Sunday, April 20, 2008



We arrived at Lisbon early in the morning to be greeted by the monument to Christ the King (Cristo Rei) that stands on the south side of the river in Almada across from Lisbon on the north. The citizens of Portugal built the statue in thanks to God for being saved from World War II. Portugal had stayed neutral during the war.

We caught the tour to Fatima, which was 100 km away, early in the morning. Fatima is the sight of the vision of the Virgin Mary to 3 little Shepard children. During the various sightings the children received several messages.
World War I
Fall of the Berlin Wall
Assassination of the Pope
These messages were turned over to the Vatican before the last one came to pass. After the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II the third message was announced. The Pope came to Fatima and gave the bullet removed from his body to include in the crown of Our Lady.

After returning for the tour we attended a special dinner sponsored by Cunard and the Queen Victoria. The dinner was held on the floor the old Bull Fighting Arena. The elegant formal dinner was entertained by singers and dancers in authentic Portugese dress. We had matadors and picadors and all the rest.

See the final picture at night with Judy returning to the Queen Victoria.

Friday, April 18, 2008



Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital. It is also the most populous city of the Spanish region of Catalonia with a population of over 3 million in the metropolitan area. The layout and design of the city is typical of the beautiful cities of Europe with its wide tree lined boulevards. An interesting feature is at every major intersection each of the 4 corners is cut off to provide a more open airy and bright intersection.

Barcelona was founded as a Roman city and became the capital of the Counts of Barcelona and the Crown of Aragon. The city’s cultural roots go back over 2000 years and the Catalan region extends beyond the Spanish-French border. The Catalan people feel a strong sense of national unity almost separate from Spain. Barcelona is a bilingual city: Catalan and Spanish are both official languages and widely spoken.

Catalan modernism architecture (often known as Art Nouveau in the rest of Europe) developed between 1885 and 1950 and left an important legacy in Barcelona. Especially remarkable is the work of Antoni Gaudi, which can be seen throughout the city. We were fortunate enough to take a tour to Gaudi’s La Pedrera.

The building La Pedrera, built from 1906 to 1912, never allowed itself to be constrained by the rules and aesthetics. From a very early age Gaudi manifested a great interest in shapes, colors, and the geometry of nature and sought his own particular resources and solutions for the artisan crafts. See the unusual appearance of the curves of the balconies and the avount guard treatment of the chimneys on the roof where Judy stands.

Later we visited the Picasso Museum. Picasso donated his early works to this museum, but his name was not added to it until after his death. It seems that Franco was still alive at the time and since Picasso was a Communist and Franco was a Fascist, Franco prevented the Picasso name to be applied. Two years later after Franco’s death the name was changed. Some of Picasso’s work at age 14 is staggeringly advanced even for a mature artist much less for such a youth.

Finally note after being exposed to art in all forms we were treated to a beautiful sunset. The beauty of nature surpasses the best of mankind’s efforts.

We have tacked on a picture taken on board the ship in the theater where we booked a box seat for one of the special performances.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008



Rome with a current population of about 4 million is the capital of Italy. Known as The Eternal City, The city of the seven hills, or Threshold of the Apostles, Rome is one of the few major European cities that escaped World War II relatively unscathed. Central Rome remains essentially Renaissance and Baroque in character.

The city and port of Civitavecchia is the powerful maritime engine of Rome’s Lazio region. Evidence of ancient settlement at the port reveals that people have lived at the strategic site longer than history has been able to record details about them.

We chose to tour the 14th century Castello Odescalchi in the town of Bracciano near the Lake Bracciano, which is the third largest lake in Italy. On this gorgeous spring day we arrived at the imposing castle located in the middle of the town. The edifice has been well cared for over the years and there is constant renovation being undertaken. It was the site of Tom Cruise’s recent wedding and is used as a wedding site for many locals. The rooms and especially the ceiling are fantastic with their original gold leaf on the decorations. There was one room completely devoted to the armor collection. We had lot of walking through out the castle, but it was well worth the visit.

The countryside surrounding the lake was fabulously beautiful in it’s emerald green of the spring season. We were in route to the site of a performance by a troupe of flag throwing. The performers were dressed in medieval costumes and were accompanied by drummers and trumpeters. They lined the entrance to an old farm “Antiche Scuderie Odescalchi” refurbished as a country site for elegant entertaining. We enjoyed champagne and appetizers on the surrounding lawn; we were then treated by the talented group to their art (Sienna Flag Throwing). After the performance we adjourned inside to a sumptuous lunch including carved Parma ham and series of pastas and salads with an outside grill of chops and sausages. Great relaxing afternoon in spring Italian countryside.



The city of Naples with a current population of 4.4 million, was founded by the Greeks between the 7th and 6th centuries BC and given the name Neapolis. During the period of Roman domination, the town preserved the Greek language and original habits.

Naples is rich in historical, artistic, cultural traditions and gastronomy. Hardly true gastronomy, a local restaurant in Naples claims to be the birthplace of pizza, which is traditionally made with mozzarella cheese, tomato, and basil, representing the white, red and green of the Italian flag.

We decided to visit the Isle of Capri instead of the Mt. Vesuvius volcano area to visit the 79 AD ruined towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which we toured on a previous visit.

We gathered our Capri group from the ship and walked from the ship to the ferry docked nearby. Many of the people on the ferry were normal commuters on the 45-minute ride. As we approached the island we could see the high steep cliffs that originally the Romans found attractive as protection against any attacking force. A higher town of Ana Capri was at the top and the larger community of Capri could be found at a lower level. Of course the harbor is where we landed.

We had lunch at a quaint restaurant with lemon trees on the veranda overlooking the bay. The restaurant owner met us carrying his overweight cat with all four feet sticking up in the air. It was probably a testament to the good food. A huge tree called an umbrella pine on the property of the restaurant impressed me.

The town was a marvel of small winding streets with very old buildings. One of the many cafes claims to have invented ice cream. Now many of the shops offer the delicacy. Another story that has led to the marketing of a product is that of the silver bell. A young Capri shepherd was saved by St Michael and given a silver bell. Now the tiny amulet has become a talisman of luck and success. The marketing slogan is “Do not think of leaving the isle of Capri unless you have purchased the lucky bell of St. Michael.”

We took a funicular back down to the harbor for the return trip. On the way back we got a nice view of Vesuvius.

As we left Naples the night view of the renowned harbor was beautiful.

Monday, April 14, 2008



Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. It is also known as the birthplace of democracy. Named after the goddess Athena, Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world with a recorded history of at least 3000 years. Today, the Greek capital is a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis with an urban population of 3.1 million people.

Ancient Athens was a powerful city-state center of learning, home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then known European Continent. The classical era heritage is still evident in the city, portrayed through the number of ancient monuments and artworks, the most famous of al being the Parthenon and the Acropolis, standing as an epic landmark of western civilization.

Today our long time friends Platon and Annelise Davakis who are residents of Athens greeted us at the foot of the gangway. We were delighted just to be in the company of these dear friends, but in addition Platon being a trained historian and guide of ancient sites, began a day long tour of a few of the ancient features of Sparta where his family’s roots began.

We first stopped at the “Corinth Canal” built at the end of the 19th century by the same French company who constructed the Suez Canal. The canal divides the narrow causeway linking the Peloponnesus and the mainland and is 3.8 miles long and 75 feet wide and 26 feet deep. A channel linking the Ionian and Aegean Seas had been an unfulfilled dream since antiquity.

We then visited ancient Corinth once the wealthiest city with a forum larger than Rome’s. We saw the remains of the paved Lechaion Road, 25 feet wide and the ruins of the Doric Temple of Apollo.

Next we drove to Mycenae where for four centuries it was the most powerful state in ancient Greece. The famous Lion Gate guards the Citadel of Mycenae. The amateur archaeologist, who also found the site of Troy, discovered the shaft graves here. We visited the Tomb of Agamemnon (also known as the Beehive Tomb). Agamemnon was the Greek Commander-in-Chief during the Trojan War.

The final stop of the day was in the costal town of Naupilon for a Greek lunch. Mezze is a series of small offerings shared by all at the table. It is supposed to be like a group of appetizers but be ordered so many of the small dishes it became a real MEAL. The city of Naupilon was once the capitol of Greece but today it is a pleasant and very attractive costal town that could be easily lived in.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008



The Suez Canal is a large artificial canal in Egypt, west of the Sinai Peninsula. It is 163km (101 miles) long and 300 meters (984 feet) wide at its narrowest point. It runs between Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea and Suez (al-Suways) on the Red Sea.

The canal allows two-way water transportation between Europe and Asia with out circumnavigation of Africa. Before its opening in 1869, goods were sometimes off loaded from ships and carried over land between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

The canal allows the passage of ships of up to 150,000 tons displacement. It permits ships of up to 16 meters (53 feet) draft to pass and improvements are planned to increase this to 22 meters (72 feet) by 2010.

Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority (SCA) reported that in 2005 18,193 ships passed through the canal producing around $3.5 billion income.

It took us about 13 hours to traverse the canal at a speed of about 8 knots. We formed up s convoy of about a dozen ships at about 3am. We began through at about 6am. I was impressed by the number of military on both sides of the canal. See one of the towers that dotted the banks and a small encampment. One small boat of 3 Arabs in a row boat were rowing parallel to the bank and an army speed boat swooped down on them with sirens blaring. A couple of minutes later a truck on the shore road arrived full of soldiers that piles out to confront these hapless guys in the boat. They really reacted quickly to what I didn’t even recognize was a potential threat.

There were numerous ferrys across the canal for both trucks and cars. There was even a couple of tunnels carrying fresh water from the Nile to the Sinai side under the canal. We have a picture of the only bridge spanning the canal called the Peace Bridge. Since it was built by Japan, it is also know as the Egypt / Japan Peace Bridge. Seems like a few bridges like this built by the USA would go a long way to repair the American image. Maybe we would have a little money for a bridge if not spending on a war.

At dinner that night we also met a couple more Arabs.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008



The Valley of the Kings is a valley in Egypt where for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the kings and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth through Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt). The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, across from Luxor, which was ancient Thebes.

Luxor, has frequently been characterized as the “world’s greatest open air museum.” The ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. Thousands of international tourists arrive each year to visit these temples and their presence represents a large part of the economic basis for the modern city. Indeed tourism represents billions of dollars of for the country in total.

At 7am we boarded the 27 buses for Luxor on the Nile and our police security lead convoy began the 220km (137 mile) journey. Since the terrorist incident 13 years ago the government is very careful and protective of its tourists.

After 4 hours of travel through mountains, deserts and finally the small towns bordering the irrigation channels from the Nile, we arrived at The Valley of the Kings.

The area has been a focus of concentrated archaeological and egyptological exploration since the end of the 18th century, and its tombs and burial continue to stimulate research and interest. In modern times the valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. We arrived and were taken to 3 of the 63 tombs: Ramses I, Ramses IV, and King Tut. The best part of the tombs was the fabulous ancient art. The colors after all these years were still bright and vibrant.

We stopped briefly and Queen Hatchepsut to see the amazing structure not too far from the Valley of the Kings.

The Sheraton hotel where we had lunch was right on the Nile and docked was one of the numerous river cruise ships that plied the river from Cairo to the Anwar dam.

In the afternoon we visited the magnificent temple of Karnak and the adjacent temple of Luxor. It is said that about 15% of the treasures of Egypt have been discovered. The ancient 3 km avenue between Luxor and Karnak is currently built over by the modern city. Egypt is trying to buy up the city properties and begin an extensive excavation to discover more of the ancient treasures.

The Karnak Temple was built over two millennia by generations of Pharaohs dedicated to their god Amun. With its Ramses statues, obelisks, and the great Hypostyle Hall including a veritable forest of 164 columns (used in the James Bond film) it could take days to explore.

The Luxor Temple has an avenue of human head sphinx’s leading to the Karnak Temple. Its extensive columns appear in this novice’s eye to be precursors of the famous Greek columns. By the way Athens is our next stop after the Suez Canal.