The Retirees return to Italy – On board the SS Costa Diadema – Marseilles and Barcelona

Sailing along the Gulf of Genoa and the Ligurian Coast, past the Principality of Monaco, Nice, Cannes and Sanry sur Mer, our next port of call is Marseilles. Daylight saving starts tonight so we find ourselves waking at 8.20am to see “Marseille” out the starboard window.  I spot an island with a fort and a church with a tower on a hill. But this is Sunday a day of rest for us too. So, we spend the day on ship in the spa having an ice cream and finishing with massages and a movie. We set sail with the next stop Barcelona.

Arriving at Barcelona, we find ourselves caught out by the time change for daylight saving. We rush to have breakfast to ensure we are on board the first coach to the city centre. The coach drops us near the World Trade Centre and we see the Red Bus nearby. We are not sure what we want to do in Barcelona and we decide that with grey skies and sprinkling rain we should catch the bus. One thing we have learned about Barcelona is that it is spread widely so the bus trip took a long time to get anywhere.

The first sight we see is the cable car tower at Port Voll which connects with Mont Juic. We board the Red Bus which climbs up Mont Juic past Anella Olimpica which is a renovated building converted into a stadium for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Further along we encounter the Arenas de Barcelona (the former bull fight ring) now a shopping centre. It had to be raised to fit the new use. This was on the way to the stadium for FC Barcelona.

The bus returned to Port Voll with over 4,000 moorings and some rather decent boats. From there we visited La Barceloneta and the main beach of the town. Unfortunately, the day had not improved and wind and rain now swept the beach. My goal was to see Sagrada Familia the most popular of Barcelona’s works by the famous architect Gaudi. We changed from the red west line to the green east line to see the Familia but it was not to be. In fact, it is so popular that you have to purchase tickets to visit. By the time, we got there the tickets had sold out until the following day. So, we strolled around the Familia and I was able to take a few pictures even though it was still under renovation/repair.

We found a warm bar across the road and ordered a paella. We made the decision to abandon the bus and try our hand at the Metro to visit the old part of the town. After investigating the available lines at the nearby Metro, we decided on the purple line to Paral-el. Once we arrived at the station we found it is situated on the Avenue Paral-el and very close to the cable car tower where we started our trip. We were still not in the old town so we headed to the wharves and took a left-hand turn to Avenue la Rambla and into the heart of the old town. On the way, we passed a reminder of Barcelona’s industrial history, and a reminder of it is medieval past. The old town was drab and although it had its fair share of old churches, medieval bridges, and Roman relics, it did not capture our interest. The sky had lost its cloudiness and the warmth of the sun could be felt and appreciated but it did not last long. We stopped at a small bar and enjoyed a fruit smoothie each and decided to head back to the ship. Our excitement was so great that we left without paying which I remembered when we were halfway back to our collection point causing us to retrace our steps pay our bill and start again. Tomorrow is Mallorca and Palma de Mallorca.

The Retirees go Abroad – Lucca on a hot day

We set out early for Lucca from Nice (that is if you call 9.00am early). The car is now loaded to the gunnels but is still travelling sweetly. We can tell this is going to be another hot day and this is soon confirmed with Autostrada information – the temperate is 32C.

Leaving Nice is a task with its winding highway through the centre of the city but once clear of the city it is plain sailing. The sky is clear and the sun is starting to burn. With the air conditioning pump disconnected its windows down and head into the breeze. Fortunately the E80, A10 and A12 must be the world’s most tunnelled stretch of road. Not aware of the immense number of tunnels to come we did not count them but it would have to been in the order of 50+ as we journeyed through to Lucca. Most were over 600m long and every one had its own name as did the bridges stretching to cross the immense gulfs of air between mountains. There were equally as many bridges as tunnels.

We pass many hilltop villages and the landscape is mountainous to our left but pretty coastline and villages to our right. But both are hot as the notice board on the Autostrada continues to inform. On we fly hot wind in our hair and sweat running down our backs.

We stop for a cuppa underneath a radio satellite station on top of hills looking like moon stations. We pass Carrara and the scar on the mountain where they drag out the huge blocks of marble. The toll gates await as we turn off the Autostrada into Lucca.

Finally we arrive at our apartment. Kerry’s IPhone says “no service” so we cannot contact the landlord to let him know we have arrived early. David to the rescue and we make contact. No English! Okay the Italian lessons start sooner than expected.

A young woman arrives with a determined haste – it is Valerie with our key. Escape from the sun is now at hand. We have a lift so in go the suitcases but the apartment is a bit weird. Valerie is in such a hurry she does not ask for the bond and is gone before we can finish asking our questions – like where is the kettle?

David studies the apartment information and I have a shower to cool down. Cold water all around. Meantime we plan a visit to the old city via bus. The stop is across the road from our apartment block and the driver “no comprendi” but had a good idea of what every tourist wants. When we arrive at Porta de Pietro (a gate in the city walls – yes the wooden gates are still hanging in place) even the old chap sitting at the bus stop gave us a sign – no not the finger but pointed in the direction we had to go. We are such obvious tourists!

Finding the Tourism Office was quite a task. The map given to us by the landlord showed two offices and of course we chose the one that had closed. David interrogated two young kids kicking a football and got nowhere. I asked a signor outside some dodgy looking establishment and we were on our way. At the other end of the town we found the office in what looked like an old fort near the ramparts.

We then moved back through the town to a small square (Plaza del Puccini) where we settled in Madama Butterfly for some drinks. The breeze was starting to rise and the temperature was cooling. Some local beers and a half carafe of wine and Lucca was looking not too bad. We had settled so we looked at the menu. Two pizzas to share and another round of drinks and the girls were giggly. The waiter was young and handsome and the girls were feeling like flirting so we ordered desert. Then the band started in the square so we ordered coffee. Our budget was blown!

As we made our way back to our bus stop Pallazio Napoleane was being invaded by people dressed in white. Veronica ever the chatty one asked what was going on and found out that there was a fund raising dinner happening in the square and everyone brought their own plate and dressed in white. Meanwhile I had spotted a boxing match in an adjoining square. So I stayed to watch a couple of rounds until dragged away to catch the bus. On the way I was able to snap the old city gates still hanging by their ancient hinges, two interesting balconies and the Italians love of scooters.

Tomorrow had immense promise; we head for Pisa.

The Retirees go Abroad – Nice – Days 9, 10 and 11

I have brought these three days together as we mainly spent time in Nice enjoying being in the city. We found that swimming in the Mediterranean Sea was very refreshing, too cold and that you could enjoy a pebble beach. Embarrassing photos have been posted on Facebook by others so I won’t repeat them here.

Nice can be eclectic. Traditional and off beat at the same time.

For example here are pictures of wall murals; one of a pencil drawing windows on the building and the other of a Greek style goddess appearing from the side of a building. Like most French they park anywhere. Here is a phot of a motor bike parked in a shop window. But then they have very pretty window boxes of flowers everywhere. Except at the front of our apartment which was very commercial looking.

That evening we left our apartment and strolled across to the Promenade Des Anglais to see a “strawberry moon”; another cockamamie idea by someone. So I spent my time taking shots (photos) of planes taking off from Nice airport and the lights of the promenade at night. It was too cloudy for the moon. Oh, the other photo is the street entrance to our apartment.

The next day we showed David and Veronica Nice’s old town. Starting with the Promenade des Anglais and its palms, then the harbour, some of the spectacular old homes, the headland and its memorial to fallen soldiers, some things modern, and somethings very old. We went to the home of Henri Matisse which is now a museum to his art. Back in town we kicked around the park and wished we had our swimmers on for a run through the fountains.

In fact we caught the hop on hop off bus and then the train to get to all these places. Last stop was the ruins of the old fort on the headland for the best views of the city and its beach.

Day 11 was spent at the flower markets. We saw some very pretty blooms and some interesting wall gardens.

The Retirees go Abroad – Cannes

The 5th of June. It’s Saturday and the hot weather is continuing. But this will not keep us down. We have determined to drive to Cannes and not by the motorway in the hope we will travel along the coast. We leave Nice with the morning rush hour traffic but soon leave it behind as we move into the coastal towns between Nice and Cannes. We start to get a feel for Cannes at Antibes where we spot a yacht moored with its helicopter at the ready to transport those important people to important places.

We make our way to a central parking station and move out onto the streets of Cannes. Shops abound. Some palatial, some bizarre and others just tourist.

We make our way to the Promenade and see that the boats are in. Bloody tourists spoiling our day!

The tourist information centre is our first port of call and then we try an ice cream as it is a hot spring day. The old city calls us like a siren and without knowing it we have climbed to the top of the hill. Some glorious shots of the city and coast and some fabulous pictures of the old city itself. I noticed the clock on the church tower was named “Brian”. I wonder if this was the inspiration for “The Life of Brian”. Perhaps not.

Back down the hill we are into the back lanes and the markets. Fresh fruit and veg, meats, sausages and the world most expensive nougat. A pretty fancy mobile pizza oven as well! Kerry spots a nifty shopping trolley and stops the woman wheeling it to find out where she got it. “Off the internet” says the woman with a North American accent.

We wander the back alleys and then onto Rue Antibes the shoppers Mecca, but the girls resist the sirens call. We make our way to the car and collect our picnic then go to the park on the Promenade where we dine on fresh baguette ham and salad. We are awaiting the tourist train that has been held hostage by those tourists from the boats. Finally it is our turn and we jump aboard for the slow trip through the traffic looking at hotels and hearing about the rich and famous, just about makes you puke. But Kerry spots the Palm Casino and her partner in crime Veronica are both determined to walk the red carpet with the memories of their winning at Monaco.

So after the train rise finishes we head to Palm Beach Casino. There is a grand entrance with naked Atlas holding up the pillars of the earth for a squibby little gaming area inside, but the machines were ruthless never the less and took the money from our giggling girls.


Hot sweating and somewhat tired we head home to Nice. It is getting on to 6.00pm but you would not know it. A swim in the Baie of Anges is the next treat and a treat it was. Cool with currents of cold, it turned some hot sweaty bodies into ice but the real issue was getting out of the water. An all pebble beach is difficult to walk on particularly when it collapses as you try to get out of the water.

A fantastic finish to the day and making us eager for tomorrow. But there are a few hands of cards before we see any sleep.

The Retirees go Abroad – Nice and the Cote D’Azur – Pont du Gard

It is day 9 and a long trip to Nice as we are going via Pont du Gard a Roman aqueduct. Sunshine and blue skies made the trip comfortable and we were all excited to visit this relic. On arriving at Remoulins, we made our way to a ticket office and barrier. 18€ per day was the entry fee. We thought that was a bit steep for a stop and look visit, so we looked for another option including parking illegally in a nearby caravan park. Fortunately we reflected on the cost and realised that this was only 4€.25 per person so we opened our wallets. And good thing we did as there was a lot more to see than a flying visit.

The bridge descends by a mere 2.5 cm (0.98 in) – a gradient of only 1 in 3,000 – which is indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve, using only simple technology. After the collapse of the Roman Empire and the aqueduct’s fall into disuse, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact, due to the importance of its secondary function, as a toll bridge. For centuries the local lords and bishops were responsible for its upkeep, in exchange for the right to levy tolls on travellers using it to cross the river. In 2000 with the opening of a new visitor centre and the removal of traffic and buildings from the bridge and the area immediately around it, it became one of France’s most popular tourist attractions.

Today the bridge is part of a large park which caters for holiday camping and bush activities, museums and of course the aqueduct across the Gardon. It is a long walk from the carpark to the aqueduct but once you turn the last corner you can imagine you are in Roman Gaul 2,000 years ago (except for the even concrete path under foot). The Pont du Gard (literally: Gard Bridge) is there in front of you The bridge has three tiers of arches, standing 48.8 m (160 ft.) high.  An ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the 1st century AD that crosses the Gardon River, from which it takes its name, it is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50 km-long (31 mi) structure built by the Romans to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). Because the terrain between the two points is hilly, the aqueduct – built mostly underground – took a long, winding route that crossed the gorge of the Gardon, requiring the construction of an aqueduct bridge.

We crossed the bridge and I ventured onto the highest part of the ridge to gain a better view. There was a camera crew and pyrotechnics crew preparing for a celebration in June and so you will see in the photos people on the top if the bridge. It is no longer open to the public to climb a recently built (19th century) internal staircase to the top to protect the bridge. We spent a couple of hours there. So much for a quick look and see.

From here we travelled back toward Avignon and then onto Nice. A nice sunny day but too hot for a car without airconditioning.

The Retirees go Abroad – Nice, the Cote D’Azur and Monaco

We arrived in Nice to meet a very flustered landlord, Norbert. He had arranged to fly to Paris the same day as we were arriving. So a very quick introduction and walk through the apartment. We were happy to see him go as he was becoming annoying with his fluster.

We unpacked and with the day being so fine and clear we strolled Promenade des Anglais until we realised we had walked most of the way to the Old City. We dropped into the Tourist Information Centre to help us plan the next few days. Then we strolled finally taking a bus back to the apartment. A pleasant end to our first day in Nice.

The next morning, Sunday, promised another fine day and as it was only 1€50 to travel by bus to Monaco we put on our walking shoes and headed for the Principality. This bus trip is a must do to see the coast line from Nice to Monaco. We got off at the Casino as the Tourist Information Centre is nearby and determined to take the Open Top Bus to see the sights.

Despite our plan to do the tour and then decide our stops, we jumped off to see the changing of the guard at the Palace and visit the chapel and the memorials to Prince Ranier and Princess Grace.

Back on the bus we completed the tour and realised that the town was cleaning up after the Formulae 1 motor race. Talking about cleaning up, Kerry visited the Casino and lifted 90€ from them. David and Veronica did a little less lifting and I cooled my heels in the sun. Outside of the casino I was able to photograph a monument in the form of a concave mirror.

Despite having been there previously we were still amazed at the grand show of wealth (there were a number of expensive cars all with Russian number plates) and the Police on scooters.

The return journey on the bus brought us back to the Port in Nice. We ventured over to the old city where we had dinner and saw the sights. Unfortunately we overstayed our time and found ourselves stranded due to a bus strike in Nice. We learnt the hard way about how expensive it is to catch a cab in Nice on a Sunday night.