Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TRANSATLANTIC BOUND

For the past 3 years, since my mother passed away, we have been going back and forward to England to check on the flat where she lived. There were many family mementos that I really wanted to bring back here. The perfect opportunity arose this past November. A cruise ship, sailing from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale. No restrictions on luggage, just get to and from both ports. England was easy. We dropped off the 12 suitcases at the dock, returning our rental car just a few blocks away, and set sail. First stop Le Havre.

Le Havre is the port of call for a visit to the D day beaches. We chose to take the trip from this port because it would take us to the British beaches and a British cemetery as well as the town of Bayeux. The following day the ship would dock in Cherbourg to visit the American beaches. Above is the now peaceful seaside resort of Arromanches, close to Gold beach. The British built a floating harbor here, which they towed across the channel, and which allowed them to land thousands of supplies. Remains of Mulberry harbour can still be seen today.

It was quite sobering to think of what happened on these beaches.

But more so to visit the cemeteries.

There were many wreathes of poppies laid on Remembrance Day, November 11th.

We also stopped at Pegasus Bridge, which was taken by the Airborne troops in the early hours of D Day. This disrupted the ability of the Germans to bring in supplies to the beaches of Juno Sword and Gold where British and Canadian troops were landing. David's father, who was a glider pilot, landed at Pegasus.

We also visited the town of Bayeux with its many half timbered buildings, and museum in which the 11th century Bayeux tapestry is displayed. This tapestry, which measures over 230' depicts the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England, at the battle of Hastings in 1066.

The following day we visited Cherbourg.

Of course every French town has one of these.

We went round and round in circles looking for Le Jardin Botanique, we saw on the map. In the end we found it was closed due to damage from high winds. Then it started hailing. What a good job we were wearing our rain pants and jackets. Don't even consider going to Europe without this garb. You will need it.

Our next port of call was Vigo, Spain but not before crossing the dreaded Bay of Biscay. My parents crossed many years ago in a terrible storm. They were on a car ferry and the storm was so bad that the vehicles in the hold broke free from their chains and the ship began to list. My father said he was sure it was the end. In the end they arrived safely, and we arrived in Vigo, with not so much as a dramamine pill taken.
Not a very interesting port. We hiked up to the high point for a view of the port.

Our last port of call before heading out across the Atlantic was Funchal on the island of Madeira.
We had visited this island on a previous cruise and knew exactly where to go. The Jardim Botanico da Madeira.We were a lot smarter this time. Last time we tried to walk up to the garden but had to give up halfway because the road had no sidewalk and with a sheer wall of rock on one side and a sheer cliff on the other we thought we would definitely be risking our lives. We took the local bus.
Set high above the town on a steeply sloping hillside, these gardens are truly magnificent. The Mediterranean climate coupled with the rich volcanic soil makes for an amazing variety of plants, many indigenous to Madeira. I plan to give more time to this garden, in the future, on my garden blog. The town itself has a nice promenade and with such a mild winter climate is a tourist destination for many Europeans.

As we passed by this replica of a ship which once took the same route across the Atlantic, on which we were about to embark, I was happy that our ship was that big monster in the harbor.

Navigator of the Seas

This was our third transatlantic crossing with Royal Caribbean and we have enjoyed everyone. We have enjoyed wonderful dining companions with great food and entertainment. We have attended dance classes, played bridge, entered trivia contests, camera classes, attended great lectures on anything from Oceanography to Hollywood murders and just relaxed out on deck. That is, after we have walked the decks and the stairs! We make it a rule never to use the elevators which sometimes means walking as many as 30-40 flights a day.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale, and after some delay clearing customs and immigration, picked up a rental car and set out for the 1200 mile journey back to Texas. Along with my Great Grandfathers table writing desk, a dinner set, a boomerang that my great uncle brought from Australia in 1930, some Royal Lancastrian lustreware pottery, family photographs, documents, bibles, Grandfather's bowler hat, a glass fishing net float that I found on the beach when I was little, tea bags and many more treasured items. They all made it here in one piece.

Friday, July 3, 2009

CRUISING THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN

We arrived at the hotel in Rome in the evening of June 13th and headed to Babbos, the recommendation of the hotel receptionist. A delightful street cafe. Did I really order this!

The first morning we walked to the Colosseum area. We were confronted by an enormous line for tickets but on the recommendation of a couple at dinner the previous evening we headed to the Palatine to buy tickets. We cooled off at lunch time with a couple of beers!

Refreshed, we went into the colosseum. It was searing hot. everyone was trying to get into the little bit of shade afforded by the upper walls. They have reconstructed a small section of wooden flooring to give some idea of how it might have looked.
The next day we took the train to the port of Civitavecchia and boarded our ship Celebrity Solstice for the 11 day trip into the Eastern Mediterranean.

Once again we had a great group our assigned dinner table. It seems that the thing to do after your child or grandchild graduates from high school is to take them on a European cruise. Gene and Maggie with their grandson Nick already have great grandchildren! Gene was quite a joker and kept the table in stitches. John, a pilot with NW, his wife Susan were taking their daughter daughter, Kate, on a similar pre college cruise. Unfortunately our other dinner companions, from Mexico, were not at the table on this the first formal night.

Sea days were few and far between. Our first stop was Santorini. The island suffered the world's greatest volcanic eruption some 3,600 years ago leaving a water filled caldera. To reach the village, perched on the cliff top, from the ship the choice was either cable car, donkey or walk up the pathway with the donkeys. It was high noon so we chose the easy route. Later we discovered what a smart decision that had been. far below the cable car you can see the winding pathway which the donkeys take.


There is no doubt as to the beauty of this island. Immaculately kept, whitewashed houses are packed along the top of the cliff. Sunglasses are a must!

This old boat was on the roof of one of the buildings. Another cruise ship far below.

It doesn't take much to get a sun tan in Greece. From now on I would be wearing my 30 block shirt. We decided to take the donkey route back only not on the back of a donkey but on foot. It may have been the biggest mistake of the whole holiday as competing with donkeys coming up the hill was a nightmare. Not to mention the footing. Slippery stones and you know what. What must it be like when it rains. It was also hot and stinky. At least we were wearing the right footwear, unlike some who were wearing flip flops.



The next day, I really had learned my lesson and was wearing my sun block shirt when we hiked up to one of the famed windmills of Mykanos.

We even caught a wedding party walking through the village. We were somewhat amused that the bride was expecting any day and that they already had 2 little ones. Ah! The modern world has even reached these little islands........along with 50 million tourists! Not one of our favorite stops.

So, back to the ship for lunch in the outdoor Oceana cafe. We loved this spot for breakfast and lunch.

I doubt there is a more splendid city into which to sail than Istanbul. It was magical sailing past the Topkapi' Blue Mosque and Saint Sophia. We docked at lunch time and were to stay in port overnight giving us two days to go ashore. We took the cruise tour in the afternoon visiting the Topkapi , and the Blue Mosque.

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Now this was quite unexpected and very welcome. Celebrity and Tura Turizm provided us with "luxury toilets" on the site of the Topkapi Museum. Talk about being spoilt.

Here we are sitting patiently with our glasses of hot apple tea ( apple juice) listening to the inevitable carpet store presentation. It was really quite interesting, however, this was one trip when we were NOT going to buy a carpet!

On to the Grand Bazaar. Interesting but the prices were high and we were simply not tempted. Not even by the Turkish Delight. If you grow up in England and have "Fry's Turkish Delight" I don't think you are ever going to go for the real thing.

Weary from the day's visit it was time to relax with a beer on the balcony. This is the first time we have had a balcony and frankly we used it very little. It was either too hot out there or too cold.

Istanbul at night.

Next day a trip to the spice market. This trip was really more to our liking. A feast of sights and smells. I bought a small pepper grinder which does a great job.



We never did find out why this lady was selling bird seed to feed the pigeons. Most cities are trying to get rid of theirs. In London I think it is now forbidden to feed the birds in Trafalgar Square.

In this same area outside the spice market they were selling seeds.
And so we bid farewell to the magical city and on through the Dardanelles to Ephesus.

One of the highlights of this tour was to be the visit to the ruins at Ephesus.


Equally impressive, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma.

Back on the ship I just had to throw in a photo of the bathrooms on the ship.

and me getting a chocolate fix.

On to Athens and the Acropolis.


The new Acropolis Museum. Time to give back the Elgin marbles!

From Athens we made our way back to Italy to the port of Naples. We took the train out to Pompei arriving before the crowds.

We were amazed by the vastness of this town, buried in 60' of ash and molten lava when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. It lay buried for 1700 years.

They were very thoughful to pedestrians providing stepping stones across the streets with just enough room for the chariot wheels to pass through.

Some of the artifacts housed along side the forum. A plaster cast of a man who didn't make it out of the town.

The famous cast of the dog believed to have been chained up outside a house.

Decor in the Roman baths.

One of many shops in the street that sold food. There are just too many photos to share. You must go to see these most wonderful remains of the ancient world.