Monaco via St Tropez

The Splendida docked in Marseilles at 8am – it’s almost time to disembark. Last night we received notification of disembarkation times and were surprised to read a disembarkation time of 9.45am. “Assemble in the Aft Lounge and await further instructions” stared at me from the memo placed under our door.  Passengers would be disembarked at 15 minute intervals by coding….we were code Green. Given we docked at 8am we thought we’d be off the ship by 9am and on the road to Monaco by 10.00am so our plans to stop at St. Tropez and Cannes would now need to be revised.

We sat in the Aft Lounge for about 30 minutes and then decided to mingle with the code Red group being ushered to the allotted deck for disembarkation into the Baggage Hall. Ty had watched the luggage being unloaded onto the dock at 7am so we couldn’t see any other reason to keep us waiting. Group tours disembark from a different deck to ‘do your own thing’ passengers as do the passengers leaving the cruise ship. So it wasn’t an issue of crowding or causing excursions to run late.

Off the ship, luggage collected, we moved to the taxi rank. The line wasn’t too long but we expected a short wait. Suddenly the Japanese man behind us pushed between Ty and I, waving his hands excitedly then proceeded to aim his camera at something he found interesting on the other side of us. I looked to see what was so exciting given we were standing in the middle of a massive concrete quadrangle with nothing to view but a continuous stream of taxis. “Ahh, he’s very excited about the Mercedes taxi that had moved up beside us” I whispered to Ty and continued with “you’d think it was made of gold or something the way he’s bouncing around surely he’s seen a Merc before?” At the same moment the family of 7 that were next in line rushed for the Merc but the rank coordinator called them back and tried to get them to take the people mover behind the Mercedes. After much shaking of heads and hand waving the family squashed their luggage and themselves into the Mercedes. As they drove away the scene inside the taxi looked disturbing, the younger children of this middle eastern family were literally squashed between the back of the front seats and the back seat passengers, seat belts and keeping children firmly seated does not seem to be a priority here nor does there appear to be a maximum number of passengers rule. The kids would be sitting on the floor or standing. Guess the adults wanted to travel in a Mercedes and this must have been their one and only opportunity to do so!!!

Finally, our turn and we didn’t care what car turned up as long as it took us to the Hertz Depot, it was now almost 10.30am. Our driver seemed pleasant enough, spoke a little english but we didn’t really engage him in conversation, there was no overwhelming smell of stale cigarettes either. Ty told him our drop off point was the Hertz Depot behind Saint Charles railway station. “Oui” he said and we were off. Weaving in and out of traffic at a fast pace we made from the Port to the station in very good time….as we approached the station we reminded him that we needed to go to the rental car area in a street behind the station. “No, I only go to taxi rank” he stated. “We need to go to Hertz, that’s what we told you at the Port” Ty replied. “No, taxi rank Saint Charles only”. There was no point in arguing for whatever reason he wasn’t going to drop us at the place we needed. As we unloaded the bags Ty asked how we get to Hertz from here (we’d driven there a week before so we knew the general direction but not walking) the driver pointed towards the station and said “That way”. Funny and really annoying that he couldn’t take us to Hertz given a taxi happily picked us up from Hertz to take us to the Port without issue!! Sad to say we weren’t too fused on Marseilles the first time we ventured in and this driver only helped to heighten our dislike. Perhaps he got out of bed on the wrong side or just couldn’t be bothered with foreigners…who knows.

More time was now being wasted whilst we walked to Hertz….firstly we had to enter the station and find our way out the other side. The main station doors opened and we entered this large empty area, one end was being renovated so that was a no go area, to the left there were escalators so we took the escalators which took us to the main concourse area…trains and people everywhere. We stood and took in our surroundings, both of us becoming frustrated with the situation. Ty spied 2 men dressed in official uniforms leaning on a table chatting so he went over and asked for directions to the rental car companies. They looked at Ty quizzically but, thankfully, another man joined them and he understood what Ty was asking and gave directions. Out the back doors of the station down the road to the next street turn right at the next street turn left…it was another 10 minutes before we reached the Hertz office. By then we were very hot and tired of dragging our luggage up gutters, down gutters, between parked cars and drivers that wanted to park their car where we were walking (no footpaths here) as well as trying to dodge puddles of water that had formed in potholes; I was a little aggravated but when you’re on holidays in a foreign country these things happen….it’s all part of the experience…right??

The process to collect the car took a little more time than expected as the car they were offering had a 1.2 litre motor with a diesel engine and we had hills to climb….this poor thing wouldn’t have managed the first hill out of Marseilles. The car Ty accepted was a Ford CMax, manual and diesel. Luckily the Hertz assistant offered to go and bring the car up rather than explain where the car was parked….it could take us the rest of the day to find the car and load up the luggage and leave town. We were thankful for his offer and accepted graciously. Just as well, it was 10 minutes before he returned with the car!! I must say all the Hertz staff we dealt with in Avignon and both times in Marseilles were extremely helpful and very pleasant.

At 11.45 we drove off in the general direction of Monaco via St Tropez only 2 hours later than we’d hoped to be leaving Marseilles. The temperature was already in the high 20’s with blue skies all around….a great day for a drive around the French Riviera. We opted to take a couple of toll roads, to speed up the travel time, as well as the roads winding around the sea to get those fabulous views however we found that even those roads headed into the hills so no water view was clearly visible.

We knew we’d almost arrived at St Tropez by the slow traffic ahead of us, we inched our way into this coastal town placed on the map by the rich and famous many years ago and the St Tropez holiday tradition of the well known faces and bodies continues to this day. Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t recognise one of them if they were sitting next to me, I’ll never be able to say “guess who I saw in St Tropez?” Nor take that spur of the moment pic magazines will pay a motza for….no, your writer missed out on a celebrity radar when they were handed out. Must have been shopping that day!!

After doing a lap around St Tropez, crawling in bumper to bumper traffic, looking for a parking space somewhere other than the marina car park we decided a car space at the marina with a short walk to the hub was better than this. This town was buzzing….the marina car park was bursting at the seams but we managed to find a space…

Alighting from the car we took in our surroundings so we would be able to find the car on our return. Nothing worse than losing your car in a crowded car park! Ty knows all about that and we don’t have 40 minutes spare today to look for a lost car!

We strolled along the edge of the marina looking at the cruisers moored beside old fishing trawlers and marvelled at the amount of money some of these luxury craft cost. As we turned the corner at the far end of the marina we stopped in out tracks….’oh my goodness’ I exclaimed ‘look at the people, it’s crazy’. The footpath from the marina to the main tourist area was lined with craft stalls and artists plying for trade either selling their paintings or offering to paint your portrait. As you can imagine there was not a lot of room for one or 2 pedestrians let alone large groups so we spilled out onto the road.

Before I left home one of my sisters had told me about a little wall clock she has seen in a shop in St Tropez and now wished she had purchased. Isn’t that always the way, we really like something we see on our travels, we can’t decide whether we should buy it or not, we walk away still indecisive, we come home…’damn, I wish I had bought that little item now’…. Given this is me on a regular basis why should my sister be any different. So we said, ‘ok, if we find the shop and the clock is still there we’ll buy it for you and send it home’. What a silly idea…first of all Lianne described where the shop was – ‘it was a little shop that sold teapots near a coffee shop on a corner in a quiet street off the main tourist street’. Any street name or address? Name of the shop? Well you would have asked those questions too! ‘No, I can’t remember, we could try and Google the streets’. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘we’ll see if we can find it – won’t promise anything though’.We decided to take a walk around the back streets away from the crowds and see if we could spot this little shop. We found a number of knick knack come homeware type shops and strolled in to explain what we were looking for….the shop owners were very pleasant, well most were very pleasant, as we explained the item and as they shook their head in the negative. Eventually gave up and wandered back to the crowded waterfront. Time to shop for souvenirs, have a Movenpick ice cream and make our way back to the car to continue the journey to Monaco. One thing about St Tropez that you probably already suspect is the souvenirs are very expensive.  I collect fridge magnets, amongst other items, from each place I visit…they don;t take up much room in your luggage! Generally the price ranges between 2.95 and 4.00 euro for your basic fridge magnet.  St Tropez magnets started at 4.00 euros, the humble shot glass was from 6 euros – a supersized increase on the base price of 1.95 euros that you normally find.  Yes, of course I bought a fridge magnet…

We were only in St Tropez for several hours, certainly not enough time to get a real feel for the town but first impressions for me – it had nothing more special than other coastal towns I’ve visited. It lacked the pizazz I expected. The stories of St Tropez just conjures up so many amazing pictures….I didn’t really see anything that amazed me – oh except for the crowds.  May need a revisit at some stage:)

St Tropez buildings ignoring the crowds

St Tropez buildings ignoring the crowds

We left St Tropez and followed the coast road around through St Maxime…which was a very pretty town, it appeared uncluttered, if you know what I mean, not choked with traffic and the beach front looked very inviting. This looked like a place where I would like to spend some time – sit on an apartment balcony overlooking the town square and out to sea writing my blog and adding another chapter or 2 to my book I’ve been trying to write for a number of years…

By now we were very late for our planned arrival on Monte Carlo so we by passed Nice. It will have to wait for another time. We did see a few interesting things on our drive. Two which deserve a mention was a Golf Polo with a motorbike tied to it’s roof and a little Fiat towing a mini caravan with a fully inflated rubber dingy tied to the roof of the caravan – both were bigger than the car.

We finally drove into Principality of Monaco around 5.30 pm which was very exciting for me as Monaco had been on my travel list since I was a young girl. Partly because of the romance of Grace Kelly and the Prince coupled with the Monaco Grand Prix. Yes, you’ve noted the Grand Prix is on in May and I’m here in August….so I still have to fulfil the rest of my dream of attending the race….God willing I’ll be able to do that one day as well. For now just to be driving into Monaco is a dream come true.

The views driving into Monaco didn’t disappoint, they’re spectacular with the horseshoe shape of the mountains enclosing the harbour.  No long queues of traffic for miles crawling into the town, as in St Tropez, just a quiet drive down and around the mountain.

Our hotel was easy to find…I had booked us into the Port Palace Hotel directly across from the Marina situated on a section of road that becomes part of the Grand Prix race track in May. Hotels in Monte Carlo are not cheap but I knew that would be the case and if you want to stay in Monte Carlo you have to be prepared to pay a higher price.
After much research the Port Palace was a standout for me for location and the middle of the road price, just over $600 Aussie dollars per night for a deluxe suite.

OK, moving away from the dream and back to reality – the driveway into the hotel was quite a tight turn. Now picture this, it’s Monte Carlo, a very expensive hotel, we’re driving a Ford c-max, the marina alongside us harbouring multi million dollar cruisers and yachts, a bright yellow Lamborghini parked under the hotel driveway awning and a Maserati parked in front of that..Ty has to manoeuvre the fabulous non luxurious c-max onto the driveway without connecting with the very large pots alongside the hotel entrance, the valet standing beside the entrance and guiding him in or the luxury cars in front of us. He completed the manoeuvre without any incidents and in one turn. The valet was impressed and asked if he wanted a job as they’re looking for people with extremely good parking skills. In those several seconds Ty dreamt about the Lamborghini’s, Maserati’s, Porsche’s and other amazing cars he’d get to drive before I stepped into his dream and reminded him being a valet may not pay enough so the lifestyle would suffer and things would be very expensive in Monte Carlo. No, he’ll just have to look and dream…it’s good to have dreams!

Time to stop dreaming, hand over the keys to our not so luxury car and head into reception so we can check into our very expensive room. As we walked away I wondered where they would hide our rental car…doubt it would sit proudly on display under the hotel awning. No, it would be whisked away as quickly as possible so as not to damage the reputation of the hotel….I was beginning to feel sorry for the car.

Our room was spacious with king bed, double wardrobes, lounge suite, dining table and still plenty of room for moving around and the bathroom was extremely large with a spa bath, separate shower room, double vanity area and separate loo. I would highly recommend this and would not hesitate to stay here again. Oh except for the Grand Prix, as much as it would be a great vantage point and you could almost touch the cars as they whiz by, the 8,000 euro for 2 nights price tag turns me off that idea. However if there’s anyone out there that would like to pay my accommodation for the 2 nights at Grand Prix time I’d happily accept the offer and write a report on it – my birthday is in May as well – just a couple of days before the race. Of course Ty would have to join me couldn’t go to the Grand Prix without my better half!!!!

The room had a great street view of the marina and the boats…I will enjoy staying here for the next couple of days. Tonight we’ll find a place for dinner, go for a walk to explore our surroundings. Tomorrow we start our tour of Monte Carlo in earnest!

Patonga – a night at the local and not really a travel tale!

Yes, my fabulous readers, as the heading suggests, this blog breaks my norm. We’re told on a regular basis that change is good! However, this is just a detour, an observation, I felt I needed to add to my blogs….
It does contain a small portion of travel so it won’t disappoint totally. Leaving our house we travelled about an hour via local roads where we saw kangaroos dining on lush green grass, headed onto a 3 lane freeway, turned onto town roads, climbed narrow winding roads, enjoyed magnificent views of the coastline and finally wound our way down a very narrow, winding, road to reach the hamlet.

A little history – Patonga is a hamlet on the Central Coast of NSW with several shops and a large pub all centred around a white sandy beach. I have no idea of the population however during holiday season it is extremely busy and to bring visitors to Patonga the local community holds various festivals. One such festival is the Blues festival which is held on a Saturday in November each year.

This evening, after the festival, Ty’s friends’ band was playing at the pub for those still in town. We had arranged to pick up my friend Maryanne and head to the pub for the evening. The band, Null and Void, are regulars at the Patonga pub so I assume they also have a local following too.

Null and Void

Arriving at the pub I noted the place was crowded outside and we heard the band in full swing. The regular security guard was hovering around the stairs as we walked past. We stepped into the darkened bar area and pushed our way past the people to a table near the band. Taking up our positions we settled ourselves in for an evening of music, wine and entertainment, which included people watching as well as great music.

The band members, Kai ad Bob acknowledged us with a nod and a wave. Looking around the room I noticed quite a number of interesting characters, many more than our last visit. There were a few that I recognised from last time and had to assume they were locals.

As the band played the next song a woman shimmied her way to the dance floor and continued to move to the music. Dress sense did not appear to be her strong point or perhaps I’m a little old fashioned with textures and colours that should be worn together. This lady was wearing what looked like my late grandfather’s multi coloured striped pyjama pants that had been cut off above the ankles with a top large tricolour stripes going crossways around. I couldn’t watch her any longer because the colours and the stripes were beginning to clash very badly. I turned my focus to the bar area….

Sitting at the bar facing each other, holding hands and looking lovingly into each others’eyes were two rather large lesbian girls in their 20’s. One was wore a baseball cap, matching fleece jacket and jeans, the other in a black singlet top and jeans. They appeared oblivious to anyone else in the room as they moved closer and started to kiss passionately…ok time to shift focus again!!! I know men seem to find this interesting for some reason but doesn’t do much for me.

The man I considered to be a regular was seated at a table beside us, with a couple of other men. I named him ac/dc or ‘aca daca’ last time we were here and you’ll read my reasoning further on. The men at the table were interesting characters…there was ‘aca daca’ with his greying mullet hair do under a black baseball cap, his sunglasses perched on top of the cap and wearing a dark grey fleece jacket with sleeves pushed up, a pair of grey jungle print shorts and a pair of black runners. He was slight build, his features were best described as scraggy and not a tooth in his head – as my darling husband would say ‘he couldn’t bite you but he could give you a nasty suck’. Hopefully I’m not offending all those that prefer no teeth to false teeth..it’s unintentional. Aca was a happy gentleman and I think he may have had an eye on Maryanne..

The other two men had mullets as well…most mullets I’d seen in one place for a very long time. One man was extremely thin, bordering on anorexic I’d say, he wore tan pants with thick white socks and black scuffs. He had a walking stick which he seemed to keep losing! He was quite chatty and obviously another local as people came over to chat with him regularly. The third man was in black and was more inebriated than the other two staggering to the bar and spilling the drinks on his return.

Suddenly a man burst onto the dance floor, spinning round and twisting to the music…dressed in black t shirt, black shorts and wearing his dark sunglasses. I gathered he liked this song. Several women were dancing near him so he slid over and joined them but from their body language I gathered he wasn’t welcome. After the next song had finished the man in black stepped back towards our table…not looking at us but still facing the band. He moved a little closer to Maryanne then suddenly wandered off. When the set finished I mentioned him and Maryanne said incredulously ‘he put his hand on my leg’! ‘You’re kidding’ I replied ‘No, I pushed him away’ was her reply. We couldn’t believe it….what sort of people are out there? We couldn’t believe the audacity of him. Where’s the respect?

Scanning the room and the dance floor I noticed that hats were popular with the males; baseball caps, panamas, fedoras, a trilby or two, flat caps and even a cowboy hat….they were all here and in varying colours. Some looked good, a couple were too small for the heads they adorned and several more should have been thrown out years ago. There was a rather tall, rotund man in a mustard coloured t shirt, a cream raffia fedora on his head that was way too small, standing at the bar with a corona in his hand who thought he looked pretty cool. Guess that’s all that matters!!!!

Whilst we’re on the subject of men, some stood around in a trance, some bopped to the music as they eyed the females in the room…as only men can do. Some men stood in circles and danced, others danced and sang to each other. Ah, music really does make the world go around and it doesn’t matter what gender you are it’s quite acceptable to sing and dance with each other. Although not too many years ago we wouldn’t have seen two or three heterosexual men bopping around the dance floor together and getting up close to sing a chorus of a song.

‘Wait for it’ I’d said to Maryanne earlier in the evening, ‘aca daca will throw himself onto the dance floor air guitar revved up and ready to go’. It was time!!! Aca moved onto the floor and proceeded to move across the dance floor playing his air guitar and gyrating to the music. He modus operandi was to slide across the floor in front of Chris, the Null and Void guitarist, and play his air guitar in time with Chris. He is so close rocking back and forth I’m amazed he doesn’t fall into Chris or step on the electrical gadgets up front. Then he’d scoot up towards the singer, Bob, and bass guitarist, Kai, to play air guitar with them. The only one safe was the drummer. The amazing thing is that his sunglasses never moved from his cap throughout his whole performance….we were impressed! So if you know of the band AC/DC (even if you don’t find them on you tube) and how Angus Young moves around the stage that’s your man aca daca. At several points in his dance he tried to catch Maryanne’s eye and that was amusing. The locals always recognise new blood in town!!

Aca Daca

Aca Daca

Whilst aca was playing air guitar,sliding and side stepping across the dance floor one of the three men had left and the other had moved to the bar to order the next round of drinks, a blonde and her partner moved to the table thinking the previous guests had vacated….they hadn’t!! The young man in the tan pants with the walking stick returned with the drinks to find he had some new friends to chat to. As much as the couple tried to be polite but uninterested it didn’t work. The blonde decided to take a photo of the band and our man in tan thought it time for a selfie with his new found friends. He quickly moved across to them, beer breathe breathing in their face and was very persuasive in getting in a selfie with the couple. We thought it very amusing.

The blonde and her partner had been dancing – mainly for the crowd – you know the type. They think they’re the best looking couple in the room, she’s playing to the room, flirting with all the men in the room looking around to see who’s watching…the partner is a bit on the broody side…thinking he’s a modern day Marlon Brando (young Marlon of course). There’s always one couple in the room. They were standing near us before the move to aca’s table. As she flirted to the room there was the one person who thought she really did have her eyes on him. Up wanders our man in the mustard t-shirt with the tiny fedora on his head…at close range he’s quite a hairy gentleman. For a minute I think he’s making a beeline for Maryanne but he steps up to the blonde. He puts his hand out ‘let’s dance’ blonde shakes her head in a no motion and moves closer to young broody Marlon. Mr tiny fedora moves closer and thrusts his hand at her this time young Marlon says something to her…perhaps ‘we’re in a corner here you better dance with him’ or ‘he’s bigger than the both of us just dance one song with him’. Whatever he says she moves to the floor with Mr tiny fedora. As they danced the blonde was looking to her partner and trying to move back towards him but her dance partner was having none of that. He kept pulling her back to him, at one stage she walked back to her partner and shared his chair but Mr tiny fedora followed her, had a few words in a cross manner and took her back to the dance floor and there she stayed till the bracket of songs ended. I figure in a crowd such as this it’s better to be a wall flower than attract too much unwanted attention.

When the next bracket started the same people jumped up onto the dance floor to start their moves all over again but another had joined them. A man all in black, hands in pockets, staring into space seemingly oblivious that other people were on the dance floor as he moved to and fro in time to the music. He moved further into the midst of the dancers still with that spaced out look on his face. He was a slight hazard and the dancers, I use that term lightly given some of the gyrations, had to move out of his way.

Suddenly a very tall man came into view to the right of us. The is man had a bored expression on his face, beer in hand swaying to the music with the tiniest amount of knee movement. Maryanne and I decided to call him Lurch. The man with the vacant stare was still on the floor and was now sidling up behind or beside some of the female dancers and at one point came a little too close to Maryanne and actually placed his hand on her leg! That hand was shoved away very quickly and he moved on to one of the lesbian girls. I leaned over to Maryanne and said “Now that is going to end badly for him!” and we then watched as the other lesbian girl pushed him back off the dance floor towards the bar area. People were moving out of the way as the other lesbian girl came for him as well. Security stepped in and broke up the little incident. The man was spoken to and later removed from the premises.

As the set ends a couple of men come up to the singer and cuddle him for the great songs he’s singing and tell him how much they love him. Music tends to do that to men!!

The conversation at the table behind us during the break was interesting…..all about weed and coke. It was clear they weren’t discussing your everyday garden variety weed nor coca cola. We heard about how cheap these items were ‘years ago’ and how they could no longer get ‘high’. This conversation and their anecdotes of days gone by continued for a time……amazing what you can learn on a night out in Patonga. Now we know why some of the patrons look so spaced out. Both Maryanne and I agreed we’ve lead such a sheltered life.

I heard a slight commotion behind me then I felt the dampness….the anorexic man in the tan pants sitting behind us had knocked a glass of red wine off the table and it landed right on my backside. Great now I’ll smell like a wino for the rest of the evening…thank goodness I was wore a mostly black top… Can you imagine a white top with a fabulous red wine stain across the backside?? Our friend was very apologetic – so what could I do except smile (through gritted teeth) and say “it’s ok accidents happen”. He rushed to the bar to get a cloth for me to mop up but that really didn’t help…my clothing eventually dried.

The dance floor was still bopping along and a man in a yellow shirt and hat danced like a rooster however there was no hen in sight to be wooed. A young couple stepped onto the dance floor, stood in one spot smooching with a little bit of rocking to the music.

The band broke into the song Tainted Love. This song revved up the crowd and they rushed to the dance floor. Men were sliding across the floor, women dancing round in circles with hands in the air….the whole of sleepy Patonga would have been woken by the beat.

Next came the song Let Me Go Wild, and aca was still up front playing air guitar, 5 males were dancing in a circle, a woman was crouched down at the bass guitarists feet, swaying with the music, when she slowly started to move her hands up his leg towards his groin…..he continued to play, we laughed and before she got too far up his thigh someone helped her up. We laughed about it with him afterwards but he did say he was getting a little worried there for a while and wasn’t sure what his next move would be to unlatch her from his leg. One of the perks of being in a band?

Music does some strange things to people or is it alcohol??

As the band played it’s last couple of songs in final set the harmonica player entered the group and played a number. People started to leave, not aca daca though – he had more air guitar to play. A couple of songs into the set a man who had been standing near us stepped over to Maryanne and asked her to dance. She obliged, Ty and I also joined them on the dance floor.

The music ended, dancers shouted for more, the band gave in and played another song, people danced as if they’d never hear another song again. Maryanne’s dance partner asked for her phone number and the night drew to a close.

As with most venues people are often slow to move on especially if they’ve enjoyed themselves so it was the job of the security people to move the patrons towards the doors and home.

Carthage, Sid Bou Said and Tunis

Tunisia is the next stop on our cruise and we’d arranged a private guide to take us to visit the historic sites. I have no desire to be locked into a carpet factory and showroom for 30 or 40 minutes whilst the operators try to entice you into purchasing a carpet or rug so I felt a private guide and driver was the best option. All group tours also included a visit to an American War Cemetery and, not being American, I preferred to bypass that as well. Perhaps if I were an American or had an ancestor buried in the cemetery there would have been a reason to visit.

Our choice of places to visit included the ancient ruins of Carthage, Punic Harbour, Byrsa Hill (Punic and Roman remains), Ancient Roman Baths, Sid Bou Said, drive to Tunis to wander through the Medina (market) and view the ancient Roman aqueduct. Probably more ancient history than Ty would like however, he’s lucky though, as I have now visited most places of the ancient world that I really wanted to see – Carthage was one of the last places on my list. My Ancient History teacher, Mr McGlynn, probably thought he failed to implant any knowledge of “happenings BC” in my grey matter when I was a student in his class all those years ago. Hmmm, some might say my school days could almost meet the criteria for ancient history! I’m sure my grandchildren think their Nan is an ancient relic….young children AND teenagers think anyone over 30 is ancient!!!

Tourism in Tunisia has been steadily growing with the cruise ships, and their passengers, calling into La Goulette greatly help the economy as tourism is it’s number one income….. The cruise liner, Noordam, was also in port at the same time as Splendida which meant the port area was quite busy with excursion buses, private tour mini buses and cars.

We had a little trouble finding our driver and guide, we were waiting at one parking area and Mr Radhi (our guide) was in another. The instructions given seemed clear enough on email but when we stepped out onto Tunisian soil they were not very clear at all. I had assumed we would walk out and find either across the road or to either side of us a person holding up a piece of cardboard with our name on it but no that wasn’t the case at all. There were several car parking areas containing many cars, minivans and buses across the road and up the road with men milling around. Perhaps they’re over there, we walked across the road…..no, no vehicle there with our name on a sign. Hmm, maybe they’re running late, we looked up the road, more men milling around but no signs with our name on it. I was becoming frustrated and a little annoyed because we were wasting precious time looking for someone who was supposed to be waiting for us!! We eventually found him (or so we thought) after Ty asked people standing around if they could point out Mr Rhadi (at least we had a name). One tour guide pointed us toward a little van and walking towards it we could see our name. The van was parked several metres inside a yard backing onto the cruise terminal entry about 50 metres up the road. Yes, we could find that no trouble at all…….and yes, you could be detecting a note of sarcasm here! Everything is right with the world again and our tour of Tunis and the historical sites is about to begin.

We stepped onto the bus and the driver, an elderly gentleman or perhaps middle aged and just aged by chain smoking, started talking to us in what I assume to be Arabic…I started to laugh as Ty said, “well, that’s great, are you sure we’re in the right van, he doesn’t speak or understand English”. “What have you booked?” I was amused by the look on his face. Poor Project Manager goes into panic mode if things don’t run to plan. Just as I replied “we have a guide as well” the driver jumped out of the bus and headed very quickly for the gate….we both laughed….perhaps we frightened him and he was running away! He had actually gone to find our guide who, it appears, had been waiting outside the gate with his sign….not sure where he was holding it but when we walked up to this gate there was not a sign in sight…lots of men talking but no signs. No matter, the driver and the guide returned and off we went.

First impressions of Tunisia: hot, dry, very dusty, rocky, and a little barren on the outskirts.

Our first stop was the Punic burial ground, quite amazing to see tombstones so well preserved, next was the ancient Roman Baths overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans certainly new how to choose the picturesque places to build. All part of what was once the ancient city of Carthage. These amazing ancient buildings, carvings and gravestones are extremely well looked after. The museum on the Carthage site holds a large number of fabulous artefacts from ancient times and is not overcrowded with pieces.

View of Tunis from Ancient Carthage

View of Tunis from Ancient Carthage

Road infrastructure in most developing countries is not the best and Tunisia was no different. Take the traffic on the F3/M1 motorway (the road we travel to /from work each day) or any major highway in most major cities in peak hour and triple it….all streets in the main area of Tunis (capital) were choked with cars. We sat in the traffic and occasionally crept along a centimetre at a time. The air conditioning wasn’t the best in the people carrier and when the windows were open we almost got blown away by the wind, the dust and the strange smells that permeated the air in certain areas. Couldn’t win either way but it was still an interesting place to be so as well as soaking up the unpleasant aspects I was soaking up the sights surrounding me.

Tourism in Tunisia has been steadily growing and the cruise ships calling into La Goulette are greatly helping the economy as tourism is it’s number one income….possibly it’s only income. There was another cruise liner, Noordam, in port at the same time as us. There are also 5 star resorts situated further along the Tunisian coastline which are starting to become popular.

Whilst we drove to Sin Bou Said Mr Radhi told us he is a university lecturer, as is the case with many teachers in the height of the tourist season in Europe when schools and universities are closed for holidays, they take on the role of tour guide. He explained that he normally worked 2 days a week and earned the equivalent of 350 euros a month. Tunisia has it’s own currency which you cannot purchase outside Tunisia nor take out of the country. Euro or US dollars are acceptable currency.

As he was talking I notice the road widens and becomes a dual carriageway. That surprised me given what I’ve seen so far. By the time I had the thought the dual carriageway ended! We were on the outskirts of Sin Bou Said, I knew that because the buildings were whitewashed with blue doors and shutters, similar to Santorini or Mykonos in Greek Islands and I had been listening intently to Mr Radhi! The scene started to look like a painting itself….very photogenic, to me anyway, as I can’t resist a totally blue and white scene and I couldn’t wait to see more. We stepped out of the car and proceeded to walk up a narrow cobblestone street crowded with cars, taxis, buses and pedestrians. About halfway up the street were shops and stalls run by men only.

Sou Bin Said fancy door

Sou Bin Said fancy door

A large bus was trying to manoeuvre it’s way down a narrow ‘street’ and a Mercedes driver (nowhere to be seen) had decided to park his car on the roadway. We watched as 5 men gave the bus driver instructions on which way to turn, how close he was to the car and shouting in unison when the bus was in danger of hitting the car. Although, by the look of most cars we had seen in Tunisia, caring about damaging someone’s vehicle wasn’t a high priority as so many cars looked like they’d gone a couple of rounds with a boxer. We decided this manoeuvre was taking too long so we continued on our way. Anyway, we’d already witnessed a taxi driver beating up an already beaten up small car whilst he and the cars’ driver engaged in a heated discussion. We assumed one may have run up the back of the other.

A tight fit...I'd say

A tight fit…I’d say

We came to a group of shops and looked at the goods on sale. As with many of the stores in tourist areas in these countries they don’t put prices on items and are unwilling to give a price or straight answer when you ask and then try to charge an exorbitant amount for the goods. They expect you to bargain with them but there are times when you just don’t feel like back and forth bargaining so it tends to become annoying. I also think places such as Tunisia and parts of Turkey that I’ve visited would do well to start placing prices on the goods. Of course I’m probably unfairly putting all souk retailers in the same category as there may be many traders, I’m sure, who don’t do this…..I just haven’t found any so I tend to think they’re dishonest rather than the idea it’s all a game, especially when they start at 220 euros for goods worth 30 euros or less. We had decided on three items, in a store recommended by our guide, a cover to wear over my swimming costume, a small souvenir and Ty found a leather belt so the bargaining begins…the first price the souk trader gave us was 220 euros….we laughed and Ty said “don’t be ridiculous”. So on it went till eventually they agreed on 30 euros – which was probably still 10 euros too much.

There were many photo opportunities in this area where everyone who lives here is bound to keep the look uniform and can only whitewash their houses and have blue surrounds which, as I said before, makes a great view from a distance. However, once you’re standing among the buildings the sight that meets your eyes is not that beautiful, you see a big house or villa and beside is piles of rubble or rubbish and this scene was played out across all the areas we visited. Well kept villas with bougainvillea, hibiscus and other flowering trees and shrubs colourfully surrounding the fences but piles of rubbish and building rubble beside the gate or at the end of the fence. No, it wasn’t sitting there waiting for garbage pick up unless it’s an annual service!!! No, this rubbish heap appeared to have been there for a number of years plus we saw locals just tossing rubbish onto the road or footpath. It struck us as odd that you would have the exterior walls and gardens of your home looking good but toss rubbish around it. How do you have cleanliness and pride in your home but outside your gate you seemingly don’t care, it’s as if they have the mentality that once the rubbish is outside my wall I’m not responsible for it. This phenomenon wasn’t isolated to just one area it was everywhere except some of the historical sites. There appears to be great pride in preserving the ancient sites in Carthage and that’s a good thing….perhaps they could introduce this sort of cleanliness to the wider community.

After our first foray into shopping in Tunisia we met our guide at the pre arranged place and he pointed out a few more things of interest, such as the reason there are shutters on the windows, I assumed it was to shade the rooms from the heat of the sun but Mr Radhi said it was because the women aren’t allowed to be seen at, or sitting, near the windows. I prefer my idea! We pushed our way through the masses of tourists as we followed our guide to where the driver was waiting. Our next stop would be Tunis and the Medina. We crossed the border, as Mr Radhi called it, whereas we were really just crossing from one suburb to another.

“Look at this traffic, it’s at a standstill” I said to Ty. I’m not sure if there were lanes or not because no one seemed to be travelling in any sort of order. Cars were going every which way even though police were on point duty…..well some sort of point duty. They weren’t helping and every so often they blew their whistle but no one moved…I don’t think they cared very much or they’d just given up, I would have. They probably had orders to blow their whistle at 15 minute intervals and they’d found the only shady spot anywhere on this road….under a flyover. Watching the cars and trucks jostling for position in the seeming mayhem was amusing. I just couldn’t imagine why you would choose to drive in this place it would be faster to walk everywhere. I can’t imagine anyone would ever get to work on time! Mr Radhi said the traffic was not really bad as many people are on holidays. If that’s the case I would definitely be walking everywhere.

As we inched our way into the capital, Tunis, the air conditioning in the van was giving up as well. The heat was becoming unbearable and I was contemplating forcing the driver to park us under a flyover as well. Ty managed to open the windows and the hot, dusty wind blew my hair everywhere..most of you know I hate being in any place or environment that’s windy and a car is one of the worst places if I don’t have a scarf. Precious you say? Maybe, I say it’s all about comfort – just don’t like being uncomfortable or with messy hair and for that reason I can’t purchase a convertible car…and I do love the look of convertibles!!

Joining another traffic jam we soon noticed a number of irate men raising fists out the windows of the cars and shouting animatedly. Unfortunately it became clear that a van had parked on the wrong side of the road to deliver some goods. Great, we had to be slowly melting in 60 degree heat whilst one motorist in particular was extremely upset with the van driver and a tirade of abuse between the two became heated to the point the van driver stepped out of his sandals and picked up a large, long chunk of timber and hurled it at the relatively new looking white sedan. Even though this was amusing it was also extremely uncomfortable watching this altercation escalate from the inside of a van without air-conditioning. The man in the little sedan stopped his car, after the pole hit the back of it, and ran at the van driver, he threw a punch at the van driver and knocked him down. As he walked back to his car the van driver grabbed a wrench and ran after the car driver. Luckily several men chased the van driver, grabbed him and held him to calm him down. Finally the traffic moved on….not a policeman to be seen!! That was our excitement for the day now onward to the Medina and perhaps a chance to get out of the extreme heat.

Reaching the centre of the city our driver pulled up and we had to alight from the van…we would now be on foot for the next hour looking at old buildings and walking through the Medina. Hmmm, not sure I like this, we had to keep ducking and weaving people as we tried to keep up with our guide on the street. It was crowded and no shade from the blazing sun…I was sure I’d melt…we had to be on our toes crossing the roads as well..when the cars get to move they move quickly and the drivers are reluctant to stop for pedestrians so it was stressful in the main square area. We also had to keep sight of our guide and be careful with our personal items….so much to think about when the heat had almost melted my brain and the I was wind blown!

Mr Radhi was waiting in the main square, I had to stop to take a photo of my surroundings, it was nothing like I’d seen before…the buildings were so old and you could see they had been ornate in an earlier life. “Kerin, come on, keep up” I heard Ty call out. As I turned I saw our guide heading away again, Ty continued ” You need to keep up we have to be careful here” I knew what he was referring to and how concerned he had been about visiting Tunisia when I had chosen this cruise so I put my camera away and followed our leader.

We managed to cross the road, without incident, to a very, very busy lane way leading into the Medina. Now, normally I love my shopping, especially in different countries but the shops were cluttered, the alley was tiny, about 3 feet (1 metre) wide between the shops on either side, and people were at least 6 across trying to shop, look or just walk through this section of the Medina…all alleys would have been the same. Oh, as well, merchants would be pushing through the crowd with their 2 wheeled trolleys. I found it to be claustrophobic and extremely hot. “Did I shop”? you ask. Unfortunately, not at all. We were carried along with the crush and our guide was weaving his way through ahead of us without so much as a look at the wares on offer. I couldn’t stop; the sea of people kept moving; it was like a flood picking up people like pieces of debris …..we had no choice but to move with it. In a way I’m glad of that because I didn’t feel like dealing with the bartering and the arrogant, sometimes overbearing attitude of the traders.

At the end of the alley we stopped to look at the exterior of a very old Mosque, “Thank goodness we can breathe some fresh air, well relatively fresh” I whispered to Ty, who said “Sorry, I didn’t hear you” ” Am I on your deaf side again?” “Yes” came the reply. Damn, I had to repeat myself! I’d hoped we would carry on walking past the Mosque in the outdoors even though the sun was blazing down on us, that was a better option than the airless alleyway of the Medina.

Mr Radhi asked if we wanted to shop “No” we both replied in unison. “I’m fine to go back now” I added, then he turned and headed back down the same crowded alley. My facial expression told Ty what my mind was thinking. By now our guide was way ahead of us and the number of people in the alley had increased. My thought was that everyone is on holiday and they’ve come to the Medina. Ty suggested I hold onto the backpack he was wearing and tuck in behind him….not the easiest thing to do with people cutting across the alley and pushing between us. About halfway through I felt like screaming, this was just insane and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I could hardly breathe and this was not an enjoyable experience…..perhaps I’ve lived on the central coast too long and become used to less crowded environments but I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t mind a crowd if I’m able to make my way to each shop and at least have a look at what they’re selling. I was quite prepared to purchase goodies in Tunisia so whilst I was looking forward to shopping the whole Medina crush left the Tunis traders less off ‘cos I went back to the ship with my euros. We spoke to people that had been to Tunis earlier in the year and they informed us it was very quiet and they wandered through without any crowds. So if you want to visit don’t go in July or August!!

I could now understand why, when suicide bombers set themselves off in these types of shopping places, so many innocent people are killed.

Tunisia is an interesting place, a place of contrasts with the preserved ancient areas being well cared for and clean against the populated areas and shopping districts appearing dirty, dusty and, in some parts, smelly. Tunisia is heavily dependent on the tourism trade and to get repeat visitors to to their shores I think they need to step up and clean the place up….apparently they have some beautiful resorts further along the coast but I imagine, although they may have fabulous views and white sand, they’ll be littered with rubbish as well. Hopefully this is not the case.

We returned to the ship happy that we had decided to employ a private guide, well worth the extra euros, and, even ignoring the Medina crush, we both agreed Tunisia had been a worthwhile experience. North African countries aren’t high on my list to visit……although I can never say ‘never’ because just when Ty thinks we won’t be going to some country again or some out of the way place I’ve booked a trip there!!! Poor man, I do feel for him as I’m sure you do, but life is never dull and I’ve given him lots of opportunity to choose somewhere he would like to go……he’s still thinking!!!

Medina

Medina

Cruising on MSC Splendida in August

Today we leave Avignon for Marseilles and our cruise on MSC Splendida We drop off the rental car at Saint Charles station and the kind Hertz assistant orders a taxi to take us to the Crosiers (cruise) port. The cost is 21 euros whereas the cruise shuttle from the same railway station is 30 euros each!!! A sensible move on our part and I recommend this mode of transport over the shuttle. Embarkation was easy, as we stepped into the terminal building MSC flags were set up to point us in the right direction, after a short wait we placed our bags on the carousel. The next step was the MSC desk to check passports and tickets, we also received our on board cards at this desk. Before walking up the gangway we had to pass through the myriad of offers such as drinks packages (we already had), spa treatments and so on. Our room would not be ready till 1.30pm so we were ushered to the Bora Bora buffet for lunch. The ship is huge and the buffet was massive as well…in fact it was 2 buffets. I was still a little queasy from our large meal the night before so opted for a small portion of salad and a coke.

Our balcony cabin is on deck 12 and is a little smaller than the balcony cabin we had on Carnival Spirit a couple of years ago. Guess it goes hand in hand with the European room size I assume. Our allocated restaurant was Villa Verdi on deck 6 and our waiter was Saiful from Djakarta. He was on a 9 month contract and worked from 7am till 11pm daily. He told us he was working on the ship for his children but was pleased his contract was almost over as he missed them. He’d only had a half day break in the past 6 months….the staff work 7 days a week. They’re keener than me…I can barely get through 5 days a week these days plus how can you visit these ports without getting off to take a look around? Oh, no, a crew member on a cruise line just wouldn’t do for this black duck!!

Pool deck

Pool deck

Main bar

Main bar

Drinks we’ve tested on day one:

2 bottles of water Espresso and cafe latte Purple rain cocktail (me)

Strawberry daiquiri

3 glasses of wine each with dinner

Purple Rain cocktail , yes another one!!

Flat on my back asleep by 10.15pm

Ty has insisted I tell you how I managed to get undressed given I was out like a light or flat on my back asleep as I mentioned above. Well,…….my husband had to remove my fine clothing I’d worn to dinner, a long dress which needed to be taken off over my head. Apparently I was not very cooperative as he tried to get me to sit up and then almost stand or at least lift my legs up so he could pull the dress up over my waist. A fine way to treat a lady…..how embarrassing as well!!!! He eventually managed to remove it as I wasn’t wearing it when I woke next morning!!!

Surprisingly I didn’t feel too bad when I woke up. Ty was expecting me to have a headache but I’m a tough old bird…..I didn’t ‘t feel a bit queasy which was just as well because we had a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Portofino to contend with.

Genoa: The ship docked in Genoa at 7.30am and all passengers taking an excursion had to assemble in one of the bars by 7.45am. There were about 3,200 passengers and several thousand taking one of 5 possible excursions and we ALL had to go to the one small bar area!! What a mess this was…..with at least 6 bars on board I thought they could have split the excursions over a couple of bars. Obviously they have their reasons for squashing everyone into the one area. Eventually our tour group was called and we dutifully followed the guide down several flights of stairs to deck 5 where we headed out onto the dock area. It had been raining lightly so we were handed fabulous blue plastic ponchos. Several people proceeded to put them on….it wasn’t necessary at all. Onward we walked trying to avoid puddles where we could. Yes, I had sensible walking shoes on but they were beige in colour and clean….they hadn’t been out in inclement weather before. My lament “These shoes aren’t meant for walking in rain, dusty or muddy conditions” didn’t get much empathy from Ty and I suppose you’re thinking the same thing as Ty said “Can’t do much about the water on the ground you’ll just have to wash them when you get home”.

We finally reached the ferry that would take us to Portofino….a timber ferry looked like it had been built in 1950’s. I whispered to Ty “Hmm, all aboard SS Minnow?”. Of course I hadn’t done any homework on this half day trip, if I had maybe we would have taken the walk around Genoa instead!! The craft headed out to open water and almost immediately we were jumping waves. Ty tends to get sea sick (and so do I sometimes) so the course we were on was starting to worry me. The SS Minnow continued to rise, flop, fall off the wave and roll a little from side to side for the rest of the trip whilst the tour guides voices screeched through loudspeakers, from which there was no escape, in several different languages for the whole duration. The only thing that could lessen the pitch was for Ty to shred tissues so we could the pieces as earplugs. The tissue didn’t completely block out the screeches but certainly dulled the din. I prayed they’d be silent on the return journey otherwise I may be forced to jump.

Portofino is a quaint village very much like the villages of the Cinque Terre, a number of very expensive super yachts anchored in the harbour. The weather wasn’t the best, a little overcast and a tad cooler than the high 20’s we’d come to expect. It took 1.50 hours each way, very much the length of the our drive to work, and we stayed in Portofino for not much more than an hour!! Probably not the most suitable tour to opt for but Ty did learn that Mintec tablets appear to stop him him suffering sea sickness…so, I suppose you could say, the trip was worth it!!

Portofino

Portofino

Every evening a crew member distributes the next days’ cruising information letter and excursion tickets (if you have any booked). The past couple of nights these items have been delivered well after 10pm….and they aren’t just slipped under the cabin door. Our crew member is a female of African heritage…on this ship the crew are made up of many nationalities…..anyway, the lovely lady bursts into the cabin to hand deliver the tickets. She probably knocks but obviously very lightly because the first time we were in bed, Ty was reading and wearing his best birthday suit, well, his only birthday suit, in she came to deliver the tickets and as my eyes were closed I’m not sure who got the biggest surprise!!! Poor lady, although, she did it again….about 11pm this time….we’d been out bar hopping but this time I only had 2 glasses of champagne and a Moscow Mule so I was relatively sober but the band packed up at 11 so we headed back to the cabin. This time I was removing my make up in the bathroom when she came in……Ty was in his birthday suit again!!! Perhaps this crew member enjoys surprising people at that time of night. Just seems odd that they wouldn’t put the information on the table when they turn down the bed.

This time Ty did say to her that it’s fine to put the documents under our door. Which brings me to something else…..I’ve been on 5 cruises now, different cruise lines, and this is the only one where your cabin attendant doesn’t leave a towel animal on the bed each night!! Probably because there’s too many cabins and not enough time in their day to make them. 

Naples: We missed our Naples excursion because we went to the wrong exit deck so, we were a little disappointed but got over it quickly and went back to the ship to enjoy the relatively quiet front swimming pool area. It was very nice, only one other person in the pool and plenty of deck chairs available!! Later we decided to get off the ship and wander through some of the streets nearby, we found a bar with free wifi at the cruise terminal so we sat there, had coffee and took advantage of their generosity for half an hour.

Messina: We opted for the excursion to Mt Etna when we reached Sicily, unfortunately it was a little disappointing. Our guide/bus driver talked about how Etna had erupted again yesterday and what a great day we had to experience this…..made us think we would see the lava flow…no, not at all, we went to an area that had erupted in 2001. There was a cable car to take you to 2,500 metres (we were at 2000 metres) but we were told “Don’t take the cable car you have no time” by the driver who said we must be back at your ship by 1.30pm. We must be back on the bus by 11.50…less than an hour!! Must was his favourite word!!!! What a waste of half a day…we left the ship at 9.30am. Why wouldn’t you take people to the lava flow….yes, I know it could be dangerous but even a 5 minute look at a safe distance was better than this. On the return journey he said it would cost 56 euros to see that….we would have paid that happily. Oh yes, and he talked incessantly from the time we pulled out of the cruise terminal at 9.30 till 11am when we arrived at Crater Sylvestri. In his broken English, he sounded like a mix between Inspector Clousseau and Rene from ‘allo ‘allo.

Sometimes getting to the excursion destination takes double the time spent there. In the case of Messina we were told the ship sails at 2.30 when it actually sailed at 3.50pm which, had we known we could stay out till 3 it would have given us more time to explore Messina. I did suggest that the  excursion organisers should look at giving a little extra time at Etna to enable people to take the cable car to the top.  That’s one of the main reasons I like to ‘do my own thing’ where possible. Admittedly guided tours are good if you want a quick look at the main attractions of a city and as a ‘taster’ for a return sometime in the future. Others have told me they take the ships’ excursions so they can say they’ve been there.

Tunisia was our next stop but I thought it deserved it’s own blog so we move on………..

When we returned from Tunisia I noticed on the daily newsletter that there was a Zumba lesson at 4.30pm, Ty had just settled down to read when I said “Zumba is on let’s go and join the class” he looked unimpressed but he got into the spirit and we headed on deck for the 30 minute lesson. It was held in a small area and quite a large number of people joined in so there wasn’t any room to spread the arms or even step forward or back….they had other lessons on other days but we didn’t participate again. Why did I assume it might be like the Zumba classes we attend at home with plenty of space between each person to do the routine? It was not like our classes and I’m not fond of being stomped on, poked in the eye or hit on the head by other people who don’t understand the idea of personal space.

Thursday we had a day at sea on the way to Barcelona so we decided to sit by the pool for a short while. Good opportunity, we thought, to spend some time by the pool and enjoy the sun’s rays unfortunately so did everybody else! When we couldn’t find any sun lounges free Ty decided we should purchase time in the 18 solarium area. The 18 solarium area was for adults only and was a small section on deck 16 with sun beds and a spa. No pool unfortunately. The only time available to us was 3pm till 7pm….we took it.

We only stayed for an hour and a bit on the solarium deck….we didn’t want to cook. By evening parts of me had become quite red so I was an odd shade of red and white stripes. This was my first sunburn in many years. Ty thought it hilarious when he saw my colours…..yes, we’re Swans supporters (Aussie Rules team) however this was going a little too far in support of a sporting team and I certainly wasn’t amused. By morning areas of my body that weren’t often exposed to the sun looked like a lobster and quite painful…not happy Jan!!!

After dinner Thursday evening I decided we should go to the gym, I know, not like me at all but we had been eating so much we needed a extra little bit if exercise.

Barcelona: The last stop on the cruise, for us, was Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, Spain. All reports we’d had about this city had been positive and, for me, it was the Gaudi influence in architecture that interested me. The La Sagrada Familia, the church that seems to dominate the landscape of the city was unfinished before Gaudi’s untimely death. Gaudi was hit by a car whilst crossing a road in the city and because of his shabby attire people assumed he was a beggar so it took some time before the ambulance arrived and he died of his injuries 3 days later. We had taken the Barcelona Historical City Tour…it was ok to get a feel for this sprawling city.  The tour took us through the main areas by bus and we had a couple of stops where we got off the bus, one was a cathedral from the 12th century, much like Notre Dam Paris inside but not as light and airy. Then it was a drive by Casa Milia an amazing building designed by Gaudi which I was lucky enough to snap successfully as the bus slowed to a crawl and then, the piece d’ resistance, the La Sagrada Familia. Although a little disappointing as far as I was concerned.

After Gaudi’s death the plans were lost (burned) in the revolution and, as is often the case, there were no copies. Building work is going on and is reported to be completed in 2026, however the new work is nothin like the original and I have no idea shot there are sculptures of fruit in several of the turrets. It was a slight disappointment for me, perhaps it should have been left unfinished and/or a smaller inconspicuous chapel built behind the original facade so as not to detract from the amazing structure already built. The structure appearing now is unattractive and looks like a ‘dogs breakfast’. Many may not agree with me and I’d love to hear your views but, hey, this is my blog with my thoughts and for years I’d been looking forward to seeing this church with the strange facade and the pictures I’d always seen did not show modern add ons.

Gaudi 1

Gaudi 1.

Gaudi 2

Gaudi 2

After walking around the structure and then back to the bus for a view of the city as we headed to a Spanish Village. The village was a reconstruction of what they used to look like or what you might find if travelled outside Barcelona. We were given 45 minutes here and it was after midday so time for lunch….albeit a rushed lunch. Chicken Paella was ordered and when it arrived was wolfed down due to our time constraints. After this it was back to the bus and back to the ship however we were given the option of leaving the bus at La Ramblas and taking the shuttle back later. We opted to do this so we could spend some quality time shopping and experiencing a little bit of Barcelona. A worthwhile side trip as I managed to find a pretty white dress and, of course, some souvenirs as a reminder of the day.

Would we go back to Barcelona? , Yes, we would, it’s definitely on the list of places to spend more time. It’s appears quite clean, the main streets are wide, tree lined and the traffic is orderly and appears to follow road rules. The shopping district is pedestrianised. The weather in summer is not as dry as some of the places we’ve been…it was hot and humid. That’s manageable though!!!

Oh, I must tell you this. There was an Australian couple sitting in front of us on the bus and each time the guide pointed out an areas of interest the woman would say to her husband ” This only happened because of the Olympic Games” or “Barcelona wouldn’t have the tourist trade if it wasn’t for the Olympics”. I was beginning to think she didn’t like Barcelona! Back to the ship, change for dinner ….

It was another gala night so dressing up was required but, even though we looked very elegant (I thought we did and Ty said I looked elegant), we waved away all ship photographers on our walk to our dining room….they were beginning to be tedious and we were not planning to spend any more funds on expensive photos. As usual the dinner was very good and we needed to go for a walk around the ship before heading back to pack as tomorrow morning we disembark and start the next part of our European vacation. Bags have to be outside our cabin door by 1am.

To close I’ve added a few likes and dislikes…..

Things we like about cruising with MSC:

Our waiter at dinner, Saiful,is extremely pleasant and friendly

The ship is very clean and there are hand sanitisers all around the ship

There are designated smoking areas and for the most part people adhere to those

The crew in general are polite and friendly…don’t always understand us but we get by with a smile. However, the Indonesian crew members seem to be more friendly and outgoing than others

The main staircases, some say they’re too glitzy, I love them, even the piano has Swarovski crystals around the edge of the lid.

The menu in the dining room….it changes every night.

The Splendida is grand and all the lounges and bars have different colour schemes and the shopping precinct is glitzy as well with high end brand stores.

Things we’re not so keen on:

It is crowded so we tend to walk the stairs instead of waiting for a lift

Children cruise for free on MSC so there are probably the same number of children as adults on board, maybe even more children

Don’t appear to be any adults only bars so at 10.30pm in most bars there are young children running around and babies crying.

The buffet area seating, although very large, can’t accommodate the large number of people, which it needs to do when the excursions come back after 2pm and the restaurant closes at 2pm. When you have an early excursion the restaurant is not open to allow enough time for breakfast either.

Organisation of excursions seems chaotic and there isn’t enough time spent on excursions such as Etna and Portofino.

Not enough deck chairs when the ship is sailing and probably there would be many people who lay their towels out early with no intention of using the chair till later, if at all, as we saw in Sorrento a couple of years ago. There is a notice saying towels on chairs unused after 30

August is not the best month for cruising if you prefer a less crowded ship…Europeans are on summer holidays at this time..

Would we we cruise with MSC again?  Yes, but outside peak time.

A Day Spent with Special People in Paris

Today we are being the tour guides and we had planned to rise early to cross Paris and meet up with Kathleen & Mick, Clare & Richard for a fun day out before another celebratory dinner for my birthday at the Eiffel Tower this evening. Ah yes, this big birthday celebration extends for the rest of this year!!! According to my husband and who am I to disagree with this being a milestone birthday.

Back to the days’ events…….we’d arranged to meet at the Batobus terminal at the Eiffel Tower stop, around 10.30am, given both couples were close to the Tower albeit on different sides of the river. The Batobus, for those who may not have been to Paris, is similar to a ferry and makes stops at all the main attractions along the River Seine. Made sense for us to go to them as we knew our way around this city of romance. Kathleen wanted to visit Jim Morrison’s grave..her only request.

Lesley and Liz had decided not to join us as Lesley felt she might be a liability given the speed I walk and the places we were going. Pere Lachaise was not a place for anyone not sure-footed with uneven surfaces and lots of hills. They opted to go to Montmartre and I had hoped we might also take our group there.

We arrived at the Batobus terminal at 11am, forward thinking found Richard almost at the head of the queue for the tickets….good man!!! The rest of us handed him the money for our tickets. We took the cruise along the river as far as Hotel De Ville. As we left the Batobus we were passing a café/bar so I thought ” it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” and said to the others in the group ” Should we stop for a drink before we head to the metro?” Everyone agreed so we made a sharp left hand turn into the café situated on a small rise above the river.

The sign said ‘wait to be seated ‘ and we did as we were told…..they had no tables set up for 6 so we had to wait whilst the wait staff took a long time to move 3 tables and six chairs together. We would have done it but we weren’t allowed to move from the entrance….one foot over the invisible lines brought a number of requests to Please wait Monsieur & Madams’. Ok we’re waiting but we could do this for you – we were all thinking the same thing I’m sure.

Finally, our table was ready, now where’s the waiter to take our drinks order?? There were four of them wandering around – can someone catch their eye we’re all fading away from thirst?

Eventually our  waiter returned to take our order. Everyone but Clare and I had beers, we had soft drinks and we were discriminated against.  The waitress supplied coasters to all the beer drinkers but not for us.

Drinks finished, further chatting would have to wait until lunchtime. Time to move on to our first destination Pere Lachaise and the grave if the Doors singer.

Ty and I had already purchased our tickets for the metro, and other Paris transport options, this morning. We purchased 10 single tickets for the sum of 13.70 euros. These would give us 5 trips each.

We alighted at Pere Lachaise metro station and it was now well after 1pm, time for lunch before attempting the cemetery. We decided on a café across from the metro and chose alfresco seating. The baguettes were scrumptious and everyone was happy with the choices they made for lunch. The waiter was very congenial and we felt he deserved a tip….and we don’t tip willy nilly only service that goes above and beyond what is expected is deserving of our tipping!!! Richard found my idea of tipping amusing…….but we don’t have a big ‘tipping culture’ in Australia – we tip for exceptional service not for getting the service we expect.

One last thing to do before venturing to the cemetery and that was for us women to go to the toilette (I like the French spelling and pronunciation – seems so much better than toilet) well we don’t want to risk being caught short in the cemetery!!!  Ok, now we’re ready to wander among the famous and not so famous dearly departed.

Jim Morrison’s grave was first on the tour. Morrison, The Doors singer, had moved to Paris several months before his death.  Supposedly he went to Paris to write and possibly escape the trouble he’d had in Florida in 1969 which caused bad publicity and promoters to cancel many of his concerts. There are several different versions of what caused his death, no autopsy was ever performed so it remains speculation to this day.

This was my second visit to Pere Lachaise so I knew it was a huge cemetery and the road leading to the grave is, at times, steep and winding as well as having a very uneven surface….

As we approached the gravesite we could see barriers around the area…..it had been cordoned off with a number of other graves so I assumed the number of people visiting his grave was causing damage to other headstones around his.  On my previous visit there was no such barrier.  Security was also visible and the security car drove pulled up and stayed for some time watching the visitors.

Jim Morrison's gravesite

Jim Morrison’s gravesite

We then proceeded to the resting place of Oscar Wilde…….hoping I could remember its whereabouts we headed off to the other side of the cemetery. We’d been walking for a while and still weren’t any closer.  Richard thought it best to ask someone and I agreed, we could be here for days otherwise.  A couple nearby were consulting their map so I listened to see if I could hear English being spoken. “I’m sure this lady is speaking English” I told Richard and then I went to her and asked for the direction to Oscar.  The couple was in fact Irish.  Off we walked with a bit more determination in our stride, and walked, until we were a little lost again, but as luck would have it Richard and Clare found a map just near the vaults that hold people’s’ ashes…..Maria Callas is one person whose ashes are in this hall but no one in the group knew who she was!!!  We weren’t far from Oscar at all and his grave had a perspex barrier around it to stop women from leaving lipstick kisses. Previously women, and possibly some men, would leave a lipstick kiss on the  monument.  It was covered in thousands of lip imprints.  Now, however, it had been thoroughly cleaned and the barrier erected.  The plaque said it erected by the Irish Govt in respect of his family. We did notice that it hadn’t stopped very determined kissers though….a few imprints have been added a little higher above the barrier.

We had been in the cemetery for a couple of hours and time to head out….a different exit as there are several ways into Pere Lachaise and after wandering around it would be rare to end up back where you entered.  We eventually found an exit and took it knowing that there’d be a metro close by.  Any metro will take you to a connecting train. The exit was in a residential area, not the most salubrious of places and we did get a few odd looks from the locals but Mick, Richard and Ty were focused on finding a bar…..not too difficult anywhere in Paris and just past the hardware store there were 2 bars, one in each corner.  No picking and choosing which one, couldn’t be bothered to cross the road so we chose the closest and sat at the nearest table.  Beers all round, coffee for Clare and I but I didn’t stop at coffee, on the menu the café had what appeared to be lemon cheesecake (fromage ….) so “one of these please” I said to the waiter.  When my cheesecake arrived it was a glass dish of what looked like cream…..we all looked at it and everyone waited for me to try it.  It was a bowl of yoghurt!!  Well that made everyone laugh but I had to eat it. The flavour grew on me but not enough to finish it all!!

Beers all round

Beers all round

After a few more drinks someone looked at the time……it was almost 5.30pm  and we’d better get moving, we’re on the opposite side of Paris to our accommodation and we have to meet at the base of the Eiffel Tower at 8.30pm for dinner.

We had planned to go to Montmartre today as well…..best laid plans!!!  Our guests will just have to go back again for more of fabulous Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Days in Paris with One Dodgy Lift

After a very pleasant flight on Malaysian Airlines we arrived in Paris at 6.40am. We didn’t book a transfer this time preferring to take taxi to the hotel. Unfortunately we didn’t even think about peak hour traffic just getting to the hotel for a shower. One hour and 20 minutes later we arrived at the hotel to be told our room wasn’t ready, someone was in it. ‘How can that be?’ I asked in the most polite voice I could muster after a long flight and at least 30 minutes crawling through a smelly road tunnel, “We booked in from the night before”. The receptionist shook her head and said ‘sorry, it is already booked” as she headed towards the office. Within 5 minutes she returned and in her limited English said ” Sorry, we had checked you in yesterday so it is you who is in your room!’ Thank goodness because I was becoming just a little annoyed, everything was good again and we could shower.

Our room was on the 6th floor of a typical Parisian building…with a tiny lift. I placed my bags in the lift and went up to our floor. The lift was so slow and kept stopping for a couple of seconds…..not something I was keen on especially on my own. I waited outside the lift for Ty to come up with his luggage. The photos on the intranet were supposed to be a shot of our room…..unfortunately the bright airy room I saw on the intranet was not the room we walked into. Paris hotel rooms, as such, are small, as are many hotel rooms throughout Europe so we had no expectations of a spacious room, thank goodness I had decided to book the duplex room, we could keep our luggage downstairs and sleep upstairs. The room also had air conditioning, a benefit Ty won’t be without, as well as a balcony.

Showered, and feeling reenergised, we were ready to step out of the hotel to get our bearings and find the closest metro. Unfortunately the lift had become uncooperative and after waiting for at least 10 minutes we looked at the spiral staircase and said “well looks like we have no other option” and proceeded to take the stairs. In the time taken to transfer our bags and freshen up the lift had died…..of course we weren’t aware of this until we reached reception, we just thought it was busy.

The hotel lift had indeed broken down and apparently the technician that  came to fix it had it working but it broke down again after he left. We thought they should find another technician. Lesley has knee problems so couldn’t negotiate stairs very well and certainly wouldn’t manage with luggage. I was becoming annoyed with myself for believing photos and reviews on the hotel. However, It was very clean, reception staff were very friendly and obliging and it was central to everything but so are many hotels in Paris. Walking up 6 flights of spiral stairs is not much fun I can tell you. The internal staircase was hot, stuffy, narrow in parts and steep. Luckily we didn’t have serious knee and leg issues – I didn’t fancy being a prisoner in our room.

The metro, Grands Boulevard, was a 3 minute walk around the corner on Blvd Montmartre. Every trip to Paris I’ve stayed in a different arrondissement and have always been lucky with the proximity of the metro. We were in the 9th arrondissement this visit. I’ve always stayed in a private apartment as well but as this was a short stay an apartment wasn’t practical.

We decided we should walk today, we had several friends and relatives arriving this afternoon and this evening so we wanted to stay awake as long as we could and, as you know, it can be difficult fighting those feelings of jet lag. I fancied lunching in the Tuileries with a crepe or baguette….of course it was only 10.30 so thoughts of lunch had to be parked for a while!!

Marigny Square

Marigny Square

We wandered through the streets in the general direction of the Louvre and the Tuileries. It was already a warm morning so we stopped in the Tuileries for a cold drink….’Should we sit under a tree or should we take away the drink and keep walking’ I asked Ty “We can sit if you like’ he replied. So we sat and ordered 2 soft drinks ….the waiter duly arrived and requested payment immediately….12 euro 64 cents…..rather expensive soft drinks!!! Obviously one of the places where it costs more to sit under a tree!! Moving through the Tuileries we arrived at Concorde, crossed the wide street towards the Champes Élysées where walking was becoming a little difficult as the footpaths were being set up for the end of the Tour De France on Sunday. Many deviations were already in progress and security was high.

Ty relaxing in the sun at the Tuileries

Ty relaxing in the sun at the Tuileries

On our return stroll we stopped at a van that sold crepes, hot dogs, cold drinks and other assorted foods….a banana and chocolate crepe sounded yummy but we opted for a limone and sucre crepes and headed into Marigny Square, a small park with bench seats and a grassy area. No seats available in the shade so we found a patch of grass under the shade of a massive old tree. Sitting amongst the workers, on their lunch break, and other tourists I noticed a Fabio lookalike had sat down beside us and was listening to our conversation. This meant I couldn’t tell Ty to look over his shoulder. Fabio was smiling away at whatever was amusing him and now lying on the grass with his head resting on his suitcase. I assumed he had come to town for the Tour de France, he certainly didn’t look like a vagrant.

Lunch over and Ty still saying he was hungry we headed off towards the Tuileries again. All through the gardens there were chairs where you could sit and enjoy the gardens or just sit and relax part way through the walk. Young men were playing Boules dressed in their suits, people were sunning themselves soaking up the amazing weather. Others were sitting around the fountains in the direct sunlight, a number of men had removed their shirts in order to take in Vitamin D and getting some colour, women slouched with their legs hanging over the armrests of the chairs. We sat again for a short while to watch the passing parade of strangers. We also listened to the screams and laughter coming from the rides in the fairground which had been closed when we came through earlier in the day.

We wandered into the fair and were almost at the end when I saw the Ferris wheel said to Ty “Let’s” “Ok” he replied….he went off to purchase a bottle of water whilst I lined up to purchase the tickets for the ride. It was not as impressive as the ‘bubble’ cabins of the London Eye just a giant Ferris wheel but we were the only 2 in our ‘cabin’. It was a clear sunny day and the views were impressive. Sacre Coeur sat majestically above one section of the city, the Eiffel Tower over another….well worth the 10 euros each.

View from Ferris Wheel

View from Ferris Wheel

We had walked at least 10 kilometres and by the time we reached our street we were both hungry again so we stopped at a small cafe for a baguette and cold drink which cost just under 8 euros. Of course, dear reader, the suburbs are much cheaper that the main tourist areas for eating and drinking.

Back at the hotel our friend Lesley had arrived around 4.30 pm, Clare and Richard arrived at their hotel about the same time. My niece, Kathleen and her husband, Mick were not due to arrive till 10pm tonight as they were staying quite a distance from us on the other side of the River Seine. We probably wouldn’t be seeing them till tomorrow morning.

Clare contacted us when they arrived and we set about organising a rendezvous for this evening also including Lesley and her friend, Liz, knowing Lesley couldn’t go too far. Clare and Richard decided it was easier for them to come to Blvd Montmartre to meet us for dinner. We all had dined together but due to the number of smokers taking up the tables outside we were relegated to a table indoors so missed people watching opportunities on this busy boulevard. I understand smoking is not illegal and it’s an individual’s choice but it would be great if the eateries in France and many other parts of Europe could have one side of their alfresco area for non smokers. It’s disappointing to have to sit inside a restaurant on fabulous evenings, we love dining alfresco. Lesley and Liz went back to the hotel at 11.30pm. However, the wave of jet lag I’d been feeling had dissipated again and I was wide awake so we kicked on. The four of us headed to another bar for more drinks. I’d already had a vodka and orange, which was quite strong so I thought I should have water or soft drink….no, no, not allowed, “have a wine” Richard insisted. ‘Oh, ok then I will’ it didn’t take much to convince me. I looked at the wine list and saw the word Zinfandel and I quite like the white Zinfandel so ordered a glass. When it arrived it was red not rose ….. Totally different and very woody with a dry flavour. Damn, obviously the vodka earlier had affected my judgement and eyesight.  Clare had ordered a lemonade with her wine to make a spritzer so I added lemonade to my heavy red….a little odd but better than the dry taste. I can see all you dedicated red drinkers screwing up your faces and tut tutting!!!  Just as well Rumpole wasn’t nearby. For those of you who don’t know Rumpole ..one word..’Google’.

The waitress also dropped off 2 bowls of olives and 2 small bowls of nuts. Olives were very nice….. The four of us were deep in conversation, and not people watching, when a hand reached over the table and took one of our toothpicks and picked up an olive, by the time we realised what was happening the hand was starting to reach over again for another olive. We assumed it was a street dweller although she didn’t appear dirty or unkempt. Clare quickly moved the olives and told her to go away from our table. She wandered off with a smile. Some of these people are so cheeky. She had placed the toothpick from her mouth back into the olives so Clare pushed them aside….we wouldn’t be eating anymore of those!!!

As is the norm when I have a second alcoholic drinks I tend to become more animated , oh, and louder I think, and for whatever reason my hand holding the wine glass seemed to rise and tip slightly over my arm between elbow and shoulder spilling the wine. Luckily the wine landed mostly on my clothing and not the people seated behind me. That could have become a nasty scene if it had….Ty may have had to apologise profusely to defend his wife against an angry couple of diners……..

By 1.30am we felt it was time to head home to bed, as usual I had organised another busy day for tomorrow. Plus I’ll never get over the jet lag. So, in true Two Ronnie’s style it’s goodnight from me and goodnight from Ty. Don’t know the Two Ronnies? Google will help!! Oh, and the lift still hadn’t been repaired so it was a long hard climb to the top at this time of the morning. Between Ty pushing me up the stairs and me laughing it was a wonder we made it to our room at all. I have the feeling we may have disturbed the guests on every floor as we made our way to the top floor and eventually our room. I heard that Lesley had to be helped up to the 4th floor by the night reception man.

Paris in Business Class all the way!!

Our flight today is to France via Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Airlines. We treated ourselves, once again, to Business Class so Ty was keen to spend time in the Qantas Business Lounge. I think I’m becoming accustomed to business class travel and believe me it isn’t difficult.

We dropped puss at the pet boarding facility before going home and loading the bags into the car. Smokey was not impressed, cried and,as usual, disgraced herself on the 5 minute drive. Animals have a way if making us humans feel guilty as if we’re abandoning them when they’re only having a holiday away from us. We call it fat camp given she won’t be fed on demand so will loose a little of the extra flab she’s carrying from over eating and lack of exercise!!

Why is it, even though my bag is packed and everything is organised the night before, I still madly rush around up to 1 minute before we leave the house?? We were up early washing towels and bed linen ensuring everything was tidy, bins emptied, power points turned off, etc, etc and so on……….does everyone else do this??

Bags weighed, locks on and placed in car boot. Too bad if we have forgotten anything – the airport is next stop.

Finally in the car, phew, we both felt like we’d completed a 2 hour Zumba class.

As we arrive at the airport and head to check in I wonder how full the fight would be given the events of the past week. Malaysian Airlines were giving people the option of refunding but we had no desire to refund or rebook and airplane travel on the whole is quite safe. It could happen to any airline. I wouldn’t say I was nervous as I love flying and when you live in Australia you need to fly to see the world. I was conscious of those poor souls on the plane shot down over Ukraine and whenever I travel my mind turns to thoughts of updated wills and what mess would I be leaving my family to sort out. But neither Ty or I would consider not flying…..we both love it!

Check in was a breeze, no one in the Business Class line, we received express passes to take us through customs and baggage check. Unfortunately the express pass didn’t prevent me from having to step into the full body scanner for the second time this year. “Place your feet on the yellow outlines and place your hands above you head, with tips of fingers meeting” instructed the female customs officer. I struck my pose as requested and noted, to myself of course, that this was a similar stance to one of our Zumba numbers…I didn’t think the customs officer would appreciate my analogy.

First stop was the Pandora shop where my husband purchase the obligatory pandora charm for whichever bracelet I’m wearing on the day. This has become a ritual when leaving for an overseas holiday…by looking at the bracelets you’d think we had many holidays but that’s not the case , he is quite generous to me.

That ritual taken care of we’re off to the Qantas Lounge for a relax, a little food and a glass of something cold…..like wine!!!

Boarding the plane was very fast, we walked up to Gate 31, passport and boarding pass checked straight on and shown to seat 2. There are many babies and toddlers on this flight but thankfully none up this end of the plane so the cabin us very quiet. Our last flight from Hawaii was full of littlies with several toddlers around us screaming for the duration of the flight. Made for a most uncomfortable time.

An hour after takeoff we were served drinks and an appetiser of sate chicken and beef. Ty, ever the messy eater, dropped sate sauce on his crisp white tablecloth so before serving the next course the stewardess whipped away the stained cloth and replaced it with a clean one. A short time later arrived an entree of finely chopped potato salad base and smoked salmon terrine. We had ordered a special main meal from Chefs on Call as well so by the time my meal arrived I could barely eat it. Let me tell you Business Class is not good for the waistline!!!! I always eat way too much. On the other hand husband has a bottomless pit as he polished off all the items on every plate AND happily accepted a mango flavoured Weiss Bar washed down with a black coffee!!! I know who will be coming back a porker from this trip and it won’t be me:)

The staff are very attentive and happy, lots of smiles, nothing too much trouble for them.

No overnight stopover for us this time….a 3 hour layover at KL then on an A380 to Paris. Supper, a flat bed seat with inbuilt massager and a few hours sleep……need to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for a busy day in Paris.

We’re almost 4 hours into the flight and I’ve watched a movie, written this blog and now I’m looking for something else to occupy me. Could read I suppose…..

Arrived in KL now and relaxing over coffee in the Malaysian Airlines Golden Lounge before the next leg. The porker with me has decided it’s food time again – lol!!

See you all in my next blog from Paris……..

Day Trip to Maui

As this was our 3rd trip to Hawaii it was time to visit another island and see what it had to offer so this morning we’re taking an early flight to Maui, picked up at taxi at hotel at 7.42 am the fare today was $42.

Walking through Honolulu airport we spotted another case of a couple doing the ‘bobsy’. This couple was dressed in red shorts, white t-shirts, red caps, white ankle socks and red Nike running shoes.  Very well thought out….but I still don’t ‘get’ the concept I’m afraid.

The boarding of the inter-island plane was amusing. Around us sat a motley crew of passengers waiting for the flight, definitely interesting people watching here. One extremely large woman shuffled up, backed into a seat and proceeded to drink from the largest drink bottle I have ever seen. It must have held at least 3 litres of soft drink or perhaps, some form of alcoholic spirit to get through the flight. How rough could a 20 minute flight be? As well as the usual gaggle of fellow tourists there were many locals on this flight. How do I know this? The locals carried cardboard boxes, some tied with string, some with lids flapping open, groups of people were sitting on the floor chatting animatedly and several travellers were barefoot. Some of the boxes looked like chickens might pop their head out at any minute…..well, that was my image as another well used cardboard box went past.

When the call came for first class passengers to board the plane about 30 people joined the queue. “Ty, how big is this plane?” “Why” he asked “Well look at all the people in the first class line, those people with no shoes or carrying boxes are surely not first class passengers!” Not being elitist at all it was just quite obvious all these people weren’t sitting in first class seats. It was our turn to join the end of the queue and when we reached the aircraft lo and behold there were only 10 first class seats and most of those were empty!!! We both chuckled at the idea the gate crew probably weren’t game to stop the Hawaiian nationals from boarding whenever they wanted!!! I wouldn’t stop them either they ‘re much bigger than me, although the people we’ve met are all extremely friendly and helpful.

 It was hot but overcast with pockets of rain as we headed to the airport for the 20 minute flight to Maui. The day before when checking in on line we received TSA pre check which meant we could bypass the long lines for customs check. We had it for outbound and inbound flights. Customs person was surprised we both received it. She said ” You’re lucky generally Hawaiian only gives it to one passenger out of a couple.” Looking back at the ever increasing cue for normal customs entry we were very happy we had it! Thank you Hawaiian Airlines. Hmm, it probably won’t happen again.

We had booked a car through Hertz before leaving Australia which meant the would be no hidden charges or add ons as there had been yesterday.
The plan for the day was simple, head along the road to Hana, we had been told we shouldn’t miss it as views of ocean and plants were very good although the road was narrow and winding, then back into the centre by mid afternoon for a wander around before our early evening flight back. I had been told that Lahaina was also very pretty but it was in a different direction to Hana so we chose Hana. The best laid plans………

The weather took a turn for the worse as we travelled along the first section of the road, the wind became stronger and the rain bursts became more frequent. It was still hot and humid. The rugged coastline views, when we could see them between rain showers, were picturesque but short lived as the road very quickly veered inland. We drove for another hour and a half down and around slippery winding roads with several one lane bridges affording views of natural waterfalls flowing quickly over rocks and around vegetation. Unfortunately photo opportunities were very limited as every parking area and vantage point was already full. Unfortunately, we became uninterested in the scenery and the endless narrow winding road where concentration had to be at maximum capacity – I’m sure the weather played a large part in our decision to find a safe turning place to head back.

We were also hungry, there are no cafes along this part of the drive. Luckily we came across a turnpike with a sign to Keanae, so far we had travelled 15 mile all mostly downhill . It was an opportunity to turn around but Ty also decided to drive further along the Keanae road to see if a town might materialise and there it was, a sign ” best banana bread, drinks, hot food”. “Fabulous, love banana bread” I said.

We ordered banana bread and a drink, would’ve killed for a coffee but I’m very wary of american coffee so chose a soft drink instead.  The banana bread was actually banana loaf and it was still warm!!  We took our drinks and little loaf and joined 2 women and a man sitting under one of the 2 rain shelters.  The women were on Pride of America cruising the Hawaiian Island and the man, Robert, was their local guide for the day.  He promptly offered us a slice of freshly cut coconut, which we accepted with thanks!  It was delicious, he then handed me a rather large knife he was using to cut the coconut so I could slice our banana loaf. I noted the blade of the knife was substantially wider than the banana loaf and resolved not to disagree with this tall Hawaiian man!!

After devouring the loaf ( I did keep one slice for later) we bid goodbye to our table companions and decided to head back to Kahalui Bay and had a wander over the dunes to watch several kite surfers enjoying the waves whipped up by the gusty winds.

After that we headed for a large shopping centre to see what, if any bargains were to be had.  Oh, yes, there were bargains, luckily my husband had brought along his trusty backpack. The winning purchase on the day was a pair of dark red boots final markdown was  $11.99 at the register and a red dress marked all the way down from $80 to $4.99.

We stopped for coffee and to repack the backpack before heading back to the airport and the return trip to Honolulu.

On the return trip boarding the aircraft was much more controlled……the terrier that was the airline customer service person wouldn’t let anyone not holding a first class ticket across that line. A Japanese woman tried at least 3 times to sneak through but each time she was foiled by the terrier.

Would I encourage others on a day trip to Maui to head along the Hana Road? My answer would be “if you want to experience narrow winding roads, lots of vegetation with snippets of coastal scenery with views of waterfalls as you cross  narrow one lane bridges certainly do it; however it appears Lahaina and Ka’anapali Beach may be better prospects”.   I always listen to what people have to say about places they’ve visited and we’re venturing to but I also do my own research. It was a little remiss of me not to research the island properly to ensure the best use our time. We still had an enjoyable day and experienced part of the Hana Road.

When we returned to our room at the Outrigger Waikiki 2 bananas and a muffin awaited!!

Aloha and Mahalo for reading this…..

Hana Road

Hana Road

Two Bananas and a Muffin

Aloha from Waikiki again!!

The last couple of days seem to have passed in a blur….no, not from any wine or cocktails I may have drunk but from activities!!

We hired a car from Alamo Car Rentals, just wandered in to make the booking for the next day and not booking on the internet as we usually do so we know our exact charges. Walk in to book probably wasn’t the smartest option. The associate (customer service person) quoted us $74 on a compact car which was all we needed for the little drive. However when we arrived to pick up the car the price then became $130 with insurance added. Oh well, a lesson learned, doesn’t pay to be lazy…. We generally use Hertz, who include all basic costs into their rental and give the option to add extra insurance if you want, but they weren’t nearby and we didn’t want to organise a taxi to take us to Hertz rentals. So as they say and as I’ve been told on occasion “suck it up princess”.

We drove out of the rental yard around 7.30 am heading towards Hanauma Bay and a brief stint of snorkelling with the fish for Ty. I’m not a swimmer so I wadded into the freezing cold water very, very gingerly until it covered my waist. That was enough the fish were swimming around me, granted I didn’t see any amazing coloured or huge fish but the ones around me were a decent size, grey with yellow stripes and the occasional yellow tailed. The Bay is very beautiful, shaped by a crater millions of years old. Ty enjoyed the snorkel, swimming out to the edge of the crater, exploring in and around its ledges, spying all sorts of species of fish and fabulous colours. Did he take any underwater photos you ask? No, we weren’t that sensible, we had thought about it but that’s as far as it got, disappointing I know!!!! Ahhh well we’ll have to come back another day.

By the time Ty had finished snorkelling the beach was really filling up with people and all sorts of beach sitting items such as blankets, plastic tarpaulins; picnic baskets and plastic containers of oriental food for lunch, everything you need to settle in for the day. These families are amaze me as a picnic and all the organisation that goes with it leaves me cold, I wasn’t handed the picnic or camping gene. Poor husband you lucked out there!!! One group of people had ignored our towels, shoes and bag sitting under a palm tree setting up their very large plastic tarp, picnic baskets and all other manner of goodies on top of us. Not very polite of them and they seemed a little put out when I strode up from the beach to put my camera away!!

As we left the beautiful beach area of  Hanauma Bay we stopped at the top to take photos and have a cold drink before moving on to our next activity…..walking the Diamond Head trail. Before heading to the car we sat at an outdoor table to finish our drinks and had just sat down when some strange-looking creatures rushed out of the bushes and headed for a large rock. They looked like a ferret but fatter and a their tail was more bushy. One stood on its hind legs, like a Meerkat, to survey the area and check us out.  “Excuse me, what type of animal are they” asked Ty to the 2 American men sitting nearby “Mongoose” replied one of the men ” they had been imported to eat the rats”. I tried to get a couple of photos but the Mongoose wouldn’t let me get too close, they looked like mum, dad and baby. Very cute!!!

We drove out of Hanauma Bay car park just before 10am and the parking area was full so if you’re contemplating a visit go early!!! It’s well worth it.

Now to Diamond Head, we had tried this walk on an earlier visit but we started our trek from the bus stop below, way below, not realising the entrance to the park was a couple of miles up a very steep hill and through a mountain tunnel. By the time we got to the park entrance there was no way we could continue climbing for another 2 hours and trek back down the hill for another hour. We aren’t Trekkers I’m afraid so we had an icy cold water and rested for a bit before heading back down the hill. This time we had prepared in advance, the car had been hired so we would drive into the park, we  had purchased 2 bananas and 2 muffins to sustain us on the trail and 2 bottles of water for rehydration, all set to go!! Until we reached the park entrance and the woman in the booking office said “Sorry but the car park is full, you’ll have to go back to the bottom and park”. Oh no we aren’t, I am not trekking back up again…my knees won’t survive we’ll have to come back later. Hmmm, we had planned the last activity of the day would be the Waikele Outlets centre, that is if our legs held up after the multitude of stairs to the top of Diamond Head. So Ty set the GPS to the Waikele Outlets and our day was reset. We’d head back to Diamond Head around 3 pm. The bananas and muffins would now become afternoon tea on the trail instead of morning tea on the trail.

Arriving at Waikele we found a great parking space, it was still early and the shops had only just opened. It was surprising to see so many people already in and around the shops, some wandering around looking in shop windows with just as many others striding through the retail stores with purpose. It didn’t help that the centre has renovations happening in the centre quadrangle but this would not deter us from shopping. I had a small list of purchases I might like and Ty had a couple of stores he wanted to visit. “This shouldn’t take too long” I said remembering my last visit to this centre, “There wasn’t much that caught my eye last time”. Those words were uttered at 11.15 am – we broke for lunch at 1.45 and as part of the discussion over lunch the possibility of getting back to Diamond Head before last access at 4.30 was a little remote. We still had Walmart to visit as well, it’s where I pick up all my lipsticks, toiletries etc….so much cheaper than home!! Why is it that our goods are almost 3 times the cost, such as my Revlon lipsticks cost $5 plus tax in US but between $20 and $25 at home. That’s an awful lot of taxes and tariffs applied to one small lipstick.

Anyway, I could go on but I won’t probably because I’ve already ranted in an earlier blog written whilst in US.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the Waikele outlet stores around 4pm and headed to the nearest Walmart. The trip had been successful with both of us purchasing new shoes and several items of clothing. Once we’d picked up the necessities of life from Walmart it was back to the hotel, dinner and bed.

The 2 bananas and 2 muffins joined us back in the room…..they wouldn’t be eaten tomorrow either as we have an early flight to Maui.

Oh, before I sign off I must mention something that happened whilst we were at the Ala Moana shopping centre (not a DFO just a huge shopping mall). On my shopping list was underwear….I knew exactly what I wanted but it was hard to find in Honolulu this time. Could find the brand but not the particular design. There was one store left – as we entered the store a top caught my eye, checking the price tag for this very plain garment and seeing a woman with her Maltese terrier dressed in a glittering pink and white tutu made me realise I was unlikely to find the items. As I headed for the door Ty met me with an incredulous look on his face, not because I hadn’t spent any money more that he had been to the menswear and spied a polo shirt he liked with a very hefty price tag. What was the price? $175.00.

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Hanauma Bay

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Hmmm, looks like shopping bags!!

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Mongoose in there somewhere

Aloha from Waikiki

This blog comes to you from our balcony at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach hotel in Honolulu. Yes, we’re spending Easter in Hawaii this year. An extravagance, to say the least, as we also have a European trip in July!! Who could resist those airfare specials with photos that tease with those 2 words starting with ‘s’ ? Sun, Sand and Shopping! Yes, that’s 3 but shopping has to be included. As I was saying, one day late last year an email popped up with relatively cheap fares so I did what every impulsive (or perhaps nutty) travelling shopaholic does….purchased 2 tickets. Even better was the fact Easter public holidays and Anzac public holiday fell in the same week giving extra time off work.

Our balcony overlooks Waikiki Beach and the views are not too shabby either. Listening to the rush of the water as it breaks onto the beach whilst lying in bed is very relaxing. Watching the sunrise from the balcony is pretty good, as is the people watching. How does anyone living with these views go to work every day? Working from home would definitely be my option.

Sitting on the balcony, sipping wine with iPad resting on the ‘book seat’ one of my sisters gave me as a gift is a great way to write this blog. I glance down every so often to marvel at the turquoise colour of the water, see what the beach goers are up to, muse about the surfers sitting patiently on their boards waiting for that big wave in the flat ocean as I go back to my writing I am serenaded music and singing that emanates from entertainers in the hotel bar. Ahhh, the joy……

The first day was spent wandering around Waikiki, the only money spent was on food and drinks. Day 1 of 7 called for restraint, there would be plenty of time for shopping and , anyway, this was also to be a time for relaxing and catching up on more chapters in my book. Hmm, this blog is being written on day 3 and not a line has been added to my book, let’s not write it off yet, 4 more days to go!!!

What has been interesting on this trip to Hawaii is the new fashion trend among tourists here. What do you think the new trend would be? Perhaps a haircut, nail colour, a type of swimming costume? No, wrong on all counts, it’s……wait for it……couples in matching outfits. Admittedly this is not a new phenomenon but these past few days we’ve seen many of these couples. It may be the Hawaiian dress and matching Hawaiian shirt for him or Hawaiian dress and matching shorts for the gentleman; one gentleman, without partner, had the matching shirt and shorts….a very attractive look. Ty calls this fashion statement (used lightly) ‘bobsy’ as in the bobsy twins. Several other couples have everything matching right down to their shoes. Not sure about you, dear reader, but I wouldn’t leave the house wearing the same patterns, colours or shoes as Ty, unless it was a fancy dress Hawaiian themed night ……hmm….even then I might draw the line.

Break for a minute whilst I’m entertained by a group of hula dancers.

Ok, back to the task at hand……

The weather is hot although when those trade winds really blow no amount of hairspray will keep the hair in place. Today was one of those days when a shaved or bald head is a blessing. Fingers crossed, the trade winds stay away or lessen for rest of the week.

Breakfast at Duke’s is something to experience at least once during the stay. An interesting item on the breakfast menu at the moment is Piña Colada Bread Pudding. Probably should’ve tried it but decided against it. I’m not that adventurous with food and Ty doesn’t like bread pudding!

After a day spent splashing in the surf, lying on the beach and watching a few surfers catching waves, with a little shopping thrown in, we decided to try out the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. On our previous trips to Hawaii this place has been on our list but the line has always been huge. This time we waited till almost 8pm thinking the lines may be shorter……not so! Well if we’re ever going to do it now is the time. Ty had to weave his way between the groups of people milling around outside to get to the desk. The must have accessory for the 50 or so people waiting was the Cheesecake Factory buzzer and soon we would have ours which came with a l hour and 20 minute wait time. Now, for the next decision, where do we wait? People were sitting, standing, crouching outside on the street, in the entrance to the Hawaiian Village walkway and along the undercover walkway. There were no vacant seats, or indeed space to stand. A walk was in order and would pass the time. After 45 minutes we headed back to the area beside the restaurant, miraculously finding a seat. Finally, exactly 1hour 20 minutes after booking our buzzer light up with a shrill. Was the wait worth it….yes it was, the food was very good. As is generally the case in the US the wait staff were extremely friendly and polite. Some statistics on The Cheesecake Factory – I know you’re eager to hear them! It has 171 tables, can seat 580 and opened in 2003. Their menu is extensive, not necessarily healthy as the portions are large. I ordered fillet of baked salmon thinking I was choosing wisely and received 2 fillets….unfortunately one was wasted ‘cos I prefer small meals…..the salmon was tasty. Importantly they had the wine I liked on the menu so that was a plus for them. Did we get to try a slice of cheesecake? No, by the time we finished the main we couldn’t fit in dessert, unfortunately. Another time……….

For now it’s time to struggle, I mean stroll back to the hotel and collapse into a chair or onto the bed, an end to what has been one busy day in this laid back, relaxation type holiday!!

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