29 November – Back to Dubrivnik

You may remember that our first visit to Dubrovnik was on a cool damp day. Not so this time round. The sun shone, the sky a brilliant blue, the temperatures pleasantly warm!

Dad and I took one of the “pay extra for” optional excursions as we’d already taken the included excursion on our first stop in Dubrovnik. This turned out to be an excellent choice. There were just ten of us, so a van rather than a bus. Our first stop was at two mills. The first grinds corn into flour, the second “felts” loosely hand woven fabric into thicker weather proof versions suitable for outer wear. Both mills were fully functioning until the mid 1960’s. Today they are used for artisan breads and fabrics but mostly as a tourist attraction. We were met by the owner who showed us the workings – which was very interesting.  There was also a woman there dressed in her traditional clothes who served us some fine local brandy and sugared orange and lemon rinds – also produced locally.  A pleasant forest walk beside the rushing stream, the whole thing was a welcome change from being paraded around towns and cities following the Viking cruise guide lollipop.

Our second stop was at a silk shop. The woman there invited us up to her living room where she served delicious home made almond cake and tea. Then she explained silk manufacturing as a sustainable and organic cottage industry. Fascinating. We even got to pet the silk worms – caterpillars really. Cute little creatures. So busy munching their mulberry leaves. We watched our host wind a spool of silk from the cocoons, heard about the traditions of the embroidery of the area. One strand of silk is about 1 kilometre long. The silk was a lovely yellow colour. This woman too was dressed in her traditional clothing and she gave a lively demonstration of its inner workings. Reminiscent of getting into and out of a Sherpa dress. Several similarities. Besides the complexities of getting into these garments, An other similarly is that maidens don’t wear aprons, married women do. 

Back in Dubrovnik town, dad and I proceeded to walk around the top of the town wall. Nu,Eros steps. Dad went to the half way point and called it quits. He went down and back to the main gate at street level. I continued around and up into the main tower and met up with him at the town well. We then found a pharmacy as dads cold is getting quite severe.

Back to the ship via the frequent shuttle busses laid on by Viking. Just getting dark as we arrived. A perfect day!  We attended an excellent enrichment lecture about the Greek economic crisis, went to dinner and were blissfully in bed by about 10pm – early! 

As usual the picture posting is messed up – so in muddled order and a second post to follow…

Up on the wall. Surrounding Dubrovnik 

   
Making a thread from silk worm cocoons

 

Tea and cake at the silk worm lady’s home.
   
Treats at the mill
  

28 November – Split Croatia

We departed Venice in the sunset…. It was so pretty sailing by those palaces and St Mark’s square for a last time. 

We woke up in Split Croatia. I’d never heard of the place before this cruise. Rather like little Pula, it is off the beaten track. The Romans however quite liked the place and Roman emperor Diocletian retired there. You may have heard of him – he was totally into persecution of  what he considered to be pesky Christians. Anyway he built himself a very fine palace in Split and spent his golden years there. A fair bit of that palace is still standing – in particular it’s basement.

Here we had the worst guide of the trip so far – beyond bearable repetitive! She was pretty keen on that basement – kept us there forever babbling away about God knows what – we completely lost interest. However Split itself is quite charming. We ditched the boring guide and explored the vibrant “green market”. Everyone from near and far was either shopping for or selling fresh vegetables and fruit. Dad and I bought a string of figs. So sweet and yummy.

Split explored as mush as we wished, we wandered back to the ship – easy walking distance right outside the gate of the old city. I spent the afternoon basking in hot sun on our balcony with very little on if you get my drift. Dad snoozed – he’s coming down with a cold. Seems a few people on board have one. Once these things get going they are hard to stop.

 

Roman soldiers? yes indeed….


    
 

Pictures of Venice

My Ipad is refusing to load more than three pictures at a time so three more on their way if these ever load….   
Motering  down the Grand Canal – in a local “bus” – Such a treat! 

 
The ceiling of the entry to the Basilica in St Mark’s square. Plain compared to  the inside. Not a good shot but I took it surreptitiously as no cameras were allowed.

  
Flooded St. Mark’s Square. Pretty, but problematic for strolling around. You can see the line up of people trying to get to the basilica. The annoying thing was that people would get to the entrance to be told they had to go somewhere else to check purses. Then there would be two way traffic on the one way walkway. Now why someone couldn’t have been at the start of the walk way to explain this is beyond me. Kinda an Italian thing I guess. Many people were supremely not impressed! Another funny thing is that the Basilica advertises itself as “free.” But once one gets inside there are payments to be made to see different areas. Now if one has checked their purse in a different building and has no money as a result – well what can it says?  The annoyance level mounts! Seriously? I was quite happy to sweetly explain to the various ticket sellers, “oh so sorry, I can’t support the repair to your church, my money is in my purse and my purse is else where.” Smile. The Italians are know for being disorganized – I agree.

26 and 27 November – magical Venice and a mighty hot dog

We’ve just set sail from Venice after two glorious day here. 

Where to begin? This cruise is actually two linked cruises and Venice is where some passengers left and others arrived. So now I’m going to tell you a tale to complement one of Judith Round’s anecdotes about stereotypical American eating habits. For those of you not reading Judith’s posts – she’s also on a cruise and has been regaling us with such stories. On the first portion of our cruise, most of our fellow travellers did not fit the mold of the ugly American. There is a marked difference with some who have just arrived. Please note, most of our fellow passengers seem to be open minded travellers. But the exceptions are out standing and thus here’s a companion story to Judith’s about the gourmet hot dog.  

Dad and I were in the self serve restaurant this afternoon having lunch. Two tables down from us a man sat down with a plate mightily heaped and overflowing with an enormous foot long – HOT DOG – and numerous copious fixings! The man proceeded to devour his plate load of food with a sloppy gusto that would have been more appropriate in a barn yard. The snuffling, grunts and sticky wet lip smacking was alarmingly disgusting. We finished our lunch and left as quickly as possible. It was just too unpleasant to be in the vacuity. The choices at the buffet are varied and plentiful. I’ve never seen hot dogs, and think this one was perhaps “special” ordered. Can you imagine? 

Now enough of the gross and supremely ugly American and on to the lovely and serenely beautiful Venice!

Dad and I spent all day yesterday on our own adventure. As it was passenger change day (sounds a bit like laundry day doesn’t it?) there were no organized shore excursions. We took local transport (water bus) out to Murano Island where the glass blowers work. It was not possible to see a factory – liability issues we gather – but we sure saw many beautiful glass ornaments, jewelry, goblets, dishes, chandeliers ……oh the fanciful chandeliers – selling for around 2500 to 5000 to more Euros! I admired from afar! But a few pretty trinkets did make it into my shopping bag. We had lunch in an out of the way place offering  yummy fish sauce spaghetti – served with wine of course. This was a place recommended to us by a local who spoke no English. I speak no Italian so it was great fun just getting the directions. Lunch enjoyed and back on the water bus again, we continued to St Mark’s Square! We toured around in the Doge’s palace, crossed the Bridge of Sighs and explored the creepy old prison. There was a particular room in the palace in which my house would fit four times side by side. Four more times if it was stacked one on atop the other. Huge! And the wall and ceiling decorations- well I’ll include some pictures in a picture blog shortly.

It was dusk as we rode our third water bus of the day down the Grand Canal. We sat up front and out side so nearly froze as the temperature was just about zero but it was lovely! This was my first time on the Grand Canal and watching the lights coming on within the palaces was incredibly pretty. Tiny glimpses into grand rooms crowned with brilliant chandeliers. 

Back on our Viking Star we warmed up, had dinner, and then I was off to an opera event. This wasn’t an actual opera – it was an intimate performance of several popular opera songs in a private palace. We were hosted by the count who owns it, who’s family has lived there since it was built in the 1300’s. Pretty special. The count himself was there to greet us and chat. Of course there were refreshments. It was a delightful evening which included walking to the venue and back over four bridges over four canals…..A memorable evening ….dreamlike. 

Our second day in Venice was interesting but a bit frustrating. We went to St marks square again, this time with a guide on a tour organized by Viking. The tide was really high so the square was flooded. As a result raised walking platforms had been set up but they were too few for the numbers of people. This meant crowds on the platforms so it was very difficult for the guides to keep groups together….. After some time dad and I and quite a few others set off to explore on our own. The sun was shining brightly so it felt warmer than the previous day but was still fairly cool. Standing around waiting for the groups to gather in the few dry places seemed to be a waste of this lovely sunshine and our precious time in this beautiful city. We walked an other long above water platform over to the Basilica – it took ages to get there but it was worth the effort and we enjoyed – were astounded by – the gilt interior – no photography allowed – but we took a couple of pictures in the entrance I’ll share shortly. Incredibly beautiful.

The sun seemed to have brought crowds with it. The flooded square was making moving about difficult as the platforms were narrow and too few. It was a bit dangerous really for anyone who might be slightly unsteady if pushed – and there was some pushing going on. A fall off the platforms into the water could have really serious consequences. We headed back to the ship – by boat of course – where we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing. There’s not a lot of down time on this cruise so it was quite pleasant to do nothing for a couple of hours!

Pictures coming….tomorrow…….now it’s time for shut eye. We have an early start in the morning.

25 November – Pula Croatia

If you’ve never heard of Pula, join the club – seems not too many people from our neck of the woods know of its existence. However why have we never heard of this quite remarkable little place? It is a small town perched at the northern end of Croatia, a short drive from Venice we’re told. Certainly a short boat ride from Venice. For unknown reasons it is simply not a major tourist destination – yet.

Pula, while currently world famous for nothing, has something unique and grand – The world’s most complete Roman amphitheater. Quite remarkable. The town has a long and interesting history. It was settled in pre Roman times. The Romans had a trading city here. Then the venetians  came and sort of ransacked the place, taking all the marble seats from within the amphitheater for building projects they had going on in Venice. The Venetians also built a large fort atop the town’s hill, using some more Roman temples and other structres in the process. Then the Austrio Hungarian empire became interested in the strategic location. During their period of occupation, they built many of the buitiful baroque buildings that decorate the town today. Next came the time of Tito and he built ugly communist buildings. They a far from decorative. In fact are down right ugly – but they do tell a story. So today all these styles of architecture sit comfortably side by side reflecting a long history. Pula currently seems to be scratching it’s head over the concept of tourists. They seem to be taking us in stride, the fort is being turned into a museum, the amphitheater hosts world famous singers. The streets are cobbled and tidy. The place has a pleasant laid back feeing with very few tourist kitch shops. 

Croatia has its own currency. Many places accept the Euro but not the Fort.  Dad and I had no Croatian funds so the fort entry fellow invited us to explore without paying. Pretty friendly.

Because Pula has no cruise ship size port, we ferried to shore with our ship’s life boats. It was quite fun to see them in action. Wouldn’t want to be in one on a rough sea mind you! 

        
 
One of our life boats – funny little things!

   
 

     Pictures of Dubrovnik Croatia

So for some random reason these pictures loaded above the heading….

That randomness reminds me of a couple of other little things to say about today.

It was a dampish one and when we returned to the ship we were met with singing dancing crew members and champagne.  Just because – 

In the atrium this evening the entertainment included opera. There’s always some sort of music there, usually including the playing of the grand piano….

Our dinner this evening was amazing and included four different types of wine to go with the five courses. Tomato and watermelon gazpacho, (how odd does that sound? It was light and airy and oh so tasty) grilled scallops, (so tender and juicy) prosciutto and melon, (could have had two of those!) veal tenderloin, (didn’t really need a knife it was so tender) strawberry and basil delight (contained several sorts of liqueurs and was so yummy)…. All of it really over the top delicious.

A person might get rather used to this sort of decedence! Dad and I are looking into a China river cruise. It comes highly recommended.

Good night from somewhere in the Adriatic.

23 and 24 Nov – Kotor and Dubrovnik 

Here’s a glorious wee corner of the world!

Yesterday – Kotor in the tiny country of Montenegro. This completely walled city is tucked in under rugged mountains at the end of a sort of fiord. I say sort of fiord because it is actually a drowned river valley, but it looks like a  fiord. Ships need to negotiate a lengthy and at times very narrow passage in from the sea. In times of old, this passage was well defended and so Kotor has never been damaged by enemy forces. The people of this once important Venetian strong hold were (are) very proud of their city so when enemy forces did on occasion overwhelm them (Nepolion was one such scallywag), they sensibly handed over the keys with various stings attached. So what we have today is a city looking much the same today as it has for hundreds of years. Thus as one walks through the narrow, winding, pedestrian only, cobbled streets, history breathes as a living thing.

Extensive fortifications and walls climb up the mountains above Kotor and quite a number of us made to steep hike up to the view point in a ruined fortress high above the pretty red rooves below. My kind of outing! The other perfection of Kotor is that our ship was docked within a three minute walk from the town gate. It could not have been any better!

Montenegro beer – excellent by the way.

Today  – Dubrovnik in Croatia. A different story here. I’m sure many of you have heard of the siege of Dubrovnik that took place during the bloody Balkin war of the 1990’s. This beautiful city and its inhabitants suffered quite severly during those hostilities and the only reason things didn’t go worce for them was due to UN intervention. That intervention was partly to protect this historically significant UNESCO place. One of the things dad and I did was to visit the museum commemorating that time. The slide show of what this town endured was moving. The lovely buildings we were busy taking pictures of and the beautiful street we were walking along had been severly damaged. The people of Dubrovnik spent that year with no running water – they used the ancient town well, no electricity, therefore no TV or radio news of what was happening. Their homes and shops and churches were under fairly constant bombardment. Yet they held on and finally help came. There has been considerable financial assistance now too to re roof the roofless buildings and restore most of the damage. Many of the buildings still bare witness to the siege with the pock marks of mortor and shell fire from the hills above across their facades. The enemy had sat up in those hills and simply fired down upon the town at will. But those gates never opened and Dubrovnik did not surrender.

Today we had our first rain. It was very heavy first thing but during our walk about it wasn’t too wet at all. It did make for low light photography conditions – but didn’t detract from our enjoyment of this stunningly pretty historically significant old town.

Croatian cherry brandy  – smooth and deadly!

Pictures coming on a separate post….. Internet being what it is.

22 Nov – On the waves of the Ionian Sea

A full day at sea and a rather bouncy sea it was! There weren’t too many people in the various dinning  rooms and there were equally few people at the numerous enhancement lectures. Even some of the presenters at said lectures were some what under the weather. As were a few of the servers. It all made for an interesting day. Despite being a person rather prone to sea sickness, I did fairly well in that I attended every meal and lecture and enjoyed a beer at lunch then wine at dinner. By dinner we were actually in calmer seas. 

I took no pictures yesterday. I found the idea of balancing a camera to try and show you the tossing waves and bouncing  horizon a little more than I could manage. Dad figures the seas were about three meters with wind waves on top. Winds 35 to 40 knots. It was blowing a gale! No more. 

I have to say I was quite happy when we finished with the Ionian chop and entered the calmer waters of the Adriatic. Yesterday evening we were entertained with a very clever and funny rendition of  Get Smart and James Bond on stage. They did a great job of providing a quality live singing and dancing show with some quite sofisticated visual affects.

All in all a good day but I’m soooo glad to be back in clam seas!

Good night from somewhere off  the Croatian coast.