Italy Land Tour

While the cruise portion of our trip ended in Venice, this was just the beginning of the land tour.  We had never done a bus tour so we didn’t know quite what to expect.  Fresh off the ship, our Italian guide Dimitri led us to a tour of Venice.  Waters in the lagoon were much more choppy than expected and the views never stopped.  Once docked a Venetian guide led us thru a maze of streets between canals to many Venice landmarks.  Then we had time on our own to maybe not get lost.  Venice is so unique it is almost overwhelming.   Some of the landmarks include Piazza San Marco, St. Marks Basilica, the Campanile bell tower, the Doge’s Palace.  Venice was crowded with tourists so we could imagine it would be impossible in the Summer.

Venice from the Grand Canal

Venetian “street”

Iconic gondola

St. Marks Basilica

Th Doge’s Palace and the Campanile

After a night in a hotel in the outskirts of Venice, we headed to Florence – birthplace of the Renaissance.  The historic center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and the capital of Tuscany.  Dimitri delivered us to a wonderful local guide who escorted us thru the medieval streets and plazas to some of the city’s great sights.  We saw a replica of Michaelangelo’s David in the Palazzo dell Signoria,  The Basilica of San Lorenzo, the cathedral of Florence known as the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio bridge and many other beautiful buidlings and monuments.  Florence is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Leonardo de Vinci and Michaelangelo called it home.

Florence Cathedral “The Duomo”

Basilica of San Lorenzo

David replica

Ponte Vecchio

Florence’s Arno River

Florenc’s Historic Center

On Michaelangelo Hill

Leonardo de Vinci

Michaelangelo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our day in Florence we stayed in a hotel in Montecatini, a wonderful small city in Tuscany.  Th city is also known as Montecatini Terme due to the thermal baths in the area.  Long ago the town was the summer residence of the Medici family.  After many hours on the bus we were anxious to walk as soon as we could.  The town was beautiful and wandered into a funicular to Montecatini Alto, a rocky mountain top town with a fortress, churches, restaurants and incredible views.

Montecatini Alto Funicular

Montecatini Alto

Montecatini Terme

Next stop was another mountain top town of Orvieto, a small city perched on top of a cliff in the Italian state of Umbria.  As usual the church built a spectacular edifice to remind everyone who had the power.  We rode the funicular to get up from the valley and saw the incredible cathedral, beautiful plazas and medieval streets.  Rick Steves calls Orvieto “what an Italian hill town should be”.

Orvieto Cathedral

Cardinal Hotel St. Peter would be our home in the center of Rome for the last 2 nights of our tour.  We were lucky enough to get a room with a balcony.  The next day we had a full day tour of Rome with Dimitri and a local guide.  Rome is the eternal city and we loved the sights.  Or course we saw Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps (which we had visited on a previous cruise to Italy) but we also visited the church of Mary Major, the Pantheon  countless baroque fountains and statues and other sights.  After the tour group ended we spent another day in Rome.  It was Easter Sunday and our hotel was only a short walk from the Vatican.  We couldn’t believe we were able to walk very close to St. Peters Square and watch from the edge of the crowds as the Pope gave his Easter Blessing.  It was very well organized amid tight security.  The crowds were happy and orderly.  A very lucky day.

The Church of Mary Major

The Spanish Steps

The Pantheon

Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers

Piazza Navonna

Bernini’s Barcaccia Fountain

Overall our Italy land tour organized by YMT vacations was more than we expected.  Their guides were excellant, hotels were nice, food OK.  Our cruise tour vacation was such an excellent value we really couldn’t go wrong.  By the end we feel like we kinda know Italy and would be very comfortable coming back to do a more extensive tour on our own.

St Peters appears on our walk

Crowds converge on the Vatican

St Peters Basilica rooftop

Throngs gathered for Easter

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Another Epic Transoceanic Cruise/Tour

Are we crazy?  Immediately after our Transpacific cruise last Fall we finalized plans for another big cruise acrosss the Atlantic. This trip was a great bargain and included stops in the Caribbean before crossing to the Canary Islands, Spain, France, Italy and Croatia before culminating with a 4 day bus tour of Italy.  All in about 30 days.  These are the go-go years, what the hell.

Cruisers

Our cruise on the Costa Delicioza began as the Northeast was slashed by a huge Noreaster storm causing several passengers to miss the sailing.  By the first morning of the cruise we found out the storm also caused such high water and damage that the port of Nassau Bahamas was closed.  One port missed.  We have been to Nassau many times, no big deal.  Two days later we arrived off the coast of the Dominican Republic where we were to stop at Amber Cove, closed again.  Again no big deal, we had read that it was a cruise company shopping stop.  So then Costa scheduled a stop at their private Catalina Island near La Romana DR and we had a nice beach day.  Curiously, we had a some of the best food of the cruise so far on this beach day.  We had not been impressed with the food thus far.

Our next 2 stops in the Caribbean were St. Kitts and Antigua.  We had always been interested in St. Kitts and scheduled our own tour.  We got into port mid afternoon so it was a quick tour but we saw the highlights, Brimstone Hill Fort – the largest fortress in the Eastern Caribbean built by the British, Romney Manor with Caribelle Batik, Wingfiled Estate – the 17th century home of Thomas Jefferson’s great great great grandfather, and a tour of the finer neighborhoods of the island – like where Robert Redford lives.

Brimstone Hill

Sunset at St Kitts

We had visited Antigua years ago so we walked St. Johns on our own.  The town needs a lot of work but the people are nice.  We visited the old church, the farmer’s market and the seafood market.  These were interesting but somewhat nasty.  Red Cliff Quay, the old slave market turned into shopping and dining was a nice area.

 

Approaching Antigua

St Johns

From Antigua we had 7 days at sea crossing the North Atlantic.  Our next stop was Tenerife famous for the single deadliest plane crash ever, when 2 packed 747s crashed on the runway killing almost 600 people.  We booked a ship’s excursion to Mt. Teide (Tay day) the highest peak in Spain at over 12,000 feet.  The Canary Islands are much closer to Morrocco in Africa than Spain but they are a Spanish provence.  Teide is a big volcano and we rode the cable car to the top.  It was cold.  Tenerife has over 300 volcanoes.  Our tour included lunch at a fine restaurant but there was no vegan option and unlimited wine made for a bad value for us.

Mt Teide and its Cable Car

St Patricks Day in Tenerife

 

Our schedule changed again when the captain informed us that we would not be visiting Cadiz Spain and would instead visit  a second Canary Island, Lanzarote.  Wind and sea conditions warranted this change.  We docked in a nice marina area at Arrecife and had a great  tour including a camel ride.  Lanzarote is dominated by the Timanfaya Hills volcano.  The hills erupted for 6 years straight from 1730 to 1736.  The entire island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  There is still little vegetation in the lava fields with temperatures near the surface of 100 to 600C.  Water dropped into a shallow hole instantly turns to steam.  The landscape was like the moon.  We visited a winery where they produce very unique wines in the volcanic soil.  It is so dry and windy they also use a vine growing technique of wrapping the vines in a circle in a depression to minimize moisture loss.  Very interesting.  The statue “El Diablo” by Cesar Manrique is the island’s symbol.  Lanzarote was one of favorite ports on the cruise.

Camel riding in Lanzarote

Timanfaya Hills

Water to steam

El Diablo

After a day at sea we passed through the Straights of Gibralter (unfortunately in the middle of the night) and arrived at Malaga Spain.  Here we utilized the Hop On Hop Off bus and saw the highlights of the city for peanuts.  We visited El Gibralfaro fortress, the square next to the Picasso museum, Picasso birthplace and the narrow old streets of this medieval city.  It was a cold windy day but we loved the old world ambience of Malaga.

Castillo de Gibralfaro

 

Malaga’s Bullring

Medieval streets

A cold day at the beach

Our next port was Marseilles France.  At this point we should mention that we had a great on-board lecturer Jean Christofe Robles.  He combined 2 of his passions, music and travel, and created a website, Travel with your Ears. http://www.travelwithyourears.com/ He did several presentations on World Music including music of the Garifuna of Belize, rake and scrape music of the Bahamas and reggae around the world.  Fascinating stuff.  He also did some port talks including Marseilles, where he told us about savon de Marseilles soap.  He explained that this soap has been famous worldwide for centuries.  The real deal is made with 72% olive oil and can be used for everything from body washing to laundry.  At one time there were 60+ factories in the city producing this soap with many fragrances.  Marseilles is France’s second biggest city so we opted to visit Aix-en-Provence, a smaller univercity town in nearby Provence.  The shuttle dropped us in the heart of town and we loved walking its narrow streets with a beautiful bakery every 20 feet.  The shops and people were very nice during our halfday tour.

The center of Aix

At our next port, Savona Italy, many passengers disembarked the ship while many families embarked on an Easter week 5 day cruise.  Needless to say this ws a big change in the demographic of the ship.  Costa is an Italian cruise line owned by Carnival Cruise lines of Miami.  Our ship had about 1800 passengers many of whom were European.  This included at least 600 Americans.  The group tended to be seniors with many older seniors.  Every important announcement was made in at least 5 languages, it took a while.  Some messages were only in Italian, we guessed these were not important.  When the European  families boarded the buffet was over run.  Hadn’t these people eaten before?

Savona gave us the chance to visit Genoa, home to Christopher Columbus.  We had a guided tour of Genoa and saw Columbus’s house, San Lorenzo cathedral, 11th to 16th century walls, the revived antique port.  The original old city had 2 story buildings built of stone, the newer (300 – 400 years old) additions went to 4 to 5 stories built of brick.  The narrow streets stayed the same.  Genoa had great foccacia, a hundred different ways – delicious.

11th Century gates into Genoa

San Lorenzo Cathedral consecrated in 1118

Ceiling gold brought from New World by Columbus

Classic Genoese architecture

Naples was our next port.  We had visited Pompei last time – it is awesome.  This time we took the one hour fast boat to Capri.  Famous for the rich and famous, it is a unique island with highend shops and hotels.  We saw the famous Three Rocks, the gardens of Roman Emperor Augustus, the Krupp mansion, the stone pathway from marina piccolo to Krupp.  The narrow streets had lemons everywhere, bakeries and a funicular (not running, our day).  The views are great, the wealth exaggerated.  Most hotels and shops were still closed for the winter so we can only imagine what its like in “season”.

Marina Grande

Three Rocks

“Trail” to Marina Piccolo

High end Capri

Bari Italy was next and a place we really had never heard of.  Its situated on the heel of the boot and was a major entry point fot GIs during WWII.  Here we took a ship’s tour to the nearby town of Alberobello, a town in Italy’s Apulia region.  Its known for the Trulli, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs.  These drystone homes date back centuries and are UNESCO World Heritage site.  They are unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Alberobello’s Trulli houses

Not all restored

Ancient Roman road

Dubrovnik was one of our favorite ports on this cruise.  It is on the Adriatic coast of Croatia and one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.  We had a wonderful guided tour of the old city.  It’s pedestrian only and we visited a Dubrovnik museum dedicated the the men who died in the war of Croatian Independence from 1995 to 1999.  Dubrovik was bombed during the war but somehow mostly survived.  We also visited churches and a monastery which has a pharmacy operated by monks since 1317.  We bought some creams from them.  Dubrovnik is a hot tourist destination and we feel lucky to visit during a shoulder season.  We imagine it would be impossibly hot and crowded in summer.

Medieval walled city of Dubrovnik

Original gate to the city

High walls now an attraction

Monastery

Steep narrow streets

Beautiful plaza

Our cruise ended in Venice.  Our ship sailed into the port right past St. Marks Square.  Venice is so unique its almost overwhelming.  We had a nice walking tour and time on our own.  We visited some Murano glass shops and saw some spectacular pieces.  We saw the famous gondolas, the Doge’s mansion, the basilica, the crowds in St. Marks.

End of cruise – Venice

In talking to our fellow cruisers we found almost all said they would never cruise with Costa again.  Our biggest complaint was a lack of sanitation especially in the dining venues.  Every other cruise line we’ve sailed with requires everyone to sanitize their hands before entering the dining areas, not Costa.  We even witnessed officers not sanitizing before eating.  Needless to say hundreds of passengers came down with a virus, including us.  We actually lost weight on this cruise mostly because the food was so mediocre.  Day after day the food never changed.  Many times the only thing to eat was salad.  The vegies and salad fixings were good.  Even the desserts were boring.  Our cabin was great, the onboard lectures were good, the entertainment was mostly good, embarking and disembarking the ship was well organized.  To summarize, Costa did some things very well, some okay and some very poorly.  It was still an awesome trip, we’d do it again just not on Costa.  7332 nautical miles, 7 countries.

Costa Deliziosa

Our fab cabin

Formal cruisers

Up next, our Italy land tour!

 

 

 

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Introducing “Goldie”, our new RV

Big news!  We’ve traded in our 2003 Holiday Rambler Endeavor on a 2014 Holiday Rambler Ambassador.  Ole Fred was comfortable and we loved him but he was getting a lttle tired and some of his components were starting to fail.  Mostly we wanted to upgrade our lifestyle.

“Goldie”

Huge driver’s side slide

2 more slides

Coincidentally our friends Mark and Lyn were in the central Florida area too and similarly interested in updating their home.  So we met them at the Big RV Supershow in Tampa and spent the day looking at new motorhomes.  None of us liked anything very much.  The next day we met again at Lazydays near Tampa.  This time we were looking at late model used RVs.  8 eyes really are better than 4 and we started to see some we liked.  Lo and behold we all found newer coaches that satisfied our needs!  We celebrated together at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.  http://www.columbiarestaurant.com

Goldie is a 2014 Holiday Rambler Ambassador 36PFT.  She’s 37 feet long with 2 slides on the curb side and 1 giant slide nearly the full length of the RV on the drivers side.  She has a huge residential refrigerator, king size sleep number bed, ceiling fan, central vac system, big screen TV and fireplace.  She is powered by an International Maxx Force 350HP diesel engine and 6 speed Allison transmission.  The generator is a Onan 8000 diesel.  Mark helped us re-install our solar panels from Fred so we still have 680 watts of solar.

Great visibility

Electric fireplace

Spacious galley with residential fridge

King size bed

Nice bathroom

4 solar panels re-installed from Fred

We bought Goldie at Lazydays RV Superstore.  They claim to be the RV Authority and sold nearly 700 RVs in January.  Busy, busy place but good customer service for the most part.  We will be going back for a little warranty work and hope that goes well.

We’re livin’ the dream in our new luxury motorhome!

 

 

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2017 Year End Travels

After our big cruise adventures we returned to Washington to spend time with family before heading south to warmer, drier climes.  We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together on our own timetable.

Family time

We usually get our RV maintenance done in Oregon in part because there is no sales tax.  A bigger reason is that we’ve found Elite RV Restoration and Repair to be the most competant RV technicians we’ve met.  They have the highest hourly rate but lower cost repairs because they know what they are doing.  We had accumulated a pretty good list of mostly small repairs in the year since we’d seen them last.  Down the road we had our diesel engine and generator serviced by Cummins in Medford OR.  We took the time while there to tour the factory where Randy’s Micro-Trains are manufactured.  It was an interesting tour of how modern factories work with 3D printing and computer controlled machines but it was also amazing how each tiny model train car is assembled by hand.  Impressive.

Our travels south took us to California a little later than usual.  Surprisingly the weather was very pleasant in the Redding area.  Redding is a very nice smallish city with a great network of walking trails and an iconic pedestrian bridge over the Sacramento River.

Redding’s Sundial Bridge

Pinnacles National Park has become a favorite stop as we travel south through central California.  Great hiking and caves.   We also love visiting Monterey Bay at Moss Landing.  There we watch sea lions, seals, otters and many seabirds and hike on the beach.

Pinnacles Nationa Park

Moss Landing with seals and birds

Monterey Bay beach

Just east across the mountains from LA we stayed at Soledad Canyon RV Park.  Its a nice rural area.  Nearby we love hiking Vasquez Rocks.  Its  a Los Angles County park and scene of many Hollywood films and TV shows.  Great hiking in a desert setting.

Vasquez Rocks – LA County Park

Red rock hiking

We love this place

Our final stop in California in 2017 was Palm Springs.  Warm and dry, its a hikers dream in December.  Cool nights balance it out.  At Coachella Valley Preserve we hiked to Hidden Palms and Willis Palms.   Joshua Tree National Park gave us a chance to hike the Lost Horse Mine trail, visit the Ryan Ranch ruins and Cholla Cactus Garden.  All great desert hiking.

Joshua Tree National Park

Ruins of Ryan Ranch

Coachella Preserve

Springs created by shifting faults

Desert

To end the year we traveled across the southern tier of the US to Florida.  We hit the road  before Christmas and used the Escapees Days End Directory to find free boondocking sites across Arizona.  We stayed on BLM land near Tonopah AZ.  It was very quiet with beautiful mountain views and just enough neighbors to feel comfortable.

Boondocking in Arizona

Then we went to Tucson and stayed at the very popular boondocking location known as Snyder Hill.  We had a couple cool days and cooler nights there.  We were surprised to find that we were very close to the Arizona Desert – Sonora Museum.  We have learned to love the desert and this park was part zoo, part botanical garden and very well done.  They had a free flight raptor show where we saw a Peregrine Falcon, Barn Owl, Gray Hawk and 4 Harris Hawks – the only hawks that hunt as a group like wolves.  All the birds were rescued and flew free demonstrating unique behaviors.  We loved it!

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Gray Hawk

Barn Owl

Harris Hawks

Bobcat

Hummingbird

Ducks?

 

Along the same south Tucson road we also visited the Old Tucson Studios, a genuine Western movie set where 1oos of movies and TV shows were filmed.  Begun in 1939, the studio was built for the movie “Arizona”.  It’s a classic western town with real adobe bricks and iconic designs.  At its peak it was the Hollywood of the Desert.  “Three Amigos”, “Tombstone”, John Wayne’s “Rio Bravo”, Paul Newman’s “Hombre”, Clint Eastwood’s “Outlaw Josey Wales” and TV shows like “Gunsmoke” and “Little House on the Prairie” and many more were filmed Old Tucson Studios.  Its a theme park today with guided tours, a train ride and performances by actors.  Another great day.

Old Tucson Studios

Western actors

Action scene

Including stunts

Then it was on to a cold night at the Willcox AZ visitors center.  Apple Annie’s next door had a great apple raspberry pie.  On our way to our next stop we visited Silver City New Mexico.  On our cross country treks we often visited The Pink Store in Palomas Mexico just across the border from Columbus NM.  While trying to find out if they would be open on Christmas Eve we found they had opened a second store in Silver City.  While the store was much smaller we bought some beautiful pottery for the patio we don’t have.  We also had a great lunch at Diane’s in Silver City.  That night was spent at the Escapees RV park in Deming NM.  50 amps and water and sewer were appreciated.

I-10 in Texas is 890 miles long and we traveled all of it.  We stopped in Van Horn, Sonora and the Thousand Trails RV Park in Conroe.  Then it was time for the last 1000 miles to Clermont Florida – our home for most of January.  Surprisingly we experienced some of our coldest weather in Florida.  Parts of I-10 near Tallahassee were closed due to ice and some places had snow but we missed all that.

For the year 2017 we traveled 9612 in the RV and 13,707 in our Honda CRV tow car.  We visited Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Hawaii. Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

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New Zealand

Our cruise adventure on Celebrity Solstice continued to New Zealand.  Heading south and east from Melbourne we entered the area of the Pacific Ocean known as the Roaring Forties.  This area is known for near constant high winds, rough seas and frequent storms.  We did not hit any storms but the seas were awesome and winds strong.  Many times the outside decks were closed to passengers.  This was our first cruise on Celebrity and we were excited to experience the difference.  Celebrity is known for upscale cuisine and live glass blowing shows on the top deck.

Corning glass blowers on Solstice

Our first New Zealand stop was not a stop at all but a series of sounds, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound.  Milford is really a fjord cutting into the rugged mountains of southwest New Zealand.  It was cold and raining as we cruised the sound.  Because of the rain we saw countless waterfalls.  When it was time to turn around and exit the captain did donuts with the gigantic ship affording great views and cheers from the passengers.  Doubtful Sound later the same day gave us better weather so we got some decent photos.  Dusky Sound was our last sound transit and as we exited we were at the south end of New Zealand’s South Island.

Milford Sound

Doubtful Sound

Dusky Sound

Dunedin was our first port in New Zealand.  The welcome was so genuine and people so friendly we immediately loved the place.  Here we took an off ship tour to the gingerbread train station and rode the Taieri Gorge train across the countryside.  We also saw much of the beautiful surrounding area.  Dunedin is a lovely city and very livable.

Approaching beautiful Dunedin

Taieri Gorge train

Gingerbread railway station

Beaches of Dunedin

Next stop was Akaroa.  Cruise ships used to dock at Christchurch but since the 2011 earthquake rebuilding has been slow.  This was a tender port, meaning we had to transfer from ship to port via tender boat.  The first Europeans here were the French but the British soon took over.  Here we booked a ship tour on the TranzAlpine Express rail journey across the vast Canterbury plain to the snow covered Southern Alps.  It is New Zealand’s most scenic rail journey.  Of course any visit to New Zealand would have to include a sheep shearing demo.

Akaroa seafront

TranzAlpine Express

Southern Alps

Sheep shearing demo

Back to the coast

Akaroa

Windy Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and located at the south end of the North Island.  Its the southernmost capital and windiest city in the world.  It is also in a seismicly active area even for New Zealand.  Here we decided to tour on our own and had a great time.  Once again the locals were super nice and friendly.  A shuttle was provided from the port to the new visitors center in town (the last was destroyed in a 2016 earthquake).  There we found a free shuttle to the Zealandia Nature Park.  This park is really unique in that it seeks to eliminate all invasive plant and animals and eventually restore the natives in their normal balance.  This is a long term project but already many endangered birds are flourishing again.  We saw the native Tui and Kaka birds.  From there we caught another shuttle to the botanical garden and cable car.  Wellington is a very livable city and we found it very doable on our own.  We spent NZ$34 or about US$25 for the same sights the ships tour would have cost us US$218.  Wow!

Beautiful windy Wellington

Reservoir icon of Zealandia

Looking down on tree ferns

Old gold mine shaft

Wellington cable car

Old parliment – can you believe its built of wood

North island coast

Tauranga is a holiday area for New Zealanders.  It is located in the Bay of Plenty region near Mount Maunganui towards the north (warmer)end of the North Island.  This is an area of active seismic and hot springs activity.  We toured the Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village built on hot springs and mud pools that reminded us of Yellowstone.  We learned how they cook and bathe using the hot springs on a daily basis.  The Moari are the oldest inhabitants of New Zealand, migrating from Polynesia.  We then drove around Lake Rotorua and visited the Polynesian Spa, a world famous hot springs.  There we soaked in 7 different pools of varying temperatures with great views.  We also visited a Kiwi farm and tasted the Gold Kiwi which is much sweeter than the familiar green.   This was another off ship tour and we enjoyed the small van experience.  If we go back to New Zealand, Tauranga would be a focal point of our visit.

Tauranga beach

Active Maori village

Built on hot pools

And geysers

Traditional show

Polynesian Spa

Mount Maunganui

The Bay of Islands is really an area more than a place.  It is a very historic area where the town of Russell was the first capital of New Zealand and where the Waitangi Treaty was signed in 1840 signaling peace between the British and the Maori.  The date of the treaty is celebrated each February as the founding of New Zealand.  Russell was once a very busy whaling port.  Here we toured on our own again traveling on the local ferry.  Today it is known for great fishing and beaches.

Russell – Old whaling town

Our cruise ended in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.  We self checked out of the ship and took a prebooked tour of the volcanos of Auckland.  It was another small van tour with a young entrepreneur guide along with a couple from Florida embarking on the ship we just left and 2 young women from Germany who were working in Auckland as au pairs.  Auckland is geologically amazing.  There are 53 volcanos around the city.  Rangitoto is the largest and most recent eruption (600 years ago) and while the volcanic field is considered dormant, a new one could pop up anywhere.  Eruptions are never in the same place twice.

Auckland

Rangitoto

Walking in a volcano

Volcanos surround Auckland

New Zealand is a wonderful country.  There are still more sheep than people.  The people are friendly, the scenery is spectacular, the climate mild.  We would definitely love to return for a more in depth tour.

 

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Cruising Australia

By definition cruising provides a sampler of multiple destinations.  Our time in Australia was a real sampler.  The cruise on Explorer of the Seas ended in Sydney and our second cruise on Celebrity Solstice started a day later.  Fortunately our friends Jeff and Kaye picked us up early on our arrival day and we had all of that plus most of a second day before we boarded.  The cruise dock is right in the heart of Sydney so we had a walking tour of many of the city’s highlights including the Opera House, Circular Quay, Sydney Botanical Garden and the oldest part of the city.  Crossing the magnificent harbor on the  Harbor Bridge our friends took us to the interesting Q Station Sydney Harbour National Park on the North Head.  Q Station was a quarantine holding and treatment area for immigrants for over 100 years.  Kaye volunteers at the nearby cemetary where she researches the stories of those buried there.  We learned a bit of Australian history.  After many cool days at sea Sydney was hot.  Our friends hosted us at their beautiful home on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific in the town of Dee Why.  We watched Peregrine Falcons, whales and dolphins from their patio.  After a great Bar-B-Q we walked Dee Why beach to Long Reef Point.  We all rode together on the Manly Ferry to Circular Quay near our cruise port for a send off on our next cruise.  Sure, we had just a short time in Sydney but we made the best of it.  Big thanks to Jeff and Kaye.

Sydney’s iconic Opera House

Famous Harbour Bridge

Sydney Botanical Garden

3rd Cemetary at the quarantine station

Carved graffiti at Q Station

Fumigation building

View from Q Station to city

Lorikeet – Australian native

Dee Why beach

Jeff’s N Scale trains

Opera House from th ferry

Australian Aborigine playing didjeridu

Solstice awaits us

Melbourne was the first stop on our second cruise on Celebrity Solstice.  We chose to take a ship offered excursion to the Puffing Billy steam train which got un into some of the country surrounding this city of 4+ million.  Dianne saw one wild kangaroo from the train.  Overall we just got a taste of Australia but it was enough to whet our appetite for a return.  It is a beautiful, huge country with friendly people and a good exchange rate.

Puffing Billy Railway

Cocatoos are like pigeons in Australia

 

Beautiful Rosella

Farewell Melbourne

 

 

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South Seas Adventure

Our cruise from Seattle to Sydney started with 6 days at sea.  The first day or 2 we had rough seas courtesy of a cold front sweeping into the Pacific Northwest.  Things settled down as we cruised to Hawaii.  The cruise dock in Honolulu is conveniently located in the historic center of town.  We booked a rain forest hike through Viator.  Booking shore excursions from off ship companies results in big dollar savings.  We hiked to Manoa Falls with a small group.  After the hike we walked around Honolulu and toured a Mexican Navy training ship making a port call.

Morning approach to Diamond Head, Honolulu

Rain forest hike in the rain

Manoa Falls

Mexican training ship

Our next stop was Lahaina on the island of Maui.  We love Lahaina for its history and small town ambience.  The town provides a free walking tour which we enjoyed.

Lahaina famously huge banyan tree

Historic 19th Century building

Beautiful Lahaina street

In the course of our next 7 days at sea, we crossed the equator for the first time and experienced the line crossing ceremony transforming us from Pollywogs to Shellbacks in the King Neptune Society tradition.  It was corny and fun.  We got certificates.

Welcome to the Neptune Society

Our next 2 ports of call were in Fiji.  First was Lautoka, a small city where we booked another off ship tour.  Our guide was Indian-Fijian and we were his only customers that day – a far cry from the full bus tours the ship offered.  Ashik took us to actor Raymond Burr’s Garden of the Sleeping Giant, his orchid collection.  We then visited the Thermal Mud Pools for a dip and massage.  We toured Nadi Town with its market and the famous tourist shop, Jacks.

Burr’s orchid garden

Red Sealing Wax palms are happy in Fiji

Thermal Mud Pool treatment

Di with massage ladies

Randy with massage ladies

Abundant market in Nadi town

Ashik and Di returning to ship

Suva is the capital of Fiji and our next stop.  We decided to tour on our own.  A short walk from the port was the Fiji Museum, government buildings, a Carnegie library and the historic Grand Pacific Hotel where we had tea.  Fijians joke that they used to see foreigners and think “dinner”, now they say “Bula Bula, Welcome home”.

Welcoming dancers

Suva

Fiji Museum in Suva

Once fierce Fiji now friendly- Bula Bula

Grand Pacific Hotel

Tea time

Lifou in the Loyalty Islands is an overseas territory of France.  Here we took a ship tour and learned about local customs including a taste of a traditional meal baked in the ground.  Actually we were scheduled to make another stop at Vanuatu but there was a medical emergency on ship and we had to change course to get the passenger close to a helicopter evacuation.  Really reminded all of us that we were on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – a long way from civilization.

Welcome to Lifou

Catholic Church on uplifted coral atoll

Chief’s hut

Preparing a traditional meal

Friendly kids

Coconut crab, huge and endangered

Clear water, beautiful beaches – no resorts

Mare, New Caledonia is another French colony in the South Seas.  Here again we toured on our own and found a quiet cove, a natural aquarium filled with beautiful tropical fish.

Mare from our ship

Welcome music

Totem carving

“Aquarium naturel”

Back to the Explorer of the Seas

Next stop Sydney.

 

 

 

 

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