Treasures of the Mediterranean: First stop Sardinia

This is our 3rd cruise, all with Thomson.

Leaving early in the morning is a headache. A 5 am flight means being at the airport at 3 am, and a taxi at 2 am, prompting the consideration whether it’s worth while going to bed at all! For me, even an hour’s sleep is worth taking, so I’d had an early 9 pm bed time, and was feeling reasonably human at that hour of the day.

Luggage checked in, with kgs to spare, we easily made it airside, where R hovered around the Burger King waiting for it to open. The flight was on time, there was no issue with getting to seats, though we were seated right at the back of the plane, and so had to put our hand luggage a few rows forward. Plus side, we were first to leave the plane when we landed in sunny Palma.

Ah, Palma! I do love it, but so do many other travellers, and the airport is consequently rather large and not entirely user friendly. The sign board said our luggage was at track 19, and we could only see tracks 1-6. A bit of persuasion and reminding that we were ON HOLIDAY, and we did in time locate the luggage track, and our bags.

Helpful Thomson rep sent us to the coach, which took us to the boat. Boarding was very smooth, a welcome soft drink and some accompanying music helped to create the right mood.

We’d arrived each in need of an essential item – I wanted wedge sandals, and R had come without sunglasses. I remembered that the port at Palma had a shopping centre pretty close by, and checked my directions with Anna on reception, who was very helpful (and wanted to see any shoes I found!)

We dandered over to the shopping mall – the weather was HOT and I actually enjoyed being inside the air conditioned mall. Shoes were to be had a-plenty, and I had to restrict myself to just the one pair. Sunglasses were a bit more elusive, but we did eventually find a suitable emporium to satisfy his requirements.

Back on board, took one of the “get to know the ship” tours, which I have to say wasn’t THAT informative – I specifically asked about getting into the Broadway Theatre from deck 9, and was given TOTALLY the wrong info. But no matter, I was starting to get my bearings.
Sailaway was at 11 pm – a late sailing, off into the night leaving the necklace of city lights fading into the distance.

Sunday was our only full day at sea. This means a Fight for the Sunbeds, but I was up at 8 am to claim 2 beds near the deck pool and jacuzzi. I happily put the day in between dance classes, jigsawing in the oasis of calm inside Browsers corner, and working out how to get to the gym. Dinner was the only formal night of the cruise, where you could have your photo taken with the Captain. R wasn’t keen – we went for our usual table with Jesus and Ulysses in the Orion restaurant at 6 pm, and after that I went solo to do the schmoozing with the Captain bit. I have to say it was interesting being introduced to all the people who make the ship work – engineers housekeeping, restaurant and bar, shopping, shore trips…

Monday – at last we sighted land, in Sardinia. As the ship approached I was in awe of the misty green hillsides, and a real sense of somewhere new…
Linda’s rule of cruises is to look out for the phrase “gateway to….” which translates as “this is a big industrial port, and you should Get Away form here as soon as you can”. With that in mind, we’d booked a shore excursion along the Costa Smeralda.
Sardinia is remarkably quiet. At this time of year, the roads weren’t too bad, though apparently in July in August it is hot and crowded with Romans trying to escape the heat and crowds of Rome.
The tour took us to a little town beloved by the beautiful people, full of designer shops and tiny streets. We discovered the joy that is “cafe shakkerata” – an espresso blended with crushed ice until creamy, served in a martini glass.


We also had an ice cream and admired the crystal blue waters, the fancy boats, and designer shops.
This was a very short stop – we were back on the boat for 2. I’d booked a wine tasting experience with Ferdie, the head wine waiter, an animated and knowledgeable Chinese chap who claims Jilly Goolden was his mentor and sponsor. The most important part of the lesson was to look for the punt – the indentation underneath the bottle.

I also had a fun learning casino session for £5, which reminded me how much I enjoy blackjack.

Nest stop: Sorento.

ABC salad

A simple summer supper dish for one. Low calorie, with fresh bright tastes.


Ingredients (per serving):

1 cooked beetroot (not the pickled ones….)
1/4 cucumber, or a couple of mini ones
2-3 artichoke hearts, either tinned, or the anti-pasta ones in oil
creme fraiche or greek yoghurt
couple of walnuts

Slice the beetroot into circles and arrange on a plate. Cut the cucumber into sticks, and place between the cucumber. Blob the creme fraiche or yoghurt in the centre of the plate. Cut the artichokes into bite sized quarter, and add to the plate. Dot with capers, and crumble the walnuts.



I’ve long been a fan of Eurovision, ever since Dana, who went to the same ballet school as me, won with All Kinds of Everything. But would I ever get the chance to attend an actual contest?

When Austria won last year, thanks to the lovely Conchita with her Bond-theme “Rise Like A Phoenix”, there was an inkling of possibility. Phoenixes are very significant to me, and I knew not one but two people living in Vienna. I made tentative enquires about flights, and discovered that Ryanair fly Dublin-Bratislava, only an hour away, and that the cost for the dates I needed was very affordable. All I needed was a ticket. The online sales were impossible to use, but thankfully one of my Viennese peeps popped round to the Stadthalle in their lunch hour and managed to get 2 tickets for the Thursday semi-final, at which Ireland would be performing.

As May approached I was getting very excited. Not only was all this going to be a reality, I was also going to manage to tick off two more European capitals!

The flight from Dublin was leaving at an early hour, so I opted to stay on the Tuesday night with a friend in Donabate, where we watched the Tuesday semi-final (most of which was pronounced “shoite” by another companion.)


The flight itself was very pleasant, Ryanair have upped their game and it shows.
The bus to Vienna (via Brat centre and Vienna airport) was late, but I got chatting to a few other Euroviz fans. The cost one way is €7, which is remarkable value. For travellers wishing just to go into the Slovakian capital, there’s a no 61 bus which costs 90 cents and operates a very frequent service.


1hr 20 mins later I alighted in Erdberg, where the main bus terminal is. G, my man in Vienna, texted that he’d meet me there in 20 mins, so I found a little bar and enjoyed a white wine for €2, all the while double-taking the smokers around me. It seems so odd, these days, but the Viennese are stubborn about giving up their rights to smoke wherever they please.

The metro system is pretty straightforward, and there is a stop very close to G’s rather lovely apartment – big rooms, wooden floors, plenty of space. Dropped my bags and we went on a short orientation tour, past the Stephansdom and the main square. Had a pizza in the cafe opposite, and an early night.
On Thursday, I strolled back to Stephansplatz, and had a coffee in Do & Co overlooking the Dom, very civilised, a stunning view and only €4.
There were little wooden stalls around the platz, one even selling Eurovision wine. To be honest, Eurovision fever had taken over the whole city – there were cakes…..

20150521_121159 rainbow flags…..

20150521_105208Conchita advertising banks…..




flags on the trams…..


special green and red lights at pedestrian crossings…..

and posters on the metro showing how to get to the hall.

A Eurovision village had set up shop in front of the Rathaus. There were stalls from most of the participating countries, and I entered a few competitions and picked up a pink Union flag from the UK tent. A large screen was showing related programmes, and a multi-national chilled party ambiance pervaded.

It was rainy and wet, and Vienna’s wide tree-lined avenues do nothing to protect one from inclement weather, the trees and colonnades facades merely acting as repeater stations for the raindrops. So I boarded a hop-on-hop-off bus and let it show me the sights.

We dined in on ham and salad, before dressing for the semi-final show. I opted for burgundy leather trousers and a multi coloured top, while G declared his allegiances in a Munster rugby shirt. We had acquired a tricolour from the Embassy offices, and suitably geared up we set out for the Stadthalle! The atmosphere was electric, crowds from every competing nation waving their flags and cheering, some singing the songs they already knew. There was no big queue for the metro, for security, for ticket check, for the loos, or for the bar (though I had to content myself with white wine spritzers, as there was limited choice).

The Irish entry was very gentle compared to the other songs, and didn’t get a great reception from the crowd. THAT was reserved for Mans from Sweden, with the upbeat David Guetta- styled “Heroes”, and the very clever technical light projection. The crowd went wild.

We were standing quite close to the green room area, where all the acts waited before and after their performances, being interviewed by Conchita. I couldn’t believe how tiny she is.
The results were announced, and Ireland hadn’t made the cut. No surprises. We found ourselves joining in with the Swedish fans on the metro on the way home.
On Friday, the weather was still miserable, but my bus ticket was for 24 hours, so I continued to explore. I rode the Riesenrad wheel at the Prater pleasure park, and had lunch in the revolving restaurant up the Donauturm, watching the not-very-blue Danube glide serenely below me.

I had sachertorte in the oldest coffee house in Vienna,

20150522_141424 where a compulsorily brusque waiter spoke only in German, and I was glad I had revised the basics.
Went out for dinner so I could try the other must-have culinary delight, Wiener schnitzel. And as it was that time of year, I had it mit spargel. It had been a big day for Ireland with the gay marriage referendum results coming in.
Saturday morning – there’s no parkrun in Vienna, but I ran along the side of the canal almost to the point where it joins the main river, crossed over and ran back the other side. A beautiful space to walk, cycle, exercise dogs etc, and apparently there are beavers and other wildlife surviving on the banks.
As Vienna is famous for its museums and galleries, I thought I’d better visit one, and chose the Albertina, full of lovely Klees and Picassos. Also a moving exhibition of Lee Miller’s photographs, showing stark images of the concentration camps just after liberation.
On my way home I stopped by the Eurovision village to see if I could find a hat, since we’d be outdoors watching the final via big screen. I had a selfie taken with Conchita….and bought an EDR cowboy hat.
Dinner was salmon and salad, and then a troop to the Rathaus to join the massive crowd for the final. It was like the best party ever, everyone was very good natured, and there was no booing of rival countries. Australia was taking part this year, as a special 60th anniversary gesture. No, don’t try to make sense of it, it’s Eurovision.

20150523_215833 The crowd thinned out after all the performances and the voting started. It was pretty intense : Russia took an early lead – nice song, many agreed, but they didn’t want Russia to win. Laughs and guesses at the usual political voting for neighbours – but it doesn’t affect the overall result. The contest has been won by 10 different countries in as many years, and last year’s runaway winner, Austria, this year scored the ignominious nul points.
But as the voting continued, our man Mans moved into first place and stayed that way till the finish. Hurrah!
We walked home in a state of elation.

Next morning I packed and we wandered down to the boat terminal,

20150521_125849 where I’d booked my return trip to Brat by river. I was thrilled to discover that I’d actually booked the superfast hydrofoil, which was a wonderful experience. The elegant modern craft sped along the huge waterway, under bridges, and past countless little fishing huts, until we reached the Slovakian capital.
At the port, I asked for a quote from a waiting taxi driver who wanted 15 euros to go to my hotel, the Austria Trend. I knew that sounded way too expensive, so I set off towards the old town myself, knowing it was pretty close to there. Found another taxi rank in the square who quoted me 12-13, so I thought sod it. As I entered the hotel, I recognised another pair of Euroviz fans from the boat, who were asking the receptionist if she thought that 15 euros from the port was a rip off. I laughed and said if I’d known they were coming here we could have shared, and that yes, I’d been quoted the same figure, and only saved a couple of euro by walking to the centre. So they calmed down a little after that. Turns out they were with the Portuguese press, and we compared our experiences of the contest.

I was most impressed with the hotel, which at £40 for one night was a bargain. It’s right on the edge of old town, which is small enough to explore on foot. I found a place for lunch, and to my delight discovered my favourite fish, Zander, on the menu. Of course, it’s a river fish, and that’s what all those fishing huts were doing! With a glass of wine, and the annoyingly unnecessary cover charge, it came to 24 euros, but I WAS sitting in the main square, and I HAD ordered one of the most expensive dishes on the menu.

I was aware there were several options for tourist buses, and asked at the “wee train” stop if I needed to buy tickets somewhere else, or if they could be bought on board. She ushered my into the one remaining seat, beside another party of Irish tourists, and 10 euros lighter we set off on one of the maddest wee train tours I’ve ever taken. The narrow streets are barely big enough to let the machine past, and tourists had to flatten themselves against the wall or find a doorway to avoid being run down. In retrospect I really should have continued my search and gone for a bus that went further afield, there’s no need to take a train round the very small old town.
The sun was shining, and decided to walk up to the castle, Hrad, to enjoy the view. It’s a steep enough climb, if you weren’t very fit I’d suggest an alternative method to shanks mare. Not a taxi, though. 80 cents to use the loo seemed a bit extortionate as well, but the view was spectacular. (Not from the loos). As I rounded the back of the castle I discovered that a sort of local food festival was underway, with stalls offering wine and local food delicacies in exchange for tokens (doxx). I duly bought 10 doxx, and proceeded to work my way along the stalls, enjoying olive tapenade, cheese, and the rather lovely Slovakian white wine.

I wisely avoided the palinka, from experience.

For dinner, I went a bit away from the main square, and enjoyed a cocktail, veggie burger, chips and white wine for a mere 15 euro. I found that the tourist office was open to 7 pm, even on a Sunday, and decided to check with them about my journey to the airport the next day. They showed me where the bus went from, and did say “you could take a cab, but you know what Bratislavan taxi drivers are like”.

The breakfast buffet selection was superb, any amount of cheese, meats and bread, as well as a special muesli-yoghurt dish. I walked through the gardens behind the Presidential palace up to the main station, where it was pretty simple to work out what ticket I needed. 90 cents is a single, make sure you validate the ticket on the bus.

Bratislava airport is a gleaming glass cavern, with (currently) very few flights each day. Signs of its stag-party status were clear – the group of blokes taking selfies enjoying a beer with breakfast, the poor chap asleep on the chairs by the boarding gate.

My journey home was uneventful – flight on time, bit of a wait for the bus at Dublin, but was picked up by my wonderful husband at Sprucefield just after 6, and he had dinner waiting for me.