Stockholm in early June was refreshingly cool and abloom! I wondered what it would look like in winter, but I don’t care to find out. This is what my camera captured in Sweden’s capital city.
You are invited to view Perfectly Portugal, a video slide show of my favorite images from our Spring 2015 trip to that photogenic country. Sound up, select 720 HD quality on the little cog wheel, agree to go full screen, click off the ads (so much to do!) and sit back (perhaps with a glass of port) and fritter away 9 minutes and 55 seconds of your valuable time. Enjoy!
Well, folks, this seems to be it! Luisa, our travel agent, booked us home from Italy through Dublin to get a good airline fare. But we stayed two nights to take a look around, so blew the savings. It was fun taking a peek at Ireland, as we have not been here except to change planes at Shannon years ago. I bought a china ashtray in the duty-free shop, that was how long ago it was—another millennium.
We had a comedic introduction to Dublin from the cabbie who drove us from the airport to our hotel. He was Rodney Dangerfield on wheels, literally. He had the one-liners coming so fast that we can’t remember any of them. But he’s driving us to the airport in the morning, so we have a second chance.
But in the meantime, we saw Dublin from a HOHO, which is a great way to get a quick overview of a city when your time is limited. Twenty-three stops were on the circuit, including cathedrals, museums (all were closed today), a zoo, Trinity College and Dublin Castle, to name a few. We eschewed them all for the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland: the Guinness Storehouse. It is Disneyland for beer drinkers, and we happen to have one in our family. I believe Chris was impressed.
In the Storehouse, Guinness has created a teaching experience inside a massive seven-story building, a former Guinness fermentation plant, remodeled into the shape of a giant pint of Guinness. The Storehouse is located in the heart of the St James’s Gate Brewery, which has been home to the black stuff since 1759. Oh, what they can do with water, barley, hops and yeast. At the end, you wind up at the top-floor round Gravity Bar where you are rewarded with a complimentary pint of Guinness, which is enjoyed while taking in the 360-degree views across Dublin.
Dublin is not world-class, or exotic, or even somewhere we would return, but it was fun to get a taste of this old city where the Irish brogue can charm the shamrocks off of you.
We are blessed to have been able to make this extraordinary trip as a family. Postcards will help us remember moments of Turkey, the Black Sea cruise, Croatia and Italy when they drift into the past. Thanks for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the ride!
Our Roman holiday is coming to a close. Rome is Rome is Rome. It doesn’t change, of course, as some other great world capitals do. And that’s its charm. It is reliably ancient. The Italians are reliably fun to watch and listen to. Even Anthony has remarked on the Italian sense of fashion, particularly in menswear. Both men and woman have that certain, I-don’t-give-a-damn confidence. They smoke and make no apologies and we just tough it out when dining al fresco. If you don’t like the taxi prices? Too bad. Someone else will pay it. The wine is cheaper than Coke Zero? Drink the wine then.This is Italy. There is no other.
If you like ancient history, museums, art, style, come here. This is what Italy is about. And love. Saw much open affection on the streets with unabashed young lovers. La vita è bella! Arrivederci, Roma!
We felt confident we could “do the Vatican” without a guide, as we have been there in other years. Rick Steves said we could do it, and told us how. Go online, he said, and buy tickets with the audio guide. You’ll avoid the lines. We did avoid the lines. We got right in. But Rick neglected to say the devices are like phones, you have to hold them. No earbuds. That doesn’t work for people who like to take pictures (photography is allowed through the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica, but not in the Sistine Chapel). So we slogged through the procession (think Africa’s big migration of the herds) without the benefit of our audio guides, but taking lots of pictures.
The Vatican Museum is very large and linear, so you are mostly walking a very long gauntlet, and up and down four flights of stairs. By the time you are done, you are at the Sistine Chapel, the end of the museum. You are hot and tired of jostling and being jostled by the herds of guided tours ahead, behind and around you. You enter the Sistine Chapel and guards move you in one direction. Don’t even think about walking around the chapel to look here and there. You push yourself to a place and plant your tired feet to stand firm and bend your neck and head so that they hurt. Drink in all those fabulous Michelangelo frescoes. You do it until your neck can no longer stand the torture. Then, because Rick Steves told you about the savvy way to leave the chapel (to the right and not the left), you will be dropped right at St. Peter’s Basilica where you will wrap up your visit to the Vatican. But wait.
Rick Steves didn’t tell you that if you rent audio devices, you have to return them. At the beginning of the museum. Once you do that, the only way to the Basilica is to do the museum all over again, or leave the building, leave the Vatican walls and walk all the way around to the front of Vatican Square and finally to the Basilica. Remember, I said it was a very big, linear museum. Herds of wildebeest to get through. We opted to do that. We were relegated to the dreaded Sistine Chapel exit on the left. It was late afternoon, and a museum guard must have been too tired to object, and he let us do an end run against the herd and take an elevator reserved only for disabled people (hey, by this time we feel disabled). We hurried through about half the galleries with this short cut, dodged through the Sistine Chapel and out the door to the right. It was miraculous. There was the Basilica. So immense. So very beautiful. And so easy to get to if you don’t listen to Rick Steves.
A day trip from Florence took us an hour west in Tuscany to see the Tower of Pisa and the Cathedral of Pisa, of which the tower is its campanile, or bell tower. The cathedral’s construction began in 1064, and set the model for the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style of architecture. The mosaics of the interior, as well as the pointed arches, show a strong Byzantine influence. Construction of the bell tower began in 1173 and took place in three stages over the course of 177 years, with the bell-chamber only added in 1372. Five years after construction began, when the building had reached the third floor level, the weak subsoil and poor foundation led to the building sinking on its south side. The building was left for a century, which allowed the subsoil to stabilize itself and prevented the building from collapsing. In 1272, to adjust the lean of the building, when construction resumed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. The seventh and final floor was added in 1319. By the time the building was completed, the lean was approximately 1 degree, or 2.5 feet from vertical. At its greatest, measured prior to 1990, the lean measured approximately 5.5 degrees. As of 2010, the lean was reduced to approximately 4 degrees. (What would I do without Google?)
We enjoyed a day trip from Opatija down the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia to Pula, on the southern tip, and up the western side to Rovinj. Both are steeped in ancient history and diverse takeovers, starting with the Romans. It appears there was never a dull moment for many centuries, including the 20th.
The Pula City Gate
A sliver of Bosnia (and) Herzegovina intrudes into Croatia’s Adriatic coastline, forcing us to cross into Bosnia as our bus made its way up the Dalmatian coast from Dubrovnik to Split. At the border, the Bosnian guard poked his head into our motor coach and asked the guide who was on board. “Americans,” she responded, and he said, “Go on through.” We had our passports at the ready, just in case, but they were not needed. At Split, four hours north of Dubrovnik, we boarded a ferry for the two-hour sail to the island of Hvar, one of the world’s 10 most beautiful islands, according to Conde Naste. From Hvar’s main harbor it was a 20-minute ride to our hotel in the old town where nuns still tat lace, restaurants serve a bounty just pulled from the sea, olive oil is local and the wine is too. After two nights in Hvar, we returned to Split and toured the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, built between the late 3rd and the early 4th centuries AD. The Roman Emperor Diocletian spent his declining years in this enormous palace, which represents the most valuable example of Roman architecture on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. It is the only palace of its kind still inhabited. Many Split residents live in apartments built within the palace walls, although not in the opulent style of Diocletian.
It’s true what they said about Sochi. It’s a subtropical town with views of snow-capped mountains. Our Russian guide compared the climate to California and Florida. But he also said Russians were free, “just like Americans,” and that Russia was “a peaceful place, with no conflict.” So. There you have it. Good to know. While Sochi is a resort destination for chilly Russians, the abandoned Olympic sites from earlier this year give it a Hollywood set vibe, with no movies being made. They are banking on cruise ships this summer to pour some rubles into the local economy. Our ship is the first one on the Black Sea this season, and Sochi didn’t seem ready for us, which was good. No hawkers or souvenir stands, except for one woman selling traditional little dolls.
Speaking of not being ready for us, we had to tender to shore because, according to the ship scuttlebutt, the Russians claimed Silversea didn’t pay the landing fee. I’m guessing our Italian captain was not about to cave to such blackmail. He said “Nyet,” dropped anchor, lowered the lifeboats and off we went up to the mountains to visit the Olympic Village. Dosvedanya.
Batumi, in the Independent Republic of Adjara within Georgia, is a picturesque port town on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. A walk around the city center proved to be a photographer’s delight as green spaces, balconies, assorted architectural styles and rooftops caught our eyes. Mountains, some of them snow-capped in the distance, sloped down to the sea. However, Batumi is more than just a pretty face. With its large port, it’s the last stop of the Trans Caucasian Railroad and the Baku Oil Pipeline. The port is connected with all of the seacoast nations of the world by seaways. Their alphabet is like none in the world. It has been associated with noodles in its roundness.
On a personal note, I freely give out smiles in exchange for not knowing the language (and nobody speaks English), but they are not easily returned here in this former soviet republic. It’s our American nature to try to be friendly; however, the only interaction we received (other than a beggar girl picking at my clothes) was with two men who gestured they wanted to take a picture with us on a park bench. One took the photo while the other posed, and then they exchanged places, capturing the two images on their phone. Attempts to communicate with others to ask directions were rebuffed. It seems a little southern hospitality from our Georgia is needed here in theirs.