1,371 miles apart, Dubrovnik to Cumbernauld – 27 July 2017

Time to go home.

Up early and out for breakfast before grabbing the bags and checking out, one last time. Pretty sure we’ll never go anywhere on this ship again.

You don’t really want to know the details of the day, do you? You’ve all done this end of the holiday stuff. Half of you wants to stay, but half of you wants your own bed and your own chairs and to be able to listen to your own music without having to break every 30 minutes for some infantile ‘game show’. Yes, I’m glad to be home.

Today’s final sketch of the cruise was done while sitting on the deck waiting for the minutes to tick away until we leave the ship for the last time.  Watching all the folk looking incongruous in their long trousers and jackets, milling around doing the same as us.  Just waiting for the minutes to tick away …..

Went out for a walk to St Mo’s just to make sure it was still there. Only out for 15 mins and got bitten by a cleg. It won’t bite anyone else, I made sure of that.

The cruise is now officially over for another year.

Submarines, Scenery and Showers – Kotor – 26 July 2017

Today we were sailing into Kotor. It’s a sail in not to be missed.

We were up just around 7am to watch the scenery slide by with the beautiful slow-motion you only get from a ship. It is such a relaxing view and unfortunately, unless you’ve done it, it’s impossible to describe. This year, I was on the lookout for the camouflaged submarine pens on the side of the fjord (I missed them two years ago). Yes, it is a fjord and yes, there are submarine pens. Some were built by the Germans in WW2 and some by Yugoslavia in the late 20th century. Allegedly they are no longer used. That’s one top left. Google Kotor Submarine Pens for some amazing accounts.

Further in to the fjord there are more picturesque views of little islands, churches and waterside villages. It’s remarkable scenery which looks very like the west coast of Scotland. I often wonder what it would be like to take a leisurely cruise up the west coast. A couple of hours later we reached Kotor.

We’d been there two years ago and knew it was a maze inside the walls. What we weren’t prepared for was the way it had expanded internally with cafés taking over spaces in squares and piazzas that created bottle necks with so many visitors crowding in trying to get the best angle for photos or the ubiquitous selfie. Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve taken a few selfie shots of us this holiday, but when you see people making idiot faces with ‘surprised’ looks on their faces as they search for the shutter button on the phone, you begin to wonder about the future of the human race. Thankfully a lot of them are americans and not really part of the race, more simply onlookers.

We wandered the shops and found junk, tat and also a few interesting articles or quality artwork too. I liked the sign middle bottom. We had a coffee under cover in one of the squares and were about to leave when there was a cloudburst and the rain came thumping down. It had tried to rain earlier, but it was only a half-hearted attempt, this was the real thing. We decided to leave it for a few minutes more.

When the shower passed and the sun came out, we headed out through the walls and found the pond where the blue dragonflies circle almost endlessly and spent a fruitless quarter of an hour trying to snap one. We both came close a couple of times, but no cigar.

Further down there was a market. The outside stalls were full of fruit and the ones under cover were for fish. The fruit especially looked amazing. Not at all like the sanitised articles our supermarkets have.

I got one sketch done of a clock tower while Scamp went for a walk, trying to find the Christmas shop.  After we met up again we went for lunch in another wee cafe with canvas umbrellas giving protection from the sun this time, not the rain.  When we were fed and watered, we went to find the Christmas shop and got two Christmas decorations and another salt ‘n’ pepper set.

Too soon it was time to go back the the ship for a last dinner. Didn’t even get to dance tonight, because some eejit was doing the worst dad-dancing I’ve ever seen. The bloke last week was funny and interesting. This one was just stupid. He was english.

Back to the cabin to complete the packing and then put the cases out to be taken away ready for tomorrow.

Move along please, nothing to see here, Igoumenitsa – 25 July 2017

Today we were in Igoumenitsa. You become a bit disillusioned when you read on the daily bulletin that there is nothing to do or see in this port. So, why are Thomson taking us there? I suppose the answer must be so they can sell more excursions. The rest of us could go to hell, or go to Igoumenitsa. I don’t think there would be much difference.

We had intended to get a taxi into town, but nobody wanted to take us the short run into town. There was only one taxi and he seemed more interested in getting us to go on a longer trip. We gave up eventually and walked into the ‘town’. Along the way we passed a few ’grey hairs’ who were walking back. None of them had actually made it to the town. Surely it wasn’t all that difficult, or that far. It wasn’t. After about 15 minutes walking we reached the outposts of the main town, with some uninviting cafés and bars and a supermarket.

The town when we found it was nothing special and the bulletin was correct, there was very little to see. Certainly no antiquities or scenic views, just a wee Greek town trying to get by when the country is bankrupt. I found a shop selling ground coffee by the usual method of following my nose. It smelled enticing so I bought 250g of what the bloke said was the favourite blend of 50/50 dark and light grind.

We went for a cup of coffee and then walked back to the ship. On the way we stopped to get some ‘messages’ at the supermarket. We always try to bring back something useful from our travels and this year it was cinnamon sticks, coriander and sweet paprika. We also got a bottle of tonic to mix with the gin I bought on Monday.

We were late sailing away from Igoumenitsa (isn’t cut ’n’ paste wonderful!) because one of the coach parties was an hour late getting back. When we were watching the stragglers plodding across from the customs house the bloke standing at the rail next to me was incandescent! He was jumping around, making rude signs at them and shouting. Worse still, he was Scottish! Then I remembered where I’d seen him before. He had been on our cruise with Royal Caribbean when the aircraft broke down at Palma and we were taken to Magaluf to an 18 – 30 hotel to rest overnight while the spare part was brought from the UK and the mechanics fitted it. He was demanding that they fitted it that night. I remember him shouting “I’ve just been on a cruise with ROYAL CARIBBEAN and you expect me to stay here!!!” As if that would make any difference. I know I fly off the handle at times, but this guy was flying out of orbit! Nutter. He’s the kind that gives morons a bad name.

We finally sailed away from Igoumenitsa and on to Kotor tomorrow. Tonight we were having posh dinner for the second time this cruise and looking forward to it after a boring day.

I liked the sign top right. The midges must be really bad here. They shoot them with shotguns!

I say Toronto and you say Toranto – 24 July 2017

Today we were in Taranto, Italy. Not to be confused with Toronto, Canada.

There was a reception area outside the ship when we disembarked. That was new, we’d never had anything like that before. Maybe it was to prevent us wandering out into the maze of wind farm windmill blades stacked on the dock. It wasn’t quite clear if they were coming or going. Got a free ‘cooncil’ bus into Taranto from the ship’s berth. That was new too. Two girls were on the bus to act as guides and answer question. That’s an idea that made sense. The bus took us out of the docks area and along a very congested coast road to the town. Luckily there was a bus lane otherwise we might have been waiting in the queue still.

Immediately after we got off the bus, we were ushered towards the castle where we were offered a free tour, but I had seen something interesting from the bus and I wanted to investigate. We walked along the road we had just come in the bus, and there they were, two mermaids. Probably bigger than life size, although I’ve never actually seen a mermaid, and made from concrete. I have no idea the significance of these statues, but they made a fine perch for the seagulls.

When we walked back to the castle, and after photographing some strange double headed flowers, we decided to take up the offer of the free tour. The guide who wore some kind of uniform explained the history of the castle in a sort of broken English, but he spoke much better English than I could speak Italian. The tour was an interesting way to spend half an hour and as half of that time was inside the cool interior of the castle, it gave some shelter from the sun. We both decided that the free bus, the guides on the bus and the free trip round the castle showed a town that was beginning to see the opportunities of encouraging cruise customers. The area around the castle was one big traffic jam and the buildings were sorely in need of some TLC. However, the town seems to be trying to make the most of their scenic parts and we hope it works out for them.

We walked over the swing bridge which, luckily, wasn’t swinging at the time and sought refuge from the sun in Joyce’s Irish pub. It may have been in Italy, but the Guinness was pure Irish. We walked around Taranto and found a park, but it too had sun scorched grass and a sad wee couple of cages, one with peacocks and another with white doves.

We walked down the side of the canal and took some photos of the Monument to the Sailor. Then we went for ice cream and the bus back to the ship.

Another sketch done on the deck.  This time of an oil tanker bridge.


Tomorrow Igoumenitsa in Greece

Mechanical Marvels – 23 July 2017

Today we docked in Messina in Sicily. It was shut. Well, that was to be expected because most places in Italy are closed on Sunday with only churches and a few cafes open for business.

Not at all put out by this, we went for a walk round the town. We were disappointed because we had passed Messina before on a previous cruise. The whole town was a bit rundown. I paused to take a photograph of a little arcade that looked as if it had been well looked after but had fallen into disrepair. There was scaffolding holding up the roof, but if you ignored that, or cropped it out it took on an air of lost elegance.

The main reason for stopping in Messina, apart from Thomson’s desire to sell you excursions, was to allow us to visit the cathedral with its animated clock that displayed scenes from the bible at 12 noon. We got there too early and and, as there was a Little Train just waiting we jumped on. The girl selling the tickets assured us that the trip that took 45 minutes for the drive round the town would get us back in time to see the clock perform its display, and she was right. The trip was quite informative with a running commentary and tinny music playing. It did, however give us a chance to see the parts of the town we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

We got back in plenty time to get a good place to see the clock. In fact there was time for me to go round and photograph the bikes that were gathered round the square. It was a Ducati owners convention and there was a lot of expensive and customised merchandise on display. I’ll have more on Flickr soon, I hope.

With the minutes ticking away, we got ourselves into position and the display began with some figures marching round at the bottom of the tower. Then the display proper started with the lion at the top of the tower roaring. Then the cockerel below the lion crowed three times. After that, it was a bit of a jumble, but the animations were worth seeing, even if I couldn’t understand what was happening. I tried to film it, but in doing so, didn’t get the big picture, if you know what I mean. I was too busy trying to record what was happening, so probably missed out on some of the fine detail. Anyway, we have a record of it, with a car alarm giving a 21st century addition to the music.

The other thing that impressed me in Messina was the ‘Lookie-Lookie’ men’s ingenuity in building display boards showing their watches, jewellery and fridge magnets, mounted on old pram and buggy frames. No doubt this makes it better for a quick getaway should the polis chase them away.

We had coffee in a wee streetside cafe where the bloke that owned it told us he had good coffee and very good WiFi. He was right about both.

Today’s sketch was done on deck again looking towards the statue protecting the harbour.  First time using the Moleskine  watercolour paper.  Not sure if I like it or not.  I maybe prefer the sketchbook surface for light washes.  However, it’s nice to have a white paper rather than the slightly yellow tint.  Thanks for the paintbox Hazy, the brush is magic and the colours are so useful.

Tonight the cleaners made a beautiful peacock out of towels. Pics when I get a chance.

Tomorrow Taranto.

“This isn’t water, it’s a soda drink”, Dubrovnik – 20 July 2017

P1020479Today was Dubrovnik and we were going to walk the walls.  Temperature prediction 31c.

We had intended to get a taxi into town and then wander round old Dubrovnik, but there were no taxis to be seen at the berth.  Then one of the shop workers called us over and sold us two bus tickets into town.  This, he said, was the cheapest way to travel.  He was right.  We got to the bus stop an waited for the bus which turned up about 10 minutes later and it was packed.  With our usual aplomb we shoved our way on and enjoyed an experience similar to that of a sardine.  We did get to the gate of the old town and for a quarter of the taxi price.  We also got to meet a lot of locals … up close!

Scamp wanted to walk round the walls of the old town.  Before we did, we had to change some of our Pounds to Kuna and found favourable rates in the information centre.  Then while Scamp went to buy the tickets for the walls walk, I went to buy some water.  I was just paying for the water when a loud american woman butted in in front of me and uttered the immortal words that became the heading for today’s blog to the girl behind the counter  –   “This isn’t water, it’s a soda drink.” It was sparkling water.  Americans.  What can you do with them?  They don’t even recognise water when they see it.

With the tickets bought, we climbed up the stairs to the walls and joined the one way circuit round the walls.  They seemed to go on for miles and took us round past that bright blue sea on outside and the orange terracotta roof tiles of the houses on the inside.  The old town is an amazing place because people live in the houses and sometimes we passed their gardens and saw folk hanging out their washing, just living their lives inside what is effectively a museum.

Halfway round the walk just before we stopped for an expensive, but welcome beer I heard another american displaying his ignorance in public:

“The bridge was built by Sala, Sala, Sala, …” <repeat ad nauseum> “ …I can’t remember his name but we fought a lot of crusades against him in the 14th Century.”

I muttered underneath my breath “You’re american.  You didn’t fight any crusades, otherwise you’d have made umpteen movies about it.”  I don’t know what they teach americans in school.  It appears that they have their own version of world history where John Wayne rights all the world’s wrongs in the name of the great american people.  I think the word he was searching his brain cell for was ‘Saladin’

After the history lesson we took a rest in a wee cafe at one of the corners of the wall and had a beer each.  Like I said, they were a bit expensive, but it was a seller’s market and they were nicely cooled, as was the cafe itself.  Then it was onward an upward, then downward then upward again to the highest point of the walls where there was a fort to investigate if you had the breath and strength in your legs to carry you up.  We passed on that challenge and simply completed the walk.  It was hard work, but it was a great experience.  Saw some strange sights, like people working in their gardens while being watched, filmed and photographed by tourists.  Saw Asian girls happily posing on a wall with a precipitous drop to rocks and the sea below.  Saw young guys diving from rocks about 30m high, into the sea.  Marvelled at the ingenuity of the architects and builders of such a fortress.  If you ever go to Dubrovnik, you simply must walk the walls.

After that we needed some food, but we didn’t have much Kuna left and it’s the only currency that’s legal in Dubrovnik, so we had to choose our lunch carefully.  We finally settled on a wee quiet cafe down a side street where we had a salad each and shared a big bottle of sparkling water.  I simply had to put on my worst american accent and say “This isn’t water, it’s a soda drink.”

Got the bus back to the ship and caught some rays before going to our fancy dinner in Sirocco.  It was worth every penny.
Scamp had:
Amuse Bouche  – King Prawn
Starter  – Fruit Symphony
Main  – Lobster Thermadore
Lemon Sorbet with Champagne
Sweet  – Crepe Suzette

I had:
Amuse Bouche  – King Prawn
Starter  – Chicken Liver Pate
Main  – T Bone Steak done Medium Rare
Lemon Sorbet with Champagne
Sweet  – Strawberry Sabayon

All washed down with a bottle of Chianti Classico

Funniest part of the night was the Richard sitting at the table next to us.  Richard may not have been his name, but he looked a proper ‘Dick’ and spoke like one too.  I can’t begin to describe how he made my skin crawl, but he was simply obnoxious.  He was probably in his mid 20s, but he behaved like a little six year old spoilt brat.  When his partner said she was going to have the lobster he exclaimed loud enough for everyone in the room to hear “Ooh, you’re having the Lobster.  You’re very brave.”  Then later it was “My wife has apparently decided she doesn’t want any more wine.  All the more for me.”  Really, I am rarely lost for words, but I cannot properly describe this slug of a man.  I think he had quite a few insecurities and was totally lacking any social graces.  Best forgotten.

Tomorrow is a sea day, so not much chance to do any sketches and only a limited few photos.  Highlight of the day will be a wine tasting Scamp has booked us in for.

This post was brought to you by MCA FreeWIFI hot-spot in Malta, not “McAfee” as some Welsh bloke standing next to me was telling everyone!

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.

All At Sea

P1010698Today was a sea day.  Nothing much happens on a sea day.  Sometimes there are interesting talks to go to or hobby classes, but generally it’s a smash ‘n’ grab to get a sunbed.  Today was much like all the rest.

Sunbeds were all taken early on the sunny side of the ship and there were very few on the shady side too.  We finally found a couple together with a bit of a view out to sea.  The were a couple sitting next to us, but they folded down their sunbed and headed off for elevenses.  They were hardly gone 30 minutes when some pompous wee bastard and his girlfriend came along shouting the odds about the sunbeds having been left unattended for over two hours and then headed off to see the captain, or possibly the owner of Thomson to have the beds cleared so he could have them.  I think he heard the comment “Dickhead” coming from a Scottish person nearby  I tried to make sure it was loud enough to sink into his thick english skull.  He came back with a waiter, apparently neither the captain or Mr Thomson were available to listen to his rant and proceeded to turf the towels and books from the bed.  The Scottish person changed his estimation to “Dobber”.  We headed for an early lunch, but before we went, I photographed our beds with my phone to make sure they weren’t tampered with and the evidence of our departure time would be the date stamped photo.  When we got back, another couple had replaced Mr D and friend.  The woman claimed to be his mother.  Why anyone would lay claim to that, I do not know.  Don’t know what the masquerade was about.

P1010710The rest of the day was a joyous whirl of eating snoozing and blog writing.  Too soon it was time for the Captain’s Reception and Gala Dinner (in Capitals).  It was a dressed up do.  Kilt, black tie, knee length sox, brogues etc.  Scamp too was in her posh dress.  We had to wait in three queues for photos before we got to the captain, had two photos taken with him, then another photo of just us, before we got to go for the reception.  The captain’s speech was very good.  Funny and concise which makes it the shortest and best one we’ve ever been to.  Dinner was nothing very special.

Afterwards we danced a couple of times to a singing group and watched the cheesiest, slimiest, probably drunkest dancer ever. I’m sure he left a slimy trail behind him!  I have a video.  We finished off the night ‘bad dad dancing’.  I do NOT have a video.

Late, late to bed, too late.  Koper tomorrow.  Hope the weather is better than today.  It was a bit dull after a good morning.

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