This is my original blog – all my blogs  since I started in 2009 - are here including those from The Ale Archive – all the beers I’ve sampled at home and on our travels since 2012.
 
Since 2012 most of our travel has involved a caravan. I now have a specific caravanning blog called (Get Your) Legs Down which not only documents all our trips but includes product reviews, site listings, storage locations, mobile service engineers and much more. It too is on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Sojourn on the Solstice – The End

Right, where were we? Yes, after the day at sea we were back at Naples, barely a year after we said we wouldn't mind if we never came back again!

Vague plans to catch a ferry somewhere we soon discarded. I was feeling a bit below par and needed a pharmacy. Pete had been unwell and unable to come ashore in Kotor. Soon after lunch Trev too was feeling rough. And Naples was still as dirty and smelly and noisy as before. Not a great day.

Next stop was Civitavecchia. A much cleaner place than Naples but pretty non-descript really. There's no particular reason to come here unless it's to join or leave a cruise ship or go into Rome, which many did. The only problem with that though was that it was All Saints day - which meant that the Sistine Chapel, St Peters Cathedral and many of the shops were shut. Oh dear, a lack of planning by the cruise line methinks! Anyway, the three of us strolled along the front of Civitavecchia to grab a coffee and stretch our legs in what was a lovely day. Trev remained in the cabin still unwell. The ship later confirmed, by their actions, not words that the Norovirus was onboard. They never like to admit that they have a problem but it's always obvious.

Yesterday we were in the Tuscan port of Livorno, the gateway to Pisa and Florence. Time was limited as always so we elected just to go to Pisa to see the old leaning tower. There would only be three of us again as Trev still wasn't feeling great. The shore excursions offered by the cruise line were extortionate for this popular stop, so we decided to do our own thing. Having taken the obligatory ('nominal' fee) shuttle from the dock we soon had our journey planned. A short hop on the number one bus to Livorno Central, then a fifteen minute train ride to Pisa. From the station it was a pleasant twenty five minute walk in warm sunshine, crossing the River Arno until the Leaning Tower came in to view.

And it is impressive, much more so 'in the flesh' than on the telly or in pictures. The white marble gleams in the sunlight and along with the nearby baptistery and cathedral it is an impressive sight. Pisa is a nice city too, a world away from the noise and filth of Naples.

Today we are in Toulon, in the Provence region of France. We should have been in Marseilles but the captain made the decision to switch as the weather forecast for Marseille was poor and it may have been unsafe for us to dock.

At the time of typing it is persisting down outside so I doubt we will go ashore today. A day of relaxation - and then later packing - beckons.

Well, it's been another good one, although really a cruise of two halves. Kotor in Montenegro just shaded it as the favourite destination on this trip although Venice came close, and Dubrovnik was good too.

I haven't said much about the ship - it's the sister ship to the one we were on last year for the Holy Lands cruise and the food, service and entertainment have been largely the same - excellent. It amazes me how the crew keep so cheerful and polite when confronted daily with some frankly quite rude and ignorant people. Some passengers seem to leave their manners and common sense at home (assuming they had any in the first place of course) and feel that it is ok to be obnoxious and treat the those that serve them like shit, simply because they will be leaving them tips. Appalling behaviour, by people who are old enough to know better, but there it is.

So, in at Barcelona tomorrow, than back home via Heathrow by late afternoon. Back to work and those bloody parcels on Saturday (shudder!). So, until next time........

Pisa (3) Pisa  Pisa (2)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Sojourn on the Solstice Pt 4

A nice relaxing day at sea today after visiting Kotor, Montenegro yesterday. I didn't think it could get any better than Venice, but I was wrong.

We went through the inlet from the Adriatic, a little before nine o'clock and the most beautiful scenery appeared before us. Soaring limestone mountains, their summits hiding amongst clinging cloud cover, the sun appearing over the tops of the lower peaks from the east, the little houses nestling along the waterside, just delightful.

Kotor 29-10-2011 (70) Kotor 29-10-2011 (85) 

We eased further in towards our anchor point in the Bay of Kotor. What first appeared as a gentle mist just hovering over the surface of the water became a full blown fog as we moved closer. Several long, penetrating blasts on the ships horn ensured any other vessels would be aware of our presence. Looking at the average age of the passengers, and the reaction of some, the ships doctor was guaranteed a busy morning too.......

Kotor 29-10-2011 (82) Kotor 29-10-2011 (87) Kotor 29-10-2011 (89)

As we reached our stopping point though, the fog cleared  and revealed Kotor in all it's glory. It really is the most idyllic little town, nestled at the base of the mountains on the waters edge.

We had pre-booked a tour - unusually for us - and were tendered to the shore a little after eleven. They do have a docking area here and indeed most cruise ships will fit. Our beast however is just too big and too deep, so had to remain anchored a little way out.

Our first stop on the coach was the little village of Njegusi, way up in the mountains. Each hairpin was numbered, and there were 25 in all, our tour guide proudly announced. The road was extremley narrow too, barely enough room for the coach never mind anything coming the other way. Some great views were to be had though as we wound our way up the mountain side. 

We've been on roads like this many times on our travels - Arthurs Pass in New Zealand (now sadly bypassed, dodging the falling rocks whilst constantly changing down gears was 'interesting') - and the road around the southern hills to Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria - made particularly interesting when the bus driver is more interested in his 'phone than the road ahead are just two that spring to mind. Some of our trans atlantic cousins - used no doubt to multi-lane highways down to the local shops - clearly weren't quite as comfortable with it!

We were over 3000 feet, or 950 meters up when we had our first stop. I hope the pictures give you an idea of just what a wonderful place this is.

Kotor 29-10-2011 (95)Kotor 29-10-2011 (39)

A short while later we were at the village of Njegusi, home to just 45 families. Locally produced smoked ham and cheese are the specialities here and we were given a plate of both at the local restauarant together with a bottle of the local grog - we settled for beer, but wine, and just about anything else was on offer too. The beer was good, the ham was really tasty and the cheese was just divine - and a pleasant change from the tasteless rubber they serve on the ship. A great shame too because the rest of the food has, so far, been excellent. Kotor 29-10-2011 (35)

A little further on, we stopped at a smokery to see where the hams are cured. Over  100,000 Euros worth of meat hung above and to the sides of us. It is cured, we were told, for a minimum of four months and usually six. Whatever, it tasted great. Sadly fussy EU laws prohibit it from being sold in Europe - such a pity.

Next up, was Cetinje and a stop for a stroll and coffee - just as well, as the beer and the sun through the window of the coach was having a rather soporific effect. A very pleasant place, once home to many foreign embassies, most now converted to museums and the like. Locals can be seen chopping up large logs in preparation for the winter.

Having began our descent, we were soon back at sea level - at the town of Budva, a popular seaside resort with stunning views from it's nineteen beaches. Development in Montenegro is pretty rampant, lots of money has been flowing in since the end of the war in the nineties, more so since Montenegro became independent from Serbia in 2006. Crippling inflation and plummeting of the local currency resulted them in adopting the Euro although they are not 'in' Europe as such (lucky them).

Tourism is the main industry and they are pretty serious about it, however between May and September no building or development is permitted around the coastal resorts. There's many a family in Britain who wish that had been the rule in Greece, Spain and the like I bet!

Soon it was back to Kotor. We said goodbye to our driver, who had done a great job seing us safely around the mountain roads. We had a short tour of the old town, which was just wonderful. you could just imagine staying in one of the hotels here sampling the fayre at the little restaurants in the squares. An excellent value tour made even better by a knowledgeable and friendly guide.

Kotor 29-10-2011 (116) Kotor 29-10-2011 (119)

Back on the ship we stood on deck as the light waned and the whole area took on a new beauty as - although by this time the batteries in the camera were well and truly exhausted. Soon after six, the anchor was raised and the ship slowly turned and headed slowly back to the Adriatic and on to Naples.

There was no need to add this place to 'the list' - we had done that already - many hours ago.

Good Bye Montenegro, will see you again soon - there's no doubt.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Sojourn on the Solstice Pt 3

Venice. Wow!

We've been lucky enough to arrive in Sydney on a ship - the dear old QE2 no less - and both thought that the beauty of that could not be bettered. Maybe it's still number one in our eyes, but I gotta tell you, Venice comes mighty close.

Our first sight of land was around midday - no early arrival here as it was over three hundred miles from Dubrovnik, but soon  all the little outlying islets began to appear as we approached, and then entered, the main channel to the port.

Already we could see some of the delightful little canals and waterways as the tugs came to join the ship and guide us in. The views from the deck were terrific but it must have looked equally spectacular from down on dry land too, seeing this vast ship navigate it's way through all the taxis, ferries and water buses.

Actually, it was quite surprising to see the tugs. Being a modern very manoeuvrable ship, tugs are rarely required, however there is a rumour going around that a ship's captain once dispensed with the tugs' services saying he did not need them. Apparently he woke the next morning to find a horses head next to him......

It was nearly two o'clock by the time we had docked but were not alone. Alongside was the 'Nieuw Amsterdam' from Holland America Line. The distinctive Cunard red funnel was visible from further out but it wasn't until we were much closer could we see that the Queen Victoria was also in residence. Joining us in dock was the much smaller 'Happy Dolphin' from Happy Cruises.

I had managed to skip lunch for a couple of days but clearly extra energy was going to be needed with all that walking apparently coming up so a burger and chips was wolfed down from the poolside grill. We then got our things together and headed ashore. Celebrity had laid on a a boat shuttle service into (well, near to) St Marks Square for what they considered a 'nominal fee' of US$22 each. There was a time cruise lines provided all this sort of thing all in but that a rant for another time. We walked around to the side of the dock and discovered that you could get a water bus that would deposit you right alongside St Marks Square for about half the price. We handed over our Euros and jumped on.

There is an incredible amount of traffic, but then of course virtually everything has to be transported by water - particularly people. There are scheduled water bus services darting backwards and forwards and smart and sleek private taxis vying for your business. It's a wonder there aren't more accidents.

We all got off at St Marks Square and were confronted with a line of Gondolas. Of course it had to be done, so as soon as we had recovered from the shock of the price, climbed on. Expensive or not, (I have since calculated that, per minute a Gondola is nearly four times the price of the ship's internet - and that's saying something) it was very pleasant. The narrow little waterways are lovely, if a little smelly. One can only wonder at the pong in the summer however.

Ride completed and wallets emptied we went for a stroll around some of the quaint little alleyways. There is some very smart and very expensive stuff on sale here, from designer clothing to blown glass from Murano, just across the water. Our meander took us back to St Marks Square where the unanimous decision was that it was beer o'clock. There are restaurants all around the edge of the square, many with live music playing. We chose one, was handed the menus and sat down.

And quickly got up again. Whilst there is music playing there is a 'surcharge' of just under six Euros per person for listening. A further quick glance at the menu revealed that a beer was gonna cost 10 Euros. Not wishing to fork out nearly fifty quid for four beers we scuttled away, and headed to the 'bus' stop and back to the ship.

It was extremely foggy the following morning when we awoke, but we still hoped to get some more exploring done before the ship departed at 1pm. Fortunately it soon started to clear and by 9.30am we were ashore again. A short shuttle train takes you out of the port area and deposits you outside the main bus interchange and alongside the central railway station at one end of the Canal Grande - the main thoroughfare through Venice. And busy it was too. Yet more water buses and taxis joined Gondolas and commercial boats, these ferrying all manner of items - from post and parcels (ugh!) to restaurant and building supplies. The Canal Grande weaves an 'S' shape around to it's convergence with the main channel near St Marks Square.

With gifts bought,photos took and caffeine and sugar levels restored we headed back to the ship. The Nieuw Amsterdam had left last night, but the Costa Cruises 'Costa Allegra' had arrived in it's place this morning.

The departure, back along the main thoroughfare and out to sea just as special, the sun had put in an appearance, helping to ease the Autumn chill. Venice had joined Dubrovnik (and many other places) on the 'must come back to' list'.

Venice (9)Venice Venice (1)

Venice (2) Venice (3)

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