Passport to the World over 64 years. Pages from my Travel Diary

A 21 day visit to Europe and the Mediterranean, 23rd September/14th October 2004.

(see the pictures at the bottom)

Thursday the 23rd. of September 2004.
We did not start well, 1.5 hours late as Austrian Airlines lost their computer link with Vienna, leaving check in staff floundering by the need to document Boarding passes by hand. All very frustrating.

Late into Singapore, but Business Class excellent, and quite superb service and cuisine.

Friday the 24th. of September, 2004.
Prior to an early arrival into Vienna, the cabin stirs, the lights go up, ladies reach for their make up mirrors to view the ravages of a night's jet travel, and no doubt wish they had not bothered, we touch down gently having made up an hour.

A minimum of fuss with the authorities and we seek out the Austrian Air desk to ticket our onwards flight to Milan, make this connection to face a second breakfast with superb baby croissants.

Milan Malpensa Airport.
At this International Airport, no customs, no immigration, we merely walk off, could have been two Australian terrorists. In my haste to grab a taxi, I am unaware that we are almost 50 kilometers out of Milan, this proves costly, as the ride costs 70 Euros, about 140 of our poor weak Aussie Dollars, not a good way to start our journey, but a salutary lesson. On arrival at our hotel, it proves adequate, but is some way from the centre of Milan, Milan's Duomo.

We negotiate the Metro underground rail system, counting the 9 stops to the Duomo sitting at the end of a large square. The Duomo one of the world's largest churches, has 135 spires and some 3,400 statues. It was commenced in 1386, but not completed until the early 1800's.

It was on this huge square, that Mussolini and his mistress, having been murdered by Partisans were hung upside down in WW2. The beautiful Galleria flanks one side, and leads to the famous La Scala Opera House, unfortunately being renovated, and rather squalid scaffolding covering its exterior.

Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper.
This famous painting is in the Refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church which dates back to 1463, and is several stops on the Metro from the Duomo, we make a visit joining visitors from many and various countries. In 1943 the Refectory was destroyed by bombs, but somehow the Last Supper survived, to become a great tourist attraction.

Saturday the 25th. of September 2004. We walk some of Milan's streets.
Off to the Metro, we are old hands already, only needing to know which line, and its final destination to ensure we are travelling in the right direction. Yesterday's 24 hour tickets are still valid, so no need to buy new ones.

In a major shopping area we walk and look, stop for coffee, but in my view, Denise's machine made Cappucino back home still hard to match. All the world's leading brands are here, but for the obviously Italian appearance of the locals we might be in Melbourne, the season is of course different to Australia, here we are into Autumn, at home it is Spring.

Sunday the 26th. of September, 2004.
Today we need to get ourselves to the second of Milan's Airports, the Domestic one, some what closer than where we arrived. We are somewhat on tenderhooks, not knowing exactly where we shold look for an individual carrying a sign with our names on it. He or she will transport us to Genoa and the Opera, we hope!!

After much trepidation and waiting, none too patiently, I track down a young man waiting for us, plus four others who fly in from Germany and Rome. His minibus gets us on our way across the plains of Lombardy, through mountains, past ancient villages, a countryside with newly bailed hay, grapes growing, but looking rather moth eaten compared to Aussie vines. We speed past the occasional large city.

Genoa turns up, porters want to seize our luggage and throw it into trolleys to go off to the ship, as we have yet to label our cases with our unknown cabin number, we have a struggle to hang onto the luggage, no one knows or admits to speaking any English.

An agent who speaks our lingo turns up, we get a cabin number, quickly label the two cases and surrender them to the excitable porters, we hope and pray that we will find them on board, its all a special Italian chaos right here on the dockside. Every one talks and shouts over each other, no doubt a preview of things to come aboard this brand new Italian Cruise ship Opera. She is some 60,000 tons with cabin capacity for 3,000 and 700 staff to cover every want. We eventually make it to be escorted to our cabin Number 9416, on the starboard side of Deck 9. It is all very comfortable, a large Queen size bed, bathroom with shower, toilet and basin. A glass sliding door leads to our own outside balcony. Behind a large mirror sits a personal safe. I am sure we will easily take to 7 days of this luxury.

Departure from Genoa.
Do we travel to escape? or escape to travel? In our case I am sure it is the latter. The promise of departure is in the air. The anticipation of adventures that await is both stimulating and exciting! What lays ahead in Naples, Sicily, the tip of Africa at Tunis, the Island of Majorca, Barcelona, and finally Marseilles?

We pull away from the wharf, next stop Naples. Our tent is struck, the caravan moves on!

The ship Opera.
The ship is superbly fitted out, with two luxurious dining rooms, we are in the 7 PM first dinner sitting, allowing us to attend the first show in the ship's large theatre. At our table for four we are joined by a Texan and his partner, our prime waiter an Italian, who insists on calling Denise, Darling, of course he is right, so how can I object? his back up hails from Indonesia, and has the most dazzling smile, we quickly learn he has a young family, has been away six months, and is desperately home sick.

The Italians always seem to drink bottled water, and of course wine, the wine stewards, mostly female are apparently on commission. So, naturally they are not enamoured on our insistence of a jug of iced water at each meal, but persistence finally pays off, and we prevail. The menu elaborate, but early indications are that the meals are warm on arrival, but not hot. I am absolutely spoiled at home in that regard.

Ship run tours.
The ship runs tours at each of our ports of call, they appear to be much regimented, not the least up our street, but more importanly very expensive, the norm, some 55 Euros, each, ie A$ 110 each, we propose to generally go off and do our own thing.

Naples, Monday the 27th. of September 2004.
We have run 334 sea miles to Naples ( a sea mile is 2,000 yards opposed to the 1,760 yards in the land mile, a measure of speed at sea is the knot, which actually is a distance of 2,000 yards travelled over 1 hour, but only a land lubber would wrongly use the expression knot per hour, there is no such term used in Naval parlance.)

Naples approaches, houses reaching down to the sea, it is an old old city stretching back the Greek settlers who founded the city back in the 5th.centurey BC. The Romans conquered it, and chose the close by, and now famous Isle of Capri for their summer play ground.

A feature of the city is a beautiful palace Palazzo Reale, its facade displays eight marble figures, the monarchs who rules Naples over many centuries. The San Carlo Opera House going back to 1737, houses 3,,000 patrons, and must be one of the biggest and most impressive of all Europe's Opera Houses.

In Campania, on the the outskirts of Naples, the Romans constructed a lively Roman town, Pompei, its 20, 000 inhabitants had no idea the site chosed was in the shadow of an active volcano. They were caught unawares by its eruption, the city of Pompei devasted by molten lava and ash, many perished, the site preserved under the hardened ash, the recovery of which only began in the 18th. centrury. A precious fragment of a time long gone now preserved, so one may visit a 2,000 year old site, and visualise a way of life from the distant past.

We hasten ashore at Naples where the city reaches right down to the sea, to be besieged by taxi divers all clamouring for our attention and business. We refuse several offers of a 2.5 hour tour around the city for 80 Euros, then discover an owner who was educated on the West coast of the US, and had returned to Naples as he missed his MAMA!! He offered us the deal of a 2.5 hour tour that would really take in the city, go to areas where the large tour buses could not negotiate, we argue and bargain, and finally get it as low as he is likely to negotiate, 40 Euros, and we accept.

Cars in Naples with scars of everyday driving.
There does not seem to be a car in this bustling city that does not carry scars of a crash into another Napalese vehicle, often at both ends, no wonder, they drive as if possessed, and it must be an offense against one's manhood to give way at all. We quickly learn that red lights are to be driven through, if anyone stops because the traffic light turns red, horns come into strident action at once, any one driving sedately is dismissed with a sneer and "Must be a foreign driver."

We zip in and out of traffic, up and down very narrow streets, up and down hills, stopping to get out at appropriate place to have the history succiently explained. Cars battle two ways up and down shoe string width lanes, then on top of that, the motor scooter drivers weave in and out at life threatening speed. One specific lane has for centuries manufactured forest scenes from cork wood, very intricate, very beautifully done, but not the thing for us to buy to take home.

We see several brides in full cry with elaborate wedding dresses and all their attendants, the bridegroom just making up the number, they come to this street with a string of photographers to use the shop backdrops for their important day wedding photos. We learn our driver is married after coming home, and has a one year old son Luigi, absolute main reason for living, the dear wife seems to take a bad second in that race.

Thus we flirt with Naples, traffic quite uncontrollable, and unbelievable. every one runs a small, usually European car, the Fiat, Renault, and Puegeot dominate the car brands. We view ancient churches, as an Australian from a young country, the sheer age of the area is mind boggling, the areas we are to visit represent the cradle of civilization, with different race after race gaining the ascendancy to rule for their lot, then to be overcome by yet another branch of mankind, who in turn, after adding their stamp and culture on the area they controlled are conquered, and the process goes on once more.

We finally end our mad rush and viewing of Naples, we had chosen our driver wisely, he was well read, had a great sense of humour, and above all spoke in a manner that was easy for us to comprehend, we pay him off, shake hands all round, and climb the steep gangway to be checked back on board, via our identity card, which is both used for all purchases on board, and gains access to our cabin by swiping it at the cabin door.

Photoshop on board and their photographers.
There is a photoshop on board, and it has a large viewing area to display all the photos that their staff are continually trying to hassle people to have taken, they are quickly developed, out on display for purchase at exhorbitant prices. They try to take your photo on joining the ship, on going ashore, on returning, at dinner, and even at the compulsory and chaotic life boat drill, with everyone wearing a cumbersome life jacket, and standing around like a spare dinner for about 25 minutes at one's abandon ship muster point, to be harangued in about 5 different languages, with English very much an after thought. At this event, we make silly faces at the photographer, and refuse all other attempts.

Comments on the new European currency the Euro.
The one single benefit for us of the introduction of the Euro into Europe was that this single currency was accepted in all six countries we were to visit on our travels around both the Western end of the Mediterranean and to the areas bordering the Adriatic, the Aegian , and the middle Mediterranean.

Tunis retains its own money but will accept the Euro, Turkey is currently trying to join the European Union, but also accepts the Euro. Both Britain and Switzerland keep their Pound and Swiss Franc, but grudgingly will take the Euro, the latter country will however give you your change in Swiss Francs, wily Swiss as always. Shop keepers with whom I talked about the Euro, deplored the fact that it had pushed up prices, and their economy was the worse off for it, particularly for those countries with a weaker basic currency, eg Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Both France and Germany seem to have gained the same result, only Britain whose Sterling is at a premium to the Euro are better off on the conversion scale. Even the once mighty US greenback is discounted against the Euro, and I have remarked just how badly we from Australia fare when changing the Aussie Dollar for the Euro. We practically need to double all Euro shown prices to convert to our paltry Dollar.

I am in th midst of reading two books.
Adam Zamoyski's superb "1812. Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow" easily the best account of the Emperor's invasion of Mother Russia I have yet read, and Lindsay Branch's,

"The Wilder Shores of Love."
By chance, both books are linked, they intertwine, the latter covers the exploits of four women, all from the West, who each embraced the East as a way of life. I have found the account of " Aimee Duburaq De Rivery." most fascinating. She was a Creole, her second Cousin, Josephine was to become Empress of France when she married the Corsican Napoleon. Aimee, a convent girl, enroute from Martinique to France, is captured by Corsairs, and, through her beauty is sold into the Harem of the Sultan of Turkey in Constantinople.

She bears a son to the Sultan, and he eventually rules the Ottoman Empire, his Mother always waiting in the wings, and casting her great influence on the court, ensuring French influence gains credence in the area.

When Napoleon spurns and then divorces Josephine, Aimee ensures that British influence wielded through their Ambassador Stratford Canning replaces that of the French.

Her son, Mahmoud as Sultan, makes peace with Russia by signing the secret Treaty of Bucharest, thus allowing Russia to withdraw their Army from the Danube to march North against Napoleon, at that time knocking right on the gates of Moscow.

As history records, Napoleon was defeated and forced to withdraw back to France. Thus, a once simple Creole, who became the driving force at the court of the Sultan in Constantinople, had her revenge , making history, by ensuring the great General Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated within the sight of his victory at Moscow in 1812.

Never doubt the power of a woman who started out as a slave in the Harem at the Sultan's Court, to use her striking beauty to devasting effect, gain the eye of the Sultan, have his son, who finally accedes to the throne of Turkey. Thus giving his Mother an amazing power and influence, enough to forgo her French upbringing, so she might avenge the perceived wrong to her second cousin Josephine by the most powerful man in Europe at that time, Napoleon.

Tuesday the 28th. of September 2004. Palmero and Montreale. Sicily.
Our sailing from Naples to Palermo traverses 168 sea miles, and we dock at 0700 ( 7 AM ) Palermo is the capital of Sicily nestling off the toe of the boot making up the south of Italy. It reeks with history, going back to the 8th.Century BC, when it was a trading post founded by the Phoenicians, then in the 5th. Century BC the Cartaginians ruled. They built stout walls around the city to keep out the marauding Greeks from eastern Sicily. Now it was the turn of the Romans, who in 254 BC prevailed after a long siege. Change continued, with the Vandals next in control, until in 476 Sicily was ruled by the King of Italy. Now the Saracens swpt across Africa, and in 831 conquered Palermo. The Norman Crusading Knights had a go in 1072, bringing a new age of art and architecture. In the 13th. Century the Frenchman Charles of Anjou took the throne, until Spain in 1282 took over, and ruled until the 19th. Century. The Italian leader Garibaldi freed Sicily in 1860, to become a part of the Kingdom of Italy. After WW2 this island gained its autonomy as part of the Republic of Italy.

What a colourful and mixed past with so many races bringing change and their specific influence to this area.

Ship excursion.
This is the only time we took a ship excursion, visiting the old town, its massive Cathedral started in 1184, dedicated to Mary of the Assumption, it has had centuries of additions and modifications, the original Norman structure now overlaid with Gothic touches, and crowned with an 18th. century baroque dome. In its Royal tombs are buried some of the great figures from the history of Sicily, Roger 11, Henry VI, his son Frederick 11 and his first wife Constance de Hauteville.

We visit Montreale.
About 7 kilometers away from Palermo, on the slopes of Monte Caputo, some 300 meters above sea level, the small town of Montreale nestles. It dates back to the middle ages, clustered around the Benedictine Abbey and the huge cathedral Santa Maria la Nouva. It was built in the time of King William 11, and it is said rival Archbishops tried to out do each other, one at Palermo, and the other here at Montreale.

Here the cathedral looks inside as it might have done in the 12th. century, walls almost totally covered with gilded mosaics showing the triumph of Christianity in three different stages, and all is dominated by a gigantic Christ.

Our digital camera has a fading rechargeable battery. I did not carry the camera's rechargeing unit with us on our trip, and its capacity is fast fading. A Kodak camera shop in this small town yields up a twin lithium battery that is compatibile with the digitable camera, a lucky find, it both fits and works, quite amazing.

Coffee on the Square of Montreale.
We venture into a coffee shop on the old square here and partake of its coffee, Denise tries an Espresso ( our short black ) to me, it looks as if it could devour the hind leg off a strong bullock, but my girl merely sighs with pleasure and soon scoffs it down. I go for a cappuccino, which I think I can cope with and do.

Return to the Opera.
We drive back to the ship, this town depends on tourism, a large University population, and as the Sicilian Parliaments sits here, a public service to support the politicians.

Our Texan table Companion.
After our first dinner on board the Opera, our table companions, the Texan, Charlie and his partner who turned out to be Italian, whom he had met on a golf course in Florida, just never returned. Perhaps the thought of sharing meals with two Australians was too much, so we had our table to ourselves, and that suited us very well.

The passengers on board.
In the main they are made up of Italians, we had never come across them en masse before, and find them very noisy, in the lifts, around the decks, in the public rooms, and especially at meal times. They are unable to merely have a normal conversation between themselves, they shout at each other, talking over the top of one another, as if in a verbal fight.

In the lifts they can be quite rude, keeping fingers on the buttons to get where they want to go, many wearing back packs that swing with wild abandon to clobber the nearest victim.

We are not impressed.

Two other Australians from Queensland we have found, they are travelling with a very young baby, but take it all in their stride.

Wednesday the 29th. of September 2004.
Today we are at Tunis at the northern tip of Africa, some 185 sea miles on from Palermo. They stop only for about 5 hours. It is the capital of Tunisia, made up of three cities, the modern centre of Tunis, the old town of the Midde ages, the Arabic Medina, and 18 kilometers from Tunis, the really ancient Phoenician-Roman city of Carthage.

To get anywhere we would need to tour with whatever the ship organized, and it did not look too inviting, nor did we fancy any local food stuffs, so decided to give it all a miss.




Denise at the main door of Milan Cathedral. The leg of Christ has become highly polished through all the touching of visitors.


The lovely Galleria Milan.


View of the far end of the huge square that flanks the Cathedral in Milan.

Milan's mighty Cathedral.


Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper in the Refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, the church dating back to 1463.


Genoa Harbour


Naples harbour


Naples:  A narrow shopping street still carying two way traffic, and motor scooters weave in and out in addition.


A Galleria type shopping arcade.


Palace of Palazzo Reale with statues of former Rulers of Naples.


The centre of Montreale the first three photos.


The church at Montreale.


Mac Onboard Opera

Onboard Opera


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