Saturday, February 13, 2016


Every gardener has his/her eye open for plants and flowers when traveling and it is often amazing that you can be on the other side of the world and see the same flowers you see growing at home. In part because living in Texas allows us to dabble in some more exotic plants. I saw plumbago and oleander growing the other day and recognized plumeria trees along the roadside. But then there are the unusual.
An archway covered in this mass of unknown blooms in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Our guide bought a dish of lotus flowers for us to place on the offering table at the Temple of the Budda's Tooth in Kandy. The air was  sweet with the scent of flowers.

We learnt about the Canonball tree Couropita guianensis with its dangerous fruit but strikingly pretty flowers. The flowers grow on stems which grow directly from the trunk of the tree. Sacred to both Hindu and Buddhist we saw the tree in the grounds of the Temple of the Tooth. 

It's easy to see how this plant got its name. They produce a fruit the size of a cannonball weighing up to 2kg. They don't plant this tree near to places where the fruit might drop on a passer by. When the fruit fall they split open revealing the flesh which is eaten by birds who then transfer the seeds to a place they might germinate.

The rare Maldive coconut palm with a fruit weighing from 10-20Kg taking 5-8 years to mature and then 1-2 years to germinate. The coconut is bi lobed resembling Siamese twins.

We often saw bowls of flower-covered water at the entrance to buildings.

And roadside markets of fruits. 
Red bananas, green bananas, yellow bananas.

Long, thin pineapples 

King coconuts from which they sliced off the top with a machete to reveal the sweet drink. We had too many to count paying only 50c a piece.

And jackfruit a rather sweet tasting fruit with a banana like texture.

Jackfruit, outside and in. Rather sweet but not great to my taste.

As ever a feast for the senses.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


For the second part of out European tour we disembarked the train from Vernazza at Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. We were to spend the night at the Hotel Borgo del Mare. We had sailed from this port before, walking from the train station to the cruise ship along the main promenade on the day of embarkation, our luggage taken by an enterprising man with a trolley. This hotel being a few kilometers away we decided to take a taxi. Easier said than done. I don't know where the taxi drivers loitering around outside the station wanted to go to but it was not to our hotel. But, after much discussion among themselves one agreed to take us for €15. Instead of turning to the right out of the station we headed off to the left, away from the port. There is no way we could have walked with our luggage. We arrived at the hotel to find a lady having an altercation with the man at the desk over the elevator not working and no air conditioning in the room. Not a good thing on such a hot day. In the Italian way he just threw his arms up in the air and said he couldn't do anything about a power failure. When we finally got to the room the only word I can use was adequate; like stepping back 50 years.

We decided to walk the 2½km into town not wanting to pay another €15 for a cab fare. There was no road along the beach which meant walking along the busy road where, in places, there was little in the way of footpath. Eventually we arrived at the promenade which was pleasant enough but deserted on such a hot afternoon. Parched, we stopped at a place to get a drink and ended up spending an hour there with a young man, Adam, who was chief engineer on a private yacht. He had some stories to tell and enjoyed telling them. He wanted us to join him for dinner but I think we had had enough of his stories despite the fact that they were extremely entertaining. We continued on into town looking for  place to have an early dinner. We were out of luck as most restaurants didn't seem to open until at least 7:30pm. In the end we gave up and went back to the hotel to eat in their restaurant. That turned out to be a good choice as their food was delicious, as was their breakfast the next day.

Saturday July 11th 2015

The hotel provided a free shuttle to the dock around 11:30 am and embarkation on the Zuiderdam was very quick and we went straight to the room; 7123 on the starboard side. Lunch was served in the Lido, and we ate outside. We both chose asparagus soup and sushi. Then to the room to unpack and visit the library to pick up books, JKRowling's The Casual Vacancy after which we sat in the library and had cocktail ( We have this drinks package which was include with our fare which includes 15 drinks a day each!) Holland America has great libraries unlike many ships which have more or less done away with them due to the popularity of ebooks. Then shower before an early dinner. We no longer book fixed seating preferring the anytime dining. Scallops, Caesar salad, plaice and creme brulee which was all very good. Will need to walk around the deck 100 times tomorrow.

Outside seating on the Lido deck

 By late afternoon we were on our way to our first port of call, Messina, Sicily, passing by Stromboli on the way.

Sunday, July 12th 2016

For once we had not booked any tours with the ship having grown tired of how much time is spent getting on and off buses and eating in restaurants. We had tried to rent a car for the day but being Sunday all the rental places were closed. So, we walked into the town to explore on our own soon arriving at the Piazza del Duomo with cathedral and Campanile, which is said to house the world's largest astronomical clock. Unfortunately it only performs once a day at noon and we were still sailing into port at that time.

We visited the cathedral and walked to the high point of the town with commanding view of the port.

It was another hot day and we were glad to get back to the ship to enjoy a cold drink before dinner.

Monday July 13th 2015
The next morning we sailed into Valetta. We have added Malta to our list of most beautiful ports into which to sail. Quite magical with the ancient ramparts and honey gold buildings rising out of the water on several fingers of land.

We docked in Valetta with a plan to take local transportation to Mdina. It was an easy walk from the ship to the lift (€2 return) which takes you up to the top of the battlements and the town perched high above the water. You can see the switchback trail of the old route.

Once on the top we entered a park with the battlements with commanding view of the port.

With the help of directions from the cruise agent, we walked to the very busy bus station and waited for the bus to take us to the medieval town of Mdina close to Rabat. Thank heaven for those narrow shaded streets. Mdina is sometimes called the 'Silent City'  because no cars are allowed inside the walls. It was featured in Game of Thrones as the fictional capital city King's Landing.

On our return we planned to take another bus which was a city circular of Valetta but despite waiting for over half an hour the bus never showed up. In the end we retraced our steps to the port and took  the little ferry across the water, between two fingers of land and back.

 We had a wonderful day exploring on our own and were happy to get back to the cool of the ship.

 Tuesday July 14th 2015
 Sea day

Tomorrow the Ionian Island of Kefalonia, Greece.

Wednesday, July 15th, 2016
After disembarking in Argostoli, the capital of Kefalonia, and with the great direction from KK, the tour director, quite the best we have ever had, we walked along the promenade to First class travel where we hired a car for €60. Then set off to look for gas! Not so easy as, later we learn, most of the gas stations are on a one way street and not in the direction we are heading. After finding ourselves on a duel carriage way and passing the only gas station we have seen on the other side of the road we were thankful for a roundabout and back we went. The car came empty so we put in €15. We had no idea how far we would go.
The winding road took us along the coast. The first stop was to view some beehives on the hillside and a man selling thyme honey.

 We stopped and asked him if we could go in to get closer to the hives but he said no, even though I was willing to buy honey. I decided that they weren't even his hives and he was just taking advantage of the location.

We headed off along the coast road with Myrtos Beach in mind. "The most beautiful white beach" it certainly was but not the usual kind of silica or coral sand we are used to.

The white limestone cliffs have eroded into white 'sand' but closer to the water there were also many small white and grey smooth pebbles. Some of them were so perfectly round that they reminded me of mint imperials, an English candy.

David went for a swim. The breeze was cooling but the sun fierce. We never made it to the next spot along the coast as the winding road took forever and when we could finally see the town below we thought it would take too long to get down there.

We took the road across the  island to the fishing village of Sami and had calamari and whitebait and a couple of beers.

On the way be stopped at this pot shop and I purchased a small sun emblem for my Sun and Moon wall.

We then returned to Argostoli in search of a beach called Costa Costa recommended by English friends.  It was incredibly crowded and we recognized many of our fellow cruisers by their blue and white striped beach towels.

 I tried to find some shade but there was very little. Back to the ship for a cold drink, shower, dinner and show. Another great day. Tomorrow Corfu.

Thursday July 16th 2015
I had done my research ahead of time on where the ship docked and how to get the the town. Apparently the city provided a shuttle bus to town which cost just a couple of euros unlike the cruise shuttle which was much more expensive. We had to walk to the far side of the parking lot to find it and it dropped us off in the square with directions on how to find it for our return. We wandered off into the shopping streets which seem to cater mainly to tourists. Those pomegranates certainly caught my eye.

After walking around in the old part of the town we headed towards the fort, through a rather pleasant garden. We paid a few Euros to go into the old fort but there was not really much there of interest to us and the sun was beating down. We entered the Roman-Byzantine Church of St George for a little respite and to view the beautiful icons.

Then we made our way back to the designated bus stop and back to the cruise. Will this heat ever end?

Friday July 17th
Today was the day I had been looking forward to the whole trip. Dubrovnik. For years I have longed to visit that walled city and here we were sailing into the harbor passing by the walled city and that iconic view. But the ship went on further which necessitated us getting a local bus back to the gate to the old city.

Once inside we purchased the ticket for the walls. They call it walking the walls but I would really call it climbing the walls because there are many steps. We, along with many others, begin the climb.

The views over the city rooftops were magnificent.

But it was oh so hot! We had not seen a cloud in the sky since we left home.

It has to be hot for me to drink beer! Back outside the walls a table in the shade a couple of beers and an excellent lunch ( always share dishes). Plus our first wifi since leaving Civitavecchia.

Her choice

His choice

At the end of the passageway we found the 'hole in the wall' through which we scrambled to reach the diving rocks. Young people are so much more daring!

But for the most breathtaking views of all we took the cable car to high above the city.

Saturday July 18th 2015

Early on Friday morning we sailed into Kotor, Montenegro, down a long Fiord-like passage. Small villages dotted the water's edge. I likened it to a monopoly board. Many had what appeared to be an abandoned church high up on the hillside, a sign of life in quieter times. Many young people must have left for the cities or to live in the main towns by the water.

Fish farming

Kotor is a very picturesque walled town although much of the wall is in disrepair as it scales the mountainous terrain directly behind the small town.

 The streets are narrow and jumbled. It is easy to see why they built this way not just for tight spaces but for cooling in the summer. Today it was to be 96º again. Kotor is a UNESCO world heritage site and well deserved.

Once more we were climbing steps in the shade of tall buildings.

 Our boat had docked right outside the main gate as opposed to the MSC ship, also in port, which tendered to port.

 Two cruise ships in port at the same time made for a busy old town.
Later we found the market outside the walls and were not disappointed: fresh produce, olives, flowers, fish honey and cheeses. We watched the lady fishing bees from the honey combs and putting them in a jar. There were swarms of bees around the figs in particular. There were jars of those tiny wild strawberries. We grew those one year in England. I wonder if they would grow in Texas?

Most of the business in the old town was associated with tourism: cafes, jewelry, clothing and souvenirs.

There were many orthodox churches, some with frescoes and others with beautiful icons.

By 12 we were back on the ship for a cappuccino in Explorers lounge with view of city. After lunch I stayed on the ship while David scaled the old city walls.
Sailing away from Kotor we passed by a small church on an island. Legend has it that a fisherman saw a vision of Mary in the reef below the water and it became a ritual for people to go out there in their boats and drop a stone in the water. Eventually an island formed on which they built the small church.

 Sunday July 19th 2015

Our stop in Korcula was one of the most relaxing days of the tour.
There was a delightful breeze on the Lido deck at breakfast. Did we really have a mimosa for breakfast? I bet we did.

The morning was much cooler than it had been. Surprisingly there was no long wait for the tender to take us ashore but the short trip was a good reminder about what it would be like to be in the lifeboat.

 On arrival we first walked up to the outer promenade which encircles the town. A delightful stroll past small cafés under the shade of trees. Although it was Sunday everywhere seemed to be open. Then we entered the town through the main gate. Unlike all the other walled towns we have visited this one was laid out in a more regular manner with all the side streets branching off from the main Street in a fish-bone like manner.

 We zigzagged up and down each one as they became steeper and steeper before reaching the square at the top. Another day of many steps. There was a service in progress in the packed church with people kneeling on the entrance way. Following the service the priests and congregation came out in procession and walked around the church before going back inside and continuing the service.

We made our way down to the shaded promenade overlooking the water and found a seat at one of the café tables and ordered coffees.

 I think we could have sat there all day the breeze was so pleasant. In fact, we did sit there for quite a while and eventually D ordered a beer and while waiting for it to arrive went down to the water for a swim. On his return we ordered beer and a plate of marinated grilled sardines. They were small enough that the whole fish was edible. Delicious.

D went off to buy a Marco Polo T shirt. This is where Marco Polo (1254-1324)was born.

Before returning to the ship we walked out of the village and along the promenade which ran along the water's edge.

 We stopped and sat on a bench in the shade watching activity on the water before taking the tender back to the ship. Another perfect day. Tomorrow we sail for Split.

Monday July 20th 2015
Once again there was no need for us to take a tour in Split. The town itself with the imposing remains of the palace of the Roman Diocletian was laid out before us. The peristyle was a favorite place to gather but a place in the shade was not easy to find.

The peristyle

Of course the market was a big draw for us. First the vegetable and flower market.

then the fish market.

Over the years the marble used on the pavements has worn to a shine. I cannot imagine how dangerous this is in rainy weather.

Tuesday July 21st 2015
The cruise ship will spend one night in Venice and we have plans for one more night on the island, in an hotel, before we leave.

We have sailed into some magnificent ports in the past, among them Valetta, Istanbul, Sydney and now Venice. We are on the right side of the ship to stand on our balcony and take in the splendors of this city on the water.
Our first view of St Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace and the Bridge of Sighs.

 You can see from the map that the ship is sailing past the island and around to a cruise terminal on the far left. With little research ahead of time we had determined the best way to get into Venice. Notice the fish-shape of the islands dissected by the Grand Canal. We were soon to be experiencing a very crowded Venice and being packed in like sardines in a tin.

They have built a people mover, an above ground train, to take people from the cruise terminal to the bus station just on the island. It's only a couple of stops but I don't think you could do it on foot. It was just a short walk to the train although in the heat of the day it was quite brutal walking out in the open. A water taxi was the very expensive alternative. Exiting at the bus station it was a short walk over the bridge at the far end of the Grand Canal. We were on a mission to find our hotel and see if it would be feasible to walk there with our luggage.

They don't make it easy. This is the bridge with multiple steps and no way to pull luggage. It would have to be carried. We saw one or two porters and decided we would try to do that the next day. On the other side it was a short walk past the train station, (we would be taking a train from there to Milan in two days) and we found our hotel just a few hundred yards from there and very convenient; The Hotel Continental. We decided the trip was manageable saving at least €85. We now went to buy a 2 day pass for the vaporetto which is the cheaper mode of transport for getting up and down the Grand canal. Time to go and explore before going back tot he ship for our last night on board. We took the vaporetto all the way around, back towards the terminal and following the route the cruise ship had taken coming in. We had no idea where it was going but it eventually came to the end of the route at Lido Island. Like people say you can't get lost in Venice! More on that later. We alighted, walked around a little and then got back on the next vaporetto which was going to St Mark's.

Bridge of Sighs
Turning into the square we waited in the line to go into the Cathedral only to be turned away as the clock struck 5pm. Closing time. Ah! well. Time to go back for our last night on board the ship.

Tomorrow starts the third segment of our travel. Another day in Venice then to Milan and on to Zurich.