Scrambled eggs with strawberry topping

A few weeks ago MOTH and I completed our first ever cruise.  We were on a month’s holiday touring Italy and thought we’d include a 7 day cruise into the mix. The cruise started and finished from Venice cruising through the Adriatic Sea followed by the Ionian Sea (who knew this was a sea? Not geographically challenged KityKate anyway) followed by the Mediterranean Sea followed by the Aegean Sea and back again.

We’d visit three countries besides Italy. In the 7 days we’d visit five other ports including Bari which is in southern Italy, Katakolon in Greece, Izmir and Istanbul in Turkey and Dubrovnik in Croatia. Also there was one full day of non-stop sailing.

Embarking at Venice (AKA getting on the boat)
We travelled from Stresa to Venice via Milan to be on board the cruise ship by 2.30 pm. Now this is a long trip so by the time we got to Venezia Santa Lucia railway station with our *40 kilo plus bags we were a little wrecked. Luckily we could leave our bags at the station with the cruise baggage handlers and they assured us the bags would be delivered to our cabin, and they were.

*I must add here that my bag was by far the heaviest as I certainly did need all the shoes I packed albeit against MOTH’s wishes. But in my defence, I did wear all of them at least once. And it would have looked silly me carting the bigger bag.

The ’embarkation’ was a little slow but not to the point where we became murderous. By 3.30 pm we were in our cabin awaiting departure.

Right on 4.30 pm the ship sailed out of Venice, luckily our cabin balcony was on the side that had full view of Venice as we sailed past (or motored past to be more exact).  What a sight to behold – Venice on a beautiful day is a truly breathtaking sight (and I’m not easy to please).

We were off to a great start.


After we set sail MOTH and I unpacked our bags for the first time in three weeks and filled up what little wardrobe space we had and once finished we ventured down to deck 7 for cocktails. Our cabin was on level 10.

There didn’t seem to be many people in the first lounge area we found so we settled down and ordered our first cocktail. We hadn’t explored the ship as yet so we didn’t know how many lounge areas were on-board.

We were both feeling good at this point, it was the first time in the three weeks we were relaxing with a drink in the early afternoon.  All other days were filled with sightseeing, including a gruelling 10 hour day walking around Herculaneum and Pompeii.

After a couple of margaritas and a visit to reception to change our assigned dinner sitting from 6.30 pm to 9 pm to avoid old people and kids, we adjourned to the cabin for a snooze.

Dinner time
At 8 pm we arose from our snooze to shower and spruce up for dinner. I brought my bestest summer dresses. I didn’t pack formal evening gowns as I don’t have any and I certainly don’t have clothes that would make me look like mutton dressed as lamb as it appeared many of the women did.  I do know my limitations when it comes to clothing.

MOTH put on a pair of trousers as the dress code dictated.  I splashed on some make-up and my lovely smelly stuff (Beautiful by Estee Lauder to be exact) and we headed for the level 6 dining room.

When we alighted from the lift, turned left toward the restaurant we were affronted by a very long, very wide queue heading in the same direction– the restaurant.  It was the 9 pm dinner crowd.

OMG, where did all these people come from?

When the restaurant doors opened we were quickly escorted to our assigned tables where we would meet our dinner buddies for the first time. Luckily we were seated with an Irish couple and a young couple from Perth.  Given the rest of the cruisers were from Germany, France and Italy, it’s my guess they sat like speaking people together. This I thought was a good thing as I was a bit over trying to communicate via broken English and hand gestures and I certainly didn’t want to do this at mealtimes.

The Irish couple were on their 3rd cruise and like us the Perth couple were on their first.  Anyway, our first cruise dinner went well, dinner topics included travel, religion (I didn’t start it) and politics. It appeared we were all of similar persuasions except maybe the Perth women, she was only young and very quiet. She was very keen to see the Virgin Mary’s House in Ephesus Turkey as she was raised Catholic.  Although her Vietnamese-born Aussie-raised husband later conceded he doubts very much the authenticity – live and learn.

The buffet (AKA the nosh pit)
After a relatively good night sleep albeit with louder than ever snoring from MOTH because he had a slight head cold, we rose for our first cruise breakfast.  We headed for level 15 buffet breakfast.

Something worth mentioning is that using the lifts between floors  was becoming slightly annoying, but more on that later.

Once we reached level 15, we headed in the direction of the buffet. Our first glimpse was of the seating arrangements, tables of 6 aligning the full glassed wall with amazing ocean views. It was soon apparent we weren’t going to get a seat near the window or anywhere else for that matter.

I should note now that kids travel free. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the fact the Italian school holidays were not until August. However, I didn’t know about the German school holidays.

There was people everywhere. I was surrounded by men, women and children all buzzing around with plates piled high with a vast mix of food, much of which shouldn’t be seen on the same plate.  I’m sure I saw one women with scrambled eggs covered in strawberry topping with a side of bacon, pancakes and a couple of croissants balancing on slices of tart.

Did this mean there was no more food until dinner time and people were eating up to get through the day? Or did this mean they were facing the death penalty and thought they’d eat all their favourite foods in one meal?  With the frenzy that surrounded me I definitely thought the latter.

I was totally dumbstruck by the circus before me but I found a clean plate and wandered from buffet bar to buffet bar. After 5 minutes I found the croissants and picked two from the back. There were so many people MOTH and I had to devise a meet up plan in case we lost one another. I met up with MOTH at the designated meeting point. He had eyed off a couple who were ready to finish up so we hovered until they left.

We vowed that for the next 6 days we would eat at the restaurant which was the same place we had dinner, and as it turned out the same place we would eat lunch.  We just didn’t want to return to the nosh pit with the feral pigs.

We compared notes with the Aussie couple who concurred with our experience at the buffet. They also told us of the people handling food and putting it back once they decided they didn’t want it after all – I’m speechless!

Going up?
In Australia there are unspoken lift rules and they’re easy to follow. For example: when you’re waiting to take a lift and one arrives you wait until those exiting do so. You also let those who were waiting before you to get onto the lift first.

I know there is the odd exceptions of rude behaviour but on a whole Aussies are pretty good with these rules. What we encountered from day one on the ship was a free-for-all when getting on and off the lift. People barged in before anyone even considered getting out – no exceptions. This behaviour was displayed by all Europeans (yes I’m throwing them all under the bus).

On one such occasion MOTH and I waited as a family of four alighted from the lift. The mother got out first with the elder child and the father followed with the baby in a stroller. He was half way out when an older women barged in and bumped the stroller.  The father instinctively apologised and we noted an Aussie accent. His wife, who witnessed this said loudly “don’t apologise, she barged in” to which the man turned around the said “yes that was very rude” (followed by a pause when he saw MOTH and I) “old lady”.  We knew he qualified his verbal response with ‘old lady’ so we weren’t implicated as we politely waited until he was completely out of the lift.  We gave him a smile to indicate our solidarity.

I don’t like to be rude but enough was enough so I couldn’t help but say to MOTH loudly enough for the rude ‘old lady’ to hear that I was over rude behaviour. I only hoped the bitch understood English.

I can’t count the number of times the door opened to an almost full lift where MOTH and I would wait for people to exit only to be left stranded when others who came after us barged in and pushed the close button leaving us dumbstruck.

By day 3 I would only use the lift outside meal times when they weren’t busy . I couldn’t be in close proximity of these rude bastards anymore. By day 7 I never wanted to encounter another European again, but we still had 3 days left in Venice.

Thankfully my faith in human decency was revived by the Italian staff of the lovely hotel we stayed in on the Grand Canal.

Clean before the cleaner comes
There’s one aspect of cruising I can’t complain about and that’s the service staff of which they seemed to outnumber the cruisers.  After I discovered what little wages they receive it’s little wonder there are so many.

Our room was serviced three times every day which meant tidying up each time we left the cabin so the service staff could do their thing. You might think this is silly but we didn’t want to leave cameras, e-pads and phones around, not just because of the security aspect but to ensure they weren’t accidentally broken.

The dining room staff where predominantly Balinese. Each night we had the same waiters and through broken English struck up a few conversations.  We found out during these conversations that the staff only get off the boat for a few hours each week and can only call their family once a week when docked in Italy.

I wondered why the cruise was so cheap; I guess I had my answer – slave labour!

I couldn’t help but feel bad that I was feeding into this tourist industry on the back of cheap labour but on the other hand the cruise liners were providing jobs to people from poorer countries who’d earn less back home.  In the case of the Balinese their livelihoods where decimated by the Bali bombing. So all in all I have mixed views.  Although I vowed never to go to Bali for security and safety reasons, I can’t help but feel that I should do my thing to help them stay at home by incorporating a stopover on my next overseas trip.

I would feel much better if the staff were given more time off and better pay. I for one would gladly pay more for a cruise if it meant the staff were better off. That’s if I ever go on another cruise.

It wasn’t all that bad
Maybe my cruise experience is still raw, after all it was only a little over a week since we disembarked (AKA got off the ship).  However, there were positive aspects of the cruise, mostly experienced off the ship. The ports we visited showed us glimpses of Greece, Turkey and Croatia and were all experiences I’ll always remember, especially Turkey and especially Istanbul.  Istanbul was an amazing city with amazing architecture and an amazing harbour. But maybe I’ll talk about my favourite places in another blog. For now I just wanted to share my cruise experience.

Holiday Diary Day Two – Give me land, lot’s a land

Day two – Torquay Victoria here we come,  albeit after a minor deviation from a wrong turn in Albury as mentioned in my holiday diary for Day One – Missing Tommy

According to google maps Torquay is approximately 414 km and 4 hours 45 mins from Albany.  We decided before we left that Melbourne wasn’t going to make our itinerary for two reasons. 1. It’s just another city and we already live in one – a far nice city than Melbourne.  2. After the second time I visited Melbourne I came to conclusion there is nothing about the place that attracts a subsequent visit.

We choose Torquay because it was at the beginning of the Great Ocean Road and we were eager to get the coasted part of this holiday started.

We left Albury on a beautiful, albeit fresh, morning. We left without breakfast as we decided to take our chance along with way.  I had fanciful ideas of stopping at cute country towns where I could order a good ole Devonshire Tea with oven fresh scones, freshly whipped cream straight from the cow that morning and yummy home-made jam.

Side note:  Can’t stop a girl from dreaming!  And BTW…not a frikkin scone to be had.

Not long after we left Albury I asked MOTH to let me know when we hit the border – apparently I was too late, we crossed it already. So much for the big “Welcome to Victoria” sign.

The country side consisted of plush green paddocks full of cows and sheep and it was apparent to me, an ex-country now city girl,  that the farmers are having a bumper year with many lambs and calves following their mothers and annoying them for a drink. I wondered where the local farmers go to do their shopping? How would the kids get to school? Where the hell would they go out to dine? It was a long way between towns, and by towns I mean villages.

But after two hours driving mostly in the rain which started not long after we left Albury, I couldn’t help thinking – fuck I’m bored and I’m hungry!

Side note: I forgot to mention in Day One diary that I’d recently taken to eating a vegetarian diet. Not because I’m against eating animals just because I don’t really enjoy meat as a main dish. I’d rather beef-up, so to speak, the accompaniments usually served with meat. Anyway, trying to eat vegetarian on a country road trip is near impossible so hence the vegetarian diet was put on hold for the duration of this trip and my following trip to Brisbane.

Anyway, we continued driving for another hour or so, or maybe more,  and all I can remember is paddock after paddock after paddock. If there wasn’t a beach at the end of today’s journey, I would’ve turned around and headed back to where we came from. The hunger pains I felt earlier had waned. We were eager to get today’s drive over with and we weren’t going to let hunger get in our way.

We hadn’t booked a motel in Torquay but decided to take our chances given the school holidays were just over in both NSW and VIC and we were heading into cooler months with visitors less likely to rush the Victorian south coust. The signs telling us how many kilometers to Melbourne gave us a boost of enthusiasm as we approached the 120, 100 then 80 kilometers to Melbourne, less because we weren’t going into the CBD.  And once we’d reach the Melbourne by-pass, Torquay wasn’t far away.

We eventually stopped for a bite to eat and there’s no guessing where – McDonalds of course which was on the outskirts of a small township. The town was terribly nondescript that I can’t remember the name.  After another snack of tasteless muck, albeit coffee and cake we set off for the final leg.

Side note: MOTH did most of the driving on day 2. May have had something to do with the torrential rain we drove through. Or it may have something to do with my terrible eye-sight. Anyway, I hadn’t driven so far today and I didn’t complain about that.

Second side note: I did offer to drive.

Torquay, here we come! We reached the ring road of Melbourne. My only two trips to Melbourne have been by plane so I’d never driven on the outskirts. And from the scenery confronting us, I won’t race back. A never ending landscape of roadwork and industrial buildings; not a blade of grass to inspect.

As we rounded Melbourne, heading south, we came upon some nice countryside leading up to Geelong. I was surprised to learn, via Wikipedia, that Geelong had a population over 220,000.  I wouldn’t have blinked an eye if the population was 10,000. I really am clueless about Victoria but let’s face it, so far I wasn’t impressed.

Side note: I’m probably not being fair in my summation of Victoria; after all, NSW is an even bigger and even endless frontier of endless countryside.

After an hour or so we turned off the main road to Torquay, heading straight to the beach in search for the ideal place to stay. As we drove the full length of the esplanade where all the motels and B&Bs could be found,  I couldn’t help but feel that this wasn’t a place I wanted to spend the night. For no particular reason, I just didn’t want to. Thankfully MOTH didn’t either so we decided to head 45 minutes down the coastal road to Lorne.

Before we headed to Lorne we thought we better at least check out Bells Beach – it’s famous for holding world surfing championships each year. We couldn’t help but notice that it resembled the famous Sunshine Beach in Hawaii and not because of the waves but because of the distinct lack of facilities. Bells Beach was miles out of Torquay and there didn’t appear to be anything more than a toilet block.

Side note: We didn’t actually get out of the car at Bells Beach, it was raining cats and dogs.

After our little deviation to Bells Beach we set off to Lorne. We were a little concerned that we didn’t book so it was time I took the rains from MOTH. I drove and he searched for a place to stay at Lorne.

Side note: If you remember from day one blog, I can’t read the little phone screen with my crappy eyesight.

Forty minutes later and during a wild storm, we arrived at Lorne. We booked into the resort and one couldn’t miss it as it was in the centre of town. Although the room was nice, new and clean it was as big as a bread box with no character and no biscuits with the tea and coffee. I noticed the accommodation in Albury didn’t offer biscuits but I thought it was a one-off oversight.

Side note: No biscuits! What’s the world coming too? I hope this isn’t a trend. I like my bickies with a cup of tea. Saves me dipping into the room’s mini bar– which MOTH never lets me do. He says if I want anything from the mini bar to go out and buy it as they charge like wounded bulls, and they do.

Lorne through the torrential rain looked like a quaint little township with a long main shopping strip across the road from the motel. From our room we noticed there were lots of options for dinner. However, reading the reviews on the “Places” app didn’t give us an easy choice.   Each positive comment was followed by an equally negative comment.

Site note: MOTH recons some of the positive comments must have come from the owners themselves. I on the other hand am not as skeptical but I’m inclined to agree with him on this count.

After we unpacked the car with the over packed bag that we had Buckley’s chance of wearing all the contents in 1 week, we decided to go for a drive to see the rest of Lorne. Just up the road was a magnificent pub.

Side note:  I just love a quaint pub!  I even loved the fact there was a quaint pub near my home which was certainly a determining factor in buying in this area.

We found a quiet section of the pub, on one side was an inlet and another side the southern ocean, even the weather cooperated. We were all alone in a nice room next to a very warm open fire – ahhhh such bliss. We had a couple of wines and decided that after two days of McDonalds, one lame duck and dry kangaroo I was hankering for some spice and luckily for us there was one Asian restaurant in the town – so one Chicken Pad Thai and a Lamb curry later we were heading back to the resort.

It was only early so we decided on a night cap at the resort’s restaurant.  Our night cap consisted of an Afagato with a side of Frangelico.

What a lovely end to the day. Tomorrow – well we didn’t quite know where we’d end up and frankly we didn’t care. But one thing was apparent today – we didn’t miss Tommy but I did miss the biscuits!

Reflections on the beach

It’s amazing that so close to Sydney I can sit on an almost deserted beach with no one close to distract my wondering thoughts and observing eyes.  I feel drawn to the sea edge, the looming sound of the impending crash of a wave onto the sand followed by another and another.  The beautiful bottle green of the water from the shore, reaching out beyond, until it meets the horizon. The deep green cutting a definite line between the sea and the light blue hazy sky.

As my view draws closer to the water’s edge,  I’m tempted to join the seas cool wet embrace as a slight breeze blows a fine spray onto my face and a salty taste onto my lips. I’m mesmerised by it’s beauty and I remain frozen to my sandy seat.

Just beyond the tempting shoreline the sea floor falls away sharply and the deep beyond turns into a foreign place which can be fraught with danger.  For me the contrast between the sea’s edge and the depths of the yonder sea becomes a vocal point for reflection.

Life, like the sea is wondrous – it can be great one moment, can provide much pleasure but it’s also scary because in any one moment, life like the sea can become wild and dangerous.

Before I get lost in my melancholy thoughts on life, love, and death I notice a windsurfer way beyond the water’s edge, almost half way between me and the horizon. I’m in awe at his speed and how he appears to be floating above the water’s surface. I follow his journey and although I can’t see him clearly I get a sense of his strength and determination to go faster.  He’s using the sea and wind for his pleasure and it appears to me that he’s telling the sea “you don’t scare me”.

As I watch him I can’t help but smile at his courage and I can’t help but think,  life like the sea maybe scary at times but I can almost hear myself scream “you don’t scare me”!