Treasures of the Med: Rome

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Eye on the Tiber

Well this got off to a bad start. I had blisters on my feet from where I’d been dancing in the wrong shoes last night. Also a badly bruised knee from when I’d fallen over dancing in the wrong shoes. And a massive hangover, having drunk enough to decide that dancing in those shoes was a good idea in the first place!

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Palais de Justice

But we were booked onto the Rome on Your Own trip, plus had tickets booked in advance for a guided tour of the Vatican museums, which included the Sistine Chapel.

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barriers

The journey takes about an hour and a half, but is very traffic dependent – Rome’s congestion is pretty bad. It’s a breathtakingly stunning city, but the Tiber is a bit smelly. The bus dropped us at the Palais de Justice, and we set off to wander during the morning. Found a little cafe which did shakkerata coffee – 2 for €5. We had strolled through a beautiful open Plazzo, including a cooling off step inside St Agnes church. There seem to be a lot of beggars around, sadly I had no coins to give the chap sitting on the church steps.

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Crowded square

We weren’t aiming to get to the Coliseum, and the Trevi Fountain was closed for repairs, so we just ambled. Through an open air market, full of lovely fresh veg, including courgettes with their flowers attached. We checked a few menus of places for lunch, and eventually settled on a pizza place which was doing pizzas with the courgette flowers I’d admired earlier. We grabbed a taxi to the Vatican, agreeing a price of €8 in advance.

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Rome with a view


Sadly, we should have said “Vatican Museum”, as the entrance to it is waaaaaay round the corner, and it was a hot day for walking. No matter, our magic ticket bypassed all the massive queues, and we were soon admiring the gift shop offerings while waiting for our tour to commence at 2.

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surveying the square

The tour itself was interesting, but at 2 hours long, we were getting a bit anxious about catching the bus back. So we passed up on the opportunity to see inside St Peters Baslica. If you wanted to really save time, you could book the guided tour (€16 each), but then either slip away from the tour guide, or just make your own way into the museum.

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facing St Peters


I was maybe not as overwhelmed as I expected to be by the Sistine ceiling. It’s an odd place – still a holy place so everyone is warned to have shoulders covered, no hats, no photos and no talking. And despite all this, there are many people breaking these rules. But by that point I think I was suffering form Vatican fatigue, having seen many beautiful statues, pictures, tapestries, sculptures, engravings, tromp l’oieul ceilings, Raphael murals…..

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Rafael in the corner

There were plenty of taxis in the square outside, but at first they wanted to charge €20 to go back to the bus stop. We negotiated them down to 10. Had time for an ice cream before getting on the bus – amarena flavour, €5 for 2. The journey home was long, and the bus was having gear issues – at one point I thought we’d have to get out an push!

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Courtyard

The Dream was sailing at 7 pm this evening, and the view was straight out of teh brochure – heading off into the sunset, G&T in hand. However, this meant we were later for dinner, so we didn’t get our usual table. The staff looked after us well, though.

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armless statue

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Painted ceiling

Michael Jackson tribute show in the evening – very moving beginning with a song called “Gone too soon”. My favourite seat at the end of an aisle up on deck 9 allowed me to nip out in between numbers to admire the sun sinking into the sea. Later, I admired the big golden moon, and the milky pathway it made on the water’s surface.

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curved walkway

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Pine cone

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faces

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colourful ceiling

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Big bowl

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Domed ceiling

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Trompe l’oeuil ceiling

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Corridor of maps

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Mural

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Real life inside the Vatican

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Terrific tiles

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Stairway

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Swiss guard

Treasures of the Med: Sorrento

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Sorrento.

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Bay of Naples in the morning sun


This was the only port of call where we’d have to use a tender to get ashore, so the advice was to avoid peak times between 8.30 and 9.30, to allow those going on excursions to get away. I’d planned to go to an abs class in the gym at 9, but R was bouncing with excitement at the sight of the place.

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View from the deck

It is a stunning aspect – little coloured buildings perched atop a steep cliff, in the Bay of Naples with Vesuvius watching serenely above. So I did my own little abs workout at 8.30, and we were ready to depart just after 9. There was no big queue to board the tender, but there was a bit of a wait then until it was full. There was quite a noticeable swell on the sea, and I was glad I had some ginger sucky sweets with me.

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Sorrento perched on a cliff

It was a bit choppy, and getting in and out of the boat was a nerve-wracking experience. We’d agreed that we would take the lift up to the top level rather than climbing all those stairs. But the harbour was very busy, a Capri car-ferry just unloading, and in the confusion I didn’t see any signs for the lift, and so we ended up climbing. It’s not THAT far, but it is steep, and not recommended for anyone unfit.

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hairpin bends

It was an aimless wandering morning – we had a look at the Byzantine style cathedral, and had shakkerata and mini canola cakes in a lovely pastry shop.

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street cafe


Sorrento is big into lemons – lemon soaps, lemon flavoured cakes, limoncello, we were even presented with a bag with a lemon in it as we got off the boat.
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Sorrento harbour

The mini-train was fully booked, so we reserved a place for 1 o’clock and found a spot with free wifi for lunch. I had noodles with prawn and courgettes, and we enjoyed an ice cream later on in the afternoon.

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mad traffic


We ambled through the little back streets, barely wide enough to let 2 people walk abreast, until we found, after a bit of map-consulting, the way to the lift. €1 one way. The walk along the shore back to the boat was a little disappointing, I expected a nicer beach. But it IS volcanic, so black and rocky goes with the territory.
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viewpoint

We stopped for refreshments at a cafe right on the harbour, where I felt duty bound to try a limoncello.

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tiny backstreets


The show that night was extracts from Cats, Miss Saigon, Hairspray and Lion King, and was well done. I HAD been intending to get an early night, but got carried away by the live music on the deck….

Canaries Cruise 4: Madeira

The sailing to Madeira was much smoother than expected – rumour had it that the weather had been so bad recently that the ship hadn’t been able to dock at this little island for the past fortnight! We were in the berth by 7.30 am, next to and dwarfed by the German vessel Aida.   I wore black crops, black sandals, and a multi  beaded top.  And my striped scarf. We ventured ashore straight after breakfast, and were immediately confronted with a booth manned by 2 rival hop-on-hop-off buses – they were both the same price so I went for the red one as it seemed to run more frequently. However, the walk to the pick up point was quite a distance, and we were accosted (though not too aggressively) by taxi drivers all the way there, who would have negotiated a price for an individual tour. The HOHO bus was 12 euro each.

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The scenery was quite beautiful – steep hillsides with vegetation of all sorts growing in abundance. There are three zones where different kinds of produce is grown – bananas at the lowest level, then grapes for wine and the eponymous Madeira drink, and finally cherries. We got off at a viewing point, Pico dos Barcelos, where the customary pan-pipers were serenading us and flogging their CDs.  We manage to resist those, but instead, the cool weather and stiff breeze drew us to the knitwear stall.  I bought a lovely blue poncho with white detailing for 25 euro, and Rog got a very nice warm jacket, with a free tea towel thrown in.

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The bus continued to the little village of Camera de Lobos (which means sea lions), a place frequented by Churchill.  We weren’t quick enough to get off the bus (there were no bells to press)  but it looked like a lovely spot for lunch.

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Back into town – I’d hoped we could have afternoon tea at Reids, but you needed to reserve, and there was a dress code, so we skipped that.  We found a little cafe at the foot of the cable car, where I had a plate of ham and cheese 9 euro, and a glass of Madeira 2 euro.

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Wandering around the corner we found the old market, a lovely building with tiled walls, cobbled floors, and selling a vast array of fish, fruit and flowers.  Back to the cable car – I couldn’t work out where the famous toboggans went from, or if they returned you to town, so we opted for a return ticket on the cable car at 15 euro each.  Once on board, Rog revealed that he really didn’t like cable cars, so I suspect any future trips in this mode of transport will be taken by me alone.  And we should have pursued the toboggan idea, or just asked someone.  The views from the outdoor terrace at the top were fantastic, and the prices very reasonable – an espresso, glass of wine, and a bottle of water came to 5 euro.  Back down in Funchal, I bought a bottle of Madeira (it seems only right), and we took a taxi back to the boat.  I tried a quick dip in the pool – which was freezing!  And then the ship hooted its horn, and we realised that Aida was leaving, to the strains of Enya’s Sail Away, so we crowded onto the sun deck and waved furiously.

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We ate in the Four Seasons for a change, to see if the tables were any different, and ended up sharing with 2 other couples form Norn Irn!  Either the waiter recognised our accents and put us together, or more likely it was because we were eating a NI dining times.  I wore my red and blue dress with a salsa flounce, and a red mesh shrug, and called into the Jubilee lounge before retiring to watch a bit of the Tutti Voce show.

Cruise tip of the day:  Make sure you have enough clothes with you to pass muster for a famous afternoon tea at a hotel with a dress code!

Canaries Cruise 3: Santa Cruz de la Palma

Wow, I think we completely underestimated the difference between June in the Med, and December in the Atlantic! It was really rough last night, drawers were falling open, the boat was lurching up and down, and rather worrying bangs and crashes were heard. I did make it to the yoga class at 8 am though – was the only one there which was probably just as well, as trying to balance on one leg while the horizon was rising and falling outside was certainly an experience. We docked at 9, and I decided to try the eggs benedict for breakfast – not a good idea. The poached eggs are already cooked, and just warmed through before serving, the ham, muffin and sauce are all luke-warm. Stuck to the freshly prepared omelettes for the rest of the holiday, which were always first rate. Showered and dressed for the rather windy weather:
Black sandals
Turquoise crops
Turquoise/ purple strappy Tshirt
cream long sleeved craghoppers shirt
and what is rapidly becoming my favourite item this cruise – a light wool scarf in block stripes of grey, navy and turquoise. Light enough to squish into a handbag, warm enough to act as a shawl, effortlessly stylish when draped around the neck.

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Our first experience of Santa Cruz, main town on La Isla Bonita, was a sort of car boot sale in the car park.   I tried some of the local liqueur in fig, and bought a bottle of naranja for é1.80.  We strolled along the curiously named  and charmingly cobbled O’Daly Street, admiring the beautiful balconies and bright poinsettia plants growing everywhere.  Bought a necklace made of basalt stone, and an orange scarf trimmed with wooden beads.  The impact of the recession is hard to ignore – many places are empty, to let, or closing down.  I had hoped to go and see La Barca, a replica of Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria, but Rog’s feet were starting to hurt, so we cut down onto the Avenue Maritime, and enjoyed a couple of espressos while looking at the still crashing seas.  I’d done my research beforehand, and found my way to the recommended pastry shop on Avenido de la Puente, and bought a few delicious treats.  Rog went back to the boat, and carried on up the very steep side streets to the old town, for a fabulous view of the harbour.  I bought a bottle of La Palm wine and some goats milk soap, and was back on board for 1.20.  had lunch by the pool enjoying music provided by Top Men, and then wee Sammi came round with quiz sheets.  If I’d remembered correctly who wrote “Now We are 6” we might have won!

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Wine Tasting at 3 – enjoyed the company at my table as we tried chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, chateauneuf du pape and a rose d’anjou.

I swapped the long-sleeved shirt for a sleeveless coffee coloured blouse, the sandals for blue crocs,  and took photos of the sunset.

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It was formal dinner night – changed into my beaded maxi halter-neck dress and bronze wedges.  Champagne in the Jubilee lounge – was a bit odd, we weren’t too sure what was supposed to be involved in this Captain’s reception, other than it was an opportunity for the on board photographers to take some more pictures to try to sell us.  For dinner I had escargots, French onion soup, fish, and the cheeseboard with a glass of port.

 

Cruise tip of the day:  Sunday mornings can be a bit quiet, but that makes them a great time to take photos, when there’s not many people around.

Canaries Cruise Part 1: preparations.

I love the anticipation build-up to a holiday, and part of the fun is
all the various preparations and getting ready. So here’s what I’ve
been doing in the few weeks before our Canaries Cruise:

DOCUMENTS
Make sure I have all the tickets and passports. Make a note of
passport numbers in the notes section of my phone. Check all
passports are in date. Check travel insurance is up to date, and
print out the cover note or contact details. Check what currency is
needed and arrange to pick up some notes from bank or post office –
try to get some smaller value notes or coins if possible. There’s
nothing worse than arriving at a foreign airport, needing a one euro
coin for baggage trolley or for tipping porters, when all you have is
a wad of 50 euro notes.

black leather passport holder with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy logo embossed on it
CLOTHES
Dig out suitcase. Spread all possible clothes and shoes on the spare
bed. Every time I walk past, remove something that is least likely to
be worn. I took a criminal 10 pairs of shoes with me last time I went
on a cruise – not making that mistake again! Choose a hand luggage
bag that will double as a day-bag for shore excursions. Since it
might be some hours on board before the main suitcase appears, I pack
in my hand luggage a T-shirt, pair of shorts, swimsuit and flip-flops
so that I can hit the pool to refresh after the journey. Put one
outfit (crop trousers, top, sandals, underwear) in husband’s suitcase,
so that in the unlikely event of mine going missing at least I have a
change of clothes. Likewise, put one of husband’s outfits in my
suitcase.
EQUIPMENT
Will my phone be enough to take photos, or do I need a camera as well?
Find the various chargers or batteries. iPad and charger –check
there will be wifi on board.  Check what sort of plugs are on board, and pack a suitable adaptor.  Kindle for reading – make sure it’s fully
charged. Possibly a paperback that can be used for leaving on sunbed.
POTIONS AND LOTIONS
Find last year’s suncreams, anti-mosquito sprays and insect repellent.
See if more really truly are needed – best option is to take a half
full bottle and then leave it there to save luggage space on the
return trip. (More room for duty-free goodies!) Same logic for
moisturiser and deodorant. Pack a first aid kit/ medical supplies
with aspirin and paracetemol, plasters, diocalm and rehydration salts,
antihistamines, rescue remedy, arnica cream, alcohol wipes, hand
sanitiser and alka-seltzer. Put any prescribed meds into a weekly
pill box, doubling up if away for more than one week. If any liquids
are going into hand luggage, make sure they are in containers less
than 100ml, in a clear plastic bag.
BODY BEAUTIFUL
A few weeks before departure, do a toning exercise regime. This year
I am doing Jillian Michaels Ripped In 30. Banish pale limbs by using
a self-tanning moisturiser. I like the Palmer’s Cocoa Butter one (£4
from Boots). There are cheaper ones available, but this is the nicest
smelling. And paint finger and toenails – avoid bright reds and strong colours. Soft coral, milky coffee, or a shimmery lilac will look summery and sophisticated.

Med Cruise; Day 5 – Cannes

It was meant to be Villefranche, from where I was looking forward to taking a trip to Monte Carlo, but the (very slight) swell meant we instead anchored off Cannes. I’d been here once before as a teenager on a family holiday, but it had been a very brief visit and a very long time ago! Roger had never been, so we decided to leave Monte Carlo for another time, and instead explore this starlet of the French Riveira.
The walk from the tender disembarkation point into town was one of the first times on this trip that we’d encountered street traders, selling handbags and sunglasses. But they were very laid-back, and we had no hassle at all as we strolled towards the famous palm-fringed seafront.
We had as usual picked up a map from the services desk, which we had found to be really useful for making your own way about, but a short explore towards the Old Town revealed that it was extremely hilly, and definitely not something Roger would be able to manage. We went back to a coffee shop overlooking the harbour for cafe frappes, and discussed options. He decided to head back to the ship, while I would go exploring on my own. Cannes is pretty safe, and my French is well able to get me through any situation I was likely to encounter.
I firstly climbed all the way to the church at the top of the hill, and spent some time just drinking in the glorious view.

I pottered back down past the tiny little shops and restaurants nestled tightly on each side of the street. Every available space on each tiny patio was filled with flowers and plants. My next stop was the market – a breathtaking array of fruit and veg.  The scent of strawberries filled the air, and of course being France, everything was displayed beautifully. There were teensy wild woodland strawberries, white aubergines, reminding me of their other name of eggplant, round courgettes, courgettes with their flowers still attached,  mushrooms and ceps, tomatoes of all sorts of shape size and colour,  tightly budded peonies, fish, cheese, cured meats…I could have soaked it all up for hours.

I called into the Cafe des Halles behind the market, which seemed to be frequented by a few market traders, and ordered a vin blanc, which came accompanied by a shot glass of gazpacho, a few baguette croutons, and some olives. Magnifique!
From the bus depot by the town hall, I took the No 8 bus, which is an open topped vehicle that runs along the seafront to Palm Beach. It costs 1 euro per trip, and is definitely worth doing for the great views. At Palm Beach I had a fantastic panorama of our boat moored out at sea, and was able to paddle in the warm waves lapping the shore.

Back in town, I called into Streckers, a beer and wine bar behind l’hotel de ville for a glass of Chardonnay (5 euro) and a rather large plate of cheese (10 euro).
I was back on board for 3, read for a while, did the pub quiz at 5, dinner at 7, and off to bed the old cliche – tired but happy.

Cruise Tip Of The Day: you will need more than 7 days worth of underwear, by the time you go for a swim, or to the gym, or shower and change for dinner. Or else be prepared to do some laundry during your trip.

Med Cruise: Day 4 – La Spezia

Next stop, Italy. One of my favourite European countries (the food! the wine! the passion! the art! the style!) I was thrilled to be visiting a region of Italy where I hadn’t been before. This was the first stop where we had to use the tenders to get to shore – I was woken at 5.30 by the noises of them being lowered. There was gravadlax on the menu for breakfast, and then we lazed around and read for an hour or so while the tour parties got out of the way. Using tenders can mean a bit of a queue.
My research into the “must sees” had said take a boat ride to the Cinque Terre, 5 little hamlets nestled against the precarious cliffs along the windswept coast. But we’d just missed one boat, so instead took a taxi (10 euro) to la stazione, and I brushed off my rusty Italian linguistic skills to get 2 tickets to the furthest of the villages, Monterosso (for the princely sum of 2.60 each). The train journey isn’t that exciting, as it is mostly though mountain tunnels, with only the briefest of glimpses of the stunning coastline. But the short journey (15 minutes) was rather enjoyable, and we emerged from the station in beautiful sunshine to find a bay of golden sand with some rather spectacular surf crashing onto it.

Whilst it is possible to walk from one village to the next, Roger wasn’t up to such physical demands. We’d planned on catching the return boat at 12.10, which would call at each one before returning to La Spezia, but when we found the harbour, there was a notice saying “service suspended due to rough conditions”. The return fare on the boat would have been 25 euro. We found a little cafe, Cafe Mexico, overlooking the swell crashing on the shore, and ordered an iced coffee (the best of the trip!) and a glass of local white wine – I’m now in love with Ligurian wines.
Despite the red flags flying, some hardy souls were splashing about in the surf. We split a rather large mozzarella and tomato salad, and discussed our options. We decided to get back on the train, but to get off at one of the other villages on the way. Sticking a pin in the choices, we plumped for RioMaggiore. This may have been a mistake, as there was a rather long tunnel from the train station into the town, and a pretty steep walkway down to the petite harbour.

The place reminded me a little of Mont St Michel. I had another glass of local vino ( expensive at 5.50, but soooo good), before getting back on the train to La Spezia and a taxi back to the boat.

We room serviced up some diet coke and a bucket of ice, and were relaxing when the captain came on the t annoy with an announcement. We had been due to anchor off Villefranche tomorrow, but the swell running meant that he didn’t feel we’d be able to safely operate a tender service, so instead we were going a few miles further down the coast to Cannes. Oh dear, what a shame!
That night’s sailing was a bit later, at 7 pm, and we had booked a window table for dinner, and so were able to enjoy a truly memorable meal as the Italian coastline glided gracefully past in the sunset.

Cruise Tip Of The Day: Check the sailing times. If you ARE going to be sailing during evening meal time, try to get a spot where you can see outside, it’s a truly memorable experience.