2015 Novice cruisers

2015 Novice cruisers



Planning for a Sydney winter holiday for 2015 was not really a problem. We’d self-catered in Paris, Barcelona, Madrid & Lisbon in 2014, and ‘trained’ our way around Europe in 2013, but we had grown older, and the handling of our suitcases had become harder for us all. Few railway stations seemed to have porters when required. Dragging ones suitcase to the train is not the problem, because they are all on wheels, but picking them up to get them on to the train and stowing them in the racking system can be a problem as one grows older. This is when we would require the services of a porter.

With the above in mind we decided to minimise the unpacking and luggage handling by cruising. Maureen had never ‘cruised’, and for me it would be fifty years since I last worked on a cruise ship, so it was about time we brought ourselves up to date.

A visit to a travel show in Sydney gave us plenty of ideas of various holidays, including river cruising, train holidays and deep sea cruising.

The show was sponsored by Flight Centre so we were unable to buy airline tickets unless bought through FC . I suppose this was acceptable considering FC were paying for the whole thing. We might not have been able to buy airline tickets, but we did chat to a number of different airlines about their schedules, partner airlines and destinations, which for me was more valuable than the prices from Sydney to Europe.

Flight Centre had ‘specials’ on various deep sea cruises, and it wasn’t long before we were in conversation with two different staff members. In the end we accepted a list of their ‘specials’ and left the exhibition centre to return home and to discuss everything between ourselves and our friends.

In the end we decided on Princess Cruises from Venice to Barcelona via Istanbul, Mykonos, Athens, Naples, Rome, Toulon and finally Barcelona. Our regular traveling companions where happy to join us once again, and we booked two balcony cabins on the Island Princess leaving Venice on the 9th July 2015. We booked through Flight Centre.

The next consideration was how to get to Venice comfortably, and at a reasonable cost. Our previous travels to Europe had us overnighting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, but this time we wanted a change. Flight Centre were too expensive, so I researched various airlines out of Sydney to Venice and other major cities close to Venice where we might transit and use local transport – trains, buses etc.  This year we wanted to fly business class all the way, but the cost from Sydney was far too high. A little lateral thinking brought the price down somewhat, plus it gave us an opportunity to extend our holiday by adding in days so that the long haul flight to/from Europe could be broken into more acceptable flight times.

We didn’t wish to overnight in Kuala Lumpur and Colombo as we had the two previous years, but to fly direct to our long haul transit point from Sydney.  This was a definite sign that we were getting older.

In the end I picked Bangkok as the easiest transit stop, and I knew that I could buy tickets in Bangkok for direct flights to Venice.
After further research I decided to fly with Finnair in business class from Bangkok via Helsinki, with


Finnair AB 340 / 300

a one hour transit in Helsinki before flying on to  Venice. It would be a daylight flight all the way, and we would arrive in Venice early evening. The ticket price was within our budget so I bought four tickets in Bangkok, via the internet. The purchasing process worked well.

Our original plan had been to fly in to Barcelona, and then cruise to Venice, but this would mean leaving Australia a little too early in the year, and we wished to avoid the main winter period of late June through July. Plus, getting from Venice to Bangkok was not as simple as it looked, because Finnair’s summer services, out of Venice, did not begin until late June. If we chose to use Rome or Milan as our gateway the overall price would shoot up.  Flying early July would be at the beginning of Finnair’s summer schedule, but we would have to reverse our initial idea and cruise from Venice to Barcelona instead of Barcelona to Venice.
We booked a two night stay in Venice, just in case we were delayed getting to Venice. If everything goes to plan we will have about forty hours to check out Venice, before we will be required to board the cruise ship.


 Now for the flights from Sydney to Bangkok – it would be nice, we thought, to fly business class from Sydney, except the direct flights with Qantas or Thai Int’l were too expensive, so what about our old friend Malaysian Airlines.
Their price from Sydney to Bangkok was the cheapest, but we would have an hour transit in Kuala Lumpur. The price differential was well worth an hour in the business class lounge at KLIA. Another plus for Malaysian Airlines was that all their flights would be daylight flights, whereas QF return from Bangkok was a night flight, and Thai International daylight flight was too expensive. The business class ticket was acceptable, which made the total price to Venice much cheaper than buying a through ticket in Sydney.

We planned one night in Bangkok before the onward journey with Finnair to Venice.

The Malaysian Airlines flight was scheduled to leave Sydney at 7.30 am, so this would require us to leave home at around 4.20 am, after which we would pick up our friends and be at the airport for just after 5.00 am.

This time we used Cannons Transport, having used their main competitor on our two previous airport departures. The price was right, and I couldn’t complain about the service. We booked them for a 4.20 am pick-up and the mini-bus arrived a few minutes early. The trip to the airport went well and the driver was courteous and friendly.

After checking –in we were given an invitation to the Qantas business class lounge where we knew we would find breakfast.  We were not mistaken!
QF SYD Lounge

It enhances the holiday being able to pick and choose ones breakfast as if you were in a hotel. In addition it was nice to have a glass of Champaign to celebrate the beginning of our holiday –after all I’d read that it is acceptable to drink Champagne any time of the day!


MH AB 340








With only nine passengers in business class we were guaranteed good service.

I’d researched various hotels in Bangkok, close to the airport, for our overnight stay because we had a 9.00 am take off the following day.

The rates for the airport Novotel were checked, and they were over $200 per room, without breakfast – far too expensive for a little convenience.

Eventually we decided to stay at another Novotel about 15 minutes from the airport, at a saving of over $115, and this included breakfast. For the transport from Bangkok airport to the Novotel we used Oriental Escape once again, having previously used them a number of times. They are more expensive than a taxi, but with four adults, accompanying suitcases and hand baggage, they are worth the little extra. Every time we arrive at Bangkok they have always been waiting for us after we passed through customs, irrespective of how long they had to wait. I have always found them to easy to deal with via e-mail, and they were prompt in answering my questions. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this company.

Novotel BKK airport



This would be our first stay at this Novotel and it was not too far from the airport. If you arrive in Bangkok around 6.00 pm you will hit the rush hour, which we did, the trip to the hotel took us about 30 minutes. The following morning outside of the rush hour, it only took us 15 minutes.
The rooms were a good size, clean, with everything we required.


The shower over the bath had a good pressure, and the hot water was plentiful. All the staff that we met was friendly and courteous, even at 5.45 am! Unfortunately we were unable to take advantage of the inclusive breakfast, because of our early departure. Breakfast started at 6.00 am.

It was pleasant to relax at the end of a long day in the hotel bar




The following morning we arrived in the Finnair lounge around 7.00 am after quite a long walk from the immigration / security area. We had to ask a couple of times to make sure we were on the right track, due to airport renovations.  The lounge was clean and pleasant, but breakfast had limited choice (read no choice) of cereal (coco-pops, or something similar), fried eggs in a dish, with sausages, various sandwiches, and cakes / muffins, and choice of fruits. Juices were tomato, orange and water melon, but even though the choice was limited, it was enough to take the edge of our hunger before boarding the aircraft.

Finnair business




We had a few more passengers to keep us company on Finnair.




I couldn’t fault the service or the food and wine on Finnair, but their weak spot is the AVOD (Audio Video on Demand) – it is nowhere near as good as other intercontinental airlines. A choice of about five or six feature films, which were not up to date, and second rated American TV shows. The music is also very limited compared to Malaysian or Qatar, which is a shame because everything else was first class.

Arriving at Helsinki was a ‘shock’ with the temperature outside being 15 c, against 35 c in Bangkok. It was raining and overcast. We had an hour to get through immigration even though we were only in transit. Because Finland is part of the Schengen area we cleared immigration in Helsinki, which allowed us to pass through the green channel in Venice. Finding our way to the correct gate was easy, but when we reached the gated area it was packed due to a number of flights boarding at similar times.

Socialism rules even for those with business class ticket. The whole aircraft was configured totally economy. It reminded me of Air Asia as the stewardess walked down the aisle in an effort to sell newspapers! She then returned a few minutes later for the sale of various gifts from a catalogue. Later again we had another stewardess selling food and drink. A cup of tea or coffee or a juice was free – a choice of juice was not available – cranberry was the choice. Leg room wasn’t too bad for the three hour flight, but the constant announcements soon began to get on my nerves. Besides the compulsory safety announcement we had to suffer adverts for the catalogue sales, the purchase of food and drink (at attractive prices we were told), in two languages – it seemed to go on and on killing all hope of a quick doze. The aircraft, AB319, did not have in-seat video so reading was the only way to hide from the constant overhead chatter.

As we exited the customs area in Venice I expected to see the promised ‘meet & greet’ person.  I’d booked a water taxi to our hotel, via our hotel.

I checked all the available areas of the arrival hall to make sure that I was not in the wrong place. I wasn’t – other passengers were met and disappeared through the exit doors. I tried to ring the hotel, but couldn’t find a signal so I asked for help at a boat taxi counter who were kind enough to ring the hotel. In the end we booked a water taxi with the people that had helped us.

The walk from the airport terminal to the pier area, where the taxi launches were moored, was about 500 metres – but with our luggage, even wheeled luggage, the distance seemed much longer.
On reaching the wharf 15 / 16 a very helpful water taxi skipper helped us load our bags in to his motorboat taxi, before we climbed aboard, and then we were off on the twenty minute trip to the hotel. As we left the airport area the taxi increased speed. DSC03839r DSC03840r

I am glad we used the water taxi service as it was much faster than public transport, and of course less crowded. As the sun set over Venice’s lagoon it was quite a colourful scene created by the sun beams dancing across our bow wave.




Our hotel had a small wharf for their guests to disembark from small boats – in the picture it is the building with the flags outside.

On arrival at the hotel the Manager apologised that the agreed meet and greet service had failed
and offered us a free drink, because he could that I was not happy. The benefit of using the water taxi compared to the private boat was that it was 10 Euros cheaper than the hotel rate, but at the time of booking the hotel I didn’t realise how easy it was to obtain a taxi and they offered the private water taxi.
We had the choice of two rooms, one with a garden view and the other with a canal view. Our friends picked the garden view, which was on the ground floor, so we had the second floor room with the canal view. The bedrooms of both rooms were similar in size, but our bathroom was much larger than our friend’s bathroom.


The hotel building was about 600 years old and in our room the old wooden beams dominated the ceiling.




The view from the window did enable us to see the canal, but we had to lean over the air-conditioning unit to glimpse the water below. Picture below shows the view by leaning over the air con unit.




We had two nights in this hotel, during which time we were unable to have a hot shower. On our arrival we overheard a conversation between a female guest and the Manager. The guest was complaining about the lack of hot water, and she was told that it would be back on around mid-night. It wasn’t, and the following morning we complained and we were told that it would be back to normal by 7.00 pm that evening – it wasn’t. Nor was it fixed before we left at 11.00 am the following day. During the day the managers changed, so we were dealing with a different manager than on our first evening. We had the feeling that the lack of hot water was not unusual, because of the attitude of the second manager. We never did hear him apologise for the lack of hot water to other guests let alone to us. We were very disappointed in the overall service of such a lovely hotel.

We’d set aside the following day to walk, and walk, around Venice. It was a beautiful day so we set off early for St Mark’s Square because we’d been warned that the afternoon would be very hot.











Two views from the same bridge as we walked and absorbed the Venetian atmosphere. The clouds had just started to clear and the heat was filtering through.




What we all wish to experience when we think of Venice, except to hire a gondola during our visit was far too expensive for us to even consider. If you wished the boat man to sing to you while he rows it will cost you a lot more.



Even walking slowly as to admire the view and window shop it didn’t take us long before we were in the vicinity of St Mark’s Square.












Taking a short rest at this café was interesting to watch the people, but quite expensive for what we had, but we were in St Mark’s Square, we were on holiday and I doubted that we would revisit Venice in the near future.

I had to take the following picture because in 1965 I joined the Dunera, she was a school ship at the time, and I was a cadet. She was moored very close to St Mark’s Square alongside the buildings in the photo. I don’t think the piers that can be seen today, where there when I joined the Dunera.











The Dunera (above right) was about 11,000 tons compared to the Island Princess at 92,000 tons


After our short visit to Venice we caught the ferry service, which was close to the hotel (my reason for picking this hotel), for the short trip to the Maritime Centre where our cruise ship, ‘Island Princess’, had docked. It was late morning on Thursday.


I was very impressed with the whole operation of embarkation. On arrival at the terminal our bags were labelled with our cabin details, X-rayed and taken out of our control.
We took the lift to the main part of the terminal and as we entered the check-in area  we saw a long counter (on the right hand side of the picture) with a large number of staff waiting for passengers to check-in for their cruise, and to be issued with their on-board ID card.

The check-in people were very pleasant and helpful. We were allocated boarding group numbers – our number being # 10. Privilege passengers & those with the large personal suites were allowed to board first, and then the group numbers began to be called. It didn’t take long before group ten was called and we filed through passport checking, followed by the X-raying of our hand baggage. After this procedure we were directed to the boarding area.
As we boarded the ship we were photographed so that our image matched our ID card. Again the whole operation was very speedy and efficient.  Our photograph was not displayed on the ID card, but linked via hand held scanners to the main computer. The ID card was blank except for a bar code, which was scanned each time we left the ship, and again when we reboarded. The person scanning would check the photograph on his machine against the person standing in front of him or her.

Our Stateroom (our cabin, for those of us who can remember the old days) was larger than I expected and well planned to maximise the overall space. We had plenty of storage and hanging space so we were able to unpack everything. Luxury!

Note the leather cover to protect the bed from suitcases while unpacking.










Our balcony area – it looks small in the picture, but was in fact quite large.

We had been warned to make sure that we had immediate items with us because the suitcases may take some time to be brought to our cabin. They did have 2000 people to process, each with one or two suit cases. The time waiting for our cases was not wasted as we were able to visit one of the restaurants for lunch. It didn’t take us long to work out the system. Produce your ID card and everything starts to happen. We’d bought a ‘drink package’ which allowed us to partake of wine, beer and many different soft drinks. Cocktails without the alcohol were just as tasty as regular cocktails, but without the headache afterwards.
After lunch we made our way to our cabin to drop our hand bags, and there we found that our luggage had arrived.

The afternoon was spent investigating the ship, which only a few weeks earlier was in dry dock for an upgrade. From my point of view the refurbishing of Island Princess was a great success.





The Atrium in the centre part of the ship.




It didn’t take us long to realise that the Crooners bar would suit us down to the ground. The bar was small, quiet, and full of light from the picture windows, and it overlooked the Atrium. DSC03896r

Although we joined the ship at 1.00 pm on Thursday we didn’t sail until lunchtime on Friday.

What a departure as we sailed along the Grand Canal past St Mark’ Square. The weather was perfect, the passengers on the ship were friendly; we all shared good spots for the taking of just one more photograph of Venice.


Approaching St Mark’s Square (left picture) and passing St Mark’s Square.












We left Venice behind and looked forward to two days at sea and Istanbul on Monday morning. The Adriatic was calm; the light winds were warm and the sound of the sea hypnotic.

Who wouldn’t feel romantic at such a sight


That night our clocks went forward one hour to match Istanbul time.
Opening the curtains the following morning we saw a calm sea, perfect blue water, with a cloudless sky, what more could any passenger desire?Two point eight times around the deck was equal to a mile – time for some exercise because it is very easy to put on weight due to the food being very ‘more-ish’. We managed over three times before we got bored and packed in this exercise lark.
The hotel crew members were a mixture of eastern European nations, in particular Serbia, and the dining room stewards and cleaning staff were mainly from the Philippines. All were very friendly and eager to please.

The one thing that has jumped out at me was the high number of very fat people, both males & females. How some of them cope with the limited space in the en-suit I have no idea. The en-suite had a small washbasin area with limited space for make-up and shaving gear, a toilet and a shower, which for me was small. To shower I would wet myself down and turn off the water so as to soap & wash, after which I would turn on the water. For those larger than me (fatter) they must have flooded the en-suit because the shower only had a curtain, rather than a door.

On Saturday evening it was a formal night for the passengers and many dressed for the occasion.  DSC03931crop As you see I’d forgotten my dinner suit . . . .
While having a pre-dinner drink the Captain spoke to the passengers and ship’s crew over the loud speaker. The Greek coast guard had requested the Island Princess to divert, because a small vessel was in distress.
Because the law of the sea demands that all ships will go to the aide of those in distress that Captain didn’t have a choice. We watched some of the crew make ready a fast tender, while donning lifejackets and preparing the tender for launch. As the evening light turned to darkness we waited, but couldn’t see anything and when full night arrived we made our way to the dining room.
After dinner we checked again and little had changed re the crew and the fast tender, so we went to bed.

During the night (which we slept through) the ship had stopped in the Ionian Sea to pick up 117 Syrian refugees from a small sailing boat. I did hear later that their boat sank shortly after they were rescued by two tender boats from the Island Princess, due to the increase in the wind and the waves. The refugees were confined in the aft area and kept under guard by the ship’s security. They were given food and hot drinks after their ordeal.
We then sailed to Katakolon, which is a sea port near Olympia, where we were met by a military and coast guard vessels.











The picture was taken from our balcony.

The Island Princess lowered two tender boats (each able to carry 150 people) and waited for instructions from the port authorities. We remained at anchor in the bay for most of the morning. Only afterwards did I find out that the refugees refused to leave the Island Princess and it was a mixture of persuasion and force that resulted in them all being put ashore.
Our diversion to rescue the refugees meant that we would not be able to make Istanbul because we had run out of time, and we would have to maintain our overall schedule. While at anchor off the Greek coast we waited for information of the replacement destination. In the afternoon we were told that we would be visiting Santorini instead of Istanbul. This would allow us to return to our normal schedule of destinations. It was unfortunate that we would miss Istanbul, but the safety of those in distress had to take precedence over everything else. We can try again next year, the refugees, if their boat had sunk with them still on board, would not have seen next year.

Sunrise on the 14th saw us steaming very slowly towards Santorini, but to our discomfort we found that our toilet would not flush. The shipboard system is a vacuum system, and it had failed during the night. I rang reception as was told that they were working on the repair. Only our deck was out of order. During the phone call I mentioned that they air-conditioning didn’t seem to be working – that also was being repaired. During March and April the vessel was refurbished, but they obviously have had problems because we were told that the vessel still had fifty contractors on board to finish off the refurbishment. It reminded me that HMS Prince of Wales during WW2 sailed with contractors on board and she had to fight the Bismarck.
Fortunately both repairs were completed while we were at breakfast.

Local tender crafts came out to the Island Princess just after 9.00 am and disembarkation took place of those passengers who wished to go ashore. The whole operation was very efficient, yet friendly. Once ashore we bought tickets for the cable car to the top of the cliffs. We could have used the zig zag trail and walked up the 500 steps to the top, but even though it was only 10.00 am it was already getting quite hot. The alternative to walking up the 500 steps was riding on the back of a donkey, which we didn’t fancy. We’d also been warned of the donkey droppings making the wide steps slippery if we chose to walk.
The cable car cost  Euro 5.00 each way and it didn’t take long before we were at the top and walking around the various shops. Some of the restaurants, with spectacular views, ripped off the tourists when charging for drinks. A small glass of local beer in a bar with a limited view was Eu 3.00, ($4.30), but in the bar with the view it was Eu 7.50 ($10.70). There were plenty of viewing spots where we able to take photos of the views, so our custom with the rip off merchants was limited.











Street scenes Santorini

The sea around Santorini seemed destined to be filled with various types of sailing vessels. The chance to sail around the islands, under sail, is obviously very popular. I only wished that we were there longer so that I could have experienced one of the short sailing cruises.












Island Princess at anchor and the sailing ship, on the right, was also a cruise ship.

The colour of the sea was such that one never tired of looking and photographing – it was as blue as any picture post card in a travel agents window.
We were back on board in the early afternoon as we were due to sail at 6.00 pm and everyone was expected back before 5.00 pm. The efficiency of the cruise company extended to re-boarding, and having to go through a security check with our bags X-rayed, which was fine with me.

The following day we arrived at Mykonos – a pleasant town, with attractive narrow streets.













On the whole I’m glad we didn’t stay for more than a few hours. We walked around the main town, which was very nice, and the views were very good, but the prices of many articles in the shops were outrageous. I suppose it was to be expected as many of the shops were displaying famous named goods such as – Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Chee, and various high priced jewelers.

Piraeus, the port for Athens was our next stop. We were up and about early because of a 7.50 am gathering before leaving the vessel, to visit Athens.
We had booked the Acropolis tour, which would take approximately four hours. On leaving the ship once again we had our ship ID cards scanned, so as to keep track of those leaving the ship. Of course as I presented my card an alarm sounded. The card didn’t work correctly and they had to check me off the ship via keyboard input. When I returned the same thing happened and I was issued with a new card.

The tour coach took us through Piraeus to the Olympic Stadium that had been built to celebrate the start of the modern Olympics in 1896. We were able to take photographs from the outside.











After our short stop we were back on the bus for the main event – the Acropolis.



Taken from our bus

Our guide was very good and easy to understand. She answered a number of questions asked by the tour group and never sounded phased. On reaching the base of the hill for the Acropolis we were told the exact place to meet for our return. Then we started the climb. The slope leading to the historic site was packed with visitors as we all tried to take a decent photograph of the various sites.DSC04047r












As we reached each part of the monuments we were given an explanation of what we were viewing. The heat of the day started to affect us as we moved higher and the sun grew stronger.
It was an interesting time and the whole journey from the ship to our return took just over four hours. In the coolness of the morning the trip was long enough for me. I can only take so much ‘culture’ before I am looking for a quiet sit down. Another sign of age I suppose. We could have booked an all-day sightseeing trip, but from experience this could have been a waste of money for me.
I’d visited the Acropolis in 1965 and at that time we were allowed to walk anywhere, because the number of tourists was quit small. From memory the area was open and we were free to roam. During the recent visit things had changed. We were funneled up one set of stairs, and down another. By late morning it became a very hot day and I think people where happy to cut the visit short due to the heat and the crowds.

Managed a few shots of the ruins –











and of the mount where St Paul spoke to the Athenians.

In the evening we sailed in to the setting sun as we headed towards to southern tip of Italy and the Straits of Messina. Our clocks went back an hour during the night so it was a pleasant sunrise over a flat calm sea that welcomed us in the morning. The calm sea stayed with us all day giving one the impression that we were in a hotel with a marvellous sea view.
A day at sea is very relaxing, even if we did do the three laps of the deck to cover nearly two kilometres. We watched a cooking show in the morning, with exclamations of the huge amount of food consumed by the two thousand passengers and over nine hundred crew. I’d been warned that one can put on extra weight while cruising, at an average of pound a day! Hopefully I will be able to lose this extra weight once we are back to normal. With such tasty food it was very easy to over eat, so one had to be careful of portion control.



The picture shows the Horizon Buffet restaurant where one can go back as many time as they like; to sample a large range of different dishes from sushi to roast beef, and a range of puddings / sweet dishes to satisfy the sweetest tooth.

I only used the pool once during the whole trip, because there was so much happening, and would you believe that I couldn’t find the time for a second dip!
They do say ‘See Naples and Die’ – arriving as the sun climbed over the surrounding hills helped bring the old quotation to life, the sunrise was beautiful.



The operation of moving the Island Princess alongside was a work of art as she was edged slowly astern to be berthed alongside the wharf with her bow pointing seawards for a speedier and easier departure in the afternoon.
Already alongside was the Allure of the Seas, MSC Divina and a number of smaller Italian ships, which looked like ferry boats compared to the large cruise ships. I considered that Pompeii would be crowded today. It was.
Our tour left around 9.00 am for the thirty minute drive to Pompeii. It was hot, hot, and did I say it was hot! When we left the air conditioned coach we realised just how hot our walking tour would be when we reached the ruins.
The visit was interesting and I even recognised various parts that I’d seen in 1965.










After an hour and a half the heat got to Maureen and I and we returned to the meeting place for a sit down and a cool drink. Within minutes a number of others from our tour group followed.
Shortly afterwards it was back to the coach for the thirty minute ride to the ship, which was cool, calm, and, for us, home.
That evening we’d booked a later dinner so as to allow us to see a comedian at 7.15 pm, but on arriving at the theatre we were told that the comedian was unavailable, and that the Saturday evening musical group would be the entertainment, and the comedian would be on Saturday. We hadn’t heard of this musical group of eight, who had a saxophone / clarinet player as the lead player called Oli Nez, who is Welsh. What a surprise, the whole show went off with a bang, to such an extent that I bought Oli Nez’s CD, which he kindly signed to Maureen & I. Only at the end of the show did I realise that the backing group of seven were the Island Princess jazz band and the main performer was the only ‘foreigner’.



As the sun rose the following day we slowly approached Civitavecchia, which is the port for Rome. I could see one cruise ship entering the harbour, and the Allure of the Seas was lined up ahead of us, waiting for her turn to enter.
At 7.30 am we were alongside and including ourselves I counted nine cruise ships,

Explorer of the Seas, over 3000 passengers
Norwegian Jade, over 2200 passengers
Divina (MSC Lines), just under 4,000 passengers
Island Escape, 1600 passengers
Seaborne Sojourn, 450 passengers
Allure of the Seas, 6296 maximum.
Vision of the Sea, around 2,400 passengers
Island Princess (of course), around 2,000 passengers
and two smaller Italian cruise ships (they may have been large ferries.)

Overall there must have been close to 25,000 passengers on the road to Rome, which is approximately five Roman Legions all in coaches rather than marching. Rome was going to be busy as well as hot.

The length of our tour was to be five hours;  to view the main sites, not visit them, except for St Peter’s Square area for a short lunch break. The bus trip to Rome took 90 minutes and of course the return was 90 minutes, so we only toured Rome for two hours. Once again it was very hot and the air-conditioned bus seemed the ideal place to be when visiting Rome on such a hot day.

The small amount of free time at the end of the city tour was at St Peter’s Square. The square was a sun trap, and extremely hot. We didn’t join the long queue to see inside the various Vatican sites, partly because of the heat, partly because of the lack of time, and partly because we didn’t wish to visit the Vatican, another of my cultural failures. The famous square was crowded, but the crowds were not as large as those that I’d seen in news items when the Pope is on the balcony. I would have preferred our lunch stop have been around the Coliseum. I enjoyed Russel Crowe in Gladiator.

During the lunch break we decide to visit a local cafe for a cool drink, but the off handed service, because we were foreign tourists, came to the surface. Perhaps the locals who work close to the Vatican leave their politeness at home. They should have a sign saying ‘Place your money here, and leave!’ With such a sign the tourist wouldn’t have any false expectations of civility.

In the evening we attended the theatre to see the comedian. He was not what I expected – John Bressler the comedian, was an excellent piano player, and he really brought the piano to life imitating artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Rod Stuart’s gravelly voice as well as Elton John’s music, but as a comedian, for me, he was a disappointment. He was also selling his CD after the show (which was an hour), but I didn’t buy one.

Our next port was Livorno, the port for Florence and Pisa. Because of the 90 minute coach ride to Florence we decided to only go to Pisa, which was only a thirty minute drive. Considering the heat at about 40 c it was a good choice. The drive was easy and pleasant and the guide very good. Pisa was far more interesting than I expected.








More crowds and even taking the tower from a different angle it still leans  . . .

On the way to Pisa our coach passed a very large American army base. I saw plenty of equipment, but never saw a soldier on guard or even one walking around. The tour guide commented that the base had been in existence since 1953. As a joke I commented that as today was Sunday it looked a good day to attack, because the army must have decamped to the beach because of the heat.
Another passenger, an American, took this as an insult to his countrymen, and began to tell me why the base was empty, and that it was protected from the air. I then realised that my sense of humour didn’t translate to some of the other passengers.
Trying to find a WiFi connection around the tower of Pisa was a problem. Near the end of the tour we had a few free minutes so I went to a bar and asked if they had free WiFi, and was told that they did, so in I went in for a beer and an internet fix. I couldn’t log on and had to get the staff to help me – eventually I realised that I had to in-put my mobile phone number and wait for a computer generated password. By this time I’d finished my beer, plus I’d left my mobile phone on the ship! I moved to the tourist office where I had another beer (it was still a hot day), while waiting for the tour group to regroup. This was when I found out that the tour office WiFi was free and one didn’t require a password via phone – just ask the waiter. All was well in the end.

Back on the ship we had a late lunch and a quiet afternoon before an early dinner, so as to attend the early show in the theatre. The show was very well done with fast dancing, great singing, and the whole show was wrapped around a simple story. The show was three quarters of an hour of great entertainment.
Each seat in the theatre had a pull-out shelf, which can be used to keep drinks handy. While waiting for the show to start waiters moved through the audience, which allowed us to order a glass of wine or beer. It was all very civilised.
Another night at sea and the new day brought a new port for us to visit – Toulon in Provence, France.

A beautiful trip along the coast road to two small seaside towns – Bandol & Sanary-sur-mer. Clear blue sky, and the sea temperatures around 35 c. Home to some of the French navy.






In both Bandol & Sanary-sur-mer we viewed pastel coloured buildings, market stalls selling some very fresh vegetables, fancy cheeses, breads and meats.DSC04307r









On the way the guide commented that we should relax and enjoy the day because living in Provence this is how the locals lived – it’ll be done tomorrow or perhaps the day after or even the day after that . . . .relax and let the pressure of life go, was the mood of the day. Having read ‘A Year in Provence’ I was aware of the laissez-faire attitude of the workmen of the area.
Her next comment was that we would be visiting Sanary-sur-mer for a fifty minute stop where we would be looking around the town centre on our own, and everyone had to be back at the bus no later than 9.50 am!
What happened to the relaxing atmosphere of Provence??
Later in Bandol we were told of the great wines of the area and to try the red when in the town centre. As we walked along the seafront which was packed with cafes and restaurants and clothes stores we checked the prices of the drinks – they were expensive. A 330ml bottle of beer worked out at over $10 for the same bottle that we bought then previous day for just over $4.00. A bottle of the wine suggested by the tour guide was over $50. We did find a restaurant that sold the suggested wine by the glass for $8 so we had our ‘taste’. It was OK, but I’m glad that we didn’t pay $50 for the bottle.
When speaking to the lady in the restaurant we tried to explain what we wanted, not just any red wine, but a particular red wine. She grasped what we wanted, until my friend used an Ozzie expression and said that he hoped the wine would be ‘Dinky – Di’ the blank look of the poor waitress was quite funny; we apologised, and we received the wine we wanted – we think.  DSC04323rDSC04319r







It was relaxing to stroll along the seafront with the harbour full of expensive water craft.



We were back on-board by 1.00 pm for lunch, and then it was time to check the on-board account, return books to the library and make sure we emptied drawers and cupboards of all our belongings and repacked our suitcases – the twelve nights  cruise would end tomorrow at 8.50 am, which is our time to leave the Island Princess and move to our hotel for one night, before flying to Seville for five nights.

Departure went well – up early for breakfast and to finish packing. Made our way to the departure meeting place where our ID cruise card was scanned for our final disembarkation.
It was a short taxi ride to the Novotel Cornella Hotel close to the airport for a ‘one night’ stand. Admittedly it was early – 9.30 am – so we were not surprised to be told that the rooms were not ready, and check-in could not be completed until 2.00 pm. The lady who we spoke to sounded very officious. We made our way to a local shopping centre to pass the time and have a cup of coffee.
We returned to the hotel around 12.30 pm, so I asked if there was any chance that our rooms would be ready. Once again I was told that it was impossible to check-in before 2.00 pm. I told the lady that we would have lunch in the hotel and if the rooms became available early, she knew where to find us.
At the entrance to the dining room we met the lady in charge and asked for a table for four. It was now about 12.55 pm and of course we expected to be offered a table, because we thought lunchtime started around noon – wrong again.
The dining room does not open until 1.00 pm, we were told, and she suggested that we sit in the bar. At this point I wondered if we had landed in Germany of the 1930’s, with all the rigidness of a totalitarian state.
In the bar where we were able to buy drinks and check the menu. Being able to do what we wanted was a small plus – we could buy a drink! Buying the drinks and reading the menu carried us passed the bewitching hour of 1.00 pm, and hooray we were allowed in to the dining room, with our drinks.
The food in the dining room menu was the same as the bar menu with a few additions such as a buffet for the salad. We ordered a meal and asked for chips on the side expecting another ‘not allowed’ to order chips on the side. Perhaps they had the ability to read minds and realised that one more ‘not allowed’ would cause trouble. Anyway to be fair, the food was plentiful and tasty.
I managed to log on to the Internet in the afternoon and received an e-mail form the hotel informing me that as a valued Accor member (a Silver member no less) I would be able to check-in to the hotel, via the internet, at 12.00 noon, and my room would be ready for occupation on arrival . . . . . .
At breakfast the following day we read a notice pinned to a board where the dining room ‘monitor’ had stood the previous day, that we should wait to be seated. But for a single table, occupied by a family, the place was empty, and void of staff, so we occupied a table of our choice. We helped ourselves to food and drink and we were half way through breakfast before we met a staff member who asked for our room number.

If I hadn’t have already paid for two nights the following week, in the same hotel, I’d have cancelled the booking and gone elsewhere, although the room was very good – it was just that the reception staff failed in their customer service, even though we never really expected to check-in at 9.30 am.

The following morning we required two standard taxis to the airport, because of our baggage and being four adults, – not a problem, and the cost was Eu 20.00.
We had been checked in by the airline when we purchased the ticket from Barcelona to Seville so all we had to do was lodge our bags. The queue was quite large, but moved slowly but surely to the counter. Barcelona airport, once through security is like a large shopping centre with int’l shops as well as newsagents, and of course a large choice of coffee bars, restaurants and cafes.


The flight was full but quite pleasant with happy friendly cabin crew. Of course everything other than your seat was extra – drinks, snacks etc. DSC04373r





One large taxi from the airport to the hotel cost a fixed fee of Eu 35.00 for a twenty minute fast drive. I don’t think the driver considered the speed limit was meant to be kept by him.

Check-in was quick and easy and our room was large enough for us to unpack. We didn’t have as much storage space as we did on the cruise ship – but we coped well. Hot shower had good pressure and the bathroom was a good size.





I’d read about the must see ‘mushroom’ so it was off to the area and for the Eu 3.00 entrance fee we took the lift to the top. The view was quiet spectacular, but the chance to walk on see through flooring didn’t happen, they might have recovered the walking area due to the PC brigade.

On the left taken from the ground, and on the right from within the structure on the way to get pics of the views.

DSC04401rA bridge support, picture taken from the top of the ‘mushroom’.

Next stop shopping for the ladies and just a small beer for the men. We arrived just as they had finished preparing the tapas.












With just two of us in the bar it was easy to have a laugh with the barmen, even though we did have a language problem.

Later after we met up with our wives we found a restaurant near our hotel called One for One – Eu 1 for a beer or a glass of wine – Eu 1 for a tapas – Eu 1 for a salad.
Drinks were fine, as was the food and it was entertaining working out the system, which was all in Spanish of course, so we required the help of the lady who might have owned the place. It was all good fun and added to the enjoyment of the meal.

The heat of the day required us to follow the Spanish system – siesta time.

Wine in the local supermarket from Eu 1.39 / bottle (about $2) . . . . we went up market and spent Eu 5 on a bottle. We were the last of the big spenders.

Next morning the alarm went off at 4.45 am so that we could get ready for the 6.10 am pick-up by the tour company. No time for breakfast. The transport was on time and we spent the next 45 minutes driving around the city centre in the half light of dawn to collect 17 or 18 other tourists for the day trip to ALHAMBRA Palace, Granada.
Around 7.00 am we had a full bus so we set off for Granada. The mini-bus was a twenty-one seater, but the seats were quite small for such a long journey of three hours or more. We stopped after ninety minutes for breakfast, which I spent trying to get my back and legs back to normal. Being over six feet tall, with a normal size hip area, the seats would have been OK for a thirty minute ride, but that is all.
We arrived in Granada around 10.30 am, which meant I’d been jammed in the seat over four hours.
On arrival at ALHAMBRA Palace our group was amalgamated with others and we were passed over to the guide of the Palace who was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable in his subject. So began our three hour slow walking tour of the historical site as the temperature began to climb and climb, it stayed high for the whole day. On arrival back in Saville, at around 7.45 pm, the street temperature was still 44 c and it was 38 c in the shade.
Before we arrived at the ALHAMBRA Palace site the mini-bus guide asked if everyone was going to do the Arab Quarter tour, which would be a thirty minute walking tour after the Palace tour. We hadn’t planned on doing this, but the guide was persuasive and we handed over our money.
We had little knowledge of the  ALHAMBRA Palace site, but we thought it would be similar to other European palaces, such as the palaces of Vienna, Madrid and London. How wrong we were. I was particularly disappointed with the room where Queen Isabella met Christopher Columbus – I expected something quite different than an empty room. Perhaps I should have made more enquiries before buying the tour, but the pictures I’d seen gave me a different impression of what I viewed during the three hour walk. The overall impression with its strong Arabic influence reminded me of a medieval castle rather than a European palace. The views of Granada from the top part of the Palace where very good.














Because of the heat we did try and leave the tour to make our way independently back to the meeting area for our mini-bus, but the walking tour guide persuaded us to stay for a few minutes more because the tour was nearly over. When we did eventually get back to the bus ‘guide’ I asked what her plans where for a lunch break and the Arabic area walk. I was told that as soon as everyone arrived back at the bus we would drive to the walk area and complete the walk. This is when I asked for my money back. There was no way my wife and I, both of us are over seventy, would be doing the walk in the excessive heat.
The guide was understanding and did refund our money.
On the way to the Arab Quarter my wife & I, and our friends, were dropped off in the centre of Granada where we were able to find an air conditioned restaurant for a light lunch.

A sanctuary of coolness.

At an agreed time (4.15 pm) we boarded the bus and headed back to Seville. Another three and a half hour journey in an undersized seat – only a ten minute toilet break this time. The day was very long in such heat, and perhaps would not have been so ‘long’ if we were younger, but youth would not have changed the seating comfort.
Fortunately our hotel was in the centre of everything, well everything that we wished to see, and the Bull Ring Museum was on our list. It was quite at interesting visit as we were shown behind the scenes of bull fighting and the operation of the bull ring. The museum itself was interesting with the costumes and paintings. It was not uncommon for a matador to spend Eu 30,000 for an outfit.!









Below the bull ring is the museum.  Even though the facilities are used regularly, everywhere was very clean and did not have an animal smell.


From the bull ring we made our way to the tower on the river, which is now a semi-maritime museum, for the Spanish navy of course. No mention was made of Sir Francis Drake singeing the King of Spain’s beard, nor of course the Armada, or the defeat at Trafalgar. Don’t mention the war!DSC04529r









No sign of the EEC flag flying from this tower!

Lunch was once again tapas, but this time we walked over the bridge to the other side of the river and found a small restaurant where we decided to try more tapas. Over all it was not bad, but the cold soup, which was supposed to be like gazpacho, was nothing like gazpacho, it was oily and had an unpleasant taste. The waiter seemed quite surprised when the nearly full bowl of soup was returned. I did like the large piece of sword fish, which came as a tapa, about as large as a normal portion that I have at home, and it was very tasty.

DSC04380rIn the evening we visited the restaurant that we had eaten at earlier in the week, only to find that it was closed, we were too early, the time being about 7.00 pm.
We went to another tapas bar around the corner where we were offered the same menu as that of the restaurant that was closed. Then it dawned on me that many tapa bars boughtDSC04378rtheir tapas from a central supplier, rather than creating their own tapa.  The tapa from the central outlet were inexpensive, but very ‘same-ish’ and one soon failed to find something new to eat having had quite a few during the previous few days. I think the best tapa we had during our visit to the Seville area was from the restaurant we visited in Granada – because we slept in Seville I have linked Granada to the Seville area. At this restaurant, when we bought a drink, we were offered free tapa, whereas in Seville all the tapas where charged at around Eu 2.50 to Eu 3.50 per tapa.

Our last day was a Sunday and everything, except a few souvenir shops, were closed, so how to spend our last day. Not a problem as the old quote from Sir Francis Drake came to mind when he said that ‘He had singed the King of Spain’s beard’ – it had to be Cadiz. The cost of a return rail-trip was Eu 56 for the two of us – so it was the 9.45 am train, with booked seats, and an hour and a half later we were in Cadiz.
The best way that we have found to see a small city quickly is by using the Hop on Hop Off bus system. Eu 17 each and we had tickets that we could use for two days. A map of the local places of interest and a bus ticket and we were off.
The beach area was packed with locals, as well as tourists, and it made me wonder if there was anyone left in Cadiz, or perhaps the whole population had migrated to the beach. I couldn’t blame them as it was perfect beach weather.

DSC04546r DSC04553r







The one thing I did find a little odd was that most of the people seemed to cluster as close as possible to the water’s edge leaving great swathes of empty beach behind them. Unlike the Australians who would spread out all over the beach, because they like their own space, even on a beach. I suppose it comes from the fact that we in Australia have huge beaches and a small population, whereas Europe has a large population and limited number of warm water beaches. Regardless the beach was very colourful particularly with all the umbrellas.

We left the hop on hop of bus close to the cathedral area because we had been told there would be a Sunday market and the area was the local centre for restaurants. We thought that we’d visit the local market and then have lunch in one of the restaurants.


The picture shows the area in front of the cathedral, where we expected to see the market. We soon realised that we had a further walk to the market area.












Narrow streets on the way to the market kept us cool, and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the entrance area of a private home. On our return the main door area, where I stood to take the picture, was closed. When we found the main market, but it was closed, and only a flea market close to the market building was in operation. Plenty of books, but of course they were in Spanish.

We walked around the old fort area, and we would have liked to have visited the fort, but it was so packed we’d have been lucky to reach the front of the queue just in time for our homeward train.
We wandered the narrow streets and eventually came across Taberna El Tio de la Tiza, it was quiet with just a few dinners, so we decided on lunch. It was a very good choice as the waiter was friendly and efficient. The food very tasty and the over all ambiance of the place, even though we sat outside, added to the whole experience.
DSC04576rThe cost was quite low considering the amount of food and wine we ate.
Within about thirty minutes the restaurant staff had to increase the number of tables and erect sunshades over each of them – the place was far more popular than we thought.





When we booked we tried for the 3.40 pm train for our return trip, but this service was full so we booked on the 5.40 pm (the next train). Back in Seville by 7.20 pm, and in the hotel around 7.45 pm so where should we eat?

Many of the regular places were closed (Sunday), but we had saved one that we had not used before, for this evening. The restaurant was off the main shopping strip, down an alleyway to a small restaurant on the corner of the alleyway and a side road. It was open, but empty. Checking the menu we decided to give it a try because we were tired and didn’t wish to walk around for too long trying to find another restaurant that was open. Our table and chairs was on the pavement, but vehicle traffic was nil and pedestrian traffic limited. The food was good and the whole experience pleasurable, even if it was not memorable. Soon after our arrival a few other tables had been filled.

We did have a small incident with a drunk who staggered to one of the tables, which now contained a young man and a young woman, and started a conversation. The visitor swayed due to drink or drugs. He had to lean on the table to stop himself from falling over. After a short while he stood upright and moved to a table where there were for young women. He spoke to them and picked up one of their drinks and drank the contents. The women tried to persuade him to move on, but it was looking like one of the male customers would have to become involved.
At this point the lady owner (a large well built lady) saw what was happening and told the drunk to move on or she’d call the police. A few words were spoken between the restaurant owner and the drunk when she pushed him away. Two of the women from the table disappeared in to the restaurant obviously they had been frightened. The drunk moved off down the side alley that we had used, shouting more to himself than anyone else. The restaurant owner replaced the lost drinks to help calm the women down.
The problem for the foreign males was that if they became involved, and the drunk was injured due to customer involvement, the drunk could have been injured, which would have brought in the police. Being tourists, without any knowledge of Spanish, one has a tendency to be circumspect unless something serious was about to happen.

We were up at 4.00 am (couldn’t sleep) for a 6.30 am departure to the airport to catch our 9.00 am flight to Barcelona. We were at the airport just after 7.00 am, checked-in, and processed through security only to find that the aircraft would be delayed an hour. Seville is a very small airport with limited distractions for delayed passengers.
We did board just before 10.00 am and I managed to curl my legs in to the small available space between my seat and the seat in front. The aircraft must have been the same one from last year when we flew with Iberia from Madrid to Lisbon (our name for the service being Air Sardines). This aircraft being a Vueling Service, but as Vueling Airlines is owned by Iberia I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same aircraft – it was the same aircraft type, AB200.

Another fast taxi ride to the same hotel as last week, near Barcelona airport, for our two night stop over. What a difference this time when checking – in. A young man on reception checked his computer and told us that he regretted that we would not be able to check-in until after 2.00 pm. But he said – because we were Silver Accor members we would be put on top of the list, and would we accept a voucher for a free drink in the bar. The whole process of checking the computer and telling us that we would be on top of the list could have been a sham, but we didn’t feel that he didn’t care and would do his best on our behalf. His action was customer service at its best.

The one thing we wished to do while in Barcelona was to revisit Rene Restaurant where we had eaten last year and loved the food and everything about the place. I checked on the restaurant’s web site and they were open most of the day. While our wives visited a couple of shops my friend and I found the restaurant. On entering a young man asked if we had come from the local Renaissance Hotel. We told him that we had come from Sydney because we loved the food in his restaurant during our last visit, twelve months ago. This comment went down well, and a customer at the bar overhearing the conversation asked if had really come from Australia for another meal. Of course we said yes, and then explained that we were just passing through Barcelona on our way home to Sydney. It had to happen – the customer came from Sydney!
We were shown around the restaurant and told that they had a new chef and that they had some structural changes, which were not obvious. After booking a table we left to find our wives.
The table to which we were shown was near where we had sat last year. The waiter that we had spoken to earlier was our waiter for the evening. We all had various fish and prawns after a small ‘starter’. The food was cold to warm, and the innards of the prawns had not been cleaned (de-veined). Te food was not as good as last year, although the ambiance was just as good and the service was pleasurable.
At the end of the meal the waiter came and asked us for a comparison with last year. I asked if he wanted to hear the truth or just pleasantries. The truth he said . . . .

So we told him that the food was not as good, it was cold and that he should have brought it out when it was ready, and not wait for all the dishes to be ready, because this allows the early dishes to go cold – not rocket science after all. I don’t think he liked our comments, but if this was a problem he shouldn’t have asked for our opinion.

The following day we planned as a ‘rest’ day – up late, and to take the metro to the city for a wander around Las Ramblas and then lunch. The weather was slightly damp, but it was still a pleasure to visit this area.




Who wants to be on a diet with such colourful yoghurt – I told you that I loved culture.

Back to the hotel late afternoon and decided to eat in the hotel, the problem being that the evening meal was a buffet, and not what we wanted. After our substantial lunch overlooking Barcelona harbour all we wanted was a Caesar salad and French fries in the bar, which suited us just fine. The hotel aimed at the family holiday maker as well as business men, but they failed to supply the right level of staffing. One person in the bar had to service all the outside pool area as well as the customers inside, and answer the phone for room service. The male staff member in the early evening was rushing all over the place and when he handed over to his female replacement, she also had her hands full due to demand. I don’t know the hotel’s policy, but under staffing devalues the over standard of the hotel.

It was our final morning in Europe – check out and taxi to the airport – it seems to me that all Spanish taxi drivers consider driving within the speed limit an affront to their manhood. It took us just eight minutes from the hotel to the airport.  We offered a set rate of Eu 25 for the journey, but the driver wished to use his meter, which was fine with us as the trip only cost Eu 23.20 . . . .

Check-in for the two flights with Finnair went smoothly and we were soon in the business class lounge.










The lounge was very pleasant, with plenty of seats. The picture on the right is the view in to the departure terminal.
The business class seat on the AB 200 from Barcelona to Helsinki was three economy seats with the centre seat of three left vacant. We had the front row so we had a little bit extra leg room. The meal and drinks were included in the ticket cost, unlike those in economy who had to pay for their lunch and their drinks. Food was fine (chicken breast) and the wine very good. Nowhere near as many adverts as the flight from Helsinki to Venice.

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The left hand picture shows Finland’s coastal border, and on the right a patchwork of autumn colours as we drop down to land.
Arrival iin Helsinki was smooth and we were directed to the new departure gate. We had about a two hour transit, which included passing out of the Schengen area in to the international area. All went smoothly and we were soon in the business class lounge of Finnair’s intercontinental area. The decor was very Scandinavian, all white and clean, but functional. The wine was Spanish  . . . no complaint from me.


On board our long haul flight it was reindeer meat, which we had ordered before leaving Sydney. It was softer than beef; it had been grilled and was pink in the middle, and tasted very nice. I must remember not to let on to the grandchildren that I might have eaten Rudolf.

Up up and away, next stop Bangkok.

We hate night flights, but at least flying business class eases the burden. The Finnair seats didn’t quite drop to a full flat bed – they drop to about 160 degrees, but it didn’t stop me catching a short nap, but on the whole it was a sleepless night, perhaps due to Rudolf getting his own back.
With our Priority immigration voucher we were soon through the arrival formalities and would you believe our suitcases where amongst the first to arrive – that was a big plus.
Once outside we met the meet and greet person from Oriental Escape and he phoned for our minibus. We have used this company each time we have visited Bangkok and always found them to be efficient in greeting us and arranging the correct size transport whether we were a group of eight or four.
The new freeway was a big help and we arrived at our hotel, Pullman King Power, twenty five minutes after leaving the airport. It used to take us forty five minutes or more. On arrival at the Pullman the usual speedy service took over and our personal guide showed us to the 21st floor for the Executive Lounge where we were greeted warmly by the staff.

A request for our passports, from one staff member, while another offered drinks of our choice and we sat down in comfortable chairs and chatted while the check-in process happened elsewhere.
Complimentary breakfast was available – cold or hot – which we couldn’t accept due to being full from breakfast on the aircraft.
While we waited for our room keys (electronic cards) a young woman arrived and introduced herself – she was the Operation’s Director for the hotel. She was the lady that I had been dealing with, via the internet, when I had made the booking some months earlier.
During the booking process months ago, I realised that we would be very early for our check-in, and I’d asked if it an early check-in would be possible. This lady had informed me that they would do their best – one room was ready and the other would be about ninety minutes. The second room was ready within fifteen minutes – I do love this hotel. I appreciated that the Operation’s Director took time out of day to introduce herself – a nice touch I thought.

Happy hour was from five to seven in the evening for complimentary cocktails. As my wife and I entered around 5.00 pm we were greeted enthusiastically by the staff as if they had been looking forward to our arrival. Whether this is a true emotion, part of the Thai culture, or just because of training is irrelevant – we felt welcomed.
Evening thunderstorms helped create the atmosphere for a quiet evening at home.
After our flights from Barcelona via Helsinki, it had been a very long day, so it was early to bed. I slept like a log.
The following day we all went shopping – well to be accurate the ladies went shopping while my friend and I tried to find a bar that was open. It seemed a good idea that had worked many times before, but this time we had to make do with ice cream! It turned out that we had arrived in Bangkok during a very religious time and the sale of alcohol was forbidden on the 30th & 31st July! Happy hour in the evening was fine because we didn’t pay for the drinks as they were ‘free’, i.e included with the room rate, so we didn’t hand over any cash.
Saturday in Bangkok is market day at Chatachak, one of the largest markets in Asia. As on our earlier trips to this market during previous holidays, we only stayed about 90 minutes – far too hot and humid, and most of the stalls are crammed together with very small walkways between each stall. Not a complaint, because a short visit can be quite enjoyable, but being a mere male who is hot and uncomfortable while shopping in air conditioning, it is not my idea of a holiday outing, but one likes to keep ones wife happy.
Our last evening at the Pullman, and we will be up early for an 8.00 am pick up to the airport for our 11.05 am departure. Once again the transport was early, which eases the stress of travel.

The business class lounge was fine, and a good place to sit especially when we were told that the plane was delayed thirty minutes.
A very pleasant MH flight on a B 737/800 – tasty food and good South Australian wine. Proper business class seats, rather than three economy seats with the centre seat left vacant.

Special electric carts were waiting for us after clearing immigration and customs at Kuala Lumpur. They are the courtesy trolley cars to take us (and our luggage) to Sama- Sama hotel, which is within KLIA. The short journey to the hotel is within the terminal – we never went outside. The hotel can be accessed either from within the international transit lounge, or, after clearing immigration & customs, as we did in our case.



Electric car and the main hotel reception area.


We decided to stay at this hotel, which had been refurbished to a high standard recently, because the cost of a city hotel, plus transport to and from the airport (not counting the travel inconvenience for one night), was more expensive than staying on the Executive Floor of the Sama- Sama. A no brainer, because the Sama-Sama offered two hours of cocktails from 6 to 8 pm!




Executive Lounge which is also the check-in area for those guests staying on this floor.





Our room was large and attractive – the bathroom was huge and the shower large enough to invite a couple of friends to join you for a shower. It is a long time since I’d seen a hotel shower so large.






We were able to watch aircraft landing and taking off, and didn’t hear a sound. It was like watching a silent film.







View from the bedroom.

A quick breakfast in the hotel lounge the next morning, an electric ride to the check-in area, and we were ready for the final business class lounge in KLIA Satellite terminal, Malaysian Airlines Golden Lounge.



Malaysian Airline’s Golden Lounge at KLIA  – followed by the 9.00 am take off for Sydney.


The road home.

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