Monday, 30 September 2019

Hidden Gems Cruise - Santa Margherita, Italy

Saturday 21 September 2019. Today requires a tender operation to get us to shore. By which I don't mean that the crew of the ship are any more caring than they usually are, but that we are unable to dock at Santa Margherita. The ship anchors just off the coast - we know this because our cabin is near the front of the ship and the anchor chain makes an unavoidable noise as the anchor goes down!

Then we take to the ship's tender boats for a transfer from the side of the ship to the small harbour. I always enjoy these little boat trips though it can challenge some people. However there are always crew members to help you onboard.

One lady was obviously very nervous and every time the tender bobbed up or down she backed away. But she eventually managed to step from the side platform of the ship onto the boat - true bravery; being very scared of something but doing it anyway.

And today's port of call is well worth it anyway. We came to Santa Margherita in 2008 on a cruise with my Mum. This time Fran and I are on an excursion to Portofino. First though there is a walking tour of Santa Margherita.

We cross this road by the crossing to a tiny park, not much more than a traffic island. The guide we were with watched as someone had to dodge something falling from a tree and then proceeded to talk for ten minutes about the tree... Followed by five minutes on the unification of Italy and then said "Now we are going to walk to the town centre." In other words, leaving the beautiful scenery of the sea front behind. We and several others just asked when and where to meet for the ferry to Portofino and left her to it. Why do guides always feel the need to bore the pants off people? We are there on holiday, we are not on a history course... If we look at a castle I like to know the (brief) history of it and maybe a small history of the actual place but not the entire history of Italy.

There is a castle. Or a small fortress at least. It was built in the 16th century as the Mediterranean coastal towns were being regularly attacked by pirates from North Africa. The doorway under the ramp to the right of the fort leads to public conveniences - of much more relevant interest than the breeds of nearby trees...

We strolled back along the seafront past the harbour and looked round a series of market stalls. We bought a couple of small pottery dishes and the inevitable fridge magnet.

Then we found somewhere just to sit and admire the view over the marina for ten minutes until it was time for the ferry.

The ferries to Portofino depart fairly regularly, the trip taking roughly 20-30 minutes. As members of an organised tour we were allowed to board before other passengers, although the arrival of another ferry boat meant that they were not all that disappointed. In fact they boarded and left while we were still being herded on...

The Marella Dream's tender boat waits for the other ferry to leave the harbour wall before depositing another boat load of passengers onto dry land.

And we're off! Portofino, for us, was the most anticipated destination of the cruise this week. See you there on the next page!

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Sunday, 29 September 2019

Hidden Gems Cruise - Piombino, Italy

Friday 20 September 2019. Today we are moored in Piombino, Italy. It's an industrial port, so no walking off, but a free shuttle bus into town is provided.

Again in keeping with the Hidden Gems theme of the cruise, Piombino is not one of the well known ports, but tours are heading for Pisa today. Having been there a couple of times already we opt for a look around Piombino itself.

The tower, known as the Rivellino, is the oldest structure here, having been constructed in 1212. The attached walls are from some 200 years later.

The buildings are tall, the streets are narrow. This means the difference between light and shade - the bits higher up that the sun can reach and the ground level in shadow - is quite pronounced. I spot a strip of blue and we head downhill towards the sea.

A fortified house is to our left with hefty studded doors.

And rings of iron with bull's head motifs. Perhaps this was the place to park your bull when in town?

A glance down a steep side street affords me another chance to snap some attractive looking street lighting.

The harbour is small and, rather pleasingly, is home to small fishing or pleasure boats instead of the status symbol yachts of the rich.

One side of the harbour extends to a pier with a square brute of a lighthouse.

Along the pier, metal plaques show the names of islands and hills on the horizon.

The lighthouse is designed to look older than it really is!

Every now and then a little road train, packed with people, trundles down the hill and onto the beginning of the pier before turning before the pier narrows to disappear once again towards the city centre by a different street. We set off to walk up the hill, climbing some steps to bring us out with a viewpoint over the road.

Looking back towards the pier and offshore islands.

We saw several Piaggo Apes in various formats: van, pickup, flatbed etc. Originally a 3-wheeled version of Piaggo's Vespa scooter, they evolved into both cars and utility vehicles and have been in constant production since 1948. The Ape50 was introduced in 1996. "Ape" is derived from the Italian for a bee, the Vespa meaning wasp.

On the little square that we had climbed to, several benches were placed for people to rest and take in the view. However the wall around the edge of the square blocked most of the view below the horizon. Maybe if we had taken a few cushions...?

Language testing... I'm still trying to replace my shaving brush whose hairs are falling out, making me worry about blocking the plumbing. Despite my best efforts, none of the pharmacies we visit have one.

The barber speaks no English at all and my mime act only confuses him. Embarrassingly, so does my attempt to draw a brush in my sketch book. I spot a brush on display and point, but they are for display only, not for sale...

The two-coach road train, mentioned earlier, from the Italian firm of Dotto.

My songs for the night: Billy Fury's Halfway To Paradise and the Beach Boys' I Can Hear Music.

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Friday, 27 September 2019

Hidden Gems Cruise - Propriano, Corsica

Thursday 19 September 2019. Two days previously we had flown from Manchester out to Palma, Majorca to board once again our favourite ship, the Marella Dream.

She may be small compared to the current fad for floating cities, but if you meet someone whose company you enjoy, you do have a chance of bumping into them again on her. And she can visit ports that simply cannot cope with the huge (dare I say ghastly?) goliaths that roam the seas, turning everywhere they visit into a crowded mass of people.

Which is precisely the inspiration for the cruise we are on. Hidden Gems will take us across the western Mediterranean, calling at smaller ports where passengers can step off on their own to explore beaches and towns off the beaten track. Alternatively there are excursion tours to the larger popular sites if you so wish.

Today, after a day at sea, we have arrived in Propriano on the island of Corsica and we have opted to explore this place that until we booked the cruise, I confess, we had never heard of.

The Dream is moored alongside a marina and we walk the length of it, coming to a point where the road heads off up a hill. There's a beach before us and further on another which leads to an interesting rocky promontory.

We climb the hill and look back towards the marina and Dream - that's Dream with a capital D, we didn't take a nap or anything...

Halfway up we pass a set of steps leading to a building. Neither the steps nor the building seem to have been used for a long while!

We reach the main road and carry on in the same direction in order to reach the far beach. Propriano lies on the route from Ajaccio to Bonfaco. We have visited Ajaccio a few times in the past, it is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.

We reached the far beach and as the ancient and unpracticed legs were demanding a rest, we sat for a while; Fran on a bench, but me on the hard wall in order to have a viewpoint that would let me sketch the scene.

To the right, the land rose up towards a cemetery on top of the hill, but to the immediate right was a car park, not particularly attractive and hellish to draw convincingly, so I turned it into scrubland with a gleeful disregard for fact and accuracy. And I don't care...!

This took the best part of an hour and whilst the legs were now rested, certain other parts which were resting on unyielding hard stone were calling for me to get up again. We kept to the road, this time and walked down into the town.

Once there a rather more comfortable seat gave us a place to sit and have a drink whilst watching the passers by. This did make Miss Franny a bit uncomfortable at times as the road was fairly narrow and a couple of cars turning into the road at her side came very close to the railing, having to slam on brakes and reverse to try again. One woman took four goes at it...

So what can I say about Propriano itself? Well it has ancient roots going back to the Romans and the Greeks. It was invaded in both the 5th century by the Vandals and the 8th century by Saracens. Filitosa, 8km north and Palaghju, 11 km south have some standing stones from prehistoric times; Palaghju having the largest number of stones of any site in the Mediterranean.

The first day onboard the ship I found that my shaving brush was rapidly trying to emulate my head and was shedding bristles at an alarming rate. However visits to the local pharmacies failed to produce a replacement, so I was forced to spend at least another day lifting out the click-clack plug to scrape out bunches of badger hair before they blocked the plumbing!

Ah yes - I have a bit of a thing for decorative street lighting. So much so that there will probably be a collective article of them at some point in the future. Here is Propriano's entry to the lamp post hall of fame...

Finally, we are thrilled to be cruising with long-standing friends and entertainers, Tomas and Maris, who sing every night in the Tides Bar onboard Marella Dream. I played a couple of songs with them every night, so that the audience could see just how good they were... My favourite sort of audience - tolerant!

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Saturday, 14 September 2019

Palaces and Pyramids on The Ocean Village

A series of articles describing our experiences onboard the Ocean Village cruise ship 22-29 April 2010. The cruise was called Palaces and Pyramids and our itinerary was Heraklion, Crete > Day at Sea > Port Said, Egypt > Rhodes, Greece > Kusadasi, Turkey > Piraeus, Greece > Herklion, Crete.

Each article can be accessed by clicking / tapping the photographs below. A link at the end of each article will return you to this index page.