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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Feb 27, 2016 – Port Klang & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

Petronas twin towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Petronas twin towers, Kuala Lumpur

There is a giant NCL ship docked beside us this morning at Port Klang. She arrived first with 3,500 passengers aboard, so the shore resources are swamped. This delays the clearance of our ship, and the departure times for the shore excursions end up being almost an hour later than planned. We finally leave to board our buses and start the hour long drive through heavy traffic to Kuala Lumpur (KL).

The first stop on today’s shore excursion is a Hindu shrine, the Batu Caves. It is built into a huge Karst rock sticking up in the small community of Gombak, just north of KL. I take both video and lots of photos of the stairway of 272 steep steps up to the cavern containing religious temples and statutory. Using HDR and my fisheye lens are both helpful to capture this place. There are monkeys everywhere, and people are feeding them bananas of all things! Guess where the monkeys leave the peels…right on the steep steps! The caves at the top are interesting and well-lit, and have some shrines for the faithful.

Since we had a late start, lunch is our next stop: a sumptuous buffet in a local upscale hotel, the Concorde Hotel. We then make our way to the KL Tower, where we have to wait in what seem to be endless lines to take the elevators to the observation deck. Once there, the views of the city are spectacular!

Celepa - gold tobacco box at the Muzium Negara
Celepa – gold tobacco box at the Muzium Negara

By this time, we are running very late, so we make a quick photo stop at the Petronas twin towers, and can only stop at the Muzium Negara for a half hour. There are some very interesting historical artifacts in the museum, but we really don’t have time to appreciate them. Our last stop of the day is Independence Square, which offers us obstructed views of quite a few colonial buildings, as well as a cricket field, and other old buildings we have no time to explore.

Our tour is supposed to end at the cruise ship terminal at 4:30PM, but is is a full hour later before we finally arrive after battling traffic congestion most of the day. Not that it matters much to us as passengers, since the ship is not scheduled to depart until 10:30PM.

Warisan Seni Budaya Malaysian dance troupe
Warisan Seni Budaya Malaysian dance troupe

Warisan Seni Budaya are a Malaysian dance troupe who come aboard the ship this evening and perform some fascinating dances reflecting the mixed cultures to be found in Malaysia: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sarawak, and Sabah. A young dancer struts around the stage in a peacock costume, and their performance ends with a combo of all the ethnic groups dancing together.

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Phuket, Thailand

February 19, 2016 – Phuket, Thailand

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

I go on the Diverse Phuket shore excursion this morning, which is a six hour outing in a van. The weather is hot and humid as we drive away. Our first stop is the Big Buddha, atop Nakkerd Hill. It is a big 150 foot Burmese marble structure that is still under construction, but is visible for miles around.

Map of my photos taken oh Phuket
Map of my photos taken oh Phuket

There are views of the Karon, Kata and Kata Noi beaches from the back of the hill. Thais are mostly Buddhists, so there are statues and temples everywhere, and most Thai children train as monks for short periods of time.

At our next stop, we explore the Kratu Tin Mine Museum, where we learn about Phuket’s history with tin mining, and also find out about the cultural history of the very first Chinese immigrants to the area.

We don’t stop at any of Phuket’s famous beaches today, instead keeping to the viewpoints along both shores of the peninsula, and driving along the tourist strip for the Karon, Kata and Kata Noi beaches. It is a very crowded area…I’m glad we didn’t stop. We have a lovely Thai lunch at a hotel located beside a lake in the mountains. I have a Singha beer, which is included. It is wonderful to return to the air conditioned ship to get cleaned up and have an afternoon nap.

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Rome

September 11, 2014 – Thursday – Rome walking tour, Italy

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

Upon our arrival in Rome, our driver Sylvain has to maneuver through some pretty challenging turns and narrow streets to get us to the drop off point in the city at Repubblica Square. Driving a vehicle that large in Rome is a real challenge! Once we are parked, we schlepp our bags the few blocks to Hotel Nardizzi Americana in sprinkling rain. A bunch of us have lunch on our own at a nearby salad bar deli. I have a delicious prosciutto panino (we say Panini in North America, which is actually the plural form of panino in Italian).

Group photo in front of the Roman Forum
Group photo in front of the Roman Forum

We go on an extensive walking tour of Rome this afternoon with a local guide who succeeds in bringing the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon alive for us all. Several of us are tired after all the walking this afternoon, so we return to the hotel on our own using the Rome subway. Jennifer taught us well earlier in the day when we started our tour by taking the subway, so we have no problem reversing the route.

Three of us have dinner at Ristorante Esperia, which is a trattoria only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. I have Spaghetti Carbonara, which is very rich and tasty. We all enjoy our meals, although the wine is a bit expensive.

Rome
45 photos
The Colliseum and the Arch of Titus
The Colliseum and the Arch of Titus
The Colliseum being restored
The Colliseum being restored
Detail on the Colliseum exterior
Detail on the Colliseum exterior
The Colosseum arena showing the hypogeum's partially restored floor
The Colosseum arena showing the hypogeum’s partially restored floor
The Hypogeum's passageways under the former floor
The Hypogeum’s passageways under the former floor
The Colosseum arena showing the hypogeum
The Colosseum arena showing the hypogeum
Colliseum raked seating area
Colliseum raked seating area
Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus
Roman Forum and the Via Sacra Roman road in front of the Palatine Hill
Roman Forum and the Via Sacra Roman road in front of the Palatine Hill
Jennifer and our group inside the Colliseum
Jennifer and our group inside the Colliseum
Roman arches made of bricks
Roman arches made of bricks
The hypogeum walls detail
The hypogeum walls detail
The back of the Colliseum from the Arch of Constantine
The back of the Colliseum from the Arch of Constantine
Original cobblestones on the Via Sacra Roman road
Original cobblestones on the Via Sacra Roman road
Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus central soffit coffers
Arch of Titus central soffit coffers
Arch of Titus reliefs
Arch of Titus reliefs
Santa Francesca Romana Basilica
Santa Francesca Romana Basilica
Santi Cosma e Damiano
Santi Cosma e Damiano
Columns in front of the Santi Cosma e Damiano
Columns in front of the Santi Cosma e Damiano
Antoninus and Faustina Temple
Antoninus and Faustina Temple
The Roman Forum is a busy place...even today!
The Roman Forum is a busy place…even today!
Temple of Saturn with anti-crepuscular rays behind
Temple of Saturn with anti-crepuscular rays behind
Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn
Carved piece of a Roman column
Carved piece of a Roman column
Septimius Severus Arch
Septimius Severus Arch
Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn
Group photo in front of the Roman Forum
Group photo in front of the Roman Forum
Septimius Severus Arch, Roman Forum and Temple of Saturn
Septimius Severus Arch, Roman Forum and Temple of Saturn
Statutory embedded in a wall of the Capitoline Museum
Statutory embedded in a wall of the Capitoline Museum
Fashion shoot beside a statue of Zeus/Poseidon
Fashion shoot beside a statue of Zeus/Poseidon
Window detail in the Musei Capitolini
Window detail in the Musei Capitolini
A copy of the David in the Musei Capitolini
A copy of the David in the Musei Capitolini
Cordonata descending from the Piazza del Campidoglio
Cordonata descending from the Piazza del Campidoglio
Elephant and Obelisk in the Piazza della Minerva
Elephant and Obelisk in the Piazza della Minerva
Rear view of the Pantheon where the old Roman wall is located
Rear view of the Pantheon where the old Roman wall is located
Front entrance to the Pantheon
Front entrance to the Pantheon
The Pantheon interior
The Pantheon interior
The Pantheon interior dome
The Pantheon interior dome
The Pantheon interior
The Pantheon interior
Our group using the Rome metro on our own
Our group using the Rome metro on our own
National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II
National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II
Castel Sant'Angelo on the Tiber River
Castel Sant’Angelo on the Tiber River
Joggers run beside the Tiber River
Joggers run beside the Tiber River
View of the ancient city from the Piazza del Campidoglio
View of the ancient city from the Piazza del Campidoglio

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Florence

September 9, 2014 -Tuesday – Venice to Florence

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

The cornfields have turned brown and the farmers are harvesting as we drive from Venice to our first rest stop near Bologna, which has Jennifer’s favourite, an AutoGrill. The rest stops on the Italian expressways (Autostradas) serve very tasty food – not a Burger King or McDonalds to be seen thank goodness! As we travel through the Tuscany area, the road has more curves and hills, and we drive through lots of tunnels.

We arrive in Florence early this afternoon. The bus stops in a local square, we unload ourselves and our bags, and walk a few blocks to our hotel, Hotel Accademia Florence. After getting settled, we go on a walking tour of the centre of Florence. We have an Italian guide with us, but Jennifer leads the tour. Apparently, the Italian guide is with us so the Rick Steves tour group doesn’t get hassled for conducting “unauthorized” tours of the city – Italian bureaucracy in action!

Michelangelo's statue of David
Michelangelo’s statue of David

We line up for the Gallery of the Academy, and after 10 minutes or so get inside to see Michelangelo’s statue of David. I saw the copy of the David statue in the nearby Plazza della Signoria when I was last in Florence in 2006, but there is no comparison to seeing the original inside the museum. David is beautifully lit with both outside light coming through a transparent dome, and also floodlights. Jennifer points out how his expression changes depending on where you gaze upon him. His naked body is exquisite, although his right hand is too large. Jennifer explains that the original plan was to mount David high on the front of the Duomo, which might explain why his hand was bigger than normal…otherwise from the perspective of people on the ground, the hand would not be easily visible.

We go for a group dinner to nearby Trattoria Nella this evening. The food is good, and wine and bottled water is included with most of our Rick Steves group dinners. Our guide Jennifer takes us out for gelato afterwards, so I am really full by the time we return to our hotel.

September 10, 2014 -Wednesday – Florence

I am awoken at 6:30AM by thunder and lightning crashing and booming over the city. The rain comes down hard, however it is all over by 7AM. An exciting start to the day! Several of us go to the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) early this morning and climb up to the top of the dome. It is very close quarters, since the stairs to the top are between the inner dome and the outer dome. We are rewarded with superb views of Florence from the top.

Pasta a fagioli
Pasta a fagioli

I go to Trattoria Antellesi for lunch, which is the little trattoria right beside our hotel entrance.  I have a beer and a wonderful soup called pasta a fagioli, which is a vegetable soup made with pasta, beans, vegetables in a rich and creamy broth. It is often thickened with shredded bread.

We go to the Uffizi Gallery this afternoon with a local guide who specializes in the Uffizi. There is a crush of people and groups, so we have to wait about three quarters of an hour to get in. Photos are now allowed inside, but when I checked earlier, there was no indication of this recent change in policy. So I am stuck using my cellphone camera inside. Our local guide tries to maneuver us around the huge crowds inside, with limited success.

Quite a few of us go to Giglio Rosso Ristorante for dinner on our own this evening. Our meals are excellent, and they bring around a dessert cart with some really yummy choices, which virtually all of our group can’t resist!

Tipping in the European countries we visited is not required in restaurants, since servers and other staff are well paid. That said, leaving the change on the table when the bill is paid is considered polite. Americans (and Canadians) have the reputation of leaving too much of a tip, which the Europeans interpret as being too flashy. If exceptional service is rendered, a 10% tip would be in order, but no more. Payment in cash (rather than credit card) is expected, and many restaurants don’t accept credit cards, or charge extra if a credit card is used. So take Euros to pay for your meals, and don’t tip too much!

September 11, 2014 – Thursday – Florence to Rome

I am awoken again this morning at 6AM by thunder and lightning however the rain isn’t coming down hard like yesterday when we walk to meet the bus. Once we are on the Autostrada to Rome, the rain comes down hard, so the views are not great as we travel south. It’s a good time for me to pull out my notebook computer to write in my travel journal.

Florence
50 photos, 2 videos
Jennifer talks to the group about the Renaissance in Florence
Jennifer talks to the group about the Renaissance in Florence
Jennifer talks to the group about the Renaissance in Florence
Jennifer talks to the group about the Renaissance in Florence
Michelangelo's statue of David
Michelangelo’s statue of David
Michelangelo's statue of David
Michelangelo’s statue of David
“Atlas Slave” - one of Michelangelo's incomplete statues
“Atlas Slave” – one of Michelangelo’s incomplete statues
Rape of the Sabines statue
Rape of the Sabines statue
Madonna and Child with Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist
Madonna and Child with Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist
Riccardi Medici Palace
Riccardi Medici Palace
The Duomo front facade
The Duomo front facade
Decorated entrance to the Duomo
Decorated entrance to the Duomo
People at the top of the Duomo dome
People at the top of the Duomo dome
The front face of the Duomo
The front face of the Duomo
Baptistery doors
Baptistery doors
Giotto's bell tower (campanile)
Giotto’s bell tower (campanile)
Ornate inset featuring cherubs
Ornate inset featuring cherubs
City Hall & Plazza della Signoria
City Hall & Plazza della Signoria
Roman and Florentine statues
Roman and Florentine statues
Bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head
Bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa’s head
Poseidon statue with towers behind
Poseidon statue with towers behind
City hall against a blue sky
City hall against a blue sky
The group enters Trattoria Nella for dinner in Florence
The group enters Trattoria Nella for dinner in Florence
Group dinner in Florence
Group dinner in Florence
Group dinner at Trattoria Nella
Group dinner at Trattoria Nella
City Hall at night
City Hall at night
Poseiden statue at night
Poseiden statue at night
Side street off the Plazza della Signoria at night
Side street off the Plazza della Signoria at night
Duomo dome and side at night
Duomo dome and side at night
Duomo facade and tower at night
Duomo facade and tower at night
Thunder, lightning and rain
Thunder, lightning and rain
Climbing the narrow stairs
Climbing the narrow stairs
Beautifully decorated ceiling inside the chapel
Beautifully decorated ceiling inside the chapel
The group inside the Duomo dome
The group inside the Duomo dome
Sandy, Dennis and Marian climb the stairs to the top of the dome
Sandy, Dennis and Marian climb the stairs to the top of the dome
A landing between the inside and outside domes
A landing between the inside and outside domes
View of Florence and the Tuscan hills from the top of the Duomo dome
View of Florence and the Tuscan hills from the top of the Duomo dome
View of Florence from the top of the Duomo
View of Florence from the top of the Duomo
Giotto's bell tower (campanile)
Giotto’s bell tower (campanile)
Joe at the top of the Duomo dome overlooking Florence
Joe at the top of the Duomo dome overlooking Florence
View of Florence and the Tuscan hills from the top of the Duomo
View of Florence and the Tuscan hills from the top of the Duomo
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, the Florence train station & Mercato Centrale from the top of the Duomo
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, the Florence train station & Mercato Centrale from the top of the Duomo
Tools and instruments used to build the Duomo dome
Tools and instruments used to build the Duomo dome
Pasta a fagioli
Pasta a fagioli
Merry-Go-Round in the Piazza della Repubblica
Merry-Go-Round in the Piazza della Repubblica
Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca
Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca
Madonna of the Magnificat painting by Botticelli
Madonna of the Magnificat painting by Botticelli
Ornate ceiling
Ornate ceiling
Corner of an ornate ceiling
Corner of an ornate ceiling
Ornate ceiling and hallway
Ornate ceiling and hallway
Doni Tondo (Doni Madonna) painting by Michelangelo
Doni Tondo (Doni Madonna) painting by Michelangelo
Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River
Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River
Looking south across the Arno river
Looking south across the Arno river
Looking back at the Arno River as we leave Florence on a rainy day
Looking back at the Arno River as we leave Florence on a rainy day
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Corinth isthmus & Peloponnese peninsula

Greece 2006

April 9, 2006 – Sunday – Circle Tour – Corinth isthmus & Peloponnese peninsula

Today is a full day tour with Paul, since getting to these sites without a car is difficult. Paul picks me up at 8am and we head out of Athens.

Corinth Canal

Bridges over the Corinth Canal with a ship passing through
Bridges over the Corinth Canal with a ship passing through

First stop is the north end of the Corinth Canal between the Aegean Sea and the Gulf of Corinth. It is obviously a very strategic waterway, since it eliminates sailing around the very large Peloponnese peninsula. Nero started the canal in 66 A.D., and used slaves and prisoners to dig 3.3km of the 6.3km total distance before having to abandon the project when he was arrested in Rome. The canal project wasn’t restarted again until 1882, and completed in 1893, paid for by the Greek government but built by private contractors. Sinking bridges at either end accommodate local traffic, however the expressway and other major roads go over top.

Ancient Corinth & Acrocorinth

Temple of Apollo at Ancient Corinth with Acrocorinth in the distance
Temple of Apollo at Ancient Corinth with Acrocorinth in the distance

Next is Ancient Corinth (€6 admission). There are lots of interesting ruins here and a decent museum. The Temple of Apollo’s pillars dominate the Agora site, but the Lechaion Road, Fountain of Peirene and basilica offer a glimpse into daily life under Greek, Tyrant, and Roman rule. Aerial video

Acrocorinth is visible from this site, located 565m above the ancient city. Paul drives up the mountain to the first gate, and then I climb the steep and rocky roads through the three gates built by various occupiers of this strategic fortress. I can’t face the 4 km climb to the top where the Acropolis is located.

Joe climbing the cobblestone road to the third Acrocorinth gate
Joe climbing the cobblestone road to the third Acrocorinth gate

Aerial video used with permission: Tasos Fotakis – DroneWorks

Mycenae

Next stop is Mycenae and the Treasure of Atreus (€8 admission). Perhaps this is the most interesting site I see today, although it is less dramatic visually. Mycenae (and other ancient sites in the area) were inhabited by advanced civilizations hundreds of years before Christ (BC), proving that the tales told by Homer were based on fact. Mycenae is located on a low hill, and the Treasure of Atreus is located in a beehive shaped structure nearby. Actually, the treasures are now located in Athens at the National Archaeological Museum. The gold masks are a must see when you visit the Museum.

Grave Circle A - Mycenae
Grave Circle A – Mycenae

Palamidhi Fortress & Nafplio

Palamidhi Castle walls and gun emplacements with Argos Bay behind
Palamidhi Castle walls and gun emplacements with Argos Bay

There are 900 steps to climb up to the Palamidhi Fortress from the pretty coastal town of Nafplio, however I opt to drive up (€6 admission). Palamidhi Fortress overlooks the town below, and the Bourtzi Fortress on Ayiou Theodhorou islet in Argos Bay. This is perhaps the most impressive fortress I’ve ever visited. It is perched on a steep hill, and the views are breathtaking. Like Acrocorinth, strenuous climbing is involved in exploring the site!

Epidaurus

Ancient outdoor amphitheatre of Epidaurus
Ancient outdoor amphitheatre of Epidaurus

Ancient Epidaurus, Theatre – (€6 admisson) – This ancient outdoor theatre is still used today to stage performances. It is not as large or as well decorated as the theatres we saw in Libya at Leptis Magna and Sabrata, however it is an impressive theatre nonetheless, and apparently has perfect acoustics. It dates to the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, and is part of a larger complex of buildings, including a sanitarium.

Return to Athens

Expressway from Corinth to Athens, twin tunnels

It has been a long day, but very productive and rewarding, since I experienced so many ancient sites, thanks to Paul’s intimate knowledge. I go to the Ayah restaurant again this evening for dinner, and have chicken and rice with Rocket salad – excellent!

Greek restaurants will dress most salads with oil and vinegar before serving unless you catch them first. As well, olive oil is poured on almost all main courses.

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National Archaeological Museum – Athens

Greece 2006

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.