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Adriatic Cruise - by Philip Lee Yung Kin

We started our European trip in Venice with a cruise in the Adriatic. As I wanted to relive my memories of Venice we arrived at the city a day earlier. It was over 18 years ago that I visited Venice with my wife Magdalen and our teenage children so we were surprised that the city hadn't changed all these years. I guess it is this timelessness that people want to come to see. There are no cars in Venice and people have to get around the island on foot, in boats, ferries and Gondales. There were hundreds of bridges joining the city blocks together and idyllic streets with boutique shops and restaurants dazzled the tourists with the famed operatic masks outside shop windows everywhere gave the city a sense of culture and atmosphere of a carnival. San Marco was just magical. The Square was packed with tourists from all over the world who wanted to share the history of this city. And would you believe that some of the most beautiful basilicas are build on stones foundations sitting on top of hundreds of thousands of wooden poles embedded under the water! If you Google the history of Venice, I'm sure that you will be amazed by the genius of the Venetian Republic in Medieval times.

As every cruise ship has to sail pass Venice you will get a better perspective of the architecture of the city when the ship leaves the lagoon. It is an amazing sight, an opportunity I urge my alumni not to miss when you commence your Mediterranean cruise from Venice.

Our next port was Koper in Slovenia. It was a medieval city constructed in the image of the Venetian Republic. Here you will find the 15th Century Pretorian Palace. The Italian city Trieste is only two and half hour drive away. I don't know if you guys still remember your History lessons back in Wah Yan. We had our own Wah Yan abridged version of Modern History which we studied for the Leaving Certificate. Trieste was one of the cities mentioned in this book about the First World War. I wanted to take a bus to Trieste but my friend and his wife were worried that being Sunday the bus schedule was not regular enough for us to return to the ship in time. Instead we took a bus trip to Piran which gave us a scenic drive along the Adriatic coast.

In fact, Piran was dubbed   the Durovnik of North Adriatic. Its narrow streets and compact houses gave   the resort town its special charm. We walked through Tartini Square, the   central square of the town and then got to the top of an old church   (one of those Gothic church with a steeple and a bell on top) where we   could catch a bird's eye view of the whole town. It was an awesome view.   My Sony Handycam could actually zoom in to capture glimpses of Trieste about   50 miles away. From Piran we   could  also see Croatia. The Adriatic was serene and just beautiful.

Philip, Magdalen, Emily and her husband Vincent

Split was our next stop, a   Croatian port originally built around the Diocletian Palace for the   retired Roman emperor Diocletian. The Norwegian Jade was too large to berth   so we came ashore by small boats.

The palace faces the sea on   its south side so we walked straight into it soon after we got ashore. Built   1700 years ago,

Bell tower in an old Gothic church

Harbour foreshore above Split

Split, Croatia. Posing at the pier

the city wall is still intact stretching for 200 metres and 20 metres high enclosing an area of 38,000 m².  Entry was free. We wandered into the palace and saw the bell tower which is the symbol of the city. Then we wandered around the harbour and ended up in a walking trail which gave us a good view of the city. The beauty of having friends to come ashore is that you are relaxed and not having to build new friendship with people from the cruise you just met. We spent the whole morning walking, bathed in the Adriatic sun and then went back to the cruise ship for lunch.

The next day we arrived Dubrovnik. We came ashore by small boats again. Guys, Dubrovnik is such a beautiful and idyllic city that you don't want to miss. We were attracted to this cruise mainly because of Dubrovnik and we were not disappointed. Not quite knew what we were doing we first went around its perimeter and uphill as high up as the cable car station intending to ride on it. But we didn't have the local currency and would you believe they didn't take either Euro or American dollars! However, we were pleased that we climbed to high ground because the view of the old city from the top was just spectacular.

Having seen the overview of the medieval city we couldn't wait to get down to see it close-up. We entered the old town through eastern city gate and exit it through the western city gate. A wall 4-6 metres thick run almost 2 km around the city with a system of turrets and towers intended to protect the city from land and sea assaults. Inside the old Dubrovnik are outstanding medieval, Renaissance and Baroque monuments  such as the Town Hall (now the Rector's Palace), dating from the 11th century; the Franciscan Monastery (completed in the 14th century, but now largely Baroque in appearance) with its imposing church; the extensive Dominican Monastery; the cathedral (rebuilt after the 1667 earthquake); the customs house (Sponza), and a number of other Baroque churches, such as that of St Blaise (patron saint of the city

The city is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The English poet, George Bernard Shaw, visited the city in 1929 and said: "If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik." So guys, have you got the message?

After Dubrovnik we were at sea for a whole day when we took the opportunity to play mahjong in the card room. It was quite an experience playing this game when the Italian coastline was moving away as you played. We couldn't care less whether we won or lost. It was fun among friends and our respective spouses.

We landed at Sicily. Originally I was going to take an excursion to Mount Etna to see the active volcano but changed our mind to tour the township of Messina instead with my friends. At night as our ship passed the volcano, we could see lava shooting up into the night sky like firework. It was an awesome sight as everyone on deck was encouraging the volcano every time it erupted and shot molten lava into the air.

The next day the cruise stopped at Naples. My friend Vincent had already organised a driver and a 5-seater Mercedes to take us for a 40 kilometres drive of the Amalfi coast. Our first stop was Sorrento. Before I left Sydney, my Italian accountant was telling me that I must buy a bottle of Lemoncello liqueur as the area is a known cultivator of lemon. Sorrento was very impressive and so was Positano and Amalfi. These townships are build on the side of the mountain like staircases, so romantic and serene. We had seafood spaghetti and pizza Margaretta and some nice red wine finishing off with ice-cold lemoncello liqueur. I can't imagine have such a private tour with some strangers from the cruise, can you? Tommy and Winnie get seasick, otherwise they would be perfect companions.

Our final port was Civitavecchia which is the port of Rome. After we disembarked from the cruise ship and said farewell to our friend Vincent and Emily, Magdalen and I had been non-stop walking the beautiful city for up to 6 hours a day for 4 days using the Metro to get us to all the churches and historical sites. I don't want to admit it, but it is more beautiful than the Imperial Palace or the Altar of Heaven in Beijing or even Xian. It is just awesome. You can find a building over 2000 years old in every second block in the central business district. Do you like Italian designs, e.g. furniture, clothing, handbags, cars etc.? The Italians have a finesse in physical beauty and this is evident everywhere. Roma city itself is a museum. It is so so sooo beautiful! You must visit Italy. I guarantee you satisfaction and you will fall in love with Roma. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, their National Museum which they called Vittorio Emanuelle, the Pantheon of the Gods, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountains etc, they are so magnificent and grand. You just have to see them yourselves. Roma is it, period.

To conclude, we need to organise some cruise or land tour together with keen travellers. Maybe this travel tale can arouse some interest among '64 Wah Yan alumni so that some of us can plan some trips together. My wife and I will be in Calgary on May 10 driving to Banff and Jasper for 6 days. Anyone interested to join us?

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