All posts by Cat Starr Astral Traveller

Traveller, tarot reader, teacher, librarian, photographer, dancer, dreamer ... it is very hard to put a label on who I am and what I do. This blog is just one more piece of my world that I call Astral Traveller where I combine all the varied aspects of myself in ways that I hope others will find inspiration to travel by ways seen and unseen.

Villefranche-Sur-Mer

Villefranche is a beautiful gateway port to the French Riviera. Most ships will dock at Nice or Monaco, but smaller ships will drop anchor and provide tenders to shore. The best part — no crowds! Once on shore, there is a tourist office and old port area with shops and restaurants. Just a little ways up the hill towards the Citadelle de Ville is a bus top that can take you to Nice or Monaco.

I decided to wander around the Citadelle and was rewarded with breathe-taking views and some amazing artwork. The Duke of Savoie, Philibert, built the Citadel in 1557 after the Turkish fleet’s attack of the port in 1543. The official name is the Citadelle de St-Elme. Now it serves as the town hall, a congress centre, a police station, a summer outdoor theater, and it houses four art museums.

My favourite museum is dedicated to the sculptures of Antoniucci Volti. The museum is housed in cave-like room carved from the walls of the fortress and in an open, sunny patio.

My visit ended, as usual, with a nice espresso and some shopping.

Docking in Portofino

Cruise ships cannot dock in Portofino, but some, like the Celebrity Constellation will drop anchor outside the small harbour and use tender boats to transport passengers from ship to shore. Other ships will dock at Genoa and use local ferries to bring people to this port. However you get here, it is a charming place to visit but be prepared for walking up hills. There are numerous cafes, a castle and churches to explore, nature trails and a sculpture garden. Of course, there is gelato and shopping!

For me, this trip has been a bit of a challenge as my knee has made walking up and down stairs very hard. Fortunately,  I did find a way up the hill that did not include stairs,  just a steep slope behind the main street that included souvenir shops, a champion gelato store and a family-run shop with embroidered linens and scarves.

Short stay in Rome

I think the phrase all roads lead to Rome describes my latest trip Rome. I wanted to share all the “hghlights” of Rome with a dear friend and my traveling companion for this adventure. But the crowds were worse than any other visit I have made.I do have some suggestions for future trips.The Vatican Suites hotel is nice and the location is good, especially if you plan to visit the Vatican. It is a short walk to two bus routes that are useful for touring Rome, the 46 and the 64.Omni Vatican tours and cards can make some things easier, however there are some drawbacks. You can order these online and one of the offices for pickup is 9 San Pietro, very easy to find at the Vatican. They have a hop on, hop off bus that goes to all the same spots as other companies, but was rarely full. You also get a pass for use on metro services in Rome, which was very helpful. The reservation system for Vatican museum tours, however, was not my favorite. I thought I would have a simple time to go, thus avoiding crowds. However, we were expected to be part of their tour group, and this put us in a mass of people all going to the same place. My suggestion would be to order tickets directly from the Vatican website for “skip the line” tours of the museum, Sistine Chapel, and Basilica. We got so tired of being “herded like cats”. This was not necessarily Omni’s fault. There seemed to be more people everywhere!Our favorite dinner in Rome was at Papa Rex. It was a short walk down the hill from the Vatican Suites hotel, the staff was amazing, food was excellent and we just really enjoyed our evening there. Be sure to ask for their suggestions for the day for the best experience!In the plaza in front of the Pantheon, there is a great place for buying items for a nice, Italian picnic. It is called Antica Salumeria. The staff is friendly and willing to take time to assist you, no matter how busy. Many types of meats, cheese, olives and wine to choose from. And, of course, you can taste items before making your purchase.Next to this shop is the Acquisto Restaurant. It has a selection of freshly made pasta daily. It is also a nice place to sit and watch the crowds of tours visiting the Pantheon. This picture really sums up how I started to feel with all the crowds.If you are using Rome as a stop before heading out on a cruise, taking the train is a way to save money. The cost is 4,60 euro from the San Pietro station and it takes around 45 minutes. However, there are stairs, making hauling luggage problematic. Once in Civitavecchia, you can take group taxis for 5 euros per person to the port.

Continue reading Short stay in Rome

Castlefest

As I look to summer, I start thinking about summer festivals.  One of my favourites is Castlefest in the Netherlands. It is a fantasy world — actually several fantasy worlds — with music other other performances.

I loved the variety of musical performances, however my favourite was seeing the performance of The Dolman on the main stage.

There were also activities for children, including a battle royal, complete with a piper!

Check out the plans for this year’s CastleFest!

Port of Tallinn, Estonia

The Port of Tallinn, Estonia is compact and has easy accessibility to the old city. It is about a 20 minute walk to the main gate of the walled city centre. Most cruise shops docking at Tallinn will have a shuttle bus that drops passengers to the gate and there is a hop-on-hop-off bus stop at the port as well. There is also a tourist information booth will have maps and other tourist highlights.

On my visit, I took one of the first shuttle buses, arriving at the main gate as shop keepers were setting up for the day.  It was nice, walking through these cobbled streets as  the city started to come alive.  Soon, there would be tables filled with people in the central plaza and people filling the markets. It was a nice way to get to experience this portion of Tallinn.

Here are some of my favourite photos from Tallinn.

S = St. Peter Port

A to Z Ports = St. Peter Port

St. Peter Port is the main port for the Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. While this may be the main port, it is not large. In fact, it is easy to do a tour around the island while you are in port! This also means that you have to use the ship’s tenders to get to St. Peter Port. It also has it’s own currency and, while most stores will accept British pounds, you will receive your change will be the local currency.

St. Peter Port is a laid-back port and very easy to walk around. There is an interesting fort, Castle Coronet, that guards the port, nice walks and gardens to see throughout this town. This is a very relaxing port to enjoy.

Here is a past post about St. Peter Port.

#atozchallenge

 

R = Russia’s St. Petersburg

A to Z Ports: Russia’s St. Petersburg

There are a couple places for cruise lines to dock in St. Petersburg. Most ships will dock at a port with a typical cruise terminal with souvenir shops, however some smaller ships, such as the ones used by Azamara, can dock right in the center of St. Petersburg near the Hermitage. No matter where you are docked, it is important to know that you have to have a special traveler’s visa for Russia. This means you have to plan your excursions before you dock in St. Petersburg. If you are on a ship’s excursion, this is taken care of for you. However, this does not mean that more independent travelers cannot make plans. A group I met through the Cruise Critic Roll Call made plans with SPB Tours and we had a great time. There were eight people in our tour van for two days of seeing the sights, including eating in local restaurants and riding the subway. Our tour guide made the most of our stay, including a few things not on the planned itinerary. There were also options for evening trips.

Here are some of my highlights from St. Petersburg.

Because everyone needs a special Visa to visit Russia, it means going through Passport Control. I wrote about this experience in a previous post about Immigration.

Here are my posts about the St. Petersburg “marathon” as well as other past posts of this port.

#atozchallenge

 

Q = Queensferry, Scotland

A to Z Ports: Queensferry, Scotland

If you are on a cruise around the UK, the closest port to Edinburgh is Queensferry. But don’t count on a pier! You will dock near the Forth Railway Bridge and have to take tenders to the small dock. From there, you have many choices to finding your way into Edinburgh. The ship will, of course, push for shore excursions, including one called “Edinburgh on your own” which is really just a shuttle into the city. There are alternative ways to get into Edinburgh and you can find out more and this list may be handy. This is what you will see at the port of Queensferry.

So really, most people will head to Edinburgh — and why not? It is beautiful and has a rich history. And I am looking forward to another trip there soon! Here are some of my favorite photos of my time wandering through the city.

If the pictures seem a little foggy, I can blame the day which was grey with a light mist. I thought I was dressed warm enough, but sadly, I was not and I had to find something hot to drink!

I hope you enjoyed my brief trip to Edinburgh. There will be more to come!

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P = Piraeus, Greece

A to Z Ports: Piraeus, Greece for Athens

Piraeus is a major port for Greece and the closest one to Athens. It is very busy, with ferries that sail to all the Greek Islands, three separate docks for cruise lines, commercial operations and military ships. If you like ships, you can see just about any kind here. But few cruisers spend a day in Piraeus, especially with Athens so close. And most cruise lines will arrange various excursions to help you see the most of the highlights of Athens. But, if you’ve been there before, or if you want to go it on your own, it is very easy to get to Athens from Piraeus. From most of the cruise docks, it is about a twenty-minute walk to the train station to catch a train to Monastiraki Plaza. The train will take about the same time as a cab — and the cost will be much less!

Sights on my walk to the train station in Piraeus

 

Monastiraki Plaza which is a great place to start your journey in Athens. It is at the heart of the Plaka — with the flea market on one side, a collection of restaurants on the other with lead to the shops of the Plaka. It is also below the Acropolis, near the Agora and, if you get there before 10 AM, you can easily walk down the pedestrian street to the Parliament buildings to see the Changing of the Guards.

plaza

Of course, you can spend an interesting day in Piraeus and miss all the crowds in Athens! At the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus you will find a collection of sculptures that include grave monuments and dedicated reliefs, pottery and a bronze statues of Apollo from the 6th century BC. There are plenty of tavernas — the better ones are a bit farther from the port.

Here are links to some of my past posts about Athens:

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O = Olympia

A to Z Ports = Olympia’s Katakalon

Katakalon, Greece is a very small port and resembles a sleepy town, until a cruise ship enters the port and can more than triple the number of people. Why do cruise ships call into this port? It is the closest one to Olympia — the site of the original Olympic games. Of course, there are ship excursions to the site. There is also a train the runs from the port to Olympia. How you go, is up to you — the trip is worth it.

Olympia is a large archaeological site. Next to it is a museum and the town of Olympia that has shops and restaurants catering to the tourists.

Here are a couple of past posts about Olympia

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