Sailing from Sydney to Southampton

Here we are two weeks into our adventure and sending news to you all as promised.  Everything is going well.  We are both fine and our accommodation and food have been excellent and all you could want for a long trip.  We have met lots of people of all nationalities and have a great team of staff looking after us.

The trip from the hotel to the cabin on board the ship took less than an hour so that was amazing. Our first port of call was Brisbane, we used this time to stock up on all the odds and ends we didn’t bring from home. 

Then it was eight days at sea.  It was wonderful, so much to do and the entertainment was excellent.  The first night out we had a Beatles tribute show.  The Liverpool accent left a little to be believed but we couldn’t fault the singing.  We have also had a Tom Jones Tribute singer and he has done several shows, each one different.  We had a comedian billed as New Zealand’s favourite comedian, we had never heard of him of course. He turned out to be Simon McKinney from Dunedin.  He was excellent.  We have had several shows by the ship’s company, the costumes and the choreography is amazing. There have been the usual trivia and other quizzes plus all kinds of other groups to join. 

Day twelve finally saw us getting ashore, Singapore was our first port of call.  We did the city tour, the National Orchid Garden and China Town.  The garden was beautiful and as we had a guided tour, we saw more than we did last time when we did it on our own.  China Town was colourful and crowded.

Then a change of plan, because the river was silted up in Myanmar so we couldn’t visit. To make up for it Princess gave each passenger $100 and four extra ports of call.  We went to the first one, Port Kelang, in Malaysia, yesterday.  We went into town and the shuttle dropped us off at a shopping mall that makes The Meridian, Golden Centre and the Wall look like a corner shop.  There were lots of familiar shops.

Today we have been in Penang and again have been for a city tour.  This afternoon we have had a show given by a team of Malaysian dancers.  Tomorrow we will go to Langkawi, this is where my favourite movie of all time “The King and I” was made. The final extra port will be Phuket.   

Then it is back to sailing the sea until we reach Colombo.  We have arranged a tour of a tea plantation here so we are looking forward to this.

Now let me see where were we.  Ah yes about to go to Langkawi.  This was again very hot and humid.  We took a taxi tour into town passing several small villages. The plant life along the road side was beautiful.  We visited the biggest shopping mall in the town, took us all of ten minutes to get around it, and then it was back to the ship.

That night we went the vista lounge to watch the yes/no game.  My name was drawn out and I managed to last 1 minute 34 seconds before I said yes.  One woman only lasted 7 seconds! It is harder than it sounds.

We continue to meet more fascinating people.  It gives you hope for the future, it really does.

The next day saw us arrive in Phuket. We had been given dire warnings by the taxi driver in Langkawi and, as we were feeling a bit jaded from the previous four days, we decided just to explore the local market.  We were pleased we did because those who ventured further all got caught in a monsoon downpour that missed our area completely.

The date of course was 2 June and that is the date we met 52 years ago.  So we decided to celebrate by going to the speciality dinning room, The Stirling Steakhouse.  The food was beautiful and we really enjoyed our meal. It was accompanied by a NZ Sauvignon Blanc and the most amazing sunset outside the window.  All in all a very lovely evening ‘out’.

Tuesday saw us back at sea and what an exciting morning!  We had a drill on what to do if we are attacked by pirates.  We had noticed over the previous few days that a large banner had been hung from the ship’s side saying ‘Security Warning - Stay 50 metres from the ship’. All the high pressure fire hoses had been secured to the side of the ship’s rail with the nozzles pointing down the side of the ship.  There were also security guards on deck.  So at 1000 am the alarms sounded and we had to stop what we were doing at once and go to our staterooms.  We had to prop our doors open so that we could hear any instructions and we had to keep well away from our windows and balcony.  The crew then went round testing the fire hoses and the bridge contacted the British warship in the area to report that we had a problem.  The captain reassured us that it was extremely unlikely we would be attacked but we did need to know what to do in case!!!!  We have had security guards on deck ever since.  It will only last for a few days.  It was also a red letter day for Barry, we had escargot on the menu and, as usual, he had a double helping.

Wednesday was also a sea day.  We have been putting the clock back for the last few days and it is playing havoc with our body clocks. It is not as bad as jet lag.

Thursday we arrived in Sri Lanka, we docked at Columbo wharf.  Our tour took us to the hills to visit a tea plantation.  I will gloss over the two and a half hour bus trip as it had to be experienced to be believed.  We did arrive in one piece having travelled through the city and then villages.  We passed rice paddies, rubber plantations, banana groves, and so many other types of fruit and coconut palms.  Once we had arrived at the plantation we saw the tea pickers at work and then were taken on tour of the factory, it was fascinating.  We then went to the Plantation owner’s house, which is now used by the Manager and his family.  Talk about how the other half live!!  Wehad sandwiches, cakeand local tea.  The tea was beautiful and we both enjoyed it.  Another two and a half hour bus ride saw us back at the ship.  One of the really interesting things we saw as we were driving along (at 0800 am Thursday morning) was a number of weddings.  Apparently it was an auspicious day to get married.

Two days at sea now and then its off to Mumbai. 

It’s been getting hotter by the day.  Mumbai was an experience!  We arrived there on a Sunday and as we were the last cruise ship before the monsoon season they had already stored all the good buses and we had to make do with the rest.  The guide told us the traffic was light because it was Sunday but it was also the last day of the school holidays so foot traffic was heavy.  We were told not to give money to the people begging, but that is easier said than done.  The contrast between rich and poor is staggering.  We saw a house that had been build for a family of five, it had cost 2 Billion American Dollars (yes the first letter is a B not an M).  They hardly lived in it because the Feng Sui was not right.  Young pregnant women with a baby on their hip and a couple of toddlers in tow were everywhere.  We did a bus tour around the city and the highlight would have to be the Ghandi museum.  It is in the home he used whenever he visited Mumbai and his bedroom had been preserved.  It was eerie to walk up stairs that Ghandi had walked up, mind you there are so many visitors I doubt there is any of his DNA left.  We were pleased to get back on board for our two day sail to Dubai.

What a contrast.  The heat was worse but everything else was different.  The tour bus was immaculate, and the streets were clean.  We went on a city tour, then up the tallest building in the world, theBurj Khalifa, it is 160 floors high.  The lookout platform is on the 124th floor and it took one minute in the special lift to get there.  It was a bit disappointing because of the heat haze, we couldn’t see as much as we had expected.  But it was still a great view. 

OOOh just had a bit of excitement.  We are now in pirate waters and I heard a broadcast over the loudspeakers. I opened the door to the balcony so that I could hear what they were saying hoping it might have been a whale sighting. The announcement was in a language I didn’t understand. I looked down and saw a small boat approaching our ship.  I am pretty sure the boat was being warned off from approaching any closer.

Back to Dubai, Everything here is supposed to be the biggest in the world and we were taken to the biggest shopping mall in the world, nearly 2000 shops.  We had an hour!!!!!  The ship stayed in Dubai overnight and then left lunch time next day. We are now at sea and we next touch land at Mykonos, Greece on Saturday 21 June.  Before that we will go through the Suez Canal (19th) so that is something we are looking forward too.

Mykonos, what a wonderful place.  It is so full of history. It is believed to have been settled by the Ionians in the early part of the 11th century BC.  It is part of the Island group known as the Cyclades and although it is only 33 square miles it is a beautiful place. The streets are narrow and winding and all mixed up together, this is to confuse any pirates that may have designs on the town.  We visited the tiny church on the waterfront that we had visited when we were here in 2008. We went to Little Venice to see the windmills, they have been around since the 16th century.  We had lunch at a lovely restaurant on the waterfront and just drank in the stunning view.  It  became the playground of the European jet set in the 1960’s when Jackie Onassis took a shine to the island.  It was also the place where the movie “Shirley Valentine” was filmed.  All in all a spectacular place, views at every turn, clear blue water, white and blue buildings reflecting back the sunlight.  Several people got back on board and googled house prices there, I can see why.

Overnight sailing took us to Piraeus and here we got a taxi tour into Athens.  We went to see the Temple of Zeus, ruler of the Olympian Gods.  It was 700 years in the making and there are still 15 of it majestic Corinthian columns standing.  Then we went on to the Olympic Stadium. Our taxi driver was the most amazing guide.  He knew so much about his city.  He took us all round the University Campus to show us the various buildings and explained about each one of them.  He took us to the Parliament building and then to the President’s palace.  Here we saw the changing of the guard and he explained everything to us in great detail, even down to the clothes the soldiers wear.  Greeks pride themselves on their philoxenia which means hospitality, and he certainly showed us hospitality in spades.  He took us to all the usual places and managed to get very close to everything to save us long walks.  He took us to the top of the highest point in Athens so that he could give us an overview of all the places we had seen.  He then dropped us off at the Plaka which is the oldest section of Athens so that we could look round.  He came back for us an hour later and then took us to see modern Athens and the houses of the rich and famous. He took us to the old Port and to the many marinas for the private yachts and other luxury craft. He then  delivered us back to the ship, we were tired but happy. What an amazing day.

Off again this time to Turkey and Kusadasi.  Again, a place full of history, it was settled around 3000 BC.  We didn’t go to Ephesus this time as we had been there before and we only had half a day here.  We just explored the streets and the markets, fascinated by the different styles of architecture.  Everywhere is so clean and the people are so friendly, a direct contrast with Mumbai.  Carpet weavingis a cottage industry here and we were lucky to see several young women working on various designs for hand made carpets.  There were 5 other cruise ships here so it was very busy.

We are now back on board and have had lunch and are about to go off to a wine tasting event.  It is a formal night tonight so we will have to get our glad rags on and try and dodge the ship’s photographers who seem determined to cover every second of our life on board.  The DVD’s for this trip run to 7. Don’t worry we have already decided not to buy them you are all safe.

Sea days are now few and far between. Life has become actioned packed. It is hard to believe that six weeks have already passed and we are now at the half way point of our trip.

Istanbul was fantastic. A city that spans two continents, Asia and Europe.  We had booked a tour here because we wanted to make sure we got to the Blue Mosque this time.  Our tour bus drove us through the new city into the older part. We saw many buildings along the way that were over a thousand years old, so you can see they use the term, new, loosely.

Our bus dropped us off and we were on foot for the next part of the tour. In spite of the heat we both coped really well with all the walking. First stop was the Hagia Sofia. This was the first mosque of Istanbul and it began its religious life as St Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom.  It was built in 325 by Constantine the Great and was converted to a mosque in 1453.  Normally mosques do not permit religious iconic imagery in a place of worship but the Byzantine mosaics were so exceptional that they were not destroyed, just plastered over.  The building became a museum in 1936 and during the restoration the mosaics were re-discovered.  It is huge and you really need a week to take it all in.

From here we walked to the Blue Mosque, so called because of the mosaics inside.  This was built in the early 1600s and is used to this day.  We had to remove our shoes before we could go in and the women had to cover their head and shoulders in a scarf which was provided for our use by the people at the door.  Several men who where wearing shorts had to wrap the scarf around their waist.  It was again breathtakingly beautiful, although it was so crowded it made it hard to take everything in. 

Then we were off to the Hippodrome.  There is not much left to see but we saw the remains of the royal box and the excavation of some of the lower levels.

Then it was back on the bus and off to the Carpet Shop.  Here we were given iced apple tea, very nice indeed, but then came the hard sell.  The carpets were certainly beautiful but we were not in the market for them so felt we could have used that time more profitably, but never mind all in all it was a good day.

The next day was a sea day, but not any old sea day, we visited Anzac Cove.  The Captain stopped the ship and we just drifted quietly in the beautiful sunshine.  Then at 8 o’clock they started the remembrance service.  The veterans on board and their families were seated on Deck 12 and the rest of the passengers arranged themselves around them and on Deck 14 looking down on the podium and the veterans.  The Australian and the New Zealand flags were flying over head.  Once the Captain had welcomed everyone we sang “Abide with Me”.  Then a retired Air Commodore Chaplain said the Prayer of Remembrance, followed by The Veterans’ Prayer.  The 150 strong Dawn Princess choir then sang the Lords Prayer.  A retired Captain from the Australian Aviation Corp read a poem entitled “I do not know your name” and then a Leading Seaman from the Royal Australian Navy read thewords of the Anzac Cove engraving.

The Captain and a young crew member then read a poem in two parts, “Do not call me, Father” this was a son to the father and then the father to the son.  It was followed by the Choir singing “Amazing Grace”.  Two of the veterans then threw a beautiful wreath over the side and a retired Captain from the Royal Australian Navy read The Ode.  The ships trumpeter played the last post and after a minutes silence, the Rouse.  We then sang the two national anthems and the Captain said the Closing Prayer, “In commemoration of the fallen.”  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

We stayed drifting there for a little while and then the Ports Lecturer gave a commentary on what we were seeing as we slowly sailed down the Gallipoli Peninsular.  Her description was interspersed with readings from exerts from letters and diaries sent back home during the 8 months of the campaign.  It was a most wonderful and moving experience.  

Next stop Santorini, a place we both love.

Santorini, wonderful, beautiful, interesting and very hot. This lovely Island with the Aegean Sea on one side and the Sea of Crete on the other is amazing.  It was formed from an intense volcanic eruption over 3000 years ago but the volcano is still active to this day.  The Dawn Princess anchored out in the Caldera which still has two smoulderingislands situated in the centre.  Local boats collected us from the ship and took us to the wharf where a short walk brought us to one of the two main ways of reaching the township of Fira, high up on the cliff tops.  The first way to reach the top is along a path which contains 527 steep winding steps.  You have two choices here, you can either walk or take a donkey ride up to the top.  We walked past and went to the Cable Car station where we where carried upwards in comfort.

The streets are typical of the region, very narrow and cobbled.  They also twist and turn and climb higher and higher as you walk up.  They are filled with little shops selling just about everything from clothes, food and souvenirs to fish farms where you can have your feet nibbled.

There are lots of churches and we did go into the Cathedral of St John the Baptist.  The views are fantastic and every twist and turn shows another breathtaking view of the houses and the caldera.

We lunched in a beautiful restaurant hanging over the edge of the cliff.  It overlooked the ship lying at anchor down below.  We couldn’t work out where the food came from until Barry went to take a photo looking down the cliff and realised that the kitchens were down below and the food came up in a dumb waiter. We had fresh orange juice which was most welcome.

We walked for ages up and down the little paths, we came across just two people with their little dish out asking for help.  We just can’t walk by, when we are having this wonderful holiday and they cannot even find enough for their evening meal.

We went back by cable car to the wharf and continued our walk round the bottom part of the Island where we found a little market.  The same local boats then ferried us back to the Dawn so that we could carry on to our next port of call Kotor.  This was a late addition to the cruise following the ban on Egyptian ports.  Very few of the people we have met have been there so we are not sure what to expect, but more of that next time.

I’m the new scribe on the block (editors note - Barry takes over from Dorothy at this point).  We have just sailed away from a most unexpected port.  It was spectacular in every way.  It was called Kotor in Montenegro.  We were told it was a substitute for Port Said in Egypt.

It’s at the end of the southern most fjord in Montenegro.  The fjord is 28 km long but totally spectacular.  It’s surrounded by mountains on both sides.  We couldn’t dock so we anchored in 20 m of water and went ashore in the ship’s life boats.  Kotor makes up part of a UNESCO world heritage site. 

The old part of Kotor was first settled by the ancient Romans in the 5th Century BC but it was later fortified by the Byzantine emperor Justinian.  The walls surrounding the old town are 15 m thick in places and 20 to 25 m high.  Inside the town is a delightful maze full of narrow lanes 1.5 m wide with houses 4 or 5 stories high, on either side, with unexpected small boutique shops hidden inside them.  Kotor has a small river running around the old walled town which flows into the Adriatic. 

We spent most of our time in the old walled town, stopping when we came upon another small square with another hidden gem.  Some squares had loads of cats in them with one devoted to a cat museum.  Most of the cats outside were quite scruffy and mangy looking so we assumed they are left to look after themselves.

Outside this old fortress were small cafes with people sitting under their large umbrellas hiding from the strong sun.  The dramatic mountains and sheer  cliffs were in direct contrast to the beautiful azure blue of the Adriatic and the white walled houses with sand tiled roofs.  We didn’t have much time left to explore any further afield before it was back on the ship ready for our next port of call, Venice.

Cruising can be so decadent but it does have some funny moments.  We went to a wine tasting the other day, with each bottle shown by the lecturer before we tasted it.  He would ask people to appraise the wine by smelling, swirling and tasting.  Then he asked did anyone detect various flavours like peach, cherries and the like.  Then he asked for any other flavours, the usual hoorays came up with all the pretentious rubbish but one Aussie shouted out that he could detect vegemite.  The whole place broke up with gales of laughter.  I love the irreverence of the Aussie humour.

Hope you enjoyed my view on things, back to Dorothy for Venice.

Me again. Venice, wow what can I say that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. 

We were lucky enough to spend the night there and so we had plenty of time to explore.  We sailed in on Sunday morning arriving at lunch time.  It is breathtaking sailing in a huge ship down the lagoon with all the traffic on the water rushing around, in front and behind.  It is amazing there are very few accidents here.

Once we had been given the all clear to disembark we then had to go down to Deck Three, (normally not a part of the ship that passengers get to see) and there we boarded a large motor launch to go on our afternoon tour.  This took us first to the Island of Burano, an island famous for Lace making.  We saw an older woman working on her hand made lace but sadly, due to the speed and cost effectiveness of machine made lace, this is now a dying art.  The majority of lace makers here are over 50 and there are no young people taking it up as more than a hobby.  We then saw many examples of the lace makers art. 

We had a stroll round the island and managed to fit in a coffee and an ice cream before we had to reboard the launch and off to the Island of Murano.  This, of course, is the centre of the glass industry.  It was established in 1291 and was moved to this outer island because of the potential fire risk in the city’s predominantly wood buildings.    After a demonstration by a master glass blower we were given a tour of the showrooms.  Much to Barry’s chagrin you are not allowed to take photographs in the showrooms and the beauty of the products can’t be described adequately.  They were superb, just about every object you could think of had been captured in glass.  The wine decanters and glasses were also magnificent. 

With the free time we had on the Island we explored the little streets and the shops selling examples of the glass ware.  Barry bought me a necklace and matching bracelet which I love.

Back on the motor launch for an hour and a half ride back to the boat.  It had been yet another hot and sunny day but as evening fell the sky began to darken and no it was not night falling!  From the motor launch we were transferred to a shuttle bus to take us back to the ship and as we stepped off the bus at the terminal the first drops of rain fell, in seconds we were treated to a huge thunder storm, with lightening flashes lighting up the now black sky and the rain came down in sheets.  By the time we reached the gangway we were soaked through to the skin.  I don’t think I have ever been so wet in my life.  But we couldn’t complain as this is the first rain we have experienced as we were lucky enough to miss the monsoon in Sri Lanka and India.

After the soaking we decided just to stay on board in the evening and we went to the Princess Theatre to see Neil Lockwood (ELO guitarist) do a Sir Elton John tribute show.  Not really my cup of tea but he did it very well.

The next morning we were up bright and early and we retraced our journey of the night before back to St Mark’s square.  We just walked and walked, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in all the wonderful buildings and monuments.  We walked over so many bridges and gazed down so many canals.  It was another glorious day. 

Back on board for a 1.00 pm sailing and this again was magnificent, from the top deck you looked right over the tops of the houses and saw Venice laid out in all its glory.  It was just spectacular. Barry said he felt like he was sailing through a living Canaletto painting. 

Tuesday 1 July found us in Dubrovnik, this was believed to have been founded in the 7th century AD but recent excavations hint that there was a major population thriving here as early as 9th century BC.  It is wonderful to be surrounded by all this history.

We made out way to the old town, we entered by the Pile gate and this gate and the old town itself are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The first thing we saw was the 15th century Onofrio Fountain, people were drinking from it, filling their water bottles and even washing their hands and face in the clear water sprouting from its many outlets.  People were sitting on the edge to have a rest from the hot sun which was beating down on everyone.  From there we went to the Franciscan Monastery and Pharmacy.  This is a 14th century complex and the pharmacy is believed to be the oldest working apothecary in the world.  From there it was just wonderful buildings and churches everywhere.  Again we walked miles, stopping for coffee and then lunch when we needed to sit down.  We saw buskers outside the museum, no Mr Clappy here, they were a trio of classical musicians, guitar, violin and flute and we were treated to such gems as “The thieving magpie” and “Ave Maria”.  We had hoped to walk the city walls but the young men selling the tickets advised us against it as they felt is would be too hot for us and you had to get up 400 + steps.  They suggested we came back later in the day but of course by then we were back aboard and sailing away to our next port of call.

Roma, as the Italians call it, Rome to the rest of us.  The ship docked in Civitavecchia which is the nearest port to Rome and we had a two hour drive on our tour bus to get to the city.  We were doing a city drive tour as we knew that it would be impossible to try and cover everything in the short time we had there.  The driving in Rome has to be seen to be believed.  I though Mumbai and Sri Lanka were crazy but I have never seen so many near misses in my life.  The tour guide told us that in Rome Traffic Lights are there as a mere suggestion, whilst in Naples they are purely for decoration.  She wasn’t joking.  The guide was very good and pointed out many of the Roman Ruins (of which there are plenty) and explained that the narrow streets and crazy layouts is because they are not allowed to disturb these ruins.  We saw many beautiful church buildings and then we finally got to the Colosseum.  It is impossible to park in Rome and so we were only allowed to look from the bus.  We couldn’t go to the Trevi Fountain because there is no road access and anyway it is behind a fence and the water isn’t running.  We whizzed round the city sights and then went to St Peter’s Square and the Basilica. This is a bustling piazza where the Pope’s weekly blessing takes place.  Of course it happens on Wednesday and we were there on Thursday! Still you can’t have everything.  Because of time constraints it was not possible for us to go inside the Basilica and museums and art galleries were out of the question.  We needed at least a week there.  But we got the general idea and we now know what to expect if we go back.  The drive to Civitavecchia took another two hours so we were pleased to get back to the ship, it had been a long day.

The next day saw us dock in Livorno, from this port we had several choices and as we had both always wanted to see the leaning tower we chose the tour to Pisa.  It is hard to make the right decision at times because there are so many things we would like to see and do but you only get so much time and you can’t do everything.  We had a twenty minute drive from Livorno into Pisa, we passed field upon field of Sunflowers, much prettier than gorse.  We had quite a walk from the bus park to the Piazza del Duomo.  There were little market stalls and street sellers everywhere but you just have to keep on going so that you don’t lose the group.  It was worth the hike.  The Leaning Tower was everything we had expected and although we would have liked to climb it the 296 narrow steps were a bit much.  Built as the bell tower for the Cathedral it was started in 1173 and took 177 years to complete.  Unfortunately it was built on an unstable foundation and many experts have tried to solve the problem over the centuries.  The tower sits in the Field of Miracles next to the medieval cathedral.  The cathedral is a beautiful building both inside and out.  There were many beautiful paintings on the walls and in the side chapels.  After our return to the ship we took a shuttle and went into the port of Livorno.  Again it was a joy to walk round.  We indulged in an Italian ice cream, I have never tasted ice cream as smooth and creamy.  It was lovely.  This is certainly an area that is worth visiting.

Back to the ship and the evening’s entertainment was a quartet “Graffiti Classics”, two violins, a viola and a cello.  Classical music with a comedy twist was the billing.  They were wonderful, very talented young people.  It was a fitting end to a lovely day.

This ends our time in Italy, tomorrow France followed by Spain, Gibraltar and Lisbon.  

Toulon, a little bit of France once part of England.  In 1792 during the French Revolution the Royalists, who opposed the revolutionary Republican government turned over the port and its fleet to the British Navy.  To get it back the Republicans sent some obscure artillery captain by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte and he won it back for them.  It would have saved England a lot of trouble if Admiral Hood had wiped him off the face of the earth.  But hey, that’s all history now.  It also played a significant part in the second world war.  There was no evidence of war the day we were there.  It was a glorious day and the square just off the water front had a lovely market which went straight up the main street turning it into a Farmers’ Market.  Oh the fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese were so tempting.  I had a whole dinner party planned by the time we got to the first side street.  It was wonderful just wandering about.  We strolled along the waterfront admiring all the yachts and then sat in a little French café and drank coffee watching the locals sip their morning glass of wine.  The 13thcentury Cathedral was well worth the visit although I think Barry is getting a bit fed up with my tour of churches and Cathedrals.  We met a couple of English ladies who live there now and they were interested in where we had sailed from.  When we told one of them we were from New Zealand she said she had an Uncle who had lived in a little place in the south island.  She asked if we had heard of it, it was called Dunedin!  This is one of the joys of travelling for us, the many and varied people we meet.

The next day saw us in Barcelona.  This time we took a ship’s tour to see the city sights and to visit La Sagrada Familia, the church of the Holy Family.  This idiosyncratic and flamboyant church is one of the masterpieces created by the architect Antoni Gaudi.  He is buried inside the church.  Building started in 1882 and it is not expected to be finished until 2026.  It really defies description.  It is a bit like a gingerbread house gone wild.  At the moment there are a team of 11 architects working on it, including one New Zealander.  The inside of the church is beautiful and the stain glass windows are lovely.  The choir stalls around the church can hold 1000 singers. I would love to be there when it officially opens.  The Pope was there a few years ago and said mass in one of the side chapels.  There is a fascinating museum underneath.  We could have spent days there.  Our next main stop was at another of Gaudi’s creations, Parc Guell.  This beautiful park contains many works of art and gives stunning views over the city of Barcelona.  We also saw the Olympic stadium and several hundred Harley Davidson bikes that were about to parade through the city.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for the parade.

Then after a day at sea we arrived at Gibraltar, it is slightly less than three square miles in area and it only has a population of around 30,000.  We only had half a day here as we had to sail again at 12.30, so we had to make the most of what we could do in the time available.  We decided against going to the top of the rock and we were very pleased we did.  The wind was so strong that the cable car couldn’t get into the terminal and it had to back up to the top and everyone had to walk down.  Instead we explored the town.  It was like walking down any main street in Britain.   Shops like Marks and Spencers, BHS, Dorothy Perkins, Mothercare etc and Barclays Bank, gave it a very English feel.  We had a stop at a café to have a toasted tea cake and a cup of tea.  Sadly the tea cake turned out to be a hot cross bun so guess I will have to wait for England to enjoy the real thing.  We saw the changing of the guard at Government house.  It was accompanied by lots of shouting from the soldier in charge.  It was great to see the marching.  Of course I found a beautiful church to visit.  We spent some time in the glass blowing factory but after the Murano glass it was a bit ho hum.

Next day saw us arriving in Lisbon.  Again the weather was kind to us, although it did get a bit hot around mid-day.  We sailed under the 25th of April bridge which spans The Tagus and saw the Cristo-Rei statute overlooking the harbour.  It is very similar to the one in Rio.  We again did a city drive taking in all the major sights and getting a commentary about the buildings and the history of the place.  I hadn’t realised my good friend St Anthony was their patron saint.  No wonder I wasn’t worried about getting lost there.  It was like living history when we visited the place where Vasco da Gama is buried and the Belem Tower, a richly carved 16th century fort at the water’s edge which marks the start of many of the voyages of discovery made by many of Portugal’s famous explorers.  After our ride we had lunch in Rossio Square and then walked back to the ship.  The people were so friendly and helpful. 

So here we are almost at the end of the cruise.  The British Immigration service has come aboard and we have all had to present ourselves to them with our passports so that should make things easier when we dock.