Sunday 25 October 2015

Sea, sun and storms

Another month, another destination, another airport and another airline. This time we were flying from Liverpool John Lennon airport to Barcelona in Spain. As we left the departure lounge to walk to the plane we were instructed to use the back staircase to board the plane, which meant turning left after entering the plane, but this time we were not in Business Class. This was our first flight with Ryanair and all passengers travel cattle class with them. Their colours are navy and canary yellow. The latter making the inside of the plane so bright I felt as if I needed to wear my sun glasses! The flight was uneventful but cramped, with a descent and landing which was painful on the ears. We are not in any hurry to fly with Ryanair again.

We had two nights in Barcelona, which gave us a day to expore the city before we embarked on our  cruise, which was another first. Our day in Barcelona was Friday 11 September, which happened to be the Day of Catalonia and a public holiday. Most of the shops and some of the tourist attractions were closed, but we did manage to get into

the Catedral de Santa Eulalia, which is so enormous that it felt like a railway station without trains. The area around it is so built up that it is impossible to take a photograph of the outside, but we did manage to see the geese that live in the cathedral cloisters, of which there are thirteen - one for each year that Saint Eulalia lived.

Late the next morning we joined our fellow passengers to board the cruise ship. By the time that we got to our cabin it was early afternoon and time to find some lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the ship. By the time that we sailed from Barcelona, at around 6 pm, the fine sunny day had turned to cloud and rain. Everything was going smoothly until the early hours of the following morning when we sailed in a ferocious thunderstorm. The ship, which was enormous, was tossed around a bit and with torrential rain pouring onto our balcony it felt as if we were in a washing machine. After about two hours we sailed out of it and docked at our first port of call - the French port of Marseille. Here we took the shuttle bus into Marseille and had lunch at a cafe around the Old Port - Vieux Port.

Late that afternoon we left Marseille to sail onto the next port of call, which was Livorno in Italy. From Livorno we had hope to get to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. So had rather a lot of other people and the bus was full, which meant that we did not get to Pisa. Instead we had a walk around Livorno and a leisurely drink in a cafe before returning to the ship for lunch. Our third port of call on the following day was down the Italian coast where we docked at Civitavecchia - the port of Rome. We had visited Rome for a few days some years ago, so did not want to go on an organised tour, but hoped to be able to get the train to Rome. However, getting from the cruise terminal into the centre of Civitavecchia took longer than we had expected so we decided that we would explore the port area instead.

We were surprised to find a pleasant little town with some old buildings, an open air market which I always find interesting, a beach and a promenade. By now the weather had improved from warm cloud and sunny intervals to blue sky and hot sunshine, which allowed us to sit in the sun on the ship in the afternoon.

The following day was a day at sea. With the improved weather we were able to relax in the sun by one of the ship's swiming pools, while we watched the world go by. Late morning a local pilot boarded the ship to guide it through the Straits of Messina, which run between the boot of Italy and the island of Sicily - below.

Leaving Sicily behind we headed north through the Ionian Sea into the Adriatic Sea and our next port of call which was Kotor in Montenegro. The following morning I was amazed to pull back the curtains and find this spectacular view.

We were anchored in the Bay of Kotor, which looks like a fjord. The small towns around its' shores were built by the Romans, giving them a Venetian feel.  The scenery was just stunning. The ship's lifeboats ran a shuttle service to get passengers to and from the harbour. This was a reassuring experience, as the lifeboats were much more substantial than I had expected them to be.

Now there was only one day of our cruise left and that was another day at sea. This time we sailed along the west coast of the Greek island of Zakynthos/Zante, before heading towards Piraeus - the

port of Athens, where we were to disembark. We now had a two night stay in Athens. By the time that we had disembarked and settled ourselves into our hotel it was late morning. We then took the hotel's shuttle bus into the centre of Athens for a spot of lunch, followed by an open top bus tour of Athens in the afternoon. Athens was very hot as was the top of the bus, but at times there was a pleasant breeze - the pros and cons of an open top bus. The tour took us around the main points of interest in the centre of Athens - past the parliament building which has recently seen a lot of controversial activity.

In front of the parliament building the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by two presidential guards wearing Greek national dress. I don't know how they wear those outfits in the sweltering heat.

By the end of the bus tour we were in need of refreshment. Then we caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel for a much needed dip in the hotel swimming pool. The next day we went to the Acropolis, which is actually an area of Athens and not the building on the hill top. The Acropolis is the most important ancient site in the Western world.

The monument on the hill top that can be seen from almost everywhere in the city is the Parthenon. It is built from Pentelic marble, which gleams white in the sun and epitomises the glory of ancient Greece. It was completed in 438 BC, is dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos and is the largest Doric temple ever built in Greece.

The Parthenon appears to be pretty much in the centre of Athens, which is a vast city. This is the view from just one side of the Parthenon with buildings as far as the eye can see.

That afternoon we enjoyed a leisurely beer in Syntagma Square - the square in front of the parliament building. This was the weekend of the Greek General Election. The fourth since 2009. We watched as television crews set up their equipment in Syntagma Square in preparation for the result of the election later that night. After the drama of the previous election earlier in the year, this turned out to be a quiet affair.

Our holiday was about over. We were to fly home the following day. But there would be another twist in the tale before we made it home. Thunder storms and heavy rain were forecast for the Athens area. As we prepared to leave out hotel for the taxi ride to the airport storm clouds were gathering over Athens.

We had not driven far when the heavens opened and we were engulfed in a spectacular storm. Initially there was wind with thunder and lightening, both sheet and forked. Then there was torrential rain and hail stones. The road was awash with water. It was like been driven along a river. It was an experience! Unsurprisingly our flight back to Manchester was delayed. In fact nothing much seemed to be happening at the airport that morning. We heard that some flights had been diverted to other airports, to avoid the storm. Our plane had been held back at Manchester, in the hope that the storm would be over by the time it reached Greece, but as that was not the case, the air traffic controllers had had to divert the plane around the storms until it was safe to land. By the time that we took off, about one hour late, the storm was over and we had an uneventful flight back to Manchester.