Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Arnotts Biscuit Day in Monte Carlo and Nice

Our ship docked in Monte Carlo among several billion dollars worth of luxury yachts.

We wandered along the harbour to the train station taking a rather convoluted route as the barricades and grandstands from last Sunday’s Grand Prix were still in the process of being removed.

We decided to catch the train along the Cote d’Azure to Nice and maybe even have a swim. The train went through a lot of tunnels but we still caught tantalizing glimpses of small beaches, sun umbrellas and lounges.

When we arrived in Nice, we strolled down to the old town with its flower markets, little shops, the opera house and outdoor restaurants. We lunched sitting outside in the sunshine, taking in the passing parade of beautiful and not so beautiful people.

After lunch we walked the short block to the beach. The water looked a sparkling blue but the beach was large pebbles without a grain of sand in sight. As we watched people gingerly hopping their way to the water, we decided that swimming was not really on our agenda.

                                        The boat harbour in Monte Carlo.

                                   The fountain in the old sector of Nice.

Conquering the Cinque Terre

On Tuesday we arrived in Livorno but instead of visiting Pisa and Lucca as we had originally planned, we set off for the Cinque Terre by taxi and 2 trains.

After arriving by train at La Spezia, we caught the local train to Riomaggiore, the first of the 5 villages. All the villages are still suffering from the devastating mud flows last October but we enjoyed the quaintness of the villages.

We set off on the 1st walk to Manarola known as the Via D’Amore. Took lots of photos of the views and drank coffee at a shop hanging out over the cliff. Only 2 of the 4 walks are open at the moment.

From Manarola we caught a train to Vernazza, the worst affected from the mud slides. While it was great to visit, it is yet to be fully restored.

We even managed to visit our previous accommodation which is in process of restoration. We enjoyed walking round the little harbour before retracing our steps back to the ship.

For the 3rd time, we had conquered the Cinque Terre.

                                     Walking the Via d'Amore.

The beach at Vernazza - not as pristine as we remembered.

                                    Where's Wally?  (or Helen)


Instead of heading south to Rome with the masses on the day the ship returned to Civitecchia, we caught 2 buses north to Tarquinia, an Etruscan and mediaeval hill town.

We waited to catch the bus up from the train station and the heavens opened.

In our sodden state, we visited the key sights to fit them in early in our visit as the entire town closed for a siesta. Our first visit was to the Duomo, Santa di Margherita. This included a magnificent ceiling with large wall and ceiling paintings.

The highlight of our visit was Santa Maria in Castello. This was truly beautiful both outside and inside although it was difficult on to capture on film with the blobs of rain on the camera lens. This is normally closed but we were lucky to gain entry.

Later in the morning we walked the rest of the town visiting churches, looking at fountains and marveling at the mediaeval streetscape.

We returned to the ship at Civitecchia by bus and train as the sun came out.

We also managed to fit in the main sights of Civitecchia – churches, sculptures and the fort.

                                                             It really was raining heavily.
                          The interior of the duomo.

                                     The  baptismal font in Santa Maria in Castella was very large - they must have     practised immersion.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Morning in Messina

The ship was in Messina for just half a day so we were soon ashore to check out the highlights.

We docked very close to the centre of the old town so it was a very easy stroll to reach the main square- Piazza Duomo. We especially enjoyed the animated clock with the largest and most complex mechanical astronomical clock in the world. It performs daily at 12 midday. The angels ring the bells. The lion roars. The cock crows. The apostles parade and a model of the cathedral appears. This did not leave us much time as the show took 10 minutes and we had to be back on board by 12.30 to depart for the next port.

We also saw the beautiful fountain of Orion, the cathedral and several mediaeval churches. Three of us climbed the Caperrina hill to visit the sanctuary of Montalto which has been rebuilt since the earthquake of 1908. Here we had magnificent views of the city and the Straits of Messina.

As we sailed for Civitecchia (Rome), we passed the island of Stromboli and had a great view of the volcano belching its sulphurous gases. It is called the lighthouse of the Mediterranean.

Friday, May 25, 2012


We dropped anchor at Santorini with the view of the houses around the caldera and the azure waters.  We came ashore by tender and up the steep cliff by cable car.

Have spent the morning wandering looking at the beautiful houses predominantly white and blue, looking at the small churches and of course looking at the views.  We must admit we have been into lots of souvenir and craft shops.

The photos tell the tale.

The group at the caldera.

Gail with the ship in the background.

Checking out the shops.


This morning we arrived in Kusadasi in Turkey which is the port town for Ephesus.

Rob had already organized for us to be collected in a minibus complete with guide and driver, to take us to Ephesus.

Our first stop was at the House of Mar7, where it is believed she spent her final years together with John, the writer of the Gospel. It was on top of a hill and was rather cold but as we drove down towards the gate of Ephesus, the sun beamed out.

Ephesus is the best preserved ancient city but even so less than 20% of this 2000 year old city has been excavated. We visited the Terrace Houses which have been opened since were there in 2004. These were the houses for the wealthy because they had harbour views. (not anymore as the harbor silted up many years ago). There were still mosaic floors, wall frescoes and even a marble backgammon table.

We walked along the marble road where Paul walked and marveled at all the amazing sights.

Later we visited the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. There was not much left to see, mostly just 1 column.

Our final visit was to the Isabey Mosque which was built in the 11th century and had columns from Ephesus used in its construction.

Walking down the marble road.

The mosaic floor in a terrace house.

The library at Ephesus.

Detail of the stonework on the library.
Gail and Margaret at the Temple of Artemis.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Spent a wonderful day in Athens.  C  aught the Metro into Syntagma Square where we posed for photographs with the guards in national costume.

We then walked down through the Plaka with its myriad of shops, through the Flea Market before stopping for coffee.  We walked through the Agora (ancient marketplace) and up top the Acropolis where we marvelled at the magnificence of the Parthenon and the surrounding buildings.

We made our way hand in hand over the slippery marble paths and down to the Acropolis Museum, only opened in 2009.

During the day we fitted in quite a few visits to Greek Orthodox churches - some of them which would fit in your lounge room and some as large as cathedrals.

At the moment we are sitting in a small cafe in the port of Piraeus before we sail for Kusadasi near Ephesus.

The 3 musketeers in front of the Parthenon.

The highlight of the Acropolis.


We arrived at Katakolon, a small coastal port near Olympia and had 2 Mercedes taxis waiting for us. This meant we arrived well before any of the tourist buses. We were able to explore most of the site without the hordes. We found it very picturesque with the remains of various temples, stadiums and other buildings.

The Philippeion was interesting as it had been restored by the Germans after they returned the ‘stolen’ antiquities. The temple of Zeus was massive and once housed the statue of Zeus made of gold and ivory that was once one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

We also visited the workshop of Pheidias where the statue of Zeus had been made. This was converted into a church in the 5th century AD. We found it serene and beautiful but eventually the tourist coaches arrived and we moved on to the Archaeological Museum. This housed many of the treasures of the Olympic site as well as items from earlier periods. Our clear favourite was the brilliant sculpture of Hermes holding the baby Dionysius who later became the god of wine!

There are also many of the statues from the pediment of the temple of Zeus and some excellent Roman busts and figures. Another favourite was the detailed work in the clothing of the statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius.

With the flexibility of our own transport, we decided to go to another museum which focused more on the Olympic events along with many fine artefacts including mosaic floors.

We went to the Floka theatre not for its antiquity but for its wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and even out as far as the port. Our final stop was a brief visit to a beach and then we were dropped at the beginning of the village where we walked through the shops before returning to the ship.

Our Happy Hour on board included local Katakolon wine along with olive oil from our driver’s own grove soaked up with ship board bread. All agreed it was the best oil we had ever tasted.

Gail at the Philippeion.  Restored by the Germans with returned materials.

The workshop of Pheidias.  This was the site where the statue of Zeus made from gold and ivory, was made. This was 1 of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World.

The sculpture of Hermes.  This was the outstanding exhibiy at the Archaeological Museum.

Close up of the uniform of Marcus Aurelius.

Our group with Andrew the taxi driver outside the Olympic Museum.

Monday, May 21, 2012


We are in the old town of Kerkira on the island of Corfu. It is a special festival day here to celebrate the unification of the Ionian Islands.

We sailed past Albania and came ashore by tender.  The town is alive for the festivity with 27 bands from far and wide.

Robert's joke of the day - What do you get when you have 27 bands marching similtaneously around old Corfu town?  Answer:  corfusion!

It was a colourful sight with religious ceremonies, national costumes, parades, flags and of course the marching bands.

Robert with some locals.

Some of the musicians.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dallying in Dubrovnik

Our ship arrived in Dubrovnik early this morning and after breakfast we caught a taxi to the old town - known as 'Stari Grad'.

Dubrovnik is a beautiful walled city that we have many fond memories of.  We walked round to the tiny apartment where we stayed a few years ago.

We walked down the Plaka and near the cathedral there was a festival that we think was a wedding.  There was much singing and dancing and we hope to attach a photo.  The eating and drinking will come later no doubt.

We also travelled to the top of the adjacent mountain by cable car where the view over the old city and harbour is spectacular.  Larer in the day we plan to walk along the walls.

Some of the wonderful costumes at the ceremony in the front of the cathedral.

The view as we went up in the cable car.

The old city of Dubrovnik from the top of the cable car.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Venturing Through Viterbo

This is our last day before our Mediterranean cruise so we took a train to the mediaeval town of Viterbo which is built on the site of an Etruscan town - a fascinating place.

Gail at the Etruscan wall which is now part of the cathedral.

On the plaza overlooking the Duomo.

The Duomo framed by the flowers for the festival that starts tomorrow.
          The entire town was still being decorated with flowers as we walked around.

Footsteps Through Florence

We have spent 3 days in an apartment in Florence within walking distance of all the major sights. It was raining when we arrived in the late afternoon but by the next morning the sun was shining and we enjoyed cooking our own breakfast and having a courtyard to hang out our washing!

We visited the Duomo with its stunning fa├žade of green and cream marble and intricate carvings. Inside it is far more austere with no seating except round the outside but with lovely stained glass windows.

We also visited the Basilica of San Lorenzo with its richly decorated interior and very simple exterior. This church was the parish church of the Medici family and includes a mausoleum with sculptures by Michel Angelo.

The next day we visited the Ponte Vecchio with its amazing gold shops and the Museum where the statue of David is housed. It is truly beautiful

Guess what we did on our 1st day here!

Food Market at San Gimignano

We spent a wonderful morning tasting the local products at a food market in San Gimignano and talking to the men and women who produced this fine fare. The products were many and varied and included meats, vegetables, cheese from sheep and goats, breads, oils and olives. Everything was produced locally.

The stall holders were as interesting as the food and seemed to fit the nature of the products sold. The wild boar salami was a favourite both for the food and the stall holder as were the olive oil ladies.

The pictures speak for themselves but we can only include a few at this time. They are essential post holiday viewing.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Stepping Out in San Gimignano

San Gimignano is one of the most beautiful of the Tuscan hill towns. It is another walled town with 14 towers and grew up in the 12th century as a place to support pilgrims.

Some of the historic items however date from the Etruscan period and are over 2000 years old.

We are staying right in the centre at the historic La Cisterna Hotel which is in a 14th century building, fortunately with all mod cons.

One church we visited today had a sign proclaiming that it had been renovated in 1173! Another interesting museum featured a special chair from the 15th century which was for the nurse to sit on during Baptisms.

The best time to be in San Gimignano is early morning or late afternoon and evening after the day tourists have departed. This is the time to sit at an outdoor restaurant and admire this beautiful town.

We saw a selection of jewelled crowns in the Religious Art Museum.

There is a garden at the top of the hill right near the wall.  The may bushes are in full bloom.  The view over San Gimignano is quite spectacular from here.

Monteriggioni Photo Gallery

                                     Enjoying lunch in Monteriggioni.  We sat in a shaded garden at the back of a restaurant.

We visited the cheese and wine shop for supplies for Happy Hour.  We tasted 3 cheeses -pecorino at 3 different  ages before deciding which one we liked best.  We  also bought slices of bread which were cut for us and wrapped beautifully.  He then recommended which wine to try.

This is the main piazza of Monteriggioni.  Our B & B looked directly across to the 12th century in the picture.

In a garden behind the church, a group of young men are practising their drumming in readiness for the Mediaeval Festival held in July.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Meandering Through Monteriggioni

Monteriggioni is a tiny fortified town with a population of 48 people located on the Via Francigena, the pilgrim trail that stretches from Canterbury to Rome.

Instead of walking the 19 km leg from Sienna, we caught a local bus for 2 euros and walked the final 500 metres from the bus stop.

There is not a lot to see in Monteriggioni yet it is the most popular place we have visited to date. We inspected the tiny 13th century church (Monteriggioni dates from 1215) and walked along the walls with its views over the countryside. We strolled the narrow streets – there are no cars inside the walls – bought a few souvenirs and enjoyed the beauty of the smallest of the walled towns of Tuscany.

We enjoyed lunch in a delightful garden overlooking the wall, gelato from the gelateria and dinner at a. outdoor restaurant in the main piazza. It is in the late afternoon and evening when all the day visitors have left, that Monteriggioni is at its most beautiful. On our previous trip, we were among the day visitors.

Our accommodation is the best to date – beautiful rooms in a very old house that had once been the house of the carabinieri. The original 2 cells are still in the downstairs part of the house.

During the afternoon, we listened to the drummers practising for the Medieval Festival held here in July.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Photo Gallery from Siena

                                                       The Duomo (the Cathedral) in Siena.
This well is located in the courtyard of a music academy where Vivaldi went to school,

The mosaic floor in the duomo is quite stunning,

Close up of a stained glass window in the duomo.

This is a glass floor in the duomo so you can see into the crypt if you do not want to go down,  The crypt was only discovered in 1999 and it took 3 years to remove the rubble. 

Strolling Siena

We left Perugia en route for Siena via a variety of transport options – shanks pony, ascensore, mini metro and luxury coach to reach the bus station below the old town of Siena. We travelled up to the old town by a series of 7 escalators….. the last one wasn’t working – then by taxi to the ALbergo Centrale, very close to the major sites.

After settling down, we wandered down to Il Campo, the large public place that is the centre of life in Sienna. Surrounding this are magnificent old buildings and lots of restaurants. We sat at one of these for some lunch and a spot of people watching.

After lunch we visited the Baptistery with its magnificently decorated walls and ceilings. Several famous artists, including Donatello are featured here.

Back to the hotel for Happy Hour where we laughed so much we are in danger of being evicted. Dinner was at an outdoor restaurant really close by where the tables were in the street so close to the cars that when one or two ventured up the narrow alley, they were within centimetres of Tony’s chair.