Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Off The Usual Track in Venice

Monday, 16 October 2017. We are in Venice for the day and counting ourselves lucky that yesterday's fog did not prevent us from getting in this morning, which it had been threatening to do. We left the ship on our own and found the ticket office for the water bus to St Mark's Square. We bought return tickets for 15 euros each that allowed us to return within 30 days. Nice thought but we only had one day here!

The trip was with the Alilaguna company whose boats use a mooring point to the left of St Mark's Square as you view it from the water. Whilst we waited to board we fell into a conversation with a couple from Texas who were living in Germany and had arrived like us on a ship - the Aida Blue.

We have been to Venice a number of times and have tended to walk the same route between St Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge. So today, having got off the water bus we turned away from St Mark's Square and without the aid of maps or prior knowledge headed into new territory!

The sheer number of churches in Venice is staggering. Without the benefit of a map I haven't a clue which churches we saw, but none of them are plain or unadorned!

There had been a hint of mist about in the early morning but it soon burned off and the sky turned a deep blue. Whilst we truly had no idea just where we were, I knew that the Grand Canal was to our left and that it curved around us to the Rialto Bridge somewhere ahead and to the right of us, making it inevitable that we would either find the bridge or, more likely, come out onto the canal so that turning right along the canal bank would lead us to the bridge. So I didn't even bother trying to remember the way we had come in case we had to retrace our steps.

What a shame, all those empty niches on the fronts of English cathedrals and churches where statues of saints and notable achievers have been stripped away. By comparison these Venetian churches are alive with figures.

A gondola hire point. There are some 400 gondolas on the canals of Venice and numerous places where you can get one.

They frequently come up against a small traffic jam! Think, then what it must have been like a few centuries ago when eight to ten thousand gondolas vied with lots of other boats for space on Venice's waters.

There are other sights to find when wandering the streets of Venice. It pays to look up as well as down, as you cross the bridges over the canals.

A carpet and soft furnishings shop with rugs and wall hangings as well as cushions and chair coverings. We bought some postcards in the shop in the background. A fortnight later, they haven't arrived yet...

Another bend in the canal and another queue for an unseen obstacle or bottleneck. The gondolas are rowed with the single oar. The canals are too deep for the gondoliers to use a punt. Although there is only one oar the nose of the gondola is kept on course by the use of a strong forward stroke followed by a short backstroke which swings the nose back round.

We come to an open space. Most of these are described as a campo or piazza. Venice only has one square and that is St Mark's Square. This is Campo Santo Stefano. The church was 13th century but Fran was more interested in the market stalls!

Shop windows are always interesting to look at. They make the most of the space available. You will find lots of Murano glass - Murano being one of the islands of Venice where the glass is made. It was the only island where glass furnaces were allowed in the days of mainly wooden buildings. This shop has a display of carnival masks.

As expected we came out onto the Grand Canal, a short distance from the Rialto Bridge. We found a cafe on the waterfront and they made our favourite latte macchiato. Forget Starbuck's mis-use of the name - in Italy a latte macchiato is what we would call a latte in the UK. "Latte" means "milk" in Italian. Ask for a "latte" and you ask for a glass of milk...

In the next article we will take a closer look at the bridge and then make our way back to St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace.

Adriatic Explorer Cruise Index Page

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Fog In Slovenia

Sunday 15 October 2017. 7:00 am. Miss Franny opens the curtains enough to pop her head through - a wise choice considering her state of undress...
"It's foggy!" she says just as the Captain announces over the tannoy system that it is foggy but should burn off once the sun rises. "I've put the kettle on, make me a coffee whilst I'm in the shower!" comes a cheerful call as I'm still lying, eyes tightly screwed up against the sudden flood of light from the cabin flourescents, thoughts of another hour or two in my comfy nest starting to become more a remote hope than a fondly cherished dream.

By the time we have breakfasted and got off the ship, bright-eyed and bushy tailed (that's Miss Franny - I'm still bleary-eyed and wondering who got me dressed...) the fog has taken a stubborn aspect...

Tito Square. We are in Koper, Slovenia today. Life is a constant joy of rediscovery for Miss Franny, who never remembers a place until we have been at least six times. "I don't remember it yet," she will say, looking at Blackpool Tower... (well that may be an exaggeration but you get my drift!) We'll come back to Tito Square as it looks far better in sunshine than in fog.

The fog was beginning to lift, but the sky was still a forbidding grey. We had come out of the ship wearing hoodies (the hood part is something I ignore. If I raise it, it reaches almost a foot above my head and if I tighten the drawstring it then covers my nose and eyes just leaving a gap for my mouth to look out of). As the mist started to disappear these got warmer and warmer. After half an hour we were carrying them. We came across these two hatches, well heads or access to the drainage system, I'm not sure, but looking like they were built from re-used ancient column capitals.

Each place we were to go on this cruise had its centre of medieval buildings. Which means ancient building techniques, alterations over the centuries and a high maintenance requirement to keep them in tip-top shape. Not all were in such state and quite a few were in the midst of maintenance where cracks had appeared between old and even older (I can't say "old and new" can I?) and which had been cemented over prior to re-coating the walls with plaster and paint or rendering. I also love how the angle of the upper storey starts to protrude over the ground floor until even the wooden buttress beams need a supporting buttress of their own!

A tempting cafe. The lights were on but all was quiet. This was a Sunday morning and many businesses were shut, locals still attending church. Note the large thermometer on the wall to the left of the doorway.

I remembered this fountain mainly because of a young lad, who the last time we were there, kept rushing at it to swing on the chains. He stopped when he hit the revolving gate bars (just to the right of the man in the foreground) and they swung open, depositing him painfully on the ground...

Narrow roads and alleyways meander through the old centre of town. Sometimes a drainpipe has no drain beneath it so bends to shoot its waste water across the street. We walk through the old town via a maze of these narrow streets, each one with something to look at.

We come to the more modern part of town where even the trees have cardigans to keep them warm...

It's getting brighter and warmer but the sun still seems a long way off. The fog has almost lifted though, with just the haze in the distance.

The street brings us to the sea front. There's a hint of the blue sky to come but the horizon has yet to make itself known.

We sit for a while watching things becoming brighter and clearer until the mist has just about gone. We buy a few bits from a stall where a sign informs us that the stall holder is deaf.

As we sit the fog disappears and a bright blue sky and sunshine are our reward for waiting. We head back to Tito Square. This is the Loggia Palace. The lower storey dates back to 1462, but it was 200 years before the upper storey was added.

Opposite the Loggia Palace is the Pretorian Palace. The corner of the Loggia Palace is seen on the left of my sketch, but the Pretorian Palace should be wider and shorter - my scaling went a bit haywire... I must remember to buy a stretchable sketch book next time...

A somewhat clearer view than that of first thing this morning! Thomson Dream at her mooring in Koper, Slovenia.

A dirty great chunk of fungus growing on a tree trunk.

The tree was growing in an elevated viewpoint over the cruise terminal. Just by the port the land level rises in a low cliff behind which is the route to Tito Square. We returned to the dockside and had a look at a few stalls set up at the edge of the port. Fran bought a bit of jewellery at one stall run by a mother and daughter ... who were both deaf. Whether this was just a coincidence or whether deaf people in Slovenia are encouraged to run small retail businesses I'm not sure. I have a very limited knowledge of Makaton sign language from having been a governor at a special college (and having watched Mr Tumble with my granddaughter on kids' TV!) and I recognised some symbols used by them to each other so I signed "thank you" and "goodbye" and was glad I did because the face of the daughter who had served us lit up when I did so. We were back on the ship by early afternoon after which the fog started to make a bit of a comeback.

We took our evening meals in the waiter service restaurant, the Orion Restaurant and sat for the rest of the week with two Welsh couples (a different couple of couples from the Captain's night). Then it was off to the Water's Edge bar to spend the evening listening to Tom and Maris and sharing the stage for a couple of songs.

Adriatic Explorer Cruise Index Page

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Joining the Adriatic Explorer Cruise on Thomson Dream

Friday 13th October 2017. Ignoring all superstitions about travelling on a Friday 13th, we leave the house at 3:15am for a taxi ride to Manchester Airport.

From Manchester we fly out on a Boeing 767 to Corfu, where we find the Thomson Dream cruise ship waiting for us.

Our timetable for the week as described in the daily bulletins we receive in our cabin. This is the second time we have cruised this tour, the last time being on Thomson Spirit in 2011. This time we are doing the ports in a slightly different order and our itinerary for the week is: Corfu > Day at Sea > Koper, Slovenia > Venice, Italy > Split, Croatia > Dubrovnik, Croatia > Kotor, Montenegro > Corfu. An added bonus this time will be having the company of our friends, Tomas and Maris, who are singing onboard as 2 Intense.

Corfu's fortresses, the Old Fortress is the further one and the New Fortress - by comparison - is to the right.

A look at some of the ships in Corfu, we start with an industrial ship. Dinah is an oil products tanker built in 1982 as Eridan. Flagged under Togo, she has also held the names Inzhener Rozhkov (1983) and Moneron (2003). She is still shown as Moneron on some maritime websites, so I presume her new name is fairly recent.

A small cruise ship, Crystal Esprit. She was built as Lady Diana in 1989, and served with New Frontier Cruise Line from December 1991 as Aurora I. In 1994 she was sold to Megastar Taurus (Isle of Man) and in the same year was registered to Esprit Holdings Ltd. undertaking cruises from Singapore and also some charter work. She was laid up in 2008 and emerged in 2015 having been transferred to Crystal Cruises.

Saturday 14 October 2017. After our early start yesterday we have a leisurely day ahead of us at sea whilst we sail into the Adriatic and up to Slovenia for tomorrow's visit to Koper. We spend the bulk of the day on the top pool deck, Deck 11. We sit and watch the word challenge game and then it's time for a spot of ice carving.

What could it be? Tonight will be the Captain's Formal Night and this carving is destined to be given pride of place outside the entrance to the Orion Restaurant on Deck 4. The carving takes shape after much abuse with pointy sticks into a turkey or something similar. Apparently, the carvers practice on blocks of soap before attempting the huge blocks of ice. We use liquid soap at home so I am spared the temptation that would only lead to me being shouted at...

Tom and Maris come to Sirens Deck 11 to perform two sets interspaced with the daily Trivia Quiz. Some of those questions are decidedly not trivial...!

It was quite breezy up on the top of the ship. After Tom and Maris finished their second set we chatted for a while then disappeared to get ready for the Captain's night. We found ourselves sitting with two couples from Wales who discovered during the meal that each couple had been told by mutual friends to search out the other couple. Happy coincidence!

After the meal we made our way up to The Water's Edge bar (as we did every night) to spend our nights listening to Tom and Maris.

Whoa! Now who would have thought that this would have happened...?

Adriatic Explorer Cruise Index Page

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Creeping Bentgrass in Darwen For Double 70th Party

Saturday 30 September 2017. Last weekend we motored across to Darwen to play at a double 70th Birthday Party. One of the couple's birthdays was in June - the other in December. September was the obvious time then!

We had a great night with a full room and lots of enthusiastic people in the audience. Thanks all for the booking and the wonderful feedback and comments. It was a pleasure playing for your party.