Archive for September, 2014

Final Report on Cruise Vacation

I realize I promised a port by port summary of our fabulous cruise vacation, but I am getting tweets from my hundreds of blog fans telling me to move on.  So this is the final blog on our vacation.  A summary,if you wish,and a commentary of advice for future followers in our adventure.

Two days in Venice was just about right.  To quote Julius Caesar, we came, we saw, we conquered.  One more water bus ride up and down the Grand Canal would have been one more than we needed.

The next day at Ravenna,south of Venice was a non event.  Pat and Krystal went to see the ruins but the rest of us chose to relax on the ship and recover from the previous few days.  In hindsight, given the hundreds of Roman ruins we were about to see, a good decision.  Sunshine was great so we could lounge around the pools and relax and try to acclimatize to the time zone.

Dubrovnik was wonderful and thanks to all the advice we were given we had an early start, walked the walls and were back aboard by 2 pm to avoid the monster thunderstorm that filled the rest of the day.  Our thanks to Sandra and Rick Steves for the advice to get to the Old Town early to walk the walls.  When we got off to explore the town the lineup to go up was at least an hour long.  A huge regret was that due to the overcast and rain we did not see the glorious scenery for the islands and coast of Croatia as we sailed in and departed.

Next day was in Athens where we took a bus to visit the Acropolis.  Actually we saw more than that but that is the memory.  A highlight of the visit to the escarpment was for Blaine to point out in the town below where he spent a couple of weeks in his VW van in 1972 vegging and drinking wine and never bothering to climb up to see the cradle of democracy.  The rest of Athens is a blur.

Next day off to Ephesus in Turkey.  This was at one time a major Roman city.  Rumor has it that this is where Mary (the mother of Jesus) spent her later years.  It was an important city that was abandoned when the port silted up but unlike Pompeii not buried by ash but by silt.  There was a huge amphitheater where apparently Saint Paul used to give speeches to convert locals to early Christians.  I wanted to go down to the stage to give my opinion on life to the gathered tourists in the banks of seats, but we were hard pressed for time and moved on.  My one and only visit to Turkey, and absolutely no impression of the country.

Next day in Mykonos.  Already did a blog on that.

After a day at sea we sailed into Naples and took the normal bus tour to Pompeii.  When I was a kid I read a Readers Digest book on the discovery and history of Pompeii which was just going through excavation.  Pictures of the forms of bodies made from plaster made the story seem so real.  Biggest discovery for me was the vast size of the town and scale of the excavations.  As a tour group, we only saw a small fraction of the town and the almost boring, now encased body forms and rooms.  The thousands of people crowding around and the obvious tourist route through the sites, did not excite me or remind me the impression of the personal disaster as the book I read 45 years ago.  Glorious but disappointing.

Next day on to Rome and the Vatican.  Again I have already done a blog on this.

Florence was lovely.  Small enough to walk around and see the major sights with lots of interesting buildings.  Far too crowded to go into the cathedral (again if you want to review my opinion on belly to bum tours of religious facilities read my blog on the Vatican)  Biggest disappointment was that we could not go into the Uffizi museum which has one of the finest collections of art in Europe.  In that case it would have been belly to bum crowding with a requirement to carry someone on your shoulders.

Toulon we missed and spent aboard.  Turns out as my blog stated, probably a mistake as the tourist sights were great and far fewer people.

And then we got to Barcelona which we loved.  Second to Paris in my mind for civic beauty.

Altogether my summary is that we took on too many ports in too short of a time.  Biggest regret is that you cannot do Rome in 6 hours.  6 Days maybe and not in the summer.  Aw well some future time

Still we had fun. Weather was great, food was bountiful and we had no major travel hiccups.  Not bad.

The Summary of Our Holiday by Finance

When you have been on a three week vacation that includes a visit to friends in Toronto, days in Venice, a cruise through the Eastern Mediterranean and finally 3 days in Barcelona, what can you say.

I spent the afternoon going through the roughly 800 pictures that I shot on the vacation.  Lots of eliminations due to replications and despite the high tech camera, a few out of focus.  I was trying to find the quintessential photo that would represent our vacation.  Not going to happen.  Too many great images.

So instead Pat presented me with the summary of the bills and expenses for the trip.

Should have been an indication when I received an email from a Vice President of VISA thanking me personally for financing his early retirement.

Here are the highlights…

We spent $30 doing our own laundry on the cruise ship.  Now this is a bargain, I once spent $200 in Brussels to have my underwear and shirts cleaned.  So I declare this a good expense.

Pat tried to tell me how much we spent on Refreshments on board the cruise ship, but I passed.

We spent $15 each for a shuttle bus in Mykonos for a distance of 2 km where we could have walked or taken a local $3 ferry.   This was typical for many of our ship sponsored excursions, and the people had the gall to try and get tips after.

I bought a bottle of Lemoncello to commemorate a wonderful meal only to find that despite the special price they offered, I could have bought the same bottle at our local liquor store for less.

For some reason in Dubrovnik, a large glass of beer in a small quaint cafe where we all sat around a small table to have lunch came to $14 Canadian each for Blaine and I.  Granted it was a large glass but, it is not like it was imported from some foreign land by airplane.

I spent 5 euros for a Catalonia flag from some guy on the street in Barcelona in the frenzy of the Sept 11 independence day festival only to have Blaine buy the same flag for 2 euros at a shop on a side street.

We had a taxi driver in Barcelona that drove us from the cruise ship to our hotel that managed to convince us that despite the advertised fare he needed extras to put his kid through college. That was the norm in our experience with taxis and restaurants, there was always a reason why the advertised rate was not what they charged tourists.  I expect that we personally financed many kids to college on this holiday.

Now this may sound like a bummer post, but we actually had a wonderful vacation.  Lots of great memories and, what the hell.  If we did not spend the money, our heirs would only waste it on their trips to Europe.




With all the many sites that we visited on the trip, with ancient Roman and Greek ruins, Mykonos was a delightful change. I know why it is a favorite of the Yacht crowd.

We arrived early in the morning and docked just outside of the main town.  As per usual for the cruise line, they convinced us we had to pay $18 for a shuttle bus that would take us the 1 mile to town.  Cruise line did not tell us that if we got off the boat we could have walked or taken a $4 local shuttle.  Typical for cruise line.  Anyway we took the expensive shuttle.

The Island is barren but covered with these white buildings.  Blaine mentioned that you could make a fortune if you had the monopoly on white paint for the island.  Obviously it is a law that every home and building must be white stucco.

So we wandered (along with the 7000 other tourists from cruise ships) through the tiny town.  The streets, well you cannot call them streets, the paths between the stores and homes are narrow and twisting but with the white walls they were bright.  Took no time at all to get to the other side of the town where we saw the old windmills that are the feature of the island (see pic 1)

We had been convinced by the travel brochures that we had to visit one of the fabulous beaches so we picked Paradise Beach because it was the most famous.  Blaine and Lisa rented a Quad and I rented a scooter but Pat and Krystal took a bus.

I have not used a motorcycle or a scooter for 40 years so the first thing I did was fall over and skin my leg.  Still got used to it and rode the narrow roads trying to find Paradise Beach.  Blaine and Lisa got immediately lost and I never saw them again until later on board the ship.

I eventually found Pat and Krystal on Paradise beach but it was a huge disappointment.  Totally covered in lounges that you have to rent. Thousands of people.  Never actually saw the beach but Pat and Krys found me and we decided to go back to the ship.  On the way back I took the opportunity to wander through some back roads on my scooter without being killed by the traffic and eventually made it back aboard.

From our balcony on the ship (see pic 2) we realized there was an even better beach just a 1 km walk from the ship.  Krystal went there and told us we missed a great beach.

I told everyone on the ship the next day in the pool that my leg injuries came from a high speed motorcycle accident where some jerk forced me off the road, but as I said I just fell over.

Lovely island, lovely day.  Just wish we had skipped Paradise beach although I did like my afternoon on a scooter.



Gas Pump Prices

I just read about an app that you can download to help you find the gas station near you with the lowest prices.

I deplore this attitude to try and minimize the profits for Oil Companies.  They need the revenue to help all of us, and high prices are good for the economy.  Let me give you the top 5 reasons why we need to support high gasoline prices at gas stations.

1. The profits lead to higher exploration for new crude oil so that we do not have to be slaves to the Arabs.

2. Investment in oil exploration in our country supports many other industries such as steel for drilling pipes and high technology research that will benefit in supportable income jobs for our youth.

3. Higher profits for oil companies means increased cultural support in the country such as the Calgary Stampede.

4. Profitable gas stations mean cleaner wash rooms.  This is important as Pat and I drive across the country.

5. And, this is critical from my personal experience, higher prices means higher profit which allows key oil company personnel to fly Business Class as they travel for the benefit of mankind instead of suffering in Economy.

Please do not download that app.

Dubrovnik Croatia

One of the featured stops in our Mediterranean cruise was Dubrovnik in Croatia.  Although it is a small town, the cruise ships love to stop because the coast is so scenic and the location itself is almost like a Disney version of  a Eastern Mediterranean town.

I was up early to watch the sail in.  Unlike all the other ports where the ship arrives at 7 am or earlier, for Dubrovnik we did not dock until 9.   Our friend Sandra had told me that the coastline is wonderful so I went up on deck to watch the entrance.  Unfortunately this was the only day on our vacation where the weather was overcast and threatening rain.

We took an early departure from the ship and grabbed a taxi to the old town.  There were 3 cruise ships in harbour so maybe 8,000 tourists about to hit the center of the town.

Sandra had told us to make sure we first walked the wall that surrounds the town and then do the streets. So we made that our first stop and made the circuit and when we came down the lineups to get on the walls were forever.  Good advice.

This became a theme as we sailed from port to port.  Massive crowds of people with nothing to do but take cruises.  I could vent about why are they not at work, but as it turns out, they mostly old fart retired people like us.

We wandered about and had a lunch and made our way back to the ship by 2 pm.  Very lucky as just as we boarded the clouds opened up with the most massive thunderstorm I have ever seen.  We sat on our balcony watching a spectacular lightning display on the mountains that surrounds Dubrovnik that lit the sky.  Crashes of thunder and brilliant flashes.  The rain poured down in sheets but with no wind so we could enjoy from comfortable seats.

We could also look down on the people that were returning from town lining up to reboard (people that choose not to get an early start like we did)  They looked like drowned rats.

Dubrovnik was everything that we were promised. Just a couple of the pictures from our walk on the wall





We visited Barcelona for 3 days at the end of our trip.  As everyone had been telling us it is a wonderful city, clean, great buildings and sights and plenty of history. Lots of places to see and great food.

By happen chance we arrived on September 11 which is the national day for the Region of Catalonia.  Think of St John Baptise day in Quebec.

It was the 300 year anniversary of when Catalonia lost its independence and became part of Spain so a day for a huge festival.  Interesting that they celebrate a major loss in their history.

Catalonia is about to vote on separating from Spain (just like Scotland) so this Sept 11 festival was also an excuse for the separatists to march.

We were staying on the main street  La Ramblas Avenue which was the centre for much of the activity. Newspapers reported that 1 million people came out to demonstrate for separation and posted a picture of the crown on La Ramblas.

Well there may have been a lot supporters and thousands carrying flags but it was more of a festival than a demonstration and much of the crowd including many waving the flags were tourists with no idea of the political situation.  Blaine and I both bought flags as a souvenir and while I cannot see from the picture, we may have been part of the crowd.

Interesting to see how the vote goes next month.  They are hoping that the Scottish vote will give support for their own separation.


Catalan Independence Rally In BarcelonaIMG_1004


In our 12 day cruise around the Eastern Mediterranean , we spent most port days ashore.  We either picked cruise organized tours (very expensive) or self organized.

For some reason we had decided that we would have a day on board for the Toulon France stop.  We had not heard much about the port and I think I may have influenced the group by saying that, to my knowledge, Toulon was mostly noted as one of the two major French Navy ports (along with Brest).  The details that came with the cruise also noted that the cruise dock was so far away you could not walk ashore and everything required a bus or bus .  Toulon is not noted for historical sights as it was mostly bombed to the ground in WWII.

So we did not pre-book an excursion and just lounged away.  Unlike most days, this meant a sleep-in that morning.

May have been a mistake.  When we arose we found ourselves in probably the most picturesque port (aside from maybe Venice) that we visited on the trip.  When I talked to others that did take day trips they talked of lovely villages and scenery.  Still it was a relaxing day and we did dock near the flagship of the French Navy, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.




On our trip to Europe there was probably no city that had more anticipation for us than Rome and particularly the Vatican.  We had pre booked advanced tickets (at great cost) so that we could beat the huge lines and have what we thought would be time strolling through the museum rooms and the Sistine Chapel with a few privileged people.  Perhaps running across Pope Francis as we wandered.  Boy were we wrong.

When we managed to make it past the 2 block long lineup to get into the Vatican Museums we found that the prepaid advance tickets were shared by hundreds if not thousands.  Our guide got us through the ticket area and pointed us to the entrance and stepped back with what I now realize was a look of pity.

We entered bedlam.  A long series of little rooms and ante chambers that seemed to get narrower as we flowed along in a crowd with one objective, the Sistine Chapel.

We were pressed into a throng so tight that if we had been cattle at a slaughter house the SPCA would have stepped in and arrested the company.  Jammed together but in a continuous flow as the thousands pressed on to the promised Sistine.  I know there was artwork on the walls and ceilings but you could not stop to see anything lest you stumble and be trampled by the hoard.  I am sure I spotted priests bungie corded into little niches giving continuous last rites to those that fell.

It was as if we were floating in rapids on a river.  At one point I lost contact with the Wife as she was swept away in an eddy.  I despaired that I would have to tell the kids that I lost their mother in the Loggia of Raphael.

Eventually after an hour of surging along in the throng with people pressed in on all sides we issued into the Sistine Chapel.  It was slightly wider than the halls and chambers so the surge slowed slightly (as in a widening of a river) but not enough to allow you to stop.  You could notice that there were some painting on the ceiling but again you dare not look at them too long or you might slip and be trampled by the thousands of people pressing behind you.

At the end of the Sistine you are squeezed through a door into the Basilica which is huge so that the crowd can somewhat disperse and there I found The Wife.  In fact the Basilica was a scene of joy because of all the people finding loved ones they feared lost in the herd.

Not the highlight of our trip that I was hoping for.  Still by blindly holding the camera over my head and snapping pictures I did end up with a few images that I know I did not see at the time.