Rome to Athens (part 2)

With our adventures in Rome behind us, we were transferred to Civitavecchia where we were due to board the Azamara Journey. It was our first time on this ship – but we had been on the Azamara Quest twice before. It is surprising to find everything exactly in the same place as on the Quest. The Captain is excellent as is his twin brother (for those who have travelled on Azamara Journey before you’ll appreciate the shot I took of them having lunch).

Upon arrival at Civitavecchia we were greeted by the sight of the largest cruise liner in the world, the Harmony of the Seas. It takes 6780 passengers and 2100 crew and has 16 decks. In comparison, the Azamara Journey has less than 700 passengers….

The cruise was brilliant and we saw a few places we hadn’t been to before and some we had. The Captain did us a great favour by changing the schedule around at the end – we swapped Santorini and Mykonos around and that meant that instead of having to fight our way through 15000 passengers from 7 ships, there were only 3500 from 3.

Here are images from the cruise itself :-

 

Cruise – Azamara Quest – February 2016

We planned this trip some while ago. It was intended to be a cruise around New Zealand to Australia, followed by a stay with my son and his family in Perth. The original intention was to make it a surprise visit and just turn up – and whilst we managed to keep it quiet until early January, it became clear that we needed to tell him. My daughter in law, Kay, already knew we were going and managed to keep it a secret all that time.

The flights were going to be long and we had no illusions about being tired out upon arrival. I’d have liked to have stayed over somewhere en route to break it up but we’d decided to travel Cathay Pacific and their business class seats looked like they’d be perfect to help take away the stress and for us to get a decent sleep. The air conditioning on long flights had an awful effect on both of us and the decision to take a couple of extra days both in Auckland and in Sydney proved to be wise. The hop-on and hop-off buses in both places were an excellent way to see a few of the highlights and when I go back I’ll have a better idea of things to do and see. I have to say that the highlight in Auckland was the Skytower and in Sydney the table we had at the Searock Grill on Circular Quay was the best view in town.

Having been on the Azamara Quest last year, we knew what the ship had to offer and weren’t disappointed. There are some lovely people of all nationalities working on this ship and they all do their absolute utmost to make sure you have a wonderful time. The ship holds around 700 people so most unlike the floating cities which are currently the vogue. It means that you see, and can get to know far more people than you would on larger ships and the dining choices in the various restaurants mean you can dine with lots of people or just on your own – you can dine served at your table or at a buffet restaurant or in either of the speciality restaurants, one of which is a super steak house and the other Italian.

As far as the ports of call go, we set off from Auckland with a supercharged firework show to celebrate the inaugural visit of Quest to Auckland. The cruise took us to Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Picton, Akaroa, Dunedin, Milford Sound and finally Sydney. The excursions laid on are not cheap but the ones we chose were value for money.

The Bay of Islands tour I chose was to Zane Grey’s Hole in the Rock. This took us to Motukokako Island where we actually took the cruiser through a 60′ hole in the rock (looks like Durdle Door). There wasn’t much clearance.

In Tauranga we chose to just walk around ourselves as the place was quite small. Sue had been suffering from a chest infection following the flight and was just starting to feel better so we walked around Mount Maunganui which was around 5 miles, ship to ship.

Napier is the art deco capital of New Zealand and we went to the Napier theatre and also to the National Tobacco Company for photostops. We later found out that Kay’s mum used to work at the Tobacco Company when she used to live in New Zealand.

Wellington was a real treasure if you are a Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fan. The Weta Cave tour was excellent – the Weta Workshop made props, models and weapons used in the movies and although we couldn’t take pictures in the workshop for copyright reasons, there were a couple of models outside. We then went up to Mount Victoria via a couple of forest locations where Frodo and the hobbits began their journey and the “Race to the Ferry” and “Get off the road” scenes were filmed. We were overnight in Wellington and the next day went to the Wellington Botanical gardens where I encountered Tuatara pilsner – I need to find a local source…..

Picton arrival was quite dull and overcast but we got onto a small boat which took us for a scenic tour around Queen Charlotte sound and then we had a narrated coach trip on the way back to the ship. We discovered Whitehaven wineries and need a local source for that too…

Akaroa is a trip back to the ’40’s and the buildings are lovely. We were the only ship in and got off via tender. The lighthouse on Akaroa head is reminiscent of New England lighthouses in construction.

In Dunedin, we arrived in Port Chalmers and as in most of the ports, we saw thousands of tons of timber ready for export. Upon arrival at Dunedin, we got on the Taierie gorge train – a vintage train which carries individually designed carriages all the way up to Pukerangi and then back again. Mysteriously, there is a craft market at Pukerangi – there’s nothing else for miles and miles and then there’s a market – they don’t miss a trick. Still, the scenery was spectacular.

At Milford Sound we picked up some passengers who had been on an overland excursion – they were ferried out to us whilst we waited in the bay, looking at beautiful waterfalls and the snow covered peaks. This was the last of New Zealand and we left for a 2+ day cruise across to Sydney. The Tasman Sea was quite heavy and we were glad to arrive there.

The first sight we got of Sydney was scores of small yachts engaged in a race around the bay. This proved to be like an obstacle course for the Captain and his crew but of course we were engrossed in the whole spectacle. The light was brilliant and it was around 28 degrees. Everyone was on the top deck trying to get the best viewpoint on the way in. This took some time because there was a cruise ship from another line in our berth – we had arrived early. Captain Carl Smith had proudly announced that he had secured the best berth in the southern hemisphere and he was right. We were right next to the cruise terminal, with the Opera House on one side and the Harbour Bridge on the other – what a way to arrive. The arrivals procedure was something I had been dreading, having seen various programmes on Customs and immigration – but the Customs staff were brilliant and we were on our way in 2 minutes. The only downside of the whole holiday then happened. We took a taxi from the terminal and went to our hotel, the Shangri La (FABULOUS) and paid the fee. Upon chatting to another couple who got off and also stayed at the Shangri La – we found they had paid less than half what we had done for exactly the same trip. I hate being ripped off.  It didn’t put us off for long – the hotel and staff there were brilliant, as was our room on the 14th floor. We walked down to the harbour and around circular quay and also took the hop-on hop-off bus around Sydney and had a great tour. The Opera House and Harbour Bridge are every bit as spectacular as they appear to be. We also took a walk from the Opera House around to Mrs Macquaries Chair via the Botanic Gardens and back to the bus for a trip back to Circular Quay and eventually our hotel. That evening, the concierge at the hotel had managed to book us an outside table at the Searock Grill on Circular Quay which was just fabulous. It was Valentines Day and we were really pushed to get a table anywhere but this was a treat.

Finally, after Sydney we flew across to Perth for a weeks r&r with family – brilliant holiday.

Here’s a couple of links to images from the trip on separate pages :-

https://nigeldaltonphotography.com/cruise-azamara-quest-february-2016/

https://nigeldaltonphotography.com/auckland-january-2016/

https://nigeldaltonphotography.com/sydney-february-2016/

Venice

Everything that I’d read or seen or been told about Venice was true. It’s a simply stunning place. The arrival into Venice was punctuated by a lovely warm sidelight although I missed the very first rays. We walked for hours through the narrow streets, lovely little shops, architecture, cafes and did I mention the canals….
St Mark’s square came second in terms of people per square metre to the Rialto Bridge but made up for it in terms of grandeur. A short gondola ride through the canals and lunch in a small intimate restaurant topped it off nicely. I’d have liked more time here for sure.

Arrival in Venice

Gondoliers in Venice pt2

Venetian Canal 2

Venetian Canal and leaning tower

Kotor, Montenegro

Arriving in Kotor was wonderful. We were treated to a slow, foggy progression for around 28 miles to the harbour and saw some lovely buildings, great scenery and also reminders of the conflicts this area has seen. Kotor itself is a UNESCO site and beautifully preserved. We didn’t have the energy to walk up to the very top of the walls but nevertheless, we walked our little legs off. In contrast to the well preserved heritage site, the new part of Kotor seemed quite run down in places. We had a lovely knowledgeable lady guide and all in all it was a place I’d happily return to.

Church on the way to Kotor in the fog
Just after sunrise KotorKotor street scene

Holiday time continued ….

Moving on from Athens, the next batch I took were from Mykonos and Santorini. We’d been to Santorini before and stayed in Oia but this time, we docked outside of Fira and were tendered in, then took the cable car to the mountain top and had a few hours walk around. We hadn’t been to Mykonos before but it was just stunning, worth a trip back I’d say. In fact, we were considering a home purchase whilst there but as you can see, there was a bit too much work to be done….

More windmills on MykonosAnother Mykonos ChurchTwo chairs in Mykonos Sunset at Mykonos The second home