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|Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2005
Canadian Crossing and Mediterranean Adventure
Vigo, Gibraltar, Naples and Athens
Our day in Southampton actually started at 0430 in the morning when Pete went up top to check the mobile and found we had enough signal for Pauline to collect and deal with her OU marking. Pete rang down to the cabin and Pauline promised to come up - an inside cabin in a steel ship does not have good mobile coverage so we needed to be on the edge of one of the Lounges with a power socket. Four cups of coffee and two hours later Pete called the cabin again and found Pauline had promptly gone back to sleep and again promised to come up. At least by then all the logistics had been completed and Windows updates, Virus updates, Firewall updates and all the things that are too expensive on a Roaming Mobile had been finished as well as all her Open University TMAs downloaded and email up-to-date. By the time we were finished we had been connected on the mobile for over 4 hours the one day in Southampton - it is a good job we have a lot of free off-peak hours!
We arrived on time, but could only just move in our little inside cabin. The previous night we had packed all our suitcases ready to move from 5 deck up to an outside cabin on 4 deck. Clothes in the wardrobe would be moved on their hangers, but everything else had to be packed and unpacked. But first we had to wait for the people who were in our new cabin to actually leave the ship.
Our cabin steward and the new cabin stewardess worked hard to make sure we could transfer our belongings early in the morning. And so at 0945 we found ourselves walking down the gangway and off to spend the day at the Southampton Boat Show. We had been told that we could catch the crew shuttle bus to go into town, but the entrance to the Boat Show was only a short walk from QE2 at Dock Gate 4. So we set off at a brisk pace on foot. It made up for the lack of exercise in the gym.
Out of the enormous number of chandlery shops, we stopped at Force4 chandlery and bought an extra life-jacket with harness for Pete for sailing in NZ. We had bought one from them for Pauline in 2004, and it was perfect for sailing so we wanted a second one. Force4 are a very good chandlery, based in nearby Lymington, and we have always purchased from them. The owner used to run the Force4 shop which was near Pauline's office in London. Service has always been excellent and staff are very helpful.
We returned at the same time as the next batch of happy passengers arrived, so joined them in the queue to go back on board, clutching our new life-jacket. Afternoon tea had already started at 14.30 so we quickly found a table. We had not stopped for lunch at the Boat Show so were ready for a light snack before dinner and a selection of little sandwiches, scones, fruit cake and strawberry tarts improved the afternoon. Pete did penance and went down to the gym for an hour and worked off 500 calories of it on the cross trainer.
QE2 departed on time, and it was back to the normal routine. The following day was at sea, heading south through the Bay of Biscay, and it was also Pauline's birthday. It was a formal evening, as are all days at sea. And the seas were calm, so she was able to get all dressed up and enjoy the evening. With dinner we had already reserved the last bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, good value at $40 on board. The Cunard tradition is that a cake with a candle is provided. And all the waiters in the area come and sing "Happy Birthday" . This year, as one of the Maitre d' changes to the restaurant, there was a new song. The first formal evening also serves The Captains Gala Dinner. This is an excellent menu of all our favourite foods. Having gorged herself on the lobster as a starter, usually served as a main course, followed by an excellent and enormous steak as the real main course, she insisted on still having her creme brulee as well as the large slice of yummy chocolate birthday cake with its strawberries and ice cream. It was a memorable day.
We knew that Colin Bryant and his Hot Rhythm Orchestra would be joining QE2 at Southampton, and we had seen them during the day. They had found out that it was Pauline's birthday, and when we went to the Golden Lion Pub to listen to their music after dinner they insisted that everyone sang Happy Birthday to Pauline. We must go on board for birthdays more often.
This time we wanted to visit Vigo instead. After all the organised tours had departed there was a good regular shuttle bus service, from 0900. Last time we had moored near the town centre, but another smaller ship was there and we were kept some 15 minutes drive away. The bus deposited us at the corner of Areal and Colon streets, where we were greeted with local guides with maps - free from El Corte Ingles, Spain's leading department store.
Spain is very quiet in the mornings, as a consequence of Spaniards all staying up too late the night before. Shops do not open until 10.00. It was difficult to match the road names with the actual roads, so we went into the Church of Santiago el Mayor to sit and plan our morning. Having identified the area called the Old Town we retraced our steps along the Avenida de Garcia. This is one of the main streets and there are large solid buildings with balconies. One of the local styles is to have enclosed balconies. We passed the Centro Cultural Caixanova, and turned into pretty cobbled streets at the Plaza de la Princesa. It was still very quiet.
The square in front of the cathedral was busy and we followed some locals inside, but Mass was in progress. We do not appreciate church services in Spanish so we left, returning to look inside when it had all finished. Just beyond the square we could see across to the Cruise Terminal, and there were steps going down to the waterfront, and a Market Hall. We were looking for fish and vegetables but only found souvenir shops and general goods. The second Market Hall was further along the waterfront, and had the displays of fish on the ground floor, and then meat, cheese and some vegetables upstairs.
Continuing along the waterfront led us to a small park with a cross, and the monument to local fishermen. We then wandered through more cobbled streets, back through the Old Town.
It was still early, so instead of going back to QE2 for lunch we decided to climb up the El Castro Hill. On board ship we had been told that it was a serious climb, but we could see the height gain and it was only a few hundred steps. Not a problem for us. The park area is large, with terracing and neat gardens, leading to the walls of the fortress. From the Monument a los Galeones de Rande, three large anchors, there was a good view down to the port and QE2. More climbing and we reached the entry arch to the fortress. Inside there were pretty gardens, a fountain, and more views down of Vigo.
Having admired the view, we then hurriedly retraced our steps and, by good luck, walked straight on to a shuttle bus which was ready to depart. This meant that we got back well before 14.30 and could get a late buffet lunch. We sailed shortly afterwards.
This would be our first visit to Gibraltar. We had been through the Mediterranean twice before but on neither occasion had QE2 docked at "The Rock". Pauline also wanted to visit Gibraltar because her last boss in the DTI, Sir David Durie, had been posted there as Governor. Unfortunately after we made our booking in 2004 we discovered that he had just retired.
Peaking at 425 metres, Gibraltar measures less than 3 square miles and is home to about 30,000 people. The strategic strait it controls links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and is only 8 miles wide at its narrowest point. The territory has always been disputed. The British seized it from the Spanish in 1704 and there was a famous siege by a French-Spanish expedition from 1779 to 1783. During this time an extensive network of defensive galleries were hewn by hand, and these are open for visits.
There is a lot to see in Gibraltar. Sadly QE2 was only able to visit for the afternoon. We docked at the Cruise Terminal at 1300 and had to be back aboard by 1730. We were one of the first to disembark and quickly headed for the cable car, which we had seen as the ship approached. Confirming the best routing from a helpful police lady, we rushed through Casemates Square, past the Convent where the Governor lives and arrived at the base of the Cable Car just a few minutes too late. All the QE2 organised tours had arrived and there was a long queue waiting on the pavement. We joined the end of the line. At that moment a local Guide approached us, enquiring whether we would instead consider a minibus tour, and we decided it would be a better idea. It meant that we didn't have the ride on the cable car, but we would see all the other interesting sights from the comfort of his vehicle.
Our tour started by entering the Upper Rock Nature Reserve with a short stop for photos across the straits. The Rock of Gibraltar is one of the two Pillars of Hercules; the other is in Morocco, just opposite. We continued to St Michael's Cave, which is situated at about 300 metres above sea level. It was very busy with a long line of taxis and minibuses. The advice was that we walked ahead, entered the Cave and then came back and found the vehicle when we had finished. The Cave had an excellent display of stalagmites and stalactites, and included an enormous natural auditorium which is used for concerts. We explored all the passageways and still found that we were the first of our group to emerge at the cafe and souvenir shop. There we found a problem; one of the wild apes had just stolen a Magnum ice-cream and was perched at the top of a tree enjoying it. We decided that an ice cream was a good idea too. Having found the money we were advised that it was safest to go back into the vehicle to eat it. Apes must have a good sense of smell because one ape tried to make a grab for it through the driver's window which was slightly open. There are two colonies of this tail-less Barbary Macaques on Gibraltar. One group lives on the rock face - the other group live at the Apes Den, which can be visited from the cable car.
We continued along the narrow roads towards the Great Siege Tunnels, passing by the cable car and meeting more friendly apes. We also met a tired line of QE2 passengers trudging towards us and going on to St Michael's Cave. We were glad that we had not chosen to pay $54 each for the "Walking Tour of the Rock". The tunnels were excavated during the Great Siege of 1779-1783 and are a most impressive defensive system. There was ample time to walk to the very end of the excavations, and to listen to the audio displays and read the information boards. The views from the top were spectacular, and there was an excellent view down onto the airport and runway. On the way back down to town we passed the old Moorish Castle.
Retracing our steps along Main Street we lingered outside the Convent, before turning towards the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. It is the Mother Church of the Diocese in Europe, and was celebrating both the Centenary of the Deanery of Gibraltar and the Silver Jubilee of the Diocese in 2005. We purchased the Commemorative Magazine which gives an interesting account of the History of the building, and highlights some of the key people involved during the last 25 years.
Still having some spare time before we needed to be back on board we were able to enjoy some of the pleasures of shopping in the Main Street. Gibraltar is famous as a place to buy cheap duty-free items, especially electrical goods and electronics. Like in Guernsey, there is a Marks and Spencer, next to posh boutiques and jewellers. We found a nice bookshop and purchased an account of the history of Gibraltar, for later consumption. We also purchased the inevitable postcards, and checked at the Tourist Information Office for more maps and leaflets. Near the Cruise Terminal there was a Safeway supermarket, and we noticed that lots of their carrier bags were cluncking their way back to QE2. Many passengers seemed to prefer to purchase their duty-free allocation in Gibraltar instead of from the shops on board.
Our next stop was at Naples in Italy. This was our second visit to Naples - last time we spent very little time in Naples and had taken a tour to Pompeii, which we found fascinating. Our original plan had been to take the local train to Herculanium, another Roman site buried like Pompeii but on the day we decided instead to take the Hydrofoil to Capri. The Hydrofoil service was regular and left from a pier five minutes walk away in the port. We joined a long queue for a ferry ticket and ended up just missing a ferry, which was full, but an extra one was laid on leaving half an hour later, by which time we had reached the front of the queue and bought a ticket. We found they do not sell return tickets
Capri is a small but very picturesque island just outside the bay of Naples at a distance of 20 miles, 35 minutes by hydrofoil or 1 hour and twenty minutes by normal ferry. The island is quite small, about 4 x 2 miles but rises steeply out of the sea to twin peaks, Monte Tiberio 1095 ft and Monte Solaro at 1932 ft. Capri is a favourite holiday destination of both the Italians and foreign visitors because of its climate colours, magnetic atmosphere and beauty. It is known for attracting Artists, Intellectuals, Eccentrics and the Wealthy as seasonal or permanent residents - an Italian equivalent of Waiheke or Guernsey.
The town of Capri is on the saddle between them at 450 ft and is normally reached by a Funicular railway. We were first forced to queue for a ticket back as it was a Saturday and we could not afford to be late as the QE2 sailed at 1630. We then queued for a funicular ticket before queuing for the funicular itself, which has a restricted capacity. We bought a Daycard, which gave unlimited journeys on the funicular or any of the local buses as we were by this time very tired of queuing - we had spent an hour in queues and forty minutes moving by the time we had reached Capri town! Capri as a whole was extremely beautiful and deserves its reputation, unfortunately too many people know about it and it was difficult to move along the streets which were full of little crocodiles of tired hot tourists following distant umbrellas and chivvied from behind by carriers of bright numbered placards - it reminded us of sheep being harried by a team of sheepdogs. We dread to think what it would be like in high season at a weekend. Our first 'target' was the Gardens of Augustus that several people had recommended us to visit - they were small but attractive, however they were on the tourist trail and Pauline had to wait for nearly 15 minutes for a gap in the strings of tourists which was long enough to get a picture of one spot she contemplated painting. We were disappointed that the path was closed at the end of the gardens which would have taken us down to the other port, the Marino Piccola and its attractive little beaches, especially as Pete was carrying a towel and swimming shorts and the temperature was rising rapidly.
We walked back through the edge of town and out in the opposite direction towards another viewpoint shown on the map at the Belvedere de Tragare. On the way we diverted down to the Certosa di San Giacomo (Charterhouse of St. James) a monastery that was built during the late Middle Ages that today houses a museum, a school and a library. The Certosa was founded between 1363-71 by Count Giacomo Arcucci, a nobleman of Capri who swore to build the monastery if his wish to have a male heir came true.
The church has frescoes along the walls and on the vault that were painted in 1690; the largest and best conserved frescos are on the entrance wall and one of the paintings on the ceiling is currently undergoing restoration showing how magnificent the must have been. The two cloisters were built during different eras and in different formal styles. The larger cloister was built at the end of the 16th century and has monks' cells lining the sides each cell having a working section connected to a private area, both being unusually spacious and light. Today many of them are used as classrooms by the local High School. The large internal space was originally the monks' cemetery but was later turned into a garden and was being set up for a function when we were there.
The various sections of the Certosa are all connected and we started in the church then went through the cloisters before visiting the museums, one had a temporary photographic exhibition, the other was the museum of Diefenbach that contained a number of huge and thought provoking pictures. We could find out little about Diefenbach other than that his night paintings had a special charm - they were reputedly executed under the moon and by candle light (just like the "crazy" Van Gogh used to do, fixing candles on his easel and on his hat, when painting in the plains of Provence whilst tormented by the Mistral wind). Diefenbach was, in the same way, gloomy and clever, restless and fascinating on the big cliffs, in the middle of the big sea and under the big Capri's moon.
We then went out into the gardens behind the Certosa with their two small lookout towers: one faces onto the Faragioni (crags in the sea), the other onto the bay of Marina Piccola. The breathtaking drops below these terraces gives an idea of how the monastery once stood in splendid isolation, easily defended from the sea and protected from behind by the fortifications of Capri town. We hardly saw another person in the Centosa but it was then time to re-enter the scrum in central Capri, which was full of expensive looking shops along the old and attractive streets. We would have liked to take a bus to the other township, Anacapri but we could not risk it as time was getting short so we admired the views, chatted to Jamie and his wife and young son and then took the funicular back down to the port.
We walked one way along to a rather scruffy beach and the other to an attractive working harbour full of small fishing boats before settling for a beer on an outside table watch the bustle of the port, probably the most expensive beers we have ever bought but the view was worth it after a long hot day.
When we got off the ferry at Naples we found that the Rhapsody that used to be the Cunard Princess was moored right behind the QE2 - we spent several happy holidays in the Caribbean on her sister ship, the Cunard Countess when we started cruising. It was good to see she was in such good condition still.
If we go back to Capri we would be better prepared and divide to queue in parallel, start on the buses instead of the funicular and perhaps take the one and a half hour trip round the island - or maybe we would explore Naples and its museums, go to Herculanium by train or take a ferry to Sorrento.
Our next stop was in Greece, the first time we had been there. We moored in Piraeus, a major port and city on the Saronic Gulf close to Athens. Piraeus is historic in its own right and was laid out around 450 BC and was already serving as a port. We had the whole day to enjoy the sights; all aboard was at 1730. We had chosen not to take one of the organised trips or the organised bus to Athens, which was expensive and allowed only a very limited time in the City. Instead we decided to take the Metro, part of the new transport system that had been built for the recent Olympic games. The port was much larger than it appeared and even after taking the shuttle bus to the Cruise Terminal, it took us nearly 20 minutes to walk from there, along the side of the docks, full of shipping and ferries, to the Metro. We initially underestimated the distance and sought information from the locals and then found the Metro was exactly where the map showed it ! Other passengers took the lazy option and grabbed one of the many taxis. There were booklets in English on how to use the Metro and the tickets were very cheap, only Euros 1.60 return for a forty minute trip to the part of Athens containing the majority of the historic areas, which was much better than the $20 for the coach organised for QE2 passengers ! The most important factor was that it ran every 10 minutes.
Immediately outside the Metro station at Monastiraki, we found the Library of Hadrian, (free) and undergoing extensive excavations and restoration. The Roman emperor built the complex Hadrian in 132 AD. The complex consists of a large, nearly square, walled enclosure, with entrance on the west. The walls were made of Poros limestone and Pentelic marble. The western side had a row of Corinthian columns made from marble in front of the wall. Inside the complex was an open-air courtyard, with a central pool and garden, surrounded by columns made from marble imported from Phrygia. At the eastern end of the colonnade were a series of that housed the "library" where books were stored and served as reading rooms and lecture halls. The Library of Hadrian was far more than a library and provided the people of Athens with a new, multi-purpose, public square and cultural centre that contained a garden, works of art, a library, and lecture halls.
Next we found Roman Agora (marketplace) of Athens, most interesting to Pete because it contains the Horologian (Timepiece) of Kyrrhestos that is best known as 'the Tower of Winds' which is the logo of the Royal Meteorological Society of which he is a Fellow. The Astronomer Androkinos Kyrrhestos from Kyrrhos in Macedonia built it in about 50 BC. It is octagonal, stands over 12 metres high and is built of Pentelic marble. Pentelic marble is pure white, fine grained and has a mesmerizing, glistening white crystalline surface looking as delicate as glass - it was used by many of the great sculptors of ancient Greece.
The tower was originally topped by a revolving bronze weather vane depicting Triton, a pointed wand in his hand indicated the direction from which the wind was blowing. To the ancients, the winds had divine powers and on the frieze of each side below the conical rooftop there is a ruling the compass point to which it faces. There were sundials and a complicated internal water clock with a supply from the Acropolis above.
The main historic sites need a ticket and we bought a book of tickets at the Roman Agora that had 5 general tickets plus one specific to the Acropolis.
The following period brought home the fact that we did not know much Greece and all the street names were in Greek. In fact the historic area is quite small scale and is dominated by Acropolis on its rocky summit. Although we could see the Acropolis we could not find anywhere on the maps where the entry was and we cast around in some fascinating areas of the old town for a while. We eventually found where we were and the route to the entry that, for reference, is Beula gate on the west side!
Acropolis means 'high place'. In the ancient world the Gods were believed to live in the clouds so temples on high places brought the people closer to their gods. First inhabited in 3500 BC and by 1500 BC it had become the Royal Dwelling. Most of what is visible today was built around 450 BC. It is a prime tourist site so suggest you get their very early, we were a little late and it was almost impossible to move, especially on the steep entry route. We also had to backtrack to leave our rucksack at a checking point (free) at the Beulah Gate, so lost a little time. You pass through the Propylea, a colossal entry gate to reach the upper terrace. At least on the terrace it was possible to move as the tourists were being herded like sheep leaving gaps where one could walk and catch an occasional glimpse of the sights.
There are a number of separate temples, unfortunately most are undergoing extreme restoration - they are undoing and replacing many earlier restoration attempts using iron which are now doing more damage than good due to corrosion, Many of the temples are wreathed in scaffolding so we could not get good pictures of many of the classic sights. Some highlights are the Erectheon with its six caryatids (maiden pillars), they are now replicas but some of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum that we visited at the end. One is in the British Museum.
The Parthenon (Virgin's Chambers) is perhaps the most famous of all Greece's monuments and considered by many architects to be man's finest structural achievement - the flawless proportions feature an upward slope so the form appears to be a perfect rectangle. The columns are also widened at one end to create the linear illusion. The Parthenon was dedicated to the virgin goddess Athena and built between 470 and 432 BC. We completed our brief visit to the Acropolis in the Acropolis Museum where some of the originals too valuable to have exposure to the elements are stored.
We looked down on most of the major historic sites from the various viewing platforms round the Acropolis and we decided that we would see as many as we could in the time by carrying out an anticlockwise circuit of Acropolis taking us back to the Metro station. Our first stop was right outside the entry where we climbed the Mount of St Paul. St Paul is said to have preached here on his visit to Athens. The Mount is rocky and the rocks have been polished with an extremely slippery surface even in the dry - Pauline slipped on the smooth rocks and slid half way done fortunately without meeting any obstructions and on a well padded part of her anatomy, unfortunately she had the camera.
We then descended and passed the Herod Atticus Odeon which we had looked into from above We did not have time to do it justice so we continued to the huge Theatre of Dionysus that required a ticket to enter. Dramatic and musical competitions were moved to the Theatre of Dionysus after the wooden bleachers in the Agora collapsed in 600 BC. The new theatre was on the south slope of the Acropolis next to the temple of Dionysus Eleutherios and was composed of wooden seats surrounding a circular orchestra of beaten earth.
The theatre that has survived to our time was designed between 342 and 326 BC, when Lycurgus commissioned an extensive reconstruction in stone and marble expanding the number of seats to somewhere between 17,000 and 30,000. There were 64 tiers of seats in Piraeus limestone - about 20 survive. The ingenious design of the seats allows a 13-inch trough in which spectators can rest their feet without discomfiting those in the row below. There is also a row of 67 high-backed chairs of Pendelic marble for judges and dignitaries each inscribed with the name of the individual for whom it was reserved The elaborately carved throne in the centre of the first row belonged to the Priest of Dionysus.
The Roman Era saw major changes to the structure, such as a marble barrier to protect the audience during gladiatorial exhibitions. At the front of the Roman stage was the Bema of Phaedrus - the reliefs depict stories from the life of Dionysus. The crouching figures in the middle show drunken revelry commonly associated with the worship of Dionysus, god of the vine. In the 4th century AD, Romans put down the marble slabs in the orchestra to make it watertight so that they could perform Naumachia - brutal sea battles in which gladiators in boats hacked at each other until the water ran red with their blood.
Our next stop was at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which took one of our remaining tickets to enter. Only a few columns remain but it did not take much imagination to realize that this was a huge building. It was began in the 6th Century BC by Peisistratos but not finished until seven hundred years later by Emperor Hadrian in 131 AD. The Classical Greeks are said to have left it unfinished because they believed it was too big and symbolized the arrogance of people who believed they were equal to the Gods, The Romans knew better. During the Roman rule the general Sulla took two columns to Rome for the Temple of Jupiter that led to the development of the Corinthian style in Rome.
Originally there were 104 Corinthian columns of which only 15 remain standing. Hadrian placed a giant gold and ivory status of Zeus inside the temple with an equally large one of himself next to it, unfortunately no remnants remain. At the end of the site we looked at the Arch of Hadrian that was erected in 132 AD as a gate between the ancient city and the Roman city of Athens.
We worked our way through the Old Town and back passed Roman Agora. The original or Ancient Agora (marketplace) was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural centre, and the seat of justice. The area was rediscovered when a deep trench was cut for the Athens-Piraeus Railway brought to light extensive remains of ancient buildings. It was necessary to demolish around 400 modern buildings covering a total area of ca. 12 hectares in order to uncover the whole area of the Agora.
What first came through to us was its sheer size - it was impressive even with almost all the buildings demolished. The maps showed it had contained many Stoa, a word we did not fully understand at the time but subsequent research has told us that in ancient Greek architecture a stoa was an extended, roofed colonnade on a street or square. Early examples consisted of a simple open-fronted shed or porch with a roof sloping from the back wall to the row of columns along the front. Later stoas were often immense, running to two stories, each with a colonnade of a different order and having a ridged roof supported on internal colonnades; rows of shops or offices lined the back wall, which was sometimes decorated with paintings. Such stoas surrounded the agora or marketplace of every large city and were used for public meetings.
The Middle Stoa had obviously been an immense building with roof supported on three colonnades of which only a few pillars remain. The Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios was one of Socrates favourite place where he frequently strolled with his disciples including Plato. He drank hemlock at the edge of the Agora when imprisoned and sentenced to death for "introducing new gods and corrupting youth". Before leaving we walked through the Agora Museum sited in the Stoa of Attalos, a sort of huge Greece shopping mall of 150 BC fronted by a double colonnade with shops behind on two floors. It has now been completely reconstructed and repaired and dominates the site. We climbed up to the Temple of Hephaisteion, one of the best preserved of the temples in Athens, sited on a small rise at the end of the Agora.
Time was now short so it was back to the Metro in Monastiraki Square, a lively market area. Once back to Piraeus we had time to stroll back to the shuttle bus to the ship taking a few pictures as we passed.
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