A Travellerspoint blog

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Almost Time to Go


semi-overcast 18 °C

In 1980 when we were in our 20's my sister Vicki and I travelled around UK & Western Europe on a shoestring budget. 37 years later we're going back with a couple of friends to visit some places we didn't get to see and also to revisit a few places we covered on our earlier trip.

THEN - We booked our flights and the first week's accommodation, purchased Eurail & Britrail passes and set off with a YHA membership & 3 guide books (Let's Go Britain, Let's Go Europe & Eurail travel guide). Some foreign cash & travellers cheques. We had a rough itinerary but nothing set in concrete. When we arrived in a new place we'd make our way to the nearest youth hostel or go to the information counter at the train station & organise somewhere to stay. We mainly stayed in B & B's in the UK and hostels or cheap hotels in Europe.

NOW - We've booked our flights and 2 cruises with the Travel Agent & thanks to the internet, all our European accommodation, some UK accommodation, car hire, train & ferry tickets and a couple of sightseeing tours. We've read reviews and compared prices all from the comfort of home. No guide books needed this time - just a smart phone with numerous helpful apps and an international roaming SIM card. No travellers cheques - just some foreign cash and a prepaid debit card.

All we have to do now is enjoy ourselves.

Posted by caties55 23:42 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Adventure Begins

We left Newcastle in cold and pouring rain on Wedesday and we're glad to be heading towards the sunshine. The flight was delayed by an hour and fifteen minutes because of bad weather which made our connection in Doha pretty tight but we made it and the second plane was only about one third full so we had plenty of room to stretch out. Arrived in Venice on time and getting through customs was easy. No paperwork, no questions - just show your passport and walk out the door. Quite surprising in these days of tight security.

The weather is beautiful 26 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze. Journey to our accommodation was quick and easy. Had a minor glitch in contacting landlord but sorted fairly quickly. We were all very tired but after a quick shower and change of clothes we headed to the Rialto bridge which is about a 2 minute walk. It's early in the tourist season but already the streets are packed with people. The canal is crowded with boats gondolas and vaporettos - it's amazing how they manage to navigate without crashing into each other.

We caught the vaporetto to San Marco square - lots of people and pigeons. The architecture is grand and awe inspiring. After looking around for quite a while we made our way back to the apartment via the narrow alleyways with lots of twists and turns - so many shops and restaurants. After a short rest we headed out again to get something to eat and buy some food for breakfast. Supermarket shopping is quite different here - more like a corner store. Shopping in a foreign language was quite challenging but we managed to get the essentials. Headed back for a much needed good night's sleep. We've been awake for almost 2 days.

Thought we'd sleep in but we were all up early. First up we caught the vaporetto to Lido which is their famous beach suburb. On arrival we stopped for something to drink at a little cafe and took in the atmosphere. It's hard to believe that within a couple of days we're in another world surrounded by the sound of so many different languages. We walked down the corso towards the beach. This area is beautiful, the buildings are elegant and refined and the pace is leisurely. The beach itself is not so elegant. The sand is fine but quite dark and there is a walkway along the sand which shoots off in different directions which allows you to walk almost to the water without getting sand in your shoes - quite a practiccal idea. Numerous chairs and umbrellas for rent and people trying to sell you things all the way down to the water - it's quite annoying. After the sights I saw today I will never feel embarrassed about what I look like in a pair of swimmers. No matter what shape, age or gender the italians seem quite comfortable wearing the skimpiest of swimwear.

After Lido we caught the vaporetto to Murano and then on to Burano. Of course every shop in Murano was selling there famous glassware. We bought a couple of things at a little shop where the owner actually made many of the items. Burano is rather quaint with buidings of many colours, narrow streets and canals crossed by cute little brdges that are not as ornate as those in Venice city. After a long days sightseeing we headed back to San Marco whcih took about an hour as the vaporetto doesn't move very quickly. We took a gondola ride and then walked back to the apartment and headed out for dinner at about 8.00pm. We had a nice meal and headed back to the apartment at about 9.30pm. The Rilato bridge is still swarming with tourists. Looking forward to the cruise tomorrow.

Posted by caties55 20:52 Archived in Italy Comments (1)


IMG_5CB7E8E9FEDF-1.jpegIMG_186AD4548F4C-1.jpeg90_IMG_0029.jpgIMG_0160.jpgIMG_0255.jpgFamous blue dome roofs, Santorini

Famous blue dome roofs, Santorini

Windmills at Mykonos

Windmills at Mykonos

Saturday June 10th

As we headed out of Venice at 5.00pm passengers lined the rails all over the ship to get a good view as we headed out. We found a position near the top level of the ship and had a great view over the rooftops of Venice as we made our way past Santa Maria della Salute and out to open waters.

FInal thoughts on Venice - beautiful sights, a real testament to man's ingenuity and determination, - would be much better with less people around but I'm one of the multitude of tourists so I can't complain. The waters of the canal and even around Venice towards the various surrounding islands is quite murky but that is understandable considering the amount of water traffic. Was well worth the visit.

Sunday 11th June

Arrived in Split at around 7.00 am. Another beautiful day, the sun is shining and the water is a beautiful blue. As you look over the side of the boat you can see how clean and clear the water is.

We didn't leave the ship till around 9.00am and followed some tourists sign that we couldn't understand because they were only written in Croatian. After a walk of about 5 minutes we wound up at Bacvice (City Beach). Much different to Lido in Venice. It's a horseshoe shaped bay with sparkling blue water and golden sand reminiscent of the beaches back at home. We walked down some steps which led to a cemented area that had deck chairs laid out. Steel ladders and steps are set into the natural rock at regular intervals and lead down to crystal clear water. Further along the cement gives way to the sandy beach. I took off my shoes and walked down some of the steps to test out the water. Refreshingly cold and very welcome as I was feeling quite hot even after such a short walk. The temperature was in the mid twenties already.

After the beach we headed back towards the town to find the entrance to the Diocletian Palace. It took us a while to find an entrance because the map we had was not very detailed. The lower section consists of walls made of large block stone walls with arched doorways and niches higher up the walls. This area is now used for merchant stalls selling art, crafts and souvenirs. It was quiet when we were there and most of the merchandise was of a better quality than you would find in most markets back home. I was tempted to buy a small artwork but it was on thick card and would probably get damaged during our long trip.

We could hear some singing coming from a higher level and thought it was a recording because it was so good. Then we heard people applauding and realised it was live singing. We walked up some steps that led to an amphitheatre surrounded by steps with cushions on them. Apparently this is used for evening performances. From this level there are steps leading to the Cathedral of Saint Domnius (the oldest cathedral in the world). The cathedral wasn't open at that time so we only saw it from the outside. On the next level was where the singing was taking place. It was a group of of six men singing a capella. They had beautiful voices. I bought a CD at the end of the performance but probably won't get a chance to play it before we get home. After wandering around the palace we strolled down to the waterfront which is very clean and a lovely place to sit and relax but none of the seats are in the shade so we didn't stay too long.

On our way back to the ship we passed a strip that is quite a contrast to the rest of the town. it is covered with stalls all along the footpath selling souvenirs, currency exchange stalls and cafes. It's quite rundown and seedy. It was around 1.00pm by the time we arrived back on board and we were hot and tired so decided to have a relaxing afternoon after lunch. As we left port late they played an Italian version of "It's time to Say Goodbye"

Tuesday 13th June

Arrived at Santorini around 7.00am. The sky was a bit cloudy and a cool breeze was blowing. The port is surrounded by very steep cliffs with white houses clustered on along the top. At first glance the houses look like snow.

We were tendered off the ship just after 9.00am and caught the cable car up to Fira township. Our tour guide Kathrin was waiting to meet us at the top and escorted us to her car. This part of Fira has no vehicular traffic so we had to walk up a steep cobbled pathway which was a bit challenging. Kathrin came from Germany to work for a tour company 18 years ago. She met her husband and has been here ever since.

We drove to Perivolos (the black beach) and Kathrin gave us a background on the history of Santorini on the way. The beach is made up of dark grey, almost black sand and the water is very calm and flat. The sand is covered in sun loungers and umbrellas and is known as the party beach. In the afternoon the younger set make there way to the beach and have a good time till quite late. When we were there it was still early and quite cool and we were the only ones on the beach. The beaches at the other end of the island are quite rocky and the water not so calm.

Next Kathrin drove us to an organic farm and we tried some of the local produce. Because of the very dry climate and strong winds they don't grow much on Santorini except for grapes. The grape vines are grown very close to the ground and not irrigated because water is scarce. They have 2 desalination plants on the island that produce all the water for household purposes. The farm produces tomatoes, zucchini, watermelon and capers and Maria who runs the store at the front makes preserves and honey to sell. Our next stop was close to Akrotiri for a view out over the caldera where you can see the other four islands that make up Santorini. The sky was still cloudy and it was a bit hazy but still a lovely view. It would be spectacular on a clear sunny day. We continued on to the monastery at the top of the island. From here you can see how dry and bare most of the island is apart from the vineyards. You can also see some of the townships which all look very similar - mostly white houses with a traditional architectural style - a sort of box shape with a rounded section in the centre of the roofline.

Our final stop was Oia (pronounced eeyah) which is the most popular place for tourists. This is where you find the often photographed section of white houses with blue domed roofs. The car park was already full of buses and the narrow streets crowded with tourists. We only had about 40 minutes to look around because the ship was due to depart at 3.00pm. And it was already 12.00pm. The clouds had disappeared, the sky and water were a beautiful blue & the sun was very hot. We wandered around the narrow streets which only allow pedestrian traffic and then met up with Kathrin again to head back to Fira. The lineup for the cable car was quite short but the line for the tender back to the boat was very long. It was about 1.40pm and the last tender was due to leave at 2.00pm. We actually didn't get on the tender till after 2.00pm and there were quite a few people still waiting when we left the dock. Time for lunch and a short rest before dinner and then on to Mykonos

We arrived in Mykonos around 8.00 pm and caught the shuttle bus for the 10 minute ride into town. The sun was still up and there was a cool breeze blowing so it was ideal for walking around. Mykonos is made up of box shaped white buildings with some touches of blue on the shutters, a few white churches with domed roofs (1 blue and 2 burgundy coloured). On the small hill just above the waterfront are the 5 windmills you often see in photos of Mykonos and there are a few more windmills higher up above the town. The waterfront is filled with bars, restaurants and souvenir shops but not in a tacky way. The main strip along the waterfront gives way to winding narrow alleyways which all look very similar. More restaurants and shops of all varieties. Some of the houses have bright coloured bougainvillea climbing up the walls and it looks very pretty. We saw a windmill and tried to make our way towards it. The streets twisted and turned and we lost sight of the windmill so we gave up and asked one if the locals how to find it. He told us to go straight ahead till we reached a bakery and then turn left. We walked for quite a while and we still hadn't seen a bakery so we stopped and asked again. I imagine many people get lost in this town. We reached the windmills just before sunset and then made our way back along the waterfront to find somewhere to have coffees & hot chocolate. This turned out to be quite difficult because most places would only let you sit down if you were buying a meal. We finally found a gelato bar on the waterfront which also sold hot drinks. We caught the shuttle back to the ship at around 10.30pm.

Posted by caties55 09:28 Comments (0)

From the Sea to the Lake

sunny 30 °C

Saturday 17th June

We disembarked early in Venice & caught a taxi to Piazzale di Roma. To get to the railway station from there you either have to walk over a bridge with numerous shallow steps or catch a waterbus. We chose the bridge and paid one of the local porters to wheel our suitcases on a trolley. Total cost €25 but well worth it. The traIn wasn't due for an hour & and it was already warm so we found a seat in the shade on the correct platform so that we could wait in relative comfort. We had been warned about gypsies who help you with your luggage and then want to be paid. Just before the train was due to board a group of men appeared from in front of the train & started walking in our direction. I assume they were hiding somewhere along the tracks. As I approached the train one of them grabbed my bag to help me. I kept saying no but he gave me no choice and lifted my bag onto the train and placed it in the luggage rack. The same happened to the others. We found our seats and sat down and then they all gathered around holding out their hands. We told them we had said no & refused to pay them and they eventually moved on. It was quite intimidating.

The ride to Milan was easy on a very modern comfortable train but the rest of the day was hot and frustrating. We had planned to leave our bags at Milan station for a couple of hours and do some sightseeing but it was 30 degrees and we didn't feel like walking around a big city so we grabbed something to eat at Hungry Jacks & then I went to buy our tickets for the next train. We had to wait another hour in the heat. This station is massive, over several floors but seating is limited so we had to stand. We boarded the train early but there was no air conditioning. As it turned out it wasn't working in our carriage so we travelled with the windows open but it was only blowing in hot air. We arrived at Stresa station at around 4.40pm and had to cross over to the other platform but there was no lift or elevator, only stairs. Where are those gypsies when you need them? We caught a taxi to the apartment for €9 and opened the door to some welcome cool air.

We needed to buy some groceries and go to the laundromat but had to be in the apartment at 7.00pm to hand over some documentation to the owners. The supermarket and laudromat were both 1 km away and we didn't have enough time to walk there, do our chores and be back in time so we unpacked our bags, had a shower, sorted the washing, checked emails etc. Didn't have any milk so couldn't even have a cup of tea. Once everything was taken care of we walked along the waterfront to the main part of the town. Stresa is a small village set on the shores of Lake Maggiore. The main road overlooking the lake is lined with magnificent old hotels with stunning views of the lake and mountains beyond.

We found the laudromat with a little help and then tried to work out how to use the machines. Up till now we've had no trouble communicating with the locals but found over the last 2 days that few people here speak any english even in the restaurants. I found this very surprising as it's a very popular tourist area. A lady in the laundromat was more than happy to help us out but the conversation was mostly carried out by mime, quite a comedy act by all participants. Once the washing had started we realised that the wash cycle was going to take nearly an hour and the laundromat was due close shortly after that. The supermarket was right near the laundry so we went to do our shopping while the clothes were washing but we were a few minutes late because it closed at 8.00pm. We still had some Weetabix from Venice so we were happy as long as we could find some milk for cereal and a cuppa in the morning. I went into a small cafe and asked if they had any milk - thank goodness I know this word in Italian because once again no English and I didn't want to mime milking a cow. They don't normally sell milk but she sold me a 1 litre bottle for €1-50 which was a bit more than the supermarket but not a total ripoff. We knew there was another laudromat nearby that closed later so we went looking for that so we would have somewhere to dry our clothes. Into another restaurant to ask for directions. At last someone who spoke a little English (I really should have downloaded one of those learn to speak Italian apps). We realised that since it was so hot and the washing was going to take a while that the milk might go off so I walked back to the apartment to put the milk in the fridge and then return to the 2nd laundromat (2.6 kilometre round trip and it was still about 30 degrees.

Finally 9.30pm, washing completed - time to eat. Plenty of options to choose from and thank goodness still open for business. Totally exhausted, caught a taxi the short distance home and fell in to bed. What a day. Good part of Stresa in next post

Posted by caties55 21:35 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Good Food, Magnificent Views

sunny 30 °C


Sunday 18th June

Good Food, Magnificent Views

Another hot sunny day about 30 degrees. We walked along the waterfront to the ferry wharf and purchased tickets to 2 of the Borromean Islands. There are several of these near Stresa and we chose to go to Isola Bella & Isole Pescatori (also known as Isola Superiore). Even though it was still early there were several people on the beaches lining the shores of the lake. The beaches are not sand but pebbles, pretty uncomfortable to walk on or laze about but the views are magnificent with mountains surrounding the lake and a couple of the islands close by. All along the foreshore are beautiful gardens with hydrangeas of many colours in full bloom.

The ferry trip to Isola Bella was only about 5 minutes. One end of the Island is dominated by a palace and beautiful terraced gardens and the rest of the island is a small village. We arrived at about 10.45am and had morning tea in a cafe right next to the wharf with lovely views back to the mainland. Next we strolled down to the small beach and I paddled into the water which was cool and refreshing. There isn't a great deal to see here apart from the palace and gardens and some market stalls. We decided not to go through the palace and gardens which cost €16 pp.

Another 5 minute trip to Isola Pescatori which is slightly larger and more populated than Isola Bella. Time for lunch so once again we dined in a small outdoor cafe with lovely views. There were wisteria vines all along the ceiling to provide shade but not many blooms at this time of the year. It must get very cold in winter because the cafe had roller shuttered walls and ceiling and outdoor heaters in place. The views would be stunning with snow on the mountains. We wandered around the narrow cobbled streets and up and down stairs all over the small island. There are quite a few small pebbled beaches and there were quite a few people taking a relaxing break from the heat. Cheryl and I waded for a while and didn't even bother taking our shoes off because we knew they'd dry out pretty quickly and then we didn't have to contend with the uncomfortable pebbles.

We made the short journey back home by ferry and had a rest before walking back in to town for a meal at a restaurant right on the shoreline. It almost seems that we've done nothing but eat all day while looking at beautiful views. The prices are very reasonable and the food is good. If you ate at a restaurant in Australia with these views you would be paying through the nose for the privilege.

It was a lovely relaxing day. On to Lake Como tomorrow.

Posted by caties55 23:22 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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