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There is no doubt HBI,under the leadership of Brig. and Mrs Lidder have managed our trip to China in an outstanding manner. Grace takes the cake while Nichole is not far behind.

We wish to convey our sincere thanks to one and all for making our trip to china a memorable one. The service seniors do deserve a special mention for endeavoring to remove the service seniority gap to join hands in all tour related activities. Since the tour largely comprised of members from the Services background and other like-minded people,it was easier to relate to each other and develop friendship without any inhibitions. Even though we did have individual pre-formed sub-groups,everyone still made it a point to interact with others to the extent it was feasible/practical and render assistance to each other when/where needed. I am sure at-least a few new acquaintances will go a long way.

We floated a pre-tour party and thereafter a Breakup Party but both did not work out. Can we now plan a Thanksgiving Party at Pune,where the majority is located,on contributory basis.It would also give us an opportunityto meet and thank Mrs Lidder who is the backbone of HBI. We would love to come to pune if such a party becomes a reality-sooner the better.

We are located at mumbai and would love to meet our tour-mates as and when an opportunity
arises.

A few snaps attached.

Till we meet again,

With best wishes,

meenakshi and anil sharma
 
Date of Posting: 27 October 2015
Posted By: Cdr Anil Sharma
Mumbai
Iberia and the West Mediterranean Cruise
23 Feb 2015, Pune
Last June, retired officers of the 32nd Course of NDA with their families had a joyful gathering in a resort in Goa. Ranjan and I had driven there from Pune and it was a wonderful reunion. Sitting together over drinks with the Jamwals one evening, we decided that a cruise on the Mediterranean in the summer would be an ideal holiday for us. We returned from Goa, time elapsed and the New Year came round. Suddenly we received an email from our friend and travel agent Sindi Lidder....he was inviting us to join him for his proposed West Mediterranean Cruise along with a pre- cruise land trip of Portugal and Spain. We have earlier been on two well-conducted trips with Sindi and his wife Amarjit; hence we were quite excited with this offer. We alerted Jammy (Brig Jamwal) and his wife Rita at once. The programme suited them too. Soon Ranjan’s sister Varsha joined the bandwagon along with her friends the Karachiwalas and their daughter Farah, who happen to be our friends as well. Alok Mohan who is my childhood chum decided to join us with his wife Sunita for the cruise...so we have already become a sizeable number of friends set on this venture...it is a good beginning!
18 Apr, Pune
All our arrangements have been finalised with the Lidders. What a relief! Alok and Sunita Mohan who are to leave in five days for Manchester to visit their daughter, will join us in Barcelona on 26 May. Ranjan’s cousin Sushma Didi and her husband Rajen have also booked this cruise independently from UK, which is an added bonus. Unfortunately Jammy and Rita cannot make it to Portugal and Spain but they will join us for the cruise in Barcelona.
02 May, Pune
Sindi has just sent specific and precise travel instructions for all of us who are about to travel with him. What to carry, what to beware of, the particulars of all the hotels where we shall be staying and a lot many dos and don’ts. It made very interesting reading. The excitement is mounting! The sad part is that Farah has had to drop out of this adventure for very pressing personal reasons. Her parents Rumana and Ghulam Bhai will be accompanying us from Pune. I am sure they will miss Farah’s presence- but sometimes one has to make do with second best.
18 May, Engineer Officers’ Mess, Delhi, 10.15 pm
This morning we were to meet Farah’s parents at 10am at Pune airport. On reaching there we found to our surprise that Farah was with them. I guess it was an eleventh hour change of mind on her part which she kept as a surprise for us. It was good to see her.
We landed in Delhi and reached the mess around 3 pm. Having lunched during the flight, we settled down in our rooms for a snooze. Varsha Didi joined us around six in the evening. We exchanged news over a cup of tea. At 9 pm the six of us had dinner together. We will now sleep till the alarm rudely awakens us at 2 am.
19 May, Hotel Vila Gale, Lisbon, 10 pm
At 3 am Varsha Didi, the Karachiwalas, Ranjan and self had reached Terminal 3 of IGI Airport. There we were met and greeted warmly by Amarjit and Sindi Lidder who had already checked in and were waiting to welcome each of their clients as they trickled into the terminal. Two Reddy families had already checked in before us and Gen and Mrs Sabharwal came in afterwards. That completed the head counting.
We boarded the Turkish Airways airbus and were on our way to Istanbul by 6.30 am. I wriggled lower in my seat and dozed off peacefully until the breakfast trolley awoke me. We ordered our breakfasts. Ranjan stuck to Indian Veg cuisine while I had an excellent grilled Turkey sandwich and a Spinach Borek – something I had sampled for the first time. This was accompanied by olive and cheese salad, muesli with pineapple, bread, butter, jam, tomato juice and coffee. Very filling! After this grand repast we tuned into our personal television channels to watch programmes of our interest. Time passed and after nearly six and a half hours we finally swooped over the sea to land in Istanbul Airport.
There followed the usual scramble of transit passengers who had very limited time to catch a connecting flight. We were swept along with them. Apparently our Boeing 737 was waiting for us because a harried young man shouting ‘LISBON’ at the top of his voice herded us and guided us through the huge area, getting our transit formalities completed at top speed! Before we knew it, we were flying to Lisbon.
There were five more hours of air travel, with Varsha Didi happily identifying landmarks from her window seat in consultation with her map. She has a Ph D in Geography and was well occupied throughout. Amarjit had thoughtfully applied for veg lunches for Ranjan and self which we enjoyed. The young air hostess who served us had very bright lively eyes and a beautiful smile...for which I complimented her. A catnap later we had landed in Lisbon. There were just two officers dealing with the passports of the hundreds of people entering their territory. Our group got inordinately delayed by the slowness of procedure. Had it not been for the perfect discipline of the long queue, I would have said that it reminded me of India.
Our guide Joao was waiting at the exit for us. So was the large bus in which the driver loaded our luggage. We started off on a short tour of the city, passing by two of the largest stadia in Portugal to drive to the waterfront of the River Tagus in Belem and then to the famous old monastery where the bus stopped and we alighted. Joao took us across the street to a bakery that sells the renowned” Pasteis de Belem”. These are baked pastries of flour and eggs made by a special recipe and must be eaten warm...apparently they are delicacies that one must not miss here. Sindi bought the hot pasties for us and we each had a piece. They were truly delicious and melting in the mouth. We drove to our hotel from there, passing the Tower of Belem and the 25April Suspension Bridge as we went.
Our rooms in the Hotel Vila Gale are comfortable. Sindi had advised us to bring our electric kettles. Tea at this point of time was very welcome, so I fished out our kettle from our suitcase and plugged it in, only to realise that it had broken down for some reason. So we did without tea. Had our baths and went down to dinner in the hotel restaurant at 8.45 pm as per Sindi’s request. It was a large buffet spread of salads, soups, side dishes, meats, cheeses and puddings. All of us were famished...so we ate up fast and called it a day.
20 May, Hotel Vila Gale, Lisbon, 10 pm
Breakfast was a feast of fresh diced Mediterranean fruit and preserves plus a choice of breads, cereals, juices, cakes, meats and eggs. You name it- they had it! We ate well and set off at 8.30 am with Isabel, our tour guide for today.
Our first stop was at the town centre. On the way Isabel filled us in on the discovery of Lisbon. In the twelfth century BC, the Phoenicians sailed on the Atlantic and came up to the mouth of the river Tagus. They found the river so wide that they could sail inwards into a natural harbour surrounded by seven hills. They disembarked and named this land “Alis Boa” or “Calm Bay”....from which it degenerated to Lisboa or Lisbon as it is called today.
There is a majestic cathedral in the Town Centre which came up in the twelfth century AD after Christianity came to Lisbon. We visited that and then drove around the beautiful monuments of the city. We passed lovely houses, many of which had facades of colourful glazed tiles which are a product now of Portugal. These tiles were initially brought in by King Manuel who was enamoured of these tiles when he found them on his visit to Spain. One of the monuments on the riverside is dedicated to the discoveries of sea routes to India and Brazil by Vasco da Gama in 1498 and 1500. Ships loaded with spices came from India and sugar in plenty arrived from Brazil. Business flourished in Lisbon in those days. The Belem Tower was then built at the mouth of the River Tagus from where officials kept track of the ships sailing into Lisbon.
Next we were taken to the monastery that we passed yesterday. It is a magnificent limestone building of the order of St Jerome- dedicated to Mother Mary. It houses the tombs of kings and queens and those of Vasco da Gama and the romantic poet Camoes, kept in beautifully carved stone caskets. Camoes is admired by the naturally romantic Portuguese even today for the extraordinary poetry he wrote. We saw the beautiful dome from inside, the nine cells of confession, the sacred altar and the cloister upstairs. Here I must mention that on our way in, we had to wait a while outside the monastery as the president of Portugal was inside accepting the credentials of the new ambassadors. When the function got over, the he was whisked away in a limousine, but we got to see the fine horses and liveried horsemen of the president’s bodyguard who followed at a stately pace, looking very impressive indeed!
The bus then took us down a most picturesque coastal road, passing the town of Estoril into the town of Cascais, both of these being on the Atlantic coast. We had a picture halt at the pier in Cascais and then drove up a meandering hill road amid amazing greenery into the town of Sintra, where we stopped at a parking lot behind a Portuguese restaurant. Quite hungry by now, we trooped in for lunch. The proprietor appeared to be fond of orchids...there were a variety of beautiful flowering orchids and decorative cacti placed at vantage points. We admired the flora till the first course of soup arrived with some oddly shaped bread. This was followed by boiled vegetables with olive oil dressing. Then came the main course of a large piece of baked highly cheesy bread and some fried squid, which I ventured to try but did not quite relish. The dessert of a slice of almond cake completed the Portuguese lunch.
Isabel told us that the olive trees of Portugal yield a very good quality of Olive oil. The cork oaks and eucalyptus trees yield cork and paper. These items are the prime exports of Portugal. The game and wild animals in the green forests of the hills of Sintra cannot be hunted any more since it has now been declared a world heritage site. After lunch we drove right up to the hilltop to a private mansion called Quinta da Regaleira. This estate encloses extensive grounds and is owned by one Antonio Carvalho Monteiro who used his business earnings to transform the hilltop into an exotic Botanical paradise as well as an architectural triumph. He imported flowering plants and trees from all over the world and exhorted his gardeners to nurture these in Sintra. He hired the world’s best architects at that time including Luigi Manini. Manini dedicated fourteen years of his life (1898 to 1912) to design Carvalho’s castle. Every room in this castle is tastefully done- especially the exquisitely carved and polished wooden ceilings which depict angels and seraphs.
The road to the castle is narrow and steep so our bus had to stop somewhere below. We had to negotiate quite a distance on foot to the entrance and then some more up the inclined paths within the colossal property. This was so difficult after a heavy lunch! Some people in our group found their energies flagging. It was pleasantly windy, and Rumana found herself a seat in the sun and decided to wait for us as we moved upward. We toiled up the hill slowly with our guide- saw the mystical underground Initiatic Well, the quaint and beautiful little chapel which had the emblems of Freemasons and Knight templars besides the Holy Trinity, and finally the main residence of Monteiro. The walk down to the waiting bus quite tired us out and some of us dozed off inside while we were taken to Cabo de Roca, the Westernmost tip of Europe on the Atlantic coast. While driving there I saw some cane shrubs flourishing on the hillside. Isabel said that the Portuguese grow cane because it grows densely and acts as a windbreaker for the other crops. The wind was growing really fierce as we climbed to Cabo de Roca. Once we reached there, Ranjan and I got off the bus to take some pictures. Instantly I felt myself being blown away and had to scramble back into the parked bus for safety! It was a rounded rocky cape protruding into the sea and the screaming wind coming in from the water down below was formidable. The bus too was swaying gently in the gale- like wind. I was worried that my dear husband would be blown off the cliff but he managed to get back into the bus, clutching his cap and camera tightly. Farah and Ghulam Bhai had literally flown off to have coffee in the restaurant nearby and Isabel hustled them back into the bus. We started back for Lisbon and made it to our hotel by 7.30 pm.
While leaving the hotel in the morning, we had asked the receptionist to provide us with a tea kettle if possible. On entering our room I was pleasantly surprised to find a kettle full of water, cups and tea arrangements complete to my satisfaction. Two hot cups of the brew gave us the much needed energy for freshening up. Dinner was again a healthy mix of soups, salads, meats, cheeses and desserts in the hotel restaurant. We ate heartily at the end of a long day and retired as early as we could. Tomorrow we are to leave for Porto and I feel it will be a longish day again.
21st May, Hotel Bessa, Porto, 11.20 pm
The Lidders must have requested for a wakeup call to be given to all of us this morning, because the telephone pealed at 6am and a voice in Portuguese said something which we presumed to be a greeting and a plea to rise and shine. We were however up before that, packing and having bed tea.
Everybody assembled downstairs with our packed suitcases which were deposited in the lobby by 7.30 am. The breakfast thereafter was the usual vast spread of which we partook heartily before checking out at 8 am. Our fair and handsome driver Marco was waiting with the bus. He loaded our luggage and we set out for the city of Porto, which is some five hours drive away. Sindi distributed our daily ration of a bottle of drinking water each. This is such a blessing when one is travelling and one wants to slake one’s thirst. The bus sped through undulating verdant country, dotted with beautiful homes with sloping roofs tiled in a vivid red. Their front gardens had trees loaded with ripe oranges and lemons ready to be picked. There were pine trees, eucalyptus and cane shrubs too on the roadside. After about an hour and a half, we drove into Obidos, which is a pretty little hamlet within the ramparts of an old castle. This town was given as part of dowry to a queen, who consequently gave it to her daughter as dowry when the daughter married...so the story goes! We had a toilet stop for half an hour here and browsed in the little handicraft shops in the local bazaar. Soon we were on our way again. Sindi asked us to introduce ourselves to our group. Since there was no guide present, each of us moved to the front seat and spoke about ourselves and our pastimes into the microphone meant for the guide, so our voice was heard by everyone. It made interesting hearing! As the ice was now broken, each of us produced some foodstuffs from our handbags and shared it with our friends. Most commendable here was Sudha Reddy’s effort. She had prepared and brought from home some delicious” karanjis”, which she shared with all of us.
After some more time we came to a larger town called Alcobaca where we stopped for fifteen minutes. This town in the olden days was known for its Sistertian Monastery and for the many monks who resided here at the confluence of two rivers. The cathedral of Batalha was just a short drive away from Alcobaca, and here we stopped for half an hour to admire the exquisite limestone carvings on the ancient walls, and to buy cherries and preserved Mediterranean fruit in the little shopping centre for tourists near the cathedral. Gen Sabharwal passed around the cherries and Sindi the figs. That made very good eating!
From Batalha we came to Coimbra. It is a large university town on a hill and looks enchanting from afar. On the peak is the Coimbra Universidade or University, an old institution dating back to the early 18th century. It has been declared world heritage site. The stone buildings are majestic with beautiful carvings on the walls and entrances. A large central cobblestoned square courtyard on the peak is flanked on three sides by stone edifices. The open fourth side offers a splendid panorama of the green valley below and the hills beyond.
We visited the Joanin Library in all its splendour. It has the most magnificently carved and polished wooden ceiling and walls lined up to the high roof with oak wood bookcases which house over 3,00,000 old books. The oak wood is repulsive to bookworms. There are bats too hiding in the crevices of the carvings in the daytime. They fly out at night and prey on any insects which may be eating at the books. The guardians cover all tables with plastic before they leave in the night to prevent them from being soiled by the bats. This library has an academic prison cell underground, dating back from the early 18th century where students who erred were isolated for punishment.
There was a tall bell tower, a beautiful old chapel and a large decorative convocation hall which only a few adventurous ones in our group visited. Sindi had equipped each one of us with an instrument with headphones which described each feature...so I was content to listen to that! Young teenaged boys and girls were busily moving about, clutching books and talking and laughing. The whole place was infused with the energy of youth.
It was nearly 3 pm and we were hungry. We boarded the bus and drove off to a restaurant called Portuguesa on the bank of the wide beautiful river that flows through the Coimbra valley. A typical Portuguese lunch followed. There were the usual three courses, the first being a fish and chickpea salad with bread and butter. The second was a platter of fish and boiled vegetables. The fish was a ten inch long roasted whole fish, either Sea Bass or Golden Bream. The fish on my plate had a malevolent staring eye even in its roasted state- it certainly didn’t look very appealing to me! Ranjan also declined his second course. The stares of the whole fish had got to a couple of the Reddys too...so they decided to turn vegetarian. Amarjit had already told the restaurant that Ranjan and I are generally vegetarians, so they had prepared two massive bowls of spaghetti with cheese and vegetables. The bowls had the look of basins...they were that huge! We could happily share the spaghetti with the Reddys and much was left over! I realised everywhere in Europe people really have to think hard to produce a decent meal for vegetarians. It has to be pre ordered many hours in advance! A fruit salad ended the lunch. It was after 4pm.
The drive to Porto continued. We dozed off in the bus. Sixish, we came to the picturesque river Douro. On one bank of this river is the city of Gaia....on the opposite bank lies Porto. We drove through Gaia, crossed the Douro to enter Porto and alighted at Bessa Hotel where our rooms were awaiting us. After freshening up we were taken downtown for dinner to a restaurant on the bank of the Douro. This time instead of chicken we were served roasted chicken and potatoes which those who ate it claimed to be delicious. However since besides Ranjan and self, four of our group suddenly decided on a vegetarian diet, the hotel cook was in a quandary wondering what to serve us. What he came up with after a long wait was far from satisfactory! Well, the dessert was quite good and made up for most things. All’s well that ends well!
22May, Bessa Hotel, Porto, 9 pm
We slept the slumber of the dead and woke up at 5.30 am to a view of the calm blue sea through our window. I took Amarjit’s advice and requested room service to bring up a pot of boiling water which was delivered in our room in 5 minutes. I made the tea with our own tea bags and we enjoyed two refreshing cups each before getting down to the morning ablutions. So far, Amarjit has been making and giving us tea when we come back dog tired in the evening, desperately needing a cuppa. She has told our group that anybody who needs tea is welcome in their room. Ever since our kettle died on us, we have been having tea with them once in a while. We are touched by the warmth of this gesture.
Breakfast was in the hotel basement and here we could taste the Spanish Tortilla or omelette that I had read about. The morning tour began with a new driver named Louis. We had bid goodbye to Marco last evening. Porto is a beautiful city.It has stately old world mansions, as well as new buildings, all blending beautifully to give and overall air of class. Louis drove us to the jetty on river Douro around 9am. We boarded a large, flat bottomed tourist launch . Inside the main large hall were at least two hundred chairs arranged along the lengths of long tables covered in white cloth. Crockery and cutlery for breakfast adorned these tables. We had already had breakfast at our hotel but had to have another light one here. The boat started moving up river and we climbed on the top deck and sat in the strong cold wind, getting a spectacular view of the countryside. Occasionally there would be an announcement on the loudspeaker describing a particular bridge or church that we passed by. After about 16km up river we came to a barrage with a lock system and our long boat entered the lock. The huge heavy metal doors of the lock closed behind us and imprisoned the boat for about 20 minutes while water got pumped into the lock causing our boat to rise. When the boat rose to be at level with the water on the other side of the barrage, the front door of the lock disappeared smoothly under water so that the boat could move out and cross the barrage! It is a very effective system of raising a boat to a great height upstream. In this case it was 16 metres.
The countryside was green and hilly and dotted with neat little villas with cropped lawns and private jetties. We journeyed on and were given lunch on the boat at noon. The main course was again chicken and roasted potatoes, but Ranjan and I were served quite a palatable cheesy quiche of spinach, carrot and cabbage with plenty of wine and juices during the meal. Dessert was chocolate pastry. After lunch there was another steep rise through a barrage and lock, and this time the boat rose 35 metres in half an hour. Playing on the amplifier were old melodious English numbers from our youth, as we cruised along sitting on the windy top deck in the bright sunshine, waving out to other passing boats.
At 4.45 pm we docked at Peso da Regua which is a 100 km from Porto. We had come a 100 km upriver in six hours! Louis was waiting at the bank with the bus which he had driven uphill to receive us. It was good to get out and stretch our legs! We were then taken to the private vineyard of Mr Sequeira who lives in a manor called Quinta de Marracos. He is reputed to be making the best red and white wine in this area. The vineyard is located on the hilly slopes and we had to do a steep climb from his gate to reach his villa.
Mr Sequeira is a courteous old Portuguese gentleman who loves his vineyard and his olive and fruit trees. He took us up his private hill to tour his domain while he explained the tedious old traditional process of wine making that he still adheres to. He gets about 600kg of handpicked grapes trampled underfoot by a dozen workers, stamping to a certain beat for four hours continuously. The extracted juice is then left for a specified period and treated with a minute quantity of some catalyst to prepare wines of different kinds and vintages. The green grapes are used to prepare white wine while the purple ones are used for the red wines. The entire process is very clean and systematic. We got to taste some excellent wines and preserves. Some of us bought bottles off him before we boarded the bus for our drive back to our hotel. During the drive, our otherwise very comfortable bus developed some temperature problems in its engine. Louis had to drive us back in fits and starts, halting and waiting for the bus to cool before taking off again. Luckily it gets dark very late here, so when we reached around 8.30 it was fading twilight. It has been a very long day indeed today! Tomorrow we bid farewell to Porto after lunch. And now for dinner at our basement restaurant here before I lay me down to sleep....
23rd May, Hotel Monterrey, Salamanca, 10pm
I have been wanting to say a few words about little Ishaan Reddy. He is eleven years old and the youngest member of our group. Unlike other boys of his group he is not restless and fidgety. He runs errands for us happily and has endeared himself to all in the process. His grandmother Mrs P C Reddy is very proud of him. When we are travelling in the bus and wish to share our eats with the group, Ishaan takes them around and offers them courteously to each one of us.
This morning we were to start off at 9.15, but thanks to Farah’s parents who ambled in at 9.30 after being rounded up by Farah, we got delayed. The Karachiwala family was fined a wine bottle as per Army custom, which they smilingly agreed to buy for us. It was lucky for Ranjan that we got delayed. As we kept waiting in the bus, Sindi too decided to go back to the hotel to fetch Farah’s parents. While he was in there, the receptionist handed a shirt to him which was found in the closet of one of the vacated rooms. It turned out to be Ranjan’s shirt! He had forgotten to pack it and had left it hanging in the closet. We were fined a wine bottle too! Our group was richer this morning by two wine bottles.
Our guide Claudia was waiting for us. She showed us parts of Porto which have been declared as world heritage sites. Porto has won the award of “Best European Destination” for years 2012 and 2014. We first drove down to the sea and went along a boulevard hugging the shore up to the wide mouth of the Douro River. From there we turned inland and drove up the riverbank. This area according to Claudia is the most expensive to live in, the apartments being constructed to have a view of the sea or the river. We crossed a beautiful arched bridge into Gaia, and stopped at the Calem Winery which is a large, famous commercial company which sells excellent red and white wines as well as vintage wines. Claudia handed us over to pretty and smart Racquel who took us for a fast tour round her winery and explained the commercial winemaking process very precisely. We marvelled at the large oak wood vats which store 60,200 litres of wine for ageing. The whole place was sparkling clean and we got to taste some excellent wine. We bought a bottle too, which Ranjan owed to our group for literally losing his shirt...Amarjit would pull his leg about this for a long time to come!
From the winery we were taken to the church of St. Francisco in the old city. His church was built by the Franciscan Friars in the fourteenth century. It has a beautiful stone frontage and the main prayer hall has a very high ceiling and walls all beautifully carved in oak wood and then wrapped in hundreds of kilos of gold leaf. The style is Baroque and the architecture Gothic...so says Claudia. It has to be seen to be believed...photography strictly forbidden, more is the pity. No prayers are held here any longer. It is open to the public. There are quite a few such ornate churches here, which were functioning till 1834, when a law was passed which made the state responsible for all churches. All churches and church property then passed to the State, the beautiful edifices being converted to schools and offices. From the church we walked a short distance to the jetty from where our yesterday’s boat ride had begun. Here on the smooth stone- paved bank were a row of shops selling brightly coloured wooden and cloth items, trinkets and souvenirs. We browsed there for about half an hour. There was a man playing haunting old melodies on his trumpet, and passers by would sometimes drop a coin or note into his upturned hat. Shopkeepers described their wares in a cacophony of loud singsong voices. Colourful bandanas were fluttering in the breeze-lovely hand-painted tiles were displayed elsewhere, and exquisite handmade lace doilies and runners were for sale. It was a festive scene but time was scarce. We had to soon get back to our bus. Claudia and Louis then drove us up the smooth cobbled streets of the beautiful old city, with imposing stone mansions on either side. We passed by the majestic 12th century cathedral and the eighteenth century hospital of St Antonio, as also the Flower Street; all three being world heritage sites. Finally we stopped at the bell tower which is the tallest in Portugal. From here Claudia walked us down a cobbled lane to our lunch venue- an Indian restaurant called Thali. We passed two men playing ‘Besame Mucho” in splendid harmony and tune. Beggars have class here!
The proprietor of Thali is a Mr Mehta who runs his restaurant with the help of his wife and daughter. He greeted us warmly and supplied us with a sumptuous and tasty Indian lunch- papad, pickles, et al! All of us felt thoroughly at home and enjoyed the food. Rumana even exchanged many pleasantries in Gujarati with Mr Mehta which made him happy. Claudia had already taken leave of us after directing us to a spot where we were to wait for Louis, who promptly arrived to pick us up. We then headed for Salamanca. The road was smooth and passed through the hills loaded with vividly yellow flowering bushes of the Spanish Broom...it was a glorious sight! Lulled by the moving bus and with full stomachs, most of us slept. After three hours we reached the border of Portugal and Spain. We had been told to keep our passports handy to tide over the formalities of crossing the border. However we were allowed to go without any checks and our bus crossed over without even being asked to stop. We saved an hour in the process.
Once inside Spain, the landscape began to change. The hills laden with Spanish Broom gave way to rolling plains and large grazing areas dotted with fat contented cattle. By seven in the evening we were in the university town of Salamanca. It is famous for its University but since we had already seen the renowned one at Coimbra, we decided to skip seeing the university here. Accordingly, we were driven to hotel Monterrey, a hotel in the busy market with a beautiful stone facade and old fashioned rooms and furniture. Since we had jumped the time zone by an hour from Portugal, we had to advance our watches accordingly and went in to dinner an hour earlier, in the hotel dining room. We were served a good meal of boiled veg tossed in olive oil, fish mayonnaise fillet, lettuce and tomato salad and ice-cream. Port wine bottles adorned every table and were on the house. After dinner Ranjan went for a stroll with Sindi, Amarjit, Varsha, Farah and her parents. They found a beautifully illuminated old stone square surrounded on all four sides with imposing arched verandas, where a function was going on. It looked very grand at night and they clicked many snaps which I saw later because I did not accompany them. Tomorrow we leave at 8.30 am for Madrid.
24 MAY, Hotel Praga, Madrid, 10.15 pm
Students had been doing their weekend revelling in the wee hours and their loud whoops and laughter caused us to awaken from time to time during the night. Sindi’s hot cup of tea in the morning was a life saver and helped us to shed all remnants of sleep, instantly getting rid of the woozy feeling. Breakfast was a cold spread which we wolfed down and then wheeled our luggage out to the waiting bus. The stone paved street outside was being washed thoroughly with a spray of water through a tube coming out of a van which moved to different points on the road. What exemplary cleanliness!
Today being Sunday, the whole town of Salamanca lay sleeping as we moved out at 9 am. The drive to Madrid was short and picturesque. We passed a pretty fortified town on a distant hillock. The signpost on the roadside said “Avila”. Spain, Portugal and France have many such fortified villages beautifully preserved from medieval times. We reached Madrid an hour before lunchtime. Our Spanish restaurant was not yet ready to receive us so we took a photo break in a park. Every park, every crossroads in this country has such beautiful clean statues and fountains...so unlike our own country! We had an excellent meal in the basement of the restaurant which took two full hours to complete- dessert and all! Our tour guide Virginia had arrived in the meantime and promptly took charge after lunch.
Madrid was founded in the 9th century and used to be a walled city in the past with four large gates and fifteen small ones. One of the large gates called the sun Gate or Puerto del Sol, still remains and the surrounding area is a busy market place now. The city wall was broken down some 150 years ago. The Royal Palace of Madrid was built by King Philip V who was the grandson of King Louis XIV of France. It has 2800 rooms and took 24 years to build! It is massive and magnificent. So is the church next door where the Royal Family used to pray. The church took a hundred years to build- started in 1870 and finished in 1970. The edifices are so ornate and grand that when we visited them we could only gape at them! The palace was being renovated from inside so it was closed to the public, but the outside view itself was a revelation to us. The church we could visit and admire from the inside, after which we walked back to the parked bus. Amarjit reached the bus before us and kept her i-pad on the low wall by the pavement so that she could fish in her handbag for her cell phone. She called Sindi and asked him to hurry back with the stragglers as we had lots more to see. Everyone arrived and we climbed into the bus and drove off, with the i-pad still lying on the wall where Amarjit had forgotten it. However, within a minute she realised it was missing. Louis stopped the bus and let Amarjit and Farah out so that they could walk back to the parking site, but the i-pad had already disappeared from its position on the wall. All of us were a bit saddened by this incident, but could not do much about it.
Our next stop was the Prado Museum which houses the works of the most famous painters of Spain and of the world too. There we feasted our eyes on large beautiful canvases...each a massive labour of love and a compliment to its creator. It is one of the finest collections I have set eyes on. Virginia explained a few of them so we could understand them better and also tune in to the mood and mode of the artist. Her explanation was so plausible and flawless that it made the painting even more special. We saw “Las Meninas” by Diego Velazquez. I had read about it before but never seen it. It depicts the little princess Margaret with her maids in waiting, the governess and the court dwarfs. The King and Queen are in the background. Among the others we saw is “The Adoration of the Magi” by El Greco and The Naked Lady by Goya. We also saw the works of Reubens and Pablo Picasso. There was no more time to admire the equally exquisite works of the other painters, some old and some more modern. It was time for the bull fight, but we had to check into the hotel first. Soon we came to Hotel Praga and checked in. Thereafter Sindi left with the Reddys and Farah to see the bull fight. Ranjan and I do not care for the manner in which the bull is tortured to make it furious and murderous. Hence we elected not to go. Amarjit stayed in the hotel to see if she could lodge a complaint in the local police station regarding her i-pad. We hope that some Good Samaritan has picked it up and has given it to the Polizia. Rumana, Ghulambhai and Ranjan rested in their rooms. Varsha Didi and I spent the evening looking at the shops on the opposite side of the street outside our hotel. I even bought a few small gewgaws, and Varsha Didi bought a pair of elegant shoes.
Dinner was available in the Hotel Restaurant. By and by all of us moved thither. We are now back in our rooms. Tomorrow we move to Toledo and Zaragosa.
25May, Hotel Zenit Don Yo, Zaragosa, 11.35pm
The bus tour of Madrid yesterday left me speechless with wonder and admiration. What a truly beautiful city it is with its stately buildings, large boulevards, busy shopping areas, palaces, churches, parks and restaurants! The people work hard to keep their city and public places including toilets spotlessly clean. We left our hotel after breakfast at 8.30 this morning for the little hill town of Toledo which is a World Heritage Site. It took us an hour and a half to reach there. Toledo has a grand stone rampart and a tall majestic entrance gate. A cobblestoned road leads uphill from the gate into the town which is a maze of narrow lanes with shops displaying the most tempting souvenirs, jewellery trinkets and curios. The river Tagus (which meets the sea in Lisbon, Portugal) surrounds this hill city like a natural moat and has quaint old bridges spanning it.
Private buses are not allowed inside the walled city, so at first Louis drove us around a complete circuit of the town. We stopped at a breathtaking viewpoint for some divine photographs. Then we drove to the entrance gate and Louis parked at a convenient point, while we slowly struggled uphill and walked through the crowded lanes, admiring the wares displayed in the shops for a couple of km till we reached the church of San Tome. This is where the original painting by El Greco titled “Death of a Soldier” reposes as a wall fresco. We had seen a copy yesterday in the Del Prado Museum, but we saw the original today. We then walked back through the lanes to a restaurant called Los Arcos which served us a delicious lunch with juices, wine and desserts included. The helpings of chicken were gigantic and good enough for two people. So were the vegetables. All of us then walked back to our waiting bus.
By the time we drove off from Toledo it was 3 pm. The drive was smooth and all of us snoozed peacefully until Louis stopped at a wayside cafeteria around 5pm. Here Sindi and Amarjit treated all of us to tea and coffee. It is amazing how a cup of tea instantly rejuvenates the system. We returned to our bus refreshed and spent the rest of our drive recounting humorous incidents from our lives and singing songs. Zaragosa was reached at 7.30 pm but Louis had difficulty finding the right place to dislodge us closest to our hotel. It was past 8pm before we could reach our rooms. We dined together in the hotel itself at 9pm. After dinner, some of us went out to explore the now almost empty but extremely well lit streets. We reached a cathedral nearby on the bank of the river Ebro. Zaragosa seems to be a large city, not quite as old as Porto or Coimbra. As we returned from our walk around 11pm, we found people cleaning the streets and picking up garbage. When we wake up tomorrow morning the stone paved streets will be shining!
26 May, Hotel Abba Balmoral, 11pm
We left Zaragosa at 8.30am, and drove straight to Barcelona. There was a toilet break for just 15 minutes en route. About two hours into the drive, we crossed a sign saying “The Greenwich date line passes from this point”. It was good to know that we had actually crossed the Greenwich Meridian we had been taught about in childhood.
Barcelona is a sprawling city nestling between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. It was founded by the Roman King Augusto in the first century BC, and is one of the most beautiful cities of Spain. Two languages are spoken here: Spanish and Catalan, which are similar yet different....hence we found signposts on every road bearing directions in Spanish as well as Catalan. The people who speak Catalan claim to be from a part (of Spain) they call Catalunya...they even have a Catalunyan flag displayed outside certain homes...an open declaration to all that they are not Spanish but Catalunyan! This is what we generally registered while we toured Barcelona. On reaching this place at 1pm we drove straight to the restaurant where lunch had already been ordered. Our friends Alok and Sunita Mohan who had flown in from Manchester today were seated in outside the restaurant at a table, sipping drinks. It was good to see them looking comfortable. The restaurant gave Ranjan, Sunita and self very tasty “Paella” of rice and vegetables. The others had their usual non veg meal. Our guide Louisa met us outside the eatery and we drove off for a panoramic tour of the city. Louisa pointed out the Royal palace as we went. We stopped at the Olympic Stadium for a photograph. Then we went to a viewpoint on top of a hill named Montjuic. From the hilltop we could see the city of Barcelona, the harbour, the brilliantly blue Mediterranean sea and the cruise ships anchored there. It was a memorable sight. From the viewpoint we drove to the Sagrada Familia- the largest and tallest church of Spain which is yet to be completed. The construction started in 1870 under the supervision of the famous architect Antonio Gaudi, He has beautified the city by building many other beautiful homes, some of which Louisa pointed out to us. Gaudi himself is no more but his grandiose plans for this church are still in the process of being realised by a fresh batch of architects and craftsmen. It is a church dedicated to the Sacred Family...hence the name Sagrada Familia. At the entrance we bumped into Ranjan’s cousin Sushma Didi and her husband Rajenbhai, who have flown in from the UK and will be joining us for the cruise tomorrow. It was a happy reunion.
From the Sagrada Familia we came to our hotel and checked in. It was 6.30 pm. We were to freshen up and drive to see the Flamenco dance show. As we were entering our room, a familiar voice could be heard from the next room. We rang their doorbell and out popped Rita! It was great to meet Rita and Jammy after a gap of almost one year. They are going to be with us for the cruise. Another addition to our group is Neeta, daughter of Col PC Reddy who has arrived from the US for the cruise.
For the Flamenco Dance Show, we were taken to a model Spanish fortified village in the heart of Barcelona. The entrance gate was a colossal stone doorway. We walked up a narrow cobbled lane with cottages on both sides with typical red tiled roofs. Some had orange trees laden with ripe oranges in their narrow lane and thence into a tavern, which had chairs placed around the periphery of long dining tables. There was a wooden stage in the corner of the hall. We had to turn our chairs at an angle to watch the activities on stage. We were plied with a tasty local wine and a complete Spanish “Tapas” dinner while the Flamenco dancers came on stage and mesmerised us for an hour with their passionate dancing. There were two male singers, a guitarist, three lady dancers and a young male dancer. All seemed to pour their entire life energy into their performance. Every song had a theme, which the dancers communicated to the audience with their facial expressions and vigorous whirling and foot tapping. It was a marvellous show and we were highly impressed.
We are back in our rooms after the dance show. Now for a good night’s sleep, for tomorrow is another day!
27May, MSC Divina, 11.30pm
The streets of Barcelona have all got a cyclists’ corridor down their centres. Sometimes we can see enthusiastic skaters using that corridor to cruise down the street on their skates! It is a bustling, vibrant city with a rich cultural heritage and its beauty and grandeur are evident in all the outstanding buildings, churches and fountains of this place.
We left our hotel after a leisurely breakfast at 9.30. Louis drove us to the royal palace. This magnificent edifice is now a museum and accommodates the ancient carvings, frescos and murals dating back to the thirteenth century. These were discovered in the nineteenth century in the churches of the Pyrenees Mountains. The process of transferring them here was very painstaking but the collection is certainly worth all that trouble! We marvelled at the beauty and brightness of the colours used and the fineness of the marble carvings.
From the palace we drove down to the wharf and went into a mall which had a self service restaurant where we picked up and ate food of our own choice. Lunch was a bit hurried as we had to report for checking into our ship at 3pm. After Lunch all of us bade a fond farewell to Gen and Mrs Sabharwal, as they had opted to drop out from the cruise. They had been very good company indeed! Louis dropped us at the check in point and said a very friendly goodbye to us. All of us queued up for the formalities and had soon checked into our ship.
The MSC Divina is a majestic liner with over 1500 rooms. Most of our extremely comfortable cabins are on the eleventh deck, with balconies equipped with two chairs and a table each, and intercoms for connectivity. Only Jammy and Rita could not get a balcony cabin due to some misunderstanding. The Lidders immediately exchanged their balcony cabin with the Jamwals, so the glitch was got over. We sailed out at 7pm sharp. I was slightly worried as my suitcase had not fetched up in our cabin...I could see that we were already out to sea! Later on I exchanged notes with Alok and discovered that he too had been similarly anxious. Both of us had to go and retrieve our suitcases from the ship’s security office on Deck 4. Why? Because I had bought a couple of dainty paper knives in Toledo. Alok was carrying a Sheffield knife, which he had purchased for me in Manchester on my request. These sharp implements couldn’t escape the eagle eyes of our ship’s x- ray machine! We had to hand over these to the ship’s security officer before the suitcases were cordially handed over to us, with a promise that our knives would be returned to us when we disembarked at Barcelona the next week!
At 7.45 pm we went down to Deck 6 to the ship’s theatre and enjoyed a great acrobatic and gymnastic show combined with dancing and singing. Then we went for dinner to our designated restaurant called Villa Rossa on the same deck and sat at the designated table for our group. On Amarjit’s request the chef promised to produce an Indian vegetarian item for dinner every night. We had excellent dessert and then decided to explore- Alok and Sunita, Lidders, Varsha Didi and the two of us. Tonight we saw the swimming pool and the Jacuzzis. Tomorrow we shall see more. The day after tomorrow we dock at Naples.
28May, MSC Divina, 11.30pm
The whole day was spent at sea. We bumped into Sushma Didi and Rajenbhai at breakfast and stayed with them till lunchtime. We were told that our ship would be crossing the narrow strait between Corsica and Sardinia around noon. So all of us went on top deck to watch our ship negotiate the narrow stretch of water, 11km wide at its narrowest point. The ocean was a vast deep blue, the sky was clear and the hilly regions of Corsica and Sardinia were quite vivid, so much that we could see the lighthouses and habitation in patches.
We then had a yummy lunch of our choice in the buffet restaurant which is open at all hours with an array of good food. Sleep overcame me soon after and we both had a comfortable forty winks. At 6pm we reached Jammy’s room where all of our group were to gather to sample the wine that the Lidders had bought in Spain and were offering us. All of us turned up except Alok and Sunita who claim to have overslept. We had a lovely little party. Amarjit had brought her tea kettle and tea bags, so some of us could have tea along with the snacks we had got from India. At 7.45 we went to see the Michael Jackson show in the ship’s theatre. It was an excellent combination of music and dance performed with tremendous energy by wiry young men and slim young women and was much applauded. After the show we had dinner in Villa Rossa. The chef had prepared Aloo Mutter and rice and something which passed off for a chapatti. It was quite palatable! We retired to our rooms for a good night’s rest.
29May, Naples, 7.30pm
This morning we were out at 8.15 am. The ship had docked in Naples, and our coach, its driver Alphonso and our guide Santi were all ready and available. We first visited the ruins of Pompei. Santi told us that Naples is an ancient port, nearly2800 years old. We found the old monasteries on hills, quaint castles and old warehouses standing out as proof of this statement, among the crowded modern housing in this port town. Pompei used to be a flourishing old Greco Roman city in the days of yore, located at the base of Mount Vesuvius, which is a powerful and still active volcano. In 79AD, Vesuvius erupted violently. Plumes of superheated steam, fire and lava shot up miles into the sky, cooling on the upward journey and then it all rained down as a sea of ash and metallic stones, to bury the city of Pompei within hours. The sky became totally dark and people ran in the direction of the sea....no one knows what happened to them. The scene is described in two letters written by a Roman Chieftain who was on his ship in the sea, out of the range of the havoc. On ground, the pile of ash and rubble trapped many people who lost their lives of asphyxiation, heart attacks and shock. Excavations began in the seventeen hundreds and the rubble was removed to expose the remains of a large township. Oxygen too had been trapped inside and it helped to decay the bodies. Excavating scientists poured liquid plaster into some odd shaped bone cages and solidified it to recreate contorted figures of dogs and children in the throes of death. It was a macabre exhibition that we saw there. Piles of amphorae and other pottery lay in sheds with iron bars through which we could see them. Santi showed us the amphitheatres and demonstrated their excellent acoustics, even in those days when there were no electric amplifiers. We were shown the houses of rich men, their servants’ quarters, the shops, the eateries; even brothels. We were explained their methods of rain water harvesting and shown their taps placed at strategic points in the city for use by the public. It seemed to be quite a well- planned and praiseworthy civilisation!
Our bus had been parked at a place where coral jewellery was displayed. Santi explained that Coral is an export product of Naples, while Sorrento is famous for very large lemons which are used for making cakes, ice creams, liqueurs and preserves. We passed numerous orange and lemon groves as we drove up the hilly coastline, following the curve of the blue Mediterranean. The trees were laden with fruit ready to pick. I have never seen such large lemons before. We were heading towards Sorrento now. We had two or three photo stops on the way- the sea looked so pristinely beautiful from the height, dotted with cruise ships and smaller craft. At one stop in Sorrento there was a monastery. We alighted to see it. In the church nearby a wedding was taking place and we got to see the bride in a lovely white gown, followed by two pretty young bridesmaids dressed in pale green...looking like sea nymphs!
Still following the narrow, meandering road in the hills and hugging the curved coastline, we finally arrived at Positano- our last stop for the day. Lunch had been pre- ordered in a restaurant called Da Costantino. They gave us a tasty Italian meal. I have had many types of pizza and pasta before, but the ones we had here had a personal touch to them. The dessert included fresh orange slices from the proprietor’s garden and the lemon liqueur called “Limoncello” which he prepares himself, added the last delicious finishing touch to the meal. This place is famous for its lace work. There was a shop next door displaying the most exquisite lace garments, but the prices were exorbitant, so we simply admired them and returned to the bus for the long drive back to Naples. Napoli, as it is called by the Italians, was reached at 5.30pm. The ship was at port, and we trooped in straight to the buffet restaurant on Deck 14 for a leisurely mug of coffee. Varsha Didi, Jammy, Rita, Ranjan and self sat at a table and relaxed as the ship slowly started moving out of the harbour. Soon we had left Mt Vesuvius and the nearby Isle of Capri in the distance and were on the high seas. Tomorrow is a long day...our ship docks at 7 am in the port of Civitavecchia which is the gateway to Rome or Roma as Italians call it.
30 May, Rome, 7.20 pm
Rome is called the City of the Seven Hills. It is the largest in Italy and over 3000 years old. That is what our guide Ingrid told us as she pointed out the huge imposing old stone buildings, churches and fountains as we toured around the city. St Peter’s Cathedral, reportedly built over the remains of St Peter, has the largest and tallest dome in the world, 138m in height. There are 400 churches in Rome, all adopting the Baroque style of St Peter’s Cathedral. In medieval times, Romans enjoyed sports involving violence, blood and gore. Gladiators fought each other in large arenas, as did animals on being instigated by cruel masters. Nobles placed large wagers on the likely winning candidate. The great Colosseum was built 2000 years ago to cater for the witnessing of such events. It also housed the gladiator in underground rooms. The entire oval edifice was covered in marble tiles and must have looked beautiful in those days. However, when Christianity came to Italy, the rulers and priests shut down all pagan practices. The marble was removed from the Colosseum and was recycled and used in churches. Yet the Colosseum stands tall, majestic and weather beaten, a silent witness of the bloody jousts and fights of bygone days. We proceeded for a quick lunch to a pizzeria near the Vatican City, after which Ingrid bought tickets and took us inside the Vatican. The Vatican City is the smallest independent country in the world and has its own currency. Ingrid led us first to visit the Vatican museum which has a beautiful collection of grand old statues, the most exquisite frescos, stucco work and tapestries adorning the walls and the ceilings. A real feast for the eyes in whichever direction we looked! So many artists and artisans worked at these pieces individually from time to time to produce this remarkable mosaic for the world to see. When Ranjan and I had come to Rome in Nov2005, we had missed seeing the Vatican City in such minute detail. The beauty around us was incomparable to anything seen before...especially the Sistine Chapel which has walls and ceiling adorned by the paintings of Michelangelo who took 14 years to complete this stupendous labour of love. He was a God- gifted sculptor and had never done any paintings. Hence it is a mind boggling job that he did, hanging from scaffoldings to complete each detail of each painting so painstakingly....for 14 years!
From the Sistine Chapel we went to the main sanctum of St Peter’s Cathedral where only the Pope performs the services. This church took a hundred years to build and is the only one of its kind. It has many tombs and Sarcophagi inside it. There is a pope who was declared a saint before he died- his remains are covered in Bronze and preserved in a glass casket. Michelangelo’s famous statue “ Pieta” is preserved there... he carved it when he was just 26 years old. It is such a beautiful statue of the Madonna, seated and holding the limp body of her deceased son in her lap. The folds of her marble gown are almost real... and the expression on her face is more loving than sorrowing. It is said that Michelangelo lost his own mother when he was a child, and therefore made this Madonna very young looking, in memory of his lost mother.
All in all it was a fascinating day trip, but very tiring because we had to walk a lot. We were really glad to get back to our ship and rest our tired feet! Sitting with Rita and Jammy with hot refreshing beverages in the glassed- in buffet on the top deck, we watched our ship creating waves in the turquoise water as it slowly edged out of the pier. Tomorrow our group goes to Firenze (Florence) and Pisa. We have seen these two places in 2005. Hence we shall remain in La Spezia, where our ship is to dock.
31 May, MSC Divina, La Spezia, Italy, 11 pm
For a change I overslept because I knew we had to remain in the port today while Sindi and Amarjit would be taking the others to Florence and Pisa. We asked Room Service for bed tea in our cabin and had it in peace. Then we sauntered up to Deck 14 for breakfast where we met Rita and Jammy. The four of us had breakfast together. Around 11 am we went to the Jacuzzi and the swimming pool. Ranjan and Jammy had a swim in the pool and then entered the Jacuzzi, while Rita and I lazed in the heavenly warm water of the Jacuzzi from the beginning, soaking up the Mediterranean sun. It was a great experience.
In the afternoon we went down the gangway and took the free shuttle bus of the ship into the port town. The City Centre was just a short brisk walk away from where the bus dropped us. It being Sunday, most of the shops were closed in La Spezia, much to our husbands’ delight and to our dismay. However, the walk in this small town was very enjoyable. We went down an avenue, which had orange trees on both sides, laden with ripe oranges. It was a lovely sight. Flowers too were blooming in the park and all shop windows had displayed their wares very tastefully. We returned by 5:30 pm and went up to the Buffet Deck for tea and cookies. At 7:45 pm tonight there was a recital of famous opera arias, which we attended. Could not understand the words, but the ballet performed along with the singing was excellent. After the show we all gathered in Farah and Varsha Didi’s large cabin where Sindi produced one of his plentiful wine bottles. It was a merry party and it carried on till 10 pm. When we reached Deck 14 for buffet dinner, we found the food counters all closed! Only the pizza counter was open; also the dessert counter. All of us made do with pizza and dessert tonight.
01 June 2015, 10 pm

Cannes is a Riviera port of France famous for its annual International Film Festivals and hi- flown International Conferences held the year round. There are majestic hotels with private beaches along the shallow coast line. Hence our large ship had to anchor out at sea. We were taken to Cannes Port by powerful motorboats belonging to the ship. Amarjit and Sindi had hired three taxis for us for a tour of Cannes and soon we were on our way.
Our driver Henry was explaining about all important features en route. He first took us into Le Suquet, the place from where Cannes actually began. The marvellous huge hotels like Carlton Majestic, Marriot; all came into being late along the coast road. We were taken to a view point on a hill top in Le Suquet from where we could see the roofs of the old town below us. There was an ancient church there, with a very peaceful wooden interior, which we visited. It is said that fishermen who were out fishing for months or days came here to offer thanks on their safe return.
From the view point we went to see the theatre where the international award winning films are screened during the festival. On the floor at one point outside the building are hand prints and autographs of famous old and new film stars. Among them I saw signatures and hand prints of Meg Ryan, Julie Andrews and Angelina Jolie. We drove along the boulevard by the sea and saw the elite stores of Gucci, Bulgari Cartier, Lious Vuitton and so many other famous branded names. Needless to say, the film stars must be frequenting these expensive outlets! Henry pointed out three casinos and the famous Palm Beach Studio where movies of Brigitte Bardot and other old favourites had been made. Then we went to a beach head from where we could see Cap d’ Antibes and two islands, one of them being the well known St Marguerite. On a hilltop there was a fortress prison where King Louis XIV had hidden himself away from his pursuers.
Henry then took us up a beautiful undulating hill road to the town of Grasse. The other two taxis were following us. Henry explained that this area has lovely flowers, which are collected and pressed to extract their essences, which are made into perfumes. I could see signboards saying Molinard, Galimard and Fragonard...Ultimately, it was to the Fragonard Factory that we went. A pretty girl took charge of us there and showed us around the Perfumery. According to her, one litre of the essence of Jasmine costs 20,000 Euros, while one litre collected from the Iris flower costs 150,000 Euros! Ordinary eau de toilettes have a miniscule quantity of the essence mixed with water and alcohol. Actual perfumes have about 24% of essence mixed only with alcohol to make the whole- and this 24 % is mixture of essences from 20 to 250 flowers and herbs! There followed a spree of perfume purchases and by the time we boarded our taxis, we were considerably lighter in our pockets.
From Grasse we were taken to see a pretty fortified village on a hill called St Paul de Vence. France has many such fortified villages since the medieval times. At present these have become tourist attractions and their cobble stoned lanes have on both sides quaint little shops displaying products of France. Ranjan and I were fortunate to see many such villages during our trip to Provence last year. We spent about 45 minute here exploring the steep lanes within the village. Thereafter, we boarded the taxis and returned to Cannes Port. It took us an hour.
On our return to the ship we had to dress up formally for the Captain’s Cocktails, followed by a super duper Acrobatics Show in the Pantheon Theatre of the ship. Thus ended another great day.
02 June Palma de Mallorca, midnight
Both of us rose late and had a leisurely cup of bed tea on the balcony of our cabin, courtesy room service. Suddenly I saw half a dozen simultaneous splashes in the sea about 50 metres from our balcony. Six curved smooth black bodies rose out of the water in unison and disappeared again into the depths. Yes indeed...they were Dolphins! It was delightful, watching them cavorting alongside our moving ship for a few minutes.
Amarjit managed to cajole/coerce Varsha Didi to join her and Sindi in the Jacuzzi before breakfast. It was good to see her relaxing in the water with the Lidders and little Ishaan. Ranjan and I had come to the pool area too so I could click a few snaps of them. We then went for breakfast together. Our ship docked in Palma de Mallorca at 2pm today. I was entranced by my first view of this isle from our ship. The pristine blue waters dotted with cruise ships, the azure sky and old church steeples peeping out from amongst the new high- rises nestling among the low hills- all had a dreamlike quality. Our cruise is coming to an end and we shall miss the good times we had on board with our friends. We are all in the mood to make the best of our last day here!
Our tour guide Anna was awaiting our arrival at the port. With her were our bus and its driver Carlos. She gave us a rundown on Palma de Mallorca as we drove off to Bellver Castle, which was our first stop.
Palma de Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands, followed by Minorca, Ibiza and others in the group. The beauty of this island and its Mediterranean climate have made it the target of invaders since time immemorial. The Romans owned it in the fifth century. Then came the Arabs and pulled down all the Roman architecture. They were followed by the Moors and finally the Spanish took over in the thirteenth century. The first Spanish king was James I. His son James II built Bellver Castle, which took ten years to build. It is a circular edifice and unique in its shape. In these ten years the building style
 
Date of Posting: 27 October 2015
Posted By: Bulbul Goswami
Pune


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