Sunday, 27 January 2013

We're Home!

Our group of friends from university with their families at our bi-annual get together

After a LONG but mostly uneventful journey, we have arrived safely home! The children fortunately slept well on the planes and managed to stay awake for most of the day. They were back to their normal selves the next day just in time for a haircut and an Australia Day BBQ with our university friends. It was a lovely way to be welcomed back into the wonderful Australian way of life! We savoured the day for we knew that after this it was going to be back to the grind.

Dubai - Our first stopover at from Rome to Sydney

More goodies from Emirates

Jonah ready to sleep

Time for haircuts before school starts!

The fun part of my Disney purchases!

Placemats for our new home

espresso cups

hand towels

Pin set to match the one we bought at Disneyland

Lots of food at the BBQ

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Disembarkation Day

It was a sad day today as we had to disembark our floating home for the past 11 nights. We enjoyed our very last table service breakfast dreading having to make our own breakfasts very shortly. As concierge guests, we had the flexibility of disembarking at our own timing with our suitcases placed in a special VIP area for easy pick up. They very kindly offered the same privileges to the rest of our family so we were able to disembark together. The disembarkation process was quick and easy. There was no customs or immigration. It was off the ship, gather your suitcases and go!

At this point, the family split up. My parents, aunt and cousin made their way to Asia. My brother headed for a week in Paris, and the rest had a day left in Italy before our flights home. We said our goodbyes, hopped into our respective vans and went on our separate ways. Malcolm's parents joined us for our day tour of Civita di Bagnoregio and Orvieto. We were reunited with our driver Andrea, one of the driver guides who took our family from Florence to Rome. I liked his geeky quietness and kindness. He must have been one of a handful of Italians who doesn't follow football! Instead he is into goofball American movies and science.

The "dying town" of Civita di Bagnoregio

Virtually an "island" in the valley with the edges of the town having fallen off over the centuries
Anyway, I digress! Andrea drove us through the beautiful countryside to Civita di Bagnoregio. It was a scenic and peaceful drive with hardly any other traffic around us. The first sight of Civita di Bagnoregio was breathtaking. It literally looked like an island in the middle of a valley. First founded by the Etruscans over 2000 years ago, it was the birthplace of Saint Bonaventura. The town's population has since dwindled over the years to a mere 10-15 today! The reason? The town is virtually crumbling away at the edges. Out of seven original roads into the town only one remain, and a modern entry built to be able to reach it. The walkway was quite high off the ground and very steep as it neared the perched town. It also was not too wide! With the strong winds blustering, it made for some scary moments. But it was worth the walk, the town was charming and largely spared from the influences of modern life. We spent some time walking around the tiny town and then sat down to try its specialty, bruschetta.

It was a steep walk up the modern ramp. The original roads had long been victims of erosion

The only kind of vehicle allowed in. Those for supply and small enough to be able to manoeuvre the sharp turns and narrow roads 

Entry into the town just past the main gate

Just a gorgeous town

Birthplace of Saint Bonaventura, whose home had fallen off the cliff edges LONG ago

The edge of the city. You could see the existing wall which had cliff face directly on the  other side!

We then moved on to Orvieto, another hill top town. The first attraction was the amazing piece of engineering that was St Patricks well. Built in the early 1500s, it was a 50m deep well with a double helix stairway around it so as to enable people and donkeys to collect water in an efficient one way traffic flow. The presence of steps automatically meant a trip down for this particular family...all 496 of them. With that task accomplished, we moved on to see the Cathedral of Orvieto. The cathedral, which was built in the late 1200s, had a beautiful facade which was an explosion of colour and detail. It was a grey and rainy day and unfortunately my photos simply did not do justice to the Cathedral.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to do a tour of the underground tunnels of caves. We had to be content with a simple lunch and walk around the town to do some shopping. We then had to make the long drive towards Fiumicino airport. We dropped off Malcolm's parents at a hotel near the airport. They were staying the night before their afternoon flight to Doha the next day. We arrived at the airport by 4pm as there was surprising no traffic! We were very early for our 830pm flight but we didn't mind.

We have had the most wonderful time in Europe. We have been blessed in so many ways. Whilst it was sad to head home, we are most grateful of the opportunity that we had been given. We hope that our journey can somehow be used for a greater purpose. We really look forward to our next "big" trip to the USA! So stay tuned for more Albany adventures...

Looking down into St Patrick's well

Down we go on a path once traversed by donkeys

Windows lined the stairwell at regular intervals for natural light

Looking up from below

Woohoo, we made it to the bottom crossing to the stairwell that led us back up

The water within the well was surprisingly very clear

And we're out!


Beautiful charming streets everywhere

Cathedral of Orvieto

Detailed mosaics

Intricate carvings and reliefs

The pretty piazza in Orvieto

Lunch stop!

Very rustic inside. We were served simple but tasty food

Yummiest tomatoes ever!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Naples, Italy

Herculaneum. You can see the town of Ercolano in the background literally built on top of the excavation site! 

The good weather finally deserted us in Naples, Italy. We were fortunate enough to have some patches of blue sky in the morning but otherwise rain accompanied us for most of the day. We also had to dig out our down jackets as we had sailed far away enough from the Eastern Mediterranean for the air to feel cold! Our day was delayed by over an hour as Italian officials decided that they wished to perform an inspection. The disembarkation was made worse by having only one gangway to walk off the ship from!

We finally made it out and met up with our guide for our private tour. We had been to Pompeii, Positano, Sorrento, and the Amalfi on our last visit and so decided to see something different this time around. Our first stop was Herculaneum, the OTHER ancient Roman town buried by the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. The site was only accidentally discovered in the 1700s as it was buried under 20m of volcanic ash. Unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum is much smaller and mostly intact with approximately 75% of the town still buried. What amazed us was that the town of Ercolano sat on top of the area immediately surrounding the exposed part of the site.

The weather and the fact that Pompeii tended to be most visitor's first choice meant that there weren't too many other tourists around. It really helped to have a guide as she gave us an insight into the culture and architecture of the ancient town. It was hard to believe that everything we saw was nearly 2000 years old. We even saw remains of ancient residential lead pipes.

Our first stop, Herculaneum

Stone relief excavated which showed exquisite details right down to the toes

As one does if one were 4...look down any deep holes which one may fall into...

Most of the homes had summer and winter sections! This was an example of a summer section  which had covered porticoes surrounding a garden courtyard

original marble entry

Cavernous rooms all decorated with stuccos

One the best preserved mosaic found.

Details of the wall still visible in many of the buildings

A completely intact women's thermal bath

Mosaic floor as it was found

In disbelief that tourists are allowed to step on this ancient floor! Each square has a different picture

Details of the mosaic, this one is of the male private part...

Details on the wall

Even the benches are detailed

The people of the time were not very tall!

Ancient sign

One of the walls in the temple

A section only excavated one year ago

Originally timber "petrified" from the intense heat. People now pay a fortune for that stuff!

We left Herculaneum and headed to see the source of what buried the town, Mount Vesuvius. The volcano lost half its height after its big eruption in 79AD. The whole family couldn't believe how close houses were to the volcano! By the time we reached the top, the wind had increased significantly and it started to snow. The walk to the top was also (thankfully) closed. We continued on our way to a Naples city tour via a cameo school and shop. By this time, the rain was pelting down and it was miserable. We stopped at the Galleria Umberto, a shopping gallery with a glass dome built in the late 1800s, where we had an afternoon snack of typical Neapolitan pastries. The warm pastries improved everyone's moods immediately! They were consumed so quickly that I didn't have time to take photos. I was not going to miss out! We had sfogliatelle and baba au rum. You'll have to look them yourselves...

It was hard to truly enjoy Naples because of the weather and so it might be unfair to make comments from a single visit. However, the city seemed more disorganized with graffiti everywhere, and their buildings not as well after as other Italian cities we've visited. Modern additions seem haphazardly attached to what was otherwise amazing structures! By the end of the afternoon, no one wanted to be in the rain anymore and so our guides completely the tour and gave us the run down from within our vans. Our last stop of the day was a viewpoint on the hills of Napoli. The weather took pity on us and the rain stopped momentarily for us to take a photo overlooking the city. With that, we returned back to the ship where we had to sadly pack our suitcases in preparation for disembarkation tomorrow.

The galleria Umberto

A closer view of one of the wings