A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

Cruise Days 5 & 6 - Naples & a Sea Day

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Day 64 Thursday 18 November - “Cruise Day 5 – Naples”

Naples is the port city overshadowed by Mt Vesuvius and a thick blanket of overcast when we arrived. We packed for showers and as this is a specific passenger wharf we were able to walk off. We were met by a scrum of taxi drivers all offering fantastic deals to visit Pompeii. We said no to all of them but one guy was very persistent. His line was quite good and he had a quirky sense of humour. The deal was struck and we set off.
There a
re road rules but we're not convinced that anyone follows them. The taxi nudged out of the parking lot and squeezed through some impossible spaces and before long we'd left the port area and were headed for Pompeii. Along the way David pointed out the many points of interest and occasionally watched the road and the other traffic. It is a wonder any of them survive but there were no bumps or scrapes that we were aware of.

At Pompeii, David warns us about the size of the site and to ensure we exit through the same gate. He suggested we spend two hours and he would wait for us. Guide book in one hand, map in the other we strolled though the remains of this 5,000 year-old city. It is both extensive and magnificent in terms of how beautify it was built and how well it was preserved under the 4 meters of volcanic debris that covered it.

At the appointed time we were back at the gate and David was there to greet us. We headed back to Naples where he drove us to the Cathedral of St Gennaro, quite the most impressive church we'd seen so far. Free entry and photography permitted except during services. We spent a long time admiring the many paintings, sculptures and other decorations.

Back in the taxi, David takes us through some incredibly narrow alleys in the old quarter. Quite similar to what we'd seen in Barcelona but with the added thrill of motor-scooters squeezing past us or on occasions coming towards us on what was a one-way lane. Back in the chaos of the main street we make our way back in the direction of the Port, David pointing out the University which looks like part of the general street-scape but is claimed to have a perimeter of over 5 Km.

David drops us at the Opera House and we explore the immediate area, walk into the Gallery, a 16th century version of a shopping mall with marble floor, vaulted glass cover ceiling and line with very upmarket shops and restaurants.

The area near the port entrance is a construction mess. David had explained that they were digging to expand the Metro and are constantly finding archaeologically significant remnants of the Greek and Roman periods. He says the authorities use this as an excuse for the extremely slow progress.

Back out onto the street we make our way past the Palace and the Fort and back to the ship. We dined in the Grand Pacific again and attended the Show. Tonight “Bambolea” - a Gypsy Kings Tribute. Three very talented acoustic guitarists and a male vocalist. Sadly only one of the numbers was familiar to us.

The departure of the ship was to have been at 7 PM, it has been delayed by some form of Italian Bureaucracy and we are now due to sail at about midnight.

Day 65 Friday 19 November - “Cruise Day 6 – At Sea”

We left Naples well after midnight and the skipper has pushed the speed up to 20 knots to ensure the schedule is maintained. It is sometimes difficult to find things to do during 'sea days', but we've been quite busy since breakfast. Firstly we checked with the service desk on what the process would be on changing cabins and cruise numbers on Sunday. Couldn't be easier, we pack our stuff and report to the service desk, they organise to move our gear to the new cabin and provide us with a new card – we don't have to leave the ship
Next we had morning coffee with the Gary K Glading (the Cruise Director,) he's a very interesting person as well. Then we watched a demonstration of Sushi making, the chef is Filipino but he was trained in Japan. He made exquisite Sushi and made it look so very easy. The right tools, the correct ingredients and lots of practice.

After lunch there's the Latitude Member's reception with the Cruise Consultant and we were introduced to all the senior staff on board. This was followed by a sales pitch for future cruises, all very tempting with two brand new ships on order for delivery in 2012 and 2013.

To round off the afternoon we listened to Gary's talk entitled Stars, Staterooms & Stowaways. It also happens to be the title of a book he's written. His talk was very entertaining and covers a career from classical singer/pianist to singer, song writer and producer of shows for the Lido in Paris. He moved his talent to cruise shows and became the corporate director for entertainment for Celebrity Cruises, quit when the fun went out of the job and set up a sanctuary for stray animals. He was recently enticed to return to the cruise industry.

We are on course for Palma de Mallorca where we're due to arrive at 6 AM. Will need to go to bed early tonight :-)

Posted by greynomadm 07:38 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Cruise Day 3 & 4 - Livorno & Civitavecchia

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Day 62 Tuesday 16 November - “Cruise Day 3 – Livorno”

The Jade docks at Livorno which is a huge industrial port about 180 Km out of Florence or as the Italians spell it Firenze. The sky looks threatening, what's new? And we pack wet weather gear just to be sure. There's a shuttle bus service for 5,00 € each and as there's no other way off the dock, it is pay up and like it.

The bus takes us to the main square where we crowd onto a local bus to take us to the railway station. Trains to Florence leave about every hour or so and we purchase our tickets with barely minutes to spare. Jenny came close to breaking into a sprint to make sure we got aboard.

The train sets off at a good clip and shortly we arrive in Pisa which is a large industrial city served by a number of rail lines and an airport. From Pisa the countryside changes to mainly agricultural and we travel through a number of villages and one of the longest tunnels we've experience.

The ticket checker approaches and Jenny confidently hands over our ticket, but !! there's a problem. He points to the fine print (in English) which states that the ticket must be 'validated' before boarding the train or risk a fine “for details see our web site”. Very bloody helpful and informative – NOT!! He points out that the fine is 40,00 € but for 5,00 € he scribbles some words on the end of the ticket. No, it wasn't graft and corruption, he issued us a receipt for the money. We'll know to validate tickets in future.

After about an hour or so the train comes to a halt, there's an announcement in Italian and we sit there. Some young girls near us try to explain that the delay will be 20 minute. Time passes and there's another announcement, the girls explain that they don't know how long the delay will be. In a series of fits and starts we arrive in Florence fully an hour late.

Dreading the possibility that we'll be similarly delayed on the return we work out that we'll have to return on the 13:37 train back to Livorno. We stroll along the narrow cobbled streets and discover the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore. A massive structure clad in marble and ceramic tiles. It is so beautiful on the outside that the cavernous interior almost pales into insignificance. The main dome high above our heads is covered in an exquisite mural of heavenly images.

The cathedral sits in the Piazza del Duomo which is ringed by many speciality shops ranging from food to religious items including vestments and altar furnishings. We head back towards the railway station and chance upon the Basilica di San Lorenzo in the Piazza San Lorenzo where there were dozens of market stalls. We're assured that every item on sale is made in Italy. There were many fine leather goods and other items of clothing at very reasonable prices.

We arrive back at the station and ensure that we validate out ticket, a simple process of shoving one end into a machine that stamps some information on it. Could have saved myself 5,00 €. The train back arrives in Livorno right on schedule taking fully an hour less than the outward trip.

On arrival we are greeted with a massive thunder storm that literally dumps inches of water in minutes. We board the local bus back to the main square and dash through more rain and inches of water. The shuttle bus takes us right up to the gangplank and we crowd aboard like drowned rats.

Another exceptional dinner and we join the gathering crowd for tonight's entertainment. They are the Duo Acrobatique, a Russian strong man and a French ballerina who enthralled us with acts of grace, agility and strength. The act lasted the best part of an hour and was wildly applauded by all in attendance. As the Cruise Director was wrapping up the show, the performers involved him in a final show of strength, the man will be in anything.

A big day with lots of experiences, the 'storm' is causing the ship to rock a little, I doubt we'll take much rocking to sleep.

Day 63 Wednesday 17 November - “Cruise Day 4 – Civitavecchia”

Civitavecchia is the cruise ship's port for Rome and we tie up at about 8:30. The morning promises a sunny day and we've decided to just do a reconnaissance for the trip to Rome. We'll be back here in six days time.

Wandered around the town and found a bank where we recharged our € cash account. The town has some interesting features ranging from the top fashion houses to the traditional markets in the older part of town. Parts of the old town date back to the early centuries AD and many old but more recent structures.

We returned to the ship and spent time watching the various activities in this very active port. After another great dinner we were talking to the young lady that keeps track of the available tables in the dining room. She explained that she'd been to Rome today and seen all of the main attractions. We asked how she manage to get to Rome, by train or bus? She told us she'd been part of a crew's tour, the company provides a tour bus to take them to the more significant places. Not sure if the crew members have to pay, but it is still a very thoughtful gesture from the company.

Tonight's show was titled SHOUT!! A musical tribute to the sixties performed by the five female members of the Jade Stars and music provided by the Jade Orchestra. Another great hour of entertainment which I'd be happy to watch again as it will no doubt be repeated.

As a foot-note, we were a bit worried that we may have missed an opportunity to see Rome in fine weather, be that's as it may. Taking to some passengers who went on organised tours to Rome, they had their tours curtailed because of a student demonstration. Large sections of Rome were in total gridlock. We'll see how we go next week.

Posted by greynomadm 13:00 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Cruise Days 1 & 2 - All Aboard & Monaco

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Day 60 Sunday 14 November - “Cruise Day 1 – All Aboard”

Just a bit overcast as we leave the Barcelona House Hotel and make our way to the waterfront where we boarded a shuttle bus to the cruise terminal. Check-in was quick and efficient and we were aboard within 30 minutes.

The Jade is different to the Star in many ways, the food service in the Buffet area is much easier to access, the shopping is confined to the stern and less space is wasted on a three-story atrium.

The formal dining room has fairly liberal dress rules but there is a minimum. As with the Star there are many speciality restaurants but at least 4 free dining options. Had an excellent dinner in the main dining room.

The Jade is decked out in a Hawaiian theme with hibiscus blooms dominating the decor. Seems a bit strange here on the Mediterranean but a theme is just that, the ship looks good and most comfortable, our cabin is bigger than a number of the hotel rooms we've stayed in.

After dinner we enjoyed a very entertaining show in the Stardust Lounge. The Cruise Director is excellent, he has a voice that doesn't grate on you and he is definitely multi-lingual. He rattles off announcements in English, Spanish and German like a native. He gave the introduction in two or three other languages as well. The main act was a magician who managed to pull numerous doves, a white rabbit and even a white fluffy cat out off unbelievable places. For good measure he turned his 'wife' into a large white python. As well as being very clever he was quite the comedian as well.

Day 61 Monday 15 November - “Cruise Day 2 – Monaco”

Dull grey overcast morning greets us, doesn't look too promising. Up to the Garden Cáfe for breakfast and shortly afterwards we came within sight of the coast. We docked amongst all the playboy toys in Port Hercule. It was quite warm and didn't appear to be raining so we got off the ship without raincoats. The raincoats are not lined and I for one tend to sweat and my arms stick to the sleeves.

Not a very smart thing to do, the minute we stepped outside the rain became serious and we scurried back on board to correct our attire. By now we're caught up with the tour groups so we sat down for the crowds to clear. We'd received a tourist info package on our first attempt which included a postcard. So Jenny wrote and addressed the card and I looked at the map to find a Post Office. Looks easy enough, just on the other side of the harbour.

There's a little ferry that takes you across, for 3,00 € you also get an 'all day' pass on the local buses. We set off again, find the ferry, pay the fare and the rain buckets down. Not great but there are awnings so we're sheltered from most of it. Can't see any sign of the Post Office so ask the lady in the florist. Up to level 6 on the elevator. Good one !! Which elevator ??

I notice a symbol on the map for 'Public Elevator' and sure enough there's one almost next to the florist. In we go and there's a lift, we press the up button and wait, the number counts down from 5 to 0 and stops a while, finally it arrives – we're at -1. Up we go to level 6 (the top) and arrive in a public garden, find an information kiosk and are directed up the hill. This is some steep place !!

After one or two additional directions we find the Post Office and take a number. There are three service windows but only two are active and one of them is spending a long time with her customer. We're OK, we're on holidays but I notice one lady directing dark scowls in the direction of the staff, it didn't appear to influence them at all.

I decided I needed a lightweight, lined (but not padded), waterproof jacket. My other gear is all just too heavy and hot. Some of the local clothing stores have jackets, one price I saw was just under 300,00 € - way too rich for my blood.

Decided to use our bus ticket and hopped on one until he reached the terminus. While waiting there, I noticed an area on the map marked “Centre Commercial de Fontvielle” and asked the driver if he went past there. He said to catch the bus behind his, we did and asked this driver the same thing, he told us when to get off.

We'd arrived at a shopping complex around a major supermarket, it even had a McDonald’s. This was more my territory. Looked in a number of menswear shops but there was only heavyweight stuff, after all winter is approaching and we're off to the slopes. We're about to give up in despair when Jenny notices a large store with ski clothes on display. She'd found a sports wear superstore !! They had racks of clothing for different sports and activities and the prices were certainly reasonable. Two or three false starts and we finally found the type of jacket I was looking for, waterproof, lined but not padded and with a hood – bonus!!

Used the bus again to get us within a reasonable distance of the ship. We were back aboard in time to get some lunch from the Garden Cáfe before it closed. It got quite dark, quite early but I felt I needed to take some final pictures of Monaco and all the fancy boats in the harbour.

An early dinner in the Grand Pacific Dining Room, excellent menu, exceptional food. Even a humble bowl of soup was a delight. The Show in the Starlight lounge was a pretend talent quest and showcased the singers and dancers, the cruise director who acted as the host and enjoyed himself way too much and also the six or eight piece orchestra that provided the music. The show lasted about an hour and was very well presented.

I'll try to post this tonight and assure you all that we are having a great time.

Posted by greynomadm 12:07 Archived in Monaco Comments (2)

A Day in Barcelona

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Day 59 Saturday 13 November - “Barcelona – Visit 1”

Barcelona is every good thing we'd been told to expect and we experienced none of the negatives we'd been warned about. There certainly was no hint of any pickpockets or other intimidating behaviour we'd been warned about.

Started the day on the Barcelona Bus Turistic, a very popular tour to the extent that the bus filled up after about three stops and after that they only let on the number of people that had got off. The commentary was multi-lingual and once we worked out how to select the channel my only problem was keeping the ear-buds in my ears. My ears must be deformed or too big or too old but I just couldn't keep the things in place.

Most of the streets are lined with trees and this proved to be a bit of a challenge when trying to photograph something. We were struck by the number of imposing and massive buildings, many of them dating back well over 200 years.

Two hours on the bus and we were back where we started. Decided to walk for a while. There's a waterfront area, Port Vell, with a huge shopping complex and many restaurants. It is also home for thousands of sailing yachts.

Next we wandered up the La Rambla, a wide avenue with a very wide median strip. At the Southern end there were dozens of small stalls setting jewellery and other knick-knacks. Then there was a section of restaurant seating mixed in with quick draw artists and various street performers. People who dress up in striking costumes and invite you to have your photo taken with them. This gave way to an area of mainly flower stalls with many spectacular blooms on display. Towards the Northern end there was a section devoted mainly to cage birds and other pets.

Along the way we'd made a detour into the Mercat St Josep La Boqueria. The type of market I'd hoped to find in Amsterdam, Paris and London. Full of every conceivable form of food-stuff and very colourfully displayed. The crowds on La Rambla had been more than you'd experience in Sydney, inside the market it was like the Beijing underground at peak time. We moved about one step forward then two sideways and generally went with the flow.

We reached the end of La Rambla at the Plaça Catalunya and decided to take a different route back. It started well as we strolled down the Avenue Portal de l'Àngel, a wide street with no cars or buses. Then I decided to duck down some small alleys that weren't marked on the map. We came out on La Rambla near where a street vended was roasting chestnuts, we chose another lane way and after many turns, twists and some backtracking we found La Rambla again, right near the Chestnut vendor. When I came out in almost the same place for the third time I decided I'd had enough and we followed La Rambla back to the hotel.

This is likely to be the last of these for a while as we board the cruise ship for the next four weeks. I'll see if there's a reasonable deal on Internet access and will try to keep you updated, they may be infrequent and brief.


Posted by greynomadm 00:21 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

London to Barcelona

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Day 58 Friday 12 November - “London to Barcelona”

Not much to report today, most of the day having been spent in transit. Mini-cab from the hotel to Kings Cross station – much larger and busier than we expected. It is connected to the St Pancras station.

The tube takes us along the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow Terminal 3, the trip takes just over an hour and costs us all of £ 9 for the two of us. We must have walked 2 or 3 Km finding our way to the check-in counters and then the departure lounges, it is a massive place. We are transported from the departure gate to the aircraft on a bus and as a final farewell we experienced a light shower of rain as we board the aircraft.

The flight to Barcelona was uneventful and after walking another 1 or 2 Km we picked up our baggage. We found the Tourist Information office and were directed to express bus which took us to the heart of the city for only 10,10 €. From the Plaça de Catalunya the taxi took us for a bit of a ride (I think). Anyway we got to the hotel and it was much better than we expected given the area.

The room is on the 5th floor and is quite spacious and obviously totally renovated recently, everything is ultra modern including tricoloured LEDs in strips to provide general lighting over the bed-head. The restaurant across the lane was recommended and was certainly very popular. We had a simple meal, bought some fruit at the supermarket and retired to the room.

The WiFi doesn't reach all the way up here so I'll have to make the connection from the lobby. Sorry, no images this time.

Posted by greynomadm 23:20 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

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