My blog about motorcycle rides, photography etc.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

European Cruise!

European Cruise - October 2016
So we are on our way to San Francisco airport from Medford, Oregon.  We are nearing Mt. Shasta and there were some pretty cool lenticular clouds (UFO clouds).  
We arrived at the airport and were having a snack near the windows when our plane arrived.  It was impressive.  It was the newer A380.  It was very nice.  We had seats in business class.  It wasn't quite 1st class but it sure was above the standard cattle car.  The seats were extra wide, reclined farther, had calf rests in the seat and foot rests that popped down from the seat in front.  There was a big video screen in the seats in front of us which not only played movies and video, but also a live feed from three places on the plane - the nose, the tail and the wheel section.  It was cool to watch the different views as we took off and landed.
We arrived in Paris, France (Charles de Galle) and I expected to go to the windows in the airport and see the Seine River and the Eiffel tower.  I was disappointed.  There was just a lot of fog and I found out were too far from the city to see anything.  We caught our connecting flight to Venice and had to schlepp our bags about a mile from the airport to the water taxi.  We were tired but we were in Italy!


The Grand Canal was beautiful and our second wind had kicked in.  We had fun on our short tour from the airport to the ship. Charlie paid the water taxi driver an extra $50.00 to take us up and down the smaller waterways so we could get a good look - it might be our only chance to be in Venice.


We arrived at the boat and our plan was to get to the room, take a shower and take a nap.  Maybe go back out for a short walk into Venice.  Nope.
We got to our room and it had a plumbing issue - it smelled like an outhouse!  Not just a whiffy smell, it was like sitting in an outhouse that had not been cleaned in months - in the hot sun - in summer.  Perhaps you catch my drift.  It took several hours of waiting and calls but we finally got it fixed.  It was already 7:00 pm local time so we decided to stay up a few more hours and get acclimated to the new time zone.  This was the view from the balcony in our room on the ship.

We took off late that night and woke up the next morning at sea.  We sure needed a day of rest after all the travel we had.  We walked around, read books, drank and napped.

The staff (housekeeping and purser) sent us a plate of chocolate covered strawberries and two bottles of wine as an apology for the foul smell in the cabin on our arrival.  It was great!

Day 3 - October 14
Port of Kotor, Montenegro
We woke up in Kotor, Montenegro.  The boat parked a little ways out of the bay so we had to take large water taxi's to get to the pier.  It was a short walk into town.  The buildings were amazing and ancient.  We were told it was a new addition to the ports of call but it wasn't a big tourist spot as there wasn't a lot to see. 

I beg to differ.   The buildings were great. the stonework was great.  We didn't get to go into any of the houses but we could tell that nobody had clothes driers. 

We were told that the best view of the city was a bit of a climb up the mountain to St. Catherine's church.  From there you can see the rooftops of the city. 

It cost a Euro to get past the guy sitting at a card table at the entrance to the steps.  We had to go back to the town square and get some Euros at the ATM.

The stairs led to a donkey path leading up the hillside which switch-backed all the way up the mountain.  It was a bit rugged, but worth the climb.

The view from the top was beautiful!  The church was tiny but pretty.  We lit a candle.  Not for anything religious - I just thought it was the right thing to do.  Charlie bought the candle from an old lady outside the church - support your local business and all that.

There was a geocache a little farther up the hill.  I was a bit hot so Charlie climbed the rest of the way up the hill and found the cache - good job!
We headed back down the hill and took more pics on the way.

 The streets were narrow.

We got to one of the city squares with a restaurant and there was a cat museum.  We had heard about the cats of the city so I decided to check into the museum.  I walked into a door and a sign pointed me upstairs.  As I walked upstairs the aroma of cat pee got very strong.  A lady coming down the stairs told me to turn around - the museum was just a bunch of pictures and to save myself the one Euro entrance fee.  I turned around and followed her out. 

St. Catherine's from below.

Walking back to the ship I saw a post office and got an idea - to take Charlie's picture in every country we visited - at the post office.  We will take all the pictures and put them up at the post office he works at in Williams, Oregon.

Higher humidity = fluffy hair.  I don't care, I'm on vacation.

                            Kotor maritime museum.  I hear it's quite the iconic photo in the harbor.

"Flip This House" should come to Kotor!

Moonrise over Kotor.
Day 4 - October 15th, 2016
Port: Dubrovnik, Croatia 

The thing to see locally was the Dubrovnik castle.  We decided to walk and find a geocache on the way. 
Post office in Dubrovnik.

 I found a geocache.

It was actually warm and sunny and we were getting a little hot walking around so we stopped and got some gelato before going into the castle.

Inside the castle walls.

The city square had an open market.

This catholic church had mortor damage from a Serbian attack in the 1970's. 

Outside the castle on the ocean side.  There was a bar right here next to the ocean.

No clothes dryers in Dubrovnik either.

We found another geocache on the narrow, windy, hillside streets.  Almost an impossible feat but I found it!  My spidey senses were on high alert!  Once we found it we had pizza and a very large water at a nearby restaurant.

Kitty guarding the castle! 

Trying to talk up the local wench.

After an amazing day (and about 10 miles walking) we headed back to the boat for an afternoon of cocktails and relaxation.
Lovely houses while leaving port.

 Franjo Tudman suspension bridge.

October 16, 2016  Day 5  We spent the day at sea.  We read our books, ate, drank.  I went to an art class.  Charlie entered a card tournament (did not win) and we got ready for the next day. Camera batteries charged and ready to go!

Day 6 - October 17, 2016
Port: Piraeus, Greece
A bunch of people need to go to the Expo!
We pulled into port and walked to the Metro.  We rode the train to Thisseus then walked up the hill to the Acropolis.

There were about 20 people in line to buy tickets to see the Acropolis.  And we know how much Charlie likes to wait in lines.  We did find a post office!

Off we go.

Theatre of Dionysus

                                   Buildings of the Acropolis with the city in the background.

The Temple of Athena

                                                The Acropolis was built around 495-429 BC.
The Parthenon.

We had seen all the beautiful buildings and it was getting pretty hot (and crowded) so we decided to move on and out.  This is what the line looked like when we were leaving.  OMG - it looked like about 200 people and more busses unloading.  Good thing we got there early.

On the way back down the hill we decided to stop for coffee.

The "View" for coffee was fabulous.  I was in Greece so I ordered "greek coffee".  I got a tiny cup of very thick black liquid.  I drank half and it was pretty strong.  The last sip felt like dirt in my teeth.  I don't know if that what it was supposed to taste like. 

We took the train back to the city.  The trains were so colorful with all the tagging.  The inside of the trains were nice.

We were on a mission to go to the Harley Davidson dealership.  We walked a bit from the train station and grabbed a cab.  We got to the HD and they DID NOT have t-shirts.  The rack was totally stripped and empty.  They asked if we could come back tomorrow because the shirts were at the airport.  Uh, no, we couldn't come back tomorrow, the ship leaves port in two hours!!

I guess they don't have Dish network over here.

Lunch in Greece.

    We found our way back to the port and had a nice evening with dinner and reading out books.

                                                            Day 7 - October 18, 2016
                                                            Port of Mykonos, Greece

We arrived in Mykonos and found a geocache right on the dock off the ship.  The Greek    
                      phone booths look just like ours - stripped down with no phone.

Just another windy day on Mykonos.

                                       Lots of scooters just like everywhere in Europe so far.

Never seen a stuffed shark.

These art pieces were beautiful and very original but the lady in the gallery was trying to sell them as ancient originals at an ancient original price.  I studied enough art to know that these ancient roman artifacts were not all located on Mykonos.

The thing to see on Mykonos (besides all the cool shops) was the windmills.  There was a great gift shop at the base of the windmills that was part of a virtual geocache.

One of the windmills.

We paid a Euro to walk up into the windmill.  They had bags of ground flour and they were all filled with bugs - gross.
A picture from the windmill.
Headed back to town.

                                                      There is a nice pic of our cruise ship.

Charlie says a true sailor knows which ocean he is in by the color.  This ocean sure has a lot of color.


           We stopped at a tiny café on the ocean called Katrina's.  It had the best food!!

There were cute tables outside on the tiny deck and I admit I staged them with flowers and a bottle of wine to get a nice picture.

The lunch at Katrina's was AMAZING!  We had pita's with Tatziki sauce.  It was so great that I told Charlie I wanted to bathe in it. We also had moussaka - the best we had ever had - like ever.

We walked back through town, picked up some trinkets and headed back to the boat.


We stopped at a tiny church on the docks.

The narrow alley ways were all brightly painted.  In one shop they were playing the classic song from "Zorba the Greek"

How come there are pigeons on the beach?  Where are the seagulls?

We found a post office!

More pigeons.  They were very pretty - more colorful than usual.  I know that is an island thing.


We stopped in an art gallery and saw some cool stuff.

                                   The wind was kicking up pretty good and knocking stuff over.

The sun was out and it made for some great pictures but sometimes the wind was almost enough to knock you over!

                                                              You know what's coming.....

And there it is.

A goose in Greece.

Pretty pigeons.

                                                The back streets of Mykonos were cool.

The wind makes me look extra fluffy!

Ok, this might be my only contact with the Agean Sea so I decided to dip my toes.

Day 8  October 19, 2016
Sea Day!  We took a "Behind the Scenes" tour of the ship.  Laundry...
Chef of the boat...

                                                  Picture of how each plate should look...

                                                           Giving the pastry chef a kiss!

                                    The laundry had a machine that dried and folded the sheets.
Baskets of clean laundry.
Day 9  October 20, 2016
Port: Naples, Italy

 Instead of buying a tour bus ride to Pompeii, we decided to go to Herculaneum.  We heard it was smaller and better preserved (and less crowded).
 We walked off the pier (where they were offering bus trips for 100 Euros) and found a magazine  
                               stand.  We got bus tickets and train tickets for 1.40 Euros each. 

 We got on the bus and it was pretty packed with people.  I was actually pressed up against the front window of the bus - holding onto the ticket machine.  Charlie was about 5 people back on the bus and motioned me to join him but I was OK face to face with this cute guy.  The bus would lurch and everyone would lurch with it.  Nearing one stop the guy fell up against me and I suddenly felt his hand go into my pocket - I yelled at him - he put his hands up in denial - but then the doors opened and he jumped off the bus and ran!  Good thing I was paying attention - my wallet was in that pocket!

Found the Garibaldi Train station.

Train trip to Herculaneum.

The city was building right out to the sea.  One of the villagers was digging a well or something and fell in and saw a wall with decorations.  That was how the buried city was found.

                                                           They started excavation.


                          Hard to tell the active city from the excavated site, except for the laundry
                                                           hanging out of the windows.
Brick work detail.

                                                   Surviving tile work was totally amazing.

This ancient city was more like today's small towns than most other ancient cities.

They had houses with fenced yards,

The streets were deliberately arched in the middle so you could cross the street without getting your feet wet!  Amazing!

A marble table.

I was mesmerized by the tile work.

Entry ways often included a sitting area and a fountain.

                                      The larger homes had colorful tiles on the outside sidewalks.

                    Inside the women's bath house, there was a sitting room and the sauna was so pretty.

The most stunning tile work of all.

The surviving art work was mostly about architecture and nature.


                     The city had several fast food restaurants.  The ancient version of McDonalds.

Would you like a large fries with that?

At the base of the city the skeletal remains of the women and children were found.  Unlike the complete bodies that were found in Pompeii, only skeletons were found in Herculaneum.  We were told that the city was hit by a pyroclastic blast which killed everyone instantly and stripped their bodies down to the bone.  The city was then buried in tons of ash. 

They found the remains of a man near the beach under the remains of a boat.  They suspect the men went to the beach to get the boats ready while their families gathered in the tunnels. 

Mt. Vesuvius in the background.


                                                                           Mt. Vesuvius


Finally, back at the castle. 
There was a geocache right next to the castle.  We looked for about 15 minutes but a homeless guy sleeping under the bridge kind of narrowed our search area. 

We hung around the castle a few minutes then headed back to the boat.  We did manage to find a geocache near the marina.

And a post office at the pier!

                                           One more picture of Mt. Vesuvius from the pier.

10-21-16  Day 10
Port: Civitavecchia, Italy
After a short wait to disembark, we met our guides in the parking lot at the port and were divided into vans of eight people and motored into Rome.  We were told the ride would take about an hour however we found out there was a strike and the bus and train service had been suspended.  Everybody would be driving into work so the traffic was going to suck!  We also found out that the strikes happened monthly.  This strike was actually in support of a worker who died last month during a strike (he got squished by the crowd). 
I was a little surprised at the countryside.  I had heard that Italy was poor but I was still surprised how much it reminded me of Mexico.  Broke down buildings, half built fences, it wasn't as pretty as I imagined it would be.  I was wondering why my Mom was so much in love with Italy.
We finally arrived in Rome after a two and a half hour ride.  We got our headsets on for our tour and off we went.  Our tour guide had a nice Australian accent.  Charlie found out he was born in Italy, moved to Australia at a young age and had moved back to Italy.  He was a HUGE wealth of knowledge.   

The Colosseum is built of concrete and sand and is the largest amphitheater ever built.  Construction began under the emperor Vespian in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80 by his son and successor Titus.  It was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles.  Major damage to the structure has been caused by earthquake and stone robbers.  The holes in the standing structure was caused by the theft of iron supports to make ammunition for war.

As we rounded the corner towards the Roman Forum, the atmosphere changed from awe to more of a circus atmosphere.  Headless guys, floating gurus, and entertainers were crowding the sidewalks, all hoping for a small donation of a euro or two.

The horse carriage had a picture of the pope on it. 
This floating guru looked pretty bored.  I snapped this picture and some guy yelled at me that I had to pay for the picture.  I pretended I didn't hear him and kept walking.
Bubble guy was pretty good. 
The Roman Forum in the foreground.  In the background is the Altare della Patria, a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. 

             The toppings on the sides were horse drawn chariots driven by winged men.  So beautiful.

Domed church in the Forum.
Mounted police kept circling the Colosseum.
This amazing building was made of the most pale marble with an incredible amount of detail.  The locals thought it was a bit much and refer to it as "The Wedding Cake".

And on we went. Across the road from the Wedding cake was Trajan's Column - a 126 foot battle embellished carved piece of marble.  It depicts 155 battle scenes and is topped with a statue of St. Peter. (THE St. Peter, Jesus' apostle) 
Next stop - The Spanish Steps.  In one of the James Bond movies James ran down the steps with a woman in heels.  They were all alone but probably being chased by bad guys.  In real life it was wall to wall (or step to step) people.   

 Trenita dei Monte church atop the Spanish Steps, Piazza de Spagna.
The Trevi fountain was next.  It was in a tiny square and it was impossible to get far enough away to get a good picture.  The water was so clear and clean.  They just renovated and cleaned it about a year ago.

I wasn't so sure I wanted to return specifically to Rome but I threw a coin into the fountain anyways, so the fortune goes - I shall return to Rome in my lifetime.

We went to the Pantheon and it took my breath away - of course so many sights on this trip did take my breath away.  Most of this stuff I learned about in school so long ago and it was just so amazing to finally see it in person.

Inside was just as amazing.  It is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world and nobody is actually sure how it was build.  Some suspect a mound of earth was used.  Dedicated in 126 AD.  It is the most well preserved building due to it's continuous use throughout the ages.  Amazing. 

We had lunch in the Piazza Navona.  This enormous "square" had some beautiful fountains by Bernini - The Four Rivers and the Triton.  Since we were on such a tight schedule we only had 15 minutes for lunch.  We ran to a distant deli and had the most wonderful simple meat and cheese sandwich.  Of course we HAD to get gelato as well.
The Triton.
 Finally, the Vatican.  Charlie was worried he was going to have to show his catholic card before entrance!  I'm not catholic myself but have had years of art study and couldn't wait to get inside.  So exciting!!

                                                                     We saw the pope. 

On a big video screen.

The pinecone. It's 11 feet tall and bronze.  It was cast in the 1st or 2nd Century and was part of a fountain that was on the property before it was the property of the Vatican.  A pagan symbol on The Vatican grounds?  Who cares - it was so pretty.

Umbrella pine trees are everywhere. 
 Inside - the art was overwhelming. 

Once inside we joined the throng of people.  Our guide had the inside track and our group got to go down the Pope's staircase.  A guard actually unclipped a velvet rope, let our group through then clipped the rope closed!  It left some people standing there with their mouths open.
 We also got to go through the Holy Door.  Our guide said it had not been opened in over 25 years but the Pope opened it for the Jubilee in 2016 and it will soon be closed again probably another 33 years.  Our guide said that thousands of people had made a pilgrimage from all over the world just to walk through the door as it is a symbol of the passage from sin to grace.  We got to go through it.

Image result for the holy door

Photo: images of Holy Door - Google 

We walked through the Sistine Chapel and I got to pause just a couple moments to admire Michelangelo's Birth of Adam at the center.  No pictures allowed in the chapel.  You were also to be quiet in the chapel.  At least twice going through you could hear a guard yell - Silencio! (QUIET!!!) and the noise would stop, then it would start up again, a buzz then a roar then  -  QUIET!!

                                                One of the Swiss Guards of the Vatican.

                                                               The Vatican post office.

St. Peter's Square
Charlie walking from Vatican city into Rome.

We jumped in the vans and headed back to port.  It was a pretty quiet ride.  I think it was a mix between being overwhelmed with all the sites we saw and the small margin of error we had to get back to the boat - it was going to be close!
We made it back to the boat with about 30 minutes to spare. 
Day 11 October 22, 2016
We woke up in Livorno, Italy
We had another tour day.  We met the van to Florence.  The countryside was amazing.  The driver said that this was Tuscany.  Now this was a countryside that I could love forever.
Accedemia de Bella Arti de Firenze is the home of David.

Michelangelo carved it between 1501-1504.  He was only 24 years old.  I gazed upon the marble, waiting for him to breathe, waiting for him to move. 

Outside - scooter town.

Shops around the museum were fond of David as well.

The Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore

One of the cool statues.

Bike taxi in front of the great dome.

                                                                        Local guards.

The Baptistry.

Around the corner was a marvelous square called Piazza della Signora.  A covered area in the square called Loggia dei Lanzi had some amazing original marble sculptures. 

 The Rape of the Sabine Woman by Giambologna 1583.
Perseus with the Head of Medusa -  consigned by the Duke Cosimo l di Medici in 1554

This is a copy of the David on the left.  I stood in front of it as close as I got to the original.  It did not have the same feeling as the original.

This beautiful area was done by Bertoldo di Giovanni, the man who taught Michelangelo to sculpt.

One of the iron horse tie ups.

The Ponte Veccio over the Arno River.  During WWII as other bridges were being bombed, Hitler ordered this bridge to be spared because he liked the view.

It is customary to attach a lock to the bridge with someone you love, then throw the key into the river.  This will keep you locked in love forever. 

 We were told the locals have to frequently cut the locks off because there are so many.

Love locks on a horse tie.

We had two hours to walk around and shop.  We found the best stuff here. 

These overstuffed souvenir shops were everywhere.

Paper flowers in a store window.

                                                 Kinda creepy Las Vegas style living statues.

Ponte Veccio over the Arno River.

The bronze David looking over the land.

Crossing the river to Pisa.

It's Pisa!  The tower actually started leaning sometime around the building of the 3rd floor.  Every year it leaned a little more.  Several levels and the top were built in a way to counter balance the lean.  Fortifications and even draining water under the tower were used but it kept moving (some of the reinforcements actually made it lean faster!).  It finally stopped moving about 40 years ago and is currently stable.

People hamming it up at the tower.

The curving tower.

Those beautiful umbrella pine trees.

Post office in Florence.
Day 12  October 23, 2016
Port of Call: Toulon, France
 Last full day on the cruise - an easy day in Toulon.
 We pulled into port and there were some great fishing boats.

Local condo's had a great view of the port.

We started walking towards the cool looking gondola type ride up the mountain but kind of got lost on the way and ended up at a military hospital.  We were miserably lost several miles from our destination and down a dead end road.  We decided to call it a loss and take a cab back to port.  One of the hospital guards called a cab for us.

When we got back to port, we found an awesome restaurant with cappuccino and crepes for breakfast.  I'm looking a little tired but happy in this picture.

This is our ship parked among the small sailboats.
We walked around and there was a small market near the port.

Why doesn't every restaurant offer mussles and fries?

                                      Nice tribute statue to all the lost sailors from Toulon.

We went back to the ship in the early afternoon and wrote postcards to home, and relaxed.  We had to start packing to head to Paris tomorrow.
October 24, 2016
Port of Call: Barcelona, Spain
We arrived in Barcelona, Spain and it was still dark.  No sleeping in today.  We had to be off the ship early to catch a ride to the airport.

We drove by the Gaudi building.  Very cool.

 We got to stop at Mt. Serrat.  A monastery outside of Barcelona.  Parents still send their young boys there to attend school and sing in the choir.  When their voices change, they are done and must go home. 

Clouds in the valley going over the hills.

We looked at the hillside and decided we would rather ride the tram straight up the mountain than take another church tour.  We had to run if we were going to make it back on time.

Found another post office.

Taking the tram up the hillside.  Slow but very cool.

The view of Mt. Serrat Monestary from the top.

Back down and back to the bus to get to the airport.
A short plane ride from Barcelona to Paris and a cab to the hotel.
We got to the hotel and checked in.  When the elevator opened to take us upstairs I just started laughing.  No way that the two of us plus luggage will fit in this elevator.  We went up separately.
We got into the room and after we got in the room, the lights kept going out after 10 minutes.  We finally figured out that we had to leave our room key in the light slot while we were in the room.
The room was tiny but the bathroom was beautiful.

The view was awesome!


We had a late dinner at a corner café and it was delicious.  We were so excited, we were In Paris for a day and we were going to the Louvre in the morning! 
We got up early and walked the few blocks through the park to the museum.


                                          There it is....right there.....and we can't get in!!

We walked down the Seine River to go to the D'Orcy museum.

The Arc de Triumph.

Theseus Killing the Minotaur, 1843

We had lunch in a little café.  The food was amazing.

Not sure what this sign was saying (because it's in French) but if it means no kids - that's OK with me.
Two lovely French girls at lunch.

We had one more shot at getting a Harley Davidson shirt from Europe and this was it.  We hopped on a train and rode to the Bastille.  The train station had nice little deli's.

The trains were nice and clean, and very fast.

We quickly found the Harley dealership and they actually had shirts!!!

The window of a chic salon.

These were called Opera cakes.

More food stands in the metro.

The Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier)

We found a liquor store and made drinks in our room.  We were ready to go home.  Charlie went out and picked up some sandwiches and brought them back to the room.  We had to pack carefully and balance out the baggage.
We grabbed breakfast to go in the basement restaurant.  The young lady taking care of breakfast said this was real antique Paris.  This hotel was older than the United States!

This isn't just any free breakfast buffet - those are crepes.

and lovely pastries!

Sadly, the cab was waiting so I grabbed a croissant and coffee and ran for the cab.

The Paris airport was beautiful.  This fake hanging garden had a bird living in it!

The airport had numerous shops - selling the latest trendy clothing and designer jewelry.

I went into one shop and grabbed a small piece of bread with cheese.  Popped it into my mouth and it was amazing.  A lady walked around the corner and asked how I liked the foie gras?  It was totally amazing but I would not have eaten it if I had known what it was (due to how the geese are raised) but it tasted like goose butter!

We got home very late and were very tired but happy to see the dogs.  Fall was here in Medford, Oregon and we were glad to be home.

So nice to be home.

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