Provence

Our last port of call on the ship was to Toulon in France.  There apparently wasn’t a lot to do or see in the town of Toulon, as the ship offered tours to everywhere else.  We opted to go to Aix en Provence for the morning.

We were shown around by a lovely guide, then had a bit of time to look around ourselves.

Aix en Provence is home to 100s of fountains – some are still running, but others are dried up and purely ornamental now.

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It was a beautiful day – not as hot (as some of you will be happy to know.  I know I was!) and the shadiness of the trees and little streets helped with that issue as well.

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Our guide told us a story about how a chunk of a this building (on the right) fell off and killed a passer by (he assured us that it wasn’t a tourist, but a local person, which made it alright).  Then he showed us what the buildings are made of (see left).  It’s sandstone and quite easy to chip away with your fingers.

Then he guided us down a little alley street called “Scratch your Elbows Street”

The whole town is quite small and very quaint.  This poor chap was happily sitting in the square doing a spot of painting, minding his own business when our tour group descended on his space and stood in front of what he was painting!

There was a lovely market with fresh produce – all of which was too hard to purchase and pack!

This one lady on our tour witnessed everything through her phone screen, which was attached to her selfie stick.  When I had a look – the camera was turned around the other way, so she was actually looking at herself (with me in the background!)

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In this lovely town, they have this mini 4 person cart/bus to transport people from one end of town to the other and if you are over 65 – it’s free.

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Then we wondered around town on our own.  The guide said it was impossible to get lost in  Aix, so we thought we’d give it a try…

1820 – so old!

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Fountains everywhere – so quaint!

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And the cheese – don’t get me started on the cheese!  This whole street was filled with the aroma of fromage.

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Then what else to do but to sit with a shandy in hand and watch the world go by?

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Ciao Firenza

After Rome’s tour we decided that perhaps we’d prefer to explore Florence on our own.  We were bused to the train station, then had a guide with us on the train – just in case you can’t read the name of the stations, then the guide walked us to the centre of town – just in case you can’t read a map.

We pushed on ahead and in no time at all, we were standing in front of the Duomo (with 56,000 other people)

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You see?  There it is.

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Still trying to perfect the selfie stick!

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We only had 4 hours to wander around and we wanted to get some leather shopping in, so there was no time to be waiting in lines.  This line to get inside the cathedral went all the way around.  People would have waited at least 2 hours.  Ain’t nobody got time for that – except maybe these people!

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There was also no time to line up to get in to see the Statue of David – so I knew of another one in the main square.

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They’re not shy of a statue here….

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Some a little more brutal than others.

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And some a little newer than others?

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It was another hot day – not as hot as in Rome, but near enough so we stopped off to have a quiet beer and a stare at people.  I asked for 2 large beers and the waiter said “Are you sure madam, that is a litre each?”  I said, “Of course I’m sure and don’t call me Madam!”

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We found ourselves on the Ponte Vecchio which is terribly touristy.  It’s one of those things that is better to look at rather than be on.

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And if you look the other way down the river, you can see the place where a sink hole appeared recently.  They’re going a bit of work to patch it up.

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There was a fair bit of military presence in town.  These guys were armed and ready for combat.  Not sure if it made us feel safer or a bit nervous.

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Ferreting out all the fabulous Florizian finds…

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This is a little post person’s car!

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Found a great leather shop.

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Cause, why not?

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Ciao Firenza

The Return of Mussolini!

So when we arranged our tour into Rome we were thinking that we would see maybe some ancient ruins, some imperial Roman stuff and some personal shopping time.  We perhaps should have read the fine-print of the tour again because apparently we were booked on  a tour with the female version of Mussolini and there were to be no slow people and no shopping breaks!  Don’t you know there are ancient ruins to be seen???

After the brief introduction by our guide we were led to the entrance of St Peter’s Cathedral.  There were approximately 45,000 people lined up at the same time all trying to get through the security gates.  Here is us trying to do the right thing by covering our shoulders and knees in St Peter’s Cathedral – I mean, it’s respectful, right?  There were some people there wearing their ‘Daisy Dukes’ who were turned away.

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The temps were hitting about the high 30s about now.

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She was hot and she was sweaty!

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St Peter’s was pretty awesome and Fliss was moved to literal tears as she walked through.  I found lots of marble walls to lean up against.

Here’s Fliss standing on the border of Vatican City and just to the right is where the Pope pops out of a Wednesday to say G’day to the peeps.

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We were given 25 minutes to have a look at a souvenir shop and grab a bottle of water which was all fine.  The guide counted everybody off and made sure we were all there.  Then as we walked off a lady decided she’d just quickly pop back into the shop to buy one more thing….

We walked back to the bus and got on and then a family of 12 people looked around the bus and one said “Hey, where’s Aunty?” “She’s not with you?”  “I thought she was with you” “No, she wasn’t with me, wasn’t she with you?  She was the one who ushered us all out of the shop!”

Aunty was missing.

Her sister and the guide went back to the shop to look for her (about a 10 minute walk), but she was nowhere to be found.  We waited on the bus for about 40 minutes whilst her family members one by one realised that she didn’t have her phone, or her passport, or clearly her wits!

But… the show must go on, so we left her at the Vatican and made our way to the Trevi Fountain.  The generous guide gave us 10 minutes to throw our coin in and make our wish. There were close to 57,000 people there all trying to do the same thing.

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But we managed to push our way in to get the money shot.

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Then as quick as we arrived, we were all gathered to move on to lunch.  As we were getting off the bus to walk to the Trevi, the guide said that to get to the restaurant that we could either walk the 7 minutes straight there or we could walk back, through a traffic tunnel to the bus, to drive 3 minutes to arrive about a 5 minutes walk from the restaurant – this made no sense to us, so Fliss asked if we could possibly walk to the restaurant as the alternative wasn’t too appealing and people around us were agreeing that it seemed silly. She then made this announcement to everybody: “There is ONE person in the group who does not want to walk back to the bus.  Instead she wants to walk up the hill to the restaurant, so……”  The group all agreed that they were happy to do that too, but she repeated, “There is ONE who is not happy.”

So we all hiked up the very flat hill for about 5 minutes and arrived at the restaurant.  It was a nice little place that couldn’t deal with the 40 degree heat, but packed us all into the two back rooms and served us a very tasty, even if it lacked a little visually.

Maybe they have followed Masterchef Australia where negative space on the plate is all the rage?

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Missing lady update:  She had enough sense to make her way to the restaurant – so she met us there.  Luckily the guide had given us the name and address at the beginning.

Hot and sweaty, we were all waiting outside the restaurant for people to go to the toilet.  The guide said, “Are we all here?” nobody answered, so she just started walking.  She walked super fast and just before we got to the bus, somebody called out that we’d left people at the restaurant (members of the same family of the missing woman!)  Rather than letting us onto the air-conditioned bus, we had to stand and wait whilst the guide walked back to the restaurant to find the missing people.

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Next stop on this whirlwind tour was the Colosseum.

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Our guide spoke at length in a monotone voice, stopping and starting her sentences, rambling on about things that didn’t seem to be about what we were looking at.  She did stop and talk for about 15 minutes though – did I mention how hot it was? about the cover to the sewerage.  The group was listening intently!

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We plowed on ahead to take our 40,000 pics of the amazing 2000 year old building!

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Finally, after waiting with the 27,000 other tour groups to go through security we were in!  The guide asked us to use the bathrooms at the restaurant because the lines at the Colosseum would be horrendous, so as soon as we got in there, a few members of the 12 strong family said they needed the bathroom….

So we waited.

If there’s one thing that puts me off doing group tours it’s the waiting for other people.  It’s also the cramped buses and the guides (if they’re not great) and the fact that you have to see what they want you to see… I don’t love big group tours.

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We were not amused.

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Then we saw this…

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Fliss loved the Colosseum!

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I had taken my ear piece out by this stage because our guide was not enhancing my experience.  Here’s what I missed…

A quick in and out and we were off to the Forum – seriously….. did I mention that we’re doing all this in 40 degrees?  Did I?

The Forum was pretty amazing.  I can’t tell you any information about it because I wasn’t listening – but I did enjoy just wandering around all the fabulously kept Roman buildings (ruins) and statues.

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So – Rome in a day?  Can I recommend it? Absolutely!  Would I suggest you go in a more friendly temperature? Most definitely!  Would I give you the name of our guide? No!

Winter is coming!

Today’s port is Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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On a previous trip I had done a kayaking tour which was absolutely brilliant and I knew that Felicity would love it, so we booked it again.  We got off the ship to some dubious clouds, but didn’t think too much of it – if I’m honest, I was happy about the cool change!

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It wasn’t until we were out on the kayaks that the first crack of thunder was heard followed soon after by a huge bolt of lightening.  It was still a fair way off, so we continued on our way.

We were in a two person kayak and keeping up quite nicely with the Philip, the front guide.      Our rhythm and oar work just couldn’t be matched by the other rowers.

We stopped off at a little cave beach with about 12,000 other groups of kayakers and had a brief swim.

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Thongs, reef shoes or sandals were recommended as this is the ground you’re working with.

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The cave is pretty amazing and the water is crystal clear!

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Don’t bring your cat though – not much room for swinging – she’s busy!

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Here’s a little treat for everybody…. yes, yes, she’s lovely, but focus a little to the left.

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Here we are – a couple of kayaking winners!

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We were meant to head out to, then around Lokrum, the island that sits just off Dubrovnik Old Town, but the thunder was getting closer and louder and the decision was made to head back to base.

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Then the heavens opened and we were hit with rain drops as big as your head.  The waves got bigger as the wind started to blow.  At first it was quite enjoyable until it wasn’t and we just wanted to get off.  Naturally as soon as we got off, soaked through with no dry clothes, the rain stopped and the sun shone.  It was like a completely different day!

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We wandered the Old Town, had a drink at the Buza – the hole in the wall bar and then walked the wall.  I got half way around and I have to admit that I had to give up half way around cause it was too damn hot.

A great Dalmation day out.

Are they alive?

So, when you’re on a cruise ship there are lots of activities and things going on, but it’s always good to start with a pina colada by the pool.

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Another good game to play is “do you think they’re alive?”

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It is always beneficial to follow the rules around the boat.  Here’s one I was happy to follow.

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There are two ‘elegant chic’ nights on the cruise where peeps dress up.  Some ships have ‘formal night’ where some people dress up in ball gowns and tuxedos, etc… but on this ship, she’s just ‘dress up a bit please’.

And we hit Crush – the martini bar.  The chaps here put on a bit of a Tom Cruise/Brian Brown Cocktail performance – with limited success.

Our waiter was performing the old balance two martini glasses on the side of a bundy rum bottle on the side of his arm whilst pouring the drinks in, then offering them to us.  He went to take one glass and it fell out of his hand and all over Fliss, smashing on the back and into her lap.  He tried to tell us that we were supposed to take the glasses off the bottle, but little did he know that I had video footage of the whole thing!

The night ended up with us dancing in bare feet with all our new best friends at the nightclub until about 1.30am-ish.  There are no photos available for this portion of the evening.

To the Ship!

Getting to the ship was going to be really easy.  Walk down to the Rialto water bus stop, get on to the bus and then just walk over the bridge to the where the ship is stationed.

We got to the Rialto station….

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…. with about 12,000 other people all trying to get to the train station.  Each time a bus turned up (every 15 minutes) only about 15 people got on. There was talk about people missing their train, people were trying to get through the crowd backwards – it was mayhem.  We thought we’d jump into a water taxi to make it all quicker, but the only boat we found was waiting for a reservation and had no interest in speaking to us about it any further.

So back to the bus station we went and we waited….. we were pretty happy about it.

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We weren’t so happy though when at the other end the ship was a little further away that we first thought.  We could see the ship, but we couldn’t quite work out how to get to it.

So after walking the absolute longest way possible up and over bridges with all our luggage in the heat, thinking that I might at some stage pass out, we made it.

The Celebrity Constellation!

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We wasted no time in getting to know the ship and finding out cabin.

The ship was staying in the port in Venice for another night, so after checking in and having a welcome drink, we got back off the ship and headed back to St Mark’s Square to visit the famous Harry’s Bar.

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We learned that Harry’s was the inventor of carpaccio and also the Bellini.

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The waiters are all dressed in white tuxedos

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and they served the best croque monsieur that has ever been tasted – ever!  they were presented in little fingers and the the waiter wrapped each finger personally and passed them to us.  Now that’s service!

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Then it was back to the ship for dinner and a show.

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Our cabin is linked to the Blu Restaurant and our first experience was indeed an experience.  We were greeted by David, the ‘host’ who made small talk, then moved onto the next table to make the same small talk.  Then we met Anna, who was the “waiter’s assistant” and couldn’t take any orders.  She was from Siberia and very sweet.  Next we met Marco, the sommelier who could only advise and serve the wine – no other drinks.  He was a busy person and was almost running in-between the tables.  Then he called over Jane who was the bar server and could only take bar drinks, not wine.  Then we met Gerry, the waiter for our table who had quite a thick accent, making it difficult to understand the specials.

Then, the main show was a hypnotist.  I spent the majority of the show elbowing Felicity so she didn’t break her neck falling asleep sitting up!

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What is Art?

Ok, now I’m going to preface this post with a statement that I do like art.  I like all sorts of art.  There is some that I don’t like and some that I simply don’t understand.  Fliss has grown up surrounded by art in her lovely mother, Fran’s gallery, so she knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Fliss wanted to see the Peggy Guggenheim Museum which houses works of art by artists such as Jackson Pollock (Fliss: “The most over-rated artist of the 20th century”,  Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

I was super interested in being in air-conditioning.

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This is what I was looking at.

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Peggy had a lot of dogs and buried them all in her garden here….

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Then when she died, she had her ashes scattered in the garden with her fur babies.

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Then we got into this sort of “art”.  This piece is entitled: “Rose”.  Can  you see it?  Apparently it’s metaphorically fragrant.  Seriously, it’s a big bit of graph paper.

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This piece I like to call – “Leftover Bathroom Tiles:

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And my favourite – “Bottles on a Shelf”  This piece really spoke to me.  I think it’s the primary colours that I liked and the fact that it’s familiar – we have this piece in our laundry at home.

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When I saw this piece – “Bottles on Wood” it was time for me to go.

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Until I was drawn in by “Weapons”

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Do yourself a favour.  If you’re an art fan – take the time to head to the Peggy Googs Museum.  The air conditioning is fabulous!

Bonjourno Venezia

The journey from the airport into Venice is not the same unless you arrive via water taxi.

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No such thing as a speed limit here!

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Our arrival was very early into Venice, but after a full nights sleep on the plane, we were ready and raring to get into some looking at stuff.

Please enjoy the pictorial essay of Venice….

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The yellow chairs of St Mark’s Square

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Fliss, just getting used to her camera…

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A lovely cafe on the side of St Mark’s Square – look the couches have been built around the walls.

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More cafe chairs, ready for the punters – note the Venetian lion.

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The Bridge of Sighs – the bride joins the Doge’s Palace and the old prison.

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A typical Venetian street…. complete with leaning tower.

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One of Venice’s many lovely buildings.

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The Rialto Bridge was under construction which is a bit of a shame.  You could walk up the guts though – not picturesque, but convenient.

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Lovely canals and gondolas everywhere.

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Pursuing the shops

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Purchasing – big time

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St Marks’ Square – it all it’s misshapen glory.

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Getting into the Venetian groove

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Cause that’s how we roll

When in Venezia, one must always drink their macchiato standing up at the bar rather than sit on a chair, especially in the square – chairs and service = mucho euros.

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A little bit of strawberries and gelato never hurt anybody.

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Just some people dressed up in fancy Venetian olden times costumes.

Bridge of Sighs…. who wore their chins the best?

Check these out – they’re lollies!!!

We walked for bloody miles and miles today – stopping for a much needed birra every now and then…

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We walked all the way around to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and crossed the Academia Bridge.

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Perfecting the selfie!

Then it was back to our hotel for a freshen up ready for dinner.

This was the view from our mini balcony.

Dinner was at a lovely spot right on the Grand Canal with lots of opportunity for people and boat watching…. and Aperol Spritz sipping!

 As it was so fricking hot – neither of us had appetites, so a mezzo plate of parma ham and cheese was the call of the evening.

Thank you Venezia – Day one, over and out!

Up Up and Away…

The day your trip is about to begin is a super exciting day!  You’ve planned and packed and downloaded offline maps and read guide books and booked tickets and done more planning and repacked…. so super exciting coupled with an anxious feeling that you’ve forgotten something.

Fliss’ trip started one day earlier as she was flying from Melbourne to Perth, so I raced to the airport (at a sensible speed) to meet her there.  The excitement only wore off a little bit though when Fliss’ plane was an hour late in landing!

We checked in and headed for the lounge for the first of many champases.

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And applied the duty-free hand cream that Fliss purchased.

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Then when it was time to board – we turned left!

Cause why not?

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Fliss and I worked out that this trip had been 23 years in the making.  She remembered being 18 and us sitting in her back room with travel brochures strewn across the floor planning where we would go on our European adventure.  Then life happened and it never eventuated – until now, so I must thank Fliss’ husband Richo and her 3 kiddies, Caitlin, Charles and Orlando for being so cool and letting Fliss come with me.

This year will mark 30 years of friendship for the two of us – here’s cheers to that!

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Let the good times roll!

Tour de Flissshellateau de Mattamsterdam

Today’s the day!

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Today’s the day that the Tour de Flissshellateau de Mattamsterdam begins.

My lovely friend, Felicity (a.k.a: F, Fliss, Flick, Flicker, Fecility Motorshed… just to name a few) reminded me that this trip to Europe has been 23 years in the making.  She said, “I remember sitting in the back room with all the travel brochures spread around on the ground and we planned where we were going to go.”

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Now, finally – after many interstate and intercountry moves, 1 marriage, 3 kids and 23 years later…. here we are together at the airport about to embark on a whirlwind tour of (bits of) Europe.

We’re hitting up Venice as our first stop, then jumping on the Celebrity Constellation to take in the sights of Dubrovnik, Rome, Florence, Toulon and Barcelona.  We’ll eat our weight in tapas, then we’re meeting our lovely friends, Matt and Tammy (Tammattski – cause they’re joined a the hip – in a good way) in Amsterdam.

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These two spunks have been in both mine and Felicity’s lives for a long time and we love them.  The four of us will be cruising the canals of Amsterdam, then hobnobbing with the best of them in a Champagne Castle before hitting the lights of Paris.

Woohoo!

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See you all in Venezia!

Venice

Town Beach Cafe – Broome

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The Town Beach Cafe is a bit of an institution here in Broome.  It sits on the Town Beach overlooking the beautiful turquoise waters of Roebuck Bay.

This is a great place to watch the “Staircase to the Moon”

Info I found on the Visit Broome website –  www.visitbroome.com.au – Staircase to the Moon is a natural phenomenon which occurs when a full moon rises over the exposed tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. The Staircase to the Moon happens 2 – 3 days a month between March and October.

The first two days of Staircase to the Moon generally also play host to the Staircase to the Moon markets at Town Beach. Here you can sample local produce, buy hand made products, a variety of international food, and enjoy the sounds of local entertainers.

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The Town Beach Cafe is also well known around town for their fabulous food and great coffee.

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Highly recommended!

Beautiful Broome

Following on from the last post…… we arrived in Broome.

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We’d arrived early.  Our site wasn’t vacant yet so we had to bunk down on a different site for a couple of nights before ours was going to be free.  So we did a temporary set up knowing that we had to pack up and move in a couple of days… then in an impromptu drive-by Col saw that the people on our permanent site had left a day early, so while me Jenny was in the laundry doing some washing, we packed everything up and moved….. Jen came out just in time.  New site – new set up.  So in the heat of the day, we were putting the annex up and the flooring down.  It was hard, sweaty work, but luckily I had a very enthusiastic supervisor who gave probably more instructions than was completely necessary.

Day 3 – we finally saw the ocean.

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Jen and I treated ourselves to breakfast at Zanders and this was our view.

My lovely sister, Jodie and her gorgeous boys, Joe (R) and Charlie (L) joined us on day 4 and much fun, frivolity and beach going ensued.

J, J & C sunset

Most days at 4 o’clock saw us down on Cable Beach for fivesies……

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Ball throwing…..

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and sunsets… or as Greg from the Greg Quickie’s Astro Tours says, “watching the Earth turn away from the place in the sky where the sun happens to be.”

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and there were some absolute beauties.

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It wouldn’t be Broome without a bit of camel action….

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and spending time just hanging with me nephews…

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or just people watching…

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Just let me get back to the Astro Tours.

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This was a highlight in everybody’s stay in Broome.  Jenny and I had been a few years ago, but wanted to take the boys to enjoy the same experience.  And Greg was, in a word, amazing.  His knowledge of the stars and the planets and all things astronomy was just incredible.  I can highly recommend this as an experience that will keep you talking about your place in space.

One week down and my sister and her boys have flown back to chilly Melbourne, so its time to mingle – the location however, is always the same.

The lovely sand patterns at low tide.

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And tonight’s sunset…. sorry – tonight’s time when the Earth is turning away from the place in the sky where the sun happens to be… from Gantheume Point.

Gantheume is so full of activity that you almost give yourself whiplash trying to look at everything going on.

We watched two parents leave a baby (approx 1 year old) (in view) on the beach near the car whilst they played with their older child near the water.  We couldn’t take our eyes off the baby (who was the same colour as the sand) in case a car came flying around and didn’t see it….. then someone was putting their boat in the water, but they’d forgotten to plug up the bungs and the boat started to fill with water.  There was lots of bailing out with buckets – even throwing the buckets over the side a couple of times. Then a car pulled up in front of us with a second car pulling up right beside it a minute later.  We thought that they must be together as they’d parked within arms reach of the first car.  The first car pulled out and around to the driver’s side of the second car, had a few words and then moved down the beach a bit further.  My guess is that the few choice words were something like, “you have got the whole beach and you choose to park right there?”

Anyway….. with all the goings on, my neck was pretty sore, but it was still quite serene.

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