We arrived in Florence by train from Venice and managed to find our way to the AirBNB apartment we had near the central Florence Market with not too many problems.  When we arrived they asked  if we would mind if they gave us a larger 2 bedroomed apartment on the first floor across from the market.  We didn’t mind at all!  It was really nice and spacious and close to a number of nice restaurants around the market square, once of which was owned by the husband of the apartment owner and we had a nice 10% discount on all meals there – which was great.

The first afternoon in Florence we had a walk around the city, everything was really close and we ended up at the Duomo Cathedral which was really impressive – only just over a block away.  It is just huge, and as you walk into the square it makes a huge impression.  We also walked down to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and had a look into all the expensive jewellery shops along the bridge.

We had a nice dinner at the Garabardi Trattoria  (with a 10% discount) which was really great (pasta and pizza have been the standard fare while in Italy).

The next day we had bookings at the Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery which I had made before I left.  The Accademia is where they have Michelangelo’s statue of David which he carved in Florence when he was in his early 20’s int he early 1500’s. It just takes your breath away when you walk into the room – it is just beautiful.  Huge, over 5M high – much bigger than I expected – really something.  After David we went along to the huge Uffizi Gallery which is a short walk away near the Arno river.  Also beautiful with Bottechelli’s Birth of Venus and the only Michelangelo painting “The Holy Family” as well as a number of Leonardo Da Vinci paintings.

Our train to Rome was supposed to leave at about 4:30 and we were at the station in plenty of time to make the train only to see it delayed (initially by 10  minutes then 55 then 120 then 130 minutes!).  Not much information available other than it was delayed and not many cool places to sit and wait!  We eventually snuck into the Freccia Club which was nicely air-conditioned and not too crowded.  Anyway we ended up arriving in Rome over 2 hours late at around 8:30.


Reflections on the cruising and Greece

Now that we are sitting in beautiful Positano (more on the trip here later) we can reflect back on the cruise and Greece.

The 12 days of the cruise was really great, just long enough with a great itinerary and plenty to do and see. The 2 days we had at sea on board the ship were also great as they allowed us to relax and recover and also take everything that we had seen in and digest it all. It was still a pretty busy schedule, but it was great having the ship as a base where we had our cabin and could unpack everything and leave it all in a wardrobe. (Last few days has been living out of a suitcase with our travels). The food and service on board the Ruby Princess was also great – couldn’t fault it. Our cabin steward (Adrian) was friendly and polite and our cabin was always cleaned twice a day and spotless. Great experience all round. It was really hard to believe that there were 3,000 passengers on board the ship – it was never rushed or over crowded, there were always tables and places to chill out. Mind you there were 1,200 staff looking after us all.

Greece was really beautiful especially the Greek Islands (all of them were different). Santorini and Mykonos were fantastic and Corfu was a real contrast. Athens was big and crowded, but we still got to see the Acropolis and Parthenon – one of the highlights. Mykonos was a real highlight, beautiful place, beautiful colours and crystal clear water.

It was still pretty sad that everywhere we went in Greece they talked about the economy and the fact that there was little hope and little light at the end of the tunnel for the Greeks. When we were in Olympia the Greek Government even ended up shutting down the Government run TV and Radio stations to try and save money, that was not popular. There seemed to be many other options for saving money than cutting that service completely. Anyway there still seemed to be plenty of tourists around especially on the Islands and the economy really relies on the tourist continuing to come along – I hope they do. All the Greek people we met in our travels were just lovely.

Day 12 – Arriving in Venice

We arrived in Venice at around 8AM after steaming at almost full speed from Dubrovnik overnight as we had an earlier docking slot at than the original 1PM. Sailing into Venice canals to dock alongside the island of Venice was quite an experience. We sailed right past St Marks Square through the busy main canals with 2 tugboats attached (one at the front and one at the rear).

We docked at around 10AM and took the shuttle launch organised by Princess right through to St Marks Square. We ended up walking to the square and having a coffee (and a Campari) and watched the crowds and Pigeons. I took a Skype call from Michelle my sister while in the square which was quite surreal with her freezing at night in Christchurch winter all rugged up, while we were bathing in 29 degree sunshine in the middle of Venice! Marvels of technology!

Venice was really beautiful we had 2 nights there, one on the ship and then a night in a Bed and Breakfast (1st of many through AirBnB.com). Really got to see all the highlights of Venice – the really ancient St Marks Basilica with its golden domed mosaic ceilings. We also got great views of St Marks Square from the top of Basilica. We walked around the narrow lanes and bridges of Venice for quite a while before taking the shuttle boat back to the ship to pack and for our final dinner on board.
As always Princess were very efficient in disembarking all 3,000 of the passengers in an organised, orderly way the next day in Venice. We were off the boat very quickly, found our luggage (that was picked up the night before) and caught the People Mover (monorail) out of the dock area.

We had a bit of an adventure finding our Casa Mimma BnB (even with Google maps) we managed to walk right past the little gap in between 2 buildings a couple of times that was the entry into the street where it was. Phoning the owner, Valter, we had him come and find us and lead us back through an impossibly narrow alleyway.

Venice is interesting with twists and turns and narrow alleys. Everyone ends up getting lost at some stage. After getting lost trying to find the B n B we managed OK after that, and found our way around Venice pretty well.

We spent the rest of the day finishing up the sights and sounds of Venice going to the top of the Campanile tower in St Marks square (by elevator thank goodness) and the Doges Palace Museum, which included the Bridge of Sighs across to the old prison cells on the other side of the canal.

Then back over the Rialto bridge and we picked up a 40 minute Gondola ride in the evening. That turned out to be the highlight of our stay in Venice – the Gondolier even managed a few songs.

Day 10&11 At Sea and Dubrovnik

Day 10 was a restful day at sea (we needed it by then).  We spent some of the day by the rear deck terrace pool, but mostly we spent it on our cabin balcony looking out over the wake of the ship – very restful.  We also managed to get some laundry done (American Quarters in the washing machines didn’t make it any easier – but we eventually sorted that out).  Day 10 was also our second formal night in the dining rooms for dinner – so we got dressed up again (rented tux and all) – and this time got some formal photo’s done –which turned out very nicely – had to buy 2.

Day 11 dawned with us coming into Dubrovnik harbour early in the morning.  Very pretty sight, with a huge suspension bridge right next to the harbour.  We had no organised tours booked this time and we caught the shuttle bus into the old walled city and walked around the narrow lanes and old buildings and churches inside the walled city.  The highlight was walking around the top of the wall all around the old city – great sights over the old city and the sea.  It is almost 2KM to walk around and quite a few steps to climb but was well worth it.

We had an early departure at 4:30 as we had an earlier arrival in Venice booked, so we were back on the ship by 3PM and watched the sail away from Dubrovnik from the rear deck pool area again.  Got to bed early, as we were both tired from the walking during the day.  We were a little sad that the end of the cruise was in sight, but looking forward to our adventures around Italy and France.


Day 9 – Corfu Greece

Heading north again from Katakolon, next stop is the island of Corfu on the far northern coast of Greece and Albania. Corfu is the last stop in Greece and very different to all the other Greek Islands we have stopped at.  The architecture is completely different in the old city, with 5 or 6 story buildings crammed in together and narrow cobble-stoned roads and narrow alleyways.   More like the Italian architecture we saw in some of the older parts of Sorrento.  The centre of the old city is completely car-free between the two old forts and there is even an old cricket ground on the one side of the local square a reminder of past British occupation.

We did a morning bus tour of the Island organised by Princess cruises that also took in an old monastery at Paleokastritsa.  The scenery around Corfu is beautiful with high mountains, narrow winding roads and beautiful clear blue-green seas.  After the bus tour we were dropped off at the town-square and left to wander the old city on our own.  Corfu is a really pretty old town and very different and interesting.  Full of old churches and old buildings that have been restored and retained in the city.

We had lunch and a couple of beers at one of the local restaurants and then decided to walk back to the ship.  It looked pretty close from the city – just the other side of the bay and we had heard about 30 minutes walk which sounded a lot.  However the walk was all of 30-40 minutes and the weather by this time was hot and humid (around 30 degrees) – so by the time we arrived we were pretty hot and sweaty.

So when we were back on board it was up to the pool on the rear deck for a dip and to laze away the remainder of the day in the sun while the Ruby Princess sailed out of the port of Corfu for our day at sea on the way up the Adriatic Sea to Dubrovnik Croatia

Day 8 – Olympia Greece

Day 8 already, the time is going too quickly!  We arrived in the port of Katakolon on the west coast of Greece (on the Peloponnesian peninsula) in the morning and we had a private tour booked for the morning to go up to Olympia the birthplace of the Olympics in ancient Greece.

I had heard from the tour operator that there was only one other couple on this tour, so it was pretty much going to be a private tour with our own guide again, which after Ephesus was great.  We meet Niki the tour operator from Olympic Tours and our guide Joanna (or the Greek equivalent of that) as we got off the ship in the morning and the other couple from California (Sam and Krish).

We took a minibus up to Olympia, about 30 minutes from Katakolon – again the weather was fantastic, sunny and about 24 degrees with a cool breeze – so perfect conditions.  The tour started on the ancient site of Olympia where the Greeks started the original Olympic competitions in 776 B.C., which ran for over 1,000 years every 4 years through war and peace-time and through the time of the Roman empire.  Initially it started with horse and chariot races on the ancient Hippodrome, but they soon added running, jumping, javelin and wrestling all sports suited to the ancient warriors of the time.  Only men competed (naked), and only men watched.

The site was also the site of an ancient temple built for the Greek god of war Zeus and his wife Hera.  The temple was huge and contained an enormous statue of Zeus sitting, built from Ivory and Gold.  The museum on site houses some of the real treasures form the site including the beautiful statue of Hermes the messenger of Zeus (from 300BC) and the reconstructed east and west pediments (from the top of the columns) from the temple of Zeus which are breath-taking.  The east pediment features the story of the founding of the site and the games from the original chariot race won by Pelops for the hand of the daughter of the local king.  The west pediment has the story of the battle of the Centaurs and the Lapiths with the god Apollo imposing peace and order.

We also had some time in the original stadium including time to wander down the track (not run – although some of the more energetic and younger tourists did).  We even heard from our guide how some tourists go all the way to being authentic athletes by stripping off their clothes to run down the track.

After the tour of the site and museum we had a little time to shop and spend some money in the village of Olympia and then we had a tasty Greek lunch at a local restaurant (all in the price of the tour – probably one of the better tours of the trip so far).  I found the tour online on Trip Advisor and will need to give it a glowing recommendation, because even though there were only 4 of us booked on the tour Olympic tours still ran with it.

After finishing up with the tour and saying goodbye to Joanna we headed into Katakolon for more shopping then sat and had a beer in one of the many harbour side restaurants (with WiFi) looking over the other 2 cruise ships that were in port along with the Ruby Princess.   Then back on board to get ready for dinner – I could get used to this cruising life style.