looking ridiculous.
The only consolation was that everyone looked equally silly.
The way dining works on Oceania ships is that there is open
seating and you can go to the main dining room at any time after 6:30. The
immediate result of this is
that there are no lineups waiting to get in after the first rush of early
diners. In addition, there was a full buffet
in the Waves restaurant, an Italian
restaurant and a
Steak and Chop restaurant. Reservations are required at the Italian and Chop House
restaurants, but there is no additional fee. The only thing you pay for on
the ship is
alcohol. If you buy a
bottle of wine they will keep
it for you and retrieve it whenever you ask for it
at any bar or restaurant on the ship. Very Elegant!
We had arranged to meet Charlie and Kathy, as
well as Gary and Doris (our second new internet friends) for
dinner in the Grand Dining
Room. The lounge is the picture below just outside the dining room
and before long we were saying things
like "See you at the sofa at 7:30".
We latched onto one corner set of sofas and chairs as our meeting place for
dinners and got very
indignant if others were sitting there
The way our cruise was organized was perfect
for us. Each morning we arrived at a new port after cruising all night from the
This meant that we
had all day to tour and explore and the ship only moved at night. There were two
exceptions to this, we had one two
day sail, and we stayed in Venice overnight. This arrangement worked very well, we never felt short of
The next morning we were on our own so we
decided to take the shuttle bus from the ship to the Columbus statue, and for
take a walk up Las Ramblas.
Christopher Columbus - If he's supposed to be
pointing to the New World he "discovered" he's
pointing the wrong way......
We strolled up the street, stopping for a cold
one at a corner cafe, and then continued walking about another kilometer to have
at another building by the aforementioned architect Gaudi.
During our ramblings in Las Ramblas (pun not
intended) we came across a large food market of the kind used by locals.
On the way to the Gaudi building I noticed an interesting sign over
a small cafe/bar. It looks quite old, but I doubt if there is any
significance in it.
Very often, by looking up as you explore a
city or town you see clues as to how life for the people of the town goes on....
It's easy to forget that real
people live in these places and have normal (for them) lives. Barcelona is not
This scene is common wherever we went. This one, not so much......
Gaudi's buildings are quirky to say the least,
with almost no square corners or traditional shapes. The building we were looking
originally built as residences but now it is a
museum and offices for various social services. When we got there we took an
the roof (for a fee) to see the artistry up close and Barcelona stretching to
These are images I captured while wandering
around the roof of this building. Never seen anything like it! What an
imagination this guy had.
He was a follower of the
"Modernista" style of architecture (whatever that means). For some reason I managed to spend
at this building without
getting one shot of the exterior,
which is equally as
weird as the roof structures. I managed to snag a couple of good
shots of this
and a couple others off the internet.
The brownish columns are in fact chimney pots.
These two are other Gaudi buildings
There are many old buildings with imaginative
design, but nothing as out there as Gaudi.
Everywhere we went in Barcelona we came across
these racks of bikes lined up and attached to a holding device. We also saw the
being ridden by people everywhere. We guessed that these were communal bikes which you
paid a fee to ride. You would pick up a bike
at the start of your journey and put it back on a rack at the end. There was an electronic
box where presumably one would swipe a card
register that you have taken a bike and again register its return. A very neat
system. The map on the right hand picture shows the nearest
on the bottom, and the whole city on the top. If you look closely at the top one
you can see literally hundreds of red dots, each
one a station. I found out
later that Barcelona has 6,000 bikes in this system. Other cities such as Paris
have similar systems
After our extra day in Barcelona, we met our four new
friends at "our sofa" in the lounge outside the dining room. While we were dining
(and that is the right
word) the ship's whistle sounded (and scared the bejeezus out of anyone on deck)
and we slipped out of our berth
started on our way to Marseille.
We woke up a little later than we thought we would and
headed right up to the Waves restaurant for buffet breakfast. We had arranged to
meet Kathy and Charley there and
they were waiting for us. The buffet is varied and includes made to order
omelets, scrambled eggs,
poached eggs, fried eggs, plus cereal, fruit, pastry
Charley succumbed to the chocolate donuts available for breakfast on our last morning
and said it was the worst donut
he had eaten in his life. (Oh well...you can't win them all)
Our first day of touring was one which Gary had arranged
with a local licensed guide who met us at the dock as arranged. We all got into
her eight passenger van and took off out of Marseilles heading for Provence. Our
first stop, about an hour away was Avignon. We had an
uneventful ride looking at
the French country side and listening to Katherine telling us about the things
we were seeing.
Just as we rounded a corner into Avignon Marsha spotted an
old bridge and started singing a song about the bridge left over in her head
from childhood - Sur La Pont d'Avignon....
Click here to
hear the song. Press the browser back button to return here.
Only half of the bridge is left because the other half was
blown up in some
war or another.
Avignon's claim to fame is the Pope's Palace which was
started building by Pope Benedict XII in about
1335, but completed twenty
years later by Clement VI. The
pictures below are of the palace and other scenes of Avignon.
From now on in
this journal I will identify the place, and special features and then add a
number of relevant pictures, some of which may
have commentary above them.
Except in Venice we did not have time, once we had seen the historic stuff, to poke around and actually
experience a small sample
of life in these wonderful cities and towns.
The bridge at left, and lookout lower center View from
Five of the six musketeers- Charlie, Kathy, our guide,
Marsha, Doris, Gary.
I like doors, that's why! Our bunch of tourists and guide.
(more to come)
The palace of the Popes See the folks looking out the windows? They're painted on the glass.
The village of Avignon
We then travelled to the place near Avignon where Van Gogh lived for a time with
the artist Paul Gauguin with whom he did not get
The story is that after a particularly acrimonious argument with Gauguin,
Van Gogh got a kitchen knife and threatened to stab Gauguin.
Instead he pulled
back, went into his studio and sliced off his ear. Hmmmmmm..temper, temper!!! We then went to the mental
where he lived till he died in 1890. The hospital is still operational
and also contains a museum dedicated to Van Gogh as well as displaying
by other residents as part of their therapy.
Next stop, down the highway a few miles - Les Baux de Provence - an historic
town high on the crest of a hill. Then back to the ship.
Greeted by the crew on our return including the ship's band - actually meant for
the folks who paid gazillions of dollars for the excursions
provided by the
ship, but we snuck into the line. The fellow in the grey suit is the Cruise
The pilot boat picking up the pilot on the way out.
Livorno, Italy - Florence and Pisa
The port of Livorno was used as it is the closest point to Florence and Pisa which could
accommodate the ship, so we did not spend
any time there.
As soon as we could
get off Kathy, Charlie, Marsha and I took a taxi to the train station. Once we
figured out the train
bought tickets and were on our way to
Florence to see the Uffizi Gallery and the statue of David at the Academia
Marsha and Kathy had pre-purchased tickets on the internet to both places.
Neither the Uffizi nor the statue of David would allow pictures, so we could
only photograph the outsides, plus other interesting stuff
such as the Ponte Vechio.
At this point Charlie, in the cap, was getting tired of stairs!
A lot of reconstruction going on at the bridge. We
stopped here for a cold one in a little sidewalk cafe,
and spent some time with Kathy's favorite recreational
activity O and R, which is short for "Observe and
Ridicule". We did a lot of that during the trip, especially
On the way from the Ponte Vechio to the David.
Back to the train and a short ride to Pisa followed by a fairly long hike to the
leaning tower. By the time we were actually getting close
we were all getting pooped. I really hoped it was as interesting as our
expectations. Around the last corner, and there it was, totally as
amazing as we hoped.
Tacky souvenirs anyone? Not!!
Another stop at another sidewalk cafe and then back (by local bus which Kathy
spotted) to the train for the balance of the ride to Livorno.
Civitavecchia, Italy - Rome
As in Livorno, Civitavecchia is the closest port to Rome, so that is where we
docked. In this case Kathy had pre-arranged a guide for
the four of us for a
day in Rome. The driver was waiting for us on the pier when we were able to
disembark from the ship, and we all piled
in for the hour long drive to Rome
where we would pick up our guide, Mayta. She is an American who has lived in
Rome for over thirty
years. She has a masters degree in art history so who
better to tell us about the amazing history of the city of Rome.
Again, because of the strict return time for the ship, we were only able to dash
from one well known attraction to another, and cover as
much as we could at each
place. Having a private guide was proving to be extremely valuable in this
situation because we were then able
to get the most value out of the places we
did visit (and avoid lineups).
When the Pantheon was built the only outside light came from a twenty foot
opening in the dome open to the weather. The sun's rays moves
across the dome as
day goes on. The opening is still open to the weather and there are a number of
drains in the marble floor which
take the water out of the building when it
This group of school children is being shown a scrolling
picture rendition of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Mayta took
us through this same set of pictures and told us about the
panels, how they were created, what each one meant,
why they were in the order they were in, etc.
As we were not allowed to use cameras in the chapel, I could not
take any of my own photos. When we got to the chapel Mayta sat
down to rest (she was using a cane to help her get around) set us
loose for a while on our own. Having been through the pictures
below we were able to understand what we were looking at.
Sistine Chapel pictures "borrowed" from the internet...There is no amount of
looking at pictures of this place to replace seeing it yourself.
It is breathtaking. The ceiling itself was painted by Michelangelo standing on a
scaffold with his head cocked back so he could see what
he was doing. He was not
lying down as is often believed. He painted the ceiling panels in just over four
years. The end panel (below right)
was painted after the ceiling and also took
God's eye view of Vatican City.
Rome skyline from a nearby lookout point.
The mob scene at Trevi Fountain. BTW - throughout our time in Italy we would
constantly run into mobs of kids (see yellow caps below)
from eight or nine
years old to high school age with their teachers, all touring the same places as we did. This is apparently an annual
routine, one of the benefits of which was
that many attractions were waiving their
After the Trevi Fountain we drove as quickly as our driver would dare to go
(which in Rome is damned quickly!) through rush hour traffic
so as to get to the
ship in time for our departure to Sorrento and the ruins of Pompeii. Just before
sailing time the ship's public address
system paged two passengers. It turned
out that these passengers were not on board. They apparently showed up just in
This happened a few times during the trip.
Sorrento and Pompeii
We arrived at Sorrento at the designated time and anchored in the bay at 8:00
am. While watching the docking going on I saw that the
landing area for
boats and the ship's tenders was on a small shelf at sea level, but the town
itself was a couple of hundred feet higher and
there seemed to be one steep
winding road up to the top. Because this was an anchoring and tender situation
the disembarking procedure
was not the same as at a pier. We had to go to the
theatre and wait for a card to allow us to take the next trip ashore. Priority
to those who had purchased a shore excursion from the ship. The rest
of us had to wait till there was space. This was a little annoying
it turned out, we did not have to wait long. The picture below through our
porthole (lousy photograph, ok snap shot) shows the
town of Sorrento on the top
of the steep cliff.
We got onto the tender and were quickly at the shore. There was a shuttle bus to
transport us up the steep hill (thank goodness!!!) and
drop us just over the
hill at the town centre. We then got on the local bus, which took us to train
station. More figuring out of schedules
and a twenty minute wait later we were
on our way to Pompeii. We got there is good time and got off the train to
find that the entrance
to the Pompeii site was almost literally across the
street. Our guide for the day was waiting and away we went past several stalls
specializing in fresh fruit. It turned out that today was a free day
at Pompeii the same as we had found in Rome yesterday.
The photos below while interesting, do not come close to displaying the immense
size of this city, and the sophistication of its society.
I will try to offer
some illuminating info with the pictures.
Pompeii was a city of about 2,000 families in
the year 79CE when near by Mount Vesuvius blew its
top with an explosion which was one
of the largest ever. Within minutes the city
was inundated with a flow of earth, gasses and covered with volcanic ash. Many citizens
did not get away and were subsequently suffocated and buried under
meters of ash.
As it happens the ash had the effect, over a long time, of preserving what was
buried. For this reason, when the excavation began in the
a great deal of the city was still there. Most of the buildings, but not all,
had their roofs collapse. Because the ash protected
what was under it, the
remains of the city have led to a long list of new information about life in
As an example of a very startling fact: Every building in Pompeii had fresh
running water. The pipes were rolled lead and sealed at the joint.
The water was
gathered quite a distance away and transported via pipes and aqueducts to
Pompeii. This whole system worked with
gravity only. Pretty amazing.
Pompeii via Google Earth. Below, the whole town, as excavated. Closer view - this clearly shows how well developed it was, and how
There is still about 25% of the city not excavated. everything was
laid out in an orderly manner.
The ladies with our debonair guide Gaetano
The plant growth on the top edges of collapsed roofs is causing a lot
These were the stores of small merchants. They always
A small home with stone walls and storage areas
had the merchant's home
behind the store.
The road system was amazing and existed throughout the city. There were lane
dividers for two direction travel of the carts. Some of the
streets were set up
for one way only. Many of the oldest roads had two grooves worn into them by centuries of use by
horse drawn carts.
This is the best: The grooves were made by the steel
rimmed wheels drawn by horses. The wheels had to be a certain distance apart to
maintain two way traffic on these streets which were always the same width. The
distance apart of the wheels was the width of the hind end
of a horse. These
grooves can be seen throughout Pompeii. The good part of this is: Because
of the way these streets were built Roman
chariots had to be made with the
wheels the same distance apart. This requirement also spilled over onto the
first roads connecting Roman
cities, in the British Isles and elsewhere. This
lasted for quite a time, and when Britain adopted railways they used the old
which were already made with consistent width. The tracks for the
trains were laid this way throughout the country. This width (railroad
gauge to use the technical term), for the sake of uniformity then became the
standard throughout Europe. When the pioneers in the
New World wanted to start
building railways it made sense to them to use the same gauge so that everything
was built to the same standard.
That gauge is still in use today.
So the implication of this is that the width of modern railway tracks all over
Europe and America is the same as that of the ass of an ancient
Fact or myth? Who knows, but it makes a good story.
These poor folks died by suffocation leaving only (after years) a fossilized
remnant from which these casts were created.
Some buildings did not lose their roofs so the colourful paintings on the walls
survived The remains of their major temple.
This is a bakery with milling machine and oven
Instructions for use on the walls of a brothel
Many of the buildings were two or three story residences for the middle and
lower class. Going for a stroll on Main Street.
This is the Pompeii MacDonald's
All of the houses of the nobility (i.e. rich) were laid out exactly the same way,
the only difference denoting how rich being the size of the rooms.
After we completed our time at Pompeii with our guide, Gaetano we got the train back to Sorrento. The ladies wanted to shop
so Charley and I cabbed it back down to
the tender landing spot, and then to the ship for a well earned rest.
Sorrento is a
very charming town.
It is one of the places I would like to go back to.
The next morning we found ourselves watching as the ship arrived in the Sicilian
port of Taormina. There was quite a bit of ship position
find just the right place to anchor, but a few minutes after the anchor dropped
the ship's public address system announced
that it was going to take a while to
get the positioning right because of the higher than expected waves in the bay.
The crew judged that it
was not safe for all of us old folks to get into the
tenders, and then ashore with all this thrashing about. About an hour
later the public
address system announced that it was not going to work, so were
going to head up the coast an hour or so and berth at Messina. Gary called
guide David on his cell and found that David was driving up to Messina to pick us up. We eventually got docked,
As we drove through Messina he advised us that our original goal for visiting,
Mount Aetna was in cloud and it was raining. We found that
hard to believe
because where we were was sunny and clear. As you can see from the map below,
Sicily is large (Taormina to Messina
about 25 kms.) so we took his word for it.
That meant that we would improvise and drive back down the island toward
Taormina and see the interesting sights along the way.
The first stop was the village high in the hills which was where in the movie
"The Godfather" Michael Corlione met and married his first wife,
subsequently got blown up by a bomb meant for him. The two main spots were the
local tavern where some scenes took place, and the
church high up on the hill
where the marriage took place. Because of the movie this little town has become
a serious tourist attraction. Aside
from the movie connection it is a very
pretty town situated in an amazing setting.
Taormina from our rocking and rolling ship.
Having a wee snooze on the way to Messina Utilitarian door
The Godfather village - the church in the movie at top right below
The church in The Godfather movie
The bar/cafe in the Godfather movie
What a beautiful place to live.
Our travels South down the coast from Messina finally brought us back
to Taormina, where we tried to anchor earlier. This is another
very pretty town built with the ocean one side, and
built up a mountainside.
We returned as usual and had another pleasant evening with our new friends. The
next day was spent at sea as we were covering a
relatively long distance to our
next port. Having a full day to relax was welcome as up till now things had been
a little frenetic.
Ancona - Assisi
Ancona, as in several other stops, was not what we were interested in. It
is just a convenient port. We
had arranged for a guide to meet
us in Assisi and show us the
historical sites related to it. We picked up a rental car a short distance from
the ship and drove to Assisi.
We found a place for a quick lunch, and I phoned the guide to let her know we
were there. A short while later my cell phone rang and
before I could answer it our guide showed up at our table with her cell phone in
hand. She had called back my number on her phone
to see whose phone in the cafe would ring. Very clever. She was another expert
with a masters degree in art history and we enjoyed
walking the town with her and hearing about its history.
The main attraction in Assisi is the Basilica di San Francesco built in honour
of St Francis of Assisi. In the top bird's eye view courtesy of
the basilica is at the top left corner. In the lower picture it is in the centre
and the Church of St. Claire is on the right.
As can be seen by the panorama shot, Assisi is a very hilly town, and there was
lots of up and down during our walks.
The Basilica The Church of St. Clare
Remember the hordes of school kids I mentioned earlier? Here are more!
We parted company with our guide and headed back to Ancona and the ship, ready
for another pleasant evening, and the overnight trip
I have a problem here.... we were in Venice for two days: Firstly, we covered a
lot of territory. Secondly, we both absolutely loved the city.
Thirdly, I took a
gazillion pictures. So my problem is how to keep this section from putting you
to sleep. I will try to keep narrative to a
minimum, and not to show too many
pictures which tell the same story as ten others.
Marsha arranged for the two of us to meet a guide at St. Mark's Square for
a walk through the back streets of Venice. So, our first
step was to hoof it
from the ship, tied up along the waterfront promenade, to the square, a distance
of about 2kms through a circuitous route
of bridges, narrow streets and many
turns. It is very easy to get disoriented here because, for the newbies,
there is no reference point.
The GPS in my iPhone came in very handy here, once
Overview of all of Venice The main part of Venice showing the area we spent our time in.
The straight line coming in from the left edge is the only
roadway onto this part of Venice. There are no roadways
in Venice itself.
St. Mark's Square (no, the tower is not tilting, it's the camera lens I was
using.) The Doge's Palace
We met our guide, a transplanted American, and who, along with his wife,
make their living giving tours. The wooden carving on
the right is
actually an elaborate oar lock for the Gondolas which ply the canals. On the left is the wood working shop
where they are
made by a father and son team. This shop is hidden on a tiny
street far away from the tourists.
Many of the homes in Venice have decorative medallions or carvings near the
door. The one on the right symbolizes the wounds on
Jesus' hands and the cross.
The building below was built several centuries ago as a church and never
The holes on the front are for installation of the decorative stone face
was never installed.
Between the doors on the unfinished church are these "cat condos" created by
locals to provide protection for the many feral cats who
hang out around here. The locals look after the cats, and the cats take care of the mice. Good
One very common decorative theme throughout Venice were the flower boxes on
window sills. We encountered these samples as we
wandered the back streets where
few, if any, tourists were.
This picture is here because, in case you didn't notice,
the curtains are outside the window.
We had talked to our guide about the Jewish quarter of Venice and he showed us
the location on the map as well as giving us a little
insight as to how it came about. We decided to try and visit the next day when were to be on our own
with Kathy and Charlie.
This picture was taken originally to show the laundry, but the flag on the right
caught my eye. This is (or was) the headquarters of the
Italian Communist Party. Note the shrine. Seems out of place on a Communist
Marsha commented that we had not seen any parks. So Michael took us to a big
one, on the tip of the Island.
We stopped for a cold one at a cafe on the edge of the park and watched the
world go by. Now we were finished with the tour, so we
said goodbye to
Michael. I took a ferry back to the ship and Marsha did some
shopping. The ferry system in the canals is amazing.
There are several different
companies offering ferry service from a series of small terminals all along the
grand canal. The ferries operate
like busses with specific routes which stop at
the little terminals in various configurations. They operate in both
the main canals. The fare is very cheap, and they are
frequent. It is a very efficient and enjoyable way to get around.
Vancouver folks think the
in False Creek magnified by ten.
This is one of the river cruise ships which often end their voyages in
That evening, after we made our separate ways back to the ship and reassembled.
the four of us
went slumming along the grand canal, and onto the back streets
looking for a
neat little cafe for dinner. The picture below is the only one of that
event, so I included it. What was most fun about this out of the way
cafe was the owner. As soon as we sat down and got the menus he told me
that I was going to order the lobster and pasta. I thought I could outsmart him
so I said I wanted to review the menu. When he came back I ordered the
lobster and pasta.... so did Marsha. When our food arrived and he was
walking back to the kitchen Marsha asked him for some parmesan cheese.
He stopped dead in his tracks, wheeled around and said sternly "No... no
with lobster and pasta!". Our food was cold before we stopped laughing. We
found out later (much later) that in Italy you don't mix seafood and cheese.
Italian kosher I guess.
The night scene along the grand canal
I didn't get any pictures of the many guys selling purses and bags laid out on
sheets on the pavement. There were dozens of them, all strung
in a row. We found out later that they were all illegal Somali immigrants, and this is one of the
few ways they can earn money. We couldn't
believe that they actually sold any
but the old standby "They wouldn't be there if they didn't sell anything." seemed to
The next morning, our second full day in Venice the four of us disembarked early
and decided to take the ferry clockwise around the canals,
which we did. The
closest ferry terminal was just a few feet from our ship. As the ferry worked
its way we could see some very interesting
Our sister ship Regatta in port at the same time.
As we rounded the left side of the island to enter the canal just below the
roadway we saw how Venice proper gets its goods. Trucks
use the roadway and in
the area just at its end they discharge their cargo onto boats for distribution.
It was a very busy part of the canal
with boats coming and going in all
directions. A bit like Rome traffic.
A little bit of Venetian quirkiness - street addresses. Apparently each
"district" in Venice has its own number series, starting with "1" and
going up from there. Also, it is not clear how the city chooses the place to
start numbering in each district, but they do not assign addresses
with any particular logic. On one street they may start on one corner and number
the houses or shops up one side, and then cross the street
and continue back toward the other end. Sometimes they will number a street with
the next number from the last street and then when they
get to the end of the block they go back to the beginning of that street, cross
over and then continue the numbering back up the block. Our
guide told us that if we wanted to know where an address was, the only person in
Venice who might know is the mailman.
In 1516, the doges, Venice’s ruling council, debated
whether Jews should be allowed to remain in the city. They decided to
Jews remain, but their residence would be confined to Ghetto Nuova, a small, dirty island; it became the world’s first ghetto.
word “ghetto” is from the Italian getto meaning “casting” or
Venetian geto meaning “foundry.” The name referred to the fact
there was a copper foundry on the island. There was an entrance way
through which the Jewish people accessed the Ghetto.
At night the gate was closed and guards watched all night to keep everyone in.
We were very interested in visiting the ghetto, so we got off of the ferry at
the San Marcuola - Casinň terminal and walked the short
distance to the
entrance. Here again the trusty iPhone GPS got us there easily. (No I am not
getting paid by Apple to talk about the
iPhone. It is the best thing ever
This bridge denotes the beginning of the ghetto. In the background, between
the trees is a synagogue. Because the Jews were not allowed to worship openly,
they could not display the identification of the synagogues. This one has five
windows on the upper floor to symbolize the five books of the Torah.
This canal leads to the Jewish quarter and the right side is filled with shops
with a Jewish flavour. (Pun intended)
Charlie and Marsha at the entrance to the ghetto
This tablet recites the law of the ghetto and the rules.
There are five synagogues around the edge of the central square in the ghetto.
They are all quite small and of course are hundreds of years
old. There is one pair across the street from
each other which have an
interesting connection: One is used in winter because it has heat,
other is used in summer by the same congregation because it is cooler.
We left the ghetto, found our way back to the canal and continued our ferry ride
around the corner to St. Mark's Square, where we
disembarked again. Both Marsha
and Kathy were on a quest for goods. In Kathy's case it was some Venetian glass
beads in a store she
had seen, and she thought she remembered where it was. Marsha
was seeking a Murano glass statuette of an elephant she had seen yesterday.
didn't remember where the store was, but I did. Marsha didn't believe me. Both
of them were wrong. Kathy could not quite remember
the twists and turns of the
tiny streets, but we stumbled across it while proceeding to find Marsha's store.
After she got her beads I led the
troop directly to the store Marsha was looking
After that we started back to the ship for departure while looking for a
sidewalk restaurant along the canal where we could get a real
Italian pizza. We had almost given up when we reached a place which looked
promising. Here is Marsha's pizza. Now that's a PIZZA!
When the ship was about to leave we heard the PA system once again paging one
couple and two other passengers who were obviously
not aboard. Marsha and I went up to deck 10 and leaned over the rail to
watch the scene unfold down on the dock. At one minute to five
they dismantled the tables and prepared the gangway to be pulled up. Literally
at the last second three cars came screeching down the
dock (I don't who they paid, but cars are not supposed to be on the dock) and
the four occupants leaped out and ran for the gangplank,
shopping in hand. It was really funny, but not for them I guess.
Cruising slowly out of the canal in Venice. And off we went to our next stop,
We pulled into the harbour at Dubrovnik right on time next morning. It is an extremely pretty town,
and as usual built
on a couple of hillsides.
All of the buildings were the tile roof and pale
colour variety we had seen throughout our trip. It looked calm
and very peaceful.
I'm not sure why we expected anything else.
Once we landed and were able to disembark we grabbed a taxi and headed for the
old city. Dubrovnik began life as a
walled city, and the wall,
thanks to extensive renovations, is still intact. We
walked the whole wall (at least Kathy and Marsha did.
Charlie and I wimped out two thirds of the way). More on that later.
Our home... ain't she purty??
The walled part of the city.
After sampling the local ice cream and strolling around the main street, we
headed for a street which we had noticed contained the
Jewish business district, and probably their homes nearby as well. We found it
easily and saw a few stores, along with a
Synagogue/Museum which we took a tour through.
We did some more strolling around the streets in the hill above the main street and poked
our nose into various places. Apparently this pharmacy
is the second oldest operating one in Europe. Speaking of pharmacies, an
interlude: Pharmacies in the countries we visited including Spain,
Italy and Croatia work very differently from ours. Virtually all pharmaceuticals
that we would need a prescription for are available off the
shelf. I was able to replace a medication which I had left at home without the
slightest difficulty. Seems strange, but true.
Our next goal was to climb the gazillion steps to the city wall and walk around
the whole circumference of it. We paid our fee at the
bottom and headed up the steps to the wall. Charlie and I started
winging about half way up. We took a number of times out to breath.
These two objects were sitting on a roof next to the city wall, and they
so I stopped to photograph them. I don't know for sure what they are but
We came across this interesting sight about the time
Charlie and I were ready to call it quits.
As there was a stairway down to this courtyard and a
passageway to the street we escaped and left the
ladies to the rest of the walk. We had no idea what the
guillotine was there for, but someone told us
that it was to be used for tourists who didn't pay
Our day ended about there and once the ladies finished their epic walk we took a
taxi back to the ship. The taxi driver pulled a fast
one on us. At one point he turned at an unexpected place and Kathy, being
observant of these sorts of things, made a comment.
The driver told us that the ship had moved while we were away. He said that
every taxi had been notified.
So we drove a route that was totally unrecognizable and when the ship came into
view he laughed and told us that he was just
pulling our leg. The fare was the same, so he was just having fun at our
expense. So we sailed off into the evening. It was, once again
a beautiful evening, and some passengers took advantage of it to gaze at the
We took our time getting off in Corfu, and enjoyed a quiet coffee
These cities were beginning to look like carbon copies of each other,
in the sun.
but still fun.
Inside a Greek Orthodox Church
Aren't these two just lovely???? No, they didn't buy them.
Some colourful beverages in a store window. Notice the taps on these two....for
samples to taste.
Charlie's checking out the baked goods Old building, new building, same style.....
We decided to stay aboard today and laze around the pool, and eat too much. The
next couple of days will be very busy and we wanted to
store up some energy.
The Acropolis - our hotel was
about 1/2" to the right.
We had to be off the ship by 9:00 am so we were able to have most of the day in
Athens. We had decided that this would be our only
time for Athens as we really wanted to spend a full day on the nearby Island of
Santorini. We had reserved an early flight the next day
from Athens to Santorini, returning in the evening, and then flying home the next
Without any fuss we arrived at our quaint little hotel a few blocks from the
Acropolis (the roof top bar had a magnificent view).
The hotel Adonis was about what we expected (basic but ok for one night) One
oddity.... the toilet shared the shower. Hard to explain
Right after we checked in Kathy and Charlie came to the rooftop bar of our hotel
for a look at the Acropolis and to work out what we
were going to do. We decided to make our way to the parliament building a few
blocks away in time to see the changing of the guard.
Apparently on Sundays the ceremony is the full meal deal, band and all. We
started off in the direction we thought it was, relying on Kathy's
superb map reading skills. The walk through the narrow streets to the main
thoroughfare in front of the parliament building only took a
short time. We took up positions on the square to watch the goings on. The place
was crawling with tourists, like us, all pushing and
shoving for a view. Here are some pictures of the ensuing ceremony.
Footnote: Two days after we left this spot, the rioting over tax
increases, etc. erupted here, right in front of the parliament building.
After this exotic event (kinda weird actually, but must have some historic
significance) Kathy was not feeling well so they retreated to
their hotel, and Marsha and I jumped on a hop-on hop-off bus just around the
corner. We got to a place which looked interesting...
some ruins on one side, a synagogue on a small street, a number of sidewalk
cafes, and a flea market.
After having a cool one, and watching the people come and go, we wandered along
the flea market (above) It was a flea
market in the
truest sense of the word. The vast majority was old junk, piles of used clothes
and shoes (yuck!), and many
plastic gimmicky bits and
pieces. Colourful, but we didn't buy anything. Back onto the bus for our next
stop, the Acropolis.
The Parthenon: The clean white parts are faithfully restored as a part of a ten
year restoration project. Did you know that there are no
two stones exactly the same shape in this building. The Parthenon had very
subtle and advanced ways in architecture to create the visual
effect they desired.
After returning to our hotel, we decided to take a stroll to the Placa, the well
known area catering to both locals and tourists.
The area is packed with shops, cafes, and the Somali purse vendors operating
exactly as we saw them in Venice.
While we had our dinner we watched a very interesting exchange between an
American tourist at the next table negotiating
for a bag from one of the vendors. He started out at 50 Euros, and after much
haggling she ended up getting it for 15 Euros.
Lesson - never pay asking price in these places.
We had originally planned to stay in our hotel the whole time. This would have
meant a very early rise to catch our plane home
on May 4th. Kathy gave us a better idea. As our flight to Santorini was mid
morning the next day I booked a room at the
Sofitel hotel across the street from the airport. It was less than a minute walk
to the departure level from the hotel. So, we
checked out of the Adonis hotel in the morning, taxied to the Sofitel, and
checked in. This hotel is a whole order of magnitude
(if not two) more posh than the Adonis, and priced reasonably as well.
The whole island
We then went to the airport to board our forty five minute flight to Santorini,
which was pleasant and uneventful. I have to tell
you that Santorini's attraction to me was how beautiful and photogenic it is. It
was that and more. I took many pictures that day,
and the ones below are a very small sample (believe it or not). There are two
towns of note for the tourist, the main town, Thira,
where boats dock down a long way at sea level and one can walk up (886
steps!!!), ride a donkey (permanent donkey smell
on you and your clothes ensues), or take the cable car.
The second town, Oia (Aya) is in some ways more picturesque than Thira. As we flew in
to the airport on the other side of the
island from the towns and took a taxi ride (about 15 minutes, and cheap) to
Thira, and began our self-guided walking tour.
After a while we walked down the 886 steps to the dock at sea level, had a cold
one in a sidewalk cafe, and took the cable
car back up.
There was a cruise ship anchored in the bay and upon inquiry we found that the
passengers were all from Japan on a 100 day
round the world cruise. Wow!!
Once we recovered from a street navigation error (we somehow ended up on the
complete wrong side of Thira in a residential
area) we went to the bus station and waited for the bus to Oia. The ride was
mostly along a high mountain road which
was very windy and quite narrow. The way there put us on the side of the bus
looking straight down several hundred feet.
Marsha didn't love the view.
We repeated our self guided tour in Oia which we enjoyed a lot, and taxied back
to Thera. We had time until our flight back
to Athens so we did some more exploring and then found a restaurant where we
could have dinner and wait for the reportedly
spectacular Santorini sunset. Unfortunately a cool wind came up, and as were
outside it became quite uncomfortable so we
decided to give the sunset a pass. These pictures clearly show how vibrant and
clear the colours are here, and the deep blue
of the Mediterranean.
This is Oia as seen from Thira
This one is my favourite
Once again, daily life goes on, no matter how pretty the scenery.
Here are a few pictures borrowed from the internet. What a beautiful
If you've managed to get this far, congratulations. I know it's a lot of
pictures, but one picture is better than a thousand words.
Our return to Vancouver was uneventful, and devoid of surprises, except one. We
had a five hour wait between flights at Heathrow.
Marsha, as usual, was very antsy and spent a lot of time wandering around the
terminal. On one of her excursions she heard
someone call her name from behind her. She chose to ignore it, after all who
would we know in the middle of Heathrow terminal 5?
The person was persistent and called her name again.
This time she had to look and there were two very good friends of ours who live
in Houston who were on the way back home from
their own cruise. Marsha ran over to get me and we had a very brief, but excited
visit with our friends. Very soon they had to get to
the gate for their flight. It was wonderful to see them, short as it was.
This was another wonderful
adventure to add to the list. We loved the ship, the staff, the ports we
visited, and the new friends we
made. In fact, we like it so much we booked another Oceania cruise while still
on board. This one, in April 2011, will be from
Miami to San Francisco via the Panama - 16 days. We plan to go to Florida
a couple of days early to visit our new friends Kathy
Thanks for taking the time to look at all this. We hope you