Italy, Greece and Marseille, France - Priarie 2016

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Italy, Greece and Marseille, France

Diaries > 2016
Italy, Greece and Marseille, France in February & March 2016
We had an early flight which meant a very early rise to drive to Gatwick. The trip to Marseille airport was uneventful. Unfortunately the taxis only arrive at terminal one and we flew into terminal two. Roger, in his eternal wisdom figured out where we needed to get to so off we went. Roger in the lead with the bulk of the luggage for a two week cruise. Me trudging behind grumbling every step of the way about airports that can’t organise taxi pickup properly. It was probably only a 5 minute walk for a normal person but at least 10 for me and I detest not knowing how long I will need to mutter & grumble. The taxi rank, when we reached it, was efficient and we were soon whisked away to the cruise ship.
Our luggage was left in the area for the stewards to distribute to the cabins and we proceeded to check in. The queue was long and slow as each person / couple / group were photographed between a sea backdrop and a ship’s wheel. That way the photographers are guaranteed at least one sale from each group and they might be able to identify the passengers if anything goes wrong.
We had picked Costa, an Italian cruise line, as we used them for our Norwegian Fjiord cruise in 2003. At that time the atmosphere was of old world charm and courtesy. We soon found things were not quite the same. Later we were advised that they had been at least partially taken over by Carnival from the U.S.
For the money we paid it was pretty good value for two weeks. The on board staff did their best. There were a multitude of nationalities, so much so that they would often call each other by their job description instead of their names. They each did their best individually to help with whatever problems arose. Once Roger and I were stuck in an elevator and the response was immediate. Three times the toilets in our section stopped flushing and the air conditioning / heating system never worked in our cabin.

The passenger group was made up with ¼ French, ¼ Italian, ¼ German and ¼ mixed everything else. Although all previous correspondence had been completed in English, as we had embarked in Marseille we were automatically now considered to be French. Our first hurdle to overcome was finding out that some of the port tours we booked were not going to be provided in English. Therefore we needed to either change what we wanted to do or book in another language. As we both speak some French, we chose the French tours identical to the English ones we had originally booked. This meant that the tour guides spoke only French and we often had to interpret for ourselves, missing the history and descriptions of the places and importantly not being sure of what would happen next or what was expected of us. Occasionally a Costa crew member accompanied the tour and interpreted what he or she could to let us know what was supposed to happen next. Even on the tours that were supposed to be English, the majority of attendees were one of the other major nationalities so the guides would speak that language most of the time. 
Our itinerary went from Marseille to Savona, Italy. Here we took a bus up the coast to Genoa, home of Christopher Columbus, the capital ofLiguriaand the sixth largest city in Italy. It is also the home of Costa Cruises. We were allowed time on our own in the heart of the old city. It was a glorious afternoon and deserved more time than we had.

Next on the agenda was Naples. A greater contrast from clean and prosperous Genoa couldn’t have been found. Linda and I were there briefly in 1986. It has not improved. Random parking wherever and however the car owners chose is still in evidence on most street. Graffiti and litter are everywhere. Not one I would recommend to anyone. Italy is full of wonderful places – skip this one. We were taken to the top of a hill to overlook the city. If you saw past the graffiti on the wall and litter on the rooftop immediately below, and looked at the city in the distance, the view belies my previous sentence. There was a coffee shop that most of the tour group went to. Roger & I visited a cameo workshop and had a personal explanation of how they make cameos from seashells, the different types and colours, how they build up scenes, etc. by one of the owners. I found out there are hundreds of designs, not just the ordinary woman’s profile, and hundreds of colours. I brought back one about the size of my little fingernail depicting a colourful fish mounted in gold. After the panoramic view stop, we were taken to a pizza shop and given several different pizzas, ending with a chocolate dessert one. Lovely.

We elected to do our own walking tour of Kalamata on the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece. It was the 27th of February and 19 degrees centigrade. We visited the church of Ypapandi at the centre of the city. The ordinary exterior belied what we were to find inside. Greek churches are painted and gilded on every wall and ceiling space imaginable. There was an exquisite chandelier with doves holding the light bulbs. Outside we found a coffee shop in a lovely marble square. The oranges were ripe and almost falling off the trees.
The tour we opted for at Nauplia was to see the Corinth Canal. The canal cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former peninsula anisland. Construction began in 1881 but didn’t finish until 1893 and as the canal is very steep and narrow is used mainly for tourist traffic instead of being economically important as was originally envisioned. We were also taken to the site of the ancient city of Corinth where Paul preached to the Corinthians in the Bible. When we arrived back we had time to explore Nauplia itself. It is a very pretty town and had a festival starting the evening we left so we were unable to see or participate in it. This was the only port that we were unable to dock and used the ship’s lifeboats as tenders to get to and from the land.

At Volos we took the Train Ride with “Moutzouris”. The following is a description of the tour provided by the cruise and was pretty accurate. We were able to stand up and take pictures of the scenery as we went up the mountain. At Milies we didn’t visit the library but spent time in the square by ourselves checking out the Pammegiston Taxiarchon Church. It is incredible. One of the paintings depicted the wheel of life and was explained to myself and another lady by a kind gentleman. After everyone had visited the church we were given a multi-dish Greek feast which was extremely good.

Today, after 25 years of silence, the little train «Moutzouris» rides up Pelion once more. Its approximate speed is 25 km per hour. The actual train trip will start from Ano Lehonia where we will climb the mountain along a dream like route through the forests of olive groves to Milies. Along the route we will have the chance to enjoy the fantastic view to the sea, the five - arched bridge and the sturdy iron bridge, both built by De Kiriko, unique in Europe. In Milies we will have the possibility to visit the Library where we will examine the manuscripts of Antimos Gazis, Konstantas and other scholars who took part in the Greek revolution of 1821 as well as Pammegiston Taxiarchon Church which is a sample of traditional architecture with special characteristics of construction, valuable wall-paintings and an interesting history. The temple is dedicated to "Pammegistous Taxiarches" and also to "Agious Pantes" (All Saints). It was built during the Ottoman domination, from 1741 to 1774, without a bell-tower and with an external appearance such as would not make it recognizable as an Orthodox Church. After our tour in the village we will board the bus and return to Volos port.
Athens was a good surprise. I had heard of blankets of smog a few years ago which they tackled by restricting vehicle usage. I don’t know whether it was this or the earliness of the season outside the very hot summers that made it pleasant to visit. What we saw was clean and tidy. Our tour guides both spoke excellent English and kept us informed the entire time. A small tourist train ride up to the Acropolis, visited by Roger while I explored the streets below. I knew it was far too large for me to even make a dent in seeing it during the short time we had. After regrouping at the Acropolis, we boarded a bus for a tour of the better parts of Athens before returning to the ship.
Our last actual stop was to be Trapani on the north-west tip of Sicily. The weather had become too blustery so the captain decided to stop at Messina in a protected area near the toe of the boot of Italy. As we had to forgo the tour we would have taken at Trapani, Roger & I again decided to investigate Messina on our own. We investigate two churches. The cathedral is beautiful inside but its main attraction is the Bell Tower and Astronomical Clock. The 200-foot tower was built in the late 16th century, destroyed after an 18th-century earthquake and rebuilt in 1908. In 1933, an astronomical clock was installed at the top of the tower, and it remains one of the largest such clocks in the world. The clock's show happens at noon each day, when bells begin to chime, a lion roars, a rooster crows, and a procession of golden statues circles atop the tower. It's an incredible show, one that draws spectators daily. The Church of the Catalans was being restored but we were able to go inside where we found a Christ on the Cross done in black ebony or a similar material.

Once we docked back in Marseille, Roger and I disembarked and stayed in Marseille for the remainder of that day and the next before flying home. We had originally booked a room with a view of the harbour, but in the wisdom of the hotel, they changed us to a room at the back with a private balcony and view of Saint-Victor Abbey. This was much appreciated as there were roadworks on front of the hotel while we were there.

Luckily, as grouchy as I can be, I soon forget the bad bits and remember only the good bits of trips. We found Roger his ouzo candy and driving gloves, me some new sandals and saffron which is much cheaper in Greece than Britain. We saw several rainbows and found the Greek people very warm and friendly. We have come back deciding that the next cruise will be when we can afford to go first class with one of the better cruise lines. In the meantime, we will plan to fly to Athens and spend a holiday on the Peloponnese peninsula.
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