Travelling Leila

My impressions about the places I visit

Archive for the tag “Sea”

Vietnam – Day 9

13 June 2017

I did manage to get up very early: when I woke up, it wasn’t even 5am and the sky was already brightening. Alas, I couldn’t photograph the phenomenal sunrise – firstly, because it was quite ordinary and not as stunningly beautiful as I had expected, and secondly, once I took my camera, which had stayed the whole night in an air-conditioned cabin, out in such a humid environment, it immediately got water condensed on it and it took a very long time to wipe the lens and the mirror.

IMG_3024

IMG_3036

IMG_3042

The captain of the ship was also up, doing yoga at the upper deck, and at 6am he started the tai chi class. At first I didn’t like it at all, because we were given rather heavy wooden sticks and started stretching using those, which neither me nor my lower back appreciated much. I really liked the actual tai chi exercises though, but they took only five or ten minutes out of the whole half-an-hour session.

After breakfast there was one more motor boat trip planned for us. This time we went to a cave called the Surprise Cave.

20170613_064839

IMG_3047

The reason it’s called so is because it’s very spacious, which you don’t expect at all looking at the island from the outside.

IMG_3049

IMG_3057

IMG_3062

The cave, in fact, consists of several “rooms”, and is not just a wild spot where you can walk anywhere and climb the rocks, no, it is fully equipped for tourists. There are man-made stairs, lighting – with the illumination being multicolored and very well thought out – and identification signage, so quite obviously, the entrance isn’t free, but the ticket is already included in our cruise.

IMG_3064

IMG_3068

IMG_3069

Luckily, it was very cool in the cave, as the weather outside is again very stuffy and humid. I have to say, I found the cave absolutely amazing and not only because of the size. I’d never seen anything like it in my life, it’s incredible to discover such places. Just look at those stalactites and stalagmites of freakish shapes, or patterns on the rocks, looking like a dragon or a heart!

IMG_3060

IMG_3061

IMG_3073

IMG_3075

Upon returning to the ship, we only had to check out, have brunch and disembark on the shore.

IMG_3081

IMG_3084

IMG_3099

We were back in the office of the cruise company, where we had to spend an hour waiting for our minibus. And that was the exact moment when we felt all the power of our luck, for literally the very minute when we sat down in the waiting room, an incredible downpour started and didn’t stop for the whole hour that we were waiting. Moreover, later in Hanoi we were told that yesterday, when we were not there, there was a heavy storm with rain and that today it had just moved to Halong, to the extent that some cruises got canceled altogether. Just imagine that if our cruise was only a day later, we might have not even got to the place which was the main reason why we actually organised this Vietnam trip!

The road to Hanoi took the same four hours and again was not particularly interesting, except for the fact that at some point our Peruvian fellow passenger snapped at the driver, saying that he was carrying 8 people and not potatoe,s so he had 8 lives in his hands and it wouldn’t hurt to drive more carefully. I’m not sure if the driver was actually doing any dangerous maneuvers, but one thing I know was that I didn’t manage to sleep in the back seat, as every time I was falling asleep and my mind began drifting away, the minibus jumped and I immediately was wide awake.

In Hanoi, we checked in at the same hotel, only now we were upgraded to a better room free of charge – a much larger one and with a nice view from the window.

IMG_3117

Even though it was only 4pm, we felt too lazy to go out, especially after we saw how crazy the Hanoi traffic was on that day. Especially that we had a visit from the travel agency representative who we had corresponded with when booking the tour and who came to meet us personally, thank us and give us lacquered boxes as gifts. Of course, we warmly thanked her too, both for the gifts, and for the wonderful organisation of the tour, since not only was it very interesting and educating, but also everything went without a hitch: we were always met and seen off perfectly on time and were very well taken care of.

Since today was our last night in Vietnam, we decided not to economise on ourselves at all, but to splash out on a massage in the hotel spa, which was twice as expensive as our previous massages (those had discount offers) and dinner in a high-end restaurant at the hotel as well.

20170613_164900

The massage was indeed of a little higher class than in Hue and in Hoi An: even though tea had been served there as well, and in Hoi An we had also been offered to choose a fragrance oil for massage, but here we had our feet washed in some cinnamon decoction before the procedure (plus the tea came with biscuits! 🙂 )

Dinner also was a very pleasant experience, not only with the meal being great (it included a pomelo, prawn and squid salad, beef stewed in coconut milk and served right in a coconut shell, baked Hanoi fish, passion fruit cake and creme brulee with flambéed banana), but also the service being excellent and friendly.

20170613_193254

20170613_194547

20170613_194607

20170613_203929

20170613_203944

Service in Vietnam is generally excellent – only once we sat down to have coffee in some fancy café in Hanoi, and were completely ignored by the waiters so had to indignantly leave without ordering, but that is more likely an exception, and besides all TripAdvisor reviews about this place mention the awful service. As for all other places – whether hotels, spas, restaurants or means of transport – everyone is very friendly, knows their work well and many are very eager to do more than they should. Perhaps this is somehow related to the fact that the country has a very developed tipping culture: the salaries of staff are usually very low making them really count on tips from customers.

Vietnam – Day 8

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

12 June 2017

Yesterday’s excursion was the last one with a guide, but the Vietnam tour continues. At 7.30am we were picked up from our hotel by a minibus – and off we drove to Halong, where we were supposed to take a cruise around the bay

The drive from Hanoi to Halong took about four hours, including a stop halfway. There wasn’t anything remarkable on the way, and there were seven of us in the minibus: a Vietnamese lady, a company of three Colombians and one Peruvian, and us, obviously. Finally we arrived on the Tuan Chau island, looking like a proper resort, with an aquapark – and merged into a large crowd of people awaiting the ship. At first we were unpleasantly surprised, as we’d been told that the cruise was designed for a rather small number people (44 guests max), but then it turned out that all these people were actually waiting for three different ships.

IMG_2916

As a result, we boarded ours with our fellow minibus riders and a few more couples, families and companies. As a welcome, we were offered some juice, instructed on safety and itinerary, placed in cabins and served lunch.

IMG_2918

IMG_2921

Halong Bay is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, if not the most. We are surrounded by lots of limestone cliffs and islands covered with greenery, jade-green sea, cruise ships and small fishing and trading boats.

After all the excursion rush on previous days it felt so blissful to just lie in a chaise longue under the sun on the upper deck.

IMG_2924

IMG_2933

IMG_2930

IMG_2955

IMG_2959

IMG_2964

But in any case, we didn’t get to lie for long – in about an hour, everyone was offered to get on one of the two small motor boats that were traveling behind our ship in tow. We were first taken to some sort of cove, fenced off by rocks from the rest of the bay, with an entrance through a small grotto. There were actually two options to get into the cove through the grotto: either on a bamboo boat with a group of people and a local boatman, or in a kayak, paddling yourself.

IMG_2966

IMG_2968

IMG_2969

At first, although the idea of ​​kayaking seemed pretty tempting, we were somehow feeling scared – neither of us had ever tried before – and were more inclined toward the bamboo boat. But once on the spot, when we heard that the staff were happy to watch our cameras, we changed our minds.

First, when we just were seated in a kayak, given a paddle each and pushed away from the pier, we felt a bit lost and couldn’t figure out how to paddle, clumsily navigated our way into the grotto, crashed into another kayak, hit the wall, hit a stalactite – and then we finally figured things out and learned to properly paddle, turn and navigate the boat. It felt great, especially that we learned a new skill, even though paddling was pretty difficult – too bad we were only given 25 minutes. By the way, on the rock above the grotto we found an inscription saying “Lesozavodsk 1962”, I wonder how and why it even got there!

IMG_2970

The next stop of the motor boat was the Ti Top Island with a beach. But apart from the beach, there was also an observation deck, right at the top. Of course, I totally had to go there, and that is when I realised that all the time I’d spent on the StairMaster machine in the gym had not been wasted: I managed the 400-something stairs leading to the deck surprisingly easily, while many others struggled and had to settle for an intermediate viewing platform halfway.

Even though, having made it to the top in this humid stuffiness, I was absolutely drenched in sweat, but the full view of the bay which I got to see, was more than worth it. Such incredible beauty, it’s not for nothing that Halong Bay is named one of the seven wonders of nature!

IMG_2978

IMG_2979

IMG_2981

The descent on the way back, seemed harder and scarier, I must say, but the refreshing sea down below seemed like a reward!

20170612_170117

IMG_2987

Kudos to the cruise organisers, who provided for everything: we were given beach towels; then as we stepped off the motor boat back onto our ship we had our feet washed with a hose; the dirty towels were then spread on the floor to make sure we didn’t slip or wet the floor.

After that, they announced the happy hour and gave us some time to relax on the upper deck with a nice tropical cocktail.

IMG_2989

IMG_2991

IMG_2993

IMG_2994

IMG_2998

But we didn’t have time to get bored, since a master class on making fried spring rolls started very soon. It didn’t require too much effort from our side actualy: all we had to do was to wrap the prepared stuffing, consisting of rice vermicelli, white and spring onions, minced pork, two kinds of mushrooms, carrots, raw eggs and spices, into rice paper. The rolls were then deep-fried in soybean oil for us, and we tried them, dipping them into fish sauce (that stinky one).

IMG_3004

That wasn’t our only meal for the evening, and dinner was served pretty soon. After the dinner, there was see some French film about Indochina and squid fishing planned – but we weren’t too keen on the former and completely forgot about the latter, going to bed at 9pm instead, because we have major plans for tomorrow: wake up at least at 6am for a taichi class, and preferably even earlier, to catch the sunrise.

20170612_192515

20170612_194027

Hong Kong – Day 2

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

1 December 2013

First of all, we wanted to refresh our impressions of the city, the best way to do which, as everyone knows, is to take a hop on – hop off bus tour. Today we started the ride with the Hong Kong island (because the weather was absolutely fabulous and particularly suitable for visiting the Victoria peak), driving around it, all the way to the Aberdeen village. It’s quite interesting how human memory is designed: had I been asked to describe the island, I would have probably not been able to tell anything sensible. But when I saw it all again with my own eyes, everything looked totally familiar: I seemed to recognise every skyscraper, the racetrack in Happy Valley, the concave building in Repulse Bay, the beaches, and even the bus stop near Stanley Market. Totally felt like being back home after a long trip.

IMG_7980

IMG_7982

IMG_7997

IMG_8010

IMG_7828

IMG_7860

IMG_7837

IMG_7869

IMG_7877

IMG_7878

IMG_7882

IMG_7894

IMG_7922

IMG_7924

IMG_7940

IMG_7944

IMG_7909

IMG_7906

IMG_7913

In the Aberdeen village we did a sampan ride, of course, and then had lunch at the Jumbo floating restaurant, with a bit of an adventure. As the sampan boatman dropped us off at the restaurant entrance, he instructed us to wave at him with our Big Bus tour maps and wait right there to be picked up after we finished the lunch. But when we actually tried to do it, it turned out there was no one to wave at. We got a bit worried. Then we saw a private sampan approaching us and its driver eloquently rubbing his fingers, which clearly suggested that he was ready to take us anywhere for a certain payment. This wasn’t part of our plan though – we had already paid for the tour, which did already include a sampan ride. Having refused to join the guy, we decided to take the big sampan, apparently belonging to the restaurant, although it would hardly have brought us to the right bus stop. And that was exactly the moment when “our” sampan appeared in sight, so we happily waved at him, as instructed. The boatman shouted something and passed by. My modest knowledge of Cantonese allowed to infer that we were asked to wait, this speculation was reinforced by the fact that there was not a single empty seat in the boat. My Cantonese didn’t fail me: in five minutes the same sampan picked us up.

IMG_7963

IMG_7974

IMG_7960

Right from the start, my plan was to get to the Victoria Peak at dusk, so that I could make loads of pictures of the city in daylight, twilight and night lighting. In the morning, we thought this was an unrealistic target, as we would get there in 2-3 hours maximum. But the queue for the peak tram was so incredibly long (which was, actually, not that surprising on a Sunday), that it was past 5pm already when we finally got to the Sky Terrace.

IMG_7867

We spent about an hour there, it was a bit cold, but at least I took as many photos as I possibly could. The sight of Hong Kong from this high point was truly gorgeous. The viewpoint was jam-packed with people, and pushing my way to the best picture spots was not easy, but the view of the city was so much worth it! The jagged teeth of illuminated skyscrapers, the magnificent Victoria Harbour, the peak itself, covered with dense vegetation – all of this made up an unforgettable sight, even the second time around. Another tedious queue – for the return tram trip this time – in the freezing celestial cold, and we got down to the relatively warm sea level.

IMG_8021

IMG_8025

IMG_8039

IMG_8041

IMG_8046

IMG_8050

IMG_8059

IMG_8062

IMG_8063

IMG_8066

IMG_8069

In the evening we were still feeling energetic enough to try out the Hong Kong nightlife. We hit the Lan Kwai Fong area, where most of the drinking and clubbing is concentrated. Overall we liked it – the prices were reasonable (really low during the happy hour, which was long enough, right up to 10 pm), and the place was lively, crowded and fun. And then we returned to Kowloon.

IMG_8077

IMG_8084

IMG_8085

Singapore – Day 5

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

28 November 2013

The day turned out very diverse in content which ranged quite impressively from the Universal Studios amusement park to a classical concert. But – one thing at a time.

Since the day before we had spent very limited time on Sentosa, we decided to repeat the visit right in the morning, and started again from the beach, and from the same one. We had kind of got used to it somehow, but the beach attendant must have been having a senior moment: he asked us literally all the same set of questions as yesterday: where we were from, whether we spoke Russian, what kind of country Azerbaijan was and whether it was close to Kazakhstan.

Siloso Beach

Sentosa

Even though the attendant caused a puzzled laughter with his repetition, the sunny weather which also replicated that of the previous day, was accepted with joy. The water was unpleasantly different though: tons of algae had been brought by the wind, and there was also something stinging in the water.

Sentosa

We hesitated a lot whether to visit the Universal Studios after all, or not. Having googled it thoroughly, we found out that it was basically nothing more than just an amusement park, and I personally am not a big fan of those. Nevertheless, we still decided to go and take a look – a very expensive look, I have to say.

Universal Studios

As a result, we, limited in time (due to the concert in the evening!) visited only three of the attractions. The first one was a complacent and almost childlike Sesame Street ride. The second one could have been the Transformers, but we noticed just in time that the ride included rotation and tipping upside down, which I absolutely can’t tolerate – and escaped.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios

The one we found tempting was the attraction themed on the ‘Mummy’ and ancient Egypt. And that’s where our adventure began! First of all, it turned out that we were not allowed to take anything inside – so everything, including bags, had to be locked in a locker. We accidentally shut the first one, even before we had time to read how to set a passcode for it, and had to call the attendant and ask him to open the locker, promising to show our passports as soon as the bags containing them would be removed from there. We then put our belongings in another locker, properly following the guidance. There was a sign saying that the first 45 minutes were free of charge, and we recklessly trusted the digital clock showing 15 minutes waiting time in the queue – so we didn’t take any money with us, especially that we didn’t even have pockets to put it in. And there we went, right into this hallway, imitating an Egyptian temple, where we got stuck in an endless queue in a totally dark corridor, which took nearly an hour. The ride itself was very short. We expected something absolutely scary, but it was rather fun, despite the dizzying turns forward, backward, up and down, as well as the roars and spits of fire of the Egyptian priests. When we finally got to our locker, we couldn’t open it again – the free time had expired, and all our money was locked inside – so we had to call the attendant for help once more.

Universal Studios

And the third attraction was simply a little 4D cartoon about Shrek with shaking, water splashing and some hairy stuff, supposed to represent spiders, touching our legs.

Of course, we were ‘felled’ by the Egyptian attraction – if it hadn’t been for the hour-long standing, we could have caught another attraction. And all we had time for was having lunch at a Chinese bistro on Hollywood street right at the Universal Studios. At least we were precisely on schedule.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios

Universal Studios

And finally the long-awaited concert! It opened with Lyadov’s ‘Enchanted Lake’, but the word “enchanted” can be also applied to our overall impressions of the concert. It was truly an awesome event! Actually, it was a concert of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, considered the best in Asia, directed by Lan Shui. And Lang Lang – a phenomenal, brilliant pianist – was taking part in it, playing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. It’s difficult to find words to describe the amazing impressions that his performance left on us. I was literally taken away, even being aware that if a piece of music as difficult to grasp as this one, had been played by someone else, it could have just seemed to me a set of random sounds and nothing special. Lang Lang’s virtuosity, power and dexterity are striking, and you just can’t imagine how anyone possibly can perform this piece at all. We were seated so that his face could be seen, so we had the opportunity to observe the infinite palette of his emotions.

Taking pictures and videos was prohibited (that’s how the lockers theme was continued – we had to lock our cameras in one before the concert), but when Lang Lang gave an encore, I, like some others, contrived to take a few pictures with my phone. Talking about the encore – the public went so wild that, despite all his efforts to simply take a bow and leave, he had to stay and play an intermezzo by Manuel Ponce and a waltz by Chopin.

Lang Lang

At first I thought that Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, which was to be played in the second part, was just an unnecessary appendage to the great genius Lang Lang. But in this case there was another genius – actually Tchaikovsky himself, with a very good performance of the orchestra and Lan Shui’s conducting.

Overall, I enjoyed the concert so much that even having to wait an hour for a taxi, which wasn’t extremely pleasant, didn’t spoil the great mood.

Singapore – Day 4

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

27 November 2013

This morning, right after breakfast, we went up to the concierge in order to find out whether there was anything interesting going on in town. Instead of an answer, he handed us a brochure, where we read that tomorrow there was going to be a performance of Lang Lang – the Chinese pianist that we had seen in a TV-programme quite some time ago in London, got very impressed and had been dreaming to hear live since then. And now we were lucky: he was here!

We immediately changed the plans for tomorrow: the concert in the evening would make it impossible to spend a whole day on Sentosa island. So we decided to book our concert tickets and then go to Sentosa right today. These plans were overset by the rather useless concierge: in response to our request to book tickets for us, he muttered with a strong Indian accent that he couldn’t do this, basically telling us to go book ourselves. We asked him to clarify whether we needed to go directly to the concert hall and got an affirmative answer. We found this pretty strange, as almost anywhere, we thought, there at least existed box offices around the city, if hotels didn’t provide such services.

Mt Elizabeth Hospital

Quite obviously, we didn’t know the exact location of the hall, so we had to stray a bit – but no rest for the wicked, so we strayed, searched and found. The receptionist at the concert hall – a nice Chinese young lady – seemed way more helpful than our concierge: she told us that the ticket office actually opened an hour later, but there were options to either book tickets online (and she gave us the link) or else to buy them from SISTIC Outlets – a ticketing service with outlets all around Singapore (which actually did exist after all!); she then asked us where we were going from there (to the Harbour Front station, in order to head to Sentosa from there, as you remember), and advised where the nearest outlet was. Surely there must have been at least one around Orchard Road as well, and if the concierge had told us about them, he would have saved us at least an hour, or even an hour and a half.

Esplanade MRT Station

Esplanade

Outram Park MRT Station

Anyway, we found a SISTIC Outlet in the Vivocity mall, which could be accessed directly from the tube, bought our tickets and, totally relieved, albeit later than originally planned, got on the Sentosa Monorail right from the mall. By the way, the train fare can be paid with EZ-Link cards, which are also valid for other types of public transport, and can even be used even in some stores.

Waterfront Station

Once on the island, we decided to limit ourselves to the beach and the Aquarium only, and then come again another time to visit the Universal Studios separately. It was lunch time and we sat down in an Asian eatery, where, as we had already seen in many places, the complete diversity of the south-east Asian cuisine was represented by countries: China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia – but also some western food, like spaghetti or Fish’n’Chips, for those tired of Asian food. Generally, what I like in Singapore, is this spirit of pan-Asianism – although it would be weird to expect anything else from a city-state with such a colourful ethnic composition: the backbone of the population is formed by Chinese, Malays and Tamils.

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

The weather was exceptionally suitable for the beach: as a special gift, the sun was shining all the time, without a single drop of rain (all the previous days had been cloudy). Arriving at the Beach station, we realised that there were beaches both to the left and to the right, and, after hanging about near the signs announcing this, like Buridan’s donkeys, we eventually chose the one to the right – Siloso beach. We had never seen such white fine soft sand before. The beach was quite uncrowded. Among the few other visitors there were a group of teen school students (maybe even skipping classes) who were swimming right in their clothes – both boys and girls.

Siloso Beach

Siloso Beach

Siloso Beach

Siloso Beach

Siloso Beach

After swimming to our heart’s content we headed to the Aquarium – the largest one in the world. It’s simply gorgeous, especially its huge glass arches, where fish glide both along the walls, and above one’s head – a very strong impression. We took tons of pictures and videos of various fish: the “smiling” rays resembling Astrid Lindgren’s Karlsson, disguised as a ghost, the sharks with their concentrated yet dazed snouts, and the moray eels. I loved the large amphitheatre, where the whole wall was made of glass, and it felt as though there was a whole ocean behind it. There we just sat on the floor and stared at the fish scurrying to and fro, among which rays stood out again, but this time giant ones.

Little Ray

Some Crustacean

Nautilus

Some Jellyfish

Some Jellyfish

Ray and some other fish

IMG_7640

IMG_7642

Shark

Shark

Moray Eels

Lionfish

IMG_7657

Next to the dolphin displays, we were warned not to attract the dolphins’ attention, or beckon them, because they might decide what we offered them food, get discouraged and never come again when beckoned. It is understandable, as dolphins are highly intelligent beings, unlike, for example, some big fish, which had been staring at us for quite a long time with the stupidest expression (and painfully resembling someone I know, just couldn’t remember who exactly it was) – whether you beckon it or not.

Stupid Fish

Dolphin

We had dinner right on Sentosa, and oddly enough, at a Mexican, not Asian restaurant.

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Naples

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

The transfer to Naples also started with quite a bit of a hassle. The first contributors to this were the Ischian hotel personnel. Not only couldn’t they figure out how to fill out our check-out documentation, demanding our fiscal codes, which of course, we’d never had, they also messed up our transfer – having made us pay a tidy sum for it, they sent us to the taxi stand on foot, promising to take the care of our luggage and have some hefty chaps deliver it to the same taxi stand in 10 minutes. But as 10, and then even 20 minutes passed, the luggage still did not appear anywhere in sight. Even the frail elderly driver – the one who had driven us here when we just arrived – started getting nervous. We called the hotel reception – just to hear the deadpan response that the hefty chaps were just about to leave the hotel (!). Goodness, we only had half an hour before the ferry departure, which was almost as long as necessary to get to the port in Forio! We also had a terrible suspicion that we would need to spend a lot of time to buy the tickets, but fortunately, the driver had already bought them. This somewhat smoothed out the situation, and we made it to the ferry.

The Neapolitan part of the transfer took place without incidents. But the hotel, quite frankly, surprised us – the entrance to the promised historical palace was through some dilapidated gateway, leading to a tiny elevator. But for every negative there is always a positive: it turned out that the rooms booked for us were being renovated, about which we had been notified via email – too late, though. Therefore, we were kindly moved to another hotel of their chain, a better one, and, most importantly, with a much better location – in particular, the tour bus stop was just around the corner.

After a nice lunch in a small trattoria (we had Neapolitan fried pizza – at least some diversity!), we rushed to the bus.

Surprisingly enough, initially we didn’t perceive Naples as too much of a coveted place to see. We were even saying that if our next day’s flight to Rome hadn’t been so early we would have had time to catch the very first boat directly from Ischia and would not have needed to move to Naples. How very wrong we were! Naples is an amazing city, with magnificent palaces and stunning views of the Gulf of Naples. However, our Amalfi tour guide Lena had been right in saying that it was a city of great contrasts: you can easily see piles of garbage, chipped walls, fluttering laundry – and then, just round the corner, a palace and a park of exceptional beauty. So, we happily rode the tour bus to the sounds of great Neapolitan songs – such as ‘ A Serenata ‘E Pullecenella, Marechiare, Piscatore’ E Pusilleco, and of course , the most famous one O Sole Mio.

Naples

Naples

Naples

Gulf of Naples

Naples - Castel Nuovo

Naples

As usual, our tickets were valid for all the routes, and we had the time to take two out of three: to historical sites and along the coast. And there were so many tempting places we could have visited if we only had had more time: the Aquarium, all those palaces and museums; even walking on those streets a bit more would have been lovely. Not only is the city beautiful, but it also has some sort of a special spirit and charm, so Naples became the truly magnificent completion of our trip to southern Italy, and even gave it a special meaning.

Naples

Naples

Naples

Naples

Gulf of Naples

Gulf of Naples

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Amalfi Coast

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

The “cool” guy despising group tours seems to have jinxed us. At first everything went very normal: the bus punctually picked us up at 5.15am, while it was still dark, collected other participants of the Amalfi Coast tour from their hotels and delivered all of us to Ischia Porto, where we boarded a ferry. In Naples we were met by a tour guide with a Baltic accent, and got on another bus.

Ischia Porto

I must say that Naples hadn’t made much of an impression when we arrived from Rome, but, as we drove through it, Lena the tour guide spoke of it with great passion. She was telling us about its status of the capital of the kingdom, its magnificent palaces neighbouring with sunless narrow streets with colourful linens hanging on the balconies, just like in the movie La Ciociara.

We drove out of Naples, past Pompeii and Herculaneum. Here we were told that everything around was pretty much sitting on a powder keg – there are lots of extinct and dormant volcanoes, and also the active Vesuvius. It erupts every 60-70 years, and the last time was just 69 years ago. Thus, on the one hand, the next eruption is anticipated with fear, but on the other, it is awaited, because the longer the interval between two eruptions, the more destructive disaster it turns into – for example, the eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD occurred after 300 years of inactivity. However, people continue to settle right at the foot of the volcano with careless perseverance: the climate is too favourable and the soil too fertile for these places to be left. Officially construction within a radius of a few kilometers from Mount Vesuvius is prohibited. But people here seem to live with the if-you-mustn’t-but-want-to-do-it-then-you-can-do-it principle – especially that the law does not permit to destroy the buildings, even at the stage of one wall built only, and only makes the owners pay a fine of 20-30k euros.

Heading to Sorrento

At this point already we noticed that the traffic was very slow on our side of the road, we were basically in a traffic jam. But Lena suggested that this was due to tomorrow’s holiday of Ferragosto and had to do with everyone flocking to the resort coast. The reality was much worse: and we had the chance to fully appreciate it, as well as the “evil eye” of the New Russian, when we entered a two-kilometre tunnel. Here the column of vehicles literally froze, although the opposite lane was absolutely empty. We spent exactly an hour and a half in this tunnel, and the whole way from Naples to Sorrento took us a good four hours, while it barely should have taken 90 minutes. The people in the bus got extremely frustrated, the most radical ones were demanding to turn around, get on the opposite lane, return to Naples and get the money back, but this was absolutely impossible, because there was no opportunity to turn around, and besides large buses are allowed to move in only one direction along this coast. The most impatient ones left the bus at the exit of the tunnel, as the situation outside was no better, and walked around to stretch their legs.

Our tour guide talked to the Carabinieri driving past us, and found out that a terrible fatal accident had happened somewhere ahead and a funeral car was already heading there. Why it took almost two hours for the Carabinieri to get close to the scene remained a big question to us. And anyway, even to us (not quite knowing the intricacies of the case, of course) it seemed pretty logical that the traffic in the tunnel should have somehow been regulated in order to avoid such a disheartening and unsafe congestion in it.

It seemed that the whole tour went awry. However, the situation was saved: Lena promptly got in touch with their “headquarters ” and agreed that we would be allowed to board a different ferry at a different, nearer port an hour later than initially planned, which therefore allowed us to save an hour, and then one more – by cancelling the set lunch planned originally and giving the tourists an opportunity to eat on the go during town walks. And finally, exhausted, but happy, we returned arrived in Sorrento. What can I say, it is indeed a very beautiful town. We were told that it had been visited by Gorky (again!), Feodor Chaliapin, Sylvester Shchedrin. Everything here is all about lemons and olives – lemons reach monstrous proportions (up to two kilograms) and have a distinctive flavour, the whole town smells of them! The mountains slopes are covered with olive trees, with rows stretched underneath them. We were told that the olives for the best first press oil must be collected directly from the tree and not from the ground, which is virtually impossible to do manually on steep slopes – and that’s where those nets come in handy!

Sorrento

Sorrento

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are considered traditional wedding places for couples from all over the world. We saw an English wedding, with guests walking on the streets and taking photos.

The views here are just so breathtakingly beautiful, in the truest sense of the word! In general, a drive on the mountain serpentine feels, to put it mildly, quite exciting. The bus is driving on a narrow ledge along the cliff, at a height of up to 300 metres above sea level. The road, however, had not always been there – it was constructed by Mussolini. Prior to that, people used to walk on foot or ride donkeys on the mountain paths.

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

IMG_6689

Despite the fact that these places are declared heaven on earth (it’s even said that righteous Amalfians will return home after death), life is not that comfortable there. Of course, it probably is for Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida, who own luxury villas along the coast, as we were shown, with helipads and elevators that can take them right down to the beach. For ordinary mortals, though, every simple thing turns into a difficult issue – they have to walk a hell lot of steps (and I mean that – really a lot!) every time they want to go to the beach or to work. If you ask someone where they live, they will tell you the number of the step rather than the street name! And imagine them having to do something more serious, such as painting the house! That’s what they do in this case: a van brings a couple of donkeys to the closest possible place, where the specially trained animals get loaded with buckets of paint and rush up the stairs.

Rock Looking Like Virgin Mary with Flowers

Amalfi Coast

We didn’t get to visit the very beautiful town of Positano, although we did fully appreciate the view over it from the observation deck: pink, white and yellow houses, literally built into the rocks. Very picturesque, but it looked even more inaccessible and impractical.

Positano

Positano

Positano

Positano

Positano

Another town where we didn’t stop either – Praiano – is less well known than Positano. It is interesting that the traditional Christmas nativity scene includes the model of the town itself. This is the ending point of the Christmas procession on December 25, carrying a miniature figuring of Christ the child. We drove past this model and had the chance to take a look.

Amalfi, despite being so celebrated, looked to us like one more replica of the previously seen towns. It is famous for the majestic Cathedral of St. Andrew, where the relics of the aforementioned saint lie. Lena was persistently urging us to see them but honestly we weren’t too enthusiastic about this idea, even though the cathedral was really very beautiful from the outside.

Amalfi

Amalfi

Speaking of holy relics: it appears that in the Middle Ages they were extremely fashionable and prestigious to have in any city, so they were then subject to barter in the best case and theft in the worst. The relics of St. Andrew appeared in Amalfi as a result of the latter actually. Sometimes they would steal not only whole relics, but also parts of them. Robbed monks were ashamed to admit being so careless, therefore, they would replace the missing parts with fake ones (surprisingly, these fake relics still went on working wonders!), and as a result, a saint could end up having three or four arms or legs.

Thus, the walking tour around Amalfi did not satisfy us, but the boat trip along its coast was very pleasant, allowing us to see all these magnificent mountains, bays, hotels and villas from the sea. We sailed in the direction of Maiori, Minori and Ravello, where our bus arrived to pick us up. By the way, on top of all the transportation troubles we had had, the bus somehow managed to hit a parked car when manoeuvring to enter yet another busy tunnel, so while we were happily enjoying our sea trip, the driver had to deal with the frustrated owner of that car.

Minori

Ravello is a small town located even higher up the cliff. We didn’t go up there, and only saw it from aside, while listening to our guide’s comments about Wagner festivals that are held there and are so popular that tickets must be booked almost a year in advance.

The town of Ravello is also a proud owner of relics – this time those of Saint Panteleimont, and every year on the day of his execution the Saint, as if to demonstrate his full consent to be in this place, arranges a miracle – liquefaction of his blood. A similar miracle, but with even more rapid boiling of the blood, is arranged by Saint Januarius, the patron of Naples. It is very important for Neapolitans, as a pattern has been traced: if the blood liquefies duly, the Vesuvius does not erupt during this year and any other ills also bypass Naples. Therefore, on this day – namely September 19 – all Neapolitans are very nervous and can’t wait for the coveted event. To guarantee it happening for sure, the oldest old ladies are sat in the first row in the cathedral (who are jokingly referred to as the “relatives of Saint Januarius” for their age), and start praying to the saint. Then, if the miracle is delayed, they switch to exhortations – gently at first, then more and more angrily until they literally end up swearing. Instead of taking offense, the Saint, either stimulated by, or scared of such attitude finally performs the long-awaited miracle!

The last town of the Amalfi coast was Vetri Sul Mare, and rounding the hill, we saw the city of Salerno in the distance and hurried back to Naples, to get to the port. On the way back, Lena told us that the Neapolitans were very superstitious , believed in destiny and tried to find signs in any event for the game of bingo . In every house there is a booklet that translates any unusual event into the language of numbers. Lena said half-jokingly, half-seriously, that upon returning home she would check that little book and find out which numbers corresponded to a traffic congestion, a corpse on the road and other events that happened to us today, and then place bets on these numbers.

Vietri Sul Mare

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Baia di Sorgeto

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

Whoop whoop, it finally happened – the bustling Larissa’s efforts overcame the passivity of the Italian side: they managed to find the tour operator conducting tours in Russian, and its representative came to our hotel to provide all kinds of guidance to its Russian-speaking  guests.

A small group of the latter gathered in the pool area, dominated (or at least, so he thought) by a man from St. Petersburg, with traces of heavy drinking on his face, not speaking any foreign language, and trying hard to show everyone how rich and cool he was: he expressed the desire to have only individual tours, was only interested in Michelin-starred restaurants and said something like “One should use a choke chain on the tour guide, to make sure they only do what you tell them to do”. His aspiration for ‘separatism’ was actually quite convenient for us, as this specimen would be extremely unpleasant to be around on any tour. His wife, by the way, looked quite simple and seemed to feel uncomfortable with her husband’s statements.

As a result of the conversation with the representative of the tour operator we got vouchers for a tour on Wednesday, and also learned about the Sorgeto bay located right here, near Sant’Angelo, and Le Fumarole beach located on a volcanic basin, heating the sand up to a hundred degrees centigrade. It sounded, though, like all you could to at Le Fumarole was baking potatoes and eggs in the sand, so we decided to abstain from a trip there and visit Sorgeto. As we were explained, the beach there pretty much consisted of natural stone beds with trickles of thermal water at 90-100 degrees Celsius flowing into them from under the ground. Combined with sea water, it results in overall temperature of around 35-40 degrees.

We took a water taxi to Sorgeto. The sailing was very pleasant, and we saw the “Elephant” rock on our way. However, Sorgeto itself, where we had been even encouraged to go at night, did not impress us that much: it was basically a jumble of huge boulders, looking scary to even step on (to us, at least), and even more so to try to lie on – it seemed absolutely impossible. Therefore, we returned to Sant’Angelo on the very next taxi.

Can you spot the elephant?

 

Baia di Sorgeto

 

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Capri

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

We got our Capri trip almost with a fight. Poor Larissa was really struggling to arrange it for us, but all her efforts met a “brick wall” of the complete apathy of her Italian colleagues. Her requests were passed from one to another, delayed by half an hour, then by another half an hour, and it looked like the trip was about to burst like a soap bubble, when finally, totally desperate, she explained to us how to get there pretty much on our own: take a taxi, then board a boat and then find a tour at the port. She didn’t possess any maps of Capri or guide books, so just had to draw some directions using pen and paper.

Ischia

Ischia

Forio

The boat took about an hour to get to Capri. Fortunately, the day was more or less cloudy, and there was a delightful breeze at the top deck of the boat. We boarded it in Forio and sailed around the whole Ischia, stopping to pick up passengers at all the Ischian ports: Lacco Ameno, Casamicciola and Ischia Porto.

IMG_6481

Larissa had promised us that there would be Russian-speaking tour guides chasing tourists right at the port, but we didn’t want to entrust ourselves to chance and signed up for the Italian/German/English language tour offered directly on board.

Having got rid of this concern, we immersed ourselves in observing other passengers, and were not generally too impressed by their looks. There were quite a lot of sweet couples, gently kissing and hugging, however some of them seemed just plain unattractive. The men looked like a mixture of Julius Caesar with Danny DeVito or Savely Kramarov and the women looked sloppy, scruffy, ready to become coarse in a few years – I’m not trying to be mean here, but you just so imagine them in hair rollers and robe, yelling at their screaming kids!

For reference – the area of the Capri island is four times smaller than that of Ischia, making a total of ten square kilometres. The island is essentially a limestone mountain (as opposed to the volcanic Ischia), so it doesn’t have beaches per se. There are only two towns here, the lower one being Capri, and the higher one is called Anacapri. The water washes away the limestone, which results in the formation of grottos. We took a bus to visit the most famous one of them – the Blue Grotto – once we got off the boat.

The Blue Grotto

We turned out to be very lucky: the Blue Grotto can be entered only forty days a year (at least, so we were told!), at low water, and we just made it before it closed for today. This is how this all worked: the bus drove us right up to the stairs running down to the water, where there was a myriad of row boats with rowers. We had to wait in a queue; then manage to climb into the row boat, which was not that easy at all; then sail on it to the floating box office and pay there; and then lie down on the boat floor, as the entrance to the cave was very low. We entered into absolute darkness, lit only with occasional camera flashes, and accompanied by many-voiced rendition of “O Sole Mio”. We understood why the cave was called blue only once we turned back: illuminated with the light coming through the inlet, the water and ceiling coving got an amazing blue colour.

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

After seeing the grotto, we were taken to the central square of Anacapri. Here our opinion differed with that of Larissa, who had been convincing us that there was nothing to see in Anacapri, and praising Capri – we actually liked Anacapri better, with its magnificent view from the observation deck and a lot of very nice shops. It seems that the symbol of the island is lemon: there are loads of lemon-related souvenirs; there is a lovely refreshing drink made of lemon juice with crushed ice  sold everywhere, and the crown of all is the famous limoncello liqueur. Unfortunately, we only had time to catch a glimpse of all this beauty, as most of the free time we were given was taken by lunch, which our guide Cecilia was so ardently advocating to have right there, that we thought she was receiving commission from the restaurant for referring clients.

View from Anacapri

Anacapri

Later we were taken down to Capri. Here we saw (from the distance) the house of the “stormy petrel of revolution” Gorky, and Cecilia told us that in 1907 he had been visited by Lenin here – there is even a monument to the latter in Capri (which, by the way, no one thought of destroying!). We were told that here is where he was planning the revolution.

Capri

Capri

Capri - Gorky

Monument to Lenin

How did we find Capri? Very cramped, too posh, bristling with villas and gorgeous boutiques with crazy prices. On the narrow roads of what is assumed to be the pedestrian zone there are electrocars constantly scurrying around – we have them in Sant’Angelo too, but there they are not flowing continuously and are therefore not so annoying.

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri - Shoemaker

By the way, all of this splendour functions only from April to October – in winter Capri becomes dormant, and any connection with Ischia stops. Therefore, as Cecilia said, most Ischians have never been to Capri – in summer they are employed in the tourism sector, and in the winter it’s difficult to get there (via Naples), and there is hardly anything to do as well.

If Anacapri was cool and pleasant, in Capri, despite the occasional drizzle, and perhaps because of it, it was very hot and humid. In this swelter we visited the Augusto Gardens and took numerous pictures of the famous Faraglioni rocks.  This stuffiness made the above mentioned lemon drink (la granita) the main highlight of the garden visit. Oh, Larissa, Larissa, we thought, this is where we should have been sitting on a terrace of some restaurant, staring at sauntering tourists and scurrying electrocars, instead of doing so in Anacapri, which instead was perfect for walking.

The drizzle finally ended with a magnificent rainbow that we saw on our way back.

Ischia Porto

Ischia (Casamicciola)

Ischia (Lacco Ameno)

Ischia

IMG_6567

Ischia

Ischian sky

Sant'Angelo - way back

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Ischia

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

On our first day in Sant’Angelo we took a look around. At first glance our hotel seemed small, labyrinthine and beachless. We stared in disbelief at a small stone slab under our balcony with a couple of sun loungers and pool ladders leading into the sea. Look, we were saying to each other pointing into the distance, that hotel there has got a magnificent sandy beach. Had Booking.com simply duped us like that? It hadn’t, as it turned out. A huge spa area, covering the entire hillside, with a variety of pools – with thermal water, sea water and fresh water, hot and cold – and also part of the same beach which we had been drooling over – were all part of our hotel complex. Then we faced another problem: in order to reach it, we had to walk quite a long way up and down the stairs and paths under the baking sun. Looking ahead, I can say that in the following days this road did not seem as painfully long, as for me personally, I sometimes swam all the way from the stone slab to the sandy beach instead of walking there (about five hundred metres across the sea).

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

The Tyrrhenian Sea is clear, blue, moderately salty (not as salty as the Adriatic), the only problem is going in and coming out: the sand here is quite different from the dense and compacted one we have at the Caspian Sea, on which one can walk without falling through, the local sand actually looks more like tiny pebbles.

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

So what can I say about Sant’Angelo? It is a village, situated in the south of the island and is connected by a thin isthmus with a small peninsula, which is basically a lava formation. In the very heart of the village there is a pedestrian zone comprised of a square and a few adjacent streets, dotted with restaurants and shops. The shops look tempting at first glance, with closer examination, though, it turns out that a lot of them sell very cheap trash or the same kind of trash, but at exorbitant prices.

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

The food here is quite good, but rather unvaried: seafood, pizza and pasta. Interestingly, there are virtually no soups. The atmosphere in this area is very Italian with music playing, people dancing, children screaming, their mothers yelling at them, someone fishing and small mongrels barking furiously. Somehow the children are mostly girls: it’s either that a century of peace awaits Ischia, or for some reason boys are kept at home.

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

The vacationers here are mostly Italians themselves, there are also a lot of Russians, some Germans, French and British, and that’s pretty much it. There are no Chinese or Japanese tourists, which is surprising – I think you’d agree that places without crowds of either, cause some suspicion.

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Here our observation of the locals’ laziness got developed and validated. To begin with, the vacationers swim surprisingly little – if you see someone swimming in the sea, most certainly they’ll turn out to be French, or Russian, or those writing these lines. Italians prefer to float lazily on mattresses, or not to go down to the sea altogether, lying around the pool instead. As for the staff, it is astonishing that any simple request grows into a big problem requiring a vigorous discussion between a few people.

For instance, on our very first day, as we usually do arriving to a new place, we tried to book tours and excursions, naively believing that this should be an easy and usual practice for the hotel. We came to the reception, and the girl working there readily laid out several maps and brochures, noting the places which she would recommend to visit, and considered her mission completed. We let her know that we weren’t going to call any tourist organisations or taxi services ourselves and clearly hinted that we expected these services from the hotel, in accordance with the notices on the walls. The girl was surprised and puzzled, and called a colleague to help. He pulled out a few more maps and brochures, and, in his turn, showed the places, which, in his opinion, would be interesting for us to visit. We stood our own and tried to persuade them into organising something for us. Finally, he remembered with relief, that they had a Russian lady named Larissa working for them, and she would come in the evening and help us.

Unlike the Italians, Larissa took up the matter enthusiastically. She told us that only the day before she sailed to the Amalfi coast on a private yacht with a Russian couple for 1,500 euro. We asked her to take us at least on a tour around Ischia – and a cheaper one preferably! – and agreed for the next day. Larissa had been living in Italy for the past seventeen years, so had perfectly mastered the talkativeness of the locals. However, these talks ended with zilch: she didn’t manage to get the day off.
Then we went back to the reception and importuned the girl until she finally called us a taxi. This is how we literally wrung out of them a trip to Forio and Ravino Gardens. Gino, the driver, turned out to be a nice fellow, who couldn’t speak a word of English, though – however, he knew a couple of phrases in German and for some reason was using them every now and then communicating with us. Here it’s worth pointing out another feature of the Italians – they are normally nice and willing to help, unless they are playing the big boss. So Gino voluntarily offered to take us not only to Ravino Gardens and Forio, but also to drive us around the whole island, for just a little extra payment.

The Ravino Gardens are basically a small botanical garden dedicated to cacti and succulents only, which are more numerous and diverse than in the famous glasshouses of Kew Gardens in London. The specialty of these gardens is their own very tasty cactus cocktail.

Ravino Gardens, Ischia

Driving us around the island, Gino still somehow managed to give us explanations in his Italian-German and diligently stopped in the most beautiful panoramic places for us to take pictures. So we pretty much saw almost all of the towns of Ischia: Forio, Lacco Ameno, Casamicciola, Ischia Porto (where we took a look from afar at the Aragonese Castle, a local landmark on the top of a cliff), Barano.

Forio, Ischia

Lacco Ameno, Ischia

Ischia Porto

Ischia Porto - Castello Aragonese

Ischia Porto

Ischia Porto

Post Navigation