We loved cruising around the Easter med so much we decided to opt for a longer cruise this time.
by Meggysmum on March 5, 2012
Having been very pleased with a previous Princess cruise I was thoroughly looking forward to touring the Mediterranean aboard the Star Princess.We joined the boat in Venice and had opted for two staterooms. My husband and I had an outside double with balcony and our teenage children were sharing an inside double which was directly across the hallway. I felt that the cabins did appear a bit small but we have previously had suites for four people which may have explained this impression. However they were lovely and clean and had a good location.This ship is the sister ship to the Grand princess and the layout is obviously very similar. However there were a couple of exceptions including the location of the children’s club and the able tennis tables. The tables were relocated to the side deck which meant that most of the time it was too windy to play, on the Grand they are protected on the aft deck.We had chosen to have our meals on the Anytime Dining plan. We found that we needed to head to the dining room quite early (about 6ish) otherwise the queues became very long. There is mention that you can reserve tables but whenever we tried we just ended up hanging on the phone forever which seemed a waste of time. The dining rooms were beautifully decorated and nicely lid out and we always managed to get a table for just the four of us although you could share with other people if you prefer. The food in the Dining rooms was of excellent quality and there was a brilliant selection and I could always find something that I fancied. The main problem we had was with the service. The staff seemed generally disinterested and sometimes it felt hard work getting your meal and your drinks, especially since we didn’t want wine so the drinks waiters then avoided us as there was no tip on offer. I think the fact that the Anytime Dining staff are not tipped directly by the customer seems to have led to a really sloppy attitude, Royal Caribbean offer the same system but they do it better and their waiting staff are amazing. By the end of the trip we often just headed to the buffet as we found the whole formal dining experience hard work and not at all relaxing.The buffet could get quite busy but the staff were much better and if you couldn’t find a table they would search one out for you. One of the nicest things about this ship is that you can take your food out to the rear deck and sit in the sunshine at one of the tables there or you can go around the covered pool area and eat there. This was really nice, especially when the inside areas were quite full. The selection at the buffet changed several times a day and there was a good selection although I felt that vegetarians may have been left struggling sometimes for a main course.One of the strong points for me on a Princess cruise is the evening entertainment. There always seemed to be a variety of different things going on which meant that the boat never felt too full as people were dispersed around the ship. They may have been gambling in the casino, catching a film with blankets and popcorn on the top deck, listening to a jazz band in the lounge, watching a show in the main theatre or joining in a quiz in the bar. There was always something going on and you could be as involved or as quiet as you liked.As with most cruise companies the excursions are extremely expensive but each night we were given a very handy guide to the next day’s destination which made it easy to plan your own trips if you preferred to go it alone. All of the excursions that we selected were well organised with very good guides.Although this is quite a large ship the deck area is separated into several different areas and this means that it never feels too big or too hectic which I thought made for a more relaxing holiday. There are several pools of which at least two were adults only although that did not seem to be strictly enforced and neither did the rules about not saving sunbeds. The day the ship docked in Athens we decided to stay on board as we had seen the main sights before and there had been recent trouble in the city. We went onto the deck at about 9 o’clock and chose some sunbeds, next to us were 4 beds with people possessions on them. We were on the beds (or swimming or eating!) for the rest of the day and although the deck was really busy the possessions were not moved by the deck attendants, the family came to sit on the beds at about 5.30, just when we were packing up our things for dinner!Overall I enjoyed my time on the Star Princess but I think that the company must look at the service standards in the restaurants as it was so poor it may well put me off booking with them again.
by Meggysmum on August 11, 2011
Venice is a beautiful city that actually covers over 100 separate islands which is navigated by a network of canals and bridges. The graceful black gondolas are the traditional form of transport and these can be hired at various points around the city. Each gondola is hand-crafted and as our striped-jumper clad Gondolier steered us expertly through the labyrinth of waterways we had chance to notice that the metal decoration and rope work varied on each one. Gondoliers stand elegantly on the end of their crafts and using only one oar they nimbly guide their boats around. I couldn’t believe how easy these men made the whole process look (it seems it is very rare to find a woman Gondolier). The traditional striped mooring poles can be seen throughout the city and these are the original basis for barber poles. Considering the hustle and bustle of the main waterways it was amazingly quiet as we explored some of the smaller canals and it gave us time to wonder at how this city has managed to sustain itself when it looks like it should crumble into the water at any minute. After the Grand Canal one of the most congested waterways is the one that flows under the Bridge of Sighs as the Gondoliers started a story that if you kissed your loved one in a Gondola as you travelled under the bridge you would stay in love forever. Since I am not a great believer in superstition we decided to avoid the heavily trafficked area and stick to the quieter parts. Our Gondola could seat six people and the fare is for the craft so it makes sense to try and fill up the boat although somehow our children managed to get the comfortable double seat and the adults all ended up perching on boxes and chairs with cushions! Getting into the boat was rather hair-raising as they were bouncing about a lot and we had to grab hold of wooden post to help stabilise us. I think we paid about 70euro for our trip but I can’t remember exactly. Some Gondoliers like to sing and some also give information throughout your tour but ours had very little English so we just sat back and enjoyed the passing scene. It was fascinating to see how the homes have steps down into the water and most hotels have doors that open onto the waterways as well, even for the delivery of luggage.The Gondolas are used now mainly by tourist to enjoy the sight-seeing, the mode of transport for the Venetians is the motorised Vaporetti (Vaporetta-singular) and the floating stopping places are easy to see around the city and the services are very frequent. Maps of the service are easy to find in the city and you can pay per journey or buy a travelcard that lasts varying amounts of time.No-one can visit Venice without travelling along the canals as it is what makes the city so famous. Unusual sights greet you at every turning whether it is a historical building or a petrol station positioned on the edge of the water ready to refuel all of the boats. We thoroughly enjoyed our Gondola ride and although expensive it was worth every penny.
by Meggysmum on September 15, 2011
The Doges Palace is one of the most recognisable buildings in Venice. This magnificent building made of limestone and pink marble was built in the 1400s as the home for the Venetian Government led by the Doge. The area had been run by the power of the Doge since the 9th century but this building was the final home for the government until the last official Doge was in power in the 1700s.We visited in the height of the season so we arrived at 9.00 when the Palace first opened to avoid the worst of the crowds. Tourists no longer enter through the original entrance; we have to use the entrance which is closest to the canal. This entrance led us into a huge courtyard where the amazing gothic style became evident. The courtyard allows views of lots of sculptures and statues along the top of the walls. Visitors have to leave all large bags and any backpacks for collection later and we were informed that photography was allowed in most areas but not in any of the rooms that contained paintings.Once we had taken in the marvels of the courtyard our guide pointed out the "lions Mouth" sculpture to us where people could leave messages about possible traitors who would be punished, however people had to be careful about their accusations because if they were false the person making the accusation would be punished instead. We then walked past large sculptures including one of Neptune and found our way to the Scala d’Oro (The Golden Staircase). This amazing walkway is simply breath-taking; the ceiling is almost completely covered in gold leaf around paintings and relief. Everyone walks up it craning their necks to get a better view and the large stained glass window also adds more colour and light to this wonderful spectacle. Once you are on the second flight of steps you can look round and see that the floor, which is covered in gold coloured and black tiles, is designed in such a way that it gives a very clever 3D optical illusion.Once we entered the inner chambers we came across many painting in which the Doge was always easy to spot due to his distinctive conical-shaped hat. One of the paintings showed an original style Gondola which had a covered seating area; there are no longer any of these gondolas in existence so it was interesting to see one in the painting, especially since the backdrop was so easily recognisable as it was almost identical to the present day Venice. Some of the rooms in the palace are huge and the paintings cover large sections of wall and some are claimed to be the largest in Europe but our guide stated that she thought the claims were untrue. There are two clocks in the Palace which no longer work but are fascinating due to their elaborate nature, they only had one hand and were astrological clocks telling what day of the year it was.The Doges palace was the home of the Doge and also a constant stream of temporary members of the government (Counsellors) made up of wealthy local families. There was no hereditary system and people were only in office for a short time so that there was not time for them to become corrupted by power. The Palace was also the law courts and the prison. Once someone had been tried they would be taken directly to the prison areas which were under the rafters in the roof or down in the cellars. Eventually a new prison was built which is reached by the Bridge of Sighs. I was very disappointed on our visit to find that the outside of the bridge was covered in hoardings and only a small section in the centre was visible from the canal. Luckily the bridge is fully accessible from inside the Palace and we walked across to the prison. The bridge actually has two levels within it. The bridge was named as the small windows would afford prisoners their last view of their city of Venice for a long time, possibly for life. Inside the prison you can see the cells in which the prisoners were held, their families could come and bring them food but they had little access to light. This section of the tour has some very low roofs and beams so care needs to be taken if you are a little bit tall.Leaving the Palace tourist leave by what was the original front entrance. Before you leave make sure to turn around as that is when you get the impression of what the entrance would have felt like with the large staircase in front of you.The Doges palace is a must-see attraction in Venice, it is elaborate and imposing and gives a fascinating insight into Venetian history.
by Meggysmum on October 4, 2009
Dubrovnik, in Croatia, is sometimes referred to as the Pearl of the Adriatic. The most delightful way so come across this medieval city is by cruise ship across the Adriatic. The early morning vista of white walls and terracotta roofs in the morning sun is a sight that will not be forgotten by myself or my family.If you do arrive by cruise ship and intend on walking to the walled city get a map before you start. It is farther than you think and is also quite hilly and it is easy to get lost..This peaceful looking gem suffered terribly in the 1990s when an attack by the Yugoslav army laid siege to the city for over 6 months. The occupants were trapped within the medieval walls and bombarded by shelling from the hills overlooking the city. There was no electricity of communication in the city itself. It is difficult to imagine the extent of the damage that was done as there has been a great deal of repair work carried out on the 500 or so buildings that were damaged. 43 residents also lost their lives. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical and architectural significance. This has led to an increase in tourism which can cause the area to become very crowded during the height of the summer months. There is limited accommodation within the city walls and not a great deal in the immediate area so it is wise to pre-book if planning a visit during July or August. This is when the weather is at its hottest and also when the city is playing host to its festival of art and theatre.The city is approached over a bridge and the enormity of the walls becomes apparent. The citizens of Dubrovnik are exceedingly proud of this defensive structure and it has never been breached.Visitors enter through Pile gate and it is a good idea to start the tour of the walls from this point. There is an admission fee paid at the kiosk and then visitors have free access to the walls. The suggested route is one-way to stop people having to pass each other. The steps up to the top of the wall are very steep and quite worn so would not be recommended to anyone who may be a little unstable on their feet. Some parts are also very narrow so extreme caution should be observed and a tight hold kept on younger visitors. Although the wall-walk is quite tiring in the heat of midsummer the views are absolutely stunning and should not be missed. The shining streets in the centre of the town can be seen thronging with people. Gaze in the opposite direction and there is a gorgeous view of the blue sea surrounded by green mountains with the shiny white walls of the town in the foreground. There is an area about half-way round where visitors may descend back into the town of may stay and take refreshments whilst admiring the birds-eye view. After completing a circuit of the walls and admiring the church towers and domes it is time to descend back down near the main gate. The Big Fountain of Onofrio is just to the right of the gate and was part of the system for getting freshwater to the city since 1444. It is said to be lucky to drink from one of the spouts but this domed structure can be crowded. Immediately ahead of the visitor is the main street called the Stradum. The polished floor glints invitingly in the sunlight with colourful shops and street cafes lining the route. Glances to the left and right reveal hidden steps leading to residences and further streets. With careful observation it is possible to see where buildings have been repaired since the siege but the work has been lovingly done and very in-keeping with the structures.The far end of the Stradum leads to Luza Square which is surrounded by historic buildings. There is also a smaller fountain called the Small Fountain of Onofrio which is situated by the church of St Blaise. It is possible to visit the church and the nearby Sponza Palace which is the home of the state archives. In this square is also situated Orlandos Column which is in memory of a mysterious figure who helped the people of Dubrovnik defeat their enemies in the 8th Century.The city of Dubrovnik is incredibly compact and very easy to navigate on foot. There is a lot to see in a very small area but it is also a place that entices the visitor to sit and soak up the medieval atmosphere and the baroque design that has produced such a unique example of a European city.
by Meggysmum on October 13, 2009
The port at Corfu bought the Cruise ship within about half a mile of the Old Town of Corfu. This invited exploration on foot so we immediately set off in the direction of the town.Arriving at the New Fortress first we became aware that this was a highly fortified town. Originally the town had three forts and the town itself developed within the walls. Entry was through a small gateway in the walls. We immediately noticed the narrow streets which were crammed with shops and cafes. It was still early on a Sunday morning when we arrived. This meant that the streets were quiet but we were delighted to be able to hear music and singing coming from the Greek Orthodox Churches dotted throughout the town. There are over 35 in quite a compact area. On some the doors were open and we caught tantalising glimpses of beautifully decorated gold ornaments and icons.Corfu Old Town became designated as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2007. Overlooking the whole town is the Old Fortress so that was the direction in which we headed. We came upon an attractive open plaza near the fortress which was a surprise after all the tiny streets.Entrance to the Old Fort was 4 euro for adults and the children were free. The fortress was probably originally built in about the 15th century, however a lot was destroyed in the 19th century by the British and large parts have been rebuilt in a very British style. The most obvious feature is the lighthouse. This stands at the highest point so does require a strenuous climb to reach it. However the views from the top are outstanding and certainly make the climb worthwhile. It is hot and there are few places to buy refreshments so ensure you take plenty of water. The rest of the site has buildings and a church and you are free to roam and explore. There was limited information available in English and the map we were given on entry was a little hard to follow but it was still an interesting place to visit.Walking back towards the town the Old Royal Palace is to your right. This ornate building has a delightful little garden that you can wander around and there are a couple of private coves in the immediate area. The yacht club can be visited by turning left as you leave the old fortress.Due to the compact nature of the town you can’t really get lost so you can just wander up and down the interesting streets as much as you wish and you will eventually come back to the plaza or the front walls. There are lots of shops selling beautifully local produce (as well as some rubbish!) and the ice-creams we purchased there were probably the nicest we have ever had so it is certainly worth a visit.
by Meggysmum on October 11, 2009
We had arrived by cruise ship at the port of Pireas and since the port is a reasonable distance from the city of Athens we took a tour bus in and around as we only had one day. First impressions were of a huge, very built up city which was very hectic. It was a lot larger than I had originally anticipated.First stop was the stadium built for the 1896 Olympics. It was impressive to view but we were not able to enter the stadium but had to take our photographs from one end. If you time it badly and lots of coaches are there at the same time it is hard to get much of an impression of the size. However if you turn around and look up on the hills you get a lovely view of the Acropolis. We then went past what we were told used to be the Royal palace and now the traditionally dressed Greek presidential guards can be seen at the monument to the Unknown Soldier. They are a splendid sight in their white and black adorned uniforms and red shoes with pompoms. We were told that we were not able to stop and take photos for security reasons, I don't know if that is strictly true or whether the coach driver didn't want to try and park as the roads seemed very chaotic! We were then taken to the Acropolis. This is the name of the hill on which several monuments are clustered. Being July it was very, very hot and the crowds were unbelievable. If you are an independent traveler I believe it would be well worth the effort to get there early. By the time we arrived at about 10.30 it was heaving. The car park is at the bottom of the hill and there is a pleasant shady walk at the foot of the hill, there are lots of locals selling all sorts so be prepared for people trying to talk to you all the time but no-one was persistent or unpleasant if you were not interested and were polite about it! There were a couple of men in Greek Guard outfits who would pose for photographs for a fee. Once you get to the base of the monuments it gets steeper and even busier. Hang on to your loved ones as it is very easy to get split up as you work your way up the narrow walkways. There are lots of groups so make sure you know what your guide looks like if you are taking a tour. This area is really not at all accessible to people with any problems in walking or in a wheelchair.Once at the top the marvels of the Parthenon are breathtaking as are the fantastic views across the whole of Athens. There is a lot of scaffolding around the Parthenon. I was surprised to find that most of the damage to the structure took place because of shelling in 1687 and gunpowder that was being stored there exploded. The Greek guide spent quite a while explaining about Lord Elgin who took most of the remaining marble to the British museum! The other main building up there is the Erechtheion which was built about 410BC and which was built with a whole in the roof to show where Poseidons trident came down whilst fighting for the city of Athens with Athena. This building is surrounded by the Caryatids which are statues of traditionally dressed maidens. None of the ones seen are original, one original is in the British Museum (Lord Elgin again!), one is missing and the others are in the Acropolis Museum. If you get a good guide they tell you all the Greek legends which are fascinating in relation to the place and the buildings. Once you have shuffled down the steps again it is time for a change of pace. The Plaka is a maze of quiet streets with cafes and shops, not far from the Acropolis. Compared to the Parthenon it felt quiet anyway! Turn off the main streets and it was not too hectic but be careful to note which way you are walking it was quite maze like but made for good souvenir hunting. I believe Athens has far more to offer but from what I saw I would prefer to stay out of the city and travel in for a few days to visit more of the historic sights as the city itself didn't look too appealing and the pollution is quite bad. However to visit places I had seen in photos when I studied Greek legends in my primary school was worth my asthmatic wheezing!
by Meggysmum on November 13, 2011
Ephesus is well-known as one of the most stunning ruins of Ancient Turkey. They are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area and we visited on a cruise after docking at the nearby port of Kusadasi.Although Ephesus is now several miles inland it used it to be a thriving port and at one point was the commercial capital of Asia Minor. It was one of the "Seven Cities of Asia" that St John mentions in the Book of Revelation. Both Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John the Evangelist were supposed to have lived in Ephesus at some time.The earlier you arrive at Ephesus the better as it gets very busy but it is also a very exposed site so it gets very hot. We visited during the height f the summer and there was very little shade and the temperatures were staggeringly high. There is nowhere within the site to buy any sort of refreshments so ensure you have plenty of water before you start your visit.We took a guided tour using earphones and radio so that we could hear our guide. This was pretty much essential as it was so buy it was hard to catch what anyone was saying if they were more than a yard or so away from you. I was surprised when we first entered the site as we arrived in a field that was basically covered in boulders. Our guide pointed out several arches that we could see in the distance and explained that they were the first hospital that is known about. We could see an arena to our right but we did not get to visit this section which was a disappointment.We continued across the field and then suddenly found ourselves on what was obviously an ancient road with ruins of buildings on either side. This area was thronging with people and there was certainly lots to see. The Temples of Hadrian and Domitian had impressive carvings over the entranceways and the familiar face of Medusa, so often seen on the Starbucks coffee cups was staring out at us. Spotting trademarks was easy and we also saw the Nike Swoosh in the folds of the gown worn by the Goddess Nike in another carving. Walking down the street you were immediately impressed by the Library of Celsus which could be seen at the bottom. This towering, pillared facade is the part of Ephesus that everyone recognises. The front has been carefully restored but unfortunately there is no trace of interior and it is hard to imagine what it looked like when it was home to over 12000 scrolls which were stored in niches in the cool walls to prevent damage from humidity. Our guide was telling us tales of how there were secret tunnels from the Library to local house of ill-repute but I am not certain how true those rumours are.After viewing the Library we walked down Harbor Street which was lined with colonnades. This then took us to a wonderful open area which was great for photographs as the end of the road is roped off so there is no-one to get in your shot. The opposite end of the road houses the Great Theatre, this is still used occasionally today for concerts but our guide suggested that we photographed it from where we were as there were a lot of cranes about and there was a lot of work being done on it and he said we couldn’t get too close.Coming out of the site meant we had to run the gauntlet of hundreds of market stalls which all seemed to be selling "Fake Genuine" watches! If you want to any Turkish delight never agree a price, just walk away and you will find the price usually drops through the floor.Overall I did enjoy my visit to Ephesus but the heat made it hard to really explore and our guide was not particularly good. We didn’t get to go in either theatre, we never saw the famous toilets and I believe there is also a ruined house that is interesting to see around. I feel we missed quite a bit but after visiting Pompeii Ephesus just seemed like the poor relation as it was so hard to visualise in its former glory.
After the death of Christ it is believed that both the Virgin Mary and John the Apostle journeyed to Ephesus and settled in Turkey. A small house in the Solmissos Mountains is thought to be the final resting place of the Virgin Mary and the Vatican recognises this place as a shrine which is important to both Christians and Muslims.The journey to the shrine was up an extremely steep hill on a very narrow road which made for a slightly scary journey by coach.On arrival at the Shrine we were amazed by the number of coaches, it seems that this tiny building is one of the most visited locations in Turkey. We joined a queue of several hundred people and we were informed that this was a quiet day and later in the day would get much busier and around Easter the queues can be enormous and it can take over an hour to get to the front.The queue moved relatively quickly and luckily it was very shady amongst tall trees as although we arrived at about 9 o’clock in the morning it was already very hot. When we came past the last of the trees we caught our first glimpse of the building and I must say I was amazed by how very small it was. I was expecting a small house but this is a rather small square building which doesn’t resemble a house at all. Considering that this was a religious building and we were in a Muslim country I was surprised that there seemed no dress-code restrictions. Having been to the Vatican last year and the strict cover-up policy that was enforced before entry was allowed to the Basilica I expected there to be similar rules here but I saw plenty of people walking in wearing shorts and vest tops although I had chosen to wear something I thought was more respectful.Upon entry into the house the main room appears like a chapel, there are a couple of places on each side where people can kneel and pray if they wish and you can collect a couple of candles if you wish from the boxes on either side. A small table and cross are about the only othere things in the room. The atmosphere is calm and quiet as people shuffle through respectfully. There is a small hallway as you leave where Popes who have visited the Shrine have left an offering, there is a truly beautiful rosary.Visiting the actual Shrine only takes a couple of minutes. Upon exiting there is an area for lighting the candles and quiet meditation. As everyone walks out they pass the prayer wall which is covered in paper and material on which people have written their prayers and tied them to the wall. There are thousands of pieces attached to this wall and it makes an impressive sight.There is also a place where you can drink the Water of Mary which is said to have curative properties. I believe it tastes slightly salty but since I only drink bottled water whilst travelling I was not brave enough to try it.Leaving the Shrine we encountered the usual array of tourist shops selling an array of souvenirs as well as a small range of refreshments. There are some clean, free washrooms on the site as well.I am not a very religious person but I found this visit more moving than I expected. This tiny property has been a place for pilgrimage for thousands of people for many years and the atmosphere reflect this.
by Meggysmum on September 21, 2011
Rhodes is one of the Dodecanese islands in the sparkling Aegean Sea. We were only on the island for a day so we restricted our visit to exploring the town of Rhodes itself.We were all aware of the Wonder of the World, the Colossus of Rhodes and had heard stories about how this magnificent bronze sculpture had straddled the harbour entrance. The first thing we found out when we arrived was that it is thought now that the statue never actually straddled the water; it simply stood at the entrance of the harbour. However at over 110 feet high I am sure it would have been a very impressive sight, it is a shame that it was destroyed by an earthquake but there were small imitations for sale throughout the town.From Rhodes harbour the walled town looks very impressive. There are lots of gateways in but crossing the main road from the harbour did take nerves of steel as it was very busy, even early in the morning. The town was mainly rebuilt and fortified by the Knights of the Order of St John who were known for their interest in medicine which began in the time of the Crusades in about 1200 AD. The Knights basically ruled Rhodes but they were fair and the island became prosperous. The town was well built and many of the more impressive buildings were constructed in the 14th century.To really appreciate the Old Town of Rhodes it is necessary to arrive early. We were walking around by about 8am and by 9.30 the streets were busy with traders and tourist and it was much harder to get about but the first hour was really pleasant. One of the first things we came across was the Palace of the Grand masters and St Johns Lodge. From here there was a long straight street that led to st Mary’s church. This street had wonderful waterspouts carved into animals and doors are adorned with the cross of St John. The walk up the street is actually quite steep so is best done before it gets too warm. The town is split into areas that were associated with languages such as Italian and German. These had to do with the Inns that the Knights lived in depending upon where they came from.The town is an absolute rabbit warren of narrow streets with buttress across them to hold the buildings up. There are a few vans that access the main square but otherwise it is mopeds that are the main form of transport within the town.Every now and again you come across much older ruins which date bake to the 2nd century BC. These seem to just be open for you to walk around; no work seems to be being done on their preservation.The Old town has a plentiful supply of restaurants and shops and although there were a lot of cheap souvenirs there were also many stores offering more interesting local items.Once we had looked around the town we took a stroll around the harbour, past boats selling gifts made from shells. We then realised that there is another harbour around the main wall and this was where the Colossus once stood but now there are smaller statues of animals instead.Rhodes is a lovely town with a wonderfully historic feel and if you arrive early you can really imagine what it would have been like when the Knights were ruling the island.
by Meggysmum on August 12, 2011
Oia is situated in the Northern part of Santorini. It is pronounced E-ah by the local inhabitants.Cars and buses have to be parked on the outskirts of Oia in a large parking area as there is no traffic allowed within the village itself which is not surprising as the streets couldn’t possible accommodate motorised transport. My first impressions weren’t great as the car park is surrounded by scrub-type land where some rather forlorn looking donkeys were standing around looking bored. We made our way in the general direction of the village.Turning the corner changed my opinion immediately. Although we visited on a busy day and there were hundreds of people crowding into the narrow streets I could already see the attraction of this beautiful village. The main street is narrow and cobbled and climbs quite steeply but is easy to follow. We found local shop-keepers all coming our offering samples of peanuts coated in a sugary substance with sesame seeds. With plastic gloved hands they dropped these little morsels into the passing tourist’s hands in an attempt to encourage a sale. I do not know what these delicacies are called but they were absolutely delicious, unfortunately they were only for sale in large bags so I didn't purchase them as I would have sat and eaten the lot in one go!We shuffled slowly along the lower part of the main street which gave us plenty of time to look in the shop windows. Oia obviously survives on the tourist trade but it immediately became apparent that although there were several of the usual souvenir shops selling fridge magnets, postcards and donkey shaped novelties there were also a large selection of more unique retail premises. There was lots of beautiful jewellery, attractive clothing and unusual gifts on offer and this offered a nice combination for the shopper with more choice than I had seen in many tourist towns in the region.Once we had reached the end of the main street we came into an open square with a picturesque church with the traditional blue domed roof and the bells set above the front. Here people began to disperse so it was easier to enjoy our surroundings. Everyone seems to gravitate straight to the low wall opposite the church which offers a spectacular view across to the island of Therasia and also the volcano on Kameni. Oia is set on a cliff face and it is from this position that you first get a real impression of how the myriad of white and pink houses are glued to the side of the cliff-face, the blue domes of all the small churches reflect the blue of the sea and everyone immediately reaches for their camera. From here tourists can opt to turn left or right and follow the narrow streets between the buildings nearest the cliff face. We selected to turn right and found ourselves in an even narrower street but the lovely shade was a welcome relief on a hot day. Once again there was a wonderful selection of shops and cafes but it was also possible to turn off this busy thoroughfare and go down small sets of steps to find beautiful vistas across the sea. Sticking to the right hand branch took us up to the old fort. This was a small ruin which sticks out slightly and offers great views back towards to village so although the walk was uphill it was worth it for the photo opportunities. Santorini is normally a breezy island and when we visited the wind was Force 6 so you really had to hang onto your hats in exposed places like the fort.It is possible to walk down to the small harbour of the town but there are about 300 hundred steps so we decided not to give that a go but I believe there are boat trips from the harbour across to Therasia. Oia has beautiful light and thus has attracted many artists over the years and this is probably why there are so many usual shops selling paintings and other hand-made items. This gives this stunning village a slightly bohemian feel which is wonderful. The sunsets light the painted walls of the houses and churches with a gorgeous orange glow and the sunsets have people flocking to the village so expect it to be very busy in the evenings.Oia is a wonderful traditional village which I would love to return to, next time I would like to visit the small Maritime Museum which is located in the town and which we didn’t get time to visit. The roads are steep and narrow but this just adds to its traditional charm and every turning provides another wonderful photograph.
by Meggysmum on August 16, 2011
The ruined Roman city of Pompeii is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Italy and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.I had wanted to visit Pompeii since I was a child and had watched a programme about it on television. The Roma Empire was always being mentioned in school history lessons and the culture seemed so advanced for the time that I had trouble believing that the Romans really lived such a civilised life-style many hundreds of years BC.We arrived at Pompeii as part of a booked tour which was lucky as by 9 o’clock on that August morning there was already a long queue to buy tickets which were luckily able to bypass. Just outside the ticket area there is a bustling street market area with plenty of tourist stalls, ice-cream seller, a restaurant, a post office and restrooms. Ensure you have purchased water before you enter the site as the area is large and on a hot day you will need a drink and refreshments are not easily available.Pompeii and its neighbouring town Herculaneum were buried in a thick layer of ash and pumice in August 79 AD after a huge eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Although Pompeii had an estimated population of 20,000 at the time the death toll or both towns was approximately 2000.Pompeii was not a typical working Roman town, it was a rather elite city where the more wealthy Romans lived and worked and this is probably what makes it such an awe-inspiring spectacle today. Its rediscovery in the 1700s has provided us with a fascinating look at the luxurious way Romans were living over 2000 years ago when other cultures were still basically in the dark ages.Pompeii is a huge site and in the 19060s a lot of the site was open to tourists but unfortunately only about a third of the excavated area is now open to visitors, this is said to be for conservation reasons. Entry into the city was through tunnels in the wall and now as tourists we entered the same way. The walk to enter the city is extremely steep but it is worth the effort and once inside the walking is on much flatter ground.The first thing we noticed as we entered the paved street was the white stones set into the cobbles, these were to assist people when it was dark as they catch the light more easily than the dark cobbles and allow people to make out the pavements slightly more easily. The pavements were raised quite a height above the roadway, this was so that even when it was very wet the pavements would not be under water as it would collect in the road, to cross the road there are large stepping stones set into the road to allow pedestrians to step across but they are a suitable distance apart to allow the cart wheels to pass either side of them. Pompeii was occupied for about 700-800 years and it is possible to see where the cart wheels have worn grooves in the road surface and on the busier streets these grooves are extremely noticeable.The city is laid out in a grid-like pattern and now all the buildings have numbers which are cross-referenced in some of the guide books and the audio tours to help visitors work out where they are. At the junctions of the roads you find the water fountains and these all had different decorations to help people recognise where they were.The shops are easy to spot as they all had sliding doors and the grooves can be seen across the stone step. The smaller shops were probably money exchanges but there are also several hundred bakeries, the one we saw still has the stones for grinding the flour and the ovens which look pretty much the same as a modern pizza oven.The Roman baths have recently been re-opened and they were breath-taking. A gloomy corridor opens onto a garden area and then you proceed through a selection of rooms that would have been hot room, plunge pools, changing rooms and heat baths. Many of the decorations still remain mosaics, frescoes and ornate carvings.It seems that a lot of the marble from the site was stripped out almost immediately, it was the intense heat that killed the inhabitants who hadn’t fled and people were able to return to collect and loot city before it became completely hidden.Unfortunately when we visited the Vettius house was closed and I had been looking forward to this part as the Frescoes are supposed to be magnificent but our Guide said they are doing restoration work. There was a collapse of the wall of the Gladiator school in 2010 and it seems that more work has been done since then as there were questions of neglect of the site.The Food market (Macellum) was huge and the stalls would have been set around the outside. Now some frescoes can be seen but there are also some of the cast bodies that have been kept at the site. It is actually quite chilling to see the expressions that have been captured on the faces of the victims as they succumbed to the pyroclastic flow of superheated gases.There are several houses open to the public. The houses consist of a small porch way that leads into an atrium which is open to the sky and decorated with mosaics and fountains, the size and lavishness obviously depending on the value of the house. There were larger rooms for eating and entertaining and then smaller rooms around the courtyard area for the family and their servants to sleep. In Roman families the servants lived with the family and if they were lucky enough they would inherit their masters wealth if he should die with no descendants. We saw houses of various sizes throughout Pompeii and there were many mosaics, one of the best preserved one being of a dog in an entry way.I was amazed at how much of the site has been preserved and you can walk up the streets and truly imagine what it could have looked like before the disastrous eruption. This site could be explored for hours, there seemed to be something new around every corner, a statue of a god encouraging people to drink wine, a theatre, a phallic symbols engraved on a wall or a beautiful portico. Pompeii was everything I had hoped and more but my only disappointment was that all of the artefacts have been taken to the Pompeii museum which is in Naples; it would be lovely to be able to look at the artefacts as part of a visit to the site or to have at least a selection for visitors to admire.
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