Tagged in: venice

MSC Magnifica, Magnificent for Mediterranean meanderings

Magnifica in Rhodes

This was our first “proper” cruise, not counting the Nile and Rhine so, even with the help of Cruise Critic we were a little apprehensive. Arriving at Venice was fairly simple but the “cattle market” mayhem of the arrivals lounge was a little overwhelming.

Bored already – scrool down to the end of the post and see the slide shows!

Sahara Bar

Having negotiated this hurdle we were suitably impressed by the standard of the Magnifica and our cabin, sea-view with balcony. It is a credit to the line and was immaculate in every sense of the word. The mirrors, which meet you at every turn, sparkle, the brass-work gleams and everything is spotless. The staff throughout were pleasant, courteous and helpful. We took breakfast and lunch at the 13th deck buffet rather than one of the restaurants and found the selection and quality of a really high standard. This is definitely continental European fare with an Italian bias, but this is what we like so it was not a problem. Zac and Vivien, one of the couples we dined with commented that it was the best ship they had ever been on but had the worst food – I feel that this was because of the style of cuisine rather than the standard because we could not really fault it.  Dinners were generally six courses which always included 2-3 starters, 2 soups, a salad, two pasta dishes, minimum of 3 mains + vegetarian and a choice of sweets. I never got through more than 5!  Quality generally very good.

An eclectic dinner group

There is little formality vis-a-vis dress at dinner; most people making the effort to put on a jacket and tie for gala nights but it was not de rigueur. The entertainment was generally good and the participation show and dance good fun all round.

Passing St Marks

Passing St Marks

The excursions we took were well organised and informative.  The only down sides we encountered were embarkation and disembarkation but we note from the “Cruise Critic site” that these are common gripes!

A bit about the cruise. We sailed out of Venice as dusk was settling and headed off towards Bari, on the heel of Italy, where we arrived after lunch on the following day.

It is a typical medieval Italian town and is the capital of the province of the same name. It is also the capital of of the Apulia or, for wine buffs, Puglia. It is a fascinating maze of small streets and boasts the Basilica of St. Nicolas which was built in the 11th century to house the bones of the saint, and where they remain in the crypt to this day.

Basilica of St Nicolas

That evening we sailed again for Rhodes, about 600nm away.

Evenings throughout the cruise took a similar pattern. We were booked for the early dinner sitting at 6.00pm. The second sitting was at 9.00 which is, for us at least. far too late for a large meal. So, given that it took about and hour and a half we were ready to move into the lounge for coffee and a dram and still have plenty of time for the nightly show in the theatre (seats 1200) at 9.00.  These were themed variety  shows lasting about 30 minutes.  Given the large number of ethnic tongues on board you may guess that they were all visual and musical and did not rely on any verbal dexterity save from the compere.  They were all very good.

L'Ametista Lounge

From there we moved in to the L’Ametista lounge where there was a combo playing each evening followed by party games run by the ships entertainment team. The dancing continued after this but by then we were on our way to our cabin.

One thing that it took a couple of evenings to get used to was that one side of the lounge is for smokers! There is an extremely efficient extraction system and one could not tell there was any smoke at all on the other side of the dance floor.

Cannonballs in the moat

Following a day at sea, which consisted mainly of eating and drinking, we arrived in Rhodes the following morning.  Once again it was only a short walk into the city.  It really is impressive and, as it was only just coming to life at 9.30, we decided to walk round the walls which are exceptionally well preserved. The moat, which apparently never contained water, was littered with piles of cannon balls.

There seemed to be something new, or rather old, round each corner and it is exceptionally easy to get lost in the myriad side streets.

A good buy

Of course on the way we encountered a number of very fine craft shops and Josephine was lured into buying a beautiful fused glass platter by Efrosini. Money well spent.

We finally ended up in the main square where we sat and partook of a beer before heading back to the ship to start on our next leg.

Pompey's Pillar - Old & New

Onward to Alexandria where we had booked a tour of the Roman heritage.  There were excursions to Cairo and the pyramids but we did not fancy spending 6 hours of the day on a bus.  It as a totally different experience from Luxor which was definitely very Egyptian.
Alexandria is more Greco Roman with a smattering of Egyptian thrown in.  We started at the Serapeum or Temple of Serapis, built by Ptolemy III, which dates back to the 2nd century BC.  It  housed part of the famous Alexandrian library. It was destroyed by a mob in 391AD but whether they were a Christian crowd or Roman soldiers depends on the account you believe. From here we went to the Kom El-Shouqafa catacombs an impressive private tomb which is accessed by a spiral staircase of 99 steps around a central shaft down which the body was lowered. It was later used as a public burial ground on three levels.

Modern women

The rest of the tour took in the new library of Alexandria, the Kaupay fortress which occupies the area where the great lighthouse once stood and the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi mosque. An interesting day in a very modern Egyptian city as the picture of the ladies with their mobiles depicts.

New Years Eve

New year was spent at sea with parties and midnight buffets held in all the bars and discos. Needless to say we did not do much on New Years Day!

We arrived in the Greek port of Katakolon on the 2nd of January.  This is about 30 minutes from the site of the first games at Olympia and was the second of our organised excursions. Our guide was fantastic running a commentary in fluent English and Italian vernacular.  Her name was Pipi or something to that effect.


One has to be impressed by the organisation that went into those and subsequent games.  Practice grounds, baths and of course the temples to the relevant gods.  Every winner had a stature carved but unfortunately all these have been destroyed. One of the best preserved is the plinth of the statue of Marcus who came second in a boys event.

The Olympic Track

The actual athletics field, which seated 40,000, still has the start and finish lines and the victors podium. It is interesting that running events were up and down the stadium and not around the circumference.

Following this we went to a taverna for a meze and an exhibition of Greek dancing.  The food, wine and ouzo were fine but I was disappointed in the dancing which bore no resemblance to any I have seen anywhere else in Greece; more like a glorified conga.  Ah well you can’t have everything. It didn’t rain on us either.

There was a karaoke in the bar that night.  I thought it was only on X Factor that people got up who couldn’t sing.  One girl could not even follow the words, not to mention the music!

We arrived at our penultimate port Dubrovnik, the well known Croatian gem on the Adriatic, the next day. Somebody had told us that the old city was “just down the road” from the berth.

This is not strictly true, it is an hours walk a lot of which, if you do not know the short cut, is straight up.  Still, it was a bright sunny day so we enjoyed the exercise.

The way down

Having reached the top of the hill we found a path down to walls, we did not count the steps but there were an awful lot of them.  It was well worth it. We entered the city by the Pile Gate which is the main tourist entrance on the West side.

The walls are one of the great attractions, but as Josephine tends to suffer from vertigo and the stone staircase is near vertical with only an iron handrail she decided to give this a miss.

The square

I did venture up and there are some magnificent views.  I did not make the complete circuit though. we wandered through the streets, round the towers and fountains and found the ubiquitous Irish pub. There would have to be one wouldn’t there! Needless to say we didn’t venture in.  We caught a local bus back to the ship to save our feet.

From there it was back to Venice and the long drawn out process of disembarkation.  Will definately book an early excursion next time.  We spent the day in Venice and found on e of the best local restauants serving Venetian food that I have come across in my many trips there.

We made our way to St Mark’s Square and caught a water taxi back to the left luggage and from there took the final coach to Marco Polo airport.

Altogether a great experience and a wonderful way to see in the New Year.




Venice to Bari



Katakolon – Olympia



La Rosa Dei Venti, Santa Croce 164, Venice

Unfortunately I do not have a photo of this most Venetian of Venetian trattoria. Do not confuse it with the B & B of the same name. It located on the Fondamenta Minotto, not far from the railway station.  It is the place of choice for local workers to take their lunch. We had just been given a table when it was suddenly inundated with with a variety of customers from immaculately suited city types to shop assistants. They do not stand on ceremony and if you like to have space to yourself than make sure you are not there between 1 – 2p.m.   The tables are for two but are set together to form rows of two or three and they fill them as customers arrive. Had we know we would probably have picked the days specials, which seemed to be what everyone else did, as the waiters just read a list of their pad.  We were given menus. We shared a plate of pickled sardines with a green salad and followed it with pasta.  Josephine chose the lasagne whilst I had a spaghetti with an chilli oil dressing. Both were beyond reproach.  We washed it down with a half litre of the house red.  Great staff with adequate English and big smiles. Bill for the lot about €40.

Christmas Letter 2010

I’m sitting in the computer room (not allowed one in the living room) trying to think of a new way of putting this letter together.  Once again my good intentions of writing it in sections throughout the year has failed miserably and my original start got lost when the PC crashed. Yes, I do have backups but this bit was missing somehow!      

I left you last year anticipating reports of our impending New Year Rhine cruise. This was almost eclipsed by the demise of the our leader Peter Robinson’s Dynasty following the disclosure that the “holier than thou” Iris, doyen of Dundonald Society and famous for offering to get homosexuals cured, had been having a quiet affair with a 21 year old and had lent him about 50 grand to set up shop in a council owned restaurant.

Actually the Rhine cruise was a great success with amazingly good food and wine.   Probably the highlight was getting out of the rain in Rüdesheim and having the local speciality coffee made at the table – sugar caramelised in the glass by flambéing a v large Asbach brandy, coffee and lots of cream! There was a great crowd of “oldies” like us including a very large Welsh contingent who were intent on having a good time in spite of the rather poor entertainment on board. Needless to say the bar bill at the end warranted a mortgage.      

The photo is of a very big music box at the famous Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett. An amazing museum of mechanical music machines.      

Later in January Peter, having somehow managed to survive politically and having  moved Iris quietly into a sanatorium, shook hands with Martin. Wailing and gnashing of teeth in Ballymena; what was the world coming to?

We managed to survive into February and escaped off on a tour of Cambodia. After Vietnam Cambodia was definitely hard work.  Either that or we are getting old. I would not have missed the experience and the highlights were the trip by boat from Battambang to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat. The downsides were our travelling companions, a pair of septuagenarian retired schoolteachers from London, the
female being christened “the witch” by all the guides, and the hotel in Kratie which had no lift, cold and cold running water and an ancient and very noisy air-conditioner. I’m not sure which of bit of the air it conditioned.  The geckos were extremely efficient at insect control!      

We did have a good time on the whole and the guides were absolutely super. Anybody for fried tarantulas?

From Cambodia we flew back to Bangkok to meet up with Sandy and Kay McKinnon, 13 and 9, ’61 to ’69, who had very kindly offered to put us up for a week and show us the high life of the city.  It was wonderful to just relax in good company.  We did make a memorable excursion with them and their friends to The Bridge on the River Kwai. Sandy and I also managed to fit in a game of golf (Note the very efficient caddie) whilst the ladies went off for a coffee morning. Go to Bangkok, it is an amazing city.      

Whilst we were away the ubiquitous dissidents bombed Newry court house.      

March brought the announcement that the Queen is planning a trip to Ireland.  With hindsight one wonders how they will afford it.      

Just to give Easter a boost the nice new MI5 HQ at Palace barracks near Holywood was car bombed. Bet nobody saw that coming!      

Business was not getting any easier either.

In May we flew to Venice with friends to pick up the Orient Express to Paris. Venice was amazingly wet, from above and below, but the food and wine were unsurpassable.  The Orient Express is a train everybody should travel on once in a lifetime, but not more than that! I was really impressed with Paris and it exceeded my expectations in trumps. Two wonderful days and then we returned via Eurostar to London and then home.      

This was also the month we had the council elections and poor Peter Robinson lost his seat to an ordinary local person who was not under the impression that she owned East Belfast.      

In June I went off to join a happy band organised by Tom McMahon, to walk along the canal from Liverpool to Leeds in aid of the Birgelen Vets Charity and Macmillan Cancer. I just completed the last 15 mile leg from Bingley to Leeds. A great time was had by all. Mick and Lynne Shepherd, of 9 Sigs Rugby fame met me along the way to make a contribution and also forced me into a couple of pints of real ale – well it was lunch time.        

The rest of the month and July were typical.  As a warm up to the marching season a 400lb bomb was left outside the Auchnacloy police barracks and following the 12th marches there were 4 days of carefully orchestrated rioting in north Belfast.        

In August the funeral of Alex Higgins brought the cream of the snooker world to Sandy Row to pay their respects. Personally I reckon they should have named the city airport after him; but then he didn’t die quite soon enough and footballers always get the glory anyway!

In September we joined up with friends to go the passion play in Oberammergau.  I reckoned it was our last chance as the next performance will be in 2020; which is rather a long way ahead. There were 47 of us altogether and we had a great week touring in the Tirol, going to the play, which everyone, be they religious or not, should experience, and culminating in the Hofbräuhaus in Munich.        

Our Great granddaughter is now a year old!        

We found out, during October, that one should be careful which beaches one picnics on, following the discovery and exhumation of the body of one of the IRA victims who had been buried by the dunes in Red Bay on the North Antrim coast some 37 years ago.

November brought the 50th anniversary of my joining the army (actually it was September ’60 but we’ll not quibble over a couple of months) as a boy soldier in the REME.  One of the squad, Barry Johnson had spent the last two years organising a reunion in Wokingham, close by the camp at Arborfield, Berks. It was a great evening followed by a conducted tour of the Corps Museum on the Saturday.  Josephine and I then took off up to London for the rest of the weekend.        

Workwise things are pretty slow at the moment and do not look like improving to any great extent for the foreseeable future, however, we have enough work to keep the factory going for another month and one keeps one’s fingers crossed that something will turn up. At least it’s not as bad as the Republic.        

O'Neill Park November '10

We’ll that’s a sort of commentary on our year and the local events of passing interest.  Cannot really complain as we have managed to fit an awful lot in around work and golf: yes I’m still finding time to play although I’ve definitely become a fair weather player!        

We are off to the Med on boxing day and will see in the New Year in between Alexandria and Olympia all being well; so that all that’s left to do now is wish you a great Christmas and health and happiness for the New Year.      

Michael & Josephine

Simplon Orient Express, Venice to Paris

This was to be an “experience of a lifetime” holiday with our friends Trevor and Helen Rankin; with them celebrating their 45 wedding anniversary and for us, Josephine’s (if you don’t know, don’t ask) birthday.  After a completely uneventful journey, all flights being on time and the Aviance business lounge at Gatwick North being a haven of peace and quiet whilst dispensing restorative alcoholic beverages, we arrived at the Hotel Kette in Venice by water taxi in the pouring rain.  22⁰ mind you. 

It is an old fashioned hotel with a charm of its own.  The staff are friendly, the rooms comfortable and the prices reasonable. We dropped our bags and hied us into the bar for a much needed cool drink.  No local beer, but they do a great line in 7.7 proof Danish Ceres! 

We elicited the concierge’s help in picking a restaurant for dinner and he recommended the Antico Martini.The report on this can be found as a separate post.  It was magnificent! 

Having got back to our room we discovered that it was only nine pm so we ordered a bottle of Chianti from room service and endeavoured to stay awake until a reasonable hour for bed. I will not  enlighten you with further details of the evening.

We awoke early to the sound of the hotel service boat exchanging laundry three floors below. The weather had cleared so I decided to go out for a stroll and found that St. Marks square was about a 3 minute walk away. Six thirty in the morning is the ideal time to wander the streets of Venice. The only people about are the early shop keepers, joggers and a few hardy tourists. The clean smell of the sea wafts between the buildings and one can take in the sights without being bustled along. 

I collected Josephine and retraced the walk before meeting up for breakfast at eight.  A goodly spread it was; fruit, cereals, cold meats, cheese and coffee to die for. 

We were collected by a water taxi to take us to the station to embark on the next stage.  We thought that it would just run round the Grand Canal, however, we were treated to a tour of the one way system which short cuts the curves of the major thoroughfare. 

Our bags were collected from the taxi and transported to the booking in desk for the Orient Express. A word of warning;  do not use the currency exchange on the station – I was offered €47.60 for £60. I know sterling is not particularly strong but that is ridiculous.

The train, 17 coaches long,  is everything that you would expect; even before one embarks it exudes an aura of opulence, added to by the liveried carriage stewards who greet you at the door.  The cabins are luxurious without being large; with built in washing facilities, complimentary dressing gowns, fan etc.  As we had adjoining cabins we opened the connecting door which gave the appearance of far more room. Our carriage steward duly instructed us as to how everything worked. 

We went to the first sitting for lunch, a three course extravaganza starting with asparagus lasgne and followed by monkfish tail on a sweet pepper crepe with a curry sauce, fennel and basmati rice in a red pepper shell. Josephine and I chose a Chianti Classico whilst Trevor and Helen went for the Sancerre. The sweet was a mixture of fresh berries with ice-cream and splashed with fresh prosecco. Yum! 

We retired to our accommodation to take a snooze and watch the passing scenery. If you are contemplating a trip on the Orient Express do pick the Venice to Paris option. We have spoken to people who have taken the London to Venice route but the views are of flat countryside and by the time it reaches the Alps it is dark. 

Dinner is a black tie affair, although this is not de rigueur , and it was disappointing the number of people who appeared in lounge suits.  This did not detract from the food.  We opted for the 7.00 sitting which proved a good choice.  This time four courses, opening with sautéed filet of Turbot meunière, tarragon and tomato sauce and diced vegetable ragout (not my favourite accompaniment). The main was a roast rack of lamb with pesto and simmered purple artichokes, accompanied by a lamb spring roll with parmesan cheese and crispy potato “Anna” cake. The lamb was perfect. I would normally cremate mine but this managed to be medium and still fall off the bone. A cheese board followed, fairly frugal but tasty and then came the coconut blancmange with cardamom scented mango. If this was not enough coffee (or tea) was served with pastries. 

We hied ourselves down to the bar for a nightcap.  The bar seats 39 people approximately and the second dinner sitting were there.  We managed to acquire seats and get served.  What followed can only be described as Pythonesque. more people came from our sitting and passed down the car towards the bar and the piano. This continued for some 30 minutes. At about 9.30 they called the second sitting for dinner and people began to file back up the carriage.  I am still do not know where the came from as once again there was a steady stream. I am just glad that we did not opt for the 9.00 dinner as it was served nearly 45 minutes late which meant it would not have finished before 11.00 – not too good to sleep on! 

We returned to our couchette which was now transformed into a sleeping compartment with bunk beds.  I had the top.  Given that it was a strange environment we slept remarkably well.  Note that these are Victorian and there is no en-suite toilet.  They supply dressing gowns (€40 from the boutique if you want to take one with your) and slippers for night time excursions. 

We had booked breakfast, which is served in the compartment, for 7.00 so at 6.45 our steward arrived to convert it back to a sitting room. A class act that took no longer than three minutes!  Breakfast consisted of fruit juice, fruit salad, yoghurt, rolls, croissants, honey, cheese, jam with coffee and tea on the side! 

We rolled majestically through the countryside for a further hour and duly arrived at the Gare de l’Est around 8.20. 

Our luggage was delivered to us at the end of the platform and the next stage of our adventure began! 

Click on the photo below to go to the album for the trip and the choose “slideshow”.

Orient Express Trip

To read about the Paris adventure click here.

Antico Martini, Campo San Fantin, Venice

We were recommended to eat at the Antico Martini by the concierge at the Hotel Kette, it being less than a stone’s throw across the bridge from the entrance.  In better weather it must be stunning, but even in the rain the ambience is not to be faulted.  The staff collected our umbrellas, waterproofs and hat and ushered us to a table under the rainproof awning looking out on to the small square which still sported a smattering of tourists braving the weather.

The menu and wine list were duly provided together with a complimentary hors d’ouvre in the shape of a miniature kilner jar containing a parfait of basil sauce and a whole prawn.  Exquisite!

Helen and Josephine chose the giant scampi with courgette; I opted for the tagliatelli with prawn and wild mushrooms whilst Trevor decided on the veal. Helen chose a glass of rosé and the rest of us shared a bottle of the local red, Rosso del Veronese, which proved to be eminently drinkable.

You are probably fed up with me using superlatives but, if you are eating in Venice, this is a restaurant not to be missed. The scampi would have been lobsters in another life, the tagliatelli sauce was as delicate as (good taste leaves me speechless) whilst Trevor’s veal melted in the mouth.  I speak from firsthand knowledge.

Somebody slipped in the sweet menu and, having gone a whole day with very little sustenance, we were caught in another trap.  The girls settled for the fruit tart and the boys for the baked crepes stuffed with vanilla sauce (and raspberries and blackcurrants). I got a share of Trevor’s as well!

We (Trevor and I) decided on a coffee and liqueur to end the experience.  The grappa is a must, although Trevor disagrees on this and settled for Benedictine!

The price tag of €326, including 14% service, reflected the quality of  both the cuisine and the service so we have no complaints.