Corfu

Long ago we visited Corfu three times. We stayed in different places and this time we decided to find a taxi driver who would drive us to Benitses, south of Corfu Town, then across to the west coast and Paleokastritsa and finally to the north coast and Roda.

It took us some time to get from the ship to the centre of town. No one at the ship seemed to know how we would be transported. The shuttle buses did not have ramps. The tour office people could not be found and there had been no communication from them to tell us how we would get to town. We set off to walk but on our way there, a black van with a lift saw us and the driver confirmed that he was employed to take wheelchairs to Corfu town.
In town the taxi rank was nearby and the next available taxi belonged to Leo who turned out to be a gem. Leo is married to an English girl from Romford – Kim Maria Elaine. 
Leo was happy to take us on the circular tour we had in mind at an hourly rate. 
In 1972, before Jane and I had met, three of us – Brendon Andrews, Ted Coulter and I – had booked a 2 week taverna holiday in Benitses. I think that the cost was £79 each including BEA flights, bed and breakfast! 

Jane and I met 4 weeks before the 3 of us were due to leave for Corfu. Jane found a one week holiday in a different little hotel in Benitses to coincide with the first week of our holiday. She had to be back in the UK for the start of term at St Mary’s, Wantage where she taught. 
So our mission this time was to find Spiros’ taverna in Benitses. Leo remembered that Spiros had set up a disco in the village but that had since closed and Spiros had died. I thought I would remember the taverna, but when we arrived there the village was no longer a small fishing village. Many more buildings and a run down feel about it all. Eventually I realised that the building now called Elios Hotel was the place where we had stayed. 
Next we crossed from the east coast to Paleokastritsa in the west. An interesting drive through the hills and then down to what had been a picturesque bay. 
Jane and I had stayed there in the mid seventies before the children had arrived. We could remember that the hotel looked like a prison then. We also remembered that we had met two couples from the U.S. who were university lecturers on secondment from Rutgers in New Jersey to Oxford. We met up with one of the couples and stayed with them at their home in the U.S. a year or two later.
As we drove down the hill I saw the hotel behind a closed gate. Leo stopped the car. It was clear that the place was derelict – broken windows, weeds and trees out of control.

What a great shame.
And the beautiful bay we remembered was tatty and touristy.

Back in the taxi and off to Roda. What had been an average hotel all those years ago was now a large immaculate place with tennis courts, vast swimming pools and smart accommodation. It was Leo who explained to us why the Roda Beach Hotel was successful, while Benitses and Paleokastritsa were full of closed hotels and failed restaurants.

The big problem, which affects him as a taxi driver,  is that the big hotels have made themselves “All inclusive”. That means that the guests pay a fixed amount for their holiday and have no additional costs. Everything at the hotel is included. All meals and all drinks. Not top brands of booze, but as much as you like.
And what happens is that the guests never leave the campus. They eat there and they drink there and at the end of their 7 days they go home. They don’t explore, so they don’t rent a car or use a taxi. The local restaurants suffer and the bars and discos close.

Leo drove us back to the ship by the coast road, round the north and then down through Nissaki to Corfu Town. It was a nostalgic day and revived many happy memories.

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Split, Croatia

The plan of the city supplied by Cunard showed a walled area marked ‘Palace’ which appeared to cover a third of the central area of the city. We walked from the ship, past a number of car ferries, to a market which was full of touristy rubbish. Jane did find a pair of pretty summer trousers for peanuts, and that enabled me to steer her away to better things.


The market backed onto a  high wall behind which was the Palace. It was built by Emporer Diocletion as his retirement home.

Over the centuries following his death it was occupied by a variety of despots and refugees, knocked about and altered. 

Now it is a rabbit warren of narrow cobbled streets, open squares, a Cathedral, 250 homes where 3000 people live, and a multitude of shops, bars and restaurants. Every nook and cranny appears to house a drinking or eating establishment.

It was vibrant and a wonderful place to explore. We enjoyed the best (and cheapest) coffee here. Then we found the waterfront, which was more modern, clean and relaxing.
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Venice – continued

The voyage to the berth through the heart of Venice was magical. For some years there has been talk of large ships being banned from the lagoon because of the damage some believe they cause to the buildings. Luckily for us that ban has not yet happened, but is is clear that subsidence is taking place at a rapid rate. There is plenty of restoration work taking place and a new tidal barrier has been built, but it is doubtful that that is enough.

If you have not been to Venice by sea, we can recommend it. Try it for yourselves.
The weather improved by the time we made our way to the Tronchetto Waterbus. 3 Euros in total for the two of us for the 40 minute journey down the Grand Canal and back again at the end of the day. What value! We had been offered something almost identical for 125 Euros each on the ship.

Much of the advertising material said that the bridges in Venice couldn’t be crossed by wheelchairs. Wrong! We could see from the ship that many had ramps across them. We also found that a number of them had infills down one side to enable wheelchairs to cross. We were very pleased to find how easy it was for us.

The vaporetto quickly became packed with tourists, but we had found a comfortable corner and access to an open window for the camera. One other couple from the ship had a wheelchair and were clearly nervous about the trip on the vaporetto. They watched our every move, so that each time I stood to take a photo, they stood too and readied themselves to leave. When we disembarked at St Mark’s Square, they followed. They seemed overawed by the crowds and quickly made up their minds to return to the ship and safety. They missed a great day.

We decided to start with one of the most expensive coffees in the world. In a wonderful position in the square, people watching. 

We then started down one of the side streets off the square, and realised that we had never explored the streets and alleyways before. We went north initially, and often had to do 180 degree turns when an alleyway turned into a flight of stairs. We made great progress and covered miles, eventually turning south again and finding the canal where the gondoliers load up new passengers. There was no shortage of takers.

The dreaded knee has been holding up quite well, with the assistance of doses of ibroprofen. I had thought that Venice might be a difficult day, but it was not. The streets are so well trodden that the cobbles have been flattened and the surfaces are smooth.
Eventually it was time to return to the ship, and the vaporetto ride back down the Grand Canal was just as exciting as the morning trip. We also managed to collect and guide another couple, who had no idea about how to get back to the ship from St Mark’s!

Earlier in the day, while we were near St Mark’s Square, we had seen one of the Holland America ships taking exactly the same route that we had earlier. The Niewe Amsterdam is the same hull shape as QE and QV.
We left the berth at about 18.45 and retraced our steps down towards the lagoon, passing some of the mega yachts moored near St Mark’s. It was a great spectacle.

 

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Venice

Many years ago, Ian and Carole Gordon, Roger and Jill Wilson and Jane and I, booked a weekend City break to Venice with Thomsons. I guess it was a cheapie, but it was great fun. We all loved the City and had time not only to visit the tourist places but to explore areas where the Venetians live and work.

Some years later, Jane and I bought a holiday at an auction at a dinner dance (probably at the Polygon Hotel, Southampton – in those days we went to dinner dances there with monotonous regularity). We settled on a week in Caorle which we were led to believe was close to Venice. It was some way away but on one of the days there we took a coach/boat tour to Venice and did the tourist walk with a guide.
On this cruise, Venice ranked as the highlight. We knew that the approach would be in daylight and up the Grand Canal.
Here are some of the photos that I took on Thursday morning. I will follow up with further photos and anecdotes later.

You will have noticed that it was raining as we sailed up the Grand Canal but the weather was much better once we had gone ashore.
To be continued!



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Dubrovnik

We are in the middle of a very busy six days. No sea days and 6 ports in 6 days!

Jane and I had never been to Dubrovnik, even in its Yugoslavia days. We cannot remember why that was, but we were looking forward to this visit.
Dubrovnik is on the Dalmation coastline of the Adriatic at the southern end of Croatia.

It has had an eventful history and many of us recall that the differences between Serbs and the Croats led to a horrible war less than 25 years ago. Thousands of people were killed and there were numerous massacres and atrocities.

Dubrovnik has its Old City, a Unesco World Heritage site, and in 1991, during the war, it was targeted on a number of occasions.

Churches, monasteries and palaces were damaged, but remarkably the war damage has in the main been repaired.

People told us that we would find it impossible to negotiate the Old City with Jane’s chair, but they were wrong. What we could not do was walk the walls, but that did not matter. There was plenty to see and halfway through our exploration we came across the old harbour and watched the activities on the water with beer and coffee.

Inside the walls there are numerous alfreso eating areas, small boutiques and a main traffic free street – Placa. A Dominican Monastery, a Serbian Orthodox Church and the Sponza Palace can be found as you pass along the Main Street.
Dubrovnik is an exceptional place and if you have not been there, it should be included in your bucket list. But do bear in mind that it can get crowded.
That night we celebrated Jane Houghton’s birthday in the Commodore Club. Plenty of excellent champagne before dinner.

Jane with husband Andy. 
Andy and I watched the Saints v Man United on TV in the pub on Sunday. He has not stopped reminding me of the score. I remind him that their first goal should have been disallowed for off side which would have made it a draw!

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Cephalonia

I can understand why you yachtsmen love to sail in the Ionian Sea. We arrived in Argostoli, the capital of Cephalonia, on Tuesday at 9.00 am. It was a beautiful day.

We were on the berth – a relatively new construction which appeared to have transformed the tourist industry on the island – and a Costa ship was at anchor outside us.

The Stoneham boys will be on the island shortly – or sailing nearby. Kelly, Barlow, Maunsell and Dixon. They will have a great time, but they all seem to me to be Captain material! Anyone any ideas on who the skipper will be?

As many will know, Cephalonia is at the heart of an earthquake zone and dozens of tremors occur every year. In 1953 a massive earthquake destroyed all the major towns with the exception of Fiscardo in the north.
We did not travel far, nor did we suffer any tremors, but we loved Argostoli. There was plenty to do. Lovely small bars and restaurants. And clearly the planning authorities had been very careful in controlling the reconstruction of the town following the 1953 devastation. Clean and tidy with plenty of traffic free streets. And also numerous up market boutiques, which pleased Jane.
The port was popular with the jet set too. Didn’t actually see any of them but their toys and crew were ready for them.

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The itinerary

Many have asked not only where we have been, but where we are going.

Leg One – Spain (Vigo), Portugal (Lisbon), Spain (Cadiz), Spain (Barcelona), Monaco, France (Toulon), Italy (Livorno), Italy (Civitavecchia), Spain (Cartagena), Gibraltar, Southampton.
Leg Two – Spain (Vigo), Italy (Messina), Greece (Cefalonia), Croatia (Dubrovnik), Italy (Venice), Croatia (Split), Greece (Corfu), Gibraltar, Southampton.

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Messina, Sicily

After leaving Vigo, we sailed south, running parallel with the coasts of Spain and Portugal. We rounded Cape St Vincent, hoping to see Roger and Jill Wilson waving, but there was no sign of them. Then we were through the Straits of Gibraltar and heading east some 35 miles from the coasts of Morroco, Algeria and Tunsia.

It was a three day voyage to our next port – Messina. Three sea days with some average weather and some sunny half days. I thought it would hot and sunny throughout, as it was 2 weeks ago, but we are promised much better temperatures in the days to come as we move east.

 The harbour at Messina.
Cunard failed to come up with any suitable transport in Messina. One day they will realise that some people cannot climb the steps into a coach and need coaches that have lifts or ramps. They exist in all the countries that we are visiting, but it would appear that making a profit on every tour they organise is more important than keeping people like us happy.
So we had to resort to a taxi. We want a driver who can speak English we said to the taxi gangmaster at the quayside. He gathered the drivers together and after some arguments pushed Sandy forward.

Blonde with very long legs and aged 25 (she said). I think that the gangmaster thought I would be swayed because of her looks, despite her English being virtually non existent. It worked!
The plan was to be taken to the pretty Taormina, some 30 miles south, spend an hour or two exploring the little town and then returning for a tour round Messina. Sandy made it all possible by driving fast but carefully for 35 minutes each way.
Taormina is 700 feet above sea level, overlooking a beautiful coastline.

Mount Etna sits in the background.

Taormina was full of tourists of all nationalities. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Sicily and its narrow streets have top of the range shops intermingled with tat.

There are some beautiful buildings – the Greco-Roman theatre, the Corvaja Palace and the Cathedral.

Sandy met us at the agreed time and place at the end of our allotted time and we blocked the traffic for a while as we poured Jane into the taxi and stored the wheelchair. Sandy didn’t appear to have seen a folding wheelchair before, which convinced me that in the Mafia riddled island, she was probably a gangsters moll rather than a cab driver!

After a fast dash back to Messina we toured the city, and took in a local wedding. Jane likes them.

 The church in the square.
 The Cathedral
I am sorry that I have not been live on the blog in recent days but there was a problem with Blogspot that I couldn’t  resolve without notes that I had stupidly left at home. Sam Scrutton in London had set up the blog in the first place 2 years ago and a couple of emails from him today quickly resolved the problem. Thank you Sam. You are a star!

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Part 2

On our way to Oporto, the first port on our second leg, the Captain announced that the weather predicted for Thursday was such that we would be unable to berth at Oporto. The storms had built up after our departure from Southampton and the Bay of Biscay was living up to its rocky reputation.

The Captain had made arrangements for us to berth instead at Vigo, a very sheltered port in one of the world’s great natural harbours. For us, a second visit to Vigo in 2 weeks.


I had ruffled feathers last week about the lack of tours being offered with wheelchair ramps or lifts. The tour manager, Pierro, rang to say that he had organised a suitable vehicle for Vigo.  But he wanted to charge Jane and me more than the other 12 people in the coach! The cantankerous old blogger was incensed. Pierro later rang back to say that we would pay the same as everyone else.
And the tour was good. The guide, Kathy, was Irish but had lived in Galicia for 30 years. She arrived in Vigo to teach for a year, met her husband, had a family and turned herself into a brilliant guide. The tour took us up to a viewpoint where we looked down on the bay, littered with mussel farms.

We then spent time at Castrelos Park and the recently restored Palace. The gardens were of a French design and in one small pond stood a miniature version of the main house.

We were treated to tapas and wine in a beachside hotel on our way back to the ship. A lovely day.
And as we sailed out we passed the picturesque and rocky Cies Islands. Two of the islands are linked with a beach that has in the past been voted the most beautiful in Europe.

This is the beach linking two of the islands
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Southampton

The original plan had been that I would go home, leaving Jane on the ship. I would collect the post, check the house was OK and then meet up with Andy and Jane Houghton who were joining us for the cruise. The intention was that we would go down to the ship in the taxi together.

But my right knee meant a change of plan and Martin took Andy and Jane to the ship in the taxi and I went to the Nuffield Hospital. About a week before, I had emailed Mr Nick Hancock, the orthopaedic surgeon who I had seen 2 years ago. Luckily he had a Tuesday afternoon list, and it was arranged that I would have an X-ray at 1.00pm and then see him at 2.00pm.
Everything worked like clockwork. Brian Kelly kindly collected me and took me to the hospital. The X-ray was done quickly and Nick Hancock arrived early. To get me through the next 3 weeks, he decided to give me a cortisone injection in the knee in the hope that that would give me some relief. And it has. 
Long term it probably means a new knee, but we will worry about that after our return.
Brian was a star and picked me up from the Nuffield and took me back to the ship and Andy and Jane and Max and Anne Wassell had found Jane and had organised her. She had been on her own for 6 hours, but had survived as I knew she would!
We first met the Houghtons and the Wassells on a Black Sea cruise 2 years ago on the Queen Victoria and we all seemed to gel, so are sharing Table 314 in the Britannia Restaurant.
Mike and Joanna Harrison, great friends of my sister Liz and her husband Tim, are also aboard and I bumped into them on Wednesday. 
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