Thursday, 25 September 2008

Been Away - Italy, Greece, Sea of Marmara

This year we have decided to take a totally different vacation well away from the hustle and bustle of Lagos.

As we are "independent traveller" types, most of the package tours leaving Lisbon left us cold.

Consequently, one early September morning we left Lagos by car and headed to Seville Airport, 250kms distant. The route was reasonably clear of traffic and with a 20 minute coffee and tostada stop at the Trigueros service area 75kms from Seville, arrived at Seville airport in 3 hours. Our route around Seville was via the Merida road and then the A66 bypass marked Cordoba - Aeropuerto, which skirts the city.

We then flew Vueling to Rome. Very clean aircraft. 80% loading. Arrived within 10 minutes of schedule.

Although, I have been to Italy previously, this has been limited to the North - Milan, Bergamo.

Rome was a big disappointment. From the minute, we landed at Fiucimo - Leonardo da Vinci, everything from the airport infrastructure to the railway station, to the railway carriages, to the ablutions in cafes was dilapidated. It may be amazing to say so, but in many areas such as public hygiene, efficiency of services etc., Portugal is way in advance of Italy.

Another interesting observation concerned the cost of accomodation in Rome and Italy in general.

We were looking for an IBIS/ETAP style hotel in easy strking distance of Rome by Public transport. Such an animal does not exist.

We ended up in a Residencial apartment, not far from the Trastavere station on the 8 tram route. This aparment which was not that well appointed cost circa € 90.00 per night. This was after days of searching the web for special offers. It is very clear that Italy's continued protection of local interests, and bureaucracy, despite 50 years membership of the EU and its predecessors, has effectively, culled any incentive to develop modern efficient budget hotel accomodation.

Using the public transport, Buses and Trams, we visited St. Peters, the Coloseum, the area of the Forum and, the Trastevere and Villa Borgia Areas.

The queues at the Basilica, Coliseum and Forum immediately put us off visiting them, save from viewing them from the outside. Even if you have tickets, you still have to queue to get in. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful experience walking the city that has been the hub of the Western World for over 2 millenia.

After 3 days in Rome, we took a train from Termini Station to Salerno on the Mediterreanean Coast just south of Naples. En route we could see Vesuvius in the distance. Evidence of the Naples rubbish crisis was still evident as we past through towns with large piles of rubbish still evident in places.

On arrival in Salerno, we checked into the Grande Hotel, the only one in Salerno where we found a cheap internet offer. It overlooks the bay towards Amalfi and the port. Salerno has a lovely old town and I sat in the cloisters of the Duomo, which had been built by a Lombardian Prince 1100 years ago and listened to a wonderful peal of bells.

The next morning, we sat on the top deck of the Grande Hotel, watching, until at lunchtime, we saw the Grimaldi Lines Ro-Ro freighter "Grande Anversa" hove into view. This was to be our home for the next 8 days on a return voyage to Piraeus, the port for Athens,Greece, the port of Gemlik, Sea of Mamara, Turkey and the port of Sea of Mamara, Turkey.

The "Grande Anversa" is a 38000 tonne ro-ro cargo vessel capable of carrying over 4000 small cars. Together with a fleet of sister ships, the vessel operates a regular freight line between Antwerp, Southern UK Ports, Setubal, Portugal, Valencia, Spain, Livorno, italy, Salerno, Italy, Piraeus, Greece, and the two small turkish ports which are actually small jetties situated next to car assembly plants. These vessels have 2 to 3 cabins which can take fare paying passengers.

Sailing from Salerno, we transited the Straits of Messina at night, but it was clear how narrow the straights were, hence then need for a pilot.

The next day we sailed through the sun baked Mediterranean. Day three saw us entering Piraeus as the sun rose. A fascinating port, with over 50 ships of different sizes alone, anchored in the roads. The port was humming with activity. We were advised we were going to be there for at least a day, so we got organised, wandered out the port gates and found a bus stop. With the help from locals we established that the B18 bus ran all the way into Omonium Sq. in the centre of Athens. So, of we went.

Arriving at Omonium Sq., we found our way to the Roof Tea Room at the Hondos Dept. Store which has a great view over the roof tops to the Acropolis and Parthenon. Having to watch the time, we chose to wander the streets of Athens in the direction of the Plaka area. Here in the shadow of the Acropolis, we wandered the old town, laden with tourist - ambushing merchants and then up a side street where we found a great deal for lunch.

The Taberna in question is the:

Tripodon 14
105 58


Tel: 210 3247605

The next morning, we still had not sailed so nipped out to a large hypermarket situated 400 metres from the dock entrance.

Sailing at lunchtime, we had a great view of Piraeus, Athens, and the Acropolis in the distance as we ploughed off North through the Aegean and passing islands such as Skiros en route.

Unfortunately, we transited the Dardenelles during the night, but day break saw us in the Sea of Marmara, with Asia-Minor/Anatolia to our South and European Turkey to our North.

Unfortunately, at both Turkish ports we were delayed at anchor for several hours while berths came available. Consequently, although we could have gone ashore, it was near evening before we were able to and as the ports were aways from town centres, we erred on the side of caution and stayed aboard.

Our return trip though the Dardanelles was again by night and the return through the Aegean was under cloudy skies. However, we had a great view of a tornado/waterspout to starboard of the Peloponese.

We had a great early morning transit through the Straits of Messina with wonderful views of Etna and Stromboli although our arrival in Salerno was under wet skies.

We had real difficulty finding good cheap accomodation for one night and ended up in a half complete Albergo.

Our return train to Roma and connection to Rome airport was uneventful, as was our excellent return flight with Vueling.

Seville - Lagos was accomplished in late evening in 2 hours 50 minutes.