Archives for the month of: April, 2014

To say that  it was total chaos at the ferry terminal in Bari was an understatement.   We had caught ferries from Germany, Holland, England and Ireland and it has been a simple process of driving up to the booth, showing our passports and our numberplate has already been recorded.  We only needed to be there 3/4 hour beforehand.  NOT in Italy!  We had to be at Bari port 3hours prior to embarkation.  We had to show our vehicle registration papers and passports and get separate tickets for the boat.  We went to board the ship and small cars had to board first (and they had not yet turned up) so we had to wait an hour and then we had to back into the ship (as it wasn’t a roll on roll off ship with entries at both ends!) and then the huge semi trailers also had to back in!  There were many busloads of tourists who boarded on foot and they looked like refugees with lots of bags for the 1night crossing leaving at 10pm.  We have always had a two berth cabin with bathroom but this ship only had four berth cabins left with only a washbasin.  The crossing was fairly rough and we didn’t get much sleep but we had a good breakfast at 6am before we docked.

The advantage to arriving  in Dubrovnik, Croatia (Hrvatska to the natives) at 7am was that  by 8.30 (having found 1parking garage which would accommodate us) we were walking around the old city walls virtually on our own which was wonderful.  It cost us $20 each or 100 kuna to do this but as they receptionist explained, Dubrovnik is one of the 10most visited sites in the world and that explained the price.  The restoration of the old city was evident with many workmen replacing roofs . By the time the busloads of tourists were arriving we were leaving Dubrovnik and were on our way to Montenegro.  The scenery on this side of the Adriatic is much more spectacular than the southern Italian side which is quite flat by comparison.  The drive down to the Montenegran border took us about an hour driving  at a leisurely pace but then we had an hours wait to get to the border control and we only had a dozen cars ahead of us.  Apparently in high season it sometimes takes all day to be processed.  As our insurance company did not cover the car for Montenegro, we paid 36euros for a week’s insurance and after we had told the officials where we were going in the country they let us proceed.  All the officials were very pleasant which was also a surprise.

There are only about 600,000 people in all of Montenegro and this is very evident with the vast areas of natural forest with only a few houses dotted everywhere.  We drove almost the length of Montenegro along the spectacular coastline and around the vast inlet which resembled a cross between Lake Como and the Norwegian fjords.  It only took us about 3hours to reach Ulcinj at the southern end of Montenegro.

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It was nice to be back in Rome and the spring weather had started with temperatures of 24-25degrees for the first couple of days. We went with my cousin to have a delicious meal at a small trattoria and then to the Frida Kahlo exhibition which was superb with explanations in both Italian and English and old footage of the artist with her husband Diego Rivera and Trotsky who was staying with them before he was murdered.
It was held in the “Scuderi del Quirinale” opposite the president’s residence where special guards wearing helmets are  chosen when they are  least 2metres tall.
It had rained by the time we arrived in Roccamandolfi after our friends had picked us up from the train station and deposited us and our bags at home. We went to them for lunch and had lovely seafood pasta and met their lovely little 3month old daughter Caterina.
As soon as we got to the house Maurice lit the wood stove to warm the house after being empty for 9months.
We picked up Van Mauriceson and were treated to another lunch by the people looking after the van.
The change in weather was enough to give me bronchitis so I spend a day and a half then in bed and started with antibiotics.
We enlisted the help of one of the locals who had a tractor with a tray on the back to help us take all our goods including mattress/seats etc back up to the van which was parked high above the house where we stayed.
It was so much easier then lugging everything back up ourselves.
Spring was well in evidence already (although there was snow further up on the mountain tops) with trees full of new leaves and lots of blossom. On the 15th April it got really cold and snowed for a couple of days.
Maurice had never seen xnow falling so it was a novelty for him but he said that it was nice to see but after 2days he had had enough of the cold weather – it got down to 1 and 2 degrees – too cold for us.

Old habits die hard in the villages in Italy where the middle aged and older men gather in the bar (with the two of us) to drink coffee and (beer sometimes at 9o’clock in the morning)  play cards.  Wives are nowhere to be seen.  They are probably in the kitchen with their aprons on!

We moved off to the relatives for Easter on Thursday 17th hoping for warmer weather closer to Rome which we did get although we had a little bit of rain. On Good Friday we went up to the village of Sezze and watched the procession of hundreds of people who took part in the production of the Passion and various snapshots from the bible.  Each group stopped at various locations and recited pieces from the bible.  It was very professional and luckily it was not too cold.

After Easter Sunday lunch we had an impromptu afternoon visit to Naples for coffee  (2 1/2 hours from where we were nearer Rome) where we walked with some of our relatives for 3-4hours.  We love Naples – a very interesting and multi racial city with beautiful architecture and views of the bay of Naples and across to Vesuvius.

After a week of eating and drinking  (apart from a doctor’s visit to confirm Bronchitis and get more antibiotics) we headed down to Bari to catch the ferry on the 24th April to Dubrovnik and then on to Montenegro.

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We flew MAS to Kuala Lumpur from Denpasar on the last day of the Grand Prix.    The flight from Denpasar to KL was only 2 1/2 hours but it seemed to take all day to finally arrive at the hotel with all the hanging around at both airports with long queues at security and  immigration.We intended to leave most of our luggage at the left luggage counter but this was overflowing so we had to wait until someone had picked up their baggage and we had to pay $40 for 2 bags, two carry on bags and a pillow to be left for 24hours.   I thought that this was a bit steep especially as Malaysia is trying to attract tourists for their “Visit Malaysia 2014”.

The train trip into the city was very efficient costing about $25 each return and it only took 25minutes to the “Nu Sentral” station and shopping complex which was celebrating it’s “soft” opening.  Some of the shops had several layers of floral wreaths on large stands given by their customers to welcome the new shops.  This was a common sight in India also. We had been in Kuala Lumpur about 5years previously and were not really impressed by the city and lack of infrastructure apart from the monorail but that has all changed with many new walkways, shopping centres, cafes and  a much tidied up Bukit Bintang area.  It seemed as though KL was now quickly catching up to Singapore with an enormous amount of contruction work everywhere. We were extremely lucky to arrive at the “Royal Hotel” just as the afternoon torrential monsoon rain started.  Malaysia had experienced a drought recently but the rain had now started in the previous couple of weeks.  I remember that years ago in Bali you could almost set your watch for when the downpours started in the afternoons but now that had changed  with rain overnight or in the morning or afternoon.  There seemed to be no set pattern. The hotel was right next to the monorail station at Bukit Bintang and which was very well located in the main shopping/eating area of the city.

The next day we walked to the Australian High Commision to vote for the third time since we had been away.  First was the state election when we voted in Bali, then the Federal election when in London and then the Senate election in KL.  The security in both Bali and KL was very tight but London was a breeze by comparison.  We hoped that this was the last time that we needed to vote for anything for a while.

We went by train in the afternoon back to the airport to collect our bags and catch the shuttle bus to the “Concorde Inn” a very handy 5minutes from the airport for the last night before our early morning departure to Chennai.

This MAS flight was very light with onlyabout 60 passengers on board for the 3 1/2 hour flight. We stayed one night in Chennai at the “GRT Grand hotel”about 20minutes from the airport which was in the process of being renovated  and we ate another wonderful Indian meal at their “Copper Pot” restaurant.

The Emirates flight from Chennai to Dubai was full  with a lot of passengers going to Mecca.  This was a four hour flight and Alan was kindly there to pick us up at Dubai airport.  He departed 36hours later for India so we had a brief but nice couple of days with him and his  daughter Samantha. I had picked up a sore throat (seemed to happen every time I flew anywhere where there were large crowds of people) so it was nice to just relax, do a bit of walking and swimming and visit the vast “Mall of the Emirates” one of hundreds of malls in the city.  We couldn’t believe the amount of construction in Dubai in the six months since we had been there. I managed to meet briefly with Salim (my emirati university friend from Hangzhou) at a local coffee shop before he flew for work to London the next day. He very sweetly had brought a coffee pot full of coffee flavoured with cardamom and two lots of dates which were delicious. He had got a good job based in Abu Dhabi (an hour and a half away from Dubai) working for the political advisor to the Crown Prince of the UAE.  He wanted us to have his car and leave it somewhere for his return but as the licence had expired a couple of days before and everyone drives like a maniac here in Dubai, we declined the offer.  A few days before we arrived Dubai had had a torrential day of rain and there were over 500 accidents on that one day.  We also read of an Canadian who allegedly gave the finger to an Emirati driver (who was trying to get past him and was becoming irate) and he was surprisingly let off the charge as the Emiraties usually won every case.  He avoided 6months jail!

The alcohol laws are different too.  If you drink in your own house or anyone else’s house you have to apply for an alcohol licence.  If you have an accident or the  police find alcohol in your car, you must have this licence or be prosecuted.

Maurice and I walked one evening to a very popular eatery near the beach which served only marinated whole fish and peeled prawns.   We had been warned to get there early 5.45pm and we were glad we did.  At first there is nothing set up and as more people arrive, out come the plastic tables and small stools on the dirt at the front of the small kitchen.  The meal was simple and wonderful.

The next night we walked for an hour and a half to the Dubai Sailing club to find it was only for private members so we went around the corner to the “Seaview” restaurant in front of the marina and had fresh sea bream, a fish called “Sheri” and one called “Hamour” which were all delicious. We caught a taxi home as our feet had had enough and they are very resonably priced here in Dubai.

On two days it was unusually cool even during the day with strong onshore winds blowing and cool enough for a cardigan at night.

It is hard to get used to the weekend here being Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a normal working day. We headed off for Rome on Qatar Airways on the 7th April.

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