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Santa Marta, Colombia

Friday, November 25, 2011 – Day 5 – Santa Marta, Colombia

I get up early to take a tour to Taroya Park, which involves walking through Colombia’s jungle. The ship arrives on time and the tour bus takes the highway out of town on the way to the park, but soon comes to a stop because there is a protest blocking the road. Police are there, and apparently the protesters are upset over not having power in their neighbourhood, despite having the wiring in place. Eventually our guide comes back with the news we can’t proceed, since this is the only road to the park. Our guide gives us three options: return to the ship and get a full refund, be dropped off for the day at the resort hotel, or take a city tour. Both the city tour and the resort option include a folkloric dance at the Irotama Beach Resort.

Like most on the bus I choose the city tour, since in addition to the folkloric dance, we will see the main cathedral in town as well as the Gold Museum. Our first stop is the Irotama Beach Resort, which is 20 minutes out of town near a resort area. They have a beautiful beach, and offer us refreshments before the show starts. I choose a Colombian beer, which tastes very nice as I sip it under the palm trees. The folkloric dancers look quite similar to the ones I previously saw in Costa Rica and Martinique, but the young dancers do a great job. Apparently all Colombian children learn three folkloric dances when they are in school.

Our next stop is the main cathedral back in the centre of the city. Santa Marta is very much a third world city with dirty ditches lining the streets, narrow sidewalks, fruit vendors and old buildings with rickety balconies overhanging the streets below. As we enter the cathedral, our guide talks about Simon Bolivar, who liberated several Central and South American countries in his time, including Colombia. He is very much revered for his selfless sacrifice, since he died in this city from tuberculosis when he was in his early forties. The cathedral is impressive, with many alters decorated beautifully, however I’m most impressed with the large plaza surrounding the cathedral. It is a lovely civic space with no cars, shade trees, and some nice shops on the perimeter.

Our final stop of the day is the botanical gardens. We see lots of native flora and fauna, include the obligatory iguanas in the trees, butterflies, and there are several monuments to Simon Bolivar. Our guide shows us an old sugar cane plantation home where Simon Bolivar died, including the actual bedroom with original furniture. I learned about Simon Bolivar in grade school, but didn’t appreciate how much the people in Central and South American countries revere him. He was someone who bucked the system and believed in people power.

Our guide has some interesting things to say about Columbia and the reputation the country has with the drug trade. He feels the major cities are safe for citizens to go about their business and for tourists, and illustrates the point by asking us a question. What are the two major industries of Medellin? The obvious answer is Drugs, but the real answer is: Shipping tropical flowers to the United States, and being a centre of excellence for plastic surgery! He tells an interesting story on the second point. Apparently the two largest markets for plastic surgery in Medellin are women from the United States and Brazil. Another major market are young Colombian women who want breast implants. Apparently they often get their parents to pay for the surgery!

Julian Gargiulo

Julian Gargiulo

After the ship departs port and we have a wonderful dinner in the main dining room, I go to see the entertainment in the main show lounge. Julian Gargiulo is a classically trained pianist and does a great job playing the grand piano centre stage. He showcases some of his own compositions along with Chopin, and finishes with a classic Beethoven piece.

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Warkworth to Whangamata

Oct 28, 2010 – Thursday – Warkworth to Whangamata, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

We are traveling to a B&B on the Coromandel Peninsula today, which means driving through the motorways of Auckland. After we leave the B&B in Warkworth, we do a quick drive to the neighbouring Parry Kauri Park & Warkworth Museum, where there are two very old and extremely large Kauri trees. The drive through Auckland goes very well; traffic is a bit heavy, but it keeps moving nicely. The GPS keeps us on track and helps us to manoeuvre through the maze of motorways, lanes and ramps around and through Auckland on our way around the Hauraki Gulf to Whangamata (fang-a-mata) on the Coromandel Peninsula.

JoeTourist: Coromandel &emdash; Surf shop

Our destination is the Kotuku B&B, located a block from the beautiful estuary on the Otahu River in Whangamata (fang-a-mata). We are only about four blocks from an absolutely stunning fine sand beach, which goes on for several kilometres. There is virtually nobody on the beach at this time of year, which makes it even more attractive to us.

On the recommendation of Peter, the B&B operator, we go to Oceana’s restaurant, which offers a choice of three mains on special this month for NZ$15. Two of the three choices are great: Scallops in mornay sauce, and Fish and Chips.

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Waitangi, Pahia & Opua

Oct 25, 2010 – Monday – Kerikeri – Waitangi, Pahia & Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Keith makes us crepes for breakfast, which are served with a berry compote and real Canadian maple syrup. We then take off late morning to see the Waitangi National Trust Estate Treaty Grounds, where we take about an hour and a half to walk through the grounds and see the displays. I visited this site in 2004…the only thing that has changed is the price – it is now NZ$25/person, whereas I paid NZ$10/person in 2004! The displays are very impressive: the huge Maori war canoe, the carvings decorating the Maori meeting house, the grounds and view, and of course the Treaty House itself. There is lots of history to absorb from the exhibits – both colonial and Maori. The views of the Bay of Islands from the site is second-to-none. Give yourself at least a half day to do justice to this historic site.

JoeTourist: Bay of Islands &emdash; Joe at Opua marina where SV Sequoia was moored in 2004
Joe at Opua marina where SV Sequoia was moored in 2004

Last stop today is Opua, a small town in the Bay of Islands area, which brings back memories for me. I was here in 2004 while the Johnstons and I waited for favourable weather before sailing for Fiji in their 42′ sailboat. I have an “I was there photo” taken at the same dock as sv Sequoia was docked at in 2004 so I can send a copy to Barbara and Craig. I expect they will get a kick out of it.

After we return to the B&B, Keith prepares a wonderful fresh seafood stew for dinner, complete with French bread and an Australian white wine.

Keith has shown us so much New Zealander hospitality during our stay. You might say, well he is a B&B operator…that’s his job. Perhaps, but I feel he well exceeded our expectations, and was genuinely friendly…not just put on for business reasons.

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Suva, Fiji

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 11, 2010 – Monday – Suva, Fiji Islands

I set the alarm this morning in order to see our arrival in Suva. It brought back memories of sailing the SV Sequoia through the same channel in 2004, when I crewed the open ocean segment from New Zealand to Fiji with the Johnstons. This time my mode of transportation is a bit more luxurious!

Our arrival at King’s Wharf is heralded by the Suva Police Band – they march up and down the wharf playing some very catchy tunes. It is overcast today, so it is not as hot as Pago Pago was (our previous port of call in American Samoa). I call my Fijian friends several times this morning, but there is no answer, so I find my onboard friends and we go ashore together.

Downtown Suva & office buildings
Downtown Suva & office buildings

We walk along the waterfront to catch some views of the harbour. It is Independence Day in Fiji, so most shops and offices are closed. We meet several Fijian families who are enjoying the day off. We walk past the derelict Grand Pacific Hotel and take an obligatory photo of the guard dressed in a ceremonial uniform (including a sulu) who is posted at the Governor General’s mansion.

We then wander through Thurston Gardens and see the Fiji Museum. The last time I toured this museum was in 1975. At that time, cannibalism artifacts were prominently displayed, but there wasn’t a sign of them during this visit. When I pay for the admission to the museum for myself and my friends, the guy at the desk notices my “old” bills. I had saved them from my last trip six years ago, so Fiji have obviously updated their currency since then.

Despite the cloudy weather, we still find the walk to be hot and exhausting. We stop in town to poke around the few shops that are open. A friendly Fijian “sweeper” directs us to the shops that sell t-shirts, jewellery, and other tourist stuff. I buy a Fiji Bitter beer t-shirt for FJ$22 (CD$12). We also walk through Prouds, a high end department store. After returning to the comfort of the ship, I head for the Sea View pool to cool off, and then grab some lunch in the Lido.

Fiji 2010 from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

The Suva Police Band is once again serenades us before our 5pm departure. They have an incredible repertoire…not just marching tunes, but also pop and rock and roll! Their performance has to be one of the highlights of this trip. What a change from the last time I saw the band in 1975, when it was a pretty ordinary marching band. I shoot some high definition video to capture some of their wonderful performance. The ship continues to wait in Suva harbour for the arrival of New Zealand customs and immigration officers, who are delayed about two hours. The band played on (as the old saying goes), giving everyone an amazing show – this is no ordinary marching band!

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Athens – day 6

April 12, 2006 – Wednesday – Athens – Roman Forum, Tower of the Winds, Monastiraki, Lykavitos Hill, Benaki Museum

I set my alarm for 7am, and I’m out the door shortly after 8am. I am at the Acropolis entrance when it opens and want to see the Acropolis Museum. The only problem is the ticket I have can only be used once for the Acropolis itself!

The Tower of the Winds
The Tower of the Winds

I am disappointed, but there is more to see using my combination ticket, so I walk down to the Roman Forum. The Tower of the Winds is of particular interest to me, especially after hearing the talk on sundials at the RASC Victoria Centre a few months ago. The Tower of the Winds holds special significance since it is a sundial, a compass, a weather vane, and a water clock. The tower was built in the first century AD by Andronikos of Kyrrhos, a Syrian astronomer.

Funicular train - Lykavitos Hill
Funicular train – Lykavitos Hill

I wander around Monastiraki for a short while, however it is mainly a shopping district and restaurants, so it is of little interest to me. I take the metro Blue Line to Syndagma, the closest station to Lykavitos Hill, which is my next target. The funicular train takes people to the top of the hill for €4.50 (return). There are also stairs to the top of the hill for those so inclined (pun intended). There are wonderful unobstructed views of the whole of Athens from the top. There is also an (expensive) restaurant and a small chapel dedicated to St. George.

Benaki Museum
Benaki Museum

I take the funicular train back down the hill, then walk back to the Benaki Museum (€6 admission – no photography).

I notice police paddy wagons parked in the side streets, and there is a protest happening across the street at the side of the Parliament. I quickly duck inside and the woman who sold me the admission said they were all crying a half hour ago, since the riot police had used tear gas.

Gold wreath of sprigs of myrtle, Hellenistic Period - Benaki Museum postcard
Gold wreath of sprigs of myrtle, Hellenistic Period

This museum’s artifacts are mainly the result of bequests from private collections by wealthy Greeks. The quality of the artifacts is noticeably better, having less restoration, and the museum also offers a very diverse collection, which they cycle through displays.

The Benaki Museum consists of several sites. This one contains the Museum of Greek Culture, where ancient finds are on the main floor, and modern (to about 1900) Greek artifacts, textiles, and art are on the upper floors. I didn’t find liturgical vestments, gospels, historical letters and notes and other paper and parchment in any other museums. This is fascinating material. There is also a huge collection of jewellery, Greek costumes and folk artifacts (for those who are interested).

After returning to my apartment, finding Internet access is the next thing on the list. I go to an Internet cafe 4 blocks down Solomou which charges €1.50/hr. Warning: all the Internet cafes in Athens are smoky!

Interior of Xapas restaurant - Athens
Interior of Xapas restaurant

I go to Xapas, Methonis 58 for dinner this evening. I have pork simmered in a nice sauce with rice, and a Greek salad sans cucumbers. Cost was €15. The tomatoes the restaurants use here in Athens are so lovely and sweet – no doubt fully vine-ripened, unlike the horrible tomatoes we have available in Canada.

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Athens – day 5

April 11, 2006 – Tuesday – Athens – Olympieion, Zapion & National Archaeological Museum

I sleep in this morning, but by 10am I’m on the move, taking the metro from Omonia to Akropoli Station again, but this time I am heading for the Olympieion, the site of Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I initially walk in the wrong direction and end up in the Koukaki district at Syngrou-Fix metro station, but soon find my way back.

Hadrian's Arch
Hadrian’s Arch

Hadrian’s Arch is located outside the fence around the Temple of Olympian Zeus, right on very busy Syngrou Ave. It is very impressive in size, but has limited decoration. Admission to the Temple of Olympian Zeus is part of the €12 combination ticket I purchased for the Acropolis. It is a huge temple, but there are only 15 marble columns left standing out of the original 104. The rest of this site is mostly rubble, however the remains of the Roman Bath is interesting – worth a look.

I then crossed the street to see the Zapion and the National Garden. The Zapion and surrounding fountain, gardens and restaurant is impressive, however the National Garden is mundane. I try to visit the recommended Benaki Museum, however it is closed on Tuesdays. I obviously didn’t read my guidebook carefully enough!

Presidential Guards at the Hellenic Parliament
Presidential Guards

The Hellenic Parliament is across the street from Syntagma Square, and is an easy 10 minute walk from the Benaki Museum. The Presidential Guards wear ceremonial dress, including big puffies on their shoes! The real guards to the Parliamentary precinct (which is closed to the public) are armed police. Since the Benaki Museum is closed, I take the metro from Syntagma to Omonia Stations, and revisit the National Archaeological Museum.

Gold death-mask, known as the 'mask of Agamemnon'
Gold death-mask, known as the ‘mask of Agamemnon’

When I first visited this Museum on Saturday, it closed before I could see the showpiece gold artifacts recovered from Mycenae. This time I spend a full two hours viewing this important gallery. I saw the famous funerary Mask of Agamemnon, as well as many other superb artifacts (many made of gold). The side gallery showcasing Cycladic art was a surprise, since these are pre-Mycenaen. I believe this civilization was one of the first to form after man moved out of caves!

I must confess I’m not a fan of history, however visiting all these ancient sites in Greece and seeing so many fascinating artifacts brings ancient civilizations alive. I can understand why thousands of Greek schoolchildren visit these sites and museums every day.

Athens Metro ticket machine
Athens Metro ticket machine

I have used the Athens metro to get to some of the local sites. It is inexpensive, safe, and easy to use, so I would recommend visitors to the city make use of this form of transportation wherever you can. You must purchase a ticket, then validate it as you walk to the train platforms. If you get caught dodging the fare, you risk an on-the-spot fine of forty times the fare, so remember to buy and validate those tickets.

I catch up on my journal and rest for awhile before going out to dinner around 7:45pm. Ayah again for dinner: Roca salad and stuffed pork with roast potatoes. I planned to have Gemista tonight, but they didn’t have it. The pork was very tasty though. It’s 8:30pm and the restaurant is empty. Greeks certainly eat late!

Tomorrow I plan to get to the Acropolis as close to opening time (8am) as possible, and see the Acropolis Museum. Then I’ll walk to the Roman Forum and see the Tower of the Winds. So no sleeping in tomorrow morning…I’ll set my alarm for 7am.

I’m going to have to confirm my Alitalia flights from Athens to Milan and Milan to Toronto and Victoria either tomorrow or Thursday. Hopefully I can confirm online.

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Athens – day 2

April 8, 2006 – Saturday – Athens, Greece – farmer’s market, Archaeological Museum & Strefi Hill

Oranges from farmer’s market

After making some coffee, and having some bread and marmalade as a late breakfast, I join Harry for a shopping trip to a local, open air market: fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as household sundries. Harry stocks up on everything, and I buy some oranges which are tree ripened and still have some leaves attached to them. They are super sweet and juicy!

The 'Artemision Jockey' Bronze statue of a horse and young jockey at the Museum
The ‘Artemision Jockey’ Bronze statue of a horse and young jockey at the Museum

After the shopping trip I walk to the National Archaeological Museum, which is only 15 minutes’ walk away. As with museums in Italy, it is endless. Hundreds of stelae, statues, and other artifacts from ancient times are beautifully displayed. Admission is €6, and they close at 3pm today.

I skip lunch, but pick up some date and sesame cake at a bakery on the way back to the apartment. I make some coffee and have a piece of cake for a snack before I lay down for an hour. I feel better after the rest, but I think I’m a bit depressed and lonely after being part of a group for the last two weeks!

Ayah restaurant entrance
Ayah restaurant entrance

Harry pointed out Strefi Hill on our shopping trip, which is a small hill just a short distance away from the apartment. I hike up to the top and am rewarded with good views of the Acropolis and the whole city. I take a few photos, then look for restaurants on the way down, and find some which are open. I have dinner at Ayah, 43 Methunis: green salad (lettuce, tomatoes, olives, capers, cheese on top), with a penne & cheese entreé – a bargain at €8.90. It is very good food, and is much quieter than the Albanian place last night. I’ll be back.

Lots of customers smoke in restaurants here, which is hard to get used to after our non-smoking laws in Canada. Libya is also a smokers’ haven, but Italy restricts smoking in many restaurants.

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National Archaeological Museum – Athens

April 8, 2006 – Saturday

I walk to the National Archaeological Museum, which is only 15 minutes’ walk from my rental apartment in Exarhia. As with museums in Italy, it is endless. Hundreds of stelae, statues, and other artifacts from ancient times are beautifully displayed. Admission is €6, and they close at 3pm today.

April 11, 2006 – Tuesday

Since the Benaki Museum is closed today, I take the metro from Syntagma to Omonia Stations, and revisit the National Archaeological Museum.

When I first visited this Museum on Saturday, it closed before I could see the showpiece gold artifacts recovered from Mycenae. This time I spend a full two hours viewing this important gallery. I am amazed by the famous funerary Mask of Agamemnon, as well as many other superb artifacts (many made of gold). The side gallery showcasing Cycladic art was a surprise, since these are pre-Mycenaen. I believe this civilization was one of the first to form after man moved out of caves!

I must confess I’m not a fan of history, however visiting all these ancient sites in Greece and seeing so many fascinating artifacts brings ancient civilizations alive. I can understand why thousands of Greek schoolchildren visit these sites and museums every day.