A Travellerspoint blog

Thurday 6th August

When in Rome...

sunny 32 °C
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Our hotel was quite close to the Vatican, so that's where we went today, at 8am in fact. Now that seems a bit extreme, but because we had prebooked at the earliest time, we were able to walk in and enjoy the Sistine Chapel, St Peter's Basilica, and the Colosseum before the crowds arrived. Again I am incapable of describing the sheer magnificence of what we saw that morning; I am always torn between the majestic appearance, and the extravagance of the time, knowing in part the source of the funds for these structures and artworks.
We were soon to learn the benefits of preparation and local knowledge. As we were leaving St Peter's Square in the Vatican, we saw a line of people standing in the hot sun. The line snaked around the square, went out on the street, and continued for a total of nearly a kilometre, and they were standing 3-4 abreast. Our tour guide said it was a quiet day today.
We did so much today, I forget which places we went. We had some free time, where we wandered around the squares and side streets, then in the afternoon we visited the Pantheon and then went along the Appian Way to the Catacombs, a huge underground complex where people were buried.
That evening we went to a Roman dinner at Tanagra. The musical entertainment was provided by "Bel Canto", 4 opera singers and a piano player with a comedy routine and, unfortunately much audience participation.

Posted by bryceb 12:23 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Wednesday 5th August

T'was on the Isle of Capri

sunny 30 °C
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This morning we drove the short distance to Naples, where we boarded a boat for the Isle of Capri. I am old enough to remember the old Frank Sinatra song with the words "T'was on the Isle of Capri that I found her...." and the words have been running through my head for the last 45 years. So it was good to see the island for real. And I wasn't disappointed. It is a bustling and beautiful place with houses perched on vertical cliffs amid the greenery. We got into smaller buses and were then transported up the cliffside road to the home of Dr Axel Munthe, now deceased, who was responsible in part for the way the island looks and feels today. We were treated to prand prix style driving by the Italian bus driver; if there is a clear road ahead it is foot flat to the floor. Fortunately the road was not clear too often. It wound around a cliff, with a drop of hundreds of metres down to the sea.
After surviving that, we climbed aboard a motor launch and did a cruise around part of the island, around the base of the cliffs. The boat nudged into grottoes, went through a sea-arch, and cruised around rocky outcrops. I had taken a "Sea-legs" pill before all this, and although I did feel a little queasy at one stage because of the considerable swell, I thought I survived quite well.
The action continued. We returned from the island, then went to the ruins of Pompeii nearby. Again, I have too little time and too few words to describe this massive excavation under of the shadow of the now overdue Vesuvius. The site is an entire town, well preserved because the eruption was of gas and ash, not lava. We were able to wander streets and into houses, and it is one of the most complete records we have of Roman life.
Into the bus again, we drove the few hours to Rome, where we booked into the hotel before going on a tour of Rome in the evening, stopping at a Pizzeria for tea.
To my immense joy, this hotel (Grand Hotel Tiberio) had free wireless internet in the rooms, so it was my turn to keep Paul awake as I tapped away on the keys till well after midnight.

Posted by bryceb 15:59 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Tuesday 4th August

On the Road Again

sunny 30 °C
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In the morning, the ship (Ionean Queen) berthed at Brindisi, a large town on the east coast of Italy, near the "heel". We boarded our bus, which had come across with us on the ferry, and started travelling west, across Italy and towards Naples.We travelled over the "backbone of Italy", the Apenine Mountains, until we had almost reached the coast on the other side. When Mt Vesuvius was in sight, we skirted around the mountain, until we reached the ruins of Pompeii, a vast archeological site which is again a work in progress. Because there was no destructive lava flow associated with this eruption, the town is quite well preserved, and even the expression on the faces of some of the victims was preserved. Streets, rooms fountains are all there, and give a very good insight into Roman life in the first century. We continued to our motel at Sorrento, via a spectacular cliffside drive. One of the members of our party has an aversion to heights, but it always seems to be her that gets the "cliff" side of the bus on these hairy drives.
After dinner in the hotel that evening, we went for a walk into Sorrento. It certainly wasn't a walk in the park. The road was narrow with fast moving traffic, 50% of which were Vespas. Stop signs, road rules etc in Italy are advisory only, and not really meant to be obeyed. Crossing the road carries similar risks as in Vietnam. The airspace is a receptacle for exhaust fumes, and does not support life. Eventually we reachd a place called "downtown" where the footpath doubled to 1 metre. However by that time we had used up 8 of our lives so we headed back to the relative safety of the hotel where we all talked about the great time we'd had.

Posted by bryceb 16:23 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Monday 3rd August

Mini-cruise to Italy

sunny 35 °C
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The sound of the huge anchor winches woke me early this morning, as the ship returned to Pireaus, near Athens. We disembarked, went back to the motel and collected some belongings that we had left there whilst on cruise. We did a sight-seeing tour of Athens which included a visit to the Parthenon. Never had I seen so many people at a tourist venue, as I had today. A continuous stream of buses offloaded a bigger stream of tourists who plodded slowly up the 60 steps to the instantly recognisable monument to the Greek Gods; don't ask me which one as the tourist guides relay a large amount of information in a short space of time, and being male I find it hard to look and listen at the same time. Although the day was again in the mid-30's, that did not deter the hordes of people who streamed onto the site, including a several-hundred strong convention of Jehovah's Witnesses whose name badges exhorted all to "Keep Watch". This is the reality of tourism at the major historical sites in Europe these days; you have to get used to crowds of people who are undeterred by weather, time of day or physical infirmity. Having said that, the Parthenon site is an amazing feat of engineering and calculation, and well worth seeing regardless of the circumstances.
The bus then took us westward on our way to Italy. First we went over the very deep Corinthian Canal, which separates mainland Greece from the Peloppenese. After passing by Corinth and some stunning coastal scenery, we arrived in Patra, where we boarded the overnight ferry to Italy. This was a mini-cruise itself, out on deck in the cool breeze, gliding through the western Greek Islands in the moonlight.
Yes it really was like that!

Posted by bryceb 16:20 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Sunday 2nd August

Turkeys and Sheep

sunny 37 °C
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If you go on one of these trips and think you're going to sleep in all the time, try Moonta instead, because it won't happen here. Up at the crack of dawn again; the ship has just berthed at Patmos (of biblical fame) so we went ashore and joined the bus tour for the Scenic Island Tour, where among other things, we saw the cave where John received his vision from which the book of Revelation was written. Like so many of these sites, a church has been built around it, and being a Sunday, it was in full swing. There are 3 rules when visiting many Orthodox churches. No photos, and no knees or shoulders showing. So we had to cover ourselves. After some free time on Patmos, we rejoined the ship, and then sailed for Turkey. After lunch we disembarked at Kusadasi, and took the Ancient Ephesus tour. Ephesus is a work in progress, but some very impressive restorations have been done so far. When I finally get some decent net access, I'll upload some photos. It's $2/minute on the ship, and as slow as a wet week. In fact all my daily entries have backed up for a week on my computer, waiting to be uploaded.
Anyway, after further free time in Turkey, we were back on the ship. The Turks, in fact Europeans generally, are very pro-active in drumming up customers, and we soon learnt not to look them in the eye, or appear interested, as they became very persistent. We've had kids placing flowers on our lap as we were sitting and refusing to take them back, and then insisting on payment. Or finding extra bits added on the bill for extras that we didn't ask for (even sitting down costs). Or receiving less change than that which you would expect. Or treating you like royalty until you made it quite clear that you didn't want to buy anything. Now I'm not complaining; I'm just saying that this is the way that it is.
I'm forgetting lots of details; all you're getting is a brief overview at the moment. I know on this day we lost my room-mate Paul on the Acropolis. He had gone for the "All you can drink for 3 days for 72 Euro" deal and he was determined to get his money's worth. Prior to the Acropolis walk, he had been resting on his bed, and still hadn't woken properly even during the walk, which, by the way, was in about 35-37 degree heat. So he didn't listen to instructions, and after our free time, he turned up at the wrong spot to catch the bus back to the ship. The bus had to leave without him, and if he had missed the ship, we would have had to leave his passport with the Turkish Authorities, and he would have to fly ahead and rejoin the trip. Howard was panicking because it is a very big deal to lose someone on a trip, with huge amounts of organisation and paperwork.
Fortunately, Paul was able to catch a taxi back to the boat, avoiding a huge headache. He has sworn off drink, and has been very sheepish since. Just desserts, especially after all those NZ sheep jokes.

Posted by bryceb 16:14 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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