Cruising for Trouble

31 03 2012

Cruise Ships and a tall ship in the Bay of Sorrento, off Sorrento, Italy, 2011. No reason to think any of these have had trouble though!

Guess what I got for Christmas?

I got a brochure for a cruise around the Mediterranean stopping off at points north, south, east and west of the sea – a quick jaunt around fifteen countries (ish) without having to unpack or move hotels. Sounds fab?

January 13: The cruise ship the Costa Concordia hit a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea just off the eastern shore of Isola del Giglio, off the western coast of Italy. The Captain, it is alleged, steered the ship too close to the shore – allegedly a common practice to give passengers and people ashore better views – and then bailed out in one of the first lifeboats that was launched. Investigations continue – at least 30 dead.

February 27: A fire on the cruise ship the Costa Allegra left that ship without power and adrift in the Indian Ocean 200 miles southwest of the Seychelles. This area is frequented by pirate ships.

March 31: Cruise ship the Azamara Quest is adrift powerless in the waters south of the Philippines following a fire that took out its engines.

Alarmingly, googling “cruise ships 2012 incidents” brought up way too much information – much more than I really wanted to know. (If this is your thing, or you want to scare yourself precruise, try here and here.)

Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something?

The Amalfi Coast

5 02 2012

view over Sorrento

In our recent European sojourn (actually it was May 2011 – time flies) we spent not-enough-time in Italy, based in Sorrento. On our first day in Sorrento we thought we were booked into a tour of Pompeii and Vesuvius but turns out it was the second day. So this left us with an unplanned day. We hopped on a tour of the Amalfi Peninsula. If I had but known, I would probably have taken the boat to Capri, but I didn’t work out how close it was until halfway through the tour. Nonetheless, it was fabulous exploring the peninsula, and I do like a tour where somebody who knows what they are talking about tells you what you are looking at.

So these photos were taken from a tour bus touring the Amalfi coast. Unfortunately I can’t remember all of the details of the sights we saw – the lighthouse rocks on Capri (viewed from the Mainland), the islands of the Sirens. But I can clearly remember the lemon orchards, sheltered from the weather by brush structures – and a renowned source of Limoncello, which I came to love so much as an after-dinner aperitif!

When in Sorrento we frequently had lemon sorbet as a dessert (yes I know it is supposed to be an appetite refresher between courses, but, none-the-less) and we have reproduced it at home. Basically the dessert runs like this: lemon sorbet, very finely grated lime zest, couple of spoonfuls of Limoncello. If you don’t have Limoncello, use vodka. This is an amazingly simple and yummy dessert and very refreshing, particularly if you like lemon. Which I do.

So please enjoy some photos from the Amalfi Coast. I am hoping to be back there soon.

lemon trees growing in the shade

hotel up a steep cliff from the road


Capri, with Lighthouse Rock formation on left

tall ship off Sorrento

fruit shop - featuring a giant yellow citrus fruit called Cidra


If you liked this post, you might also like:
A childhood dream (Pompeii)
Sorrento – an after-thought
More Pompeii photos


31 01 2012

Vesuvius looms over the scene of its destruction - the town square at Pompeii

No visit to Pompeii would be complete without visiting the origin of the destruction – the volcano, Mount Vesuvius.

Vesuvius is located approximately 11km from Pompeii and is clearly visible looming over the town from the market square. It is considered to be an active volcano, well over-due another eruption, but currently lies dormant. And lucky too – the very populous city of Naples is also on the slopes and adjacent to Vesuvius.

Pictures of Vesuvius found in the ruins of Pompeii show it to be a pointed mountain with heavy forests all over it. This is taken to indicate that it had probably been dormant for some time prior to its famous 79AD eruption which blew the top off the mountain, gassed and then buried the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Vesuvius is a volcano inside a volcano. Standing at the top adjacent to the crater, a much larger crater is visible around the edges. Many lava flows from previous centuries are also visible on the slopes as unvegetated areas.

The climb to the top is very steep on soft gravel pathways – not recommended for those with cardio, pulmonary or mobility issues. When we reached the top it started raining – sweet relief for those of us who are extremely unfit (me). The crater itself is cordoned off and is extremely steep, dropping a couple of hundred metres. A small wisp of smoke was rising from one side of the crater, near the top.

one of the plaster replicas at Pompeii. They were gassed, then their bodies encased in ash. When the ashes were dug out about 200 years ago, plaster was poured into the cavities in the ash and replicas of the bodies of humans and animals - and whole families - were found.

view of the City of Naples from the top of Vesuvius. Hope they have an evacuation plan and plenty of warning! The brown area without foliage in the middle of the photo is previous lava flows

detail of the rock inside the crater

vertical crater wall

view of the upper section of the path that winds around Vesuvius - it's steeper than it looks

a wisp of smoke rising from the crater wall

the rim of the outer crater that Vesuvius sits within

this section of the outer crater is known as The Man - because it looks like a face in profile

If you liked this post, you might also like:
A childhood dream (Pompeii)
Sorrento – an after-thought

Tom Tom abroad

9 11 2011

Just as tourists in Australia love road signs about kangaroos, I loved this one - "remember"

On our recent European sojourn (European sojourn sounds so fab – actually we really only had time for France and a quick trip to Pompeii / Sorrento), we decided to drive ourselves around the French countryside. Paris is of course best done by metro, but if you want to see a lot of different things outside Paris, you will need to drive.

So, cleverly, we bought ourselves a Tom-Tom GPS system and loaded a map of France, with the text and the audible instructions were all in English. So far so good.

And generally it was pretty good. We managed to get ourselves from Gare de Lyon in Paris, where we picked up the car, to Mont Saint Michel on the west coast, down a little to Carnac and Brest, then across to Lascaux, up to Chenonceaux and back to Charles de Gaulle airport with a minimum of fuss.

This of course will be the blog about the “fuss”. not about the “non-fuss”.

The fuss was of course a combination of user-error and Tom-Tom error.

Some of the user errors:
1. assuming that the village of Lascaux would be near to the Caves of Lascaux. (No, it is not – it was very scenic though.)

2. Leaving the seeking of petrol stations until you had less than one eighth of a tank left. (Because we wanted some panic on the holiday – who knows who to call if you run out of petrol in France? Not me.)

3. Assuming that the Tom-Tom would also be helpful as a walking guide. (No, not really – because you aren’t moving fast enough it has difficulty deciding which direction you are going.)

Some traps for new (and possibly experienced) users of Tom-Toms.

1. While most of the roads are clearly as they are in the GPS, some of the inner city ones don’t identify one-way streets – or try to send you down them anyway. Combine this with a fairly rudimentary understanding of French road signs and you can see why tourist drivers are a menace, the world over.

2. We did on one occasion get sent down somebody’s very long country driveway which the Tom-Tom clearly identified as a through-road. There were also a couple of instances where driveways or carpark entrances off roundabouts counted as exits from the roundabout (take the fifth exit…) which was confusing.

3. There was one instance where the road we were being guided into seemed to be an off-ramp for a freeway. Luckily it was permanently blocked.

4. In the middle of the French countryside there are roundabouts at non-intersections. It looks like perhaps they might be intending to build a road through the fields, but at this stage there are just a couple of exits that go a couple of metres in each direction. Sometimes we were being told to take that road.

5. Finding a petrol station (see above for last-minute panic – user-error) was confounded by the Tom-Tom not differentiating between a truck petrol station (providing only truck fuels) and a petrol station that also sold petrol for cars. Likewise many of the petrol stations turned out to be agencies – which were closed.

6. Some of the attractions don’t appear to be listed how you would expect them to be. Parc Asterix (Asterix Parc, Asterix Park, Asterix) would not come up in the Tom-Tom under any spelling I could enter. Luckily we had a brochure which told us which town it was near, and once we were near the town I could enter “nearby attractions” – and hey presto, suddenly it was on the Tom-Tom!

7. Futuroscope was another that we couldn’t find until we were close by. Then the Tom-Tom kept guiding us into the staff entrance, which was quite some way from the public entrance.

8. We did get into a couple of loops, largely because of roadworks. The Tom-Tom gives you the option of saying that you have hit roadworks and then it finds you a way around them. Sometimes this resulted in a loop. You can resolve this by just driving off in another direction and then resettig the Tom-Tom destination again.

Having said all that, would I use the Tom-Tom again? Absolutely. Despite the small annoyances and frustrations, it was a great way to maintain some level of independence in our travels, and also get where we wanted to go without having to spend the journey with my head buried in a map-book. The Tom-Tom freed us up to drive and look around, knowing it would alert us in time to ensure we got where we wanted to go. It also helped us with avoiding toll-roads. By avoiding toll-roads we ended up driving on roads that looked like they were farm tracks – until you came across the tiny village in the midle of the fields. We saw some parts of the country-side that most tourist would not see, and some very picturesque and seemingly untouched villages.

And in fact I was so impressed, that the Tom-Tom is currently in France again with a work-colleague.

Sorrento – an afterthought

1 11 2011

View over Sorrento on the drive from Naples

While we were on the other side of the world, we decided to hop across to Italy to have a look at Pompeii, one of my childhood dreams. An afterthought, almost. But a fabulous afterthought, as it turned out.

Luckily for us, the travel agent suggested we stay in Sorrento rather than Naples. Naples is of course the major city and airport, but is renowned for crime. The air pollution is pretty unbelievable as well, for someone coming from the comparatively clear blue skies of Australia.

Cruise liners and tall ship, Bay of Naples off Sorrento

Sorrento, technically a town about an hour’s drive from Naples, is much safer to wander around day and night, as well as being set up for the tourist market. I say technically a town, because the drive from Naples airport to Sorrento was unceasingly houses – there appears to be no break between any of the towns. They just run on one to another. Quite how you know which town you are in, when one ends and another begins, I don’t know. Anyway, I digress.

more laneways

Sorrento is gorgeous. Its narrow laneways and historic buildings sit atop cliffs that drop sharply into the Bay of Naples. Deep chasms cut their way through the town, affording views out to the Bay from unexpected places. Opposite our hotel was the end of a chasm entirely covered in greenery, with an old abandoned mill at the bottom.

ruined Mill at the bottom of a chasm opposite our hotel

laneways in Sorrento

The main square is lined with restaurants. Nearby the laneways form a permanent marketplace where fine jewellery shops abut tourist souvenirs shops. Exquisite marquetry is available in anything from a jewellery box through to a dining room table. Volcanic rock carved into statues (glitter optional). High class clothes and shoe shops, next to touristy t-shirt shops. Murano glass artwork, hand-painted views of the Amalfi Coast. Limoncello is 12 Euros for a litre – if only I could have convinced Australian customs to let me bring it into the country. The Limoncello here is much more lemony than anything I have tried back home.

Sorrento Town Square

The children loved our quick stop-over in Sorrento. The people were very friendly, seemed to love children and loved talking to them – and spoke English. This is the benefit of hanging around a tourist area! The boys were quite over struggling to understand another language by this stage.

The best restaurant we tried was a new one called Refood. It is owned by the same people who owned the hotel we were staying in – they talked us into trying their restaurant. We were very glad we did! Great atmosphere, some amazing Murano glass light fittings. Really fresh top quality food, and a wide variety. My only criticism of Sorrento restaurants is that generally they tended to serve a fairly standard “Italian” fare – lasagne, pasta, pizza etc. A little bit “same”. Re-food was different – a wide variety of really unique modern cuisine. The entree Trilogy was spectacular – swordfish and salmon, stacked in a salad with a lovely creamy dressing.

My only regret – somehow I didn’t realise how close to Capri we were. We could see it from the coast, even see the town on the island. Had I realised, we would have had a day-trip there as well. Never mind, we’ll just have to go back!

The Island of Capri, viewed from the mainland

If you liked this post you might also like some more travel posts…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette