Edinburgh

The Bruce girls have arrived in their traditional homeland and all is well with the world.

With only two nights here this time around (we will be back soon) it was decided to hit the priority sites of the Royal Mile, Mary King’s Close and the National Museum plus the essential hop on-hop off city tour bus. We had all visited the castle before and couldn’t really fit a proper revisit in, in the short time available.

Did I write earlier that our history lessons had finished? Silly me, it is just different history. We learned about the Old Town that consisted only of residences (and I use this term loosely) and shops either side of the Royal Mile spine from where the 16th century Palace of Holyroodhouse stands, up the steep hill to the castle. Aspects of the history of the Old Town were theatrically illustrated/performed by our tour guide at Mary King’s Close as being about survival often through poverty, unhygienic surroundings and plague.

the old bell
The Old Bell

The new town was a planned layout and mainly Georgian in character. The bus took us through the city centre so that we could admire its architecture.

Our accommodation is a little way out of the city, although walkable if not raining, at Kildonan Lodge Hotel in Craigmillar Park. This house is an example of the more elegant stone houses that abound in this part of Edinburgh.

Pub meals were enjoyed at Blackfriars Bobby near the Royal Mile and the Old Bell, our local near the hotel, with delicious soups and my particular favourite, steak and ale pie with mash (and Guinness).

In Dublin’s Fair City

A couple of days in Dublin was a welcome respite after our cruise with its excursions in every port.

This month is important in Dublin as it marks the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and it is commemorated everywhere. This Rebellion was, of course, a major step on the path to Irish independence and the eventual formation of the Republic of Ireland in 1948.

The centre of Dublin today appears as a young vibrant bustling City. It is busy but relaxed, easy to walk around, although the footpaths are narrow, and there are plenty of places to eat and drink. To get our bearings, and to rest weary legs, we used the hop on – hop off bus to reacquaint and reorient ourselves as well as at least glimpsing the major points of interest. Sightseeing proper was kept to a minimum but included the National Museum with its bog bodies, Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle. We didn’t catch up with Molly Malone…

Not being able to control myself, I slipped away to spend a few hours at the National Archives of Ireland looking for details of my Irish Briscoe ancestors, and with a little success. I could easily spend a week or two doing detailed research at these Archives, the National Library and the Registry of Deeds to fill in gaps in my knowledge of this most interesting branch of my family. Maybe one day.

The Brooks Hotel in Drury Street looked after us well and we dined there as well the Hairy Lemon pub and the Porto House tapis bar. Peter’s Pub was also a pleasant spot for happy hour and I variously enjoyed a Guinness of two, or a Kilkenny beer while others preferred the Irish whisky.

The weather in Dublin was not kind to us, and even the Irish were complaining about the cold. It is with some concern therefore that we head further north to Scotland and the Orkneys.

The Greek Isles…across the years

I have visited Greece and a number of its islands several times across the years and it is quite nostalgic to be back again and look back…

Knossos
Knossos

The first two visits in 1975 were part of a sort of gap year between study and settling down to work proper. After a month of travelling on a Eurorail pass my friends and I, acting on a recommendation, decided to rest and hide from the world on the south coast of Crete in the village of Matala. This winter hibernation was accomplished generally in a haze of retsina, beer and the dreaded ouzo and having survived we were ready for more travels.

Returning that summer, I again caught the ferry from Brindisi in Italy, but this time landing me on Corfu. The grey of winter had been replaced by brilliant sunshine and clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea providing wonderful scenery and great swimming. One of my clearest memories of Corfu was my introduction to Greek salads with delicious olives, fetta and the sweetest cucumber that I had tasted.

Lindos
Lindos

Next was some island hopping on local ferries with dear friends Ron and Meg visiting Crete, Ios and the spectacular Thira, or Santorini. Nowadays we often fondly recall dining and drinking under sun umbrellas in tavernas on the seafront at the small town of Sitia, on Crete, watching fishermen at their boats in the bay.

Stefany's at Lindos
Stefany’s at Lindos

Thirty years later I returned to Greece with Jenny on our Cosmos Grand European tour. All we had was a one day’s ferry excursion that took us to the close-in islands of Poros and Aegina. We were able to share some pleasant hours walking the narrow cobblestone streets and alleys and relaxing along the waterfront.

This latest time, from our cruise ship we joined shore excursions to Rhodes and Crete. At the excavations of the ruins of Knossos on Crete we completed our historic tours and education. However, we agreed that our highlight was Rhodes with its ancient archaeological site at Lindos and the medieval world heritage Rhodes Town.

Rhodes Town
Rhodes Town

A noticeable difference, across the years, has been the advent of five-star resorts as tourism has increased. Holidays are probably more comfortable these days but I certainly hope that the old traditional Greece does not disappear. Limited time on this latest trip did not allow us to sample the more relaxed simple holiday but one day we may be able to return to enjoy again one of my favourite parts of the world.

Cruising the Dardanelles

Day whatever? Cruising with no shore excursion gives a chance to rest, but more opportunity to eat and drink too much.

7:30am saw me on an exercise bike in the gym for, (the first time, and a little much needed 30-minute workout.

The weath20160422_090740 (2)er continues to be kind to us and when pulling back the curtains this morning the sun is blinding, which means we are sailing generally southwards along the Turkish coast; destination Rhodes tomorrow morning. A check on the “location app” on our big screen confirms that we are in fact sailing southwest (203.12o) at 12 knots.

Yesterday was our Best of Istanbul 8-hour excursion around the old city. This little town, now with some 15 million inhabitants, has had a long and chequered history. It played a significant role in the history of Christianity from the Roman times of Emperor Constantine and then was the capital for the Ottoman empire when a hereditary line of 36 sultans ruled for over 400 years. Turkey today is a modern secular society in which the separation of religion (Islam) from government appears to provide a good model in a country that spans Europe and Asia, western and middle eastern, cultures.

P1050379 (2)Our city tour was another history lesson starting at the ancient Egyptian obelisk in the Hippodrome. It continued to the Blue Mosque and St Sophia museum, which started life as the biggest church in the world, before being converted into a mosque and finally to the current museum. Then on to the Topkapi Palace sitting within 70 acres majestically overlooking the Bosphorus and the city, with its Moslem and Christian relics and jewels showing another side of the history of the region. Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar where every type of clothing, jewellery and souvenirs are available and bargaining is compulsory.

Our tour guide on the bus was a quite lovely lady who said we could call her Ashley. She ensured that we were organised, well informed about all the historic points of interest along the way and where the best photos could be taken. We learned that it was a poor tourist season in Istanbul with numbers way down, for rather obvious reasons. We also learned later that, unknown to us, we had additional security personnel following our tour bus to keep an eye on our safety. A Holland America line initiative.

From my deck chair, the sun has almost completely retreated west over the ship so it must be lunchtime. The day is still wonderfully sunny. The one metre swell with its occasional white tops does nothing to disturb the calmness of the ship’s passage and the fresh salty air is both relaxing and invigorating in the soft breeze.

Koningsdam – Day 5

P1050128 (2) (640x480)I think it is day 5 or our 12-day cruise – I must check, but does it really matter?

The Koningsdam is a brand new ship having been launched in February and only one its second voyage. It is proving to be most comfortable. Looking out from my balcony deck chair the water surface of the Dardanelles is glassy with no wind to even ripple that surface. In fact, we have been lucky with the weather all cruise but today is not quite as good and forecast to only get to 24oC.

P1050183

We passed Anzac Cove about 5:30 this morning but being too dark there was little to see. Next stop is Istanbul this evening and we plan to see some of that great city tomorrow.

Our first port of call out of Rome was Olympia and then Athens and Cape Sounion, and Kusadasi and Ephesus yesterday. We have learnt a lot more about the ancient Greek and Roman. The design and scale of the buildings they erected, the engineering for water supply and sewerage systems, not to mentions the artistic craftsmanship is truly awe inspiring.

Turkey was also their stomping ground because the Turks only arrived from the east many hundreds of years later after these and the Byzantine empires. We expect to see example of all these eras in Istanbul.