Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A quick trip to Germany.

Monday, August 12th, 2019

March 20, 2019. Larnaca, Cyprus to Berlin, Germany. 

Breakfast at Costantiana Beach Hotel and Apartments was meant to start at 7:30 am. Normally this would have given us enough time for a quick bite before heading to the airport for our flight to Germany. 

Unfortunately the guy who was looking after breakfast must have slept in, as he didn’t arrive until 7:45. 

Breakfast was a rush. 

Fortunately the airport was only minutes from the hotel and it was an easy drive to get there. 

We were there, even after filling the tank, at 8:30. 

Dropping the Citroën off at Avis was even easier.

So far on this trip Avis have been great. Despite the fact, that even after 13 years with an Avis Preferred Card, I have never had an upgrade. 

We had driven 428 kilometres around Cyprus and it had been a wonderful adventure. 

The car performed well, despite a dodgy clutch. The roads had been a joy to drive on and the drivers were courteous. 

The scenery was spectacular as well. 

Our flight to Berlin took us via Athens again. This time the layover was only 1:40 minutes. 

Not really much time to do anything other than go from one flight to another. 

We arrived at Tegel Airport in Berlin mid afternoon and decided to take public transport to Hayden and Andrea’s place. Being a working day we didn’t want to arrive too early. 

This wasn’t to be. 

They kept on cancelling the bus, so we went back into the the airport, had a drink to fill in time and then caught a cab. 

 

Ishtar Gate, Babylon (6th Century BC)

March 21, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

The only tourist destination we intended to visit, while in Berlin, was the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island. 

We had visited Pergamon, Turkey in April, 2012 and were impressed with the site but unimpressed with the fact that most of the artifices had been looted by the Germans. 

This was our chance to see those stolen artefacts.

The official line is that they were taken under the approval of the Ottomans.

When we arrived we were not impressed. 

€19 ($30) each for the museum and half it was closed for renovations. The work started in 2013 and was extending to 2019 and beyond. 

At the Pergamon Museum monumental exhibits, like the Altar of Pergamon, are their claim to fame.

This was the part that was shut. 

What was available of the Pergamon exhibition was in the ground floor. Upstairs was devoted to art from the Islamic era. 

Within that section there was a lot of space dedicated to Syria and its destruction, due to the ongoing war. 

A theme we had just recently encountered in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. 

In the end the saving grace was the Panorama, an adjunct to the main museum. It was housed in a purpose built facility that was just up the road. 

The main feature was a 360° panorama.

Not only was it 360° in circumference it was also about 50° in height. It was done in such a way that you needed to climb the four stories of the central tower to get the best view of the panorama. 

The entire scene of Pergamon was a combination of 3D digital illustration and photography. Real people, dressed in period costume, had been combined with a highly realistic interpretation of this 2,000 year old Roman Hellenistic city. 

It was very impressive. 

It was designed by Yadegar Assisi and originally staged between September 2011 and September 2012. This was a revised version that started in November 2018.

Yadegar Assisi is an artist, architect and university lecture. Born in Vienna to Persian parents in 1955, his tertiary education was in Germany and he currently lives in Berlin.

He has created some of the largest 360° panoramas in the world, some measuring 32 meters high and up to 110 meters in circumference.

The Pergamon Museum was built between 1910 and 1930 and designed by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffman. 

It replaced the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum on Museum Island, which opened in 1904. It soon became clear that with all the artefacts that were being repatriated to Germany that this museum wasn’t large enough – so the idea of the Pergamon was born.

The museum was severely damaged during the bombing of Berlin at the end of the Second World War. But most of the exhibits had been moved off site and the larger displays walled-in to protect them.

At the end of the war, during the Russian occupation, many of the artefacts were relocated to Russia, a lot still remain there.

March 22, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

Chilling out was the order of the day. 

Hayden had taken both the Friday and Monday off, so we spent most of the day just hanging around the apartment. 

I was hoping to get a much needed haircut but the place I had chosen was booked out. 

I therefore made an appointment for Monday. 

In the afternoon we all went to do the weekly shopping. 

Now this might sound a bit boring but we have found that you learn a lot about a city and its people when you visit a supermarket. 

What food they like, how important and available are fresh fruit and veg. Plus trends in health, luxury goods and even recycling. 

March 23, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

It was a Saturday so a good opportunity for the ‘workers’ to sleep in. 

After a late breakfast we went into Kurfürstendamm, the main retail strip in the heart of Berlin. 

After some shopping and a lot of walking around we went for a late lunch at Schildkröte, or Turtle, a typical Berliner restaurant. 

The literal translation of Schildkröte is ‘Shield Toad’. 

Germans have a very strange way of naming some animals. Everyone knows that a Pig is Schwein, but a porcupine is a Stachelschwein, which means ‘Spike Pig’.

 

First ducks in the Venus Pool

March 24, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

Another relaxing day with H&A in Berlin.

Todays activity was to walk around the Tiergarten, Berlin’s most popular inner city park. At 210 hectares it is the city’s largest park, next to Tempelhofer, formerly the Tempelhof airport, which we visited in September 2017.

It was just the second day of spring and there were signs of it everywhere.

The trees, flowers, wildlife and even the Berliners were enjoying the slightly warmer weather.

The Tiergarten was originally developed as a hunting area for the Elector of Brandenburg in 1527.

In 1740 Frederick the Great (1712-1786) not being a great fan of hunting, opened part of the part as a public garden.

The park remained the property of the monarchy until 1881. At this time Emperor William I abolished his rights to the forests and it became state land.

As a result of the Second World War the Tiergarten was severely damaged. Much of the forrest was cut down for firewood and the land turned over to agriculture.

Only 700 trees survived of the 200,000 that were originally in the park before the war.

The gardens stagnated until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Then many of the embassies, that had been abandoned, were re occupied and the area gained a new lease of life.

March 25, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

The warmer weather of 12°C, from the previous day had gone, now it was 5°C, real feel 0°C. 

This was fine as we had nothing planned, except my haircut at ROWDY, a hipster barbers shop about 15 minutes walk from the apartment. 

My barber spoke perfect English, like so many in this area of Berlin.

 

Church of St John (1864-1876)

March 26, 2019. Berlin to Stuttgart, Germany. 

Sadly our time with H&A had ended and we were off to Stuttgart to see the city and visit Rebecca and Felix with their growing family.

This time we were on the train, first to Nuremberg, then on to Stuttgart.

Like the Japanese Shinkansen there is a sign on the platform telling you where your carriage will stop. Unlike the Japanese trains it’s not that accurate.

Ours was at the opposite end of the platform from where we were told we should be.

They do move as fast as the Bullet Trains – we were travelling at over 210 kph. 

The second leg of our journey, south to Stuttgart, was not on a high speed train. It was on a local line that was slower and without WiFi. 

However it did have mains voltage power to charge our computers and information screens with the connections available at the next stop. 

Once we were settled into the Novum Hotel Rega, we went for a walk around the area. 

Just around the corner we found the Church of St John. It was designed by Christian Friedrich von Leins in the Gothic Revival style and constructed between 1864 and 1876. 

The church is on a peninsula of Lake Feuersee or Fire Lake. 

We intended to go to a typical German restaurant, Stuttgarter Stäffele, but it was booked out. 

We ended up at another one, just around the corner. It was again typical German but not as fancy. 

It turned out to be great, even though the portions were mega. 

We were given a ‘Doggy bag’ to take home but left it at the restaurant. 

We were full enough.

 

Benz Victoria (First four-wheeled automobile 1893)

March 27, 2019. Stuttgart, Germany. 

We decided to use public transport in Stuttgart and bought ourselves a day pass on the underground. 

Never once did we have to validate our ticket or even have it checked. Obviously the Germans are very trustworthy.

Our first stop was the Mercedes Benz Museum.

The museum showcases 130 years of automotive history, from the very German perspective of Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz.

There are 16,000 square meters in this purpose build facility, set in the heart of the Mercedes Benz factory area.

Travelling by lift to the top floor you descend nine levels through time, from 1886 to present day innovations.

The tri-star of Mercedes is brought to life with the application of Daimler’s ‘Grandfather Clock’ motor. This amazing piece of technology was used in transport on ‘land’, ‘sea’ and ‘air’ (the three points of the star).

One fact of automative trivia that really stuck in my mind was the placement of the steering wheel.

In the early years it started off in the centre of the vehicle. It then moved to the right hand side. This was done because it was felt that the driver needed to see the curb more clearly. Only after traffic became more congested did it move to the left. This was done so the driver could see the oncoming traffic.

It was a fascinating exhibition and I only wish that we were in Stuttgart long enough to also visit the Porsche Museum as well – I don’t think Thea would agree.

After the museum we then got the S Bahn back to the centre and wandered around there for a few hours.

There isn’t a lot of historical building remaining as so much was lost during WWII.

Stuttgart sits on the Neckar River and since the 6th millennium BC has been an important agricultural area. But today it’s manufacturing that gives it the status of being one of the wealthiest European cities by GDP.

Today it is known as the ‘Cradle of the Automobile’ being the birthplace of the motor vehicle and the home of Mercedes-Benz , Daimler AG and Porsche.

We had another run-in with the law, however this was of our own making.

We found a wallet lying open on the footpath, just near Palace Square. It contained cards, money and more. Fortunately we had just past a couple of police officers nearby so we raced back and handed over the find.

They were rather shocked I think.

That night we had dinner with Rebecca and Felix and Rebecca’s parents Harold and Barbara.

It was great to catch up with old friends and to see Rebecca and Felix’s growing family.

 

Cyprus has a foot in both camps.

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

March 14, 2019. Corfu, Greece to Larnaca, Cyprus. 

Our flight to Cyprus, with a three hour layover in Athens, was at 9:30 am. 

We had left the car in the city car park and had to wheel our luggage there, which was about 200 metres away. 

That was easy, the hardest part was taking our cases the two floors down from the ‘Cute house in old Corfu Town’.

The stairs were steep and narrow. 

Once we were at Athen’s airport there was plenty of time to get some breakfast and a coffee. 

The coffee in Greece has been, on the whole, very good. A double espresso gets us the required quantity and strength. 

For me, Cyprus meant a new country. Thea visited there back in 1971. 

Because of our long layover our bags must have gone into the Larnaca flight first – as they came off last. 

Again our room was in the old part of the town but it was in a contemporary building. 

There was even a lift. 

We were staying in the heart of Larnaca’s tourist town and surrounded by Yankee fast food establishments. 

Littered along the waterfront, just near our apartment, were testaments to America’s bad culinary tastes. There was a McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Starbucks. 

What has the rest of the world done to be subjected to such crap?

Luckily we did manage to find, Ocean Basket, a good seafood restaurant for dinner. 

Saint Lazarus Byzantine Church and Museum (9th Century)

March 15, 2019. Larnaca, Cyprus. 

The good weather from the previous day had turned sour and the sky was leaden. There was also periodic rain that was sometimes heavy. Once it seemed to have subsided we ventured out. 

As a large poster on a public building boasted. 

“Larnaca, city of Lazarus. 

One of the world’s 20 most ancient, continuously inhabited, cities for the last 4,000 years.”

Lazarus is certainly the local hero In Larnaca as we were to discover. 

Just down the beach from the ‘Avenue of Fast Food’ was the Medieval Castle of Larnaca, built in 1625 over a site that was first settled around the 14th century BC.

During the British rule the fort was used as a prison and the gallows still remain just inside the front entrance.

The last execution took place in 1945.

It now houses a small museum.

Just next door is Kebir, the Grand Mosque of Larnaca. It was built over the site of the 16th century Holy Cross Latin Church in 1835-1836.

There are still a few of the flying buttresses remaining from the original church.

A mosque with buttresses is a strange architectural mix.

Just a little further in from the coast is the Saint Lazarus Byzantine Church and Museum.

This has an interesting story to tell, as I found out on PlanetWare ‘Things to do in Larnaca’ site.

Below is a quote from the site:

“After Lazarus rose from the dead, he lived here in Larnaca (then known as Kition) for another 30 years and was ordained as Bishop of Kition. When he finally died – this time for good – he was buried here, where the stately Agios Lazaros (Church of St. Lazarus) now stands. The church was built in the 9th century by Emperor Leo VI and was faithfully restored in the 17th century.”

Dodging the rain we found the Archeological site at Kition, the original settlement from, 707 BC, which eventually became Larnaca. The actual site was closed but there was an open air display of a number of artefacts.

In the evening we ignored the suggestion of the bookings.com host and looked beyond the fast food strip. 

Surprisingly, just around the corner from our apartment was a group of bars and restaurants that were much more appealing. 

The Hipsters were there and in large numbers, all smoking and therefore sitting outside. 

I didn’t envy them in the least, as the temperature had dropped and we were much cosier indoors. 

However our presence did raise the average age by about 20 years. 

It was a good meal accompanied by a thumping soundtrack. 

Aphrodite’s Rock

March 16, 2019. Larnaca to Paphos via Limassol, Cyprus. 

There has been human activity in Cyprus since the 10th millennium BC. It was then inhabited by Mycenaean Greeks, who came in two waves in the 2nd millennium BC.

The island occupies a strategic location in the Middle East and has been of interest to many conquering races.

Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians have all laid their claim at some time. In 333 BC it was seized from the Persians by Alexander the Great. Both the Classical and Eastern Roman Empire called Cyprus home, as well as Arabs, French and Venetians. This was followed by three centuries of Ottoman rule between 1571 and 1878.

Cyprus was placed under the UK’s administration in 1878 and was annexed by them in 1914.

We were back into another rental car for a four day drive around southern Cyprus. 

The big difference, I was now back driving on the left – another legacy of British rule.

Another quirk of the British rule is the Powers points. They are Pommy points but most have adaptors for EU plugs. 

Again the rental company was Avis. The car was handed over to us by an American, with a broad southern accent. 

He carried our bags to the car with the words: “Let the nigger carry those bags.”

His words, not mine and yes, he was African American. 

We wondered why certain vehicles in Cyprus had red number plates. Once we reached the Avis lot it was obvious, as we were greeted by a sea of red. 

All throughout our afternoon drive, from Larnaca to Paphos, there were red plates everywhere. 

This south western part of the island must be full of car hiring tourists, just like us. 

The skies were still dark when we arrived at Limassol and in the midst of our morning coffee the rain came thundering down. Fortunately we had seen the rain approaching and chose to sit inside.

Unlike many, who were dining alfresco. There was then a rush as everyone tried to squeeze into the rather limited cafe interior.

On the way to Paphos was Aphrodite’s Rock, a place Thea had visited all those years ago. She had actually slept on top of the rock, so it was only natural that we had to climb it.

I am sure it was a lot easier when we were in our twenties than seventies.

We made it and it was worth the effort.

Aphrodite’s Rock or Petra tou Romiou, (Rock of the Greek) is attributed as the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. There are many other legends but this is the one that gives rise to the name.

It was late in the day by the time we reached Paphos and after settling into the Hotel Kirinas we wandered around the town.

Being off-season there wasn’t much open in Paphos, so we opted to eat in the hotel. The specialty of the kitchen was Moussaka which was ok but I have had a lot better.

The first poppies of the season

March 17, 2019. Paphos to Nicosia, Cyprus. 

After a good coffee at the Urban Coffee Company, which was just around the corner from our hotel, we headed to a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the coast. 

The Tombs of the Kings is an archeological site containing many underground tombs dating back to the 4th century BC. The tombs are hewn out of solid rock and believed to be the burial sites of Paphitic aristocrats.

No kings were actually buried there, the name comes from the magnificence of the tombs with many featuring Doric column and frescoed walls.

Excavation is still continuing today.

Then if was off for a day of driving towards to Nicosia, via route 88, up to Troodos near Mount Olympus. 

At Troodos the last of the winter snow was clinging on and people were still skiing and snowboarding. 

On the drive into Nicosia red number plates were everywhere. The tourist season has started early in this part of Cyprus.  

Once in Nicosia we went for a walk. There was a large number of Filipinos women around Ledra Street, in the old part of the city. Also quite a few Africans as well as Indians and Pakistanis. 

At the reception desk of our hotel we asked why?

The Filipinos are employed as nannies for the Greek Cypriot middle class and they work flat out for six days and get Sunday off.

Many are devout Christians and after church they wander in groups through the streets.

The government guarantees a good wage and holidays so there are many of them living in the city. In fact they make up 18% of the Greek Cypriot population.

We were also told by reception that the Africans, Indians and Pakistanis were there to study at shonky private universities, that offer degrees with very little work for rather large fees.

From our hotel window, on the Greek side, we looked into the Turkish part of Cyprus. And just to make sure that we understood the politics, there was a large Turkish flag carved into the facing hillside.

In the 1950s Cyprus was divided and a Turkish state created in the north of the island. There was a time when the Turks wanted to annex the north and considered it part of Anatolia, a state in Turkey.

Meanwhile the Greek Cypriots wanted union with Greece.

In 1974 a coup d’état was staged by Greek Cypriot nationalists. This then led to a Turkish invasion and the subsequent division, displacing over 150,000 Greek Cypriots and 50,000 Turkish Cypriots. 

A separate Turkish Cypriot state was established 1983 and is still a matter of ongoing dispute.

Even now the Turks, under the ‘dictatorship’ of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are illegally drilling for oil off the Cypriot coast.

The Turkish flag on the ‘other side’

March 18, 2019. Nicosia, Cyprus. 

This was our day to explore the Turkish side of Nicosia. 

As we walked to the checkpoint area, Ledras Street was devoid of the Filipino nannies we saw the day before. 

It was Monday and they were obviously back, hard at work. 

Once we went through passport control, I had a Turkish Coffee at David People, a trendy little establishment near the Kumarcilar Han Caravanserai. 

Remembering not to drink down to the ‘sludge’, brought back memories of our times in Turkey and Greece.

Of course It would have been a Greek Coffee on the south side of the border.

For 4,500 years Nicosia has been continuously inhabited and since the 10th century it had been the capital city. 

Thea had done an excellent job of researching the top spots to see in the city.

It was all within walking distance of our hotel which was good as it gave us a great opportunity to explore this unique place and get some exercise as well.

We visited two Ottoman era Caravanserais then went to the Selimiye Camii Mosque which in a former life was Saint Sophia Cathedral built between 1208 and 1326. Again the flying buttresses were a giveaway to the original architecture. 

Just inside the entrance to the mosque was a white board. On it, written in English, was a simple explanation of Islam. 

A sign of the times, given the tragedy in Christchurch NZ just days earlier. 

One of the most interesting sites for me was the historical houses of Samanbaçhe. This was an Ottoman council housing project built between 1918 and 1925. 

We walked down to Kyrenia Gate. This is the northern city gate built, in by the Venetians in 1562. 

We then walked back through Turkish Nicosia, through passport control again and then down to the Famagusta Gate, the southern gate, built in 1557. 

This was another Venetian gate but on the Greek side of the city. It was originally called the Porta Giuliani after its designer and restored by the Ottomans in 1821.

Having spent the best part of a day in the Turkish side, I had a feeling that it was a bit more ‘down to earth’ and less ostentatious than Greek Nicosia. There were none of the American fast-food chains and the atmosphere seemed to be a lot more authentic.

In the evening we discovered that there was another Ocean Basket restaurant in Nicosia. We also discovered that it’s part of a chain and a very good one at that. The food was excellent and the staff attentive.

Citroën C3 and the Hala Sultan Tekke

March 19, 2019. Nicosia to Larnaca, Cyprus. 

On the drive back to Larnaca we stopped at Lefkara the home of lace and silver in Cyprus. Lefkara lace is unique and in 2009 was included on the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage Items. 

There were Nonas outside every shop, hoping you would buy from them. 

Lefkara lace also caught the attention of Leonardo Da Vinci, who visited the village in 1481. He was so impressed that he took some home to Italy to be used on the altar of the Cathedral of Milan.

After a bit of searching we found the Heritage Museum. This was in a restored house and on two levels and full of the famous lace as well as other historical artefacts.

We were given very strict instructions to close the door, when entering and leaving. 

Apparently the pesky swallows have a habit of flying in and trying to nest. 

Our last stop for the day was to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque on Larnaca Salt Lake. 

Built in the 18th Century over the tomb of Umm Haram, foster mother to the Prophet Mohammed. 

Consequently this is one of the most holy places of Islam. 

We had booked a hotel very near the airport. So to save time I wanted to fill the car up before we went there in the morning. 

This wasn’t easy. 

The petrol stations were open, but for some reason, they were only operating on ‘automatic’. 

This meant we had to risk using, and possibly losing, a credit card or pay cash into a machine. 

A machine that didn’t give change, only credit – credit we couldn’t use. 

Our hotel was right on Mackenzie Beach, so, at dusk, we went for a walk along the front. 

In the evening we found Kellari, a tradition sea food taverna. 

The food was simple, rustic and very tasty. We even completed our Cypriot experience with an after dinner Ouzo. 

One between the two of us, as we were up early for our flight to Berlin the next morning.

Corfu is Greek and a little bit British as well.

Sunday, July 14th, 2019

 

It’s the start of the ‘Wedding Season’

March 9, 2019. Saranda, Albania to Corfu, Greece.

The ferry to Corfu wasn’t until 1pm, so we spent some time walking down into the town centre of Saranda again. 

The weather was certainly improving, with blue skies and sun that had some warmth in it. 

The cafe on the front was full, especially all the seats facing the water. 

We had a coffee then returned to the hotel. 

The hotel owner kindly drove us to the port. 

Not wanting his generosity to go unnoticed, he urged us to put a good word in on Google. 

Once aboard the Kristi, we left the Balkans and were now headed for the Ionian Islands. 

Part four of our adventure. 

The route took us down the straight between Albania and Corfu and past Butrint, where we had been the day before. 

We caught a taxi from the port into Old Corfu Town, there we were to meet the host of our AirBnB.

We waited and waited but she never turned up.

Eventually we came across a guy who seemed to be looking for people. We put two and two together and realised that his guests had probably gone off with our host.

Sure enough, after a phone call, our host returned to the meeting place and took us to our accommodation. 

Then there was a swap of guests.

I get the feeling that the other couple might have ended up winners.

‘Cute house in old Corfu Town’ was the way our accommodation was described.

Sometimes marketing people need to answer to their over-sell. 

‘Small and cramped’ would be more of an accurate description. 

Admittedly it was a short walk to the centre of the old city, but still an over-sell.

Cute’ is a way of saying it has lots of issues, therefore forgive it’s short comings.  

This was an apartment, booked through bookings.com and should have had far more amenities than were provided. 

It also had some idiosyncrasies.

The water from the washing machine had to be drained into the toilet bowl.

Too bad if you needed a poo while it was draining.

You had to turn the water heater off in between using it, or else it would overheat.

The smoke detector ‘chirped’ so it had been turned off – maybe a new battery was in order. 

The key had great difficulty actually opening the front door and had to be replaced.

In the evening we went for a wander around the old town and discovered ‘Diver’ a Beer Restaurant that has outlets in both Athens and Corfu. 

Much to Thea’s delight they also have wine as well. 

They had five beers on tap, which is rare, and 50 beers in bottles, which in this part of the world is unheard of. 

Craft beer is certainly catching on – even in Greece. 

 

The Corfu cricket pitch

March 10, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

As it turns out we were in Corfu during a carnival long weekend. 

The origins of the word carnival come from the Latin: ‘carn’, meaning flesh and ‘levare’ to put away. So in essence carnival was a food festival, as it was the last time to eat meat before the 40 days of lent.

The reason for the celebration and public holiday was for Clean Monday. 

Also known as Pure Monday, Ash Monday, Monday of lent or Green Monday. This is the first day of Great Lent, a popular festival with the Eastern Catholic churches.

On the Sunday, as part of the carnival, there were processions through the main street in the old city. Apart from the people in the parade, many locals dressed up. 

There were children dressed as police, super heroes and in army fatigues. 

An angel and devil duo was very popular with the teenage girls while ‘Anonymous’ was the favourite with the boys. 

We spent most of the day just wandering around enjoying the festive atmosphere. 

In the evening we returned to the main city centre and dined at one of the local restaurants. 

It was like being back in Albania – the place was empty. 

As the waiter explained, it had been a big day for most, and the majority had gone home. 

By 9 pm a few people started to drift back into town.

 

The Old Fort (Mainly Venetian 1386-1797)

March 11, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

The earliest mention of Corfu relates to the Mycenaean Greek word, meaning Man from Kerkra, in 1,300 BC. Some scholars believe that it was mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.

Old Corfu Town is a classic Venetian city, with a old town and stylish colonnade along the front that overlooks the green expanse of Spianada Square. 

The colonnades are full of cafes and restaurants and everything faces the water. 

Spianada Square is the largest town square in Greece and right in the middle is a cricket pitch. Corfu is the only place in Greece where cricket is played. It was introduced to the island during the British Protectorate that followed the Treaty of Paris in 1815. This was a time of prosperity with new roads, improved water supply and the construction of the first Greek university in the Ionian Islands.

During this period the Greek language became official in Corfu.

We were not surprised to find this relic of British colonialism, as we were pre warned by Alex, the Zimbabwean/Dutchman, we met at the Blue Eye in Albania. 

Kite flying seemed to be a part of Clean Monday. 

After a coffee we returned to the town centre and there, on the cricket pitch, families were trying to get their kites airborne. 

There were a few ‘professionals’ and they had no trouble. Their kites seemed to be soaring hundreds of metres into the blue Corfu sky. 

Custom has it that the higher the kite flies the closer you get to God. The Greek mathematician and engineer, Archytas (440-360 BC) first started to fly kites around 400 BC. However the ancient Chinese were flying kites well before that in 1,000 BC. 

Their desire was similar, in that they would write messages on their kites, in order to communicate with the gods.

We walked the few hundred metres, past the park, to the the Old Fort. This is mainly Venetian in design and built between 1386 and 1797.

Again there were kite flyers in the central courtyard. 

After wandering around the township for some time we eventually found the New Fortress. Only to discover that it was permanently shut due to safety reasons. 

Compared to the previous day Corfu was dead. Admittedly it was a public holiday but the streets were empty and most businesses, except in the centre, were shut. 

Everywhere we go we hear songs that are sung, either by Justin Bieber, or someone who sounds just like him, or his female counterpart, Justine Bieber.

It’s all Bieberish to me.

 

The Triumph of Achilles 1892 by Franz Matsch (1861-1942)

March 12, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

Having spent three days wandering around Old Corfu Town we hired a car and headed out to explore the island.

We needed something small, considering the narrowness of the streets and parking spots.

The VW Polo suited the task.

We had the car for two days so planned to head south on day one and north on the second day.

Our first stop was the Achillion Pallace and Museum, built in 1890 for Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Hungary. It was designed by the Italian architect, Raffaele Caritto. 

While we were inside, it started to rain, which stopped us exploring some of the gardens.

Elisabeth purchased all the land between the house and the sea. This 80 hectare area contained gardens plus walking and riding tracks.

She was a great lover of exercise and would walk and ride around her beloved Achillion.

The name ‘Achillion’ came from her love of Greek mythology, especially Achilles, for whom she had a deep affection.

The house, now museum, is full of Greek statues.

After her assassination in Geneva in 1898, by the anarchist Luigi Lucien, the house remained closed for nine years.

Since that time it has been owned by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, been a hospital for French and Serbian troops and then taken over by the Greek State.

During the Second World War it was used by the occupying Italian and German forces and then again it reverted back to state control.

For a period it was a casino, the first in Greece and was featured in the 1981 James Bond Movie, For Your Eyes Only. Then in 1994 it was restored and used for the European Union Summit in Corfu.

From Achillion we then drove to Lake Korission, a coastal lagoon of 427 hectares that drains into the Ionian Sea

Continuing our drive around the south we ascended up route 25, where we got some great views of Corfu. We found that from that aspect we could see another angle of Achillion.

We then visited Mon Repos, the house where Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was born in 1921.

The house was originally built for Frederick Adam, the British Lord High Commissioner of the United States of the Ionian Islands in 1828. After the union with Greece in 1864 the villa was granted to King George I of the Hellenes.

He was the grandfather of ‘Phil the Greek’

This was yet another attraction that wasn’t open. It would have been interesting to see inside.

The area where the house is located overlooks the coast and is also a public park.

Many runners and walkers enjoy the solitude and verdant green forrest that surrounds Mon Repos.

We were the only tourists.

 

A telescope at Bella Vista view point

March 13, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

It was a beautiful blue sky day for our drive around the north of Corfu. 

This part of the island seems to be much more affluent than the south. 

However everything was still shut, the ATMs, currency exchanges and even the traffic lights don’t start working again until spring. 

In the south many places were in disrepair, while in the north construction and renovation was everywhere.

The north even appears to have better landscape.

The rolling green hills, dramatic rock escarpments and small villages tucked into the hillsides, all added to a great drive.

At one point we drove along the ridge road between the villages of Troumpetas and Agia Anna (Saint Anna). At times we could see both sides of the island.

Near the village of Almyros, in the north east, we got a great view over the Ionian Sea to Butrint and Saranda in Albania.

We continued driving in an anti-clockwise direction and came across Angelokastra Castle. This Byzantine fortress sits at 305 metres on the highest point in Corfu. Built in the 13th century it never succumbed to attack.

It was a great day of driving. Perfect weather, good roads and courteous drivers.

We returned back to Old Corfu town and parked in the city car park, which was adjacent to the cricket ground.

It was a good spot to park, with decent size car spaces, easy access and only €3 per day.

We had picked up the Polo from the airport and were going to drop it off the next day. This was to catch our flight to Cyprus.

 

Albania, the secret country.

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

Krujë Castle

March 2, 2019. Prizren, Kosovo to Tirana, Albania. 

Albania was the wild card on this trip. 

Back in the early 70s, when we started travelling, Albania was a fortress country. You had to skirt around it when travelling from Italy to Greece and go via Yugoslavia.

It would have been much easier, with probably better scenery, to have travelled the coastal route. 

We will soon find out. 

It was just over 200 kilometres from Prizren, in Kosovo, to Tirana in Albania. That was with a side trip to visit the National Museum in Krujë.

Also known as the Skanderbeg Museum, it is one of the most significant in Albania. It is named after of the Albanian national hero, George Castriot Skanderbeg or in Albanian, Gjergi Kastrioti Skënderbej. 

Only inaugurated in 1982, the museum is housed in Krujë Castle. This impregnable fortress was invaded three times by the Ottomans (1450, 1466 and 1467) but never taken. It helped Skanderbeg defend Albania from the Ottomans for over two decades.

Most of the artefacts in the museum date back to the time of Skanderbeg (1405-1468)

Skanderbeg was part of the noble Castriot family and was sent to the Ottoman court. There he was educated and rose through the ranks to become governor or Sanjak of Dibra, part of the Ottoman Empire in Macedonia.

He deserted the Ottomans during the battle of Niš in 1443 and became the ruler of Krujë, Svetigrad and Modrič. In 1444 he became the leader of the short lived League of Lezhë. This was the first time that Albania was united under one leader.

Another, more infamous, Albanian was Enver Hoxha (1908-1985), the Communist head of state from 1944 until his death. He was also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces for the same period.

Following Italy’s invasion of Albania, at the start of World War II in 1939, he became involved in politics and entered into the Party of Labour of Albania in 1941.

Hoxha was instrumental in rebuilding Albania after the war and achieved a lot for the devastated state. Under his leadership much was achieved, such as building railways, electrification and the raising of the adult literacy from 5% to 98%.

However he was tyrant.

Albania became a repressed country with labour camps, extrajudicial killing and executions, all aimed at eliminating opposition to his communist rule. This was controlled and directed by the Sigurimi or secret police who were under Hoxha’s direct rule.

Hoxha was a communist of the Marxist-Leninist persuasion and a great admirer of Joseph Stalin, who was also a tyrant.

There was a falling out between Tito’s Yugoslavian communists and Hoxha, who was constantly in fear of being invaded.

This wasn’t helped by Stalin who fuelled the conspiracy fire with the Yugoslavians.

His anxiety was so great that he eventually fell out of favour with the USSR and then tried to forge an alliance with the Maoist China.

In Enver Hoxha’s mind everyone was out to get him.

Between the 1960s and the 1980s he was so paranoia about invasion that he constructed 173,371 concrete bunkers across Albania.

That was 5.7 bunkers for every square kilometre.

We saw them everywhere.

Once in Tirana, the capital of Albania, we had arranged to meet with Eduart Cekoja, a director of Evasion Travel. This was the company that had done all the ground work for KimKim for our tour in Kosovo and Albania.

The meeting was partly social, as Eduart wanted to get our feelings on the trip. However it was mainly arranged so that we could get our replacement rental car.

The new car was a deep red Renault Clio, which was in better condition than our previous vehicle, even before the accident.

The poor old Opel Corsa was taken away and we managed to get a car park for the Renault right out the front of our hotel. This was great, as parking was at a premium in Tirana and we didn’t plan on using the car the next day.

That night we found Patricia, an Italian restaurant that was just 20 metres down the road. The service was patchy but the food excellent. 

House of Leaves (Built in 1931)

March 3, 2019. Tirana, Albania. 

Our full day in Tirana was rather confronting. 

This was our day to explore the city and to delve a little more deeply into the secret state that was Albania.

As we had left the new rental car at the hotel, we were on foot. This wasn’t an issue as most of the attractions were within easy reach of our centrally located hotel.

After walking through Skanderbeg Square, past the Skanderbeg statue (this man is omnipotent) we arrived at The Museum of Secret Surveillance, formerly know as The House of Leaves.

During the Hoxha era it was the home of the Sigurimi or secret police. But before that, during the German occupation in World War II, it was the headquarters of the Gestapo.

Making it’s recent history rather dark.

The house was originally built in 1931, by Doctor Jani Basho (1892-1957) as a private obstetrics clinic.

It was known as The House of Leaves because of the climbing plant that covers the facade.

The museum is very new, having only been opened since 2017. The 31 rooms are crammed with artefacts from the communist past, much of it is interactive and each room is themed.

There was even one of the bunkers in the front garden.

As the promotion for the museum states it is: ‘…dedicated to the innocent people who were spied on, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and executed during the communist regime.’

There are some amazing collections of equipment that were used by the Sigurimi to spy on the average Albanian.

Recording devices, bugs and cameras were all on display.

There were even cameras there that I have at home in my collection. This really gave clarity to the fact that this didn’t happen that long ago – it’s very recent history.

There was one exhibit The Panopticon by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) This British philosopher developed the idea of a radically new prison where the gaoler, who was unseen, could control the inmates by observation, or at least have them believe they were being observed.

This form or control shows staggering similarities to the Communist Chinese government’s current method of monitoring of their people through constant observation. 

After a few sobering hours in the House of Leaves we moved on.

Just around the corner from the museum is the former house of Enver Hoxha.

This large, private resident is an architectural mishmash of 1930s revival and 1980s concrete modernism.

Apparently 25 members of Hoxha’s close family also lived in the house during his time there.

Surrounded by a high fence and off limits as a tourist destination is the Pyramid of Tirana.

Built in 1988 this rather bizaare structure was formerly the Enver Hoxha Museum. One of the co-designers was Enver Hoxha’s daughter, Pranvera Hoxha and it was designed to honour the legacy of Hoxha’s life.

Judging by the dilapidated state of the building, it’s not a vision shared by the current government.

There are even ideas to demolish the structure and redevelop the area.

Bunkers are an important part of the landscape in Albania, so it’s not surprising that there are museums inside two of them.

Bunk’Art 1 and 2 are history museums of the Communist, Cold War era in Albania.

We visited Bunk’Art 2 which is built in the anti-atomic bunker of the Interior Ministry of Communism. It was partly a repeat of what we had seen in the House of Leaves but there was a broader range of displays.

When technology doesn’t work. There was meant to be an augmented reality guide in Bunk’Art 2, but it didn’t work.

An interesting observation on one display explained; It was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the Albanian Communist regime provided their police with the weapons to face democracy – riot gear. 

That night we found the restaurant Artigiano for dinner. This was another Italian feast but the service was much better.

Endangered Dalmatian Pelican

March 4, 2019. Tirana to Berat, Albania. 

Driving from Tirana to Berat we stopped off at the Divjakë-Karavata National Park. With an area of 223.3 square kilometres it contains wetlands, salt mashes, coastal meadows, floodplains, woodlands, reed beds, forests and estuaries.

Apart from 228 species of resident and migratory birds, it’s also home to the endanger Dalmatian Pelican. This is the largest member of the pelican family and one of the biggest living birds.

Of the world’s remaining Dalmatian Pelicans, 6.4% of the European birds live in Karavasta Lagoon, which is within the park.

There were a number of them there to greet us when we arrived at the visitor’s centre. As was a very enthusiastic park ranger, who walked us through some of the displays inside.

There was a large lookout tower nearby and from there we could get an excellent view of the park.

We then walked down to Godulla e Pishes or Fish Lagoon and some of the marsh area.

The ranger suggested we visit the Karavasta Lagoon, this is where many of the birds congregate. We did find the Adriatic coast and some rather dilapidated beach huts, but unfortunately no access to the lagoon.

By the time we reached Berat it was getting late and I was dreading finding the hotel and then a car park.

We found the hotel Mangalemi without much trouble and there was even a car park out the front.

Monument of the Agonothets

March 5, 2019. Berat, Albania. 

Most of the day was devoted to archaeology, with a visit to the ancient Greek city of Apollonia.

However before that, we went to yet another monastery, Ardenica. But there was still an ancient Greek connection at that monastery.

The Monastery of Ardenica was built in the 10th century on the site of an ancient Greek temple dedicated to Artemis. 

The name Ardenica is thought to have been derived from Artemis, the daughter Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo.

The monastery is famous as the place where in 1451 Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albania, married Andronika Arianiti.

This is still a working monastery and there was limited access to the main areas.

The ancient Greek city of Apollonia, the day’s primary focus, was established in 588 BC by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth. It was set over a large area and we spent several hours just wandering around the ruins.

We looked and looked for the amphitheater but couldn’t find it. 

I think it may have been used to build St Mary’s Monastery, which was next door. 

There was a small but well endowed museum associated with the monastery. This contained a number of artefacts from the Greek archaeological site.

At the end of the day we returned to Berat and had a walk around. We realised, too late, that we should have spent more time in this UNESCO World Heritage city.

Unfortunately the light was dull and this added to our frustration, especially when trying to get some snaps of the city at dusk. 

Berat has a history going back to ancient times but its importance stems from the Ottoman period. Situated on the Osum River, it features a wealth of interesting architecture, that rises up the hill from the river bank.

In the 18th century the economy of Berat was closely connected to the city’s craft guilds. In 1750 there were 22 guilds, such as cobblers, leather-working, metal-working, silver-smithing and silk-making.

Many of the houses were built for wealthy craftsmen.

The idle youth of Berat

March 6, 2019. Berat to Gjirokaster, Albania. 

Before the 3.5 hour drive to Gjirokastra we went up to Berat Castle, which was on a rocky outcrop overlooking our hotel. 

There we met Jurgen, an architect working for the the Department of Culture. 

His main task was to get videos of tourists talking positively about Berat. 

He showed us around the lookout and then chose a spot for our interview. 

He was rather gobsmacked that we rolled off a 40 seconds narration, without drawing a breath. 

We aren’t strangers to these interviews, having done them in Iran and Japan. 

We were interested in a rather out-of-place piece of architecture in the city below. 

Jurgen was happy to fill us in on the details. 

The ‘White House’ was a private university in Berat. It went broke as a result of the administration awarding degrees without the students doing any work. 

It is now going to be converted to a five star hotel. 

Berat Castle or the Citadel of Berat was built in the 13th century and is still occupied today.

The citadel was burnt down by the Romans in 200 BC. Then in the 5th and 13th centuries major reconstruction work was carried out.

Many of the buildings within the fortress wall, that were built during the 13th century, are still inhabited today.

We arrived in Gjirokastra, or Stone Town as it’s known in the tourist blurb, late in the day.

As usual we had difficulty finding the hotel and a place to park the car. 

This was exacerbated by the roadworks that were surrounding the hotel. 

We had been given the hotel’s phone number and this resulted in Ledia coming down to help us out. 

We ended up parking in the town square, at the bottom of the hill, a far distance from our hotel.

The Hotel Bineri was brand new. 

We were the only guests and I got the feeling that we may have been the first. 

That evening we went for a short walk around the old part of the city and stopped for a drink at a very small bar. 

Again we were the only people there. 

After that we went in search of a meal and ended up at Restaurant Korda, which was just a few metres from our hotel. 

There were only two others eating. They were Americans and probably from the American Aid office that was opposite our hotel. 

You get used to eating in empty restaurants when you travel out of season.

Italian Fiat tank L6/40 (1940)

March 7, 2019. Gjirokastra, Albania. 

Gjirokastra is another old town with a castle dominating the skyline.

Gjirokastra Fortress (12th -13th Century AD) has a number of museums within its walls. One was military, containing captured artillery and memorability of the Communist resistance to the German occupation.

The entire fortress area was well signed and contained many, very well written, information boards.

In 1967 the Communist regime officially pronounced Albania as an atheist country. 

Almost all religious buildings were destroyed. Twelve of Gjirokastras thirteen mosques were demolished. 

Religious figures were imprisoned or killed. 

What was interesting to note is that the restoration of the Bazaar Mosque was being funded by the Turkish government.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems intent on spreading his influence throughout the former Ottoman Empire.

A fascinating fact to come out of our museum tour, was that Enver Hoxha, the communist dictator, was born in Gjirokastra. 

It wasn’t easy being a tourist in the town of stone.

The construction work aside, many of the main tourist sites were shut. 

The Obelisk, Ethnographic Museum, Ismail Kadare’s House, and Skenduli House, all closed. 

Even the tourist office was shut.

We were told by a local, anxious to sell us postcards of the closed sights, that they would’t open again until April.

It would be intriguing to see what tourism in Albania would be like in ten years time. 

It seems to be developing at a rapid rate, especially in Gjirokastra where there is so much infrastructure being built.

Gjirokastra is another UNESCO World Heritage city, as was Berat, so they are doing something right in the development of their tourist industry.

These classifications don’t come easily.

Blue Eye (Syri i Kaltër) natural spring

March 8, 2019. Gjirokastra to Saranda, Albania. 

Before our drive to Saranda, on the coast, we had a coffee at Bar Restaurant Rrapi, which was 30 metres from our hotel. 

Again it was dominated by men drinking coffee and smoking. 

Thea was the only woman there. 

This town of stone is dominated by mountain ranges on all sides. They still had a dusting of residual winter snow on their peaks. 

We had set ourselves a few sites to see before our last stop in Albania.

First was Blue Eye, (Syri i Kaltër) a natural spring of clear blue water that bubbles to the surface from a depth of 50 metres. This is believed to be the source of the Bistricë River which runs for 25 kilometres into the Ionian Sea south of Saranda.

There we met Alex, a fair haired Dutchman, who was originally from Zimbabwe. He was doing a three month bike tour, through the Balkans, before returning home to get married.

However he seemed to think that he would have to return to Holland earlier than expected as his girl friend was missing him, not to mention the fact that she was preparing for the wedding – on her own.

The archaeological site of Butrint is a microcosm of Mediterranean history. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and Venetians have all left a legacy. 

This was possible one of the best archeological sites we had visited on this trip. 

Butrint’s links to history are amazing. 

This is a quote was from one of the many information boards placed around the park. 

“Caesar arrived at Butrint in 44BC and recognised its potential as a town. After his bitter struggle with Pompey he designated Butrint a Roman colonial city.

Augustus, Caesar’s adopted son, further developed the colony after defeating Anthony and Cleopatra at nearby Actium in 31BC.”

Talk about name dropping the who’s who of ancient history.

After checking into our accommodation, the Hotel LIiria in Sarenden, we went for a walk along the waterfront boulevard. 

This was after we returned our hire car. 

Our excess for the accident, in the first car, was half our US$100 deposit. 

I was very happy to only pay US$50. 

Saranda is a seaside town and there were far more people than we had become used to. 

And more women in groups than we had seen in weeks. 

It was also more expensive. 

Was this the coastal Albania that we had missed back in the 70s? I get the feeling that Saranda and Albania in general has come a long way since those Communist days.

It was still off-season and again we had the feeling that we were the only guests at the hotel.

When we returned there after dinner, we couldn’t get in. There was no one at reception and no matter how hard I knocked on the door I couldn’t get anyone to answer.

Then I found a side entrance and luckily it was open.

Does Kosovo really exist?

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

February 24, 2019. Skopje, Macedonia to Priština, Kosovo. 

All the family went to the airport for flights to various destinations and we were there to pick up our drive to Priština, in Kosovo.

Hayden and Andrea were heading back to Berlin. While Steph was extending her time away with a trip to France. This was to see her friends from the days of her exchange there. Ev was returning to New York – work called.

All didn’t go according to plan as Ev’s flight to NYC, via Istanbul, was cancelled due to bad weather in Turkey.

As it turned out he got an extra 24 hours in Skopje, courtesy of Turkish Airlines.

Gligor was again on hand and organised Iran to drive us from Skopje to Priština. 

It was an uneventful 98 km where we didn’t even have to get out of the car to do the border crossings. 

This was fine with us as it was about -5°C outside. 

This next part of the trip had been organised though KimKim, a US based tour company that uses locals to organise everything. 

They provide an itinerary, hotels and a hire car, which is delivered to your hotel. 

The car, a white Opel Corsa, was from Albania and two guys from the rental company had driven it to Priština from Tirana. 

They also gave us a very low tech local mobile for emergencies and a TomTom GPS. 

Now we have two. 

The phone might prove to be useful as we had no mobile coverage in Kosovo. The GPS was useless as the maps didn’t correspond to where we were travelling.

Needing to stretch our legs after the drive we went for a walk through the commercial area of Priština.

Priština is the capital of Kosovo with a predominately Albanian speaking population. In fact we were told that 90% of the entire population of Kosovo are Albanians.

Over the centuries the area of the present day Kosovo has been occupied by many races.

During the Classical Period it was the Celtics and Romans. In the Middle Ages it was inhabited by the Byzantine, Bulgarian and Serbian Empires. And from the 15th to 20th centuries it was part of the Ottoman Empire.

To many, modern Kosovo doesn’t exist, as it’s not recognised by many international governments. Only 112 of the 193 UN member states see it as a real country.

There is an ongoing territorial dispute between The Republic of Serbia and the self proclaimed Republic of Kosovo. It is not a formal member of the Eurozone but it does use the Euro as its currency.

After dinner we got chatting to the receptionist at our hotel, Pritzen. He was interested in why we were in Kosovo and where we had been.  

When we told him we had just spent a week in Macedonia he was amused, describing Skopje as ‘Disneyland’.

I had to agree with him. 

 

Peter Bogdani Library

February 25, 2019. Priština, Kosovo. 

After a sleep in and a late breakfast we ventured out onto the roads around Priština. 

Driving in Macedonia had been a hairy experience and it looked like Kosovo might be similar. 

The Corsa was rather low-tech and underpowered but you wouldn’t want to drive quickly anyway. 

Our main destination was the Gračanica Monastery. It was established in 1321 by the Serbian King Stefan. 

The main church interior was beautifully decorated by frescos, but unfortunately no photos were allowed. 

This was also the case in the Macedonian monasteries and churches that we visited. 

It does leave a gap in the snaps.

After that we drove to Gračanica Lake, an artificial reservoir built in 1963-1966 to supply drinking water to Priština. 

It was a rather boring view so we then just continued back into town. 

In the afternoon we went on foot to explore Priština, following the same path that we had taken the previous evening. This time we had our cameras and much more time. 

The main contemporary feature of the city is the Mother Teresa Boulevard. It is a very wide walking strip that has numerous bars, cafes and upmarket shops on either side. 

We went to the top of the bell tower of the Mother Teresa Cathedral.

Fortunately there was a lift. 

I don’t think my knees could have handled the climb in the sub zero temperature. 

We continued on to the Peter Bogdani Library, the National Library of Kosovo. Designed by the Croatian architect Andrija Mutnjaković and inaugurated in 1982 it is regarded by some as the ugliest building in the world.

It has very unusual architectural that is supposedly a blend Byzantine and Islamic styles. The many domes are said to represent Turkish bathes.

 

Pejë town centre with the Gjeravica Mountains behind

February 26, 2019. Priština to Pejë (Pec), Kosovo. 

The Balkan’s seems to be a society dominated by men. 

On the street men walk in groups talking and smoking.

Many of the cafes seem to be a male domain. In there they sit, talk and of course smoke. 

On our first morning in Priština we went to a cafe that was next door to our hotel. 

It was a ‘man cave’. 

Young and old men deep in conversation who glanced at Thea with a sense of disapproval. 

And again all were smoking. 

On our second and last morning we found ‘iCafe’. It was slightly less a man’s world as there were a couple of women there. 

But again they were smoking.

Yes there are equally as many women around but they don’t dominate the space like the men seem to do. 

On our afternoon walk down Mother Teresa Boulevard we did manage to find ‘Half and Half’ a very funky cafe with great art and atmosphere. 

I now wonder if the half and half was referring to the gender balance. 

After we left the hotel we drove south to Gadime. This was to explore the marble caves that were discovered there in 1969. 

This labyrinth is over 80 million years in the making and extends 5 kilometres into the mountain side. 

At our deepest point we were 250 metres beneath the surface. 

What makes them unique is that they are carved out of pure white marble. 

What would their state be now if the Greek or Roman empires had discovered this treasure trove of building material?

Decimated I guess. 

The big challenge for the day was finding our hotel in Pejë. 

Getting into this small town, at the foot of the Gjeravica Mountains, wasn’t difficult, working out where the hotel and then the car park was. 

After half an hour of driving around in circles and then 15 minutes of Thea exploring the area we finally found the entrance. 

We were the guided, by a Gollum like person, into the underground maze of parking spaces. 

Late in the day, after checking into the Semitronix Hotel, we went for a walk around Pejë. 

The snow capped mountains, behind the village, dominate the landscape. 

This area seems to be predominantly Muslin as cafes, not bars, are everywhere in the shopping areas. 

Once the sun had set, which was at 5:15, we returned to our hotel. 

Another enjoyable, yet in the end, frustrating day. 

 

Ura e Terzive Ottoman bridge over the Erenuk Erenuku River

February 27, 2019. Pejë (Pec) to Prizren, Kosovo. 

It’s strange that in a country that is very Muslim we have visited nothing but monasteries. 

This region was under the control of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years and their influence is everywhere. 

In an attempt to right this wrong we planed to visit our first mosque – that didn’t happen. The directions to the Mosque of Hadum in Gjakovë were so vague, we never found it.

It was therefore back to churches and monasteries.

The Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Pec was built in 13th century in the Serbo-Byzantine style. It was restored during 2006 and is part of the Medieval Monuments of Kosovo and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The complex consisted of several churches, the Church of the Holy Apostles, Church of St. Demetrius, Church of the Holy Mother of God Hodegetria and the Church of St. Nicholas.

The next stop was at Visoki Dečani, another Serbian Orthodox monastery which was also part of the Medieval Monuments of Kosovo and again a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was designed by a Franciscan friar, Fra Vita, with construction starting in 1327, during the reign of the Serbian King Stefan Dećanski.

In 1331 Dećanski’s son, Stefan Duśan, seized the throne from his father, who he then had strangled to death and dumped in a forrest.

Very Game of Thrones.

Twenty nine kilometres north of Prizren we did discover the Ura e Terzive, an Ottoman bridge over the Erenuku River.

Believed to have been initially built at the end of the 15th century and then expanded in the 18th century, it’s an important example of Ottoman bridge building.

It consists of 11 rounded arches, spanning 190 meters and is 3.5 metres high.

It was rather rewarding to eventually see something from the Ottoman era.

Once we reached Prizren again a lot of time was spent trying to find our hotel and the associated parking. 

This ended in disaster. 

I was turning left, in what I thought was a two way street, and was collected by a car overtaking me at speed on my left.

He glanced the side of the Corsa knocking the front mudguard out of place. 

The Tourist Police, who were nearby, told me to just wait there as the Traffic Police would soon arrive to get all the details.

This was a minor accident and my car was sitting in the middle of the road, so I moved it to the side, as I would have done in Australia – wrong.

The Traffic Policemen, there were two of them, soon arrived and started to interrogate all involved, except me, as no one spoke English.

We used our local mobile and phoned Xheni, our Albanian contact at KimKim. She told us to just wait and then get an accident report from the police.

After the cops had done their thing at the scene of the ancient, I was told to follow them to the police station. By this time they had taken my driving licence and I was getting a little nervous.

The guy in the other vehicle had to go in the police car to the station, as his vehicle was un-drivable. He had been travelling so fast, that after glancing me he had careered off the road and into a tree.

Thea opted to stay in our car while I went into the cop shop, thinking proceedings wouldn’t take that long.

Again, wrong.

After an hour and a half she decided to come into the stations it was dark and getting very cold.

One of the policemen interrogated me with very little English and asked me to write a statement. I then found out that I had caused a real problem by moving my car off the road.

This is unacceptable, as the traffic police can’t then determine how the accident occurred.

The second policeman was interviewing the driver in another room.

It was eventually decided that I was in the wrong and I was issued with a €180 fine. I was told that If I payed the fine now it would be reduced to half that amount, €90.

I had a feeling that I was being set up, until I was told I had to go tho the Post Office to pay the fine and they would drive me there.

Fortunately we had cash, as the banks were closed. I was then rushed to the Post Office, before it too closed, to ‘officially’ deposit the €90.

By this time the two police officers, No: 8738 and No: 4280 were my newest best friends. Even the guy in the other car came out of the interrogation room and apologised for smashing into me.

It was not an experience I would like to repeat but, as it turned out, it was as good as could be expected.

And all in a day’s work when you are tourist.

 

Cafe Konaku right below our hotel and next to the Sinan Pasha Mosque

February 28, 2019. Prizren, Kosovo. 

Our room in the Hotel Prizren was one of the strangest we have experienced. 

It had everything you’d expect except the shower was in the room, at the end of the bed. 

It was a tardis-like glass box, next to the wash basin, and had a motion control for the exhaust fan and light. 

The problem with that was a soon as you stopped moving everything turned off. 

The Ottomans invaded Kosovo in 1454 and in June 1455 Prizren surrendered to the Ottoman army.

The area is decidedly Muslim, with around 40 mosques in the town. 

There was one right next to our hotel and the first call to payer was at 4:30am. 

I know, it woke me up. 

There is a real cacophony of sounds when all the imams start to chant at the same time. 

And they do it five times a day.

Part of the Ottoman legacy is the Old Stone Bridge of Prizren, as it is known, which is over the Bistrica River. Built in the 16th century, it’s an important pathway between the two sides of the old city.

The hill, where Prizren Fortress now sits was first settled around 1,100 BC and the fortifications were built between the 11th and 15th centuries. 

Prizren Castle has been under the control of the Byzantine, Serbian and Ottoman Empires and has a rich history.

For a period Prizren was the first Serbian imperial capital and was called City of the Emperor or Serbian Tsarigrad.

The Ottomans enlarged the fortress and held it until 1912 when it fell to the Serbians in the First Balkan War.

On the steep walk down from the castle we met two young men. They were stopped having a smoke. 

One got chatting to us in a very Yanky accent, which he had picked up from watching American TV networks and YouTube videos.

We got to discussing the benefits of Kosovo becoming a member of the EU or Schengen. He wasn’t convinced the EU was best for the country but believed that joining Schengen was certainly better for him.

Why? Well there were more Schengen countries for him to move to and look for work.

After visiting the fort we wandered back into the old town, near our hotel, and just wandered.

Firstly we discovered that the Sinan Pasha Mosque, which is right beneath our hotel, has Cafe Konaku within the mosque grounds.

It was crowded, not just with men smoking and drinking coffee, but with family groups and lots of young people.

There was also a small bazaar next to the cafe. There was certainly a lot of enterprise surrounding the mosque.

Then I found craft beer. 

Sabaja Craft Brewery only had one beer on tap but another two bottled brews. However the draught was far better than the local pilsner that was on offer everywhere else.

In 2012 Sabaja was Kosovo’s first brewery to go outside the pilsner box and now produces a range of craft beers, designed to challenge the local’s taste buds.

Because winter is the slow time for tourists the bars normally don’t put on draught beer. However that evening we did discover Besimi, a Turkish style family restaurant that was rather busy.

Busy enough to have beer from the barrel that is.

Unfortunately it was a pilsner.

 

The slightly broken Open Corsa in the Shar Mountains

March 1, 2019. Prizren, Kosovo. 

On the previous day’s walk around Prizren we had purchased some strong vinyl adhesive tape. This was to repair the car after the prang. 

With the help of Toia, the receptionist at the hotel, we managed to reattach the dislodged front mudguard and make it all secure.

We then drove above the snow line, into the Shar Mountains, to the east of Prizren. The scenery was spectacular and it was a good opportunity to test the patched up Corsa. Firstly to see if the tape would hold and more importantly to see that there was no serious damage done to the car as a result of the accident.

The round trip was about 76 kilometres and then we returned to Prizren.

In the afternoon we visited some of the local sites, some Christian, some Ottoman.

In 1944 the German army was driven from Kosovo by a combined, Russian and Bulgarian force. Then the Communists took control. 

In 1946 Prizren became part of the Autonomous Region of Kosovo and Metohija within the People’s Republic of Serbia, a state of the Federal People’s republic of Yugoslavia.

If you think we have a coffee culture in Melbourne, then you need to visit Prizren. 

The old part of the city is lined with cafes, which are all full. 

And this isn’t even the tourist season yet. 

Everyone drinks coffee and sometimes tea and they drink it day and night. 

When most of Melbourne has moved from caffeine, to something a little harder, the people of Prizren are still downing their espressos and macchiatos. 

We visited the bar, where I discovered craft beer on the previous night. This time it was a bit later in the evening and, guess what, people we’re still drinking coffee. 

Part of the reason is that this is a predominately Muslin country but it also has a lot to do with the fact that they just love their coffee. 

 

Macedonia and Thea’s big 7O!

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

February 15, 2019. Doha, Qatar to Skopje, Macedonia. 

We were up at 4:00 am for our 7:15 flight to Skopje in Macedonia. 

I do hate early starts. 

As a parting shot, just to confirm how expensive Doha really was, we were stung $8 for a single shot espresso at the airport. 

It was meant to be a six hour trip but there was a good tail wind and we landed 45 minutes early  

After settling in to our AirBnB we went looking for a supermarket, bank and the restaurant area. 

After three tries we finally found an ATM that accepted our card. 

We later found, after talking to our bank, that they had been inadvertently blocked.

From there we walked into the centre of Skopje and wandered around the Stone Bridge area. 

It was jam packed with sculptures, both monumental and simple. There was one massive monument to, you guessed it, Alexander the Great. 

The rivalry between the Macedonians and the Greeks had begun.

 

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February 16, 2019. Skopje, Macedonia. 

We were in Macedonia to celebrate Thea’s 70th birthday with the family.

Hayden and Andrea were the first to arrive from Berlin. They had a very early start and were anxious to stretch their legs and get some lunch. So we walked into Skopje.

I was glad of the opportunity to return, as the shots from the previous day were dreadful, the sky was leaden and the light poor.

The sun was now out and the sky was blue, much better for our snaps.

Evan and Stephanie arrived from New York late in the evening. 

On our arrival we had discovered Gligor from Zip Transfers. He was a pleasant guy with very good English. 

He became our transport provider while we were in Skopje. He or one of his team drove us everywhere. 

That evening we had takeaway roast chicken, salad and fresh bread, all purchased from the local shopping area.

It was great to get the family back together and just chat.

We were ostensibly in Macedonia to celebrate Thea’s 70th birthday but also, as it turned out, we were also celebrating the pending arrival of Hayden and Andrea’s first child.

It was a very exciting time.

 

February 17, family photo by Nadica

February 17, 2019. Skopje, Macedonia. 

Today was Thea’s birthday and we had arranged to have lunch at Kamnik Hunting Lodge. 

As a surprise for Thea, Evan had arranged to have a family photo shoot. 

We met Nadica, the photographer, at the Lodge at 11:30 and she spent the next 1.5 hours with us taking a huge variety of photos. 

Then we dined. 

The wine and food were amazing and we staggered out of the restaurant late in the day having eaten far too much. 

It was a very quiet night back at the Air BnB.

Kamnik is more than a restaurant as there is also a hotel and, as the name suggests, hunting.

Their private hunting range is 100km from Skopje and there you can hunt wild boar, deer and other game

We were happy just to eat them, not hunt them.

Nadica was well known at Kamnik so we were looked after very well. They even provided a birthday cake for Thea.

 

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February 18, 2019. Skopje to Demir Kapija, Macedonia. 

After breakfast Ev and I caught a taxi into the Avis office and picked up the rental car – a Ford Transit.

We were going to spend the next few days touring around the southern part of Macedonia and needed something large to transport everyone.

Fortunately our trusty TomTom portable navigation system worked and we found our first stop without too much effort.

The Skopje Aqueduct is the only one in Macedonia and there is some confusion as to when it was built. Some say it is Roman, others believe it to be Byzantine and a third say it is from the Ottoman period.

Driving further south we visited Canyon Matka, one of the most popular outdoor destinations in Macedonia, especially for alpine hiking. There were a few people there but we were travelling in winter so the numbers weren’t large.

Matka means ‘womb’ and the canyon and lake covers 5,000 hectares. The artificial lake is the oldest in Macedonia.

The stop for the night was Royal Winery Queen Maria. This is in a wine region to the south east of Skopje and half way to our next destination in Lake Ohrid.

It truely is a royal winery. It was establisehd in 1928 by King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia (1888-1934) to provide exceptional wine for the royal family.

He was known as Alexander the Unifier and was assassinated in Marseille, France, by Vlado Chernozemski, a Bulgarian revolutionary.

Obviously not everyone like his unifying.

Being the off season we were the only guests at the hotel and had the pick of the very comfortable rooms.

We even had a private guide to show us around parts of the estate. He was only recently in the job and anxious to share his newly acquired knowledge.

One of the features of the winery were the peacocks and peahens, they were everywhere.

That evening there were a few locals in the bar but the six of us dined alone in the vast restaurant area.

We also sampled some of the estate’s wine.

 

Heraclea Lyncestis (Roman and Byzantine ruins)

February 19, 2019. Demir Kapija to Ohrid, Macedonia. 

In the morning we visited Saint Mary’s Church in Demir Kapija, which we could see from the winery. The church was surprisingly only built in 1937, it looks much older than that.

Back into the Ford Transit we then headed for the Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis.

Originally founded by Philip II of Macedonia in the 4th century BC, it has little to show from the Hellenistic period. Most of the artefacts are Roman and Byzantine.

Its claim to fame are the well preserved mosaic floors from the Great Basilica. These are richly decorated in figurate iconography from the 6th century, featuring birds, animals and floral designs and came from the early Christian period.

Unfortunately we could not see them, as they were still covered up for the winter. They were explained to us, in great detail, by the local guide. He was happy for the distraction from his off season job as gardener at the site.

We arrived into Ohrid late in the afternoon and settled into our hotel, the Boutique Villa Arte. Again we got upgraded as we were the only guests. We also, for the same reason, got to park the van right outside the front door.

The guy on reception was keen to ‘sell’ us some excursions on the lake. They all seemed too long and too complicated.

We told him we would think about it and let him know in the morning.

 

Lake Ohrid

February 20, 2019. Ohrid, Macedonia. 

Instead of a half day cruise on the lake, which involved lunch, we opted to take a simple two hour trip in a relatively small boat.

This was perfect as it gave us a great view of Ohrid, from the lake and put the town plan into perspective.

Hayden and Andrea decided that the boat trip wouldn’t do much for Andrea’s morning sickness so they stayed in town.

After the boat people returned to shore we all spent the rest of the day wandering around Ohrid. In the late afternoon we climbed the hill to visit Samuel’s Fortress which overlooks the city.

From there we enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the lake.

Ohrid is the largest city on Lake Ohrid and once used to have 365 churches, one for each day of the year.

In 1979 and 1980 both the city and the lake were made Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

It was first settled before the 3rd century BC and over the centuries has been inhabited by many empires. Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Serbians, Ottomans and Yugoslavians, to name some, have all called Ohrid home.

We were travelling in Macedonia at the totally wrong time of the year, especially in Ohrid. 

This is a summer vacation spot and people come from all over Europe to enjoy a Mediterranean climate, by a lake. 

The population goes from 40,000 to 160,000 in summer. 

The temperatures were certainly not summer like but at least the sun shone for most of the time and there weren’t those hoards of summer tourists.

 

Peacocks at St Naum Monastery

February 21, 2019. Ohrid, Macedonia. 

This was a day of driving – but not very far.

Our first stop was at the Lake Pile dwelling settlement in the Bay of Bones. This is a reconstruction of a 1,200 to 600 BC lake settlement. 

This Museum on Water was just 16 kilometres around the lake from the town of Ohrid. It’s built over the site of ancient settlements, from the Bronze and Iron Ages. This lies at a depth of 2.4 to 5 metres beneath the surface of the lake.

Over 6,000 wooden piles were discovered here and it’s estimated that there would have been over 10,000 at the height of its occupation. These piles supported a platform that had over 60 houses.

The reconstruction has over 3,300 pile with 24 houses on top. Each house is a display of how life might have been, showing animal skins, cooking, eating and building utensils.

Just up the road from the settlement were the ruins of a Roman Fort from the 2nd century AD.

There wasn’t much there and seemed to be more picnic area than archeological site.

Our final stop for the day, before returning to Ohrid, was to the St Naum Monastery which is also on the lake just another 14 kilometres further on.  This 10th – 16th century monastery was founded by St Naum of Ohrid (830 – 910), who is buried there. St Naum was a medieval Bulgarian writer, enlightener and one of the seven Apostles of the First Bulgarian Empire.

 

St. Jovan Bigorski Monastery

February 22, 2019. Ohrid to Skopje, Macedonia. 

It was only 172 kilometres from Ohrid to Skopje and we had all day, so there was time for a couple of side trips.

The first was to St. Jovan Bigorski Monastery which was off the main road heading towards the Albanian border.

This Macedonian Orthodox monastery, was established in 1020 and dedicated to John the Baptist. It was destroyed by the Ottomans in the 16th century then restored in 1743 by the monk Ilarion.

Much of it was then destroyed again, this time by a fire in 2009.

We were very restricted with our movements, probably due to the ongoing refurbishment.

The monastery sits high on a hill overlooking the Radika River valley.

From the monastery we could see a mosque on the other side of the river.

The Christians and Ottomans were facing off, once again.

Thea had found another mosque that was of interest to see on the way back. Unfortunately it was a Friday and all the streets surrounding it were crowded with cars, full of people also trying to get the Mosque.

We opted to head back to Skopje.

On the way we passed the Mavrovo Lake. The area surrounding the lake was covered in snow and much of the lake’s edges were iced up.

That night we again had roast chicken. It was the easiest to organise, given the limited supplies of condiments and cooking utensils in the AirBnB.

It was also simple, tasty and a break from the heavier Balkan diet we had been eating.

 

The Bridge of Civilisation

February 23, 2019. Skopje, Macedonia. 

It was very cold on our last full day in Skopje but we ventured into the old city, yet again.

It really is a strange city with statues of all genres everywhere you look. Monumental styles sit side-by-side with the humorous. 

My favourite is ‘The Divers’. This sculpture is literally in the Vardar River and shows two people diving in. One is already in the water and you only see the feet, while the other, a woman in a red two piece, is about to take the plunge.

We had had a coffee in Temov, a craft brewery in the Macedonia Square, on our first day. Now it was time to try a brew.

Evan and I tried a beer called ‘IPA The Great’. It was ok but not that great. Temov was established in 2015 and was the first craft brewery in Macedonia. 

The final family dinner was held at Skopski Merak, a traditional Macedonian restaurant that wasn’t far from our AirBnB. 

Thea and I had eaten there on our first night in Skopje and it was fabulous. 

It didn’t disappoint on our last night either. 

As arranged, Nadica the photographer returned to give us prints of the chosen family photo.

A fitting end to another wonderful family holiday.

Qatar – a small country with big ideas.

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Doha Hop-on Hop-off bus

February 13, 2019. Melbourne, Australia to Doha, Qatar. 

It was a 14 hour night flight from Melbourne to Doha in Qatar. 

Needless to say we were rather buggered by the time we arrived at 5:30 in the morning. 

Our fatigue wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to queue for over an hour waiting for immigration. 

There were only 7 of the 40 booths open. It was obviously far to early for the immigration officials. 

Luckily we managed to get an early check-in at our hotel, the Movenpick on Corniche Street. 

After a bit of work, a rest and a shower we headed out for a walk. 

Firstly to the Souq Waqif, a rambling market full of all sorts of produce, souvenirs and furnishings. There are even camel sales and a falcon hospital there. 

Falconry is still very popular in Qatar. 

The Souq is over 100 years old but was extensively renovated in 2006. It is probably one of the only places in Doha that has retained its traditional architecture.

It was originally on the waterfront but sadly there is now a road and park that separate the two. This is due to the large amount of land reclamation that has been undertaken in Doha.

We were about to head back to the hotel when we found the Doha Hop-on Hop-off bus kiosk. Our plan had been to return to the hotel and then get the bus from near there in the afternoon. 

At the kiosk they told us that the route that went near our hotel wasn’t running. We decided to take the one that was running, and just about to depart. 

The bus ride was an interesting experience. 

More of a public relations exercise than a city sights tour.

The commentary boasted the growth of the city, the people’s love of the Emir and just how lucky everyone was to have such a wonderful benefactor. 

And of course, highlighting the numerous opportunities to buy. 

There was very little about the history or descriptions of what we were actually seeing. 

It was also six years out of date. 

Doha, formerly Al Bidda, is the capital and biggest city in Qatar, with 1.5 million of the 2 million residents.

It was founded in 1820 and became the capital in 1971, after Qatar gained its independence from the Brits. 

Before that it was under Ottoman rule from 1871 to 1913.

As the bus commentary boasted Doha is the ‘Sports Capital’ of the Middle East, hosting the 2006 Asian games, the 2011 Pan Arab Games and AFC Asian Cup, it’s crowning achievement will be the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Which was, according to many, gained under dubious circumstances.

Doha is a construction site. 

Development, expansion and reclamation is everywhere – as are men in high-vis. 

There is a new building going up right next to our hotel. 

Working day and night, in shifts, there are literally hundreds of men on the site. 

In 2011 there were over 50 towers under construction. Today that rate has slowed somewhat but there is still a lot of work being carried out in preparation for the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar, like Dubai, had made its fortune from oil and natural gas. Both countries are acutely aware that these natural resources will eventually run out.

The answer is to build. 

This frenetic construction is all part of the Qatar National Vision 2030. A plan that hopes to see Qatar as an advanced society capable of sustainable development by 2030.

 

The ever expanding Doha skyline

February 14, 2019. Doha, Qatar. 

Doha is expensive. 

A coffee in the hotel is about $11 and the Hop-on Hop-off bus was $70 each. 

So, determined to make the most of our 24 hour ticket we headed out again. 

This time to stop at some spots we had only driven past the day before. 

Our first stop was at the City Centre Mall. The mall itself was nothing we hadn’t seen before but what did stand out was the Carefour supermarket.

This was the largest I had ever been in and the shelves were packed with items from all over the world.

Everything was labelled with the country of origin.

There were figs from all parts of the Middle East, cheese from France and England and lamb from Australia and New Zealand.

I think that the well-to-do residents of Qatar live very well.

Our next stop was the Katara Cultural Village. This huge area, opened in 2010, is home to many of the cultural establishments in Doha, as well as theatres, an opera house, amphitheatre, conference hall museum and a souq or traditional market.

It even has a beach.

Within the village was the Al Jazeera Media Centre.

Al Jazeera literally means island, referring to its home on the Arabian Peninsula. This state funded news channel was initially launched in Arabic but now has several outlets and broadcasts in multiple languages, with 80 bureaus worldwide.

It has become the go-to, level headed, voice of the Middle East, albeit a little biased towards the Emir and Qatar.

We seemed to be the only tourists at Katara – so much space and so few people.

After making the most of the bus, we walked back along Corniche Street to the Museum of Islamic Art or MIA as it is also known. 

This contemporary structure, with very Islamic influences, was designed by the famous Chinese/American architect Ieoh Ming Pei (1917-2019) and built in 2008. 

At 91 years of age Pei was encouraged to come out of retirement to design the museum. He insisted that it be built on a stand-alone island so that future building would not encroach on the site.

Syria Matters was the featured exhibition at the museum.

This display chronicled the destruction of many important historical areas of Damascus and Aleppo during 10 years of the Syrian war. 

There was an excellent use of panoramic 3D video modelling, which showed many of the buildings that have now been destroyed in their original and current state. They were projected onto light translucent fabric, which allowed them to be viewed from both sides. 

We had a quick walk around a small part of the rest of the museum. This showed how Islamic art influenced many countries. Iran, India, Egypt, Turkey, Spain and Syria were all featured. 

It was a long day of sightseeing but at least we were no longer suffering from jet lag. 

 

The soldier and the saint.

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

Soldier_Saint

 

Our next adventure is to Macedonia, in the Balkans. This is to celebrate Thea’s big 7Oh.

The area known as Macedonia, which spans both the newly named Northern Macedonia and the Greek provence, is home to two legendary people, one ancient, the other contemporary. 

Alexander the Great (356 to 323 BC) was King of Macedon and born in Pella, a part of ancient Greece.

Macedonia is intrinsically linked to the legend of Alexander the Great, hence the current dispute between the Greeks and Macedonians.

Anjezë Gonxha Bojaxhiu (1910 to 1997) or Mother Teresa, as she later became know, was born in Skopje, in Northern Macedonia.

The two couldn’t be more different.

Alexander was born into Greek aristocracy, a member of the Argead dynasty. He succeeded his father Philip II to the throne in 336 BC, when he was 20.

In his youth he was tutored by Aristotle and founded 20 cities which bore his name. He is often ranked amongst the most influential leaders in history and is regarded as a classic hero.

He was only 32 when he died in Babylon.

Mother Teresa’s first 18 years were spent in Macedonia and then she moved to Ireland and finally India, where she spent most of her life.

In 1950 she founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic order that in 2012 had over 4,500 nuns and operated in 133 countries.

In 1979 she won the Noblel Peace price and in 1916 she was made a saint.

She was 87 when she died.

Given the nature of these two local heroes, I think that this trip will be very interesting start to our journey.

From the Balkans we will head into western Europe and then back to the US. This time we hope to do a reverse drive, east to west, across the southern part of the States.

Part 11: South America – Rio de Janeiro and Petrópolis, Brazil.

Saturday, January 26th, 2019

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March 9, 2018. The Amazon and Manaus to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Today we were leaving the ship and flying to Rio de Janeiro.

We were up on deck at 6am to see the Meeting of the Waters. This is where the black waters of the Negro River joins the muddy waters of the Solimöes River to create the mighty Amazon. 

The Negro River has a ph balance of 6.2 and a temperature of 28°C, while the Solimöes River has a ph of 4.6 and a temperature of 22°C. On joining, the the two rivers run side by side for about 6 kilometres without mixing.

When the waters meet, the fish from one river can’t survive in the other.

The other big difference is in the colour of each river. The Rio Negro is like black tea, while the Rio Solimöes is the colour of milk coffee. 

After we docked and had our bags put into storage we went for a walk around Manaus. Which was rather silly as it was 32°C with a humidity of 90%. 

The Manaus Municipal Market, Adolpho Lisboa was our first stop. The market stalls weren’t that interesting but the architecture was. There were two distinct pavilions. The first was built in 1882 and was constructed with wrought iron. It had wonderful stained glass windows at the entrances. The other was built in a Neo Classical style in 1906, with an imposing painted brick facade. 

From there we walked to the Palacio Rio Negro. Completed in 1911 by the German ‘Rubber Barron’ Karl Waldemar Scholz and originally named as Scholz  Palace. It was renamed in 1918, when it was acquired by the government and used as the seat of power.

Built in the architectural style known as ‘Eclectic’ it borrows its features from many different eras.

Unfortunately it didn’t open until the afternoon, so we only got to see the outside. 

After that we walked back to the main square for a cup of coffee. 

Then it began to pour. This was tropical rain that made the tin roofs shudder and Thea got trapped in the toilet, which was outside, during the second deluge. 

Not wanting to get soaked we opted to get a taxi back to the port to collect our bags and then head to the airport. 

All in all we walked over seven kilometres in the heat and humidity. But it was good to get out after having been virtually confined to the boat for four days. 

It was almost a four hour flight from Manaus to Rio de Janeiro, and that included a one hour time change. 

This would be our last stop before heading home later in the week. 

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March 10, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

We were staying at the Best Western Premier Arpoador Fashion Hotel. The ‘fashion’ aspect of the hotel was delivered by a series of photos of fashion models that were around the hotel. There was also a catwalk video playing in reception.

It was a good hotel with an excellent restaurant that served a great breakfast.

The restaurant was also open in the evenings for dinner. We ate there on our first night and I had a very tasty seafood with black rice.

The hotel was very close to Ipanema, a small shopping area near the famous beach.

After breakfast we walked to Praça General Osório, a park close to the hotel, then onto Ipanema Beach. 

On the way we found D.O.N. Barber Beer, where I had a much needed haircut. When we walked in the door it seemed to be more about the beer, until we discovered the barbers shop was upstairs. 

I decided that we should return, as they had a good range of Brazilian craft beers. Unfortunately we never did.

Overlooking Ipanema Beach is the Arpoador Rock. From there you can get a great view of both the beach and Sugar Loaf, one of the granite and quartz monoliths that dominate the Rio skyline.

It was 30°C with 60% humidity so we stopped for lunch at Copacabana Beach. While having lunch we were hounded by vendors selling everything imaginable.

In the evening we had dinner at Carretão at Ipanema. This was a classic steakhouse with a fixed price and an all-you-can-eat buffet on the side.

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March 11, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

There is an excellent Metro system in Rio, so we hopped on the train and went to see the Museum of Modern Art. 

MOM, as you would expect, is full of abstract art, with many of the artists choosing not to title their work.

I have an issue with this. 

By titling abstract art the creator can give it an extra meaning, especially if the title is in itself abstract and needs thinking about. 

So the question is, should an artist title his art or leave it untitled?

The exhibitions at MOM we all created from works owned by the gallery. The curators cleverly themed each exhibit and chose gallery art to complement their idea.  

There was one original show by José Bechara. These featured his paintings as well as metal and glass sculptures. 

Apart from a Jackson Pollock print, a Henry Moore sculpture and a few other internationals, the majority of the work was from Brazilian artists. 

The building is also a notable example of Brazilian Modernism. It was was designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy and completed in 1955. 

The gallery is situated in Flamenco Park, an urban planning project, on the coast of Rio.

After visiting MOM we walked back through the Flamenco Park area until we found another Metro station.

There are constant warnings about safety in Rio, especially for tourists. We never encountered any problems but we were told on several occasions, by concerned locals, to keep our cameras out of view.

However there must be serious security issues in the city, as everyone seems to live in a cage. All apartments, shops and businesses have very strong looking steel grills in front of the buildings and CCTV is everywhere.

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March 12, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

We booked through the hotel to go on the ‘One Day in Rio Tour’.

In the morning we only visited two sites, Sugar Loaf and the Cathedral. The rest of the time was spent picking up and dropping off passengers. 

In the afternoon we only visited one site, Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado. We took the train through Tijuca Forest National Park to get there.

All in all it wasn’t good value for money, as the rest of the sites that were promised on the agenda were just a ‘drive by’ visit. 

Then to rub salt into the wound they took us to Carretão for lunch, the same restaurant we had been to two nights earlier.

They need to use smaller busses, to reduce the pick-up and drop-of times, rather than trying to ferry large groups around in full size coaches. 

We would have been better off using taxis and just paying our own way at each of the sites we visited. In fact by doing that we would have been able to get a lot more out of the day than we did. 

And it would have been a lot cheaper. 

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March 13, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

After doing a ‘drive by’ of the city centre on the previous day we decided to see it in more detail. 

Re-charging our Metro cards we headed into central Rio de Janeiro. 

No sooner had we arrived than it started to rain – this was becoming all to predictable.

Like many cities, Rio’s street names reflect the history of the city and the people who created it. 

The authorities have made this a feature in Rio by including dates and accomplishments along with the name of the person. This is all contained within the street sign.

For example, Rue Martim Alfonso (1500-1564) commemorates the Portuguese explorer and colonial administrator who was the first Royal Governor of Brazil.

The rain cleared in the afternoon and we continued our city tour. We then hopped back on the Metro and went to the Botanical Gardens, which is near the very posh suburb of Leblon. 

Founded in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal, the gardens were originally intended for the acclimatisation of spices that came from the West Indies.

There are now 6,500 different species in 54 hectares of very well maintained area. 

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March 14, 2018. Rio de Janeiro and Petrópolis, Brazil.

On our last day of touring we took a trip to Petrópolis, or The Imperial City. 

The town’s name means City of Peter in honour of Pedro II, the last Emperor of Brazil. Petrópolis is the spiritual home of the Brazilian aristocracy. Founded in 1843, it was the summer residence of the Brazilian Emperors

The area was first settled by Emperor Pedro I who found the mountain climate a good change from  the heat of Rio. His son, Pedro II, ordered a settlement be build with the assistance of the newly arrived German immigrants. 

It’s about 70 kilometres from Rio de Janeiro to Petrópolis, an alpine town of over 300,000 inhabitants. 

Leaving the city we got a feel for how big Rio really is. With over 12 million inhabitants in the metro area alone, it’s not surprising.

Our guide to Petrópolis was Julio, a retired history teacher. He knew his facts and gave a good commentary. 

Our first stop was at a German inspired café, Casa do Alemão where we stopped for a coffee.

Palácio Quitandinha was next, but we could only see it from a distance. Designed by the Italian architect Luis Fossatti, and built in 1946, it was a luxury resort hotel for the rich and famous of Rio. Today the hotel rooms have been converted into privately owned condominiums. While the public areas, originally decorated by the famous American designer Dorothy Draper, have been fully restored.

Part of our tour took us past the Imperial Museum of Brazil. Built in 1845, it was the former summer palace of Emperor Pedro II (1831-1889) and is one of the most visited museum in Brazil.

Germans have had a huge influence on Brazil, especially in Petrópolis. German immigration started in 1824, decades before other Europeans came to the country. The population of German/Brazilians rose rapidly due to the highly successful birthrate among women of German origin.

In fact about one third of the population of Petrópolis have German ancestors.

The last stop in Petrópolis, before heading back to Rio, was the House of Santos Dumont.

Santos Dumont (1873-1932) is regarded, especially in Brazil, as the first person to fly a practical airplane in 1906, preceding the Wright Brothers.

He is a national treasure with countless roads, schools, monuments and of course airports named after him.

He spent most of his adult life in France, designing and flying lighter-than-air balloons and heavier-than-air flying machines.

He believed so much in the future of powered flight that he freely published his ideas and designs without every patenting them.

On our last night we again ate at the hotel restaurant, as we had a very early flight to catch the next morning.

March 15, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Melbourne, Australia.

We were up at 2:45am to get our flight home. 

It was raining again in Rio de Janeiro so a good time to leave. 

Our flight took us across South America, over the Andes and back to Santiago in Chile. This was only a stop-over before getting a connecting flight back to Melbourne. 

This route took us south, very south. In fact we passed closer to the south pole than we had been on our Antarctic cruise.

Part 10: South America – Foz do Iguaçu to Manaus, Brazil.

Sunday, January 6th, 2019

February 27, 2018. Puerto Iguazú, Argentina to Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil.

Today we were crossing the border into Brazil, the last new country on this trip. 

We walked the kilometre or so into town to get money and try and find a coffee.

We then took the long way back to the hotel along the Iguazú River. 

It had been raining and was now hot and steamy, we haven’t had tropical weather for a long time.  

Puerto Iguazú is a very tired and rundown looking place. It suffers from the fact that all the big hotels, catering to the many tourists, are out of the town centre. 

They are mainly self sufficient and the punters have no reason to come into town. 

Also many of the restaurants in the town centre only open at lunchtime and not in the evening, when the tourists normally eat. 

During the middle of the day the tourists are visiting the falls.

Crossing the border was very easy. The hotel booked us a taxi and he took us from Puerto Iguazú to our hotel in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. 

The immigration leaving Argentina was at a kiosk, where we didn’t even have to get out of the taxi. 

We went over the Tancredo Neves Bridge (1985) and crossed in Brazil. 

Our biggest problem was remembering our limited Portuguese. 

When we arrived at the Viale Tower Hotel it started to rain again. Once it cleared we had a wander around the town area close to our hotel. We also needed to get some Brazilian Reals so needed a bank. There were none open so we ended up a a money changer.

 

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February 28, 2018. Foz do Iguaçu and Iguaçu Falls, Brazil.

We took Public bus number 120 to the Iguaçu National Park. 

It was a slow 14 kilometres. 

There were evacuation signs on the emergency exit, which had a number of graphics showing who had priority. Obese people were first, which was a sure signal that obesity is part of life in Brazil, as it is in much of Central and South America.

We were in Foz do Iguaçu to view the Iguaçu Falls from the Brazilian side – it was a very different experience. 

There were fewer people and the experience seemed less hectic.

From the visitor’s centre we caught a double decker bus down to the falls and from there we walked around the Devil’s Throat, this time viewing it from the Brazilian side. 

We put on our wet weather ponchos (plastic bags) and ventured out into the mist. 

The walk to get there is pleasant, with many viewing points along the way. 

The Iguaçu National Park, created in 1939, was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. It has an area of 185,262 hectares and borders the Argentinian side of the falls. Together the two National Parks are about 260,000 hectares in area.

In the end we decided that it was really worth seeing the falls from both sides. 

In the afternoon we crossed over the road, from the National Park entrance and into Parque das Aves.

This Bird Park has a wide variety of tropical birds, with many of them being rescued from smugglers. A highlight was seeing the Tocu Toucans. The park was opened in 1994 and is about 16 hectares in size.

 

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March 1, 2018. Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil.

Having now visited the falls on both sides we decided to do something completely different.

The Itaipu Binacional is a huge dam and reservoir, on the Paraná River, just outside of Foz do Iguaçu. The dam has a volume of 12,300,000 cubic metres.

The name Itaipu was taken from an island that was near the construction site and means ‘sounding stone’ in the local Guarani language.

It’s a joint project between Brazil and Paraguay. Construction starting in 1974 and was completed in 1991. 

It has 20 generators producing 103,098,366 megawatt hours of electricity, more than any other dam in the world. Ten generators produce electricity for Brazil and the other ten for Paraguay. Interestingly the Paraguayan generators produce more than the country needs so they sell it back to Brazil.

March 2, 2018. Foz do Iguaçu to Brasilia, Brazil.

Most of the day was spent travelling, as we were off to Brasilia. Unfortunately there were no direct flights so we had to go via Sao Paulo. 

I have come to the conclusion that budget airlines are fooling themselves by putting profit before people. 

Good evidence of this was our flight to Brasilia. We were charged Brazilian Real 80 (A$30+) each to check our bags into the hold. It was cheaper if we had done it online. However it wouldn’t accept our international credit card. 

This exorbitant cost means that most passengers opt to pack everything into their cabin baggage. 

They are often larger than the official size. Then some passengers even carry two bags, where they should only have one. 

Just prior to boarding there was an announcement asking if passengers would like to check in their hand luggage – at no charge. 

There were a few takers with most opting to take their cabin bags on board. They then had to fight for overhead locker space.

Then there’s a repeat of the bun-fight once you land.

Now everyone, who was forced to put their bags in lockers that were behind their seats, had to scramble to get them. They usually do this before the seatbelt sign is turned off, causing more confusion. 

If the airlines didn’t charge, there wouldn’t be a problem and flights would be much more enjoyable, for everyone. 

But then the airlines wouldn’t make extra profit by carrying cargo. Which, to them, is far more important than the safety and comfort of their passengers. 

There needs to be a point where business has to balance their profits over the well-being of the consumers and their staff. 

That night we ate at Coco Bambu in Brasìlia Shopping, a mall just over the road from our hotel, the Culling Hplus Premium.

It was a very pleasant restaurant with great staff. They didn’t speak English but alerted us to the fact that we had ordered too much. 

How many restaurants do that?

 

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March 3, 2018. Brasilia, Brazil.

Brasilia is the capital of Brazil and situated in the Brazilian highlands. It’s a modern city, purpose built to be the nations capital, much like Canberra in Australia.

Founded in 1960 it is now Brazil’s third largest city. The city was planned and developed in 1956 by the urban planner, Lúcio Costa and the modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer.

We were in Brasilia for the architecture. 

The hotel booked us a day tour and we hoped that we would get to see some of the most famous buildings. Our guide was Ira and our small group raced around trying to get a feel for this most contemporary of cities.

In 1987, only 27 years after its foundation, Brasilia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the youngest city in the world to be given that honour.

Some of the building we visited were; Mané Garrincha Stadium (1974), Juscelino Kubitschek Mausoleum (1960), Dom Bosco Church (1970), Our Lady of Aparecida Metropolitan Cathedral (1970), National Congress Building (1970), The Three Powers Square and the Alvorada Palace (1957).

The highlight for me was the JK (Juscelino Kubitschek) Bridge, constructed in 2002 and based on the idea of a pebble skipping over a pond.

Concrete cancer is the scourge of Brasilia.

It is a particular problem with modern, reinforced steel and concrete buildings. The steel begins to rust within the concrete causing it to expand. It then becomes brittle and cracks and in some cases falls from the structure.

Evidence of concrete cancer is everywhere in Brasilia. There has been some restoration but much more is needed, especially considering the cities heritage listing.

The day was marred by us both getting a touch of food poisoning. 

Ira suggested that we all go and have lunch at a local Brazilian restaurant. It was the kind that you only pay for what you eat. You select what you want and then they weigh it. 

There was obviously something in what we chose that we didn’t intend to get. 

For the rest of the afternoon and the night we felt very sorry for ourselves. 

No dinner that evening.

March 4, 2018. Brasilia to Manaus, Brazil.

Felling better but not yet over our upset stomachs, we were grateful that we had arranged a late check-out. 

The only flight we could get to Manaus, on the Amazon, was at 11:30pm so a day to ourselves in the hotel was welcome. 

We did return to Brasìlia Shopping and had a light lunch but that was about the extent of our travels and our food intake.

 

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March 5, 2018. Manaus and the Amazon, Brazil.

After checking into our Manaus hotel at 3am we tried to get a few hours sleep. 

After a late breakfast we went for a walk around the town. 

As we came out, the rain came down. 

We were on the Amazon and 3° south of the equator so it was to be expected. 

The main feature of Manaus, apart from being the gateway to the Amazon, is the Amazon Theatre.

The Amazon Theatre was built in 1896 during the ‘Belle Époque’ period of the rubber boom. It was designed in the Renaissance Revival style by the Italian architect Celestial Sacardim. The dome is covered with 36,000 ceramic tiles painted in the colours of the Brazilian national flag. 

Manaus is the capital city in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. It is on the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. It was founded in 1669 as the Fort of São José and became a town in 1832.

Manaus is slap bang in the middle of the Amazon rain forest and the embarkation point for boat trips into the Brazilian Amazon. Which is exactly what we had planned to do.

Part of the afternoon was spent trying to book our return flight to Australia.

We have used LATAM Airlines a lot in South America and found that they were the fastest and most economical way to return to Australia. 

Booking this trip wasn’t without its issues. 

As I have winged about before, nothing comes free with these low cost airlines. 

That’s fine if you can work out how to actually pay for the extras. 

Thea spent an hour trying to pay for our seats on the trans Pacific leg from Santiago to Melbourne but couldn’t get the credit card to work. She even phoned the help desk and they were no help at all. 

After battling unhelpful help desks, we got a taxi down to the port at 3 pm and checked in to the Iberostar Grand Amazon. 

Our cabin on the boat, especially the bathroom, was larger than some hotels we have stayed in. In fact it was more like a hotel suite than a ship’s cabin. 

It also had a Nespresso machine and a range of pods. 

For a couple who have sworn off ‘cruising’ here we were, on yet another ship, only a month after we were sailing in the Antarctic. 

The Iberostar Grand Amazon was sold as an all inclusive tour – meaning everything is included in the price. 

Of course there is a caveat on that. 

Everything, doesn’t include the two indulgences we enjoy. 

Good wine and craft beer. 

You could buy wine by the glass, but this was limited to a house red and white, of dubious origin. 

There were four beers on offer, all of them Pilsners. 

What the!

At dusk the ship headed north west, up the Rio Negro, for our first night on the water. 

Compared to the SS Expedition travelling to Antarctica, we were barely moving. 

It was hard not to compare the Antarctic trip to this one within the Amazon region. 

Both were small ships on an adventure cruise, with a large crew. 

However they were very different. 

Antarctica was English language oriented while the Amazon was very much Portuguese. 

Antarctica was wilderness, wildlife and conservation, while the Amazon was more about the indigenous people, experiences and shopping opportunities. 

We didn’t actually sail on the Amazon River until the final morning. 

Which in a way was good for me. 

Because of the ph balance of the Negro River, apparently mosquitoes don’t breed on the water. They only reproduce in the bromeliads, up in the tree canopy. 

Whereas on the Amazon River there is no such issue. 

I liked the Negro.

It was a good theory, until a few days later, when I discovered that there still are things that bite on the Rio Negro. 

And naturally they found me. 

 

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March 6, 2018. The Amazon, Brazil.

In the morning we walked through the Jaraqui Stream area and Luis was our guide.

It wasn’t about animals but about the life, death and regrowth of the Amazon Rainforest. 

Everywhere we looked there was dead, dying or decaying plants and new life springing up. 

The rain held off for the morning but it looked very threatening for the afternoon. 

The itinerary was changed about, as we had to return to Manaus. Apparently one of the generators needed replacing. 

They assured us that none of the activities would be effected. 

Our afternoon boat trip to Trés Bocas was therefore cancelled and replaced by a visit to Cambebas, an indigenous village. 

There was a lunchtime talk about the Amazon Forrest and the effects of the wet season on the water levels, as well as the plant and animal life. 

Thea’s technical problems have followed us to the Amazon and are now effecting everything around us. 

When we first arrived, our room safe wouldn’t work and needed a new battery. Then our cabin door wouldn’t open and we were locked out. 

Even the ship’s breakdowns continued with the outboard engine on our tender dying on the way back from Cambebas Village. 

 

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March 7, 2018. The Amazon, Brazil.

The morning adventure was the boat trip to Trés Bocas and this time Jefferson was our guide. 

This is part of Anavilhanas, the second largest fluvial archipelago in the world. It’s a huge collection of river islands and beaches. 

Tres Bocas is one of the largest islands in the Archipelago. 

This trip was more about being on the river and experiencing Amazonia. We saw Toucans, Macaws, Green Parrots as well as Dolphins. 

This was all done at a distance and made good photography very difficult. Especially as the cloudy skies caused everything to be backlit . 

At one point Jefferson stopped the boat and we just listened to the jungle. It’s too easy to spend time on photography and forget to enjoy the moment. 

In the afternoon, as part of the on-board program, there was a talk on the fish of the Amazon.

Entertainment seemed to be a very important part of life on board the Iberostar Grand Amazon. 

On our first night, after dinner, there was a magician. Then the staff band performed after dinner on night two and then again at lunchtime on the third day. 

The South Americans, especially the Brazilians, love to dance. The performance was definitely aimed at them. 

I can see why Carnival is so popular. 

There was a group of Germans and they were always holding a drink. They never let go of their glasses during lunchtime, while the band was playing and even when they were in the pool.

They were definitely making the most of the open bar policy. 

The afternoon activity was Piranha Fishing. 

We decided to participate in this for two reasons. Firstly it was catch and release, so no fish were actually taken and secondly I wanted to see this mythical creature in close-up. 

Apart from the thrill of being on the river and in the backwaters it was a frustrating experience. 

Firstly it poured down and everything got wet. But worse than that, I didn’t catch a thing. 

And I was the only one. 

There was yet another performer after dinner. This time it was an indigenous member of staff. 

His specialty was flutes and he played at least six different types. 

It was cleverly done as a soundtrack to a documentary video about Brazil, the people, culture, animals and land. 

This played on a screen behind. 

He concluded the short show with his own rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ 

The background video, to this classic song, featured indigenous people from around the word. 

It delivered a very powerful and poignant message. 

In the evening we went Caiman spotting and only managed to get a glimpse of one reptile scurrying into the water – that was it.

 

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March 8, 2018. The Amazon, Brazil.

We were up at 5:30 am for the sunrise.

The sun didn’t rise but Luis had a surprise for us anyway. He took us to see the Ariaú Jungle Tower, an abandoned eco resort.

When it was operating it had about eight kilometres of elevated walkway through the jungle. The guests could drive golf carts from one part of the resort to the other. There were six tower blocks and 288 rooms elevated over the jungle.

It only closed at the beginning of 2016 and very quickly the jungle has reclaimed the site.

After breakfast we were to visit the Pink Amazon River Dolphins. This was with Jefferson, our guide guide from earlier in the week. 

However because of the number of people wanting to do the dolphins trip, we did a nature cruise first. 

There were monkeys, sloths and a variety of birds. 

We also passed through the abandoned resort again. This time from the other side. 

After about ninety minutes we arrived at a small floating platform that was very close to the ship, and our original starting point. 

This is an a opportunity to be in the water at the same time the dolphins are being fed. 

It is supposedly an eco and environmentally conscious activity. However these are wild animals that now rely on humans for their food and therefore survival. 

I was disappointed that Jefferson also fed the monkeys on our way to the dolphins. 

It was great for the tourists but not good for the monkeys. 

At lunchtime the band played again. They normally only play twice, but it was International Women’s Day and the ladies loved to dance. 

The last off-ship experience was to the Rubber Tapping Museum. 

This part of the Amazon region was the heart of the wealthy Brazilian rubber industry, during the late part of the 19th Century. This was the golden age for rubber and there was a large expansion of European colonisation in the Amazon Basin. The rubber was extracted from trees in a very random way, as there were no plantations as we now see in South East Asia. The trees were in the jungle and rubber tappers would spend days at a time out tapping the trees. Slavery, murder and brutality were widespread.

The Rubber Barons got rich but at the expense of the indigenous population.

The Vila Parasío Rubber Museum is built within a film set for a Portuguese movie, titled, ‘The Jungle’. 

The movie was about these barons and their excesses.