Monthly Archives: April 2016

Day 17, Thursday 28 April 2016 – Sorrento to Rome via Positano and the Amalfi Coast

This morning we needed to have our bags out at 7:00am. We also had to make sure our carry-on bags were taken to the coach by 8:00am, and then we climbed into two mini buses for our trip along the Amalfi Coast to Positano. Marco and our luggage would meet us at the drop-off point on our return.

One of our mini buses was driven by Luca and our bus driver was Michaelo – not sure about the spelling there. We had a couple of stops along the way for photo opportunities, shopping and a taste of freshly squeezed orange juice.

I picked up a lovely pair of ear-rings with amber stones and filigree leaf work, and a gorgeous bracelet with green stones. There is only one road into and out of Positano. Large coaches, large buses and trucks (with drivers who have local knowledge) never attempt it.

Giuseppe told us of one occasion where a truck got nine kilometres along the road before it became jammed and bought traffic to a halt. They brought in a local driver with great skill and knowledge of the road itself who reversed the semi-trailer back to the main road.

We actually saw a semi with trailer whose driver was having great difficulty negotiating the curves, and ended up needing a police escort to stop traffic while he made several attempts to get around the bend.

There was also a couple of hairy moments for us as passengers, but I don’t believe our driver even blinked on those occasions.

The Amalfi coast is really spectacular, and Positano is lovely. I would hate to live there and probably wouldn’t even face driving my little Honda along the roads. We enjoyed a stroll when we got there (read walked down numerous steps and what we would call alleys but the Italians call streets) and ended up down at the beach. We took photos pf the houses clinging to the cliff face.

Russ and I enjoyed a cuppa and finished with our daily gelato. The drink I wanted wasn’t available yet as the weather is not hot enough, so I just asked for a latte instead and thought nothing more about it.

The waiter, however, thought differently. He must be used to patrons throwing wobblies when they can’t get what they want. Anyway, when we paid out bill he presented me with a print of the view from the terrace and thanked me.

We headed back up the stairs and the journey going up didn’t deem to take as much time or effort as coming down had done. We had plenty of time to arrive at the meeting point so we window shopped along the way.

I have champagne taste and a beer barrel budget so I didn’t buy anything. There was a beautiful matching cami and blouse (and very colourful, of course) but I wasn’t shelling out 180 Euro dollars for it.

Some of the other ladies don’t have my budgetary constraints and several of them returned to the mini buses carrying shopping bags.

We finally were on our way back to Marco and it didn’t take long to reach him at the drop-off point. The coach, as usual, was immaculately clean inside and out. We really appreciated Marco’s effort each day.

We set off for Rome, and most of the trip today is along the autostrada. It is too good an opportunity not to open the computer and finish going through 100’s of photos to choose some for the website. I am a couple of days behind schedule as it is. Hopefully we will be able to upload the photos once we get to the hotel.

We had a late stop for the restroom break and lunch at the autogrille. Russ and I had a bite of chocolate with a green tea for me and a coke for Russ. Yes, going back to healthy eating will be such a burden!

I had a lovely chat with Edmond and Rima (not sure of the spelling and never got a chance to see how it was written on her name tag) while sitting in the sunshine. We had to stand up after a short while as we had ants climbing on us. Russ had returned to the shade and was chatting with some of the others until it was time to return to the coach.

We are all starting to get a little sad at the thought of the end of our time together, and saying goodbye to such a great bunch of people. Giuseppe passed around a list of names and anyone who wanted to do so could add their email addresses to it. He will later type it up and email it out to those who have responded.

Barbara (0ne of three) knows of a site where she will create a group for us and send out a link to those who provided email addresses. I think it is called Shutterbug. We can upload photos and exchange them with each other on the site.

I finally got to download a photo of the Trevi Fountain that Steve emailed me (several times with different formats) earlier in the trip, and after many failed attempts. Thanks Steve. The photo was taken during the evening tour of Rome that Russ and I missed as he needed downtime before we actually commenced our very hectic touring schedule.

Russ has discussed the blog with others on many occasions and has given out the details about how to access the website to read the blog and see the photos. There has been lots of feedback from the crew, and I always emphasize that I write it for my benefit for later use with the photobooks. I am more than happy to share it, and am very glad if other people on the trip can enjoy it.

We stay in the Sheraton Hotel outside of Rome tonight as it is very close to the airport for transfers out tomorrow morning. We boarded the coach at 6:15pm to go to our Farewell Dinner. Most of the ladies got dolled up for the event, but I didn’t, and spent the time putting captions on the photos that had been uploaded to the website. Besides, it was too cold to put on less clothes than I already did.

When we arrived at our restaurant we were greeted with an aperitif and fried dough (much better than it sounds). We also congregated on the lawn area for our last photo together. Just as you thought we were all finished another camera appeared, so we were there or awhile. Thanks to the waiters who took the time to shoot all the pictures.

The meal was quite good (no photos) and we had an appetiser of small crepes with eggplant I think. And yes, I ate vegetables! The entrée was a pasta dish followed by a meat and potato dish which was very nice. We finished the meal with a tiramisu – the best one he has ever tasted, says Russ.

Then the tissues came out and everyone mingled and many a tear was shed along with the hugs and wishes for safe travel.

Once more on the bus – the last one with everyone – and we returned to our hotel. We had a few attempts to start a sing-a-long (including the Wheels on the Bus) and much laughter was shared by all. It has been a terrific fifteen days and the mob will be missed.

It is too much to expect that the next tour will come up to scratch after this one, but we will enter into it with a Spirit of Ad venture and a positive mind-set. Hopefully there will be some likeminded people with us.

However, I failed! It is not often I admit this so make the most of it. I was supposed to email the work crew back home and remind them about casual Friday. By the time I got internet access today the work day was finished. I face booked those I could. There are only a few of them who use Viber on their phones, so I texted them while I could.

Rinesh was still up and replied to let me know that casual dress had been discussed in my absence. Thanks, Nesh. Hopefully those who may have been missing from that discussion will forgive me.

We got back to the hotel about 9:00pm and set the alarm for 5:30am. Our flight to Madrid does not leave until 11:55am but the Transfer Coach only goes twice in the morning and the second one may be too late for our peace of mind so we are leaving on the first transfer which leaves the hotel at 6:50am.

Day 16, Wednesday 27 April 2016 – Sorrento and the Isle of Capri

What a commotion last night. We had finished our meal, had our cuppas and had turned the lights out to go to sleep when I realised I had not plugged my mobile in to recharge. Then I realised I couldn’t find the damn thing. We spent some time searching unsuccessfully before admitting defeat. I was so annoyed with myself. I was thinking it had fallen under the seat in the coach when we were packing up last night.

I advised Giuseppe when we were at breakfast and he said he would contact Marco later so he could have a look for it when he was cleaning the coach. Whatever happens, it is out of my control. The only blessing is that I lock it so it can’t be used as such.

This morning we went down to breakfast at 7:10am. Russ had the usual with a difference. The chef was on duty and made their omelettes to order while they waited patiently. An American from another group tried to hog his way into the line and attempted to get the finished omelette of both Jane and Russell. The chef told him politely to wait his turn.

The Conca Park hotel has the most unusual and amazing entrance. You enter the door at street level and walk upwards in a tiled tunnel which plateaus in the middle then turns in a curve to the left before you come to a set of steps that lead to the Reception area. It is the only place I know that has minus floor numbers. Along the walls on both sides of the tunnel are displays of the local businesses for you to look at while you climb. There are no prices attached to these items.

The hotel will provide those who need it with a ride in an electric car up to the staircase area. There you change to a lift for one floor only up to the Reception desk.

We all followed Giuseppe down the tunnel to the waiting mini buses that took us to the dock to board the ferry to the Isle of Capri. Giuseppe has been keeping a weather eye on the forecast in case it becomes too rough to travel across the bay. It appears to be a little rough but not enough to stop the excursion.

When we were seated on the ferry Russ and I spoke with the young people who shared our table. The majority were Australians and they were on a Contiki coach tour for 26 days around western Europe. They said the pace was very fast and most of them averaged about four hours of sleep a night before they were off to the next country. Apparently the idea is you travel at night for one day and spend the next sightseeing in the area before moving on. The two lads we spoke to the most were both from the Dandenong area, and one of them was given the trip for his 21st birthday from his parents. He mentioned what an eye opener travel was, and how much he could now appreciate things in Australia that he had taken for granted previously.

The crossing was a bit rough, but Russ had taken a Travel Calm and I just closed my eyes for some of the journey and it was like I was flying on a swing.

Before we got on the ferry we were introduced to our local guide for the day – Willie. He was named after his English grandfather and had a great sense of humour. He serenaded us with a couple of ditties – namely the Isle of Capri that was made famous by Gracie Fields – but he changed the words and had us in fits of laughter.

As we were moving into our berth we noticed the funicular that was going up the slopes to the top of the cliffs. As it happens we were to travel on it later in the day. First stop was a rest break because most of the coach group had decided it was too rough to try and visit the toilets on board the ferry.

While we were walking to the public rest rooms Giuseppe advised Russ that my phone had been found. What a relief! Thank you Marco and Giuseppe.

So, we had a bit of a break and then met again and lined up for the boat trip around the island. The scenery is spectacular and the colour of the water has to be seen to be believed. I used to think they had doctored the pictures but it really is that intense blue.

Giuseppe was a bit concerned that it might be too rough for some of us so he arranged for a larger boat to take us out and around – very skilled pilots on board let me tell you. They even managed to manoeuver the craft through an archway in the rocks on one of the tiny islands. Hopefully the photos of the event will turn out to be really good. Those of us who had brought coats with us had donned them by the time we got off the ferry, and they stayed on for our private boat cruise. Russ lost his bottle of water which came out of the side of his backpack and, probably, rolled into the sea. He was lucky that I noticed his thermos had also parted ways with the backpack and replaced it securely,

Once we returned to the dock Willie and Giuseppe decided that there was a large crowd waiting in line to board the funicular so we could grab a cuppa or gelato and come back to the line-up in 15 minutes. The funicular runs every fifteen minutes in the slow time, and when the crowd is thick it runs every time 70 passengers have passed through the gates. The crowd was fairly intense with more tourists arriving from the ferry every 30 minutes or so. The population on Capri is about 15,000 people but this number is more than doubled every day by visitors to the island. Needless to say we had to wait a fair while for our turn to board and go up the steep slope.

We ended up being divided into two cars so the first group waited at the top with Willie and the second group travelled up with Giuseppe. Willie explained that we would be going for a short walk but it did go up and down the hillside so he would understand if anyone decided not to partake of the exercise. He also undertook to go slowly and stop often. We all decided to follow him so we turned on our audio units and set off.

We ended up at the top of the cliff which we had seen while on the private boat ride around the island. At the end of the walk we entered a small garden area with lookout platforms, and as the sun was shining it looked much like the postcards I grew up seeing. Hopefully the photos will do it justice.

The garden was lovely and the scenery well worth the climb, but nothing spectacular. We did enjoy a stroll around, and found a pussy cat in the garden who didn’t look starving but was insistent that he/she wanted something to eat. I had to advise him/her that I had nothing and continued up the stairs. Halfway up the stairs was a dropped cheese biscuit so I continued to climb, took some photos and when we were ready to go back down again we went back to the stairs. The biscuit was still there so I picked it up and took it back to the garden and called. Sure enough the cat appeared and gobbled up the little pieces I threw to him/her.

We ate some muesli bars while admiring the flowers from a lovely tiled bench and then continued on our way. The flower beds in front of the shops are really pretty, and the scenery isn’t half bad either. By the time we got back to the top of the funicular it was time to head down to the pick-up point.

There was no crowd waiting to get on board so we were able to walk through straight away. It was almost full but we found some of the other ladies and got into the same cab area as them for the journey.

It was starting to look like we might be in for a rain shower. Shortly after that Giuseppe rounded us up and gave out our ferry tickets. We sheltered for a bit along the wall and then boarded the ferry. It rained while we were journeying across to Sorrento but had cleared when we got there.

On the way back to the hotel we took a slight detour, which was planned, and went into the Inlaid Wood factory for a short lesson on parquetry before we were let loose in the showroom. Tom was sitting up the front and was named as the assistant which meant that unlike some of the others he couldn’t nod off for a short snooze. Russ was also in the front row but avidly interested. I was relegated to the back row this time.

The work they do is simply magnificent. Where possible they use local woods for their sheets of veneer, and only buy in that which they cannot source locally. The use pot ash and other things on local woods to change the colour of some of the veneers.

I would have loved to have bought some furniture from there. However, not only can I not afford much of anything in terms of furniture, I couldn’t pay to have it shipped back to Australia either. I drooled over an extendable table with eight chairs, the table was marked at 6,000 euros, and the chairs were in the high hundreds each.

We settled on a set of six coasters, each one a different setting and style so we can enjoy them when we get home. They have been carefully packaged and crammed into Russell’s suitcase.

After that we returned to the hotel. Russ and I were not going out to learn how to make pasta and then eat some more, so Giuseppe told us where we could find some restaurants close by. Of course, when we got there later in the evening, we met up with Louise, Donna and Eleanor who had already ordered and half eaten their meal so we sat at the table next to them.

The restaurant was newly opened and named the America Bar – you have to love the local entrepreneurial spirit which has them naming things in the hope of generating custom by the Americans. Good luck to them.

Russ and I couldn’t read a word on the menu, didn’t want a hamburger, so the waiter said they could do spaghetti carbonara. In the meantime, we both ordered a hot chocolate which was delicious. The bread was delivered to our table while we waited. It was fresh but the top crust was burnt – not a good omen.

IT is an interesting side piece that neither the Italians or the Spanish serve butter with their bread, unless it is requested by the customer, or they know they will be serving heathens who will want it.

When the carbonara arrived at our table Russ and I looked at each other and decided to try it before turning our noses up at it. We are used to Brett making our carbonara and it is delicious. This dish came with what looked like thinly scrambled eggs attached to the noodles – al dente, of course. It was the worst meal we have had on our trip so far.

We returned to the hotel and got ready for the next morning before going nigh nigh.

Day 15, Tuesday 26 April 2016 – Toarmina to Sorrento

We had our bags outside in time and left to go to the Breakfast Lounge. Russ and I walked the bar to see what was available and I had just commented, “My God, I must be seeing things” as I watched Russ spoon cornflakes into a bowl. He then spotted the fresh scrambled eggs being put into the server so I ended up eating corn flakes and yoghurt for breakfast this morning. No need to mention Russell’s choice.

Once again we made it all aboard on time. Today is the longest leg of our tour, and Giuseppe has promised us a few treats if the traffic is not too heavy after Italy’s long weekend celebrating Liberation Day.

We wended our way to Messina and missed out on getting aboard the first ferry that was docked as we were coach number nine and they can only take eight coaches at a time, with some cars. It is a 20-minute ferry ride across the Straits of Messina from Sicily to Calabria on the Italian mainland. Most of that time was spent waiting in line to use the ladies. The men had time to drink a cup of coffee.

Calabria is the home place where Giuseppe was born and grew up. He married a Sicilian lady so now resides in Sicily as he is a firm believer in the old adage of ‘Happy Wife – Happy Life’.

We made reasonable time so got to make a stop at a family run business where they sell Tor Tofu – a Sicilian dish with liquid chocolate encased in a round ball of gelato and dusted with chocolate powder. It was delicious. Alba informed us that we can buy this delicacy in Little Italy in Carlton, a suburb of Melbourne, and it tastes every bit as good as the Sicilian one.

Giuseppe also bought a large box of freshly picked strawberries while we were stopped, and then shared them with all of us once we were on our way again.

When we went to buy the Tor Tofu we encountered a really unusual arrangement. In this shop you need to know what you what because you pay for it and then take the receipt to another counter to be served. It did cut down on the length of the queue waiting.

I should mention here that the bathroom in the hotel at Agrigento was filthy. It needed a bleach bath on both the inside and the outside of the shower recess to attack the copious amount of mould that was growing there. It was a shame as the rest of the room was reasonable.

After out gelato and strawberries we made a side trip to visit the beach and a cave that was a church. From the photos I saw when everyone was back on board it looked interesting. However, Russ chose to stay on board in the sunshine and I took the opportunity of taking some photos of the flowering weeds outside the coach.

Italy is a country that needs to adopt a Clean Up Italy day campaign and make it national. The roads, streets and highways are a dumping ground for all sorts of rubbish, and litter never seems to make it to the bins. This is true of both the city and the countryside. Even in the National Park there was litter everywhere. They could do with a campaign to get people to carry out whatever they carried into the Park and it would help clean the place up considerably. It is a shame as they are a very friendly and accommodating people as a whole.

We stopped in a service area – Autogrille – and then quickly got back on the road again. The scenery is spectacular with mountains all round. Last night there was a snowfall in the higher reaches and today the tops of the mountains are still dusted with snow. It is just as well we are in the coach as most are wearing t-shirts and the temperature outside ranges from 12 degrees Celsius to 15 degrees Celsius as we climb up the mountains and descend into the valleys.

There is a lot of work taking place upgrading the highway system and in some places we are going much more slowly than others. We are travelling into and out of immense tunnels which cut through the mountains. It is a major engineering undertaking.

The hills in the valleys are heavily sown with crops or vines. These areas are interspersed with heavily wooded areas. Although we are travelling through sun shine (when not incarcerated in tunnels) we can see dark, heavy black rainbands moving across the top of the higher mountains, with plenty of snow to be seen.

We arrived at Conca Park Hotel around 6:30pm. It has been a long day. Dinner will be served in the restaurant about 8:15pm. I have advised Giuseppe that Russ and I will not be attending dinner as Russ is already very white about the eyes and needs to do his meditation if he is to travel to the Isle of Capri with the rest of the coach tomorrow. Giuseppe, as usual, has been wonderful and has said he will arrange for a meal to be served to us in our room.

While Russ has rested and while I am waiting for the delivery of our luggage, I am updating the diary. The wi fi signal is weak but we will attempt to upload the blog first thing tomorrow morning.

The Conca Park Hotel in Sorrento is lovely. IT reminds me of Las Vegas in some ways, especially as we walked up a very long sloping tunnel to get to the Reception area. It was decided on the coach today that as Giuseppe has gone out of his way to make the journey interesting by being our local guide, we would all hand him the guide’s fee when he gave us our keys. We did get some laughs out of the exercise, and he has earned every bit of it today.

Sorrento is a city built on sheer cliffs. The streets are narrow and very busy, especially during the peak hour period of each work day.

Tomorrow we need to have our breakfast and be on the coach by 8:00am ready to catch our ferry to Capri. Marco will have a rest day so we will be ferried around by the smaller tourist buses that are used in Sorrento.

Day 14, Monday 25 April 2016 – Toarmina, Savoca and Mt Etna

Today is Anzac Day.

This morning we got up at 6:30am although the alarm was set for 7:00am. We had our breakfast (you all know the drill by now) then went to our room to collect our layers for the day’s adventure. I am wearing thermals today, and even though I am a bit warm for the moment we have been assured that we will need every one of our layers by the time we get to Etna.

All were aboard on time once again, so we keep our good record intact. We first climbed some steep hills and switchbacks, and Marco once more demonstrated his superb driving and judgement skills.

We arrived at the town of Savoca where several of the scenes from the movie “The Godfather” were filmed by Francis Ford Cuppola in the 1970’s. He had wanted to film originally in Corleone but did not like the atmosphere – remember that this was an area of Mafia activity at this time.

So, on his tours of exploration he discovered the township of Savoca and he asked the residents to re-sign the town for the duration of the shooting of the movie. At the end of the filming he asked the locals what they would like as a thank you for their co-operation and welcome over such a long period of time and they asked him to seal the dirt road from the town square to the church at the top of the hill. He was more than happy to oblige so now the locals can use a little car to drive their older inhabitants to church on Sundays.

Many of the locals were used as extras during scenes in the film. This also included the parish priest at the last minute for the wedding scene. The film crew had spent such a long time in the village that when they were ready to film the wedding scene they realised they had forgotten to ring the actor in the US and get him to fly to Sicily. When they first asked the priest to do the scene he said no, but changed his mind on the condition that they filmed outside the church. Hence, the wedding takes place in the square outside the church itself.

I attempted to pet the cat who had wandered into the garden outside the shop at the village square. Unfortunately, as I put my hand down towards him, he was frightened by my bracelet and attacked my hand and arm with claws. I needed a tissue or two to mop up the bleeding but although the claw marks were deep I did not pull my arm away so did not get big scratches. In the meantime, he continued to give me the evil eye while rolling in a patch of catnip.

Our local guide today is Francesca. She is a tiny little thing – even shorter than me. We walked up the winding hillside, stopping to take photos of the spectacular scenery along the way, and came to a bakery. Giuseppe had arranged for some samples of biscotti to be tried, and it was delicious.

We continued up the hill to (you guessed it) another church. This one has a statue dedicated to St Lucia whose original church was destroyed by fire. The current church, with her statue, was rebuilt on the site.

While climbing the stairs to get to the church I observed a minute’s silence in contemplation of the sacrifice our brave soldiers made to ensure that we have our freedom today, including my Dad who won the Military Medal for action in Syria, and who influenced us with a sense of community and a love of gardening. Rest in Peace.

While others were listening to Francesca and standing in front of the church I went wandering around to see if I could find any flowers. Ozzie indicated I should follow him, which I did, and he took me through a very, very narrow alley – he and Russ had to navigate some sections sideways – to a beautiful view that we wouldn’t have found on our own. Thanks for that, Ozzie.

On the way back down to the village square and back to the coach a lot of us stopped one more at the bakery and bought items. Russ and I bought almond biscuits, and if we had realised just how yummy they were going to be, we would have bought two packets. The ones we did purchase did not last long.

Once back on the coach we descended from Savoca and made our way towards Mt Etna. The sun was shining brightly but the wind was very cool.

While logged into the wi fi Jeannie had been keeping us abreast of the annual Anzac Day match between Collingwood and Essendon. Quite a long time ago (I can’t remember how many yeas although I attended the inaugural Anzac Day game at the MCG) the coaches of the two teams – Mick Malthouse and Kevin Sheedy – wanted to do something on Anzac Day that would involve the youth of the day and educate them about the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ efforts in the past to ensure our continued freedom. They came up with the idea of the two teams battling it out for the Anzac Medal and the Anzac Cup. They involved all the branches of the armed services in collecting donations for the returned soldiers and legacy families, and began the afternoon with due pomp and ceremony for the raising of the flag, the Last Post (with the Army buglar) and the minute’s silence for fallen comrades.

During the inaugural game many who attended were only interested in a footy game. They did not understand the significance of the ceremony and consequentially we very loud and rowdy at all the most inappropriate places during the ceremony. Today, with 85,000 people attending this home and away game during the AFL Football Season, you can hear a pin drop at the MCG. It is a testament to both Micky and Sheeds who worked with the AFL to make this a day for all, and for the youth who now have some understanding of what the day means.

Jeannie and I are using Viber to text free messages to each other while Russ and I are on tour. It was great to read that Mason Cox, from Dallas in Texas, was making his debut for Collingwood in this match.

It was great to read that his Mum and Dad had travelled all the way from Texas to attend his first game, and it was exciting to read that he kicked the first goal of the match for Collingwood and was mobbed by his team mates.

Better yet, it was terrific to read that Collingwood won the game this year. I have a lot of sympathy for the Essendon team who have a hard season ahead of them, and wish them all the very best – as long as they are not playing Collingwood. Go Pies.

Finally, we were travelling through lava fields along the slopes of Mt Etna, and more superb driving displays by Marco. The vegetation has started to grow back on the lower slopes which are covered with bright yellow flowers of broom. These are the first plants to establish themselves after a lava flow, and pave the way for other species to appear later. Lots of wildflowers among the broom plants.

The whole area around Mt Etna is a National Park. When we got out of the coach it was bitterly cold. I put on all my layers including my New Zealand red and white fleece hat, and Jane and I agreed it didn’t matter what you looked like as long as you were warm. Her hat was slightly more stylish than mine.

As per usual we stood in line and waited to use the toilet facilities of one of the restaurants. It was a very long line up for the ladies as the slopes are a picnic area for locals, especially on public holidays, so there were heaps more women waiting than just our coach load.

The lady who owned the place came bustling into the small area and demanded to know why we were standing waiting and blocking the eating area as there were three toilets. We informed her that they were all occupied, but she went along banging on the doors anyway.

Jane and I were at the very end of the line of our ladies so most of the coach had already been on the short walk of the lava slopes by the time we made it back outside. It was freezing and blowing a gale so we decided to hang onto each other so we wouldn’t be blown over the side and down into the valley. We only managed to go half way before we decreed it was too dangerous to continue and we stumbled back down the slope laughing.

There is one building in the tourist stop area which sells souvenirs and food. During the last lava flow (the ones on Etna are slow moving flows) the lave came down along the side of the shop and all the way up to the top of their window. It left a lava tube at the side, and when you go inside the shop you can take a photo of the lava on the other side of the glass. The building itself was not touched.

Finally, we grabbed a ham panini to share (with the help and interpretation of Alba – many thanks) and enjoyed the freshness and tangy taste. Many others bought lemon honey from the honey vendor to take home with them.

Our time was up so we boarded the coach and started the torturous journey down the slopes and back to Taormina. I believe I heard Giuseppe mention that the indigenous flora of Sicily is the olive tree. All the other vegetation has been introduced from other countries.

When we arrived back at our hotel we had some down time before we had to be ready to board the coach once more for our Be My Guest experience at a local winery. It was now blowing a gale at Toarmina and bitterly cold. Most ran from the bus to the restaurant, and those that could run shivered all the way.

Apparently the wine was very nice – tasted like vinegar to me. The food was plentiful and a good variety of food for each course, which was chosen to compliment the accompanying wine – one white and two reds.

Some of the pasta dishes tasted like they had been cooked in tomato sauce straight from the bottle rather than a smooth tomato blending for the sauce, and these ones I tasted and left. The rest of the dishes I enjoyed, including the mushrooms and roasted potatoes.

We were back at the hotel by 9:00pm and in bed by 9:30pm. The alarm is set for 6:00am as bags need to be outside our doors by 7:00am and we will leave for the ferry ride to Sorrento at 8:00am.

Day 13, Sunday 24 April 2016 – Agrigento to Taormina

Last night the meal was really delicious. We enjoyed it so much that we forgot to take any photos for you foodies – sorry about that. We had an entrée of a pasta that even the Australian Italians had not heard of its name. The looked like thin, yellow rubber bands with a bolognaise sauce. This was followed by roast beef so tender it barely needed a knife to cut, with roast potatoes and baked eggplant and tomato (needless to say that bit would have made it back to the kitchen but Alba said she could fit it in), and then the dessert was an ice-cream like cheesecake. We shared the meal with Alba and Angeles (Maria) and Dan and Susan. A jolly time was had by all at our table.

We both slept very well and were up bright and early in the morning. Cereal selection once again left heaps to be desired so I had and small jam tart and some yoghurt, and Russ had – you guessed it – scrambled eggs, bacon and croissant.

We all boarded the coach on time – Giuseppe says we are setting a very good example for the rest of the season – and headed out into the Sicilian countryside.

The hills are still very green and the trees are in blossom, the flowers are blooming, and the fields along the roadway are a riot of wildflower colours in God’s own garden. (C’mon, you know I love my flowers!)

We stopped for a morning tea break at a very crowded service area, and as it is Saturday of a long weekend it was full of people travelling where ever they were headed. As per usual the guys breezed into the toilets and out again, and the ladies waited patiently in line to shuffle forward ever so slowly. Unfortunately, we were not quick enough to step in front of some pushy broads who waltzed to the front of the line to the disgust of all other females present who had waited (well, somewhat impatiently).

We got back on the bus and headed out once again. We are headed to the old city part of Taormina, a very well loved destination of locals and tourists. Marco, our ever amazing coach driver, manoeuvred the coach through some very narrow and winding roads. He understands that the coach can only safely drive part of the way to the top of the hills and Giuseppe had made arrangements for us to catch the shuttle bus to take us the rest of the way to the top.

It is a pity that more coach drivers do not take others into consideration when wending their way along these narrow winding places. Marco has amazed us all with his skill and judgement in some sticky situations. Well done, Marco, and a big thank you from all of us.

We had spare time in Taormina at the top. It is an incredible experience to wend our way on streets and narrow alleys that have existed for centuries in some places. There was a variety of shops to see and investigate, and Giuseppe gave us a short orientation tour before he left us to our own devices while he and Marco took our luggage to the hotel while we found some lunch.

Giuseppe stopped at one shop and introduced us to a Sicilian nougat which was divine. The lady at the shop handed out a sample to each of us, and I know that many returned and bought lots more on the way back to the shuttle bus service.

Russ and I wandered the entire length of the main street window shopping, and making note of places to visit on the way back. As a tourist destination some of the merchandise is quite expensive, although lovely.

We invested in a king size packet of fresh, hot chips to share. We did not realise how big the KING was in king size. They even provide you with long skewers so you can reach the bottom of the packet easily. We stood outside the shop and leaned on the wall to enjoy them, and got a bit of a giggle at the number of people who stared at our enjoyment before heading into the shop to buy their own. Russ said we should have got a discount for the amount of trade we scrummaged up.

When we got to the end of the street, another narrow archway, we wandered into the sitting area and got some great shots of the views from the height. We also decided that it would be a really good idea to ban cars from the street as it is so narrow, and the drivers, for some reason, seem to think they have right of way.

There was a brief shower of rain during our sojourn so we sheltered under a balcony while it passed. The weather has been lovely for this trip. We have started the mornings with a brisk breeze, and then the sun has warmed the day (but not too hot) before it cools down in the evening. At some elevations the wind has been very cool and some of us have got just a little bit sun kissed.

Once the shower was over we continued along the way, still taking photos when we saw something of interest – like lots of bling on sneakers at outrageous prices – until we came to the gelato shop. Russ got four scoops in a large waffle cone, and I asked for just pistachio and hazelnut. When the young girl realised I was only choosing two flavours she put more in my cone. It really is lovely ice-cream.

I also checked out a shop from which came the most tantalizing smells. It was full of soap bars and perfume and has a web site . As you know I don’t wear perfume as it reacts badly with my skin, but soap is another matter entirely. They even had a bar of soap that smells like chocolate, and no, I didn’t buy that one. I did, however, get one of frangipani and coconut and another of fig and almond milk. They are the most amazing smells.

We gathered in the pick-up spot and waited for Giuseppe and our shuttle buses to take us down the mountain to Marco and the coach. We then continued on to our hotel St Alphio Garden Hotel and Spa.

It is a building that sprawls out everywhere, and it is an adventure to find your room. The building looks like a typical Mediterranean hotel with the swimming pool, lounges, palm trees and flowers everywhere.

The rooms are tiled and most have a balcony – hence the sprawling nature. Russ immediately had a shower to cool him down as the air conditioner was not working. Apparently several others of our group also had troubles with lack of air conditioning, and ended up being moved to other rooms. It finally came on in our room after I rang down to Reception, so the action was prompt.

This is another place that does not have a self-service laundrette, and the prices are astronomical for the use of their laundry service, so more hand washing was commenced. There was a very brisk wind blowing across our balcony so I got out the clothes line and put most of the larger items on it. I had to remove them after a few hours as the wind had gotten so strong I thought they just might fly away.

They were mostly dry by the morning, but as we are here for two days they have more than enough time to dry out.

Russ and I had enjoyed our chips and gelato so much that neither of us wanted much for tea. We ended up having a cup of tea with some Pringles, and I did a lot of work catching up with photos ready for upload.

We have decided to wait until tomorrow before we use the internet as there is no free wi fi at this hotel. They are charging 3 Euro for one hour and 5 Euro for 24 hours, and it is very slow. As tomorrow we will be away most of the day, any uploads will occur between the end of our Mt Etna excursion and the start of our Be My Guest segment of the tour where we will have dinner.

Tomorrow we have breakfast from 7:00am and we all need to have boarded the bus by 8:15am. Giuseppe has warned us to wear lots of clothes in layers as Mt Etna is very cold. We will be at 1,902 metres above sea level at our stop way up the mountain. We cannot go to the top as it has been closed since 11 British tourists lost their lives when it erupted while they were at the summit.

Day 12, Saturday 23 April 2016 – Palermo to Agrigento

We actually had a decent sleep in this morning as the bags did not have to be out until 800am. Breakfast was very crowded and we had to clear our own table to use it. It is a small room and there were quite a few guests beside our coach load of 42 people. Not much to choose from for me so I ended up eating a slice of cake and a yoghurt, while Russ had his scrambled eggs etc.

I was able to do a bit more of the blog while we waited for coach boarding time. Marco was unable to park outside the hotel for us as he was moved on by the Guardia and police. They had blocked off most of the street and were escorting a judge to the court. We assumed it was a high profile case that was being tried.

We finally boarded and were on our way out of Palermo. As I worked on the blog in our room this morning there was a cacophony of dog barks in the street which distressed me no end. I am glad to be leaving Palermo.

Once we had left the city environs we headed to a much nicer area where the well to do reside. There were lovely houses with beautiful gardens instead of tiny flats with washing hanging out on small balconies. We had a brief five-minute stop once we reached the beach, and at 9:30am there were already people swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and playing Frisbee and soccer on the sandy beach.

We finally left the beach area and headed into a more rural setting. Apart from the fact that there are lots of hills the scenery could have been anywhere in the Sunraysia region. We had eucalyptus trees, grapes vines, orange groves, almond trees and olive trees. We even had wattle in flower and bottlebrush.

It is a very lush, green area and the scenery is wonderful. There were also tall cliffs of rocks towering over the valleys. There are wind farms along the heights and large areas of photo-voltaic cells.

We wended our way along the country roads which were in very good condition until we came to a little town with a beach. It is very early in the tourist season here, and Giuseppe says this town is not visited by hordes of tourists so the people are still very tourist friendly.

While most of the coach headed for the beach and removed their shoes so they could paddle in the surf Russ and I headed away from the madding crowd and found a nice little spot among the wattles and prickly pears. (The prickly pears are available for anyone who wants to harvest the fruit from them in season. They make prickly pear jam, preserves, pie, wine, and a vitamin C-rich pear-juice “cooler,” among others, and are often called Indian Figs.)

When we had finished our meal we went for a walk along the interior until we came out on the beach, but further down that the coach crowd. We ambled back and took lots of photos, and once we had reached the boardwalk again we headed up into town to search for Gelato.

We found some in a little café run by two older Sicilian ladies who made us feel very welcome. We made our choices for the gelato and she insisted on putting a small spoon of every other flavour on top of my pistachio and cherry ice cream. She then invited us to go out into their seating area to enjoy our treat.

When we all headed back on board the coach we continued on our way. Today we are visiting the Valley of the Temples, which is a UNESCO site of importance. It shows the remains of Greek temples and they are the best preserved remains outside of Greece.

The Valley of the Temples is an archaeological site in Agrigento, Sicily. It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, and is one of the main attractions of Sicily as well as a national monument of Italy.

The area was included in the UNESCO Heritage Site list in 1997. The archaeological park and landscape of the Valley of the Temples is the largest archaeological site in the world with 1,300 hectares. The term “valley” is a misnomer as the site is located on a ridge outside the town of Agrigento.

Our local guide is Claudio, and he was extremely knowledgeable. I wouldn’t know as I was unable to listen to his spiel as my battery ran out in the audio unit. However, I had a wonderful time taking photos (aren’t you just so surprised?) and following along behind. It was a really interesting site.

Mary Anne from Buffalo had a bit of a fall and needed some ice on her cheek – and the toilets were a rip off for which privilege we had to pay 50 cents euro each. There was no toilet paper in the stalls (it was sitting on a shelf as you came inside) and there were only four stalls which had to be used by both men and women. They also weren’t the cleanest toilets.

We finally said goodbye to Claudio and boarded our coach. While we were being educated Giuseppe and Marco had dropped our luggage at the hotel and collected the keys. He distributed them to us while we were on our way, and it was a very short time before we off-loaded at the hotel.

The hotel is the Dioscuri Bay Palace Hotel and is on the beach in lower Agrigento. Giuseppe said if you were lucky enough to get a room with a view not to tell anyone about it. It won’t affect us as we face a courtyard. However, we have already noticed that the walls are thin and sound travels a very long way. I think it might have something to do with all the tiles on the floors.

It is sprawled along the beachfront and has lots of nooks and crannies. There are separate lifts to take depending on the number of your room, and it doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to where you go.

Dinner is part of the package tonight and is downstairs in the restaurant. Time will tell, as we will be served about 7:30am. It also cost 3 euros to have a handkerchief washed. I won’t tell you how much more for other items. Needless to say we will hang on for another day when we get to Guardia Naxos in Taormina and will be staying for two days.

As we have now come into a warmer region Russ has broken out the floppy hat with the fly netting. He couldn’t look any sillier than some others for sure.

Day 11, Friday 22 April 2016 – Naples to Palermo

Breakfast on board the ferry was lousy. There was very little to choose from and a poor selection. This was part of our ticket so at least we did not have to shell out again.

Once we had finally disembarked (I would hate to do this trip in the middle of summer when it would be chockers with tourists) we waited on the dock for Marco to arrive with the coach. Although the ferry ad showers available in the cabins very few of us took advantage of it. We were woken at 5:00am, and breakfast was at 5:30am, with disembarkation at 6:30am.

We quickly went into Palermo to our hotel for a rest stop of about 30 minutes. It took that long for all of us to use the facilities, which although very clean, were too few. The hotel is fairly modern and has just recently been renovated. We were expecting to be able to do our laundry in the laundrette, but this no longer exists. You have to use the hotel service and it would cost you an arm and a leg – men’s shirts were 3.50 euros (about ten dollars each).

Our rooms would not be ready until later in the afternoon so after the rest break we collected our local guide for the day – Raphaela – and headed out to see another bloody church. At least this time we were allowed to take photos, and it was actually gorgeous. It has a rare history whereby the Arabs and Jews were in charge of the city and all worship was tolerated. When the Normans (Vikings) were on their way to conquer Palermo the Pope said he would support the war as long as the land and people were given Christianity and churches for their worship.

The church was therefore a collaboration between the Arab people and Jewish people who had a good record for building churches. It is an amalgam of ideas and has worked out magnificently.

Palermo is a large city but it appears to be a poor city and the people don’t seem to have much pride in their surroundings. The streets are dirty and heavily littered, there is graffiti everywhere, and the homeless dogs, although obviously able to scrounge enough, just left me feeling sad and depressed. It broke my heart.

Even the walls in the better sections of the city have been daubed with graffiti, and it appears that no effort is made to clean them up.

After the visit to the church we were treated to cannoli by Giuseppe. It is very similar to that which is available in Mildura, and the coffee we ordered (no thermos flask prepared on the ferry) was a rip off.

Our next stop on the guided tour was the market place in the city. It was smelly in places from all the fresh fish, but the fruit on display was great. It was fresh, ripe and juicy. We bought some bread and some strawberries and went to find a place to enjoy them. When we had finished eating we went for a stroll through the section of the market that is what we would call a flea market. Not tempted at all.

Once back on board and on our way to the next stop – the White Grotto Church of St Rosalea – Giuseppe treated us to a taste of loquats. I haven’t eaten them in 40 years, the last time when I was at boarding school in Mildura. Rosalea was canonised because of her healing abilities.

Again with the souvenirs – I bought a sparkly bracelet for 90 cents euro. It should have been a dollar euro but I only had 90 cents change on me. When I was about to take back my money the lady decided that a sale was better than nothing so I got my bracelet.

We finally arrived back at our hotel and were able to head to our room. We had a very nice corner room on the third floor and it had a decent sized balcony all the way around it. For once we also had a shower instead of an afterthought over the bath. The cold water pressure was terrific, but once you wanted hot water it was a matter of chasing the drops.

While Russ did his meditation I did some hand washing and squeezed them out in towels so they had a chance of drying overnight. Then I sat at the computer and captioned photos ready to be uploaded onto the blog. There is still heaps more work to do to catch up, but the internet connection is quite fast.

Once Russ woke up we headed down the street to find a hole in the wall and get some cash. Then we called into the mini mart and got some supplies for the next day, and wandered back to the hotel. We had decided to eat in the restaurant as the rest of the crowd were taking the optional extra which included a meal and wine. (I can think of better things to spend 60 euros on than food as most of the money would go to cover the wine).

When we got to the restaurant downstairs we encountered Eleanor who is also not a drinker so we invited her to join us for the meal. Eleanor is a very interesting lady. She was on the cutting edge of computer technology in its infancy, and has 45 years of experience with programming etc. she and Russ had a very intense discussion while we enjoyed our meal. (Sorry, forgot to take photos).

Russ and I had spaghetti carbonara (not as good as Brett’s) and Eleanor had bolognaise. Russ had strawberry cheesecake for dessert and Eleanor and I share a plate of cannoli. When finished we headed up to our respective rooms where Russ made me a cuppa while I worked some more on the photo captions. After that we both retired for the evening and slept well. At least I was warm.

Day 10, Thursday 21 April 2016 – Assis to Pompeii to Naples and ferry to Palermo

This morning we actually did not need to have our bags outside the door until 7:15am. It doesn’t help much as we are now all accustomed to waking early. It just meant that we were all aboard the coach and raring to go before the allotted time of 8:15am.

We have a new driver today – Marcello. Marco has his day off and will re-join us at the ferry to go across to Sicily.

Marcello does not have a lot of English but kept the coach clean and helped everyone to climb off the high step of the coach during stops. He does however, have excellent taste in music and, as we are still around the front section of the coach (on our way towards the back) we listened to Il Volo while he drove.

The two people who are rotated to sit behind the driver’s seat are considered to be King and Queen for the day. The others in the front seat nearest the door are the court jesters. A good time is had by all. In fact, the coach group gets along really well, which is somewhat surprising, but what is amazing is that the only smoker is Marco – unheard of in previous coach trips.

Lucy was Queen today and was a bit late boarding the coach so was, of course, applauded by all. Today Russ and I are seated amongst the eight couples from Buffalo, New Jersey. As our ride was reasonable lengthy before a pit stop we held a small trivia session to see who could name the most TV shows from our dim past, and who acted what parts in them. We had a splendid time. Jeannie, you would have been in your element so I spent some time wishing you had been able to come with us.

We have nine ladies travelling without significant others. Some of them are known to each other and sharing room, but others are singles. Last night the ladies all sat together and enjoyed themselves.

Russ ad I sat with Alan and Lyn (I think) from New Zealand, Barbara from the US (she chose not to join the ladies by themselves), Jane and Tom from Canada (Vancouver Island) and Jim and Peggy from the US. We had a most enjoyable evening.

We took a short break at a service station area for morning tea. Whilst taking part in the trivia session I had converted many photos to a smaller size ready for uploading, but had to stop as I was running out of battery and there was no power supply on board the coach.

We stopped at another little place for lunch and got conned by Giuseppe. He raved about the lasagne at this place, and as we were unsure of tea prospects we decided to have a decent lunch and chose the spaghetti, which looked great. However, we forgot that Giuseppe is a vegetarian so I ended up eating more vegetables. Believe me, vegetable lasagne will never be on the menu at our place.

We got back onboard the coach and headed for Pompeii. We are expected to reach there by 2:30pm, and would pick up our guide when we arrive. Giuseppe took the travel time to advise about the ferry crossing later this evening. He assured us that the weather would make for a smooth crossing to Palermo in Sicily, and there should be a full moon to look at. He keeps calling it the Love Ferry, and breaking into song.

Russ is a bit concerned about the ferry crossing, especially in view of our extremely rough crossing to Tasmania the last time we were on a ferry. He has a stock of Travel Calm and will take some as soon as we get to the docking port, and some more once we get to our cabin.

When we arrived at Pompeii we met our guide, another Marco, and he was excellent. He managed to intersperse humorous anecdotes while doling out historical facts and figures. An example of this was while we were walking to the amphitheatre area of Pompeii. As today those attending any sessions – plays, music recitals, gladiator spectacles – would need to line up in the corridor that led to the entrance for spectators.

From graffiti etched into the plaster on the walls of this corridor discovered when excavated were drawings of unrealistic phallic symbols probably left by younger people who got bored waiting.

Another anecdote based on historical fact deals with the brothel in Pompeii. As most people using this service (the upper class had their own gigolo slaves) could not read there were pictures painted on the walls of the entrance to the brothel depicting the different types of positions available for patrons, and this also decided which lady you would need to see for the service. The brothel was a two storey structure and only the top floor was damaged in the eruption of Vesuvius so the fresco painting on the walls of the entrance are still clearly visible. IT is one of the buildings that you can enter and take pictures. As we also had Reagan with us – he is a ten-year-old lad from the States, and very well behaved – Marco advised him to keep his eyes on the floor to much amusement by all, including his parents.

The roadway, constructed of stone and about a metre below the surface of the walkway, are still there and really amazing. At different locations along the roadway there are three large stones situated across the roadway. The space between the stones is large enough for horses and carriage wheels to navigate while allowing the pedestrians to be able to cross the street without having to step in the water that runs down the middle, especially during rain storms.

In some sections you can still see the groove that the wheels have carved into the stone surfaces.

If coming into Pompeii from the harbour area, there are phallic symbols carved into the stones with arrows pointing the sailors in the direction of the brothel. These can still be seen today also.

Of course, the phallic symbol was also a symbol of fertility so some of the houses have them on the outside near the door. In this way they are asking the Gods for their blessings, and are considered to be lucky.

There was a sculptor who worked in bronze whose one ambition in life was to have an exhibition at Pompeii and other places of historical significance. He has since passed away, but they honoured him by putting his works around the site.

As was to be expected there were remains of an amazing number of temples. Boy, those people could build well. Towards the end of the tour we came to the area where the archaeologists have stored many of the recovered items from the solidified ash. Some of the urns etc. are in very good condition. It was very sad to see the remains of the little child (about 3-4 years old,) the man sitting hunched forward with his hands covering his face, and the dog who was tied up in a back garden and could not escape. He is lying on his back with his four paws in the air.

The time of the eruption has been calculated to have occurred about 1:30 pm in the afternoon of a work day. This has been confirmed by the writings of a person who witnessed the eruption from a distance and wrote what he saw to the Emperor of the time. It was from his recitation that they were able to discover where Pompeii was buried.

As per usual, once the guided tour was finished we were given free time to shop. Giuseppe had organised for us to sample a local pastry dessert. It was delicious – somewhat like baklava without the honey.

Back on-board and we headed for the port in Naples, which is a large city but poorer than its northern cousins. We spent some time in the coach while Giuseppe went to collect our tickets for boarding, and when he returned he informed us that we were going on the Fantastic – a much newer boat than was usually used. We also welcomed Marco back into the fold before collecting our overnight bags and walking to the boarding area. Marcello was a good driver, but Marco is excellent.

Our cabin was very similar to the one on the Princess of Tasmania except that this time we had a port hole – not that you could see much through the salt rime on the window. In fact, it could have been a sister ship as the Princess originally started its life in the Mediterranean.

We decided to eat in the America Bar – a cafeteria style – which had a much better selection than I would have expected, and a t a reasonable price. As Russ had taken his Travel Calms we headed to our cabin as soon as our meal was finished. It took him no time at all to crash.

The cabin had no control for the air conditioner, and whilst Russ loved it I was very cold. He even got the blanket from the unused top bunk in our cabin so that I had two of them, but even with my heavy jacket then on top again it was a cold night.

As it turned out there were quite a few ladies in the same boat who complained bitterly the next morning. We were all glad to see the sun and get warm again.

Day 09, 20 April 2016 – Venice to Assisi

Dinner last night was at our leisure so Russ and I wandered along the footpath and went into a restaurant which looked like it was frequented by the locals. This is generally a good sign, but not this time.

It was supposed to have free wi fi but we were unable to find any signal at all. Russ ordered Spaghetti Bolognaise and I order crumbed pork cutlets. The meals arrived together and Russ’ meal looked fine, if a little dry on the sauce side. Mine was the smallest, flattest, dried piece of veal I have ever tasted. It was sitting on a square of paper (almost cardboard) and I joked with Russ that it was there to stop the meal from flying off the plate while you were sawing away trying to cut it. And, to add insult to injury, it cost 9 Euro.

We wandered back to the hotel and repacked our suitcases to put out in the corridor as requested, and then uploaded more photos and the blog.

We set the alarm for 6:30, and when we woke up we could hear people talking outside so panicked, thinking that we had got the time wrong. It was all good. They had wanted to put their overnight bags in the coach before Marco left (without us) at 6:50am.

For the second day in a row I had pikelets for breakfast. There was only a horrible attempt at providing muesli in both Florence and Venice, which reminded me quite forcibly of the cereal in Turkey when we were there. The cereal selection here was sadly lacking – rice pops, cocoa pops and cornflakes. Russ missed the pikelets on both days as they were more my eye level than his. He had the usual scrambled eggs, bacon and little sausages and a croissant for breakfast.

We were all assembled on time and marched to the dock to board the private boat that would take us, one more time, through the Grand Canal and to the Port facility where we re-joined Marco and the coach.

As the days’ progress I keep remembering things that happened which I have not mentioned previously. One such episode occurred in Florence when we were spending free time (and money) in the square. We were approached by a group of four girls (very busy giggling) who explained to us that the school was doing a project whereby they needed to approach obvious tourists as representatives of Marco Polo and see if they could provide assistance with anything. The teachers were observing from the square in case any of them got into trouble along the way.

As we had just finished our orientation tour around the place Russ asked them pointed questions to see if they could provide the answers, and helped them to understand how best to explain things to other tourists. We were later approached by another group of students (more giggling) and the same scenario took place. Once they were finished the two groups met up to compare noted with even more giggling taking place.

The other thing I forgot to mention deals with Michelangelo and the painting of the roof of the Sistine Chapel. The life expectancy of a man in this time was mid-forties. Michelangelo was 62 when he started work on the roof mural. He spent three years lying on his back on girders to reach the roof area. He died in his eighties. What an incredible man.

And let’s not forget the bed bug bites I got in Florence – two of them on my face. One of the other ladies got two on her face when we were at Venice.

While travelling on the coach Giuseppe spoke to us about the remaining Optional Extras available, and what to expect on the overnight ferry ride from Naples in Italy to Palermo in Sicily.

We stopped for our first rest break at 9:45am before continuing on our journey. At lunch time Marco pulled over at a service station area. Russ and I still had supplies of bread and fruit from the previous day so, while I went into the place to get cold drinks, Russ found a lovely little picnic area filled with wildflowers where we could sit and eat our meal.

The day was sunny, with a cooling breeze, and it was a very pleasant interlude before re-boarding the coach and continuing our journey.

We arrived in Assisi at 2:30pm. I tell you, the pace of this tour is frenetic. I believe the next one in Spain will be slightly slower, thank heavens.

While in lower Assisi we visited a church dedicated to St Clare of the Poor and it was lovely. It had a smaller church inside it where St Francis actually died. As per usual, no photos were allowed, but I snuck in a few.

All the churches we have seen so far are beginning to roll into one. It appears that apart from Rome and Pompeii most of the tourist industry is based on churches and their most beautiful architecture and fit outs. I am not sure how many of the population (other than those who chose orders) are religious. I think the process of scraping a living has caught up with them.

All the churches we visit are subject to inspection by the Guardia to try and combat terrorist activity. Russ was refused entrance here due to him carrying his pocket knife. I think he continues to carry it as it is so convenient for cutting fruit as we go along.

Another of the ladies was refused entrance as she had a sleeveless t-shirt on, as shoulders must be covered (and knees if you are a woman. Sunglasses must be removed, although they will allow you to wear them on top of your head, and hats also. I ended up letting her wear my jacket so she didn’t miss out. They are very strict on this sort of thing, and the “silenzio” routine.

Sylvia was our local guide and she did a great job. When we got up to the higher level of Assisi we were able to join the stream of tourists on their way to see the basilica of St Francis. There is a huge monastery beside it where three different kinds of Franciscans live. These men look after the churches. Assisi is called the City of Peace.

When we had finished the guided part of the program we had some free time to explore Assis and to buy souvenirs, of course. As most of them are religious I was not the least bit tempted.

We finally arrived at our hotel which is on the upper level of Assisi but a bit of distance from the town proper. However, it has recently been refurbished so is quite modern by comparison to some we have stayed at. It didn’t beat the space we had in Venice, but I didn’t get any bed bug bites either. The hotel is situated on the top of a ridge and the views of the valley on all sides are awesome.

The staff at the hotel were very friendly, although the waiters in the restaurant could have been more cheerful. The hotel had a magnificent garden, which we had a view of outside the bedroom window. We also got time the next morning to wander the pathways after breakfast for some photos. The wind was too cold the previous evening to go to the rooftop, but we made it the next morning.

Our dinner tonight was included in the tour (probably as it is too far to go back to the city proper for food unless you get a taxi both ways). The meal was quite good although, as can be expected, I left the leafy green things on my plate. We had penne pasta for entrée, veal and roasted baby potatoes for the main course, and a lovely cheesecake for dessert.

We got back to our room about 9:10pm and Russ crashed. Whole days without a decent break are starting to catch up with all of us, and those who continue to take the optional extras at night time (mostly food and wine) get even more tired. Before we got into bed this evening we had to pack our little bag of goodies separately so we could carry them onto the ferry when we cross from Naples to Palermo in Sicily tomorrow night.

Day 08, Tuesday, 19 April 2016 – Venice

Today we have been on holidays for one week. It has been a very exciting, interesting, incredible journey and very tiring at times.

The glass blowing demo at Murano was fascinating. The worker made a magnificent vase and then promptly placed it back in the oven to become pure Murano slag once more. He then removed another bit of slag, and within one minute (the amount of time he has to work the slag before it hardens and he can no longer mould it without re-heating and loosing what work he has achieved so far) and made a prancing horse. It was incredible. He then returned it to the slag for further demonstrations.

The beauty and quality of the Murano glass is that each piece is carefully executed. Once the piece is finished it must be cooled over 24 hours. Any piece with imperfections in it will shatter during this cooling down period, and the pieces will be returned to slag for the next creation. There is a 30% breakage rate during the cooling down time for Murano creations. Only the very hardiest and best is ever sold. It comes with a door to door guarantee of replacement if any breakage occurs during the mailing process.

24 carat gold is the only metal which can meld to glass, so that helps to explain why many of their most beautiful pieces are so costly, and they are magnificent. Even their necklaces do not have chains. Where a chain would be required on a normal piece of jewellery, the Murano process is to enclose a drop of 24 carat gold within a tiny glass bubble – these are joined to make the chain.

I had warned Russ before we left Australia that I would be spending money while at the Murano outlet, and I did. We also bought Mum her ear-rings and a surprise to go with them. I bought a double chain (each piece can be worn separately or joined worn together) and a set of ear-rings.

We then spent some time wandering around the floor and looking with envy at some other pieces. Their vases and drinkware are incredible. Unfortunately, as they are all copy-righted photos are forbidden and staff wander the floor to make sure this rule is enforced.

We came back to St Mark’s Square by private boat, passing the Hotel Cipriani where George Clooney was married, and where Angelina and Brad stay when they are in Venice, and where Angelina stayed while filming The Tourist.

Once we made it back to the square we had some free time, and some serious shopping was done. We also had a café latte just so we didn’t have to pay 1.50 euro to use a toilet that could have been smelly and dirty (we have come across a few of them along the way), but in this instance apparently they were very clean and well kept.

Giuseppe warned us about the scale of pricing along the square. Many places have set up tables and chairs in front of their establishments – some even hire bands to play music for you while you are there. Many people sit at these tables and chairs (where you have to order something to be able to use them) and then are very shocked to discover the cost of their coffee can be as high as 70 euro ($105.00 Australian).

If you go inside the establishment for your café latte you may only be charged as much as 45 euros. However, if you go inside and sit at the bar the cost can be as little as 15 euro. You can, of course, use the toilets for free.

We also grabbed our daily gelato from a very friendly young lady and then took them and sat on the upturned seating in front of the Basilca to wait for our guide to arrive. When she came we all gathered in the long line for Reserved Tourists (a much shorter line than the common tourist) and then ventured inside the Basilica.

Photographs, cell phone pictures and selfies are all banned, and silence is requested. Amazing, silence reigned apart from the tour guides who spoke softly. We all had our audio kits with us and had no trouble hearing her explanations.

Sorry, Chris, we are about to have a bit of a history session – The Venetians (before they became Italians) were very good at appropriating goods and chattels from other countries without permission. Of course, they lost the Mona Lisa to Napoleon when he conquered them and never got it back. However, the outside of the Basilica is covered with marble columns – just like the church at Pisa – which was removed from Constantinople without the Turk’s permission, along with a particular statue attached to the corner of the building. Also appropriated was much of the decorations used inside the Basilica.

It only took 50 years to build the Basilica shell, but over 200 years to decorate the inside of the building. The frescoes which adorn the top of the doors, and the inside of the inside domes were created using tiny tiles of 24 carat gold within glass, and tiny tiles with colours inside glass. Sound familiar? They truly are magnificent, and dazzle you when the sun hits in just the right place.

After the Basilica (there are over 500 churches within Venice, and almost every square has one) we wandered the byway and back paths with the guide and saw a side of Venice where the ordinary citizens live and work. Venice is a fairly expensive place to live apparently. A small two-bedroom flat cost approximately 1250 euros a month – very pricey.

Interesting Facts about Venice:

  • There are 417 bridges in Venice and 72 of those are private.
  • Bridges in Venice usually don’t have steps on them since up until 16th century many people were moving around on a horseback.
  • According to Venetian tradition, any couple riding in a gondola should kiss under each bridge and they will stay in love forever.
  • There are 3 major bridges across the Grand Canal – Accademia, Rialto and Scalzi. There is a fourth one, just a few years old, which already begins to show signs of decay, unlike the centuries old ones.
  • Each gondola is made of eight different types of wood.
  • The left side is bigger than the right one by 24 centimetres (almost a foot), and the parts of gondolas are symbols of some parts of Venice – front part represents six city zones, back part represents island Guideka, and the central part represents famous Rialto bridge.
  • There are about 350 gondolas and 400 gondolieri in the city of Venice.
  • On average, a gondola is 11 meters long and it weights almost 600 kilos.
  • Until recently, Venice didn’t have female gondoliers. Venice got its first female gondolier in 2010.
  • Venice is divided into six districts.
  • There are 118 islands, 416 bridges, 177 canals and 127 squares in Venice.
  • The Venice lagoon is 15 meters deep at its deepest point.
  • Feeding pigeons is banned in Venice (they are the fattest pigeons I have ever seen).

By the time we had completed all the walking involved in guided tour I have to say that Russ was looking a bit the worse for wear. So, we board our private boat for the trip to the Lido Island and those who were not continuing on to Burano (crochet lace and linens) all decanted and returned to the hotel.

Russ and I visited the supermarket next door and bought some fresh food for lunch and while he meditated (snored very loudly) I caught up on some of the photos and the blog.

Tonight we are to put our cases out as we go to bed, and tomorrow we head to Assisi.