A Travellerspoint blog

Dubrovnik

DUBROVNIK Date: 13th August 2013

Weather: Hot and sunny all day, not a cloud in the sky 29c

Position: Latitude 42 deg. 39.9 min N Longitude 18 deg. 4.8 min E

Some recent history, Yugoslavia was an uneasy federation of states and after the death of Tito, himself a Croatian, in 1980, the long-standing differences between the Serbs and the Croats soon led to a pointless and horrific war in the region. Croatia moved towards independence, but the minority Serb community wanted autonomy and expected to be protected by the Serbian led Yugoslav army. Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991 and the fighting soon broke out in the Serb- dominated parts of the country.

The city of Dubrovnik ( Ragusa in earlier days) is situated on the Dalmation coastline of the Adriatic Sea at the southern end of Croatia. Although the Old City is small, it is one of the most famous places in the world, and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Dubrovnik has had a long and often dramatic history, including the early 1990s when the city was badly damaged in the war following the break-up of Yugoslavia.

We sailed in through the small islands which are all the way along Croatia`s coast, into a deep water estuary where the cruise ships berth, and these berths are about 3 miles from the walled city itself. When you look over the ships side you have the quay-side, and then very steep hills/ mountains. Cut into one of these mountains is a coastal roadway with a very impressive road bridge, and on the other side it is more residential with the buildings leading down to the waters edge. Most of these houses look fairly new, and with their creamy/ white stonework and terracotta roof tiles which are set amongst well established trees, it really does look a picture. It`s an excellent place for messing about in boats, with all those islands and sheltered bays.

We`ve been to Dubrovnik a few times now, and again it`s a place you can never tire of. We caught the shuttle bus from the ship to the bus terminal just outside the Medieval gate which leads into the city. As we neared the bus terminal we passed some roadside houses, and the outside walls of these properties were still peppered with bullet holes from their recent war, just a reminder of what things were like. You enter the old town by crossing a wooden draw bridge over the moat below, and the massive ramparts which protected the city are facing you. The ramparts are complete, and if you feel so inclined you can walk all the way around, you can access this walk by sets of steep steps, which are at different places, one of which is just inside the city entrance. You are then on the “Placa” with it`s cream stone pavements, which have been polished to a high degree by centuries of use, and the number of visitors this city receives these days.

Just inside the wall you have two fantastic sights to see, one Onofrio`s Great Fountain and the 14th century Franciscan Monastery. Every few yards are little narrow side streets, on one side they are steep, which lead up to the outside wall and on the other further into the city. But no matter which side you chose there were small cafés and bars in all these side streets. At the far end of the Placa you have quite a few things to see, straight ahead is Orlando`s pillar and the clock tower, to your right a Baroque church ( St. Blaise) and on your left Sponza Palace. You can now go through a big arch, which is a good place to get some shade as temperatures were in the mid 30s. After passing through the arch it then opens up onto their harbour, with many types of pleasure craft all after your business. This spot is very picturesque with many boats in the marina and harbour, but also the nearby mountains. As we walked along the quayside the water is SO clear, it makes you feel you want to jump in, in between the boats which were tied up little shoals of small fish could be seen. The walkway around the harbour leads you to another of the Medieval defences of St. John`s Fortress, and when you have gone as far as you can, you have a view of some of the offshore islands. This is a good place to stop and take in the atmosphere as there are many fine pavement cafés, all with plenty of shade. Back through an arch at the opposite side of the harbour, and you are then faced with their Cathedral, which was replaced in 1667 after the first was destroyed by an earthquake.

Using the narrow streets and following the flow of tourist, we made our way back to the top end of the city, but before we reached the top, we found a shady café and soaked up the atmosphere, this was another such place where you could hear many different languages being spoken. Their local currency is the “Kuna”, we were told before going ashore that the Euro is widely accepted, but I would say it was the reverse, so if you are coming here be prepared. So now we came out of the city and got our bus back to the ship.

Dubrovnik and the surrounding area has a lot to offer, so if you get the chance to come it will not disappoint. The late afternoon was the time for our departure, we sat out on deck to watch us leave, and with the sun still shining and its rays striking in particular the road bridge, but also the hills and mountains it made for a glorious sail away. When we were a couple of miles out to sea the view back to the land was fantastic. Something we will always remember.

So with a good forecast of calm seas and good weather, Corfu is our next stop.

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Posted by pzack 00:11 Comments (0)

Venice

VENICE Date: 12th August 2013

Weather: Hot and sunny all day, 33c

Position: Latitude 45deg. 26.2 min. N Longitude 12 deg. 18.7 min. E

We were up early to see ourselves arrive into one of the most beautiful cities in the world from a cruising point of view, this is one of the most spectacular arrivals you could imagine. It was an early start 6.30 am, we were not ready for the whole day yet, just a quick dash out of bed and out onto Promenade deck so as not to miss a thing. We had just passed the new flood defences which will protect the city from future flooding, it will work on the same principle as the Thames barrier, when a high tide is predicted the barrier is then closed.( These flood defences are not complete yet, but well under way) We have been very fortunate during this holiday that the weather has been good, and that morning was no exception, with clear blue skies and with a temperature already at 27c. With the sun still quite low in the sky it was putting a warm glow onto the buildings. Being low tide, some parts of the lagoon were quite shallow, and on one of the mud banks some local fishermen were up to their knees in the water, and we found out later, they were after Clams.

With the assistance of a pilot our sail in is a quiet slow affair, with the occasional motor taxi or vaporetto ( their water buses) going by. We then passed a park, with occasional joggers on the tow path. The sky line of the city with its many bell towers now in full view, we started to see much more boat traffic all scurrying around. As we neared St Mark’s square the waterfront properties with their different colours were all looking resplendent, another thing that catches your eye is the little side canals leading off into the back waters of the city, all with their low arched bridges.

We were now level with the bottom of the grand canal with the sights of the “Doges Palace” , “Bridge of Sighs”, “ St Mark`s square” the bell tower of the “Campanile di San Marco” all in full view, and your inner excitement thinking you`ll be in amongst all these fabulous places soon.

Our berth was at what they call their Maritime Harbour, there are enough spaces for four large cruise ships, when we arrived we were the only ship in, but as the morning went on all of those spaces were taken, and we also passed a further cruise ship moored alongside a nearby wharf. In all there were six cruise ships in that day. To get into our berth the ship needs to turn at right angles to the passing canal, to complete this operation we were assisted by two tugs.

With breakfast over, and our bags packed for the day`s events, we made our way ashore. Again it’s a thing we like doing on our own and finding out what the city has to offer. From the cruise terminal we made our way to the overhead Mono-rail, which is a fully automated service running between the Tronchetto car park and Piazzale Roma with the cruise terminal in between. We like using the Vaporetto water buses, and buy a 12 hour pass, so we could go anywhere in Venice or the surrounding islands where these Vaporettos run. But one of the first routes we take is down the Grand Canal to either the Rialto bridge, the Accademia bridge or St Marks square, but you can be sure all of these places will be visited at some time during the day. But for this visit we wanted to see some buildings in the San Polo district of the city, this we duly found and had a look around, and then had our first Ice-cream of the day. The little narrow streets, or in some cases alleyways, are on the whole very well marked to direct you to some of the major sights, but you can quite easily take the wrong turning, we did this and found ourselves in a small square where there were some street musicians playing some classical music, we stopped a while to take in the atmosphere, a nice surprise. Retracing our route to the Grand Canal, we hopped onto the next vaporetto to the Accademia bridge, for the purpose of stopping for some lunch. As we`ve been to Venice a few times we always use the same restaurant. This bridge is a wooden one and well used, because a lot of the popular sights are within easy reach of it. While crossing it, we noticed on some metal rails which form a part of the handrails, there were hundreds of locked padlocks all with little messages on them, like “ Nick loves Penny”, someone is doing well by selling these padlocks!!

Our lunch was a pizza each with a side salad and a soft drink, this was eaten at a leisurely pace, as the temperature was rising as the day went on. Off on our travels again taking the vaporetto to St Marks square, when we stepped ashore, I think this is where the hottest temperature for the day was, the mid 30s centigrade. There were masses of people, we`ve never seen it so busy, but it all adds to the atmosphere. We never cease to be amazed by all the wonderful buildings everywhere. To get out of the heat we used the covered walkway which surrounds St Marks square, milling with every nation under the sun. We were now following the signs to take us back to the Rialto bridge, again we were on one of the most popular routes between two major sights. We bumped into two fellow passengers on their first visit to Venice, both over the moon with what they had seen and what they were experiencing.

We were now making our way back to our ship, we picked up the vaporetto for the Piazzale Roma from the Rialto bridge, and the water buses were still as busy as they were when arrived in the morning, but still it all added to the fabulous day we had just experienced. So for us it was the reverse route from the morning run, the mono-rail then the walk to the ship.

We did have a quiet hour before our sail-away. Our captain gave us the news that all the other ships in the cruise ship harbour would sail before us, so it was up onto the deck to watch those ships depart. Then it was the same route out for us, but in reverse. The sun now was in the other direction and you could see all those magnificent buildings in a different light. I try to take photos of the places we visit in the both lights, morning and afternoon, as very often you`ll get a photo from one of those occasions which will spark your memory of “that day”. Everyone, whether on a passing boat, or on the shore always seem to be very vocal, as we sailed passed them, you could hear them quite clearly, hopefully they are good wishes for our onward journey!!!

Always a little sad to be leaving such a beautiful place, but with the impressions of what we had seen that day very fresh in our minds, you can only feel good inside. Thank you Venice for a great day!!

Now for some hard steaming overnight, as our next port of Dubrovnik is quite a distance. But the weather forecast was good, with light winds and flat seas, so all should be well.

Sorry for the delay in posting, as we`ve just had 3 port days in a row, and it`s finding the time to write up the blog.

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Posted by pzack 13:51 Comments (1)

Malta

MALTA

Weather: Clear and sunny, very warm 31c max.

Position: Latitude 35 deg. 53.4 min. N Longitude 14 deg. 30.6 min. E

The inhabited islands of the Maltese archipelago consist of Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta, the largest of the three, is 17 miles long and 9 miles wide. It is 57 miles south of Sicily and 180 miles east of Tunisia in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The Island has no mountains, rivers or lakes. Most of the total population about 370,000 live around Valletta and the two harbours on either side.

Malta has some of the earliest archaeological remains in the Mediterranean, dating back to about 4,000 BC. At a later date, Phoenicians and Greek traders were followed by the Carthaginians and then, from 218 BC, by the Romans. In AD 60 St Paul was shipwrecked here and is believed to have converted the island to Christianity. The apostle is the patron saint of Malta.

In 870, the Arabs took over Malta for the next 200 hundred years until they were ousted by Roger 1st ( a Norman) of Sicily. Feudal lords then ruled until 1530 when the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, gave Malta to the religious military order of the Knight of St John of Jerusalem . They had been recently evicted from Rhodes by Suleiman the Magnificent and greeted Malta with little enthusiasm. The British became involved in 1800 when the French departed, and under the Treaty of Paris in 1814 Malta formally became British. The British developed Malta as an important naval base. During WW 2 Malta was under constant attack by sea and air from German and Italian forces. The local people endured incredible hardship and their heroic defence led to Malta being awarded the George Cross Britain`s highest civilian decoration. In 1964 Malta became an Independent state and a member of the Commonwealth.

For anyone who sails into Valletta you can see immediately why it was so important to the defence of the island of Malta. With a fort on one side of its narrow entrance and the high walled ramparts either side makes it ideal to defend. The whole place looks a sand or beige colour, as all of the walls and buildings are made of their local sandstone. The harbour is quite long and relatively narrow with a couple of side estuaries, one of which is the industrial docks, and the other quite a large marina. There is a good mixture of usage with pleasure and commercial craft, I have seen as many as 5 cruise ships in at one time. Our berth is the Valletta side of the harbour, and you are faced with a steep climb to get up to the town. But luckily for us visitors there are many forms of transport to take you to the top (or beyond!), a bus service, horse and carriages and taxis. The cruise terminal area has recently been developed with apartments with marina facilities, also pavement cafés and bars making a very pleasant environment.

For our stay in Malta we had decided to do our own thing again. For the morning part of our day we did an open top bus ride, there were three routes available, and we chose the Green route which went north to the town of Bugibba ( Qawra) then down the east coast to Valletta again. We did some spade work from home on the computer, so we had the time table and route maps with us, our pick up point for the bus was just along from where we were berthed, so that was good. These city sightseeing open top buses are a good way to see a place, where you can hop on or off where you want, but our time in Malta did not allow us to get off at any point, because our sail away time was 3 o`clock. So we stayed on the bus and did the complete loop, which was 2 hours in any case!, plus we wanted to see some of the sights in Valletta.

Driving outward on our trip, out of Valletta, I would say the place looks a bit on the scruffy side, and when out of populated parts the land is very barren, with the occasional tree or groups of trees. But still, this is what seeing other places in the world is all about. We had managed to get a front seat on the top deck so we had a good view at what was coming up. After making a few scheduled stops we arrived at Bugibba, which is situated on the edge of a small bay, with plenty of small boats in the bay, in the town itself lots of hotels, I think the whole island relies a lot on the tourist trade, as along the waters edge are cafes, bars and eating places. Our next place of call was the area known as Pembroke, again situated around a narrow bay, but this resort seemed to have many of the big named hotels which are around the world. This looked a nice resort, on our drive so far there didn`t seem to be many beaches, the ones that are there seemed to be small and some are man-made, it is mostly lido type facilities. We were now in a continuous developed area, with the next place being Silema, a much bigger place with some familiar high street outlets visible from our bus. This stop was the main place for any ferry or boat pleasure trips, as there were plenty of choices available.

With our trip coming to an end, we arrived at the main bus terminal in Valletta, one stop before the original starting point, so we took advantage of the stop, as we now wanted to explore Valletta itself. We were at the City Gate, which leads onto Republic Street, this street has a long shallow dip in it, and you could see more or less the full length of it, and it was full of people, as someone said “a mass of people”. Plenty of restoration work is evident with what looks like an old Roman temple being worked on, at the top end. As we walked on, one square opened up to show the front of their Cathedral, a fine looking building. There seemed to be many fine squares as we went along, all with cafés some shaded with trees, a really good atmosphere about the place. With map in hand we made our way now walking back to the ship, taking what we thought was the right street to the harbour, and I must put my hand up and say I got it wrong. For we found our way to the harbour OK but about a mile out along it. So we had to follow the old streets and ramparts along before we could see our way down to the quay side, and all this while the temperature was at 31c. There have been several times during our travels over the years when you`re very glad to get onto your ship, where your air conditioned cabin awaits you, and today was one of those times!!.

So a cool drink, a spot of lunch and we were ready for sail away, we sat on the promenade deck right on the stern, the Captain cast off our ropes, and we had a great view as we left the harbour. Another very good day!!

Next stop Venice.

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Posted by pzack 09:51 Comments (3)

CADIZ

CADIZ

Weather: Clear and sunny all day, hottest 27c

Our arrival at Cadiz was at 10 o`clock, usually we`re an hour before that, but I think the later arrival time was due to the “Independence of the Seas” getting there before us. She is a very big ship with more than 3,000 passengers, she certainly made us look small when we were alongside her.

We had no shore excursion booked for today, well we did, it was going to be “Seville on your own”, this is where you are taken there by coach, and then you have a certain amount of time to do your own exploring. But what put us off was the predicted temperatures of Seville during August, those being in the 40s centigrade, so we decided to give the trip a miss.( We did hear during the evening that those predicted temperatures were correct, with a figure of 43c.)

Cadiz the city, is on a headland within a large bay, which is open to the Atlantic Ocean. This geographical position has a lot to do with the cities history, as a lot of Spains colonial conquests of Central and South America started off and returned to this port, and consequently became a very wealthy place. While visiting Cadiz a couple of years ago, I obtained some tourist information about the cities forthcoming bi-centennial celebrations in 2012. So having read that information, there were a lot of places which having been here before we had not seen. So for our visit to Cadiz it was to be a stroll around the city, and to seek out our new points of interest. The harbour which serves the cruise ships is very close to the hub of the city. As you come out of the docks you are in the Plaza de Espana , with a massive monument which celebrates the formation of their constitution in 1812, with the signing of their magna carta. Surrounding the plaza are many fine tall buildings , a lot with small towers on the top of them, these were owned and run by the rich merchants whose vessels used the harbour. The purpose of the towers was so they could see and signal their ships as they came into view in the bay.

The city itself is very accessible with mostly flat and level walking, with all points of interest within a short distance of each other. Our route took us along the harbour front passed some small gardens then onto the Plaza San Juan de Dios, this is a fine place, a mixture of old and new, the old, some fine buildings, one of which is their town hall, along with a statue on a white marble plinth, also some fine street lamps in cast iron, the new, tall elegant palms, and then what looks like sails suspended between poles to give this whole pedestrian area some shade. All around this Plaza are pavement cafes, it`s a real hive of activity. Now through a small narrow street, this has plenty of shops which suit visitors and locals alike, it took us on into a square where the dominant building is the Baroque Cathedral, which was built in 1722 in a Neoclassical style, and very impressive it is too. If you go up a short street alongside the Cathedral it would take you onto a wide promenade facing the sea, at the end of which is a nice beach. But we continued on through the narrow streets, often opening up into small squares some with small stalls with local flowers, which all looked very colourful. In some of the wider streets the houses or apartments are maybe 4 or5 floors high, some are grand buildings with ornate stonework and small wrought iron balconies facing onto the street. We were now on new territory for us, as we arrived at the Plaza San Antonio, which is their constitutional square, this is a large rectangle , fringed with shaded park benches and surrounded with many fine buildings along its four sides. They included the old Cadiz casino, Aramburo House (a former wealthy family home) which is beautiful!, also a lot of the university is situated around this area. We now took some time out and watched the world go by with an iced tea on a pavement café, very nice, with a passing accordion player adding to the atmosphere.

Moving on now to the Plaza de Mina, this is quite large , but instead of being open it was full of gardens and trees giving lots of shade. As we left the square we started to pick up a breeze, because in a short distance you are out onto what`s known as the “Ramparts”, these ramparts were part of their sea defences against the English , French and Dutch fleets in times past. They are now used as a promenade which is used by walkers and joggers etc. We did pass a gardens with a massive tree in it, the trunk was huge. ( I`ve included a photo of it, and also a park bench showing the local ceramic tiles on it) As we walked further along the ramparts we could see our ship in the harbour, for we have nearly completed our loop back to the Plaza de Espana, but before we got there we were still passing many fine buildings, which were used by many merchants.

So on reflection, the weather was great not too hot, plenty of atmosphere around the city, and although we`ve found some new places , there are still plenty more to find and enjoy. So thank you Cadiz what a good day.

Malta our next stop!

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Posted by pzack 08:11 Comments (1)

Here we go, Aug. 2013

Here We Go, AUGUST 2013

We started our journey to pick up our cruise ship Arcadia in Southampton, in the usual fashion and that`s using our car. For us living in Penzance in Cornwall it means an early start, and by early we left home at 7 o`clock, as the journey time is around 5 ½ hours . The weather was pretty grim, as we had grey and overcast skies with prolonged bouts of drizzly rain, and this continued for the first part of our journey, but the second half turned out to be drier, with the occasional burst of sun.

When starting out on any journey, your mind is continually running through your check list making sure that you have everything necessary for your trip, and this one was no different , we were still asking each other, “have you remembered this or that”. But it seems that all was well with check list program.

The check-in process all went well , with us getting on board about 1 o`clock, although I did have a scare because I could not find my mobile when we arrived at our cabin. Doing our best to retrace when it was last seen, that was going through security and the metal detector during embarkation. So I had to go ashore again to where the security unit was, and it was all logged in as found in one of their trays, so panic over back on board to unpack. Our cases arrived very quickly so we were able to get on and find a home for all the clothes which we had brought with us. After the life boat drill was done, it was time for sail away, the time was 4.30pm, quite early really for sailing. We went down onto Promenade deck, and it seemed very quiet, as usually this part of the deck is packed, with a band ashore playing such things as “ We are Sailing” ( Rod Stewart) and the like, but sadly with all the cuts there was no band! Sad really when not so long ago there were paper streamers, and the band playing ashore, really making your send-off special. But Hey! we`re off on a fabulous holiday to the Med. and some more sunshine, we hope, So lets be positive.

Along with ourselves, there were 2 other cruise ships sailing that evening, one RCL “ Adventure of the Seas” and the other one of the Grand class of the Princess Line. With the sun now shining we followed the RCL ship down the Solent, and we were informed by the ships PA system that it was “Cowes week” which for those of you who don`t know, it`s a very famous yachting regatta held every year at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. So to get a good view of the whole sail-away, and the Isle of Wight, we made our way to the Crow-nest lounge where a total panoramic view can be had, and this we did for an hour or more.

Your fellow passengers on your dining table are always a concern, as this makes up a big part of our enjoyment of the holiday. But our concerns were soon put at ease as both of the other couples on our table seem to be good fun, one couple from Wales and the other from the “Black country” in the Mid-lands.

Our first day and the infamous “Bay of Biscay” ahead of us, weather wise the morning was grey and overcast with occasional rain, but the second part of the day was clear and sunny, and the sea state was flat, one of the better first days (sea wise) we`ve had. Our second day down the coast of Portugal was another good sea day, with a light northerly wind following us it has been very pleasant. Walking around the decks this morning, on four separate occasions we saw the water spouts from some whales surfacing, they were about ½ mile off the ships side. These whales were all heading north so I don`t know if it`s some migration route or what, but still nice to see, never seen them on a Mediterranean cruise before!! .

Since we`ve been back on-board we`ve seen a lot of staff who are still on-board from our cruise earlier in the year, and some that we`ve met from previous years, and all have such good memories, in that they still remember us. So, that`s about all for now folks, our first port of call Cadiz tomorrow, a nice port so we look forward to that.

Posted by pzack 09:31 Comments (1)

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