121007 Brisbane to Moscow 7 October Sunday

Firstly, our WiFi connection is not too good and so I will have to do all our posting on the ships computer – without photos.  They will be included back at home if we cant get satisfactory connectivity speed.
It was fantastic that our niece and sister-in-law were able to find time to take us to Brisbane Airport at 5:00pm for our 8:45pm depature to Dubai and thence to Moscow.  It gave Lyn time to ‘sweet-talk’ the check-in clerk to upgrade us to business class for that long haul of 14:45 hours of flying.  However, it was to no avail – the Boeing 777 was full and there were no spare seats to be upgraded into.  So we stayed with all the lesser ‘shieks’ on the Emirates flight.  We both managed a number of kips and haven’t felt too over-tired.  The Dubai airport was extremely busy at the time of our arrival of 4:05am Sunday Morning.  Thousands were arriving and, it seems, made to wait for their connecting flight onward to Europe, Africa, or Oceana/Asian destinations.  The many shops were very busy.  We were intrigued with the gold shop – everything is sold by weight rather than the value of the created work of art that some jeweller had gone to.

Our flight up to Moscow was about 5 hours in daylight.  It was interesting to see the towns and cities that are built in the desert lands.  We crossed the Caspian Sea and flew over the extensive farming areas of southern Russia.  Moscow Airport is also very busy.  After immigration, our bags were already on the conveyer belt and we followed the ‘green line’ through customs to a very busy hall of taxi drivers and coach operators waiting to transport us to the ship which is to be our home for the next 11 nights.  We were caught in the traffic and instead of a one-hour transfer, we ended up taking an extra 45 minutes.
We boarded at 6:15pm and after the one hour introduction to the ship’s staff, emergency drill and briefing for tomorrow, commenced dinner at 7:30pm.  There was no time for settling in and a shower until after dinner.  We are in one of two panoramic suites, so as we sail downstream to St Petersburgh, we have very good views of the scenery.  Fortunately, the beds are comfortable and warm and we sleep well most of the night through.

120527 Messina 27 May Sunday

Even though we were out of site of land all day yesterday, we felt we were on land.  The sea has been so calm.  Not even a rolling motion.  We sat in the sun most of the morning and early afternoon and then did 3 mile walk around the deck in support of breast cancer.  Lyn walked for her work friend from before we were married, and I walked for Vicki from Spartans Gym where I work.  The Holland America Line do this each day they are at sea and have collected over $3 million.  Other cruise lines have taken on the charity too and do it on their ships.

The night’s entertainment, put on by the Noordam Dancers, was a summary of Las Vegas.  It was very well performed and all the glitter and glamour of Las Vegas was there.

After the show, the chefs put on a 10:30pm dessert.  The atrium area was decorated with brilliant cakes and other delicious but rich, desserts.  Only a small taste of a few was enough.  There must have been an enormous ‘throw-out’ after that brilliant display of food-art.

Today we are in Messina, just off the toe of Italy.  We arrive early in the morning and because it is Sunday, there are not too many people in the streets until after 10:30am.  Messina is a port city opposite the Italian mainland.  It has industries producing foodstuffs, silks, muslins, linens and chemicals.  The city was founded by the Greeks in the 8th century BC and occupied by the Roman forces in 264 BC.  Messina has been ruled by various powers, which in turn shaped its vastly diverse culture.  The University of Messina, which was established in 1548, was rebuilt extensively along with the rest of Messina after the earthquake in 1908 that destroyed almost the entire city and killed some 84,000 of its people.

Many of the passengers take a 5-hour excursion into the hills and to a volcano that had erupted a while back.  Lyn and I walk the streets a bit but the town is basically closed except for a couple of coffee shops where we upload the last post.  I have a hot chocolate – the STRONG Italian style.

We sail away at 1:00pm on the last leg of a fantastic cruise.  The sun gets warm enough to get a bit of a tan-touch-up ready to show off back home.  At 3:00pm, we decide to ‘start packing’.  This is always the worst part of any holiday.  At least, it is not camping gear.  At 4:00pm we have a session with the cruise director who goes through the disembarkation routine on our return to Civitavechia.

Those of you, who followed our trip through Vietnam, would remember that each post contained a Senior’s Moment of some kind.  I haven’t noticed any Senior’s Moments to include in this trip’s posts that were on somebody else.  Well, I must reveal, I haven’t had time to find or notice any.  As travel agents, we can’t impress our clients enough to take care of their travel documents and NOT to loose their passport – it is an important document.  Should I go on?  Well, I shouldn’t really but my conscience is getting me.  At Dubrovnik, 3 days into the cruise, we passed through boarder inspection, and thought we may need to show our passports.  We held them up to the taxi window and put them away.  I thought I had put mine in my vest pocket as usual, but……………….. I hadn’t.  And it must have slide to the floor and I didn’t notice my predicament until we were getting ready to go ashore in Corfu, the next port of call.  I didn’t say it – I think! But I meant to say sh………eye…….t.  How lousy it has been –oooooooHHHHHHH! You all say.  I reported it to the front desk and the security guy searched the room for 30 minutes.  Then it was to communicate with the NZ Embassy in Rome.  To cut to the shorter version – I now have – oh good grief, where is it?  A New Zealand Emergency Travel Document.  Man, it is nice.  Please, no flowers or Kiwi jokes.  For the longer version, I will need to collect the costs of the ordeal.  200 Euros, 205 Euros accommodation, train and taxi fares, and a delay of 24 hours leaving Rome for Singapore.  So, any takers – the highest bidder hears the long version.

I am in a hotel room at Rome Airport doing this post after collecting my Emergency Passport.  It took 40 minutes to process and so I missed the flight with Lyn and the rest of the group by just 2 hours.  Oh dam.  I am booked to fly direct Rome Singapore tomorrow, Tuesday arriving Singapore Wednesday morning 6:00am.

120525 Santorini 25 May Friday

Arriving at Santorini is something rather different.  The island of Santorini, where we anchor, rises straight up out of the ocean.  We ‘park’ 650 meters above the ocean floor – now that’s a lot of chain between the ship and the anchor.  Today is a tender day, where we are ferried to the shore to the base of a big climb.  You can walk up the 650 steps, get the local smelly donkeys to carry you up, or you can catch the cable car.  We choose the cable car and arrive before too many others from the ship.  The streets are not very busy, yet.  Many of the shops have not opened as it is before 9:30am.  We find a café that overlooks a magnificent view of the bay, islands and our cruise boat.  The waiter is the owner’s son, half English and half Greek.  We order hot chocolate as the breeze is still a little cool and then he offers free Wi-Fi for both the computer and Lyn’s iPhone and sets us both up for ‘as long as you want’ use.

It’s the sort of view one could ‘die for’.  Absolutely fabulous!  We admire the view for 90 minutes and sort out a few things with the agency in Yarra Junction – from the top of an island in Greece – wow, nice office to work from.

Santorini survives on tourists.  The waiter tells us the most cruise boats in at the one time is 14.   Our ship captain had swapped Athens and Santorini in our itinerary, due to too many tourist ships coming to Santorini on the same day.  We are glad he has as for the previous 4 days, there has been a cold wind and plenty of rain, so today definitely is the right day to be in Santorini.

The town seems to be built on the edge of the cliff.  Hotels and villas line the edge, many with swimming pools with great views.  If you want to do some serious, serious sun tanning, its best not to do it at any of the hotels here – hahah!  “Off the cliff edge”, are narrow streets of shops, without room for cars.  The shops are all clean and well displayed – clothing, jewelry, swim ware, food, restaurants, more jewelry and more clothing shops – oh there is fish spa too, and some of our group try it out to find it is like little electric shocks as the fish nibble on your callouses and bunions.

We do a lot of walking along the cobbled streets that meander through hotels and villas along the edge of the cliff face, looking for ‘that’ postcard shot of white houses, some with striking blue domes – and we find some, many.

As we have a snack lunch in another café with the world’s greatest view, we hear that someone has had a very bad accident.  The donkey trail that allows many tourists to ride a donkey up the hill becomes littered with donkey poo.  As he was getting off his donkey, he slipped on the path right into a pile of donkey poo.  The donkeys smell enough as it is – we can smell them from the café – but to fall in their manure, would be a bad accident indeed.  (He was NOT a member of our group, so we can still travel home without a smelly donkey poo collector).

After purchasing some clothes and jewelry, and gifts for friends and relatives, we board the cable car at 3:30pm and onto our ship.  After changing, we make our way to the back of the ship for some r&r in the sun and the ‘sail-away’ party as the ship leaves Santorini at 6:00pm

Tonight’s entertainment is a brilliant piano man.  While others chat in the dining area, I thought I check out the entertainment around the ship for the night.  When I front up to the main entertainment lounge, I cannot be drawn away to tell the others and stay through a great concert of Jazz, Show music, Movie themes, and classical, I return to the group after the show and encourage some to come back to the 10:00pm show to enjoy it all again.

Tomorrow is a day at sea as we travel from Santorini to Messina in Italy, so I may not bother with a post for then.

120524 Kusadasi 24 May Thursday

Kusadasi? You ask.  Where’s that?  It is a port in Turkey, not far from Ephesus.  I can see the lights of Kusadasi from the gym – Lyn can’t, as she is still in bed.  The sky is cloudy with a possibility of rain.

The city of Kusadasi has grown from a tiny fishing village to a sprawling resort center attracting large numbers of tourists every year.  One of the main attractions to this area along the Aegean Sea is the beautiful beaches, although we don’t see any.  The other attraction is the great number of Greek and Roman ruins found in this area.  Among the most famous are the cities of Pergamum, Ephesus, Aphrodisias, and Troy.  Closest to Kusadasi is the glorious reconstructed city of Ephesus.  Long held as one of the showpieces of Aegean archaeology, Ephesus is a beautiful reconstructed ancient site.  It once was a powerful trading port and a center for the worship of the goddess Artemis.

After a quick breakfast, we take to the Vista Lounge to be divided up onto buses for the 4-hour excursion we have chosen to ‘The Virgin Mary’s Home’ and ‘Ephesus’.  We have a good guide that reveals much about Kusadasi and Turkey along the way.  There are 31 five Star hotels in Kusadasi.  Turkey has 75 million inhabitants and ranks very high on the Economic tables of the world.  Last year, Turkey was 2nd behind China’s growth rate at 8.3%.  They have 21 car manufacturing plants – Toyota, BMW, Volvo, etc.  They trade in silk, carpets, agriculture, heavy earth machinery.

As we climb towards the top of the hill where the Virgin Mary’s Home is supposed to be located, we see extensive vistas of the region.  It is not until we arrive at Mary’s Home that we realize it truly is great place to live in the hills.  The house is small and quaint, and the story is even more quainter – not sure if I will believe that one.  Of course, there are the vendors on your way out of the complex – and scores of coaches.

We make it down the hill to Ephesus.  The sun is coming out and it makes for some good pictures.  After an extensive introduction to the history of how Ephesus became famous, we walk down the main street, past recently excavated houses, and into the town.  The library is an imposing building – it reminds me of the Treasury Building at Petra.  There is a large amphitheater with seating for 25,000.  It is still being reconstructed so a large crane hangs over top.  There are thousands of people fortunately walking in the same direction as us.  Of course, the tour is climaxed by a ‘the souvenir’ shops are there, on the way to the bus.

Our coach takes us back to Kusadasi town.  Here, we are ushered across the street to a carpet shop.  A demonstration is given of how silk is produced from the silkworm cocoon and how strong it is, given many threads.  We get ushered into a large room and an exhibition of how a Turkish salesman selling carpets works.  ‘Too much for me; let’s get out of here.”

After uploading yesterday’s post, we get back on the ship for a late lunch and, eventually, Lyn decides, “I saw leather coats back in the township”.  We have 3 hours before boarding so make our way back to the shops on the wharf.  Yes, Lyn gets her leather coat; and it is not bright pink.

The town says goodbye to 4 cruise ships today, two large ones and two smaller ships, and we have dinner in the Lido Lounge (I call it the blue collar meal).

The main show of the evening is a Magic and Humor show – I thought it was a bit weak – but you can’t have it good all the time.

120523 Athens 23 May Wednesday

The view of Athens at 6:00am from the gym is rather good.  Athens sprawls out along a coast and has 4.5 million inhabitants.  On the way back to the stateroom, that’s what they like to call them on this ship, I collect a cup of tea to take to the sleeping Lyn.  (Now that should earn me some brownie points.)

We get up for a later breakfast and at 8:30am, take off on a tour of Athens and a visit to the Acropolis.  We assemble in the main lounge and leave right on time as buses are waiting, and there are lots of people to be moved onto them.  Our guide takes us through the port town of Piraeus, past the main stadiums of the city, and on to the first Olympic Stadium where the annual marathon is completed, including the Olympic games marathon.  Then it’s on to the Acropolis via some of the main streets of the city proper.  We see the Parliament building and other famous, we are told, buildings.

There are scores of tour buses at the entry to the Acropolis, each with inquisitive passengers seeking the best photos of the ruins.  Our guide walks up to the top of the hill past expansive ruins to the Parthenon.  It is recognizable at a glance and although a visit requires an uphill walk (acropolis means “high place”), the route is not steep.  Ancient Gods presumably lived in the clouds, so high places brought people closer to those they worshipped.  The first residents moved to the mountain in 3500BC, and by 1400BC, it was the royal dwelling.

We are fortunate to have another blue-sky day and the color of the tall ruins look majestic against the bright sky.  The view of the city shows the complete city.  It ends only 10-15km away and all the houses and buildings are the same color with very little vegetation.

On our return to the ship, we have a small lunch and head for the sunshine on the upper deck, to be interrupted by a call to the bow for an ANZAC get together.  There are over 900 of us on the ship and we have a time of cheaper drinks and lamingtons.  Our dinner is taken in the main dinning room over looking the wake of the ship.

Tonight’s entertainment is “If Walls Could Rock” – a show about New York filled with singing, music and dance.  Much of the entertainment is only on the ship the one night as they are picked off or dropped off at each port along the way.

It’s an early night tonight – 10:00pm.  I can hear Lyn snoring away so I shall sign off and get some sleep before we reach Turkey tomorrow.

120522 Olympia 22 May Tuesday

I overlookied telling you in yesterday’s post about the Fish Spa we visited.  In Corfu, while doing the touristy thing, we saw a sign that said “Fish Spa”.  Well, you gotta go try it some day.  You go in and all these people are sitting around with their feet in fish tanks; and yes, there are little fish in them gobbling away at your cracked and smelly feet, cleaning up the skin that doesn’t need to be carted around the streets.  What an experience that would be!  No one decided to give it a go but Lorraine was intent on getting a close up photo of the ordeal.

In bleak weather, and after I had been to the gym, we arrive at the little town of Katakolon.  This is the port that serves the well-known town of Olympia – made famous each four years for the lighting of the flame that is used for the Olympic games.

The original Olympics began in the eleventh century as a small regional festival, dedicated to the god Zeus.  The origins of the town itself are the Mycenaeans who worshipped the goddess Rhea, sister of Cronus and mother of Zeus – I know them both very well.  Zeus went on to becoming the top god and founder of the Olympic games.  The first Olympic games were held in 776 BC and reached their height of popularity in 576 BC.  The events included foot races, wrestling, discus, javelin, long jump, horse and chariot racing, and a type of boxing called pancratium.  The games were banned in 426 by the emperor Theodosius II because they were pagan, and the temples were destroyed.  The Olympic games resumed once again in 1896 in Athens.

As we disembark, there is a pretty young Greek girl, dressed as if she is one of the goddesses from the flame lighting, ready to have her photo taken with us or, should it be us with her?  It is great having two nice ladies, one on either side of me.  And the then I hear, “next please”.  All my joy is gone – I am not important after all.

We find a van that takes 8 persons to the ruins of Olympia and the price is only 150 Eros total instead of USD75 each.  The driver takes us through narrow streets along the way.  The travel time is about 50 minutes and I get in some pa-nap for 20 minutes or so.  At least I see the scenery on our return.  We arrive at Olympia, only to be greeted by 40 other large coaches.

The ruins site is a walk through the Olympic Botanical Gardens – crowds of people.  There is barely room to take any photos without have some tourist in the way.  We wander around the ruins and just prior to leaving the sun comes out and improves the look of the ruins immensely.  We find the arena where the Olympics were first held.  Not too far away, is the significant site where the goddesses light the Olympic flame to be carried to the London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.  We miss the ceremony by 10 days.

A quick ride back to the ship and we are back at ‘searching’ through touristy shops – well the ladies are, while I upload yesterdays post from a bar – oh, I do buy a coke to have.

After a small lunch, Lyn and I change and get a spot on the top deck next to the pool for the afternoon of vitamin D enhancement.  The ship departs at 2:30pm with a bunch of loud bursts from its horn, while other cruise ships in the area respond.  The ships band entertains us for a couple of hours.

Food is laid on and available at most times of the day.  After a smallish lunch, I think it only appropriate that I get into some nachos from the food bar over the way – delicious indeed.

At 5pm, Lyn and I depart for our sun balcony for the rest of the afternoon, while we cruise towards tomorrow’s destination, Athens.  Our entertainment tonight is Dimitris Dekavallas, an Award Winning & Internationally Acclaimed Flemenco & Spanish Guitarist.  He is very good and then we turn up at the Queen’s Lounge for another hour of Vivienne & The HALCat.  On our way to our stateroom for the night, we check the Picture Gallery and find that wonderful picture that has our Greek goddess in it – we look as great as she does – and we’re more than twice her age!

120521 Corfu 21 May Monday

We arrive in the Corfu region at daybreak.

If you have never wanted to go on a cruise, you should be on this one.  The water is as smooth as glass.  We have never felt a ‘rolling’ other than crossing another ship’s wake.  So we are ‘sold’.  Anyone want to do a booking for next year and do 20 days in the Mediterranean doing both the east and the western region?  If you give the office a call today, we will give you $100 per person off a 2013 Mediterranean cruise with Holland America.  Sharon will take your details and Lyn will call you back on our return – how’s that for a good deal?

I never have trouble waking up, and so this morning, even though there was a time zone change, I wake early and decide to ‘go ride a bike’ in the gym for 30 minutes.  Lyn keeps telling me to ‘relax – why not sleep in’ and when I want to go to bed early, I get told to “stop being a party pooper”.

We then have breakfast with Kevin Hardes.  Kevin worked in the same office as me in Sydney back before we were married and he had noticed my face and believed it was Lyn and I when he noticed Lyn. (Dam – it takes more than just me to recognize me.)  Would you believe that their dining room table is right next to ours?  And we hadn’t noticed them until day 3.  Such a big world shrank very quickly.

As we hadn’t done an offshore excursion booking, we are not allowed to disembark until after 10:00am.  We do a ‘deal’ with a couple of taxis and for 50 Euro each, we see Corfu from a number of vantage points around the island.  We see Paleokastritsa and Pelekas from high points and our two hours is up very quickly.  We arrive in the Corfu Town and a Festival is on (some festival to do with ‘naming’ things or people, we are told).  It had to be a festival.  Two brass bands marched past us in the narrow streets, as we were squashed in shop doorways to save getting walked over.  There were ladies and children in traditional dress as well.  Lots of color and they looked like they were enjoying themselves.

We find a place to have lunch, not very good and not worth a tip, and then do some browsing around the touristy shops before walking the 2.5 km back to where we catch the tender to the Noordam.  We commence dinner before leaving Corfu.  It is luxury to have a great ever-changing backdrop as we dine.

Corfu is the second largest of the Ionian Islands and often noted as the greenest.  Much of the island still consists of olive groves, mountains or woodland.  It is thought to have been the model for Prospero’s and Miranda’s place of exile in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.  Corfu is yet another World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO because it contains picturesque reminders of its Venetian, French, and British Past.  Corfu was one of the first Greek Islands to attract mass tourism in the 1960’s and the capital, Corfu Town, was renovated for an EU summit in 1994 and is now one of the most elegant island capitals in the whole of Greece.

Instead of going to the Vista Lounge tonight, we attend a Pool Party at the main pool.  Vivienne and the HALCats are there to make music and dancing a fun time for all of us.  We even do some line dancing but when asked to play “Waltzing Matilda”, we get told, “it is not in their song list” – and there are over 800 Aussies on board.  Gotta get better than that, mate!

120520 Dubrovnik 20 May Sunday

I didn’t do a post for yesterday as nothing much happened.  We have been at sea since cruising down the western coast of Italy, along the foot of the boot and up the west coast and across to Croatia.

We arrive at the wharf of Dubrovnik at 8:00am and are allowed to disembark at 8:15.  We had booked a cycling tour out in the country, but it has been cancelled due to ‘lack of interest’.  That could mean that there weren’t enough cycles available to our ship.

Anyway, we disembark at 8:25 and make for the taxi stand nearby.  A guy ushers us into his cab “to the old city wall” – 15 Euros.  After getting through customs, a flash of our passports, literally, showing them through the window, our driver has a good idea.  “I see you have good cameras and want to take photos.  I can take you around the area for an hour.  I can show you where there is damage from the war.  I can take you up where the cable car goes, from which, your photos will have the lines from the cable car in each and every photo.  I can even give you the history of the war and what happened.  For just 50 Euros, I can stop wherever you want to take photos which you will be proud of.”  We agree and are glad we did.  He gives us great treatment and takes photos of us from the mountaintops, looking down into the town with a blue ocean beyond.

Today is another brilliant day for photographs and video.  After our taxicab tour, we are delivered to the entrance to the old city of Dubrovnik.  The city began as a Roman settlement.  From the Middle Ages on, it was a prize sought by Venice, Hungary, Turkey and others who coveted the city’s logistical value as a maritime port.  Known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, this city is a lustrous as it was 5 centuries ago when Dubrovnik was a major sea power bustling with prosperous merchants and dripping with Renaissance grandeur.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site remains well preserved as the “city made of stone and light” even as its inhabitants remember the recent sieges of the early ‘90s.  Many attractions can be found inside the protective walls of the pedestrian-only Old Town.

We climb many steps today as we walk around the wall of the city.  Great vistas of the area are available from many advantage points around the wall.  We see those who have chosen to do the sea kayaking tour.  There are thousands of other tourists as 3 large cruise ships are in town today.  Apparently, this happens almost every day of the summer months.

After using the internet at a café to upload the last post, we return to the ship for lunch and a few hours of sunbaking on the top deck of the ship.  Dinner is at 5:45 and we never miss out on this; there’s always a good meal available – and we don’t have to arrange to do the dishes.  An hour of comedy is on at 8:00pm with another hour in the Queen’s Lounge with Vivienne & The HALCats, “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘n Roll”

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