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.
Late into Singapore, but Business Class excellent, and quite superb service and cuisine.
Friday the 24th. of September, 2004.
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.
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.
Saturday the 25th. of September 2004. We walk some of Milan's streets.
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.
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.
We pull away from the wharf, next stop Naples. Our tent is struck, the caravan moves on!
The ship Opera.
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.
Naples, Monday the 27th. of September 2004.
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.
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.
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.
Comments on the new European currency the Euro.
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.
"The Wilder Shores of Love."
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.
What a colourful and mixed past with so many races bringing change and their specific influence to this area.
We visit 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.
Return to the Opera.
Our Texan table Companion.
The passengers on board.
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.
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.
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.