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Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2005
Canadian Crossing and Mediterranean Adventure part 5

Zakinthos, Kinthos Island, Greece

Zakinthos (also known as Zakynthos or Zante) was a complete contrast to our last two visits, Capri and Athens, which were extremely popular and packed tourist destination. Zakinthos the third largest of the Ionian Islands, covers an area of 150 square miles and is named after Zakynthos, son of a legendary Arcadian chief Dardanus Zakynthos has a varied terrain, with fertile plains in the south-eastern part and mountainous terrain with steep cliffs along the coasts on the west. The mild climate and the plentiful winter rainfall endow the island with dense vegetation. The principal products are olive oil, currants, grapes and citrus fruit. The capital, which has the same name as the island, is the town of Zakinthos; it is also called 'Chora' (Town). The island has a population of only 40,000. One of the best known and photographed sites on the island is the Blue Caves, an unusual grouping of rock formations washed by clear blue surf and white sands. The island is famous for loggerhead turtles an endangered species - every year beginning in June the female turtles come to the southern beaches in order to bury their eggs in the sand.

The most famous Zakinthian is the 19th century poet Dionysios Solomos, the principal Modern Greek poet and author of the national anthem of Greece. His statue adorns the main town square that is named after him. The island has, as have all the Ionian islands, been a holiday destination since Roman Times and Solomos wrote "Zakinthos could make one forget the Elysian Fields" and it has been referred to as an "earthly paradise" and the "perfumed island"

This paradise on earth however suffered severe earthquakes in 1953, which destroyed almost everything on the island. Only three buildings were left standing in place in town after the disaster: the St. Dionysios Cathedral, the National Bank building, and the church of St. Nicholas. A few other buildings in outlying areas also avoided complete destruction. Since then Zakinthos has been rebuilt to a very rigid anti-earthquake specification, and has withstood several serious earthquakes with minimal damage.

We were tendered into the island and walked along the sea front looking for a beach for Pete to swim - the only area was very run down and not a place to spend very long once back out of the water. A little further we found a delightful little marina full of local boats. The town centre was almost completely free of visitors other than those from the ship and was quite pleasant. We went into Solomos and Kalvos museum that had a lot of background on Dionysios Solomos and the mausoleum holds his, and the poet Andrea Kalvos's, remains. The museum has been proposed for the European Museum of the Year Award.

This was the first visit of the QE2 to Zakinthos and we had expected a considerable welcome to be laid on for her as had occurred in other maiden ports when we had been aboard. We were disappointed as there were no celebrations and, although a pleasant enough place, there seems little to merit a return visit when one considers the choices available in the area.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik is one of the prettiest cities we have seen and one we were looking forward to re-visiting after seven years. The last visit was in 1998 not long after war had split the old Yugoslavia asunder and the city was still showing the scars. There are two harbours and we were delighted that the QE2 was able to moor off the old harbour allowing a short tender ride and the finest approach to the town. The quay was only a stones throw from the city walls. Dubrovnik has a remarkable history. An independent, merchant republic for the 700 years up to 1806, it traded with Turkey, India and Africa - it even had diplomatic relations with the English court in the Middle Ages. Its status was such that even the powerful and rich Venice was envious of this Croatian-Slav city.

The old town was completed in the 13th century and remains virtually unchanged to the present day. The port's sea fortifications rise directly from the waters edge, and a massive fort dominates the city. Tall ramparts surround the city that is a maze of narrow twisting streets with two 14th-century convents at the ends. There are only two entrances to the old town that lead to the Stradun or Placa, the city's promenade. On one side narrow streets, so narrow one can reach from one window across to the other, lead up so steeply that they quickly change to steps. Check to jowl with these houses, unchanged for hundreds of years, one finds garish signs and Internet access, tourist junk and street cafes full of tired visitors take vicarious enjoyment emptying their wallets in the belief they are absorbing the true atmosphere - such is progress.

Dubrovnik has a wealth of cultural and historic monuments as is sometimes described as one of Europe's greatest outdoors museums. The unchanged character of the town and the intact medieval walls has led to the old city being included as a whole in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In 1991/2, the Serbs shelled the city causing considerable damage, but thanks to local efforts and international aid, the old town has been restored to its former beauty. There are still bullet marks on many of the building but the scars are faded since our last visit and the city survived the shelling virtually unscathed. Last time many of the roofs were missing but they have now been replaced and the churches are now open once more - we could see virtually no sign of damage in any of them much to our surprise.

We came ashore as early as possible before the crowds started to build and could stroll the length of the wide Main Street without impediment and could even take some pictures. We looked into many of the surprisingly undamaged churches, at the small market and at the impressive Onofrio Fountain that still supplies water. It was built in built in 1438 and the 16-sided fountains carved heads still spout lovely cascades.

We then, as the crowds started to build, decided to walk round the ramparts. Finding the way up was more of a problem than we had remembered and we saw a lot of interesting places before we eventually found that most of the access points we recalled had been closed because they now charge for entry to the old city walls and there are only two access points. Construction started on the ramparts and forts in the 12th century and continued for 500 years. The walls are 20 feet thick and soar to 80 feet. One can still walk the entire circumference of 6,350 feet past and through the various towers and fortifications and enjoy magnificent views over the port, out to sea and into the town. The route is narrow and the steps often steep and it is best to get there before noisy guides start to drive their flocks of tourists in slow moving herds round the ramparts.

On our descent we went into the Franciscan Monastery, or to be more correct we were swept inwards by a wave of impatient French through the gates and disgorged into the peace of the cloisters and the museum of pharmacy with its fascinating artefacts and old books. Inside the walls is also one of the oldest functioning pharmacies in Europe, in operation since 1391. We then walked back down the Placa stopping to buy a few bottles of local wine at a wine store - we had been recommended a Croatian wine, Possip, by a waiter and sought advice on others in the shop. Then with our rucksack weighed down we went down to the maritime museum. Stopping on the way we changed 5 Dollars into local currency as, unlike anywhere else, none of the museums will accept pounds, dollars or euros. The museum was interesting as it brought home the dominant position held by Dubrovnik in the trade for hundreds of years along the whole coastline. The museum is housed in Fort St John and the building was of considerable interest in its own right.

By the time we left the crowds were thick, the temperatures high and the main sights seen in the town so we took the tender back in time for the afternoon tea ceremony before we risked becoming disenchanted. The first visit seven years ago had been truly memorable - one saw a proud people rebuilding the city and lives after war, despite not for tourists. This time we felt just slightly disappointed as the character and culture is being eroded by the need to pander to, if not yet to exploit, the tourists - even so it is an absolute must to visit if you have not previously had the opportunity.


The Captain took the opportunity to pass close to the active Volcanic Island Stromboli after we had cleared the straits of Messina. Some smoke and steam was visible as we passed and looked back. The island is still inhabited and has a fishing fleet.

Cagliari, Sardinia

Cagliari, the capital city of the island of Sardinia, is a very old city founded by the Phoenicians. Sardinia itself is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean with 900 miles of spectacular jagged and rocky coastline, with beaches of very fine sparkling sand located about 125 miles from the Italian mainland.

Cagliari is located on the southern end of Sardinia and has an excellent very sheltered port. Sited thus in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea it developed into one of the most important trading centres for East-West trade along the Mediterranean.

The old part of the city (called 'Castello', the castle) lies on top of a hill, with a wonderful views out over the Gulf of Cagliari. Most of its city walls are intact, and feature two 13th century white limestone watch-towers, St. Pancras tower and the Elephant tower. The local white limestone was also used to build the ramparts of the city and many of its buildings. D.H. Lawrence, in his memories of a trip in Sardinia, "Sea and Sardinia", described the impressive effect of the warm Mediterranean sun-light on the white limestone city and compared Cagliari to a "white Jerusalem".

We walked into the town and first looked into the Sant Agostino, undergoing renovation, then continued up into the old town. We quickly discovered there were several walking routes laid out that well signed and complete with maps and interpretation boards.

We first climbed the Torre dell'Elephante, a 1307 watch-tower with carvings of an elephant and is one of the bastions on the city approaches, then later the St Pancras. The watch-towers were much higher and bigger than we realised when we started and commanded magnificent views and were well worth the couple of Euros entry.

We continued to the Duomo, Cagliari's 13th century cathedral that had been rebuilt in ornate Baroque style in the 1600s. Comprehensive repairs in the 1930s changed the former Baroque facade into a Medieval Pisan style facade, more akin to the original appearance of the church. The inside was once more undergoing considerable restoration during our visit so access was restricted. We however went down into the crypts where the decoration and tiled surfaces were stunning.

We continued on our selected walking route and look at the outside of the Palazzo Viceregio (or the Palace of the Provincial Government) which used to be the Island's governor's (viceroy's) palace before 1900. We sneaked a look inside and found that as individuals we were welcome to enter and we were given a guided tours along with another two couples - it was unpublicised service and we had a first rate 15 minute tour which was most informative and interesting by one of the staff, and all in impeccable English. The entry where we waited for our guide had portraits of the 24 Savoy Viceroys. The various sumptuous rooms we walked through were named after the primary colour of their decoration. The council chamber was especially memorable for the richness of decoration and the modern microphones and electronic voting boards contrasted strangely with the magnificent old wall and ceiling paintings by Domeneco Bruschi

We continued on the walking trails up to the museum complex that we did not have time to explore but we bought an ice cream outside and admired the views out over the bay and into the port where the QE2 was visible. Refreshed we walked down past the Roman Amphitheatre where audiences of 10,000 used to watch the spectacle of Christians being martyred and finally visited the famous Botanical gardens, a cool and relaxing break.

On our way back through town we stopped at a local market we had noticed on the way in - it was a classic covered market with fish, meat and fresh local produce stalls. We noticed that was stall was selling cheese and they had four different ages of Peccorini, a local cheese we had heard was the classic from Sardinia - we tried the two most mature examples and bought small pieces. The most mature was much like a Parmesan in texture and taste and broke rather than cut - you could smell it as soon as you entered our cabin. We did not dare photograph it in case the fumes damaged the camera. We also bought a couple of bottles of local wine, very good for only 3 Euros or so a bottle.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is the largest city and chief port of Portugal. The city lies on the northern shore of the Tagus River, about 8 miles from the Atlantic. We got up to see the last of the journey up the Tagus river where one goes under The Bridge of 25 April - where we berthed in its shadow. The bridge is two-storied, with a railway bridge below, and a road bridge above. On the southern side is the huge Christo Rei statue modelled on the statue in Rio de Janeiro. We decided to take one of the organised trips as have been to Lisbon several times before on the QE2 and comprehensively explored Lisbon City and the Waterworks Museum in 2001 and this time it was a Sunday with much of the interesting museums etc closed. The trip was to take us along the banks of the Tagus on the scenic coastal road and into the area known as the Portuguese Riviera to the 18th-century Palace of Quelez.

Estoril, our fist stop, was once only a small Spa that became a prime location for European royal exiles forced to leave their own countries during the world wars. It has been the residence of King Umberto II of Italy, Juan de Bourbon of Spain, Karl Hapsburg of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and King Carol of Rumania. It was also a well known nest of spies during WWII - both spent their evenings gambling in the town's casino, which today is the largest of its kind in Europe. At its height Estoril was known as the "Portuguese Riviera" and many modest yet architecturally interesting mansions still remain to indicate their royal owners.

Cascais, our second stop, is situated on a coastline with small picturesque beaches and peaceful fishing-boat-bobbing waters. It was once a small village that has grown in size and popularity in recent years to become one of the more attractive resorts and places to reside on the capital's coastline. It transition to tourism started in 1870, when the royal court first came here for the summer, bringing a train of nobility in its wake. It's now the liveliest beach resort on the Estoril Coast, attracting a young and international crowd. as well as a touristy pedestrians centre, there's a surprisingly unspoilt old-town area with many original houses that used to be inhabited by the fishermen to provide a pleasant meander.

We walked down to Cascais harbour and looked back at the 16th-century Fort of Cascais known as the Cidadela was built to protect the Bay of Cascais. It is part of a whole line of fortresses along the Tagus estuary which were built to protect Lisbon from being invaded. Close by is the Museu do Mar depicting the story of Cascais and its fishing history and has a vast range of exhibits including old maps, articles of fishermen's clothing, model boats and pieces of treasure salvaged from ships wrecked in the surrounding waters. The square outside is very typical in the wavy patterns in its tiles surface. From there we strolled through the old streets mixed with modern shopping areas. Unfortunately our trip did not go to the famous Boca do Inferno in which the sea on rougher days hammers into the rock and creates a booming noise and a spectacular spray thus creating its name which in English means "mouth of hell".

It was then on to highlight and the reason we selected a tour - Queluz Palace. The 18th century Queluz Palace with its pink facades is one of Portugal's most beautiful royal palaces - a rococo masterpiece, set in magnificent gardens and steeped in royal history. Although frequently compared to the Versailles Palace, the palace differs from Louis XIV's edifice in both scale and proportion that reveal its spirit and roots to be very Portuguese. Nowadays, this palace is used by the Portuguese State for official functions and as a residence for government and state chiefs that visit Portugal - at which times it is closed to visitors.

First some background: In 1747, the young D. Pedro soon to be King of Portugal initiated the transformation of his 17th-century hunting lodge into a Rococo summer palace - at this time the main quarters were built along with the Music Room and the Chapel. The main body of the Palace was not finished until after this marriage in 1760 when the great French architect Jean-Baptiste Robillion was commissioned to create the Throne Room, redesign the Music Room, and embellish the opulent interior halls. He also endowed the gardens with Baroque fountains, statues, exuberant pavilion and places for recreation. In this impressive romantic creation the Royal Family held court - the magnificent Throne Room was the scene of lavish balls and banquets, while operas and concerts were performed in the nearby Music Room.

In the afternoon we thought we ought to get some exercise and walked along the lively waterfront area under the The Bridge of 25 April to the Discoveries Monument - it was constructed for the 1940 exhibition but was erected on its present site only in 1960. It is built in the shape of the bow of a caravel. Led by Henry the Navigator, stylised over-sized figures look out on the Tagus. We unfortunately did not have the time to go in and up to the viewing platform at the top nor did we have time to visit the 16th century Jeronimos Monastery opposite. Henry the Navigator built a small chapel on the site at the time of the great voyages of discovery and it is thought that work on the monastery began on the initiative of Manuel I, in 1502, and was finally completed in 1572. We had to rush back to the ship, we just made it in time before the gangway was raised.

The trip down the Tagus was spectacular, the tugs turned us just upstream of the bridge and we slid under with, what always looks so little to spare. The noise of the traffic on the open mesh of the bridge is deafening.

As we slipped under the statue stood out on the opposite hillside, back lit by the setting sun and all the sights glowed in the evening light as we passed the Discoveries Monument and lit It was then past the The Tower of Belem, right on the waterfront. Conceived as a lighthouse and defensive fortress, it originally stood on an island. It was commissioned in 1515, partly destroyed in the early 1800s, and then restored in 1845. The tower is an unusual mixture of Manueline (after Manuel I) and Arab styles.

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Content revised: 24th July, 2020