Thursday, July 11, 2019

Travel Blog Europe 2019

We left on Wednesday 5 June and returned Sunday 7 July.  The trip was divided into 5 sections.

1.     London for a week staying with Vivienne's sister's family

2.     Barcelona for 4 days

3.     Cruise Barcelona to Rome

4.     Rome for 4 days.

5.     Cruise around Malta and Sicily.


We arrived to be told the weather had been beautiful for the past two weeks.  For us it rained every day; it was cold and bleak; you begin to understand how the UK produced so many great novelists and poets.  On the other hand it was a good time to catch up with old friends.  I supplied the alcohol at two lunches at clubs where I had reciprocal rights via my membership of the Union, University & Schools Club (UUSC).  On Friday we had lunch with old Cambridge friends and their wives at the Oxford & Cambridge Club.  On Tuesday I caught up with old London Business School friends at the East India Club.  Both events were most enjoyable.  We also had meals at Le Vacherin and Annies in Chiswick and Daylesford in Westbourne Grove.  All this eating was great training for the next four weeks.  After we left London had a heatwave.


Mercifully after London the weather was sunny and warm.  It had been at least 17 years since we were last in Barcelona and I had forgotten how attractive a city it is.  We stayed at the Circulo Ecuestre another reciprocal club with the UUSC.  It is conveniently located on the corner of Balmes and Diagonal on the edge of the Eixample neighbourhood of Barcelona, home to many of the iconic Modernista buildings.   The first day we spend wandering that area and finished up with a terrific dinner in the Rambla de Catalyunya in the street café associated with the Hotel Murmuri.  The second day we caught the metro down to the Barri Gothic, visited the cathedral and wandered around the old town and had lunch at the Plaza Reial finishing the afternoon with a stroll down the Ramblas.  In the evening we had dinner at Cheri another great restaurant just around the corner from the club.

On the final day we did a Barcelona Architect tour which was great.  Rafeal was our guide and provided a terrific explanation of what drove Gaudi and the other Modernista architects.  In the afternoon we took a taxi to the Barcelona Cruise terminal (the largest in the Med) and caught our ship to Rome.

The only problems we faced in Barcelona was on the last evening when yours truly slipped off a kerb while fetching Vivienne some breakfast pastries from a gluten-free bakery we found.  I managed to avoid a face plant, landed heavily on my right shoulder and causing it to freeze up.

Cruise Barcelona to Rome. 

This was a 7-day trip aboard the Oceania Riviera.  This was our third trip on Oceania boats which we like because they are small.  The Riviera has 1,200 passengers compared for example to Oasis of the Seas with over 6,500.  We visited 7 ports:

Palma:  The ultimate Spanish tourist trip.  A simple tour of the city centre including the cathedral and free time on the souvenir shopping strip.  This was followed by a 30 minute coach trip out of Palma to tapas and a flamenco show which sounds terrible but was actually not that bad.  I finally felt like a tourist.

Marseille:  We gave Marseille a miss.  Instead we headed into the Luberon of Provence where we had a terrific wine tasting and garden lunch at the Chateau Val Joanis.  Then in the afternoon we visited Aix en Provence, surely one of the most stunning towns in France.

Monaco: Another long but interesting day.  We started by visiting Eze, a hill top down which requires a 30 minute uphill climb via stairs to reach the village.  Great to do once but never again.  Then we went to Nice visiting the old town.  We had been to Nice before and were unimpressed but we never had reached to old town on the port which was actually quite impressive with a lively market and café scene.  Our final visit was to Monaco which was a complete change of scene.  Very elegant but overbuilt.  They made so much money from the casino the government abolished income tax.  The city is much smaller than you think and is a warren of tunnels.  The car parks are filled with Mercedes and Lamborghinis.  Every second store seems to be a shop selling Monaco Gran Prix souvenirs.  We tried to buy a drink in the casino but failed to get the single waiter’s attention after 45 minutes.  Even so our day based in Monaco cost me $992.  Not through gambling or living the high life.   I had put Vivienne and my mobile on Telstra’s $10/day international pass.  Unfortunately, since I have returned I discover it does not apply to Monaco.  

Antibes:  On the tour we visited the Picasso museum and an absinthe shop.  We then spent time wandering around the old town and the market.  Antibes is a very attractive port and certainly well worth a return visit.

Ajaccio:  The major city of Corsica and you would never guess it except for numerous statues, squares and streets named after him the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.  He left Corsica when he was teenager to go to military school and only returned for 3 days afterwards.  Totally understandable.

Livorno/Lucca: This is the gateway to Tuscany which we have visited/stayed on numerous occasions.  Various tours were offered to Florence, Sienna, etc. but we chose Lucca being the shortest coach trip by several hours.  We had been to Lucca before but it is a beautiful city and well worth revisiting.  The Via Fillungo is a great shopping street and the Roman Amphitheatre is an excellent place for a beer and people watching.

Civitavecchia:  This is the port for Rome.  The cruise company could organise a car to our hotel for US$449.  There were some taxis but they refused to take us to the train station.  Instead we took a free bus shuttle to the edge of the port, planning to catch a taxi to the train station.  At the edge of the port the free market was action with a whole host of travel touts.  We ended up catching an 8 seater minivan owned by a Russian entrepreneur direct to our hotel for 70 euros (US$80).  Capitalism is a wonderful system when it is allowed to operate.

Finally the Spa on the cruise boat organised a series of lectures.  I noticed one of them was acupuncture and frozen shoulders.  Trained at Cambridge in the Natural Sciences I was totally cynical but decided to give the Indian doctor proposing the treatment a go.  Not only did he insert the needles but he subsequently attached the needles to electrodes and gave my shoulder electro-stimulation.  I had 4 treatments which cost me US$600.  There was some partial relief.  The doctor said it would take a month to work.


We arrived at the Hotel Quirinale Sunday morning 23 June.  I had chosen this hotel because earlier in the year we saw the opera A Turk in Italy at the Sydney Opera House and in one of the chorus scenes a newspaper was unfurled with a full-page advert for the hotel.  It was conveniently located in Via Nationale next to the A line metro station, Republica.  Unfortunately, we subsequently discovered the station was closed.  This was after we had purchased a 3-day travel pass. 

Too early to go to our room we walked to the Spanish steps and had lunch at a great restaurant, Alla Rampa in the Piazza Mignanelli.  Beautiful parma ham and melon and beautiful women.  The highlight was when a Lamboughini pulled up, emitted several roars and the out stepped a stunner with an advertising exec complete with pony tail.

The next morning we caught the bus and went to the quirkiest sight in Rome. Hidden in the Palazzo (or Galleria) Spada is the Borromini Perspective. It looks like an imposing colonnade about 37 metres long that opens off the courtyard. In fact, the gallery is less than nine metres long and the ‘life-sized’ statue at the far end is just 60cm high. The forced-perspective illusion was created by Borromini in 1653 with a rising floor, descending ceiling and reducing columns to prove Cardinal Spada’s view of “the misleading image of the world”. To maintain the illusion, you aren’t permitted to enter the colonnade.  The Spada has a 4-room museum which is the right size.  We had a pleasant lunch followed by a nice stroll around the area and caught the bus back to the hotel.

The next day we had a tour booked around the Vatican Museums at 10am.  I had planned to go there by underground walking to Termini station and catching the A line.  When we got to Termini we discovered the A line was shut.  There was also a bus strike and the taxi line outside Termini was over 400 people long.  Fortunately, we looked like tourists; we walked back towards our hotel and got luxury hotel next door to call a taxi that got us to the museum at 9:55am along with 30,000 other tourists.  After visiting a number of sub-galleries we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel realising that we had seen it with our daughters some 30 years ago.  As the public transport system was collapsing we managed to snag a taxi back to the Restaurant Alla Rampa.  In the evening we had a very pleasant meal at the Ambrosia roof-top restaurant in the Hotel Artemedi.

The following day we visited two sights nearby our hotel (I was somewhat off the Rome public transport system) the Baths of Diocletian and the Roman Museum near Termini.  That evening we went to the Baths of Caracalla to see the Tokyo Ballet give an outdoor performance.  The setting was spectacular and I booked us in the front row sets.

The only other event of note is that one of my old crowns fell out over breakfast so now I was toothless, with a partially frozen right shoulder, some 20 kilos lighter with limited saliva and taste buds.

Food and wine cruise tour of Sicily

I had booked this tour before being detected with cancer late last year.  Given the state of my taste buds and saliva glands plus Vivienne being a coeliac I decided to book us on all the architecture tours.

Valleta: Our first night was spent at the luxury hotel Excelsior which was very pleasant.  The next day we did a tour of Valletta which is quite an attractive town.  We finally boarded La Bougainville at 4pm, meeting the Captain who had the film start looks.  The boat was only launched in April and was in terrific nick as you would expect having only done 11 cruises. 

Porto Empedocle: We were travelling in a clockwise direction around Sicily and this was our first port of call.  We completely by passed the port, instead visiting the Valley of the Temples which were quite impressive especially the Temple of Concordia.  Actually Valley is a misnomer it should have been ridge.  After spending 3 hours walking across the ridge we went to the local museum in Agrigento.  This was the pattern for the rest of the trip.  Out on tour in the morning, back in time for a light lunch as the heat built up, swim in the afternoon and read Donna Leon’s latest novel, nap and dress up for dinner.

Trapani: Today we went to ancient Segesta where we saw the theatre and the temple that was not a temple.  It was never finished so it never became a consecrated temple so when the Christians took over the town they did not destroy or build a church on top of it.

Palermo: We spent two days here.  It is a gritty city, reminiscent of Naples.  We saw two spectacular churches with really terrific mosaics.  The first was the Palantine Chapel of the Palazzo Reale, commissioned by King Roger II of the Normans in 1132.  The second was the Cathedral on Monreale located some 20 minutes outside of town.  Our guide told us a joke.  “The Italians drive on the right, the English drive on the left, the Sicilians drive in the shade.”

The second day we spend walking the town and having lunch in the Bisso Bistrot.  I tried to stimulate the economy by buying some shoes but failed.

Taormina: Certainly the highlight of the trip to Sicily.  This is a stunning town built high a ridge clinging to Mount Tauro, overlooking the Bay of Naxos and Mount Etna.  The drive to the town was unbelievable bringing back memories of the Amalfi coast.  The town has great shopping and a number of spectacular buildings and sights including a Greek theatre still in use.  And I bought two pairs of shoes.

Syracuse:  Cicero described it as the most beautiful city in the world.  I beg to differ.  We spent the morning on Ortygia, a small island that was the original centre of Syracuse.  The cathedral located in the stunning Piazza del Duomo is an interesting combination of Greek temple, Byzantine Church, with a Baroque façade.  We also saw the Cavaggio painting in the Church of Santa Lucia.  Archimedes was born here.

Summing up:

A good 5 weeks and now I need a holiday.

I am still cynical about acupuncture.

I tried to gain weight but lost some more.  I have now lost 22.6 kilos.

Donna Leon has jumped the shark and lost it in her latest novel.

Don’t go to England while we are there.  Our next trip to the UK will be around 26 September 2020.

Switch off your mobile if you are in Monaco.

Chris Golis Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence website: Linkedin: Email: mobile: +61-418-222219

1 comment:

  1. The fun and surprises of travelling when you are 70 plus.