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KEN GIBSON Mediterranean Cruise

HUGH BEARD Botswana & Nambia



TRAVEL TRIPS by Ken Gibson
Posted November 18 2018

MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE 2001

                                

Here's an invitation to come along with us down Memory Lane on a Mediterranean Cruise on the Golden Princess in September 2001, starting in Barcelona, Spain with stops at Monte Carlo (Monaco), Livorno (for Florence, Italy), Naples (for Pompeii), Venice, Athens (Greece), Kusadasi (for Ephesus, Turkey) and ending in Istanbul with 2 days at sea in between. "We" (photo below) are left to right Ken Gibson, Annie Guimaraens, Maggie Davis, Annie's friend Wendy Boden, and Bruce McDonald. What a motley crew!

                      

Following our Air Canada flights from Vancouver to London (8 hrs 57min) and then on to Barcelona via British Midlands (2 hours), Bruce and I decided to spend 3 nights in the Spanish sea port partly to relax after the long flight and mostly to explore Barcelona, the capital of the Spanish Catalunya region. As you know, Catalunya has been engaged for years in an ongoing struggle for more autonomy in Spain. We were booked at the Hotel Sant Augusti while Maggie, Annie and Wendy stayed at the Hostal R Ramos, both close to the famed shopping district of Las Ramblas, a 1.5 km boulevard, popular for its myriad of stalls and markets. Here we probably bought the booze to take on board and consume in our cabins.

The formost tourist attraction in Barcelona is La Sagrada Famelia (Expiatory of the Holy Family), the extraordinary unique "temple" created by 31 year old eccentric architect genius and Catalan Modernista, Antoni Gaudi, with building started in 1882, and here in 2001, on and off, it is still not even half built! It is exclusively financed by private donations. The 4 skyscraping towers were designed to hold tubular bells, capable of playing complex music at great volume! When asked why he lavished so much care on the top of the spires which no one would ever see up close, Gaudi said "The angels will see them." George Orwell called it "one of the most hideous buildings in the world" whereas Papal Nuncio told Gaudi "Maestro, you are the Dante of architecture." On the fashionable Passeig de Gracia, inventive Catalan artists the Modernistas (a version of Art Noveau) were trying to create a specifically Catalan architecture, looking back to the medieval Golden Age. Here you'll find Gaudi's finest secular building Casa Mila built 1909 -11. Notice each building has different architecture ... absolutely stunning.

Our first stop was in sun-drenched Monte Carlo in the Principality of Monaco, playground of the Rich and Famous, when we were taken in tenders off the ship to shore and later brought back on board by 6:30pm. Did you know that Monegasques don't pay taxes as all revenue comes from tourism and gambling? Bruce and I split from the ladies and checked out the casino, the Royal Palace and city centre before taking a local bus up to the pretty medieval village of Eze. Bruce has always been a lover of palm trees, hence this photo. The next day we docked at Livorno, Italy, took the shuttle into town and then I took the train ride of 90 minutes to Firenze (Florence), the cultural capital of Italy. That left me only 2 hours to dash around with my camera and who should I pass but Annie and Wendy, licking ice creams while sheltering from the drizzle! It's difficult to choose which photo best represents this picturesque ancient city and I decided on the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio ("Old Palace"completed in 1322) which houses outdoor magnificent copies of Michelangelo's David (set up in 1504) and Bandinelli's Hercules and Casus (1534). There is almost too much to photograph when walking around historical Florence with its marbled architecture and with streets permanently crowded with tourists.

On September 5th we docked at 6:30 am in Naples, described as "chaotic and crime infested, racked by politicians, poverty and inefficiency," but also the place where family, food and religion reign supreme. It was founded by the Greeks in 1000 BC, and though there are old buildings to explore, my interest was in heading to the ruins of Pompeii which fell victim on early morning August 24th 79 AD to Mount Vesuvius' eruption, raining dust, stones and lava on the countryside. Pompeii was buried within hours, many of its inhabitants killed by falling rock and asphyxiating gases. In nearby Herculaneum, the town suffered from superheated mud. That evening, the volcano's internal walls disintegrated, sending further torrents of ash over the town. Only two days later did a little light return to the region. Body casts formed by hollows left in the hardened tufa by decayed corpses depict their final moments of horror. Among the surviving buildings, the remarkable 20,000 seat Anti teatro, built in 80 BC, is Italy's oldest surviving amphitheatre.

We had our first full day at sea on Thursday September 6th.when we explored the variety of offerings aboard. Each day we would receive a daily guide to Cruise activities, including "Entertainment Tonight" with lists of entertainers, what's on at the Princess Theatre, Explorer's Lounge, Vista Lounge, Skywalkers Nightclub, Atlantis Casino, Bar News and Information, Lotus Health and Beauty Spar, Today's Big Screen Movie, Boutique's on Board, and the list is endless. And of course there are details of the cruise and upcoming locations. Then there are the daily three delectable calorie-laden meals as well as other locations as to where to snack. Booze is expensive on board and we'd have drinks in the cabins especially prior to dinner.

I never get tired of wandering through bewitching Venice and on Friday September 7th we sailed into Venezia, and what an impressive entry it is as we watched from on board while the ship docked at mid-day. This was the only city where the ship stayed docked till the following day, thereby giving us an evening and night to explore. And where we docked was just a 5 minute walk to St. Mark's Square, the heart of Venice with the Basilica Di San Marco. Venetians stole the body of St. Mark the Evangelist from Egypt in 828AD and brought it to the Doge who then built the Basilica for it. St. Mark's officially became Venice's Cathedral in 1807. Up above the entrance in the centre of the building you'll see the Quadriga. The 4 gilded bronze horses were stolen from the Hippodrome in 1204 when Constantinople (Istanbul) was sacked during the 4th crusade. Napoleon had them moved to Paris in 1797 but they were returned after the fall of the French Empire. These are copies and the originals may be seen in the basilica's museum.

Anyone visiting Venice doubtless will have their photo taken with the Ponte dei Sospiri in the background. We know it as the Bridge of Sighs which connects the Doge's palace with the prison on the right. The two tiered Bridge's most famous person to cross from the Palazzio Ducale to the cells of the Palazzo dei Prigioni was Giacomo Casanova "for affront to religion and common decency" and from which he eventually escaped. Also anyone visiting Venice will definitely travel down "the finest street in the world with the finest houses," the Canale Grande, running 3.5 kms through the city, with a depth of about 6m and width ranging from 40m to 100m. Annie,Wendy and I took the traghetto all the way up the Grand Canal and back ... awesome. We sailed past over 100 palazzi (mansions) dating from the 12th to the 18th century and under 3 bridges, the best known being the Rialto Bridge. Completed in 1592, the architect sank 6000 pylons to build the span. When the others had gone back to the ship after dinner, Annie and I wandered around St. Mark's Square, listening to the music of numerous groups playing light jazz at the outdoor restaurants under a full moon. Magical! The ship departed at 1pm and we were at sea for the next day and a half. None of us visited the casino. We were lucky with the weather throughout the cruise.

The next port of call on September 10th was at Piraeus, Greece, arriving at 9:30 am and we disembarked and took the train to Athens. On arrival we headed for the Acropolis, the heart of Athens and the site of the Parthenon, the Propylea, Temple of Athens, Nike and the Erectheion. The hilltop site drew some of Greece's earliest Neolithic settlers. By 1400 BC, the Acropolis had become the most powerful Mycenaean city. People actually lived on the Acropolis till the late 6th century BC, but by 510 BC it was declared to be "the Province of the Gods." Pericles built it as the city of temples and dedicated it to the cult of goddess Athena. In 1687 the attacking Turks caused gunpowder to explode, creating massive fires. Currently the menace is acid rain which is dissolving the marble on which the monuments are built. The Plaka is the Turkish quarter of Athens and a mecca for tourists shopping. Here Wendy, Annie and Bruce are snacking before going shopping! The ship left at 7:45pm bound for Turkey.

We were arriving in Kusadasi, Turkey at 7am and leaving again at 5pm and in between we were scheduled to visit Ephesus, one of the most fascinating archeological sites and once the capital of Asia Minor. This was also our last stop before Istanbul where we would finally disembark. This was the second time I had been to Ephesus and it was just as awe inspiring as it was the first time. It is without question the best preserved classical city on the Mediterranean. Ethesians believed Amazon Queen Ephesia founded the city of which at present only 4 to 5% has been excavated successfully! Extraordinarily well preserved are the Great Theatre and the Celsus Library, the grandest building dating back to 110 AD and which housed 12,000 scrolls in niches around its walls. Less grand and of less interest is where I'm sitting. It's the public toilet 'for men only' where the marble was warmed by slaves who sat before their masters arrived!

This was 9/11 and as we boarded after touring Ephesus, I noticed an unusual amount of passengers staring at the ship's monitors, and out of curiosity I looked and wondered why they would be watching what seemed like a disaster movie. I was shocked to be told that this was in actuality a horrendous attack by terrorists on the World Trade Centre in New York which was covered in smoke and flames. We stayed glued to the TV sets all evening.

                                                    

Finally on Wednesday September 12th, we reached Istanbul at 12:30pm, looked around the city and returning to the ship for a final dinner before disembarking the following morning and heading for our hotel. A Greek colonizer named Byzas recognized the possibilities of a trading centre at the narrowest crossing point between Europe and Asia and he founded his town, Byzantium. Then it was renamed Constantinople in 330 AD by Emperor Constantine and in 1453 Mehmet 11 renamed it Istanbul, the capital of the mighty Ottoman Empire. Of course we had to see all the historical sites including the stunning Mosque of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Imperial Treasury (with an 86 carat diamond), and even the mini-city Covered Market of the Grand Bazaar, also called the Spice Bazaar, built in the 1660s and locked at night. It sells "genuine fake watches" which I was tempted to buy! We stayed for three nights at the Hotel Turkoman in the Old City. In view of the events of Black Tuesday 9/11, we were concerned about our British Airways flights back to London and were anxious to leave in case the troubles escalated and airlines cancelled flights as they had with flights into the USA.
Overall this had been a perfect cruise, due largely to the interesting ports of call and congenial friends, and Bruce has reminded me unnecessarily of how much and how many times I enjoyed my meals! We spent the next 11 days relaxing at Johnings, my brother's thatched country cottage in Woolstone, Oxfordshire before our return to Vancouver on September 26th. In closing, I would highly recommend the Mediterranean cruise to anyone looking for an initial introduction and exploration of Europe.  I love History as you can tell!

                                      

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TRAVEL TRIPS by HUGH BEARD.
Posted September 9th, 2018.
Hugh and Debra – Botswana and Namibia Road Trip September 2017

Last September, at age seventy-six, I undertook
the most challenging and arduous road trip of my life.

Debra and I rented a 4x4 camping truck, with a
flip up tent on top.

Starting in Johannesburg, we self-drove without
a guide through game reserves in Botswana
and Namibia. We had a GPS navigation system and a satellite phone.

The first day, our truck GPS wasn’t working correctly and we got hopelessly lost. At that point, I was wondering if we were taking on too much – was this all a big mistake. Distressed, I stayed up late into the night trying to get the GPS working. Finally, it ran out of power and shut off. I didn’t get much sleep that night. The next morning, when I plugged it in, it rebooted and worked just fine! The adventure began.

The following morning, which was the first time we slept in our roof top tent, we unzipped the door and looked down at all the birds and animals in our camp. They were curious about our cooking appliances and had no fear of us at all. At that wonderful sight, all my anxieties faded. It was like they were saying ‘Welcome to Africa’.  At that moment, we knew this trip was going to be special.
                                       

                 

While making breakfast, Debra asked, “Hugh, did you eat all the cheese?”

September is a good time of year to travel to Botswana and Namibia for a number of reasons. It’s cool in the evening, and hot during the day, but not the scorching temperatures of October and November.

The most important reason is because it’s the end of dry season and thirsty animals migrate to the waterholes, so you sit in your air-conditioned truck and wait for some amazing encounters.

                       

Over the next 30 days we drove more than 5,000 kilometres. The driving was amazing, often in deep sand, where we had to lower the tire pressure for traction.  It became a daily activity. 30 psi for highways, 20 psi for gravel roads, 17 psi for track roads, 14 psi for sand and 10 psi for deep sand. We crossed rivers on rickety narrow wooden bridges, drove through water crossing. One of the memorable events was driving onto a one vehicle ferry.
                                     

We got totally stuck once in a very remote area. As our truck sank in the clay we wondered how many days before some help comes along. We weren’t too worried as we had food and water for several days and could sleep in our roof tent, and if we had to, we could call for help on our satellite phone. Then unexpectedly, a large game-drive truck came along full of tourists. The driver got out and waded through the water to us. I said, “We’re stuck!” He looked at the situation and said, “Yep. You’re totally stuck.” Without a word, he turned and waded back to his vehicle. For a moment, I thought he was going to leave as he started to drive around us. But, he was only moving to a better position to pull us out with his tow rope. Some Botswana humour! Took several tries before we finally broke free.

In Botswana, the campsites are not fenced so animals wander in. You can hear animal sounds during the night. In the morning, we’d see animal tracks around our truck.

The first elephant to visit us stayed for about three hours. In the photo with me standing in our campsite with her, on the right is our truck, on the left the camp barbeque.

That night, as our campfire burned down, we turned off the lights to watch the amazing stars. A while later we heard something moving in the bush at the back of the campsite. Of course, at that moment your imagination runs wild. What kind of animal was it? Then in the darkness, our visiting elephant walked past our camper truck to leave the campsite for the second time. We hadn’t realized that she had been resting under the trees at the back of our large camp site.

Early one morning, while making coffee, one of the game drivers stopped to warn us to be cautious. He told us there were two lions in the bush across the road from our camp and two more down the road. Of course, we immediately broke camp and went searching for them.

We would be up at five a.m.
for a coffee then break camp
and begin our game driving,
eating breakfast on the way.
The nights were cold but the
daytime scorching hot. The
truck had air conditioning but
a lot of times at waterholes we
had the windows down for
shooting photos and video.

We game drove in the early morning and late afternoon, a time when animals were out and the best light for photography. In the evening, we cooked ourdinner over the open fire. Then exhausted we’d climb up the ladder to our cozy tent and within minutes be fast asleep. The elephants along the Chobe river, were an amazing sight.
                         

We have always wanted to see swimming elephants, but were a bit concerned about how close the tourist boats drew near. But it didn’t seem to bother the elephants.  

We took an over-night trip travelling on the Zambezi River in a small house boat, with a sleeping tent on top. We had wonderful bird sightings.

 It was also a great opportunity to see hippos swimming in the river. Isaac, our captain and cook, didn’t want to get too close, as they could easily flip our small craft.

We did get very close to a twelve-foot crocodile on the shore. As we moved in, we didn’t realize it was sleeping. It suddenly woke when I said, a bit too loud, “Wow! It’s really big!”

The crock spun around quickly, coming right at us, as it splashed into the water a foot in front of our boat. At first, we thought it was attacking us, but as we backed away, we understood that we had just surprised it. 

All too soon the trip was over, but we knew we had accomplished something truly remarkable.

We are now totally hooked. This coming September we are heading back for a 37-day trip to Botswana and then travelling south through Kruger Park in South Africa.

We are already booking campsites for September 2019, for a third trip to remote areas of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Namibia.

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