Sunday, 26 July 2009

different strokes

Saturday 25th July - Tunisia

We had the shore excursion from hell today. La Goulette in Tunisia. The temperature was 40 degrees; the sun was out and the heat was oppressive. We were on the bus off the bus on the bus off the bus on the bus off the bus to look at the piddling ruins of Carthage. The first couple of stops had little of interest and certainly didn’t warrant standing under the hot July sun and clambering on and off buses. The third site held more interest, but again would have been better in January where a traveller’s thoughts are on something other than finding the next bit of shade with some standing room. From the underwhelming and oppressively hot ruins we headed off to a cemetery with the graves of 4000 American soldiers ... okay ... I can’t even begin to get interested in that! Then we were on the bus for about 20 mins before hopping off and being lead en masse 1km uphill in the beating sun. We landed in the middle of an open air street bazaar with crowds, a narrow shopping strip with goods spilling out, hawkers, pickpockets and two shops selling cold drinks with crowds jostling for a bit of precious shade while they waited to actually get in to buy a drink. Our guide turned around to us and said, ‘This is Sidi Bou Said. You have free time. I’ll meet you in an hour and we’ll walk back to the bus together.’ We’d been dumped in a hell hole!
Just over four and a half hours after we’d set off we arrived back at the ship where some of our fellow travellers bumped into some of their shipmates. I overheard snippets of their conversation and was stunned to hear them report on the fabulous day we’d had visiting Carthage and Sidi Bou Said. Were they really on the same trip as me?
The most interesting part of the day was learning that ‘Carthage’ means ‘New City’ ... which it was back in 800 BC. It predated Rome by about 80 years. Another interesting snippet, which I plan to verify once I can use the net more freely again is that the roots of some our script today can be traced to the Phoenicians who inhabited Carthage. If you turn a capital ‘A’ upside down, you have the head of a bull with its two horns. Turn a ‘B’ on its side and you have a drawing of two houses and if you look at the ‘M’ you are looking at two waves indicating the sea or ‘mer.’
View from restaurant in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia.

Carthage, Tunisia

It looks like a mosque, but it has a street number. Can mosques have street numbers? It's a very pretty building.

Streetscape, La Goulette, Tunisia

Building worker with no safety harness - there are so many of them around seemingly risking their lives daily.

Friday 24th July - At sea
At sea day today and time to catch up on some reading and some pondering. What is the point of blogging? Do we blog for ourselves or for our audience? Is it a problem having inept writers like yours truly putting virtual pen to virtual paper to spew forth random thoughts? Does this enhance the writer’s life? Does it enhance anyone else’s? Does it create a sense of community in some way? Does it mitigate or diminish good writing in any way? Does it leave a record which, in the future will have the writer cringing at what they were prepared to publish? Why do we do it? Should we do it?
It’s sooo frustrating not having easy access to the net to be able to google a couple of my questions above to see what others have said on this topic. What did sci-fi writers like Bradbury have to say about it? Does Theroux have any comments? What of philosophers? What do the baa-humbuggers have to say on the topic?
At $25 per hour, my use of the net has been quite limited during the cruise – email and MSN to keep in touch with the kids and friends, a few bank transactions (eek! Have I spent that much??!) and a quick look at the Aus newspapers and that’s it. The net speed is quite slow too, which is a deterrent to googling.

Thursday 23rd July - Majorca, Spain
The whirlwind tour continued today in Majorca. It’s so hard when visiting so many beautiful cities and towns to appreciate the uniqueness of each. Majorca paled next to some of our other stops. We learnt about the devastating decline in the farming industry after European Union and the change of emphasis to tourism. Those farmers who weren’t completely driven out of business by the EU agreements, have turned their hand to growing almonds, an industry which only survives at the largess of the government and then only because the almond blossoms in spring are a drawcard for tourists.
Fresh in our minds was the idea of Majorca as a safe haven for Australian fugitive multi-millionaire, Christopher Skase. We were on the lookout for his mansion which we had seen so many times in Aussie newspapers.
We had a look at a boutique winery today which was interesting partly because it uses the work of local artists to annually design new labels. The walls, hung with a variety of the originals works, made it a winery cum gallery.
Wine tasting in Majorca

A farmer from Renmark, Australia - in his 80's and still going strong. Nice bloke!

Wine label artwork.

Majorca countryside.

Kennels that the best dressed dogs are using these days.

Manor house of a bygone era.

Majorca from the ship.

Wednesday 22nd July - Barcelona
In Barcelona our plan was to ride the hop on hop off bus to get our bearings and stop by a few places of interest. That didn’t happen. Everyone in Barcelona was waiting for the hop on hop off bus. We stood in a queue for a bit under the beating sun, but the length only diminished by between 0 and 10 people each time a bus came by as the buses were chockablock. We gave up and wandered around the port area instead finding somewhere for tapas and a calming glass of pinot grigio. Feeling somewhat better after that, we ambled up the Ramblas and then grabbed a taxi to show us the sights. The driver, a Pakistani man with good English, took us up Montjuic Hill and filled us in on the history of a lot of the sites. The 1992 Olympic stadium was interesting for its nod to classic style.

View from Montjuic.

I couldn't stop thinking about Red Dwarf when I saw this.

Friday, 24 July 2009

the full monte

Monday 20th
Monaco today. We were here exactly a year ago. Last time we viewed Monte Carlo from above whereas this time we’re in the port looking up. After a leisurely breakfast, we’re about to venture out. We did the Martini at the casino thing last time (well, you have to do that, don’t you?) so we might skip it this time. I’d like to buy some new clothes, just a few shirts and some jeans, but I suspect that Monaco is not the place to do this! Ah well. Day after tomorrow we’ll be in Barcelona. Maybe a bit of clothes shopping will be on the cards there (I hate clothes shopping! Just bring me out clothes that I’m going to like and that will fit and let’s be done with it!). Well we’re off to once more enjoy the views of Monaco.

We decided to do a tour all over Monte Carlo and Monaco. That of course is not hard to do as Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, after the Vatican, with an area of just 1 sq kilometre. It has a population of around 40,000, no unemployment, the highest standard of living in the world and has the highest population density on the planet. The harbours are beautiful and can be seen from almost any vantage point in the city.

I’m losing track of the days. Tomorrow, I believe, is Wednesday and it will find us in Barcelona.
Note to self. Tilt camera down to right in future to correct crooked horizon!
Somewhere not too far up those mountains Monaco ends and France begins.

There must be a high demand for defibrillators.
Damn that bus and damn my lack of software prowess for cutting

Oops. There's that crooked horizontal again

Casino seen from the ship

Deceased butterfly on the balcony railing outside our stateroom

Sunday 19th
Today saw us in Livorno Italy. We wandered around ... and finally found ... somewhere to dine. Being Sunday most of the place was closed. We just wanted a Pinot Grigio and pizza ... we found it in an al fresco Ristorante and dined with pigeons.

Saturday 18th
Return to Rome. We stayed on the floating hotel.
I hate being involved in disputes and yet that is where I so often find myself. The common factor in the disputes is me ... so that leads me to think that the problems are of my doing ... but ... but .. no!
I had a complaint on-ship and the manager I raised the issue with handled it extremely poorly, leaving me, and probably her also, feeling pretty awful. So I escalated my complaint which now was both the original complaint and another about the manager’s handling of the situation. The escalation of the complaint left me feeling a lot better in that now at least my original complaint was being listened to and acted upon. I got what I felt I had been entitled to and the wording of relevant documents on terms and conditions has now been changed to reflect my original suggestions. I’m feeling a lot better about the whole thing, but I wonder how much of my current feeling is the knowledge that I’ve been vindicated ... and how much is simply that the dispute handling mechanism the second time around was much better.

Friday 17th July
Messina, Sicily today. The big highlight was the clock tower which puts on a 15 minute performance at midday. The lion raws (did I really spell 'roars' like that?), the rooster flaps and crows, people and angels move around; all to the tune of Ave Maria. The most remarkable thing about it is that someone designed it and someone invested in it and it got made ... and hundreds of tourists just like us turn up every day to go ‘wow!.’ I mean ... really ... why?

We lunched today with a couple from Nevada who we’ve spent a bit of time with on the cruise. Ks comment later was “And I thought that we were the Gurus of Grump.” We met the couple on the first or second day of the cruise and Mr Nevada has steadily become more disenchanted. K and I had commented to each other this morning that most of the coffee on board is that ‘weak American stuff.' Mr Nevada’s rant at lunch today was about the Espresso rubbish they serve in all these Italian ports. Apparently they need to learn to make good American coffee in Italy. Poor guy, he ordered a ‘filtered coffee’ and told us how much he was looking forward to it. I had my doubts that the waiter understood. K and I got the espresso and cappuccino we’d ordered, Mrs Nevada got her Coke Light, but Mr Nevada got a bowl of coffee flavoured ice-cream instead of his Americano! Sigh! The world is conspiring against him.

Clock tower with rooster that crows and lion that roars at midday.

Obligatory well dressed horse - cart ride.

Back to the ship
Thursday 16th
Today finds us at sea between Greece and Italy. Yesterday we visited Athens. I’m sad to report that I didn’t like it at all. It seemed to have all the worst aspects of some inner suburban areas to the west of Melbourne. Walls everywhere were bedecked with graffiti. We were twice ripped off by taxi drivers. We weren’t ready for the sleight of hand trick where the 25 euro we handed the driver suddenly became 15 euro. It was only an hour later that we realised that must have given him the 25 we thought we had – he had a neat magic trick that turned the 20 into a 10. The second driver tried the same stunt with a 50, but we were awake up to it the second time and stood our ground! That kind of thing leaves a bitter taste. Despite my gammy foot, we took the walk up to the Parthenon with 15 million other people on a hot July day. It wasn’t worth it, though I didn’t mind donating the 12 euro entrance fee that I assume is going to restoration works. We were both glad to be back on our floating hotel.

The Acropolis

At sea between Greece and Italy

Attarturk greets the dawn in Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus from the Lido Deck

Monkey greets us when we get back to the ship

Diet coke makes a good icepack

Friday, 17 July 2009


Monday 13th July
We visited Fira Town on the island of Santorini (Saint Irene), Greece today. Our ten story floating hotel was anchored in the Caldera of a volcano which last erupted in 1956. The tender to shore was rocky and mercifully short delivering us quickly to the few shops at the dock. The town, which is perched 300 metres up on the edge of the volcano, can only be reached by donkey or cable car. We lunched in the sky with a view over the caldera and the town as Greek music played and a gentle breeze wafted past. Then Johnny Cash started singing ‘Walk the Line’ and a huge wind started up only to disappear at the same time Johnny did.
People all around busied themselves with shopping, chatting, sipping coffee or Greek beer and eating Greek delights. The locals were all relaxed smiles and hospitality; they had all the time in the world to spend with us.
Santorini is the classic Greek island you see on all the pics – whitewashed houses with blue framed doors and windows. The church domes are blue too. It’s nothing short of gorgeous.

Santorini from the Lido deck of the ship.

The dock and town on high.

Donkey and his dad. This is one way to get to the town. The only other way is vernicular (cable car).

Here's a donkey that made it up.

Looking down from Fira Town. You can see our ship in the distance.


We got back to the ship to find a turtle waiting for us.