Spain

Mon, July 1

We were out and about early this morning to visit the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, which was also the Jewish Quarter. Very narrow streets where the buildings seemed to nearly meet overhead. One of the group actually got lost in the myriad of medieval streets and courtyards. Fortunately she was found before the tour had finished. Very easy to attach yourself to the wrong group, we nearly did it ourselves!

The old part of the city is really old – where you can stroll past medieval buildings and sites dating back 2,000 years.

Barcelona is a very clean city with a fascinating mixture of old and new. It was heavily bombed during the war and a lot of buildings were rebuilt in the 19th century. Lots of cafes and restaurants, museums and churches to explore. And of course they are very proud of the wonderful facilities which were built for the Olympic Games. We visited a vast food market where you can buy any type of food imaginable. If they don’t have it, they will get it in for you. All the produce looked so fresh! Beautiful dried fruits and nuts – lots more varieties than we see in Australia.

The people were friendly and welcoming to tourists and we would very much like to visit this lovely city again. Among our souvenirs we made sure we bought some sangria. Our one disappointment was that we could not fit in any tapas as much as we would have liked to – we have been too well fed on the ship! That will be something to look forward to next time…..

Olympic stadium

Olympic stadium

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Barcelona market

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Barcelona market (2)

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Wed, July 3

Last night we transited through the Strait of Gibraltar leaving the Mediterranean and entering the Atlantic and arrived in Cadiz where we picked up the local pilot to guide us up the narrow channel into the harbour.

Our coach took us to Seville, 134 km away from the port, where he left us to explore the cultural centre of southern Spain. We strolled through the old Jewish Quarter with its many outdoor cafes and gazed at the Cathedral of Seville, La Giralda which was a mosque and now is a Christian church built in 12th century, the Plaza de Espana (built for the 1988 Spanish Expo), the Royal Palace and the Plaza de Toros (bullring).

The guided tour started in the stands of the ring and moved on to the museum and art gallery, bullfighter’s chapel and horses courtyard and followed the history from its construction in 1761. It took more than a century to build. I was surprised when it was explained that this cruel practice is still carried on today, with about 35 events per year featuring 3 bullfighters and 6 bulls.

Finally, after about 4 hours of walking around Seville, we were very pleased to discover a nice restaurant for tapas and Spanish beer – excellent!

Sunflowers all the way to Seville

Sunflowers all the way to Seville

City walls

City walls

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Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros

Bullring

Bullring

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Monte Carlo

Sun, June 30

This morning we arrived in Monte Carlo, which consists of several districts – the Principality of Monaco, is the old settlement, with ramparts above the pretty harbour, La Condamine, on the west side of the bay, combining a bathing resort with small factories and Monte Carlo, the home of the Casino and many fine hotels. There is also a new district, Fontveille, which is the industrial zone, with modern sports facilities as well.

We had to arrive by tender as there were already ships in the spaces at Monte Carlo Harbour. It only took about 15 minutes and then we were able to board our coach for our excursion to Nice, about an hour’s drive away and France’s fifth largest city.

After driving through some tunnels, we joined the coastal road and the scenery was spectacular. Many beautiful houses, well mansions really, have been built all along the cliffs, all with wonderful views of the Mediterranean. We saw the palace on the hill but did not pay E19 each to go inside. Neither did we feel inclined to visit the Casino. Lots of others did, but we did not hear of any big wins!

In Nice the first thing we noticed was that all the tents were up for the amateur Tour de France which starts on Tuesday. Lots of bike riders were there riding around the streets. As it was Sunday, there was not much traffic and a lot of the shops were closed. So instead we explored a nice flower market which also sold various foods and handmade ceramics etc and we were able to find a couple of nice little dishes as a memento.

We had plenty of time to stroll around and the beach looked beautiful but there was a charge of E15 each to go down onto it! To be fair, there were banana lounges and umbrellas supplied. (The free beaches were quite a bit further on.) We didn’t bother and instead walked around the vast marina marveling at the expensive boats moored there, as well as the expensive motor vehicles parked in the street. It certainly is the place for the rich and plastic famous!

My impressions of Monte Carlo and Nice – nice to say that we have been there, but similar to the Gold Coast in Australia, if you get my meaning!
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Livorno, Tuscany

Sat, June 29

Buon giorno Livorno – gateway to spectacular cities like Pisa and Florence. To be different we decided to go to Lucca which about an hour’s drive away from the port.

Tuscany, home to sunflowers, olive groves and Andrea Bocceli … we enjoyed the views of the gently rolling hills, quaint farmhouses and vineyards with a tantalising view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the distance.

No sooner had we gotten off the bus, than one of the group fell over – we were worried that he had damaged his ankle, but he got up and kept going so it was good to know he was OK. Later on I noticed that he put some ice inside his sock so it must have been a little sore (timely reminder that when you are approaching 80 years of age, resist the impulse to jump over puddles!)

Our guide took us on a walking tour of this ancient city, some beautiful walls and lookout towers are still in evidence surrounding it, and the church of San Michele in Foro dating back to the 12th century has stunning Romanesque architecture featuring four colonnaded levels of gleaming white marble inlaid with a menagerie of real and mythical animals. We also came across a marble cathedral, Lucca Duomo, as we made our way through the twisting narrow streets. Lovely little shops as well and the people very friendly.

We enjoyed our time exploring and ended the day in a cafe with a good Italian coffee and a cannoli, discussing our day and how much there is yet to see.

This was our third and final stop in Italy and we reluctantly said Ciao!
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Roma

Fri, June 28

This morning we arrived in the port of Civitavecchia to set off on our city drive, and when we got into Rome were absolutely amazed at the wide variety of historic, cultural and religious sites, including the Colosseum, the historic Roman Forum, the beautiful Castel Sant’Angelo and gardens of the Villa Borghese. We didn’t know which way to look first as we drove along such famous streets as the Via Vittorio Veneto and the Piazza Venezia to experience the many religious monuments, basilicas and churches.

Our tour of the Eternal City concluded in St Peter’s Square at the core of Vatican City in the ornate piazza where the masses receive the Pope’s weekly blessings. This gave us the opportunity to spend some time strolling around the many shops to pick up some souvenirs and then to enjoy the view of the magnificent basilica whilst sampling some real Italian pizza!

The beautiful mosaic caught our eye - check out the gold!

The beautiful mosaic caught our eye – check out the gold!

Lots of umbrella pines - grown for the pine nuts

Lots of umbrella pines – grown for the pine nuts

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Colosseum

Colosseum

Colosseum

Colosseum

Colosseum

Colosseum

St Peter's Square

St Peter’s Square

Basilica

Basilica

Napoli

Thurs, June 27

This morning we woke up in Naples and opened our curtains to see the world’s most famous volcano, Mt Versuvius, from our balcony.

Our coach took us straight to the Amalfi Coast and all I can say is – WOW!!! We drove through miles of beautiful scenery, some of which we tried to capture but most we had to commit to memory as there are not a lot of places to park, although that doesn’t stop the locals. The road was so narrow that I have no idea how our coach driver negotiated it. We often had to stop and in one case, back up the coach, to avoid hitting a scooter parked on a bend.

There were tunnels through the mountains, dramatic cliffs which met the sea, lush landscape, lemon groves and we saw houses which were owned by Sting, Sophia Loren and Roger Moore.

We had seats right up front which gave us some great photos. (We’ve had some photos that haven’t turned out well due to the reflection coming off the coach windows.) However, when we were half-way along the coast road the tour guide got us to change seats. This was fair to the people sitting on the left-hand side, but our new seats did not give us the opportunity to get any more good photos, but believe me, the views were amazing!

We stopped at a beautiful restaurant and had an excellent lunch of cannelloni, chicken schnitzel and a delicious cake containing custard and local cream, as well as a selection of very nice Italian red and white wines.

After reaching Salerno, we turned back and made our way to Pompeii. Once again history was brought to life as we strolled along the cobblestone streets of this city which perished under as much as 50 feet of ash after Versuvius erupted in 79 A.D. The ruins, still being excavated today, were perfectly preserved by the ash and mud and offer a glimpse into the past with a network of buildings, brothels, shops, theatres, artwork and mummified bodies.

After dinner the waiters sang “Happy Birthday “and presented me with a chocolate cake and card. What a nice ending to a very enjoyable day!

Mt Versuvius

Mt Versuvius

On the road to Amalfi

On the road to Amalfi

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View from balcony of restaurant where we had lunch

View from balcony of restaurant where we had lunch

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Pompeii

Pompeii

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