Feb. 2006
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Check out Weeks ending:  [4 Feb 06] [11 Feb 06] [18-25 Feb & 4 Mar 06]

Week ending 4 Feb 06 (Bob)

Wrapping up Visit to Marrakesh - After an enjoyable 3 days in Riad Magi we packed and set out to retrieve our van from the local lorry car-park - after a filling breakfast delivered to our room by our friendly host.  The main square, Djemma el-Fna was getting organized for the the first non-rainy day in four and already had snake-charmers, horse carriages, and a smattering of tourists mixed in with the many locals.  By the time we made it out of town it was time to stop at a caravan park on the outskirts of the city - much less interesting but at least we were on our way 'home'.

Casablanca and the Hassan II Mosque - We missed Rick's Cafe on our short visit to Casablanca, but did stop for the only attraction deemed worthy by Lonely Planet - the Hassan II Mosque.  This half billion dollar mosque is the largest in Morocco, with the highest minaret in the world and a capacity of 25,000 worshippers.  It was dedicated to the previous king of Morocco by contributors to a private subscription on his 60th birthday. It is splendid from the outside and reportedly beautiful inside, but unfortunately we missed the last tour of the interior for the day - perhaps on a future visit.  We did the have passing thought that perhaps half a billion dollars, properly invested, could help Morocco along the path to a better future, but it does seem to be a source of pride to the country.

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque arches

Hassan II Mosque entrance

 

Return to Spain - With lots of photos and memories (and a few carpets) we retraced our route to Ceuta and crossed to Spain on the last day of January - looking forward to a few days of relaxation and stationary life before next week's travel back to Italy and Long Passages, our forlorn floating home who has probably been missing us sorely for the last 5 months. 

Week ending 11 Feb 06 (Bob)

Breakfast in Spain, Lunch in Switzerland, Dinner in Italy - We fancied ourselves as quite the jet-setters, even if we were traveling on the low-cost EasyJet.  We hopped our first flight in Malaga, Spain and winged across the Pyrenees and Alps to Geneva, just in time for lunch at the airport with (almost) a view of Lake Geneva.  The afternoon flight was a short hop across the Southern Alps to Rome where we left a couple of bags in the locked baggage storage and took the EuroStar - a fast and comfortable train from Roma Termini to the museum city of Florence - drawn here by an email from our friends Peter and Jeanette aboard the schooner Voyager.

Catching up with Voyager - The reason that we diverted from our return to Long Passages was that cruising friends, who were wintering over in Venice, were in Florence for a brief visit.  Their lovely wooden schooner is moored on a small island off the Venetian Grand Canal - occupied only by a marina and a monastery, sort of limited company in the cold winter of Northern Italy.  It was great to see them and we shared stories and wine each evening while the day was devoted to window-shopping and culture.

Fantastic Florence - And culture abounds in Florence - a veritable outdoor museum.  Everywhere you walk are world-class sights, some inside museums and others outside.  The Medici family dominated Florence in the 1500's, and brought artists and musicians to the city, among them Da Vinci and Michelangelo, and left a wonderful legacy.  Our map listed 39 museums ranging from Archeology to Zoology. To avoid overload we confined our visits to:

The Duomo - This immense cathedral peeks out at you from almost every street in the city center.  Like other structures of its size it took many years to build - 150 in this case starting in the 13th century, and was finished just in time to start rebuilding it.  The stone-work was exquisite, the bronze doors impressive and the overall impression is awesome.  The interior on the other hand is quite austere and solemn, unlike the Basilica in the Vatican.

Florence sneak view of Duomo

Duomo impressive front doors

Duomo overhead view

View of bell tower

 

Galleria dell' Accademia - The claim to fame of this museum is Michelangelo's David, a very strong sculpture of this warrior after his defeat of the giant Goliath.  It was damaged by a vandal in the '90's but has been restored.  The museum also houses many religious paintings and icons plus my favorite - a collection of musical instruments from 17th to 19th centuries, including violins and violas made by Stradivari and an old, upright piano.

Galleria degli Uffizi - The galleries of the Uffizi were an endurance test of viewing religious paintings and icons - and we failed.  For several hours we wandered the corridors and viewed portraits of popes and masterpieces by Michelangelo, Rubens, Titian, Da Vinci, and many other well-known artists.  The gallery contains the family collection of the Medici family before it faded from power after the 16th century.

Ponte Vecchio - Reminiscent of the arched bridges of Venice, Vecchio is a narrow bridge with shops hanging over the water on each side with expensive jewelry, leather goods, and art-work.  We walked there from our hotel, admired the gold, chatted with a lady about her simulated old paintings (not reproductions she assured us, all originals in the style of the Old Masters), and left without having spent a penny - a good time all around.

Walking the Streets - One of the most enjoyable parts of visiting Florence (or Firenze as it is called in Italy) was walking through the narrow streets with its outdoor sculptures, hundreds of leather good shops, store-fronts with beautiful products and artful presentation.  One stop was at the central food market where the fruits and veggies were bright as artwork and laid out in perfect order.

Train Service in Southern Italy - After three days in Florence we took the train south to Vibo Marina and our lonely yacht.  The Eurostar through train was fully booked so we had to make a couple of stops.  All went well until we reached Rome, then things went awry.  Our next train took us as far as Formia for a connection south which arrived 1 1/2 hours late.  During our delay the display boards were inconsistent with the trains zipping by, the surly ticket agent shrugged his shoulders when asked for information, and all announcements were in rapid-fire Italian only.  Finally a helpful passenger led us to the correct train that did not match the display board.  Of course this made us miss our next connection, the last of the day, to Vibo Marina so we diverted to a different stop and took a taxi.  The taxi driver neglected to turn on the meter and tried to charge us €25 for a 10 minute ride, and became indignant when we refused to pay.  Every time we have used the trains in the south we have been delayed - welcome back to Italy!

Back aboard Long Passages - And happy we are to be gently rocking in the marina back on our trustworthy yacht.  She has weathered the winter well so far - thanks to friends on Calypso Flyer who added a  couple of fenders when the surge in the harbor became a little too strong.  She was clean and dry below, dusty on deck - but we are happy to be home!

3 Weeks ending 4 Mar 06 (Bob)

Social Life in Vibo - We didn't realize how busy the little community of cruisers kept themselves, but we found out as soon as we arrived home:

  • Songfest Fridays - When we arrived from the train station late in the evening we were greeted by singing from the clubhouse. It turns out that each Friday the cruisers get together in the bar to share dishes, drink a little wine, and sing. A happy end to each relaxing week!
  • Birthday Party - We were lucky to be there when Mike from Calypso Flyer reached a milestone birthday, so this was an excuse for an even bigger party - the sushi was great, although a little unusual to be eating it to the strains of steel drum music from Trinidad.
  • Boat Hopping - We used our short stay to catch up stories from the past cruising season so we had Mike and Shiho from Calypso Flyer and Martin and Ericka from Minuet over for drinks and snacks.  Later in the week we visited Don and Katie on Klondike and the couple on Piano, who have a full-sized electronic piano installed aboard (who led a mini songfest aboard).
  • Valentine's Day - On the appointed day most cruisers walked into town to Maria Rosa's, our favorite spot in Vibo to share wine and pasta in this cute downtown restaurant.

Paris - Alas, our stay in Vibo was too short and our allocated 10 days passed too quickly, so on 22 February we got back on the EuroStar for the ride north.  A brief overnight stay in Rome and a 0400 walkup call got us underway to a rendezvous with Sandra from Pacific Voyager in Paris.  Judi had decided to meet Sandra, a Fashion Designer as well as fellow cruiser, in Paris this weekend since there was a fashion fabric show going on - hence an opportunity to get a peek at what would be new for 2007.  Our three days at the Trois Poussins Hotel were very enjoyable - Judi and Sandra visited the fashion houses on the Left Bank and Rue St Honore while Bob wandered the streets looking for technology stores and other sights.  The fashion ranged from tiny one-person shops to the giants like Hermes, Prada, Gucci, Tod's and Louis Vuitton.  The common thread was high quality and high cost - how about $1000 and up for a luxurious leather purse or cashmere scarf, or $25,000 for a small leather chair? Judi found the PERFECT! handbag at Tods, but alas it costs €800, sigh! The evenings were reserved for fine Parisian cuisine - first with Frances, a prior student of Sandra in New Zealand and then at Chez Andre, a quaint family-run restaurant off the Champs Elysee.  Contrary to much-quoted stories, the waiters and waitresses were very friendly and outgoing - another myth disproved. Everywhere products were on display as artwork, from the fishmonger near our hotel to the fruit market and the high fashion shops - presentation was as important at the products.  We left Paris with empty shopping bags but more fond memories of this beautiful city.

Fashions on display in Paris

Fruit and veggies as artwork

Our local fish monger on display

Enjoying dinner at Chez Andre

 

Back in England - After the whirlwind trip to Italy and too-brief stop in Paris we are back in England, visiting our friends in Ringwood and getting ready for a couple of medical visits near our temporary base in Salisbury.  More on this next week.

 

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