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The auld alliance, Venice – 17 July 2017

18 JulyToday was Venice. That meant an early start to watch the sail in. It was almost as good as it was two years ago. Then we had a running commentary. This time we had nothing. I’m getting used to ‘nothing’ with Thomson. Cheap and nasty.   However, Venice is always a great port to visit.  Multinational, multicultural and a great place to get wedding photos taken if you’re from China, Japan or Korea, apparently.

We got the ‘cooncil’ water taxi from just along from the ship to St Mark’s Square for half the price that Thomson were asking.  Walked into the square and were amazed by the crowds.  Just as amazed as we were the last time, and the time before that.  The queue was starting to build for the Doge’s Palace, but Scamp noticed that there was virtually no queue to get to the top of the Campanile (bell tower).  We’d never been up it before, so today it seemed the thing to do.

First Surprise.  You access the top of the bell tower by lift, not stairs.  I’m guessing it’s possible to climb to the top if you are of that frame of mind, but we were happy to just let the lift take the strain.  The lift was really smooth going up and the view from the top was amazing.  It’s not really the top, it’s the viewing gallery at the top of the square tower,  There is a tight little spiral staircase in a wrought iron cage that probably goes right up past the bells and into the pyramidal space at the very top, but unfortunately, the gate to the staircase was locked so we couldn’t go up.  That’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it.  As you can imagine, we both took lots of photos of Venice from the top of the Campanile.  Well, more photos of Venetian roofs than of Venice itself, but it was a great sight with views to the north, south, east and west.
Second Surprise.  The Bell Tower’s bells are there and intact.  All greased and ready for action.  I became a bit nervous as the big hand on my watch crept towards the 12, but it passed without a bell being struck.  Scamp guessed that the bells don’t ring because of H&S.  Too many people would be suing the city for bell induced deafness if they rang out in that confined space.
All too soon it was time to go back down to earth.  The lift was just as swift going down as it was going up, although Scamp noticed that the lift operator looked as if he was offering up a prayer!  Maybe he was just hoping time would pass quickly until his lunch.
Remember I mentioned the Oriental Weddings?  When we got out of the lift there was a bride and groom getting in.  Bride all decked out in her white wedding dress and groom in tails.  What a strange place to get your wedding photos done, in a bell tower.

With our unexpected visit past, I tried a sketch of the Campanile, but if you sit anywhere in the square, you’re expected to pay an exorbitant fee, so I had to stand and I couldn’t get the perspective right, so I scrapped it and decided to try again when we came back.  Scamp was on a mission to find a special cafe that sold Cannoli which are little pastry tubes filled with cream.  We’d had them the last time we were there and Scamp was sure she could find the cafe.  Like a bloodhound on the scent, she led us almost straight to the shop!  Amazing!  It was beside the Grand Canal, just down from the Rialto bridge.  We both had Cannoli and cappuccino.  A bloke sitting in the cafe looked over longingly and rubbed his belly and raised his eyebrows in a question.  I smiled and just nodded.

From the cafe we crossed the Rialto and followed our noses for a while.  I was half looking for an art shop I’d been to the last time we were in Venice and I was hoping to get another sketch book there.  Not that I really needed a sketch book, it was more the idea than anything.  We didn’t find it, but we did find a square with a Leonardo exhibition.  I wasn’t really interested in going in, but I spotted another campanile near by and managed a reasonable sketch of it.  The sun was hot, but I found some shade under a tree to get the sketch done.  However, I thought it was time we were heading back.  On the way back we passed a wee pizza shop and, after some arguing about whether we should stop or go on, sat ourselves down at the only free table, ordered a pizza each and a carafe of red wine.  I don’t know who spoke first, the bloke sitting next to me or me, but when I turned round, I realised that here was the man from the Cannoli cafe.  I tried to explain and suddenly the penny dropped with him too.  “Oh yes, the little pastry!”.  It turned out he was French (Note capitalization = Nice Couple.  We had earlier had a short conversation with a nice, quietly spoken American [same capitalization rule applies]).  It turned out they were French but had a son who lived and worked in Glasgow “Good beer!  Good whisky – Not Johnny Walker.”  Our conversation was a bit stilted.  He had little english and I had no French, but we got by.  He asked what about Brexit and I told him I wasn’t in favour.  Should Scotland break from england?  Oh yes, we were both in agreement with that. Finally it was time for them to leave so we shook hands and Scamp offered “Bon Chance”.  A reaffirming of the Auld Alliance.

With the bill paid and a chance encounter under our belt, we headed back to St Mark’s and only had about 5mins to wait for the water taxi back to the boat.  Got there and we both went for a snooze ready for the sailaway to begin at 6pm.  Oh, the entertainment officer was almost wetting his pants with excitement, it was going to be a wonderful sailaway, one we’d remember for ever.  Six o’clock came and went and still we were firmly connected to Venice by our pedestrian access umbilical.  Also, there was no sign of the port workers who would undo the great ropes tying the ship to the bollards. Half past six and we were still waiting.  Finally after sitting in the hot sun for forty five minutes without any message from the captain or anyone else, one bloke with a black bag appeared sauntering on board and the umbilical was removed, the port staff arrived and departure began. Thomson, you need to start a conversation with your passengers.  You need to explain what’s going on, even if it’s bad news.  Thomson, you’re going the same way as P&O.  You have your ‘fanboys’, but thinking passengers like us will just take our money elsewhere.

Dinner tonight was in Smash ‘n’ Grab again.  It was Curry Night and it was lovely again.  Smash ‘n’ Grab might be a bit antisocial, but the food is better than in the waiter service restaurant IMO.  Danced to a couple of songs by Strumjam, then coffee and ‘white tea’ before bed.

Zadar tomorrow.

This blog and the previous two were brought to you by Free Zadar WiFi.

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Windy Civitavecchia – 16 June 2016

16 June

Our second and last day in Italy dawned dull and cloudy, but with a 26knot wind.  Civitavecchia was going to be busy today.  We were the second cruise ship to dock.  The Queen Victoria of an unknown to Scamp line was first.  No sooner had we docked than the enormous Harmony (monster) of the Seas.  It really is ginormous with a capacity of around 8000 punters.  It looks like a block of flats that’s fallen into the sea and floated away.  I was going to photograph it, but I didn’t have a wide enough angled lens.  Just joking, of course I had a wide enough lens in my arsenal, but you get the meaning.  I don’t like slabs of steel like this, pretending they are ships.  This one we are on is big enough, in fact it’s probably too big.  One step down would be fine for me.  Big enough to give you the space you need, but not so big that you spend the first week of your holiday trying to find your way around.  Possibly the worst design feature of this behemoth is the inside balconies. Really, I ask you what use is a balcony that gives you a view other balconies across the middle of the ship?  Is this a feature for those who live in flats at home and WANT to look into other people’s lives rather than the ports and scenery passing by?  Not for me.  As I write this, one of the Azamara fleet is sailing past our window.  It’s a bit smaller than our home for the fortnight, but it looks quite elegant, and even more important, it looks like a ship, not a floating block of flats.

We took the bus in to Civitavecchia today (Isn’t copy and paste wonderful?  You can copy‘Civitavecchia’ from anywhere in your text and simply paste ‘Civitavecchia’ back again where you need it!).  You could walk out of the harbour, but it takes you 20 minutes or so.  I remember doing it a couple of years ago when it was calm, but walking into a 25mph wind is not my idea of fun, especially when the bus is free.  We were going to have coffee at the cafe we used last year for our WiFi, but alas it was closed and shuttered.  Gone.  We walked up the main street of the town and I bought a wide flat paintbrush and a smaller one too.  We visited a wee market and liked the fact that the local trees had been allowed to grow and the roof of the shed that held the market had been built around them.  We had a pizza and a beer each at a wee restaurant where the service was very slow and so was the WiFi, but it met the specification of being free, the WiFi, not the beer and pizza.  We had a short walk along the prom, but it wasn’t much fun with the wind roaring in off the sea, so we went back to the ship.  Security is tight in Italy.  Armed soldiers at the bus station and yesterday there was an armoured car and soldiers at the ship.  It makes you realise just how dangerous life is these days.

Back on the ship, Scamp went for a swim while I put the second load of washing in the machine, then joined her at the solarium pool where, despite the cloudy sky, the roof was rolled back and the water in the pool was lovely and warm.  Came back to take the washing out of the tumble dryer and had quick G&T to prepare us for dinner.

It should have been a tropical themed night, but there was little evidence of it on this dull ship.  Apart from the waiters all dressed in colourful shirts, there was no tropical atmosphere.  One dire singer who was apparently Kenny Rogers singing songs for the geriatrics, the entertainment was worse than usual.  They appear to be catering for a much older demographic than the one we are living in.  One of the table guests at dinner knew everything about everything and expounded on it at great length.  The only thing he didn’t know was how to shut up.  The rest were fine.

Dead beat after dinner and went to bed early.  This cruising is tiring. 

This upload is brought to you courtesy of JMM in Ajaccio.  Dear beer, but tastes better than the ship’s Carling.

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Livorno, Terrapins and Pigs – 15 June 2016

15 June1It’s Livorno today and yes, the sea was a bit rough again last night.  I don’t think it was as rough as the night before, but maybe we were just really tired and fell asleep more easily.  Anyway, as I said, it’s Livorno today.  Livorno is an old friend.  It’s the port for Pisa or Pizza as the great unwashed call it.  It’s also the port for Florence (who was the cow in Magic Roundabout, strangely there isn’t a town called Zebidee, at least not in Italy).

We were not going to Pisa or Florence or even Pizza.  We were just going to Livorno.  It’s got lots of places we like like the big town square that is actually a big long bridge over one of the canals.  It’s got a flea market much like The Barras, but Scamp doesn’t like it.  You can get a pair of jeans there for €2.  One careful owner, well at least one anyway.  You know all those charity bags that drop through your letter box?  Guess where a lot of that stuff ends up.  We walked round most of the places we’d seen before, but like we do on Skye, we were looking for new roads, new places we’d never been.  I thought I could see a park on the outskirts of the town along the road from the Town Square Bridge. This would be our new attraction for the day.  It was a strange place.  First there was an imposing sandstone building that looked like a courthouse or a council building of some sort, but it was boarded up and locked down securely.  Next was a dog park, well, that was what it looked like.  There were a couple of jakies  hanging about and a man walking a pair of serious looking dogs.  There was a sign about dogs and I took this to mean that it was it was a dog walking park.  Not the sort of park you’d take Vixen to JIC.  More a Carbrain style park, but without the knives!  Next was the park proper.  It looked like it had been a substantial park at one time with a mini-zoo and a boating pond, but it had fallen onto hard times and was in need of a fair bit of TLC and money thrown at it.  Such a shame.  There was a fountain, or at least what had been a fountain.  Now it was just a pit with a brick surround and some dirty green water in the middle.  There were dovecots without any doves.  There was a pond with ducks, geese, pigeons and terrapins.  There must have been at least twenty terrapins sitting on rocks warming themselves in the sun.  Over by the side of the dried out boating pond was what looked like a factory, also fallen into disrepair.  With the sun shining through the gaps in the roof and also in the round windows on the far side, there were textures galore to capture.  Really now it’s a roosting place for even more pigeons.

Once we left the park, we retraced our steps back into town to find some free WiFi.  The first place was ok, but I couldn’t get the laptop to connect.  A mixup with what I thought Scamp had ordered and what she actually wanted and also the fact that our waitress seemed more interested in keeping up with her Facebook and email conversations than in actually making our coffee, coupled to the fact that I’d got the password wrong, meant we left under a cloud.  Not a digital type cloud computing type cloud either.  We found another coffee shop quite easily and got connected easily there.  Also, Scamp was a bit more accurate in indicating exactly what pastry she wanted, so we all left happily.

Back at the ship, Scamp headed for some sun time, while I grabbed my drawing stuff and got the bus back into town.  Before I went, I tried out the free Port WiFi and got connected immediately with no password.  Just goes to show that we in the UK are lagging behind with the digital connections.  Glasgow apparently now has free WiFi in the city centre although since I’ve discovered the speed of 4G, I’ve never felt the need.  Wandered round the town again and got Hazy’s welcome text.  Actually, I really was thinking about texting you H, to see what the outcome was.  Really pleased for you.  Got the sox by the way!  After that I sat and sketched one of the buildings I liked in Livorno.  I’d photographed it last year and tried to paint it from the photograph.  This time I took my courage in both hands, sat down and drew it.  Unfortunately, the painting teacher was wandering around waiting for the bus back to the ship.  Also one of the African “Lookie Lookie Men” was hovering around trying to sell me a selfie stick.  He tapped me on the shoulder and said “Bueno!”  I think he thought if he praised me he’d get a sale.  Sorry mate, it doesn’t work like that.  Got the next bus back to the ship and found that Scamp was checking out the inside pool because the sun had gone in behind some clouds.  Found her and found that the sun had reappeared and the roof had been retracted.  Did a bit  of gentle swimming and jacuzzi lounging before heading for the cabin to prepare for dinner.

Scamp has wanted to sign up for Freedom DIning for some time.  What it means is that you don’t have a set time or a set table.  You just turn up and say you are happy to share the table with whoever is there.   Sometimes it works out fine, sometimes it’s a disaster.  The good thing about it is it’s only a disaster for a couple of hours, not the rest of the holiday.  Tonight was one of those disasters.  The couple at the table were fine.  Then two dobbers arrived.  The guy was ex-police and he started explaining where the French police had gone wrong in dealing with trouble at the Euro football thing.  He then went on to tell all and sundry what a clever guy he was.  Oh dear.  At school I had a friend called Arthur Cunningham although the name is irrelevant.  He was the first one I ever hear talking about ‘Pigs’.  I always thought of them as police or polis, never ‘pigs’.  Now I see where he was coming from.  This guy was a pig.  So was his wife.  She just wanted to inject herself into every conversation.  ‘She had done this, She had done that.  If she hadn’t done it, her grand daughter had done it.  Strangely, her son and daughter hadn’t done all that much. I pitied the other couple at the table.  They had done interesting things too and so had their sons and daughters and their grandsons and grand daughters, but the pigs didn’t allow them to talk about it.  Maybe Arthur was right after all, all those years ago.

Well, it’s nearly midnight.  Time for my beauty sleep and to face the port for Rome tomorrow.  Hope we have Welsh folk, not pigs at breakfast.

 

Today’s upload comes courtesy of La Classica Pizzeria in Civitavecchia.

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Civitavecchia – 22 June 2015

We waited until all the shore parties had left before making our way out of the ship today.  Got down the gangway to be told that the shuttle had just left.  Had a conversation with a man who had a plummy accent and had worked in Glasgow.  He didn’t actually say what he did or had done for a living, but he “had a sales manager”, so I’m guessing he was quite high up the food chain.  We talked for a while until the shuttle bus came.  The busride into town was fast, bumpy and hair raising at times.  Of course it was, we were back in Italy.  We arrived at the bus stop and were immediately set upon by taxi drivers eager to take us to Rome.  I started out saying “No, we’re not going to Rome today”, but they didn’t seem to understand that, or they weren’t interested, so I started saying random things like “No thanks, we’ve already got one” and “Hey, I’ve got a hat like that!”.  What we really needed was Murd to say something in Gaelic to them, because the first thing they say is “hello”.  When you reply, they can quickly establish what nationality you are and start their speil in that language.  Murd’s Gaelic would puzzle them I’m sure, especially with a few sweary words thrown in for good measure.  Anyway, we quickly ran the taxi gauntlet and walked into the town.

Civitavecchia is a working, industrial town, not at all given over to tourism.  It’s a bit seedy in places and not very pretty.  We walked into the main shopping area and decided that it wasn’t really going to be very interesting, so headed back to the sea front where there turned out to be a decent promenade.  Scamp loves promenades and we walked a fair distance along it.  We watched two guy practising karate or tai kwon do.  I’m not being facetious here, meaning they were fighting, no, they looked like they were performing a kata on the promenade.  Strange.  Pretty as the prom was, we decided to walk back to the bus stop and go to the ship.  We passed a wee cafe offering free Wi-Fi and stopped for a coffee and a beer.  Britain could really learn from the Europeans about using free Wi-Fi to encourage punters in to cafes. I’ve only once paid for a wireless connection and that was €3 for 60 min.  Compare that to the ship’s extortionate £1 for 2 min which equates to £30 for 60 min!  How many places in Glasgow or Embra give you truly free Wi-Fi in a cafe?  Very, very few.  So, I got connected and uploaded two days of blog with pics attached this time.  Then we headed for the bus and then back on board. 

Had lunch and sunbathed for the rest of the day.  Went to the Headliners show in the theatre.  It was quite good, not excellent, just quite good.  Yes, I know, damned by faint praise, but that’s the way it is.  For me the singing is rough and strident but the dancing and choreography is great.  Couldn’t agree on what to do with the rest of the night, but as we were both yawning, it seemed that the best thing to do was to have an early night, so once this epistle is done I’m off to beddy bies.

I don’t think I’d rush back to Civitavecchia again.  It’s pretty rough around the edges, but it is what it is, just another industrial town.  To sum it up, in one shop window I saw some swiss army knives and wilderness camping gear.  Nothing unusual there I suppose although it’s getting rarer in the UK.  The next window had machetes, short hunting bows, crossbows and throwing knives.  Hmm, camping doesn’t get tougher than this.  Thought for a while I was back in Carbrain.

Oh, one last thing.  We got talking to a couple in the theatre last night and found out they came from Croy.  Then the guy let slip that they are both Rangers supporters.  In Croy?