Friday, January 1, 2016


Inspired by a diary that chronicled a trip to Europe my parents made with friends in 1955 I have decided to write about our recent visit to Europe. It began on July 1st 2015.


July 1st-2nd 2015
It was the first time for us to take the British Airways direct flight from Austin to London, Heathrow; an evening flight which brought us into Heathrow Terminal 5 in the morning. Overnight flights are never much fun especially in Economy. We had plenty of time to get to Terminal 3 for our ongoing flight to Marseille. Changing terminals at Heathrow takes some time and as well as the distance between terminals once again you have to go through security and the security is much tighter in the UK. My concern over whether my titanium hip replacement would show up on the X ray was unfounded. It was actually the balled up tissue, which had been through the washing machine, in my pant pocket, that caused the wand and pat down. A decidedly unfriendly security lady.

BA serves food on even the shortest of flights so the late lunch ham sandwich and bottle of wine, served on the short flight to Marseille, were most welcome. We arrived in Marseille, picked up the bags and headed to information to find out how to call our hotel-Holiday Inn Express, booked through Hotwire ! The plan to spend the first night in Marseille was a good one after an overnight flight and second travel day. Directed to go outside to hotel pick up we waited for the bus. I don't think either of us was expecting to feel the blast of hot air that greeted us as we walked outside. Apparently we had brought the heat with us. When the shuttle bus arrived, 'No!' it did not go to our hotel. We went back inside to discover that the hotel had recently changed its name and was now called The Golden Tulip. Back to the same place and this time the bus arrived and took us to the hotel.

Lobby of the Golden Tulip

Patio and pool area
The hotel had been recently modernized and our room was modern and comfortable. Tired after our long day we showered and headed to the restaurant for a meal of Bocaux. It's the new rage and one we were to come across again in Zurich. Everything from appetizer to dessert was served in containers or small casseroles.

After our dinner we went out to have a little walk around the grounds before retiring. So many of the plants around the hotel were the same as the ones we grow in Texas but this isn't surprising as this part of France shares the same kind of limestone formation with alkaline soils. Slept well.

July 3rd 2015
Next morning we enjoyed breakfast on the terrace and David went off to pick up the car. We loaded up and were on our way-or so we thought. Getting out of Marseille airport was more difficult that we expected. In all it took 3 airport returns before we finally found the right way. We were heading for Crillon le Brave via country roads. Passing through the French village of Loumarin we discovered it was market day. It was around 12 and many were leaving which was probably the only reason we managed to find a close-by park. What a great market. Oh! the olives, the cheeses the breads-the everything. I want to come to this market every week.

We didn't have any problem selecting a couple of quiches and a selection of olives for our picnic sitting on the grass at the edge of the village.

We continued on our journey but it wasn't long before we had to stop to take photos of this beautiful field of sunflowers.

We have driven past many a field of Texas sunflowers in the past but never quite as accessible as this one.
We continued on the delightful drive to Crillon le Brave and our hotel for the next few days. Unlike my parents, who never booked their hotels ahead of time and found themselves in great difficulties in the South of  France on their 1955 trip, David had everything booked for the whole trip, hotels, buses and trains. This looks like a great start.

Once a thriving village of more than 500 residents, Crillon le Brave started a decline towards the end of the 19th C. By the end of WW 11 the village was in ruins. Then in the 70s people started to return rebuilding the ruined homes and returning life to the village. You would think it had always been this way because nothing of the character of the original buildings has been lost. It retains the look of a wonderful hill-top French village.

We had an incredible view from our bedroom window....once we had climbed the 64 steps up to the room! We joked about being under the leads, in this case the tiles, as Cassanova when he was imprisoned in the Bastille. We did have air conditioning which was a blessing because it was a very warm day with many more to come.

 A quick change into our swimwear and we were down to the pool, passing by the dining room on the way and reserving an outside table for dinner. What a beautiful setting. There were a couple of Côté Sud magazines in the bedroom and I took those down to the pool. David ordered drinks, a beer from him and a wine cocktail for me and, settling down on a lovely chaise, I was in seventh heaven.

Of course we were the first down for dinner and no one else was dining as early as we were so there was no problem in getting one of those front row tables. You couldn't find a more perfect setting. Don't you love the color palette. So chic.We decided to have the Menu d'été, a whopping 66€ each for entrée, plat, fromage et dessert au choix with two amuse bouche before we ever started. It truly was worth every euro. And so to bed. Another market day tomorrow!

Saturday July 4th 2015
We had a leisurely breakfast, again on the terrace. They had beautiful eggs which you boiled yourself. There were egg timers with 2, 3 and 4 minute sand timers. The eggs were enormous and judging how long to cook them was a challenge. It took me the whole 3 days we were there to get it right! It was such a luxury to sit on their beautiful terrace reading the Times newspaper. Really! did we want to go rushing off for the day. But, yes, we must.

There was a market beckoning in the village of Perne les Fontaines. With no indications of which way to go when we got to Pernes, but having seen people walking from one direction with shopping bags, we managed to find a parking lot, parked and headed off on foot. Soon we came to the old city walls and an ancient fortified gateway.

Walking though the arch we stood rather helplessly trying to decide which direction to take, finally we dragged our high-school French out from the cobwebs asking a man in a shop the way to the market. He directed us to the pathway which ran alongside the river. It was going to be another warm day in Provence.

Once again the market stalls were a feast for all the senses.

The town is named for the many fountains  and there is a walk which takes you around the town and to all the fountains. But first we took a pathway up towards the church.

More steps and by the time we reached the top the bells were ringing. There is nothing more wonderful than the sound of real bells. We were to hear so many but never once were we kept awake at night.

Retracing our steps to the village we followed the signs which marked the way to the numerous fountains. There is no shortage of water in Provence. All the fountains were running.

By now it was after mid day and after a quick stop to look at the old sign outside abattoir we headed back to the car and our next destination- Carpenteras. We had a date at Chez Serge!

Market day in Carpenteras is on a Friday so we were not met with market day crowds and had no trouble finding a park. How lucky! It was right across the road from Chez Serge.

 I had come across this restaurant on the internet and the rave reviews had me hooked. We were going to have a meal with truffles although the chances were that it might involve more eggs! By all accounts the truffle omlette was the cheapest thing on the menu.  There were no long lines outside and once again our luck held and we managed to get a table in the courtyard. that sign by the fountain was one I remember from being in France in my youth. None of the water was potable in those days.

If I had known that they would be bringing us an amuse bouche of goat cheese and truffles I would not have ordered that omelette with truffles( the only modestly priced truffle meal at 19€) But there you are. The order was already placed. We had come here for the truffles. I decided it was a lot of hype and for anyone else visiting there I recommend choosing something from the regular menu. It was enough of a truffle experience with the little plate they brought us.

And this was the omelette plate...

which we washed down with a bottle of local wine. 

So taken were we with this wine that we stopped at the vineyard on the way back to Crillon le Brave and bought a couple of bottles.

That night we chose to eat a more modest dinner next door to the hotel. Not a great choice on our part even thought the presentation looks good.

Sunday July 5th 2015

After a leisurely breakfast on that glorious terrace we drove to the village of Séguret, a fortified hillside village surrounded by vineyards.

How can plants possibly survive in such poor soil?

 All was quiet in the village, the narrow streets empty. Of course it was Sunday so nothing was open. There were many artisan shops but closed for the day. It was nice to be able to enjoy the narrow streets without the hustle and bustle of tourists.

We climbed up to the church and then came back down and found this delightful little restaurant. After all it was nearly 1pm.

You may have gathered that food plays a special part in our travel and what could be nicer that an alfresco lunch on a gorgeous day with a carafe of French rosé and a dish of olives.. to begin! 

I ordered the Salade Corse- lots of interesting meats from Corsica and chèvre cheese.

David chose a more healthy main course. It was all very wonderful and I could have lingered there but we had other places to visit.

Next stop Orange and the famous Roman theatre. This theatre is considered to be one of the finest of all Roman remains, the theatre wall being extremely well preserved and still used today for concerts. You can see the stage props from a recent concert.

Those steps were a lot steeper to climb than they appear in the photograph, especially in the baking sun.  If I hadn't mentioned this before Europe was basking in a heat wave and the afternoons were particularly brutal. Everyone was trying to get in the shade and finding none.

An artistic impression of how the theater may have looked in its glory days.

Entry also included a visit to the museum across the road with its many mosaics and Roman artifacts.

It had a been a long hot day and we were happy to return to the hotel, to swim and rest before dinner. We had one last dinner in the hotel as the next day we would be driving to Nice.

Monday July 6th 2015
The car loaded up and we were on our way. Although the original plan had been to drive the coast road to Nice, as my parents had done all those years ago, in the end time constraints meant we must take the motorway arriving in Nice around lunch time. We went straight to our hotel, Le Hameau, which was in Saint Paul deVence. David had imagined that the hotel was in the countryside, which is wasn't. However, it was very close to the medieval village, which we planned to visit the next morning. We checked in and then after a snack lunch in the garden (not very good) we drove off to find an HSBC bank in Nice. Earlier that day we had found ourselves in some difficulties at the motorway toll booth  because we had no cash and then found the machine would not accept our credit card. As we held up all the traffic behind us they took forever to take down particulars of driving license and credit card.
We found the bank and with Euros in hand headed off along the Promenade des Anglais towards Èze. I had read about a wonderful garden there. Unfortunately my directions confused Èze with Èze-sur-Mer so we wasted some time on the narrow winding streets of Èze-sur-Mer before realizing we would have to retrace our steps back along the coast to the turning for Èze village. Once there we found a park and began the hike up to the medieval village. All these French villages are popular tourist spots and this one was no exception. The narrow winding streets were lined with tourist shops. The large car park was filled with tour buses although as it was now 4pm most visitors were coming back down the hill. By the time we reached the gardens at the very top we more or less had them to ourselves.

The view of the coast with Èze- village below and Cap Ferrat in the distance was splendid, the gardens a paradise for cactus and succulent lovers. You can read more about this garden on my garden blog Rock Rose
Retracing our steps back through the medieval village we took a different route marveling in the stonework.

Back at the hotel we showered and on the recommendation of our host had dinner at a small family restaurant around the corner. I had a plate of stuffed peppers and squash. Delicious.

Tuesday July 7th 2015

The hilltop village of Saint Paul de Vence forbids cars to drive in. There is some parking on the streets below and our plan was to drive up there, park and walk the village before breakfast. It was a good plan. At 8am there were no tourists. But of course there were more steps to climb. Onward and upward!

Saint Paul de Vence is clearly a high end artist colony with pieces of sculpture embedded in the rock walls. It didn't matter to us that the shops were closed. We gazed in the shop windows at the beautiful sculpture.

Finally we reached the high point in the village- the church, looking down on the immaculately kept cemetery. A lady watering the flowers was the only sign of life.

We quickly found the grave of Marc Chagall, his second wife and brother-in-law, decorated with stones and money as is the Jewish tradition. He lived in Vence and wished to be buried there instead of the Jewish cemetery in Nice. The mayor gave him part of his family plot.

What a beautifully peaceful spot for a final resting place.

We returned to the hotel for a delightful breakfast on the patio and the chance to take a few photographs of this delightful hotel.

Le Hameau breakfast area

Le Hameau rooms

Bouganvillea archway

Le Hameau pool

Ceramic tableau
I wish we could have spent a little more time there but we had a date with a bus. It was time to leave, drop the car off at the airport and pick up the bus leaving for Genoa. We were on our way to Italy. Things couldn't have been easier. David dropped me off at the airport while he returned the car. There would have been a $1000 charge to drop off the car in Italy so we had to look for alternative ways to get there. We picked up some lunch at a French cafe in the airport and walked outside to the bus area. On time our bus arrived, we handed in the pre booked tickets and found our seat for the journey to Genoa. There was Wifi on the bus so I was able to follow on Iphone maps the journey along the inland coast road, pointing out all the names of the hill-top villages. We made one stop, picking up coffee and were on our way, crossing the border into Italy and arriving at the Genoa bus station 3 hours later.

In Genoa we walked across the road to the train station where someone helped us to buy the tickets at the automatic machine. Next minute we found ourselves running to get the train to the Sestri Levante which was due to arrive any minute.  With one train change in Sestri Levante we were on the way to the town of Vernazza where we would stay for 3 nights. Using our pay-as-you-go Tesco phone, I called the owner of the B&B who said he would meet us at the station. I was relieved when John, he preferred to be called John rather than Giovanni, took my luggage. Not too difficult to wheel down the main street of Vernazza but then the 84 winding steps up through the village to the little pension would have been a different matter. The steps were worth it though because our room at La Mala overlooked the water with views of the castle to one side.
The room was furnished in a simple modern style with adjoining bathroom. There was a table with two chairs and kettle, mugs and plates along with wine glasses, small fridge and safe. Thank goodness for air conditioning. After showering we went down to the village and were lucky to be seated in one of the main restaurants in the main square. A modest fish meal.
Later that evening I discovered that I was missing my battery charger for the camera and also the wall plug to charge the phone. Fortunately I still had the cord. We could only assume that the bag with those items had slipped under the seat of the rental car.

Wednesday July 8th 2015
Breakfasts were to be taken in the village at one of two restaurants, the first being down by the harbor and the second up the main street towards the station. Being early risers there were few people around in the square, daily visitors by train and boat not yet having arrived. We found the restaurant and ordered the 'coupon' breakfast which consisted of fresh juice, coffee, panini and croissant. Today we would take the boat tour along the coast to visit the other villages. The boat stopped at 2 of the villages to the east and then returned back to Vernazza and then went on to Monterosso which is a more crowded tourist area.


We had been to the Cinque Terre some 15 years ago and had hiked part of the trails that link the villages. Today it is necessary to purchase a pass in order to hike the trail.
That evening we took a different way down to the village from our room and passing by a small bistro with outside eating we decided to try it out. Then we strolled around the village and managed to find a wall jack with a European plug. At least I would be able to use the camera phone. So all the photos from now on were taken with my iPhone.

Thursday July 9th 2015
This morning we had to take our breakfast at the other cafe on the main street because the first place was closed for the day. When we arrived we were disappointed to be told that they couldn't serve us because they were all going to a funeral and were closing. After I showed them our coupons they agreed. They served us a more modest breakfast of juice, coffee and apple cake. After which we visited the church where preparations were underway for the funeral.

We spent a little time in the square just sitting and watching the locals go about their business and then the funeral procession came out of the church and walked up the main street.

Later we saw this sign pasted on a tree and our host John told us that Luigi was a very well respected man in the community and many had attended his funeral.

We climbed part of the way to Monterosso, as far as the gate booth was, in order to capture the magnificent view looking down on the harbor of Vernazza.

Then we climbed up to the castle on the other side and picked out the place where we would have our last dinner in Vernazza.

We had been tempted earlier by the bakeries in the main village and stopped in to buy some lunch and a beer which we ate by the open window in our room.

Later in the afternoon we took the train into Monterosso in order to buy our train tickets for next day's journey to Civitavecchia. We were at the other end of the town from where we had been dropped off by the day cruise boat. The town has more of a resort feel to it with a long beach filled with chaises and umbrellas. A more popular holiday spot for beach days compared with the smaller villages along the coast.

Tickets in hand we went back for our last night in Vernazza and dinner with an amazing view of the town below. A little taste of everything that comes out of the ocean.

Friday July 10th 2015
John helped us with our luggage back up to the train station and we were on our way to Civitavecchia for the second leg of our journey. A cruise from Rome to Venice on Holland America.


For the second part of out European tour we disembarked the train from Vernazza at Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. We were to spend the night at the Hotel Borgo del Mare. We had sailed from this port before, walking from the train station to the cruise ship along the main promenade on the day of embarkation, our luggage taken by an enterprising man with a trolley. This hotel being a few kilometers away we decided to take a taxi. Easier said than done. I don't know where the taxi drivers loitering around outside the station wanted to go to but it was not to our hotel. But, after much discussion among themselves one agreed to take us for €15. Instead of turning to the right out of the station we headed off to the left, away from the port. There is no way we could have walked with our luggage. We arrived at the hotel to find a lady having an altercation with the man at the desk over the elevator not working and no air conditioning in the room. Not a good thing on such a hot day. In the Italian way he just threw his arms up in the air and said he couldn't do anything about a power failure. When we finally got to the room the only word I can use was adequate; like stepping back 50 years.

We decided to walk the 2½km into town not wanting to pay another €15 for a cab fare. There was no road along the beach which meant walking along the busy road where, in places, there was little in the way of footpath. Eventually we arrived at the promenade which was pleasant enough but deserted on such a hot afternoon. Parched we stopped at a place to get a drink and ended up spending an hour there with a young man, Adam, who was chief engineer on a private yacht. He had some stories to tell and enjoyed telling them. He wanted us to join him for dinner but I think we had had enough of his stories despite the fact that they were extremely entertaining. We continued on into town looking for  place to have an early dinner. We were out of luck as most restaurants didn't seem to open until at least 7:30pm. In the end we gave up and went back to the hotel to eat in their restaurant. That turned out to be a good choice as their food was delicious, as was their breakfast the next day.

Saturday July 11th 2015

The hotel provided a free shuttle to the dock around 11:30 am and embarkation on the Zuiderdam was very quick and we went straight to the room; 7123 on the starboard side. Lunch was served in the Lido, and we ate outside. We both chose asparagus soup and sushi. Then to the room to unpack and visit the library to pick up books, JKRowling's The Casual Vacancy after which we sat in the library and had cocktail ( We have this drinks package which was include with our fare which includes 15 drinks a day each!) Holland America has great libraries unlike many ships which have more or less done away with them due to the popularity of ebooks. Then shower before an early dinner. We no longer book fixed seating preferring the anytime dining. Scallops, Caesar salad, plaice and creme brulee which was all very good. Will need to walk around the deck 100 times tomorrow.

Outside seating on the Lido deck

 By late afternoon we were on our way to our first port of call, Messina, Sicily, passing by Stromboli on the way.

Sunday, July 12th 2016

For once we had not booked any tours with the ship having grown tired of how much time is spent getting on and off buses and eating in restaurants. We had tried to rent a car for the day but being Sunday all the rental places were closed. So, we walked into the town to explore on our own soon arriving at the Piazza del Duomo with cathedral and Campanile, which is said to house the world's largest astronomical clock. Unfortunately it only performs once a day at noon and we were still sailing into port at that time.

We visited the cathedral and walked to the high point of the town with commanding view of the port.

It was another hot day and we were glad to get back to the ship to enjoy a cold drink before dinner.

Monday July 13th 2015
The next morning we sailed into Valetta. We have added Malta to our list of most beautiful ports into which to sail. Quite magical with the ancient ramparts and honey gold buildings rising out of the water on several fingers of land.

We docked in Valetta with a plan to take local transportation to Mdina. It was an easy walk from the ship to the lift (€2 return) which takes you up to the top of the battlements and the town perched high above the water. You can see the switchback trail of the old route.

Once on the top we entered a park with the battlements with commanding view of the port.

With the help of directions from the cruise agent, we walked to the very busy bus station and waited for the bus to take us to the medieval town of Mdina close to Rabat. Thank heaven for those narrow shaded streets. Mdina is sometimes called the 'Silent City'  because no cars are allowed inside the walls. It was featured in Game of Thrones as the fictional capital city King's Landing.

On our return we planned to take another bus which was a city circular of Valetta but despite waiting for over half an hour the bus never showed up. In the end we retraced our steps to the port and took  the little ferry across the water and back.

 We had a wonderful day exploring on our own and were happy to get back to the cool of the ship.

 Tuesday July 14th 2015
 Sea day

Tomorrow the Ionian Island of Kefalonia, Greece.

Wednesday, July 15th, 2016
After disembarking in Argostoli, the capital of Kefalonia, and with the great direction from KK, the tour director, quite the best we have ever had, we walked along the promenade to First class travel where we hired a car for €60. Then set off to look for gas! Not so easy as, later we learn, most of the gas stations are on a one way street and not in the direction we are heading. After finding ourselves on a duel carriage way and passing the only gas station we have seen on the other side of the road we are thankful for a roundabout and back we go. The car came empty so we put in €15. We have no idea how far we will go.
The winding road took us along the coast. The first stop was to view some beehives on the hillside and a man selling thyme honey.

 We stopped and asked him if we could go in to get closer to the hives but he said no, even though I was willing to buy honey. I decided that they weren't even his hives and he was just taking advantage of the location.

We headed off along the coast road with Myrtos Beach in mind. "The most beautiful white beach" it certainly was but not the usual kind of silica or coral sand we are used to.

The white limestone cliffs have eroded into white 'sand' but closer to the water there were also many small white and grey smooth pebbles. Some of them were so perfectly round that they reminded me of mint imperials, an English candy.

David went for a swim. The breeze was cooling but the sun fierce. We never made it to the next spot along the coast as the winding road took forever and when we could finally see the town below we thought it would take too long to get down there.

We took the road across the  island to the fishing village of Sami and had calamari and whitebait and a couple of beers.

On the way be stopped at this pot shop and I purchased a small sun emblem for my Sun and Moon wall.

We then returned to Argostoli in search of a beach called Cost Costa which had been visited by English friends.  It was incredibly crowded and we recognized many of our fellow cruisers by their blue and white striped beach towels.

 I tried to find some shade but there was very little. Back to the ship for a cold drink, shower, dinner and show. Another great day. Tomorrow Corfu.

Thursday July 16th 2015
I had done my research ahead of time on where the ship docked and how to get the the town. Apparently the city provided a shuttle bus to town which cost just a couple of euros unlike the cruise shuttle which was much more expensive. We had to walk to the far side of the parking lot to find it and it dropped us off in the square with directions on how to find it for our return. We wandered off into the shopping streets which seem to cater mainly to tourists. Those pomegranates certainly caught my eye.

After walking around in the old part of the town we headed towards the fort, through a rather pleasant garden. We paid a few Euros to go into the old fort but there was not really much there of interest to us and the sun was beating down. We entered the Roman-Byzantine Church of St George for a little respite and to view the beautiful icons.

Then we made our way back to the designated bus stop and back to the cruise. Will this heat ever end?

Friday July 17th
Today was the day I had been looking forward to the whole trip. Dubrovnik. For years I have longed to visit that walled city and here we were sailing into the harbor passing by the walled city and that iconic view. But the ship went on further which necessitated us getting a local bus back to the gate to the old city.

Once inside we purchased the ticket for the walls. They call it walking the walls but I would really call it climbing the walls because there are many steps. We along with many others begin the climb.

The views over the city rooftops were magnificent.

But it was oh so hot! We had not seen a cloud in the sky since we left home.

It has to be hot for me to drink beer! Back outside the walls a table in the shade a couple of beers and an excellent lunch. Plus our first wifi since leaving Civitavecchia.

At the end of the passageway we found the 'hole in the wall' through which we scrambled to reach the diving rocks. Young people are so much more daring!

But for the most breathtaking views of all we took the cable car to high above the city.

Saturday July 18th 2015

Early on Friday morning we sailed into Kotor, Montenegro, down a long Fiord-like passage. Small villages dotted the water's edge. I likened it to a monopoly board. Many had what appeared to be an abandoned church high up on the hillside, a sign of life in quieter times. Many young people must have left for the cities or to live in the main towns by the water.

Fish farming

Kotor is a very picturesque walled town although much of the wall is in disrepair as it scales the mountainous terrain directly behind the small town.

 The streets are narrow and jumbled. It is easy to see why they built this way not just for tight spaces but for cooling in the summer. Today it will be 96º again. Kotor is a UNESCO world heritage site and well deserved.

Once more we were climbing steps in the shade of tall buildings.

 Our boat had docked right outside the main gate as opposed to the MSC ship, also in port, which tendered to port.

 Two cruise ships in port at the same time made for a busy old town.
We made for the market outside the walls and were not disappointed: fresh produce, olives, flowers, fish honey and cheeses. We watched the lady fishing bees from the honey combs and putting them in a jar. There were swarms of bees around the figs in particular. There were jars of those tiny wild strawberries. We grew those one year in England. I wonder if they would grow in Texas?

Most of the business in the old town was associated with tourism: cafes, jewelry, clothing and souvenirs.

There were many orthodox churches, some with frescoes and others with beautiful icons.

By 12 we were back on the ship for a cappuccino in Explorers lounge with view of city. After lunch I stayed on the ship while David scaled the old city walls.
Sailing away from Kotor we passed by a small church on an island. Legend has it that a fisherman saw a vision of Mary in the reef below the water and it became a ritual for people to go out there in their boats and drop a stone in the water. Eventually an island formed on which they built the small church.

 Sunday July 19th 2015

Our stop in Korcula was one of the most relaxing days of the tour.
There was a delightful breeze on the Lido deck at breakfast. Did we really have a mimosa for breakfast? I bet we did.

The morning was much cooler than it had been. Surprisingly there was no long wait for the tender to take us ashore but the short trip was a good reminder about what it would be like to be in the lifeboat.

 On arrival we first walked up to the outer promenade which encircles the town. A delightful stroll past small cafés under the shade of trees. Although it was Sunday everywhere seemed to be open. Then we entered the town through the main gate. Unlike all the other walled towns we have visited this one was laid out in a more regular manner with all the side streets branching off from the main Street in a fishbone-like manner.

 We zigzagged up and down each one as they became steeper and steeper before reaching the square at the top. Another day of many steps. There was a service in progress in the packed church with people kneeling on the entrance way. Following the service the priests and congregation came out in procession and walked around the church before going back inside and continuing the service.

We made our way down to the shaded promenade overlooking the water and found a seat at one of the café tables and ordered coffees.

 I think we could have sat there all day the breeze was so pleasant. In fact, we did sit there for quite a while and eventually D ordered a beer and while waiting for it to arrive went down to the water for a swim. On his return we ordered beer and a plate of marinated grilled sardines. They were small enough that the whole fish was edible. Delicious.

D went off to buy a Marco Polo T shirt. This is where Marco Polo (1254-1324)was born.

Before returning to the ship we walked out of the village and along the promenade which ran along the water's edge.

 We stopped and sat on a bench in the shade watching activity on the water before taking the tender back to the ship. Another perfect day. Tomorrow we sail for Split.

Monday July 20th 2015
Once again there was no need for us to take a tour in Split. The town itself with the imposing remains of the palace of the Roman Diocletian was laid out before us. The peristyle was a favorite place to gather but a place in the shade was not easy to find.

The peristyle

Of course the market was a big draw for us. First the vegetable and flower market.

then the fish market.

Over the years the marble used on the pavements has worn to a shine. I cannot imagine how dangerous this is in rainy weather.


Tuesday July 21st 2015
The cruise ship spent one night in Venice and we had plans for one more night on the island, in an hotel, before we left.

We have sailed into some magnificent ports in the past, among them Valetta, Istanbul, Sydney and now Venice. We are on the right side of the ship to stand on our balcony and take in the splendors of this city on the water.
Our first view of St Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace and the Bridge of Sighs.

 You can see from the map that the ship is sailing past the island and around to a cruise terminal on the far left. With little research ahead of time we had determined the best way to get into Venice. Notice the fish-shape of the islands dissected by the Grand Canal. We were soon to be experiencing a very crowded Venice and being packed in like sardines in a tin.

They have built a people mover, an above ground train, to take people from the cruise terminal to the bus station just on the island. It's only a couple of stops but I don't think you could do it on foot. It was just a short walk to the train although in the heat of the day it was quite brutal walking out in the open. A water taxi was the very expensive alternative. Exiting at the bus station it was a short walk over the bridge at the far end of the Grand Canal. We were on a mission to find our hotel and see if it would be feasible to walk there with our luggage.

They don't make it easy. This is the bridge with multiple steps and no way to pull luggage. It would have to be carried. We saw one or two porters and decided we would try to do that the next day. On the other side it was a short walk past the train station, (we would be taking a train from there to Milan in two days) and we found our hotel just a few hundred yards from there and very convenient; The Hotel Continental. We decided the trip was manageable saving at least €85. We now went to buy a 2 day pass for the vaporetto which is the cheaper mode of transport for getting up and down the Grand canal. Time to go and explore before going back to the ship for our last night on board. We took the vaporetto all the way around, back towards the terminal and following the route the cruise ship had taken coming in. We had no idea where it was going but it eventually came to the end of the route at Lido Island. Like people say you can't get lost in Venice!
The canals were humming with all manner of water transportation. Although it didn't seem to us that there were rules of the canal we didn't see any accidents.

 More on that later. We alighted, walked around a little and then got back on the next vaporetto which was going to St Mark's.

Bridge of Sighs
Turning into the square we waited in the line to go into the Cathedral only to be turned away as the clock struck 5pm. Closing time. Ah! well. Time to go back for our last night on board the ship. Tomorrow starts the third segment of our travel. Venice-Milan- Zurich.

Wednesday July 22nd.
We left the cruise ship early in the morning confident that we would find a porter to take our bags, from the terminus of the people mover, to our hotel. Not a porter in sight. And so we set off towards the dreaded bridge.

With the bus station on one side and the train station on the other wouldn't you think they would have been more thoughtful of people with luggage. It was bumpity bump all he way up and down. The only place there was a smooth section was on the top of the bridge.  The good news was we didn't have to go back because next day we were taking a train.

The first thing to do was to drop our luggage off at the Hotel Continental and then head for the markets.

 I don't know what it is about foreign markets. Is their produce better than ours? Is it because the market is outdoors which gives the feeling of greater freshness? The markets are always accompanied by the smell that I remember from childhood of going into greengrocer's shop. All they sold was fresh vegetables and fruit and the shop had a certain smell. The only time I get that smell here is when I walk into the vegetable section of Whole Foods and I have remarked on that many times. Is it memories of childhood that I am envoking? Whatever the reason we always head to markets when we travel.

Would we buy octopus and scallops if we lived here? Probably not, but they certainly photograph well.

Then we took one of the traghettos that ferry you across the canal for a couple of euros. We had plans to walk the narrow alleys (calle) and check out the little squares ( campi). A friend told us we couldn't get lost in Venice. I can tell you it is all too easy to lose your sense of direction. I remember a similar situation in Sienna. This time the temperature was a heck of a lot hotter as we searched for the way to St Marks Square.

Lost but still smiling

We needed refreshment.

We spent the afternoon with a quick tour of the cathedral followed by the Doges Palace.

 It was wonderful to get inside away from the crowds and the heat but those dungeons had me longing to get back outside. At one point I thought we were lost as we went round and round past cells, iron gates. It was like being in a maze and I don't do mazes well.

What crime had they committed that warranted these kind of iron bars.

 No one was ever getting out of the prison and they knew it as they passed over the bridge named for the great sigh they gave as they saw one last look of the outside world.

I gave a sigh myself as we finally found ourselves outside again.

It had been a long day of touring and we were glad to get back and get into our room at the Hotel Continental; a little dated and no elevator once again, but at least we were on the first floor.  We had a nice dinner at a trattoria and turned in for the night. The next day we had a reservation on the train to Milan.

Thursday July 23rd 2015

Breakfast at the Hotel Continental on the Grand Canal
 We may not have had a view from our bedroom window at the hotel but when it came to breakfast we had a table outside right on the Grand Canal. It felt so European to be served an individual jug of fresh coffee and hot milk. It was going to be another hot day in Venice and the proximity to water makes it seem even more so. My advice to anyone would be to visit anytime but on the summer not only because of the possible heat but mainly because of the crowds.
After packing our bags and checking out we headed off to the station. I had told David we needed to book our seats on the train to Milan because of anticipated crowds for the World Fair. It was not necessary. There was plenty of room and we settled down for the ride to Milan. They even served snacks.

We were staying at the Hilton close to the railway station mainly because we were going to be taking trips out every day by train. We took a taxi from the station but that was the last time we would do that. The station was within easy walking distance even with luggage. We checked in and then took off to visit Milan Cathedral and the Galleria.

The cathedral is impressive. In the bright afternoon sun the marble is almost blinding. Work began on the Duomo di Milano in 1386 and work is never finished as we were to find out the following night when we had a tour of the roof. For now we marveled at the interior. The central nave is 45 meters high with 4 side aisles, transcept, choir stalls and apse. There are 40 pillars dividing the nave.

The cathedral has elicited some strong criticism from the likes of Oscar Wilde when he said "The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic." and John Ruskin who said  it had taken "from every style in the world: and every style spoiled."
Personally I prefer Mark Twain's view "What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! "

Saint Bartholomew

From the Cathedral we walked to the Galleria, the oldest shopping center in the world with its domed glass archways.

We then ventured on the subway back to the hotel. As I waited for David to finish showering I was searching for somewhere to have dinner close by the hotel because we had an early start in the morning. This is what I found.

The restaurant was just across the road from the hotel and had a good write up on Trip Advisor. Forget the graffiti they said. You'll love this family Trattoria. No tourists were in the restaurant just locals and the owner Ricardo was busy keeping a watchful eye over everyone. We had a delicious meal starting with my favorite calamari.

Calamari- my favorite
  Friday July 24th 2015

Our Hilton stay included a buffet-style breakfast which catered to all nationalities. We then walked to the railway station to take the train to Lake Como.

The train would take us to the town of Como after which we would board a ferry to Bellagio.

It was a grey day, spitting with rain, and as we boarded the ferry we had to decide whether to sit up top and really see views of the lakeside. We did. You can see there weren't many takers.

As we chugged down the lake we had wonderful views of all the villas along the lakeside. I wondered which one belonged to George Clooney.

We stopped at several places along the way finally arriving at Bellagio, sometimes called 'Pearl of the Lake' As we stepped off the ferry the sun had finally broken through the clouds.

 Ahead of us was the Hotel du Lac. Surely this was the hotel featured in the BBC production of the Booker Prize winning book of the same name, starring the lovely Denholm Elliot and Anna Massey. But it wasn't, I was later to discover. There are tens of Hotel du Lacs and the one featured in the book was on Lake Geneva.
But we did stop in there and ordered delicious fruit smoothies before leaving to explore the village with its cobbled, steep streets rising from the lake and its century old buildings.

As we walked along the upper levels it was no surprise to find the Rothchilds had a villa there. Returning down to the lake we walked along the gardens which border the lake with their stunning oleanders in full bloom.

Then it was time to take a ferry along the other arm of the lake to Lecco where we would catch the train back to Milan. We had booked a tour to go up onto the roof of the cathedral, and walk among the spires, at 5:30pm.
I had booked the tour on line although we didn't have to pay until we got there. In all there were only about 8 of us on the tour, just a nice number. Our guide arrived and took us up the elevator to the roof. You can walk up but I think it is of value to take the tour which meant access to the elevator. Our guide was very knowledgeable and I felt it was worthwhile to pay the extra to learn more about the wonderful carvings and the history. It really was magnificent. Here are just a few of the photos I took. Work on the carvings is an ongoing process as weather pollution and time take their toll on the soft marble. Many of the carvings are surprisingly modern- a tennis racquet and a frog!

This tour should be on everyone's list of things to do in Milan.
Back at the hotel we were feeling pretty weary after our long day and decided a return visit to the Il Cherchio was in order. We were welcomed once again by Ricardo and our same waiter Ricardino. And so to bed.

Saturday July 25th 2015

We were back to the railways station early next morning for our trip to Lake Maggiore.

Milan railway station

Although the train went on to Stresa we only took the train as far as Arona and then boarded one of the many lake ferries which would take us to Stresa. It was a great day for being out on the water.
We were able to sit up top and enjoy the sights of many towns and villas as we sailed by.

It had been in our plans to take another ferry to the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso. Unfortunately, when we got to Stresa we discovered it closed from 12pm-2pm which meant that the next ferry would arrive just as it was closing. Instead, we decided to take the ferry to Isola Bella.

I didn't know this was going to be a garden tour!

We made our way from the very busy village towards the palace. Construction on the barren rocky island began in 1630 by Carlo III Borromeo. The plan was a palace and a casino ( building for pleasure, music and dancing) on the higher part of the island. The island would resemble a ship although to me it looked like a wedding cake. At various times construction was halted and was taken up by Carlo's sons. Changes to the original plans included the creation of the gardens. Entry included a tour of the palace and there was no way to do the garden alone. We paid our entry fee and I bought a garden guide.

For me the tour of the house was going to be a means to an end! I do have to admit that I am glad I saw the palace if only for its sheer display of opulence. Photos were prohibited but I did manage to sneak one or two.

Plans for the great Borromeo Palace
Rooms filled with paintings with not an inch of wall space are not really my cup of tea. I was more interested in the views from the window, some of which looked down over the gardens. The doors were wide open on one of the coolest days we had experienced in the whole 3 weeks we had been away.

View of lake Maggiore 

I puzzled for some time as to what was written in this floral display on the lawn until I realized it was the Borromeo motto, 'Humility'

 I could barely wait to get outside. I knew we were getting closer when we entered into the grottoes which connect the house to the garden. The rooms, of which there are six, took 100 years to complete starting in 1685. The walls and floors are covered with small pebbles and pieces of limestone creating intricate patterns of a nautical nature. It was a cool place for the family to spend time in the summer.

When the English did their grand tours of Europe they brought many ideas home including the idea of having a grotto in their garden plans. The word has a rather interesting origin being derived from the word Grottesche or grotesque. When Nero's Domus Aurea was discovered in 15C. having been buried for hundreds of years, they found decorations, which consisted of intricate arches of carved stone to resemble leaves, garlands and animals. In this underworld setting everything seemed otherworldly and was given the name Grottesche. At Isola Bella these were no grotty grottoes!

The entrance from the grottoes to the garden was barred forcing us to climb back up a stone circular staircase to make a grand entrance from the house into Diana's atrium.

Diana's Atrium
 From this polygonal courtyard two flights of stairs branched from either side, leading up to a further set of steps and a large iron gate. Fig ivy covered the walls. I have decided that Europe is determined to keep everyone fit by having them walk hundreds of steps everyday.

I had no idea what to expect at the top of the steps. It was not this.

Baroque at its best, this Teatro is ornamented with statues sculpted by Carlo Simonetta. On the very top is a statue of a unicorn, the coat of arms of the Borromeo family, and ridden by an amorino representing "honour" Steps on either side of the teatro lead up to a large rectangular terrace with views overlooking the 9 tiered terraces leading down to the lake.

Ornamentation with pebbles and shell carvings.

Views of the lake from all directions.

This tower, which now serves as a cafe once held a hydraulic pump to feed fountains and gardens with water from the lake.

Terraced gardens which once held citrus are filled with roses and azaleas.

Ah! The greenhouses. I knew we would find them somewhere.

Once again the interior decorated with pebbles and limestone and now holding collections of bromeliads, orchids and other tropical plants.

There are plenty of plants to be seen in the garden and sometimes they manage to distract you from the view, although in the higher sections of the garden it is hard not to look towards the lake.

 Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William, who visited here sometime in the early 1800s, called the garden "The peak of absurdity, a garden not of flowers but of stone." 200 years ago it may have been just that. Today there may have been enough plants to satisfy her. It makes me wonder what she would have thought of my garden!
This is my first visit to an Italian Garden. I hope it won't be the last. It isn't hard to see why people flock to the lakes in the summer. The air is so much cooler and fresher than in the cities.
We returned to Milan and guess where we went for dinner? Of course, and by the time we left we were giving hugs to Ricardo and Ricardino.

Sunday July 26th 2015

We had one more thing to do before leaving for Zurich and that was a visit to the Cimitero Monumentale de Milano. It came highly recommended for its sculpture. How did we get there? We walked from the hotel passing by Il Cherchio. Now I ask you would you even think about going to this restaurant if you saw it during the day......all boarded up with all that graffiti. You would be wrong. I am so glad that someone in Trip Advisor warned us to ignore the graffiti.

It was an interesting walk, taking us through residential areas past this apartment tower where everyone's balcony was planted. Wonderful.

To the grand entrance to Milan Cemetery. By the way, closed on Mondays.

I had picked up a plan of the cemetery with all the main sculptures highlighted, at the visitor center at the galleria, but they were available at the office inside the grounds.

I think that you probably get the picture from these pictures that among the wealthy Milanese there was a little bit of one upmanship. You can read more about the cemetery as well as location of some of the more important monuments at Milano Walk Around.

We retraced our steps back to the hotel in order to check out and take one last walk to the station.....this time with luggage. We were on our way to Zurich