Taking the slow road to Cyprus – Omnibus Edition…

Dover Beach

Dover Beach (Photo credit: kyteacher)

Drawing the line and starting again

Posted on April 6, 2012

Welcome to Marilyn & Alf’s new blog.

We plan to live in Cyprus and travel extensively. Our first adventure will be getting to Cyprus by car!

April 28 2012, we shall be taking the Channel ferry from Dover to Dunkirk in France, and then spending a couple of days in Brugge, Belgium. We shall then head for Prague, spending two nights in Frankfurt. After Prague, we plan to visit Vienna, Bratislava,  Budapest,   Zagreb, Venice, Florence and the Amalfi coast, before taking a six-day cargo-cruise from Salerno, Italy to Limassol, Cyprus. The cargo-cruise will take our car as well as Marilyn and myself as passengers. We hope to arrive in Limassol June 8.

Well, that’s the plan anyway!

 

The reality of a new dawn and a farewell to Bath, UK

Posted on April 24, 2012

It’s 5.00 A.M., so what’s different this morning when I wake up in my home in Bath, where we have had many wonderful memories over the last twenty years?

Firstly, I woke up early because I was sleeping on an air-bed that seemed to have lost some air during the night.

Secondly, I wondered into an empty house and remembered that yesterday we had the removers take our personal possessions into store. Despite the rain, it went pretty well and our possessions of twenty years plus just shoe-horned into the removal lorry. There was one moment of panic when we realized that some medication had found its way on to the lorry in a dressing table drawer, so the guys were great about a quick unload in the rain!

Thirdly, I am drinking my tea sitting on the floor, laptop on my lap and listening to the familiar sound of the birds’ dawn chorus outside.

Fourthly, I am reflecting on some great memories over the last twenty years in Bath. Yesterday, after the events of the day, we stopped at the Crown in Kelston, for a pint of bitter. I wonder when I shall next taste a good pint of ale?

Fifthly, I realize that the four-day count-down to our departure has begun. Saturday, we take the 6.00 A.M. Dover ferry to the adventure of our lives.

Back to reality, my tea is getting cold and chores beckon..

Reflections on hard floors at 5.00 A.M – Departure Minus Three Days

Posted on April 25, 2012

This morning I was awoken by the rain and wind – this is in addition to an air-bed that has decided to sag a bit in the night!

Like yesterday, I grabbed my lap-top and wandered through an empty house, suggesting to Marilyn that she should go back to sleep for a bit.

I made a cup of tea and contemplated where to sit. Let me remind the reader, the house is completely bare except for some clothes and few bits that are going travelling with us. There is a ledge in the lounge which supported the TV (now in store) but it’s a bit “parky” in there at the moment.

Yesterday, I parked myself in my study on the floor on the carpet. However, yesterday, we had the carpets cleaned and treated with a moth repellent, so I decided that I’d give the carpets a miss this morning.

Here I am now parked on a hard floor in the kitchen, tea to hand and lap-top on my lap.

I am sitting looking at the rain on the window pane, wondering when I am going to cut the grass?

My mind was rolling over the tasks planned for the next few days and I rolled forward to Saturday morning when we take the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk at 6.00 A.M. I was trying to focus on other ferry trips to France. Two memories came to mind.

The first memory was when Marilyn and I went Summer skiing, thirty years ago this August (that’s another story). Anyway, as soon as we left Dover, we made a pact to stop smoking and tossed our remaining cigarettes into the sea. Thirty years later, we are still non-smokers. Next January we shall have been married for thirty years – I am not sure where we’ll be for our anniversary, perhaps Malaysia?

The second memory was when we were living in Paris in the eighties and we frequently took an evening ferry from Dover. Normally, we would arrive in Calais late at night and have a clear road to Paris. Unfortunately, there was this one time, when we arrived in Calais and it was fog-bound, so were forced to find a hotel for the night. When we got to the room, it was 2.00 AM but we were extremely suspicious about the cleanliness of the bed linen – so we collapsed into a disturbed sleep fully clothed, on top of towels with winter coats on top!

We were describing our Calais hotel experience to Debbie our Bath next door neighbour over a glass of wine and the conversation switched to bed-bugs. Debbie told us of the time when she was on a charity related visit to Uganda. She told us that the charity issued body liners for sleeping bags or for use under nets that kept the bugs out.

Thinking about where I might find the body covering net pyjamas, my mind drifted to my local camping shop and that I needed to pick up a can of water-repellent spray for the seams on my waterproof jacket.

Returning to now – the floor is getting harder, the birds are singing more loudly outside and the rain seems to be easing, so I suppose that I had better shift a gear and start moving…

The eye of the storm – Departure -1

Posted on April 27, 2012

It’s 4.50 AM. We’re both up. The tea is brewing, so time for a very quick blog.

It feels like the eye of the storm.

Zero is when we leave the UK, in twenty-six hours.

Today is minus one, the day when we leave Bath after twenty years.

We have six hours to pack, load the car, put the air-bed in the loft, go to the tip and say goodbye to our neighbours.

I didn’t find the time to download the latest software patch for my GPS but I suppose that it will find Dover OK.

Now it’s time for tea…

Brugge is beautiful even in the rain!

Posted on April 28, 2012

Well, we finally got away from Bath about noon on Friday. The last few hours were fairly hectic. I had planned the packing of the car carefully and quietly started loading the car from about 8.00 A.M. About 10.00 AM, suddenly a few extra bags appeared at the front door which really livened up the next couple of hours! This was after a trip to the municipal tip, plus about half a dozen bags going up in the loft for store. I had thought we had emptied the house days earlier!

Anyway, we left Bath in the rain and the journey to Dover was pretty slow with rain most of the way, plus the usual Friday afternoon delays on the M25. We had packed a large variety of CDs, so we enjoyed the music anyway. We eventually got to Dover about 5.00PM, after a couple of stops and were amazed at the sunshine in Dover. After checking in our hotel, we went for a walk by the sea in the late afternoon sunshine which was lovely.

Saturday morning, the staggered alarms on my iPhone were highly effective in waking us at 4.00 AM. Our ferry to Dunkirk, France was fairly uneventful – it was raining for most of the trip.

I had a moment of panic when my GPS started playing up a bit getting out of the Dunkirk port. There was a major accident on the highway and lots of diversions once we had crossed into Belgium – so we saw plenty of Belgian villages – that brought back memories but I’ll save that story for another day. There was one really lively moment, when the GPS tried to take us down a cycle path – one cyclist just looked at us in amazement, probably thinking:

It’s true – all the English really are mad!

We eventually got to Brugge, Belgium about 1100 and managed to organize an early check-in our hotel. The rest of the afternoon we spent sightseeing in Brugge in the rain. Brugge is really beautiful, even in the rain!

The most photographed dog in Brugge

Posted on April 29, 2012

So the rain stopped and the sun came out on Sunday, along with thousands of tourists of every nationality.

What really caught our attention was a dog sunbathing in a window overlooking a canal and taking a disinterested view of the tourists, especially those roaring past in speed boats. For the tourists, of course, the dog was an extremely photogenic opportunity.

May Day in Frankfurt on Main

Posted on May 2, 2012

Today we shall be leaving Frankfurt, Germany, after two really relaxing days.

It took about five hours to reach Frankfurt from Brugge but another hour to locate where we were staying which turned out to be worth the effort. Our hotel was overlooking the river, and is a popular spot for local people – it’s also famous for being where Goethe courted his sweetheart.

Yesterday, we wandered along the river and spent the day in the renovated old quarter which is very beautiful – otherwise the architecture is quite modern. We saw many huge barges pass along the River Maine, including state-of-the art river cruise ships. It was May 1 yesterday, so shops and museums were unfortunately closed.

For us people watching in Frankfurt became an interesting distraction. It’s important to mention that temperatures were approaching 30 degrees Celsius in the sun. Everywhere we saw joggers, cyclists, skaters, or families out with the children and the dogs. Everybody seemed to be having fun, in a simple natural way. Restaurants were busy and whilst we saw many people drinking beer, there was no evidence of drunkenness.

If you happen to be travelling from Brugge to Prague by car, Frankfurt is about half way and is well worth visiting.

Prague update – recommended the goulash and dumplings to three French tourists from Lille

Posted on May 2, 2012

This evening we had dinner in an authentic restaurant in Prague, the prices were incredibly good value, especially compared to Frankfurt which is reported to be one of the most expensive cities in Germany.

To digress a bit, last night Marilyn couldn’t stop laughing at my choice of dinner in Frankfurt – a local Frankfurt delicacy – boiled potatoeshard-boiled eggs and a sauce made of seven plus herbs – I can now understand why it didn’t get national or international recognition

Returning to Prague, we chose local specialities this evening, including pickled fish to start, washed down with a half a litre of the local brew, with goulash and two sorts of dumplings to follow! We got into conversation with three people on the next table – they were from Lille, France and they took up our recommendations.

Afterwards, we started to walk around the old part of Prague to get our bearings, as this is our first time in Prague.

It has been a long day. First thing this morning, we had to get a puncture fixed in Frankfurt – we are certainly glad that it happened in Frankfurt – our hotel insisted on somebody helping change the wheel and sending a member of staff with us to the tyre shop – German hospitality can really be exceptional!  We finally left Frankfurt about eleven this morning and stopped just east of Nuremberg for a coffee and a sandwich before heading each for Prague. The five-hour drive from Frankfurt to Prague was pretty uneventful except for the GPS playing up a bit – it kept on trying to suggest off-road options to bypass the autobahn repairs.

The other thing to mention about Prague is that it’s really hot and pretty humid, with many people wandering round in shorts, T-shirts and sandals – all a far cry from our fleeces and waterproofs in Brugge on Saturday.

The Amazing Astronomical Clock Prague 

Posted on May 4, 2012

Yesterday we saw the Prague Astronomical Clock which is a truly amazing site. On the hour it attracts huge numbers of visitors with its own special show. Check out the following video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzNyws81oxs

End of a great day in Prague – a Gershwin concert in the Spanish Synagogue followed by pizza

Posted on May 4, 2012

Following our first full day in Prague, we went to an excellent Gershwin concert in the famous Spanish Synagogue.

The concert included a number of old favourites like:

The Spanish Synagogue was built in 1868 on the site of the Prague Jewish house of prayer (“the Old Shul“). It was designed in a Moorish style with a large dome surrounding the central space, with amazing stained glass windows. The interior decoration features stylized Islamic motifs which are applied to the walls, door and the gallery.

Prior to the concert we got into a lively discussion, swapping travel tales, with a couple of New Yorkers, now living in Colorado – they gave us some tips for avoiding altitude sickness (for another adventure).

Finally, we rounded the evening off with some excellent pizza, washed down with a couple of glasses of red wine – can’t take any more goulash and dumplings, washed down with beer!

Taking to your feet in Prague – the Paris of the East

Posted on May 5, 2012

As soon as we started strolling around Wenceslas Square, home to the historical Velvet Revolution of 1989, it was easy to see why Prague has so often been described as the Paris of the East. Our first full day in Prague included hours and hours of walking the cobble-stoned streets.

We had a wonderful day just being tourists in Prague.

We joined a small tour with an excellent Ukrainian guide and a small group of English speakers: an English couple from Essex, two Dutch sisters’ in law, one now living in Sydney Australia and the other in Antwerp, plus an Israeli couple. The tour lasted six hours and was in the main on foot but also included a very interesting boat trip to Prague’s Little Venice.

We covered the four major visitor attractions of Prague:

The Prague Castle was stunning in its, size, beauty and variety. We saw in addition to the castle: Vitus Cathedral, Strahov Monastery, Castle gardens, breathtaking views and a number of other attractions. The castle is the most important touristic attraction in Prague.

We were absolutely amazed by the Jewish Quarter, with its thousand years of Jewish history (the second most important touristic attraction in Prague), which we intended to visit again but in more detail. Key highlights of the Jewish Quarter are now part of the Jewish Museum, including the Old New Synagogue (the World’s oldest synagogue outside Israel) , the  Old Jewish Cemetary (with twelve layers of bodies), the former Jewish Town HallPinkas Synagogue (memorial to 80,000 Holocaust victims from Bohemia and Moravia), Maisel Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue. Also this area includes Franz Kafka House, home of the celebrated Jewish author. It was interesting to learn more about Franz Kafka, one of the twentieth century’s most famous authors, for example, Kafka is now compulsory reading in German schools.

We were astonished at the size of the Old Town Area of Prague and how it had not been damaged in World War Two. Key attractions included the Old Town SquareAstronomical Clock and many other historical buildings.

For us, the Lesser Town Area was also quite exceptional. It was interesting to see the famous Lennon wall, with its graffiti which was so much of an irritant to the former Communist regime. However, one of the most important memories of the day will always be walking across the famous Charles Bridge (pedestrians only) – the bridge was completed in 1401 – at the time of its completion, it was one of the wonders of the World.

Why the Jewish Museum Prague is the most visited Jewish museum in the world and the most visited museum in Prague

Posted on May 5, 2012

In our second full day in Prague, we concentrated on the Jewish Museum. We bought a ticket that included an English-speaking guide. Amazingly we were a group of two with our own dedicated guide who was extremely knowledgeable.

Overall, we were very moved by Josefov (the Jewish Quarter), with its thousand years of Jewish history. Key highlights of the Jewish Quarter are now part of the Jewish Museum,  including the Old New Synagogue (the World’s oldest synagogue outside Israel), the Old Jewish Cemetary (with twelve layers of bodies), the former Jewish Town HallPinkas Synagogue (memorial to 80,000 Holocaust victims from Bohemia and Moravia), Maisel Synagogue, and the Spanish Synagogue. Also this area includes Franz Kafka House, home of the celebrated Jewish author.

Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and shared an overview of Jewish history in Prague over a thousand-year period but it was very much a lottery depending upon the century. The golden age was probably four hundred years ago, represented  by Mordechai Maisel who funded the extensive Renaissance reconstruction of the ghetto and the building of the Maisel Synagogue in 1590-92. Other centuries were dominated by anti-Semitism – for example, some five hundred years ago, a sizeable number of Jewish people were forced to leave Prague to settle in Poland, Russia and neighbouring countries. A second golden age was probably the nineteenth century in which the Spanish Synagogue was completed in 1868 – this is probably one of the most beautiful synagogues in Europe. The twentieth century, of course, contained the Nazi period  and now the Pinkas Synagogue is a permanent memorial to the 80,000 Holocaust victims from Bohemia and Moravia.

The museum holds one of the most extensive collections of Judaic art in the world, containing some 40,000 exhibits and 100,000 books, providing a comprehensive picture of the life and history of Jews in this region. It was quite moving to see examples of yellow hats or neck-collars that the Jews were forced to wear over the centuries in Prague.

We also learned about Franz Kafka, the German-speaking Jewish author from Prague who became one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated authors. Kafka died prior to the War because of ill-health but his two sisters perished in a concentration camp. We were told that Kafka foresaw the Holocaust in his writing, and was thinking about emigrating to Palestine before his death.

According to the Jewish Museum in Prague:

 This is the most visited Jewish museum in the world, and the most visited museum of any kind in Prague. In part, this is due to the large numbers of tourists visiting the Czech capital, but it is also because alone amongst the vast areas of Europe occupied by the Nazis (and later by the Communists), many of the buildings in Prague’s old Jewish ghetto were allowed to stand.

 Elsewhere the Nazis systematically destroyed and burned synagogues and other Jewish buildings. But, the story goes, the Nazis chose to leave Prague’s Jewish quarter intact so that once their aim of murdering every Jew was complete, the Prague Jewish museum would be turned in a macabre “Museum of an extinct race”. 

Marilyn and Alf arrive in Vienna to thunder and lightning – what a welcome!

Posted on May 6, 2012

We’ve arrived in Vienna, Austria and just got settled before the heavens opened – thunder and lightning followed – what a reception!

The four-hour road journey from Prague was fairly uneventful. Leaving Prague, we saw lots of Communist era high rises, which were pretty ugly – just like this sort of building anywhere. The toll paying motorway from Prague to Brno was pretty bad in places – we regretted not changing my tyre pressures from German autobahn settings.

As we crossed the border from the Czech Republic into Austria the traffic was very slow through a number of small villages, eventually leading to the motorway. We stopped at the first services to buy the sticker for using the Austrian motorway and the young man said “welcome to Austria” which was pretty nice.

Driving around Vienna for the first time was a bit hairy and we were grateful that we had downloaded the latest patches for my GPS.

Time to explore Vienna in the rain….

A very special day for Marilyn and Alf in Vienna

Posted on May 8, 2012

Being first time visitors to Vienna, this blog picks up some our highlights on our first day. The day starts slowly and builds to its climax.

We headed off for the U-Bahn (underground railway) and purchased a pass then spent half the day on the excellent on/off tour buses, taking in the major sites of Vienna and getting our bearings.

Lunch was a very special bowl of soup at the legendary Cafe Mozart, which is behind the beautiful Opera House. It was at Cafe Mozart where author Graham Green wrote the Third Man, which later became a major film success. Looking around Cafe Mozart reminded us that Vienna was the spy capital of the world in the Communist era.

The pinnacle of the day was an evening listening to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Golden Hall (Großer Musikvereinssaal)

 The famous Großer Musikvereinssaal is widely-known as the best and most beautiful concert hall in the world. Moreover, the Musikverein is home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the venue where its annual New Year’s Day Concert takes place.

Here are some excellent photos of the Großer Musikvereinssaal :

großer musikvereinssaal

Mozart, Strauss and Schnitzel?

Posted on May 9, 2012

On Monday evening, we heard the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra playing at home, at the Musikverein , a truly wonderful concert, including Salieri, Hayden and Schubert, conducted by Riccardo Muti, in probably the best and most beautiful concert hall in the World – The Vienna Musikverein. This was truly, a real night to remember.

Yesterday we visited the Schonbrunn Palace and gardens and had a wonderful day wandering around the private apartments and the manicured gardens in brilliant sunshine. It was interesting that the emperor, when he was at home with the family, preferred Austrian food, like a Wiener Schnitzel or Goulash soup, leaving French cuisine for state occasions.

Today we visited the Jewish Museum, Vienna, and found that very moving and heart rendering. We then visited the mighty St Stevens Cathedral, dating back to the late gothic period.

This evening, we went to hear the Vienna Residence Orchestra, playing Mozart and Strauss at the historic Palais Auersperg. This was followed with a couple of excellent pizzas at the local Italian which was mobbed, with everybody sitting outside on a balmy Vienna evening!

On the way home Marilyn commented to Alf:

I really, really, like Vienna! Perhaps we can come back some time?

Watch this space…..

Sad to say farewell to Vienna

Posted on May 11, 2012

Today we must leave Vienna for Bratislava and end our wonderful five-day introduction to Vienna.

Yesterday, we strolled into the City Centre and stopped for some photos of the Austrian Parliament but this soon gave way to further internal exploration. We were able to join an organized tour of the Parliament and found it extremely interesting. The building itself is quite stunning in traditional Greek style, with extensive marble pillars, statues and carvings. We shall post some photos in a later blog. The irony was not lost on Greek democracy being currently challenged by conservative EU economic policies from Germany and Austria.

After the Austrian Parliament, we crossed the inner ring road and entered the Hofburg Imperial Palace. We initially spent some time strolling round the magnificent gardens and it was amazing how the buzz of the traffic soon subsided.

It’s easily possible to spend days in the Hofburg (in effect, a city within a city), so we settled on the audio tour of the living quarters and the silver and porcelain collection  consisting of early Meissen, Herend, Minton, Sevres and, of course, Vienna porcelain, plus many other early factories. The Hofburg is full is priceless works of art, including furniture, tapestries, and, of course, countless paintings. This was so amazing that we diverted the rest of the day. If you visit Vienna, it’s well worth allowing a full day for the Hofburg but be prepared for it to be very crowded in places.

After the Hofburg, we stopped for a drink at one of the lovely city centre cafes and  did some people watching before catching the metro a few stops back to where we were staying in Josephstradt,  a trendy area with lots of cafes, restaurants, and even Vienna’s famous Town Hall.

Yesterday, we had seen both the Hapsburg dynasty at the Hofburg Palace and the modern Austrian Parliament – we were able to reflect on six hundred years of Austrian history.

Sadly, it’s time to pack and move-on but we are already tentatively talking about coming back to Vienna…..

Vienna to Bratislava

Posted on May 12, 2012

After a short drive of only one and half hours, we arrived in Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia.  A small but very quaint old town,  where everything seems to happen around the old town square. Cafe after cafe, restaurant after restaurant, bar after bar. There are also some quite up market shops, along with the usual souvenir shops. The old town square is steeped in history, going back some 700 years. Famous musicians and composers such as Franz Listz, Mozart, Beethoven and Hayden all played here at some time in their careers.  The dominant feature is the castle in the hills, this overlooks the old town square. So overall it offered a very pretty setting.

The temperature when we left Vienna was 28 degrees, and we noticed the difference in Bratislava where it was much hotter, especially in the sun.

We are off for a hike today in the hills, but have been warned that the weather is due to change for the worse, so fingers crossed and watch this space!

A hike and lunch in Bratislava forest

Posted on May 12, 2012

Well, today we had a very nice walk in the forest for about three hours, the sun was shining through the trees and there was that wonderful smell of fresh forest air and a slight breeze that was wafting the scent of the forest our way. There were families out with their children and dogs and it seemed like a very popular spot.

Then at about 1.30, the sky started to change from blue to grey and then from grey to dark grey and then black and we all know what happened next.

As it is Alf’s birthday today, we thought it would be a good opportunity on a wet day to have a nice lunch and wait for the rain to stop. We don’t only eat lunch on Alf’s birthday  . We went into a traditional Slovak mountain ski lodge that turned out to be a really good restaurant and had an excellent meal, with some suitable refreshment for Alf’s birthday.

After the rain had stopped, we got on the trolley-bus back to the town centre and the short walk to our hotel. By this time, the temperature had dropped about ten degrees, we got off  the bus to walk the rest of the journey and  we could see local people looking at Alf in amazement – he was wearing shorts and a t/shirt and you could hear them thinking “another mad Englishman!”.

Germany Vs. Taiwan in Bratislava

Posted on May 14, 2012

Yesterday morning, we made a special effort to have an early breakfast to avoid the two groups that we had spotted the previous evening. Well actually, they were hard to miss, one large group of elderly Germans, and the second, a slightly larger group of similarly aged, Taiwanese Chinese. The Chinese were a really lively bunch and a lot of fun, so they easily contrasted with the Germans. The Chinese were full of characters, including the man in the face mask sitting in the hotel lounge – he wasn’t taking any chances!

Well to our horror, the two groups got to breakfast before us. I couldn’t see the masked man but perhaps he needed to remove his mask to eat? Anyway, roles seemed to be reversed with elderly German ladies taking precedence. There was one lady who was picking her favourites out of the fruit salad, totally ignoring the large group of people behind her – we couldn’t really say it was a queue, a bit of a free for all…

Anyway, we soon put breakfast behind us and left a surprisingly cold Bratislava for Budapest. We got the directions wrong and crossed the Danube a couple of extra times but it was a lovely view, anyway….

Goulash and Liszt – Budapest

Posted on May 15, 2012

Yesterday, we spent many hours sitting outside on the open-topped tourist buses seeing the sites of Budapest. The hop-on/hop-off buses are excellent value, with audio commentary in more than a dozen languages – when there is no commentary, its non-stop Liszt Hungarian rhapsodies. It was cold and wet – temperatures had dropped nearly twenty degrees in two days. By the time we got off the bus in the castle area of Buda, we were seriously cold. This was a call for authentic Goulash soup!

We saw a board that read “special of the day, goulash soup and paprika chicken” and that was exactly what the doctor ordered.   It was amazing, the goulash and chicken paprika sign was bringing in an assortment of tourists, including Germans, Japanese, French and ourselves. Our ears pricked up when we heard “Arf bot and goulash”. It was the French couple struggling to order a half bottle of wine and the daily special. The food was excellent and incredibly inexpensive – we were now fortified!

We headed back out into the rain, looked around the amazing castle and stunning panoramic views of the city, checking out many antique shops to get out of the rain. We continued our tour back to Pest and late afternoon went for a boat trip on the Danube. We walked home in the rain, stopping in a delightful piano bar in the Broadway type neighbourhood about 7.00PM.

We returned to our hotel for a couple of hours then about 9.30 PM went back out into the rain, in search of a restaurant. Near the Broadway type area, on the East side of Andrassy we spotted a charming trendy bistro. We were lucky to get a table because the place was full. We settled on some excellent tapas dishes and local white wine. If you happen to be in Budapest, we thoroughly recommend this bistro called Ket Szerecsen – the atmosphere is great, the food is excellent and the prices are amazing value.

Dining out in Budapest

Posted on May 16, 2012

We have been joking about being on the Schnitzel or Goulash trail for weeks but Budapest is really rather special. It is easy to find modern, trendy restaurants full of people of all ages enjoying themselves. Fresh produce is of high quality, with some excellent and imaginative cooking available. Budapest boosts great beer, some outstanding wines and less well-known, some spirits of excellent quality. Most importantly, Hungary is not in the Euro and offers some exceptional value for money.

Yesterday, we had a late dinner at Callas Restaurant, next door the Opera House on Andrassy which we would thoroughly recommend – it was a beautifully decorated restaurant in Art Nouveau style. Alf had tuna and Marilyn took Chicken Paprika with both dishes being excellent. We sampled a recommended Hungarian Sauvignon Blanc wine which was outstanding and would put many New Zealand examples to shame. We had been aware of the Hungarian wines since we learned that they were much favoured by the Austrian emperors. Hungary is especially famous for dessert wines and Marilyn tried a glass and was amazed at the quality. Alf was after a Grappa but was encouraged to try an award-winning Hungarian digestif, called “Arpad Palinka” which was outstanding. The only disappointment was that the Callas Restaurant was only six years old and had never been visited by the legendary opera singer Maria. Callas…

On foot in Budapest

Posted on May 17, 2012

Explore Budapest on foot to really get close to the city. Yesterday, we left our hotel, behind the Opera on Andrassy, and set out on foot for the Big Covered Market, near Freedom Bridge on the Danube. As we took short-cuts across parks or squares, sadly we saw quite a few homeless people, living on the streets. Take a side street and you may see a run-down side of Budapest which is not on the normal tourist route. We walked by the Danube from Elizabeth Bridge to the Freedom Bridge, admiring the views, noting the many large river cruise ships anchored along the quay – clearly cruising the Danube is popular.

The Big Covered Market was probably the largest indoor market that we have seen and truly amazing. Both the external and internal architecture were quite beautiful. The size is enormous, perhaps two hundred metres by fifty. The ground floor is given over to huge displays of various assortments of food produce, i.e. paprika in huge bunches hanging like drapes, along with garlic and salami, plus the usual assortment of meat and veg., etc. Upstairs is reserved for local specialities, like lace, collectible dolls and souvenirs, directed more at the tourist market. Also upstairs, there are a large number of mouth-watering cooked food stalls.

After a short rest at a nearby cafe, in the sunshine, we crossed Freedom Bridge, going from Pest to Buda. Pest is flat and the commercial centre, whereas Buda is hilly, with the castle and is full of greenery. We slowly climbed the very steep  Gellert Hill, with many twisting paths and breathtaking views of the Danube and the city. We finally reached the Citadel, at the top of the hill, really pleased that we were on foot.

Boxed in by three trams and a crowd – Zagreb, Croatia

Posted on May 18, 2012

The journey from Budapest to Zagreb, Croatia by car was pretty uneventful until we reached the  centre of Zagreb.

GPS got us out of Budapest onto the motorway/freeway quite easily. It was sunny but cold when we left Budapest, at around ten in the morning. We had a bit of difficulty choosing the right lane coming off the bridge crossing the River Danube into Buda and the impatient traffic behind honked their horns. The Hungarian country-side was attractive but the drive a little tense because of extreme cross winds.

We were surprised to have to show our passports three times, crossing from Hungary into Croatia. The last time we had had shown our passports was Dover, UK, nearly three weeks earlier, despite visiting France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. We then remembered that Croatia was not yet part of the EU, although this is planned for 2013. Anyway, the Croatian countryside was surprisingly beautiful.

The suburbs of Zagreb reminded us of Prague and the twenty years of Communism, with drab, poorly designed and maintained buildings in every direction. Suddenly, we were in the centre of Zagreb which is quite beautiful, looking for our hotel. The GPS did not tell us that it was a pedestrian only street apart from the trams!

After a number of attempts to reach our hotel, we decided to go in the opposite direction to the GPS instruction and found ourselves stationery in Zagreb’s main square, behind a tram, with another tram behind us, and a third to our left going in the other direction and to our horror we realised that  ours was the only four-wheel vehicle on the street! To our right were hundreds of people queuing to get on the tram and staring at us at the same time, either because we were not supposed to be there or because our car is a right hand drive, however, they found both situations quite amusing – not sure that we did at the time!

Delightful two days in Zagreb, Croatia

Posted on May 19, 2012

Sadly, this morning we must say goodbye to Zagreb and drive to Venice, Italy. Last night Marilyn commented:

I really like it here in Zagreb and definitely want to come back and see more of Croatia next time.

We have had a wonderful two days, breaking our journey en route from Hungary to Italy. The centre of Zagreb is a delightful city, full of happy people, street life in cafes, good shops and many, many trams.

We stayed in a quaint boutique hotel in the city centre, adjacent to steps up the higher level historical city. The historical old town is really interesting, with many excellent museums and famous buildings.

Major attractions in the upper town include Ban Jelacic SquareKaptolDolac, Tkalciceva, the Bloody Bridge, Radiceva, the Stone Gate, Opaticka, St. Mark’s Square, and Catherine’s Square.

We found an excellent restaurant called Agava, where we sampled some wonderful Croatian specialities and award-winning Croatian wines. If you happen to be in Zagreb, check out Agava and it’s good value too.

Time to get moving…

Definitely no more dumplings please!

Posted on May 20, 2012

In Zagreb, Croatia, we thought that we were eating Croatian pasta but the waiter described it as “home-made Croatian dumplings” – it was an accompaniment to some excellent beef.

It’s interesting to observe that in Central Europe, the “dumpling belt” seems to be wider than the “schnitzel and goulash belt”! Of course, the excellent Central European dumplings are nothing like those of childhood memories and school dinners.

Anyway, yesterday we arrived in Venice and sampled some excellent fish, and where we know that the pasta is the real thing. Finally, no more dumplings

Three delightful days in Venice

Posted on May 22, 2012

Today we leave Venice for Florence, after three delightful days.

Our first day, we were talking to another couple on a ferry and received the following advice:

You are going to be ripped-off in Venice anyway, so you might as well enjoy it!

For us, Venice was a city of extremes, and a thin line between the best and the worst.

The architecture is stunning, truly amazing and attracts millions of photos each year. The historical sites are amongst the most visited tourist sites in the World, including:

To really enjoy Venice, follow the locals and not the tourists. For example, North of the Rialto Bridge to the West of the Fish Market is an excellent area to sample authentic Venetian restaurants, with many little bars full of the Venetian equivalent of Tapas. For us one of the greatest highlights was stepping out of the rain into a wonderful wine-bar in a little alley and sampling some of the Tapas-style dishes for lunch. This area is also good for fish restaurants at more reasonable prices. It boasts some good shops too.

Around St. Marks Square, expect to be seriously ripped-off, with outrageous prices, and some very mixed service. However, if you want a really wonderful experience in St. Marks Square, visit Cafe Florian which dates back to 1720 – we had a wonderful fresh fruit salad with ice-cream and a glass of sparkling wine  – it will be a special memory for us.

There are, of course, some of the finest shops in the World in Venice and prices are perhaps amongst the highest too. It is important to remember that Venice has been in serious decline for centuries, with the main industry now being tourism. Many young people are forced to leave Venice for opportunities in other Italian cities or overseas, for the more ambitious. Venice now attracts unscrupulous waiters from around the World who will try to demand a tip in addition to fifteen percent service included on the bill.

Venice is seriously crowded, so be prepared. The crowds, along with the high prices and indifferent service, make it hard to really enjoy all that Venice has to offer.

Given the opportunity, we shall certainly return to Vienna and perhaps Prague or Budapest but we do not think we shall not return to Venice. However, we would certainly recommend the experience, after all it is Venice!

Four amazing days in Florence

Posted on May 26, 2012

For us, Florence will surely be one of the highlights of our “Taking the slow road to Cyprus” adventure.

There are two key reasons why Florence, one of the World’s most beautiful cities’, attracts millions of tourists annually – art and architecture. Supporting attractions include restaurants, shops and markets.

The biggest attractions are probably:

One of the personal highlights for Marilyn was the Gucci Museum with its ninety year history of Gucci fashion.

The main downsides for Florence are probably the crowds and the costs.

We observed tourists from around the World and most noticeably Americans, Japanese, French, and Germans, plus, of course, Italians.

Personally, we stayed in a quite boutique hotel about twenty minutes walk South of the Old City. We were fortunate to find the delightful area South of the Arno River, to the West of the Old Bridge – this abounded with more competitively priced restaurants and bars. Be warned that North of Arno River, near the major tourist attractions, prices are very high.

Yesterday, we left the city of Florence and explored some of Tuscany by car. We followed the amazingly beautiful countryside of the famous Chianti Trail on Tourist Route TR 222 to Siena, passing through famous Chianti towns. We stopped for lunch in Castellina in Chianti and spent the late afternoon in Siena. Siena has rivalled with Florence for centuries but is very different, with the main attractions including:

Siena is more comfortable than Florence, with more space and far less crowds. It also has a wonderful selection of shops.

For us, the most vivid memory of Florence and Tuscany will probably be Michelangelo’s five hundred year old statue of Davide….

Sampling the delights of Umbria, Italy

Posted on May 28, 2012

For us, Umbria was a huge contrast to the neighbouring province of Tuscany which is known throughout the World for its art, architecture and red wine including Chianti.  Umbria boasts many beautiful famous  towns perched on the hillside including Perugia,  Assisi,  Todi  and Spoleto,  all offering magnificent views of the green hills and  wonderful food, with truffles seemingly added to everything except breakfast, plus  excellent white wines. So foodies who like red meat and red wine should target Tuscany and leave Umbria for white wines and truffles!

We based ourselves for a two night weekend in Spoleto, Southern Umbria, World-renowned for its outdoor festival of performing arts, including music, dance and theatre. Just an hour from Rome, we noted that Spoleto was a favourite weekend retreat for Italians, split into two levels, Spoleto abounds with Roman ruins, wonderful architecture and stunning views. We were staying in a comfortable and inexpensive hotel, adjacent to the famous Roman amphitheatre, originally built in the first century then rebuilt in the twelfth century, and the wall of the old city. Our first afternoon took in seeing a wedding at the beautiful and ancient cathedral, wandering the ancient hilly streets and alleys, climbing the hills to the castle and crossing the ancient viaduct, taking hundreds of photos, and resting for a glass of the famous local white wine served with complimentary salami and cheese.

With a thousand years of history, beautiful architecture, superb food and wine, and apart from the Spring arts festival, Spoleto is largely off the tourist radar – a true gem that we really should have kept our secret!

Sunday morning, we set out for Assisi which we immediately noticed had more tourists than Spoleto. We arrived to the sound of the church bells. Apart from Italian families having a day out, we met Japanese groups, Americans and French. The old town, perched at the top of the hill is quite beautiful. We started our visit with a climb to the castle and stunning views of the Umbrian panorama. It was Sunday, so settled on a simple restaurant for lunch, popular with the locals, and tasted pasta with truffles and wild mushrooms. We had a pleasant conversation with a French couple at the next table from Toulouse, swapping travel tales. In the afternoon, the GPS was being naughty and took the car around some dangerous mountain ledges, which was quite scary at the time but on reflection provided some wonderful and memorable views of Umbria.

Today we head South for the Amalfi Coast…..

A stunning Sorrento and it’s peninsula

Posted on May 31, 2012

We are about to leave Sorrento and its peninsula after three enjoyable days, heading South for the Amalfi Coastproper.

When we left Umbria, it was raining heavily, and rain stayed with us until we were virtually in Sorrento. The worst time was a cloud burst on the motorways around Naples, which was quite stressful driving as we watched in amazement, the Italians   zooming past  us, as  though only they had perfect x-ray visibility of the road ahead!  After clearing the Naples area, the GPS took us on some very twisty narrow roads, all in this heavy downpour. However, as we descended into Sorrento the rain stopped for us, which was a good sign.

We spent three days in a very nice family run  hotel, high up in the hills, with stunning views of the Gulf of Naples. The owner of the hotel recommended that we explore the extreme West of the peninsular, following the coastal paths towards the headlands of Punta Penna and Punta della Campella (two kilometres from Capri).  Twisty roads took us through the beautiful villages until we got to Nerano which is the closest Italian mainland village to Capri. We put on our hiking boots, packed the rucksack with water and set out to explore a narrow coastal path over the cliffs to the most Westerly point on the peninsular. It was hot and sunny but the slight breeze on the cliffs made it comfortable. With the most stunning views, including that of Capri, we completed the enjoyable circular hike in about three hours. We stopped in the next village of Termini for lunch and ate the best fish we have had since being away, the restaurant was perched on the cliff overlooking the Med, with wonderful views in every direction.

Later in the day, we explored Sorrento, which is still a busy holiday destination after supporting tourists for many decades. We were surprised by the large number of Americans in the area – most were on tours, often from cruise ships, but we met a number of very pleasant Americans staying in our hotel who were independent travellers.

Paradise in Southern Italy

Posted on June 9, 2012

One of the gems of our seven week trip will always be our unplanned visit to Palinuro, which is two hours by road South of the World famous resorts on the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. Palinuro is totally different to the sophisticated and highly commercialized resorts of AmalfiPositano and Ravello, however, equally as beautiful in its own right. It does not have the expensive small shops, nor does it have the five-star hotels, instead it does have lots of shops selling affordable merchandise and some excellent four star hotels. The restaurants are catering for Italians and the menu in most of them is not translated, so if you don’t speak the language that’s tough but a lot of fun. English is not widely spoken here and it is so nice to spend time away from the hoards of Germans, Americans, Brits and in fact, tourists from all over the world.

To bring you up to date, we received news that our cargo-cruise to Cyprus, taking both ourselves and our car, would be delayed ten days because of schedule changes. After a moment’s irritation, we decided that we must accept the fact that this is Italy and time keeping is not their forte in life, and after all, where could there be a nicer place to get stranded than in Italy, so we took this as an opportunity to explore the Southern Amalfi Coast further.

By chance, we landed in Palinuro, on a stunning bay overlooking the sea, and spent a wonderful week in one of the most beautiful and relaxing parts of Italy. Palinuro is a simple resort, full of friendly, helpful people and critically is in the Cliento and Vallo di Diano National Park which became a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1997. The national park is one of the most sparsely populated parts of Italy. Palinuro is a popular resort for people of the Italian region of Campania, including Naples and Salerno. It also gets some visitors from Rome but it remains largely off the international tourist map even though you do get the occasional American or German.

We found a wonderful, inexpensive and friendly boutique hotel, with a room facing the sea where at night we listened to the sea breaking on the rocks twenty feet below. In the days, we explored the national park, swam in the almost transparent deep blue sea and sampled the local fresh fish caught that day, washing it down with excellent local wine, of course.

Yesterday we took a boat trip around the cape to explore the World famous grottos:

  • The Blue grotto owes its name to the extraordinary effect produced by the sunlight which filters inside from an underground passage at a depth of about eighteen metres, providing a spectacular play of light and colours
  • The Blood grotto is characterized by striking blood-red markings winding up the walls, reflecting on to the sea and giving an amazing reddish colouring
  • The Monks grotto is rich in stalagmite formations which resemble friars in monks habit

Palinuro has been a lovely find and we should definitely like to return soon. For now though, we are focussed on the next and final stage of our journey by ship from Italy to Cyprus which is due to sail on the 12th. and, fingers crossed, this time to schedule! Hopefully, on our six-day boat trip to Cyprus, we shall have some time to edit our hundreds of photos and post them on the web soon, so watch this space!

No more pizza or pasta please

Posted on June 15, 2012

Regular readers of this blog might remember about a month ago, that we reached saturation levels with goulash and dumplings in Central Europe. Well, we have now maxed out on pizza and pasta in Italy, as well!

To bring you up to date, originally we planned to spend two weeks in Italy but have now spent four weeks, having been delayed waiting for our cargo-cruise to take us and our car to Cyprus. The latest delay is because our ship was held up in Valencia, Spain as a result of a dockers’ strike. The good news is that our ship docks in Salerno at 3.00 PM Saturday and we shall be there waiting to board. After all the delays and excuses, we are really pleased  that we are actually now leaving Italy, as much as we love it, enough is  enough!

Anyway, having spent a month in Italy we have seen how pizza and pizzerias now dominate Italian life. In Venice and Florence, we thought that we were observing tourists on pizza survival diets, dealing with sky-high prices. However, as we moved to Southern Italy we observed that Italians were choosing pizza over other Italian favorites and we have seen them order pizza as a starter! Traditional Italian cuisine seems to have given way to Modern Italian cuisine, largely based on pizza. We have noticed that young children  have a preference for a portion of chips (french fries) on top of their pizza! Whatever happened to the Mediterranean Diet?

Of course, real Italian Pizza is very different to American Pizza which now seems to have become the standard pizza across the World outside Italy. Real Italian pizza comes originally from Naples and uses buffalo mozzarella cheese which tastes completely different to the normal  mozzarella cheese. We have actually been staying in the area where the finest Italian buffalo mozzarella is produced near Paestum. Of course the Italians are still very much into their pasta dishes and their home-made pasta is quite special that only they have the skill of making and are we are not yet observing pasta and chips but no doubt that will come!

For our last night in Italy, we are off to our favourite, beach-front, family restaurant to sample the catch-of-the day and probably the local fresh pasta.

Slow travel in cargo and small ships

Posted on June 24, 2012

Our blog is entitled “Taking the slow road to Cyprus”. The idea of the trip began when we read an article in the Daily Telegraph on Cargo Cruises. A little research and we were locked on to the idea of a cargo cruise to Cyprus – over the months, it evolved and materialized as we have described in this blog. The critical factor and the major constraint for the whole adventure was always the cargo cruise for both us and our car from Salerno, Italy to Limassol, Cyprus, our final destination.

Regular readers of our blog will be aware that, by the time we boarded our ship to Cyprus, we had been delayed two weeks – we were to learn that delays are an essential part of cargo cruises.

We intend to publish a series of blogs for our sea journey but we thought it might be appropriate to clarify on what we mean by a cargo cruise. According to leading travel author, Hugo Verlomme, cargo travel has its own magic and frequent cargo travellers use special language to describe it, with expressions like:

  • An intense personal experience
  • A trip aboard a cargo is like a true adventure

There are two fundamentally different types of passenger travel by sea and their key characteristics according to Hugo Verlomme are as follows:

Cargo ship (containers, bulk carriers, traditional cargosRo Ro etc.):

  •  Dates variable, both for departure and arrival, i.e. subject to last-minute change
  • Comfort, generally large, spacious cabins, with exterior windows
  • Food, identical to that prepared for officers
  • Life on board, make your own arrangements
  • Stops: often very short
  • Price: can be exceptionally good value when travel and accommodation are combined to give a competitive day rate

 Cruise ship/liner:

  •  Punctuality: generally leaves and arrives on time
  • Service: the crew are there to look after passengers (not like on a cargo)
  • Health: doctor/hospital on board
  • Food: varied, abundant and refined
  • Life on board; huge number of organized distractions
  • Stops: day/half-day organized excursions
  • Price: varied but can be very attractive, viz. repositioning cruises

Finally, it is worth summarizing, leading cruise authority, cruise Douglas Ward’s, four sizes of cruise ships:

  •  Micro(Boutique): <200 passengers
  • Small: 200-600 passengers
  • Average: 600-1600 passengers
  • Large: 1600-6000+ passengers

Cargoes are strictly limited to twelve passengers by international regulations. However, the mixed cargo (or le mixte in French) is a hybrid carrying both passengers and cargo, with qualities of both categories but it is very much at the boutique end of cruise market. Most importantly the mixed cargo must have a doctor – mixed cargoes typically have up to a hundred and fifty passengers. We were soon to learn that our trip to Cyprus was a classic cargo…

Cargo travel has become a highly specialized sector of the travel market and appeals to highly independent  travellers, who are looking for an alternative to popular, mass travel. Hugo Verlomme has clearly positioned cargo travel as part of the “slow movement”, introducing the first part of his book as “Slow is beautiful.” When called our blog “Taking the slow road to Cyprus”, we had no idea about the “slow movement”….

Arrived in Cyprus the journey ended but the story just beginning… Marilyn and Alf

Posted on June 24, 2012

Yesterday, we arrived safely in Cyprus but although the seven week journey is technically ended the real story is just beginning…

 Whilst were at sea for seven days, with no access to the internet, we wrote a daily blog, and shall be releasing these on a daily basis, so watch this space.

Our first day at sea

Posted on June 25, 2012

It’s 9.15 AM and what an amazing twenty-four hours!

We are just saying goodbye to Sicily to our right (starboard) and Calabria, the Italian mainland to left (port), after our first night at sea. An hour ago, on the captain’s bridge, we passed through the Straits of Messina, an amazing three kilometres at the narrowest. With the international navigation language being English, we frequently heard the call “big ship, big ship…”. We looked out for the “big ship” but then realized that they were talking to us…

The previous day we had boarded our “cargo cruise” at 3.00 PM. Our particular ship was a “ro-ro” (roll-on/roll-off) and would take virtually anything on wheels, with a capacity of circa 4,500 cars.  The only other passenger, Jean Pierre, a Belgian travelling alone, was doing a thirty-five day round trip. Alf soon enjoyed talking to Jean Pierre in French. Jean Pierre lent Alf a French book called “Le Cargo” which promised to tell us more about our adventure.

Anyway, going through the straits of Messina, with the captain’s permission of open-ended full freedom of the bridge, we had absolutely stunning views. There seemed to be big and little ships, plus pleasure craft, all jockeying for the same patch of sea. The sun was out and it was incredibly bright. Through the binoculars, we could see Palermo, Sicily in amazing view – the architecture was wonderful to see with bright contrasting Mediterranean colours, with the blue sea in the foreground and the hills behind.

This was all a far cry from the previous afternoon when we arrived at the ship and they were not expecting us, so our first meeting with the captain was a bit acrimonious. Fortunately, things got better…

Our second day at sea

Posted on June 26, 2012

By the second day, we were adjusting to our new adventure.

At breakfast, we went through the Nissos Islands separating the Ionian and Aegian Seas. We were advised that we should be in Athens by about six o’clock this evening. The captain had given us completely unrestricted access to the bridge, so the views of the sea, the islands and other traffic from the bridge were just amazing.

Our first day at sea, we were to learn a lot from the only other passenger, Jean Pierre, a Belgian, who was travelling alone, and had completed half of a thirty-five day round-trip. Jean Pierre lent Alf a copy of a French book entitled “Le Guide des Voyages en Cargo”, written by Hugo Verlomme, which is a recognized guide to the different types of sea travel for passengers. It was quite significant that in French the word “cruise” had been dropped and it is simply a choice between “le cargo” or “le paquabot” (cruise-ship/liner). The book very much romanticized travelling “cargo” as part of the “slow” movement and contrasted it strongly to the mass tourism market of the air travel and the modern cruise ship with six thousand passengers plus.

When we were describing our expectations to Jean Pierre over dinner, he indicated that we were referring to a “mixte” or hybrid between cargo and cruise. Technically, there is a third category that takes cargo plus up to a hundred and fifty passengers, with more normal cruise-ship facilities – this is a mixed (or mixte). A mixed has more facilities, including a doctor etc. Without a doctor on board, international regulations stipulate a strict maximum of twelve passengers on a cargo ship.

We were learning quickly about the different types of cargo ships and their relative advantages and disadvantages. This included container ships, bulk carriers, traditional cargo ships, and Ro-Ros (roll-on roll-off) for transporting vehicles. We are actually on a Ro-Ro which could carry four and a half thousand vehicles, a sort of multi-story floating car-park – we were to learn later that on this voyage our ship’s cargo was described as “general cargo”. The only major problem with Ro-Ros is that they are highly susceptible to rolling in bad seas. Let’s hope that the seas stay calm for our voyage.

Anyway, whilst we do not have internet access, we do have satellite TV and have been monitoring the Greek elections. It will be amazing to arrive in Athens the day after the election – we were actually talking to the captain about the relative safety on the Athens streets so soon after the election. We still have time to decide whether to go ashore in Athens.

Third day at sea

Posted on June 26, 2012

It’s 9.30 AM on day three. We left Piraeus(Athens) at 7.00 AM this morning and our next destination is Izmir, Turkey. We were on the bridge this morning as the pilot guided us out of Piraeus which is incredibly busy with sea traffic. It did not take long and we were in open sea again, passing lots of beautiful islands.

We have settled into a routine at sea and now fully understand that we are on a cargo ship and not a cargo cruise. There are twenty-five crew and just three passengers. The ship is Italian registered in Salerno and the majority of the crew are Italian but there are also a twelve Filipinos. The chef is really keen on pasta and pizza!

Last night, we managed to get into Athens for a few hours, took in the Acropolis, a walk around the centre and a couple of drinks, before returning to our ship. It was strange being in Athens the day after the election and observing life in Athens first-hand, with our own eyes. On the surface, Athens was as we remembered, bustling, with lots of traffic and shops full of produce of the World. However, when we looked more closely, we saw a heavy presence of police in the city centre, and we were pestered by a beggar who clearly had a drug problem. Nevertheless, we resolved to return to Athens and explore it a little more leisurely.

Our fourth day at sea

Posted on June 28, 2012

We arrived in the port of Izmir, Turkeyvery late last night and were told that we could go ashore this morning. We actually, left the ship about 8.00 AM and returned at 11.00 AM. Once out of the port, which is no minor challenge being a passenger on a cargo ship, we got a taxi to the centre of Izmir and were dropped off outside the covered bazaar. Despite not having visited Turkey for more than twenty years, nothing seemed to have changed but it soon brought back vivid memories of Istanbul. We were regularly asked:

 You want Lacoste t-shirts or Burberry? What do you want? I can take you, show you t-shirts, leather and carpets….

Sadly, all the designer labels looked fake to us, so we bought nothing apart from some excellent freshly squeezed orange juice…

It’s not far to judge a city in a few hours and we hope to explore Turkey more fully on a future visit.

It’s now, 5.00 PM on day four. We are in Izmir, Turkey and should have left for sea some four hours earlier but all afternoon the ship has been loading and unloading cars, ready for being transported. The afternoon in port, it was seriously hot and we spent it in our cabin with the air-conditioning set to high, waiting for the ship to go to sea. Whilst, the life of a busy dockyard was interesting, we were soon wondering how much longer we would be there.

A few hours later, we were back out at sea – all problems were forgotten. The sea has its own special charm. We have just watched the magical sun setting over the sea, with its wonderful array of colours and another beautiful end to a perfect day. Alf had been exploring different camera setttings for sunset photos and settled on manual (a bit of advice from an American in Sorrento). We took the spare time at sea to edit our hundreds of photos – we promise to publish the best in the future.

In Izmir, there were two large cruise ships in dock and whilst on land, it was assumed that we were from one of the cruise ships. Actually, we had disembarked using crew identity papers. We spent dinner debating with Jean Pierre, the other passenger, the differences between a cargo and a regular cruise ship – we shall probably summarize in a later blog.

Tomorrow’s port of call is Alexandria, Egypt.

Our fifth day at sea

Posted on June 29, 2012

Izmir, Turkey to Alexandria, Egypt, is a long way so our fifth day we were at sea the whole day. According to the charts, there are depths of two thousand metres in this part of the MediterraneanSea. The weather was good, it was hot, sunny and a bit humid, probably well over thirty degrees.

It was very much a day in which Alf was deep in the tales of Sherlock Homes and Marilyn was in her second John Grisham.

We had mentioned to the crew about our strange noises at night but they politely reminded us that we were on a ship. It’s hard to describe the noise – it’s like a variable pitch creak, a bit like the sound of a Geiger counter. Needless to say, we did not look forward to our slumber period.

The crew is polite but largely go about their business as if the three passengers were not there. We have become good friends with Jean Pierre, who has spent much of his life as an engineer in the developing World, so hours passed rapidly in swapping tales and exploring views. Alf has very much enjoyed speaking French and Jean Pierre has started to get more confident in English, a language he has not practiced for many years. We talked about many different subjects, and were an obvious distraction for each other.

The sea trip has been a wonderful experience and Alf seems keen on another journey by sea but there has been a bit of hot debate about the type of ship…

Our sixth day at sea…

Posted on June 30, 2012

We have been in the port of Alexandria, Egypt since breakfast time this morning. Unfortunately, we have not been allowed to disembark so needed to keep ourselves amused which is difficult when we are so looking forward to arriving in Cyprus tomorrow.

Marilyn had another bad night, listening to the ship creaking and moaning which seriously disturbed her sleep. This morning Alf quietly crept out of the cabin and climbed the stairs to the bridge. He heard an exchange with the Alexandria pilot over the radio – we were seven miles out of port and told to advance to the beacon just outside the port. Alf returned to the cabin for Marilyn and we both saw the pilot arrive, join the bridge and guide the ship to its berth in the harbour, with the help of a powerful tug.

Arriving in the port of Alexandria is quite magical. Jean Pierre reminded Alf that Alexandria had been an important port for over four thousand years. We thought of ancient Egypt, the Greeks who used the port in ancient times, and modern Egypt. The port is actually amazingly large, with quite a lot of heavy industry but also a spectacular palace overlooking the  Mediterranean. The weather was overcast and the sea in the harbour looked quite black.

Alexandria looks an interesting city but we are not allowed to explore it. The nearest we got was to haggle with a few traders who were allowed on the ship selling tourist items. Whilst the Egyptian cotton t-shirts looked excellent quality, the styling was very much to be desired and they were rather expensive compared to Italy, so to the traders’ amazement we walked away. Alf relayed the story of when he was working in Cairo forAmerican Express, when he was an auditor in his twenties – he bought a dozen Egyptian cotton classic shirts, and by the time they had been washed twice, the sleeves were half way up his forearm. Marilyn responded that Egyptian cotton is generally regarded as the finest in the World and is these days fully pre-shrunk.

Alf is probably suffering withdrawal symptoms, in not having access to the internet, and Marilyn is beginning to miss her comforts. We have had the owners’ cabin, which is adjacent to the captain’s, with bathroom, bedroom and sitting room, with two large outside windows but it is in need of a refurbishment.

Hopefully, soon we shall have news of our arrival time in Cyprus, and this will cheer us up. Meanwhile, they are still loading the ship. On the other hand, Jean Pierre has invited us for a drink before dinner ..

Our seventh day at sea

Posted on July 1, 2012

We left the port of Alexandria, Egypt, whilst we were having dinner. After dinner, we went up to the bridge and were just in time to see the pilot wave farewell from his motorized  boat.

Leaving Alexandria, there was a lot of sea traffic but the port of Alexandria itself seemed a bit inactive – perhaps it was because it was a Friday. Coming from the dock area, we heard the  call to midday prayers and then again later  for afternoon prayers. There seemed to be more bulk carriers than container ships in this part of the Mediterranean.

As soon as we were at sea again everybody’s spirits were up and we sat outside and watched the sun go down. Alf practiced different camera settings to capture the sunset – a friendly American in Sorrento, Italy had given him a few tips on sunset photography.

The night was probably the worst we had experienced with the moans and groans of the structure about our cabin, so much so, that Marilyn decided to sleep on the sofa in the adjacent room and we contented ourselves that this was our last night at sea.

The next morning, we were up early, took breakfast at the usual time of seven-thirty, then explored the happenings of the ship. Much of the cargo had already been unloaded in Greece , Turkey and Alexandria so the top deck which had had hundreds of cars was now completely empty.

Enquiring as to our arrival time in Cyprus, we were politely told that it was unchanged and remains 2.00 PM.  Alf has been a bit apprehensive of the disembarkation process as we had no idea where on this thirteen deck ship our car was being kept, a bit like loosing your car in a multi storage car park, but worse! Getting the car through customs  we imagine will be a challenge, so we hope that our agent arrives to meet us on time, and helps us through the process painlessly.

Arrive in Cyprus after seven weeks

Posted on July 2, 2012 

At 2.00 PM our ship docked in Limassol.  We said goodbye to Jean Pierre, the third passenger, and waited for the ship’s agent to arrive. Getting off the ship was quite straightforward. The Chief Mate brought our car to the ramp and Alf drove it on toCypriot soil.

Arriving in Cyprus was very special. We had of course flown into  Larnaca and Paphos airports many times but this was the first time that we had arrived by ship.

The ship’s agent was very helpful and passed us on to a customs agent who helped us through the formalities – the price was higher because it was a Saturday afternoon. Everybody was helpful and friendly and really welcomed us to Cyprus. Two hours after docking, we were driving way from the port. It was incredibly strange to drive on the left again after seven weeks!

Of course, we were both glad to be off the ship. Whilst the journey by sea was extremely interesting, we had found a cargo cruise a bit too restrictive for us. As we left Limassol on the motorway (freeway) to Paphos, we reflected on the last seven weeks, going over the ups/downs, likes and dislikes etc. The seven week car journey from the UK to Cyprus had taken us to twelve countries: France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria,Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt.

Although the journey has ended, there is still more of the story to be told. So watch this space…

Some of Marilyn and Alf’s best photos 

Posted on July 3, 2012

Check out the link below for some of Marilyn & Alf’s best photos, on the whole trip.  Once you open the link, choose one of the sets, like Frankfurt, Vienna or Venice etc. We recommend that you click on the “slide show” towards top on the right of the screen

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/alfandmarilyn/sets

After you have finished each set, go back to the above link and repeat the process. An easy shortcut is to copy the above link and then paste it in your browser.

Coming Soon

  • Analysis of the whole trip
  • Conclusions
  • Next trip
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5 responses

  1. Pingback: Slow road to Cyprus – what did we learn? | Taking the slow road to Cyprus

  2. Pingback: Slow road to Cyprus – What were the low points? | Taking the slow road to Cyprus

  3. Pingback: Some questions about Marilyn and Alf’s slow road to Cyprus… « Dr Alf's Blog

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