Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Limassol, Cyprus

It’s November 30th 2011 and time for our stop in Limassol Cyprus.  Our tour was organised by MSC and the plan was to visit Kourion, Apollo’s Temple and Omodos.  At Kourion, there was a reconstructed theatre originally built in the 2nd century BC.  There’s also a pretty impressive archaeological site where they’ve dug up the House of Eustolio who was a rich citizen who was concerned about the welfare of his catholic compatriots during the early Christian period (330 to mid-7th century).  The house which included hot, cold and warm baths as well a courtyard and some rooms, overlooks the sea and must have been quite the mansion in its time.

Apollo’s Temple was a letdown after having seen the Coliseum in Rome.  Only two columns are left.  I understand that Apollo’s temple is older, but when you’re going to visit some ruins, you want to see something. 
Omodos village looked promising, it included a wine tasting and the information on Trip Advisor said the village was cute and interesting.  Unfortunately, the wine tasting consisted of three shots, "dry"red or white wine (really nothing to write home about, though I guess that’s what I’m doing now), the comandaria sweet wine which was created by the Knights of Saint John’s and now DOCG (controlled appellation).  That wine basically tasted like sherry.  The last, was schnapps.  Take a look at the shot my father caught of me, you’ll see what I thought of it!!

The village was tiny and not too interesting but I managed to find a nice silver and turquoise ring. Our tour brought us back to the ship and was had access to a shuttle into town for free.  Since we had three hours until all aboard, my dad and I went to take a look.  Maybe there’s more offered during the high season but this was pretty lame.  The stores had only junk and they were few and far between. There was Limassol "Castle" and imagine that I used air quotes because although the building looked a little like a castle, it was obviously rebuilt and not very impressive.  I took the opportunity for a photo shop but we chose not to pay 5 for the visit. After 30 minutes, we chose to have a cappuccino and then head back to the ship.

PS.  One of the things that has made us smile over the last few days is that we’ve found a Dan Meli lookalike! I thought he just had to be Swiss German since about 40 to 50 percent of the passengers are German.  This guy works for the excursion office and has been with the Germans on both the excursions we went on.  However it seems that the guy is Italian (crew have their native flag attached to the left shoulder when wearing their informal uniforms). I have yet to find a way to take a picture of him without looking like a stalker.  If I can manage it, I will definitely post it.
Oh, I almost forgot, we had a helicopter emergency rescue off the ship last night.  My dad noticed on the tv channel that gives the trip information that we had reversed our course and were going back on our route.  Thirty minutes later a search and rescue helicopter did a fly by, and then hovered over us for a while.  It seems they dropped a crew member, flew off, and then came back for them minutes later.  I’m pretty sure I saw an American flag on the helicopter which makes sense because we were close to Greece on our way to Cyprus so it’s possible that they came from the American base in Turkey. It was all very exciting, not that we could see much, but I sure hope whomever was taken off is going to be ok.
That’s it for now.  Tomorrow; Haifa.  We have a private tour with a gentleman called Avi, so I’m looking forward to exploring northern Israel, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, River Jordan and whatever else we feel like seeing along the way.  

My candid reaction to the schnapps :)
In Frony of Appollo's Temple, Limassol

Beautiful Medieval Rhodes Greece

We woke up to a beautiful day in Greece; sun, a few wispy clouds and it hit about 22°C.  We had arranged for a private tour in a comfortable Mercedes.  Nicholas, our driver and guide, took us into the old city and showed us the sites, then took us to the acropolis of Rhodes and then off to Lindos to see the beautiful St-Paul’s bay and to climb the approximately 280 stairs to the acropolis of Lindos.  The climb was steep and a little close to the precipice at times but the view from the acropolis was amazing and surprisingly, we were alone at the site for the few minutes we were there. 
We were given a quick course on the significance of Greek words and learnt that acropolis, means the "highest part of the city", thus the reason that there is an acropolis in Athens, in Rhodes, in Lindos and probably every other Greek town. I also learnt how to say thank you, pronounced as I understand it, EF-HA-RIS-TOU.  Whether or not that’s the exact pronunciation, I was understood and that was what mattered to me.

We got back to the old town after our tour at around 1:30, so we walked the city of Knights and snapped more pictures. We decided we had to sit down for a Greek dish.  Turns out we were very lucky with our choice and shared a delicious plate of traditional Greek dishes, we had mousaka, tzaziki, souvlaki, vines leaves and definitely the best baklava I’ve ever had.

Rhodes was one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting and it definitely did not disappoint, however, I was surprised by the number of stray dogs and cats.  They obviously do not spay or neuter their animals and there are dogs and cats everywhere.  The acropolis in Lindos was like a giant cat litter and smelled horrible.  I can only imagine what it would be like in August when it’s 38°C.
We left port around 3:30 and we make our way over night to Limassol, Cyprus.  I really have no idea what to expect, but I look forward to discovering another new city.

Bari and Alberobello

The ship docked at 13:00 at the port of Bari.  We were booked on a tour with the cruise ship, so we were to meet with the group at the Royal Theatre. There were eight groups meeting so, in a true Italian organisational setting, it was a little chaotic. There were several guides handing out the stickers identifying which group you would join but you needed to be able to guess which guide was handing out your particular group’s stickers.  We were lucky and found the girl handing out the "English Speaking Stickers" (oh Mr.Bogue would have a field day J ).  That’s really were our luck ended because we ended up on an English-Spanish tour.  As nice as the guide was, it was really annoying to hear everything in two languages.  It meant that everything took longer because she had to say it twice, so we also got a lot less free time then the other groups.  But it also meant that I heard about a third of what was being said in Spanish and it was giving me a giant headache trying to understand what exactly she was saying.  At one point, the guide was explaining in Spanish that the some of the buildings in Bari were built by Napolean’s hermano … cool I think, Napolean’s brother was in southern Italy.  But the English description was that his brother-in-law built that section of the city.  Not quite the same thing.

Alberobello wasn’t at all what I expected but it was nice.  It’s a world Unesco protected city for its famous Trulli houses.  Round with conical shaped roofs, they used to be temporary.  In order to avoid paying taxes to the King of Italy, they citizens used to remove the keystone from the top of the roof and the buildings would collapse.  They could then claim that they were temporary dwellings and not a town.  But the king’s inspectors finally caught on and Alberobello was proclaimed a royal city, forcing them to pay taxes one way or another. After that point they started using mortar and lie to make the houses more permanent.  At some point the keystone became an identifying marker, and was use used like a civic number to indicate which family lived in the house. I had expected really a remote location with a cluster of trulli buildings but this was snug in the middle of another town.  There are 1500 trulli and it really didn’t seem as ancient as I thought it could.  The Trulli style church, which was built by the neighbourhood, was erected in 1920!  Not exactly Ancient or even medieval for that matter.  The local church in Vaudreuil is 70 years older! Alberobello was unlike anything I had seen before, so for that I was quite happy, but I have to admit, I kept thinking I would run into Frodo or Papa Smurf ;)

Making my way to Venice

My flight into Paris was fairly uneventful except for the 15mins of bad turbulence that had the cabin crew postponing the beverage service. Despite my most valiant efforts I wasn’t able to sleep.  So I watched horrible bosses, Contagion and about half of Abducted.  By the time I cleared customs, picked up my bags and found my way from terminal 2A to2B and found a Brioche Dorée, where I ordered a café crème and a chocolatine. I was so exhausted that two Advil, the coffee, the food and 500ml of water weren’t enough to quell the massive headache that had settled in along with a pretty lousy wave of nausea.  I really felt an overused piece of shoe leather.  I really wasn’t sure how I would get myself to the hotel in Venice. I even managed to survive the snarky Parisian Easy Jet check-in clerk who told me that purses were counted in the maximum one piece of carry-on luggage. I managed to squeeze my ginormous purse into my carry-on and was able to prove that it still met their standard sizing and could be inserted and removed easily from the metal measuring frame. I was lucky enough to find a lounge chair were I got to lay back and put my feet up, put my MP3 on, wrap one arm around my purse, lean on my carry on and fell into a coma until I woke 20mins later, startled and worried that I would miss my flight.  I wasn’t able to fall back asleep but managed to lie with my eyes closed and relaxed for another 40 minutes.
I made it into Venice, my old friend, around 5, realised that I hadn’t eaten since 9 that morning in Paris. So I met up with Mom & Dad between St-Mark’s square and the hotel, dropped off my luggage, got changed and then walked the streets to Rialto bridge.  I wanted to bring my parents to the nice cozy pizzeria where Steph and I had eaten and where I had ordered the diabolo pizza that really did end up making me breathe fire J
We found the restaurant, but it was packed, so we settled for another restaurant just around the corner.  Though Mom and Dad didn’t seem to notice, I can definitely mention to all the girlfriends out there reading this post that the waiter was quite cute and adorable.  Great face, great accent, very cute. But probably a little young, Bobbie’s age or a little younger….Anyhow, the food was great and reminded me that Italian food really does taste that much better in Italy.  We ordered three different things so that we could share.  I had Prosciutto pizza that was delicioso, mom’s Quattro frommaggi gnocchi was my favorite and dad’s lasagna was good but a little overcooked.  The cappuccinos were awesome and the tiramisu was sinful. The mascarpone filling had just the right amount of amaretto and the coffee and chocolate balance was perfect.  Though this tiramisu wasn’t the best I’ve ever had (a little too dry and cakey) it was a great way to jump back into the culinary delights of Italy.
Tomorrow morning we make our way to the Maritime port mid-morning and the cruise leaves port around 5pm so we’ll get to see the lights of Venice as we head off to our first destination: Bari, Italy

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Getting ready for a new adventure

Only 4 more sleeps until the next trip.  I love the pre-trip anticipation. Planning, getting everything ready to get the most out of the trip. Reading about the destinations, finding out the best places to go, what to see, what to avoid. I know, not everyone is as anal as I am about the details but there's something reassuring to me about having a list and checking it twice ;)

So the next trip is exciting for a few reasons.  It brings a bunch of first, as well as closing an important chapter in my life.  I get to experience my first cruise and visit southern Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Croatia for the first time.  Like a kid planning a trip to a candy store, I can't help but look forward to the history and architecture of the medieval city of Rhodes.  I've been told that the walled city of Dubrovnik is the jewel of the Mediterranean. At Bari we will take a side trip to Alberabello, a World UNESCO sights that looks like it will offer many fabulous photo ops. I know these are the places I'm most looking forward to discovering, but I wonder what will end up being the favorite place or discovery from the trip.

But, I also get to go back and visit old favorites like Venice,that ending up being quite one of the high notes from my Italian trip in May 2010.  I get to back to Paris and see the city of lights decorated for Christmas (apparently les Champs Élysées will be especially beautiful, decked out in firs and lights).  I look forward to the Louvre and Versailles, Champagne 5à7. And, the reason behind the trip, convocation at Paris-Dauphine.  The last chapter of my MBA experience and hopefully signaling the beginning of another chapter.

So, for those who don't know and I'm not sure where you've been because I've been talking about this trip since July, here's the itinerary: fly to Paris, take an Easy Jet flight to Venice that afternoon.  The next day, board the MSC Magnifica ship that will be our home base for 11 hopefully magical days and nights.  Our ship will dock in Bari, Italy; Rhodes Greece; Limasssol, Cyprus; Haifa, Israel; Katakalon (Olympia), Greece; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Ravenna, Italy before heading back to Venice.  From there, we will make our way to Paris for five days of visiting, convocation and the wonderful sound of the pop of the Champagne cork.

I've mentioned to a few my desire to post the thoughts I would have otherwise journalled.  I hope to be able to entertain you a little as I go and it serves the added bonus of keeping in touch, albeit in a one sided conversation.  For those who are interested, I will post when I can connect to the Internet during the trip.  I'm told I won't have much access to the Internet, at least not on my budget, but I will try to post.  So if you're interested in my posts you can follow my blog by email, that way you'll be notified by email when I post.  Otherwise, you can chose to just follow and go see every once in a while.  Feel free to comment if you want.  I won't be posting on Facebook as I'd rather not let the world know I will be leaving my house unattended but I'm sharing this blog with Friends and Family.

Europe here I come ;)