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A Marble Stadium

Athens_Olympic Stadium

Still in Athens, Greece. This is the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic games took place in 1896. This is the only stadium in the world that is made entirely of marble. This stadium is still used. During the 2004 Olympic games, it was used for archery and was also the finishing line for the marathon.

On the day we visited, the place was full of tourists, although you wouldn’t know it from this photo. It was cool seeing the stadium used over one hundred years ago, and I liked the marble but it wouldn’t be comfortable to sit on. I’d be taking my cushion with me!

Home of the Cult of Zeus

Olympieion, Athens

Hubby took this photo of the Temple of Zeus from the Acropolis, and as I mentioned in my photo post of the Parthenon, the day although fine was hazy. These stone columns—the ruins of the temple—are immense. You can just make out the people dots to get a prospective of the size. This is the largest temple in Greece and dates back to the 6th century BC. It took over 700 years to complete due to financial problems (yes, they had money shortages way back then too!) Hadrian completed the work in AD 131.

The temple is very impressive both from the Acropolis and from ground level. I almost wish I could time travel back to its heyday in order to see it complete. It would have been a sight.

Note: For those who are traveling to Athens, the admission fee for this temple complex was included in the price of the Acropolis ticket.

Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Athens

Many years ago, well over twenty, hubby and I visited Athens and the Acropolis. We’ve visited Athens since, and during our visit this year, we decided to check out the Acropolis as part of our “culture rule”. Actually, it’s my culture rule. I drag hubby to visit some sort of historical building or site and then he’s allowed to try out the food and drinks in the local markets, pubs and restaurants. That way, we are both happy.

We were on a Mediterranean cruise and caught the local bus from the port to the center of Athens as early as we could. A wise decision, as it happens, since we beat all the groups of tourists doing the tour thing. Our photos of the Parthenon, as you can see, are people free, although I did pick up a local tour guide!

We found the Acropolis and the Parthenon much the same as we remembered them. The view over the city is stunning, although very hazy on the day we visited. Experts are doing restoration, hence the scaffolding you can see in the rear.

We purchased a combined ticket, which gave us admission to the Acropolis and several of the surrounding historical sites. It was a fun day, but I was very glad of my comfy shoes since we did lots of walking.

Note: If you’re visiting Athens and the Acropolis, don’t miss the Acropolis Museum at the base of the hilltop citadel. It’s well worth the visit.

Sirocco: The Kakapo Ambassador

New Zealand has some fascinating birds, some of which are rare these days due to man encroaching on their habitats and predators killing chicks or eating the birds’ eggs.

While I’ve been privileged to see many of our rare birds, I’ve never seen a kakapo. When hubby and I had an opportunity to see one, we grabbed it and flew to Wellington to visit Sirocco.

So, what is a kakapo? It’s a large, flightless parrot—the largest in the world—that is native to New Zealand. Not so long ago, there were only 18 left. A disaster, since kakapo do not breed every year. Breeding depends on whether there is sufficient food, and in the kakapo’s case this is the fruit of the rimu tree.

The kakapo were taken to predator-free off-shore islands where they were monitored and given supplementary feeding.

Sirocco hatched in 1997. As a chick, he suffered respiratory problems and it was decided to hand feed him and treat his breathing problems. Sirocco responded well to the treatments, but when it came time for him to return to the wild and the other kakapo, he refused. He’d imprinted on humans and didn’t recognize his species. The rangers attempted various ways to get him to stay with his own kind. One night, a ranger carried him to the other side of the island sanctuary, several miles away and left him before returning to the rangers’ hut. Sirroco was there to greet him on his return.

Sirocco became world famous when he jumped on wildlife photographer Mark Carwardine’s head and attempted to mate with him. The video appeared on YouTube and Sirocco became an overnight sensation.

These days, Sirocco is the ambassador for conservation. Although he spends much of his time in the wild, he also visits different parts of New Zealand to help raise awareness of the kakapo species.

Hubby and I visited Sirocco at Zealandia in Wellington. We watched a film about kakapo and Sirocco, then walked through the sanctuary to visit Sirocco and his handler.

At 18 years of age, Sirocco weighs 2.5kg and is the size of medium-sized cat. He’s very friendly and loves people. He was so cute – I wanted to steal him. I told hubby and one of the guides overheard me. She threatened to frisk me on the way out.

Sirocco is in a special enclosure with perspex windows. It made photos difficult due to reflections, but I liked this one of me and Sirocco.

Sirocco and Shelley

Sirocco with Shelley (reflection in the window)

IMG_1415

Sirocco, the VIP (Very Important Parrot)

Sirocco has the cutest face with green and brown feathers. We spent about twenty minutes with him, and it went so quickly. It was a privilege to see Sirocco in person, and I’m so glad we made the effort to visit.

PS – The kakapo numbers now stand at 125.

Ancient Libraries: Library of Celsus

As a booklover, I adore libraries, and I spend many happy hours working and researching in my local library.

Libraries have been around since ancient times, and today I thought I’d highlight the Library of Celsus at Ephesus in Turkey. This is one of the best preserved ancient libraries, and it was built to commemorate Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus.

Over the centuries the library was damaged by earthquakes and locals plundered the materials to build their homes and other buildings. While some of the facade has been rebuilt, the Library is still very impressive. The first glimpse a visitor receives is down a long avenue.

Ephesus, Turkey 

This is the avenue leading down to the Library of Celsus. This is a very popular tourist attraction and it’s very busy with people year around.

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

Close up views of the Library of Celsus. (Click on photos to see a larger view) The facade is decorated with reliefs – the same fashions in use in Rome at the time. The building was both a library and a mausoleum for Celsus who is buried in a stone sarcophagus below the library.

A bit different from my local library but definitely fascinating.

12 Things to Consider When Choosing A Cruise

Dawn Princess Bora Bora

Cruising is a growth industry within the travel sector, and hundreds of thousands of people spend their holidays in this manner. When I was younger, I dreamed of cruising to warm climes and interesting destinations. I collected brochures, but this type of holiday seemed like a dream to me. Too expensive for a Kiwi girl for a start, and there was the annoying fact I wasn’t old enough to get a job!

These days, cruising is more affordable than ever. Pick a destination anywhere in the world, and the chances are a cruise company sails there.

So, how do you choose a cruise? What factors should you consider?

These are the things you should consider before forking out your money.

1. What do you want from your cruise? Are you looking for relaxation or a party? Some lines cater for the younger crowd while others attract more retirees. Some of the shorter cruises are party cruises. Check it out first!

2. Are you traveling with children? Most cruise lines have a kids’ club and also one for teenagers. Some provide babysitters (for a fee)

3. What time of the year are you traveling? If you want relaxation don’t travel during Christmas/New Year or school holidays because most ships will be teaming with children. Children = noise.

4. Do you want sunshine and beaches? Stick to a cruise around the Med, the Carribean or perhaps the Pacific.

5. Do you like to dress up for dinner? Some lines expect a higher standard of dress, so if you like to wear shorts and a T-shirt all day go for one of the lines that are more casual. No Queen Mary for you.

6. Does the ship have a launderette available to the public? If you have a longer cruise this is important. Laundry and dry cleaning can be very expensive if you pay the ship staff to do it.

7. Do you want/enjoy sea days? Some cruises have several sea days, sometimes in a row, so if you loathe sea days check the itinerary carefully.

8. Hidden costs. The price of the cruise includes travel, onboard entertainment and meals. Be aware that travel to the port, alcohol, special coffees, signature restaurants, internet, ship excursions, and some hobbies will attract extra charges.

9. Room service – some cruise lines charge extra while others provide this service for free.

10. Incentive program – most cruise lines run an incentive program for frequent travelers. Instead of chopping and changing cruise lines, sometimes it is better to stick with the same one and reap benefits like free laundry and internet.

11. Are tender boats used at the ports? Some ports are not equipped for large ships to berth at the wharf, and passengers must be ferried ashore on smaller boats (tenders). This can take some time if the ship is a large one with several thousand passengers.

12. Don’t like a crowd? The ships vary from a few hundred passengers to several thousand. If this is important to you, choose your cruise accordingly.

Want to learn more? Check out Cruise Critics http://www.cruisecritic.com/ and their forum http://boards.cruisecritic.com/ for advice and tips.

Shelley Munro is a romance writer who lives in New Zealand and loves to travel. You can learn more about Shelley and her books at www.shelleymunro.com

Inspirational Holidays

Filling the creative well…

Malta

The run-up to our recent holiday was wrought with tension and stress, and there was a moment there when I thought we’d never get on the plane. We had a death in the family plus my father had an unexpected op and a month-long hospital stay. He has subsequently been diagnosed with dementia, so we have a new set of problems, which are ongoing.

However, despite the setbacks, we did get on the plane and flew off to Barcelona and the start of our Med cruise.

I have to say that this is one of our favorite parts of the world. We love the food, the spring temperatures and the wealth of old buildings and history. Centuries of history, which I’m envious of. New Zealand is a young country and while we have gorgeous scenery the breadth of our history isn’t quite as impressive as the European one.

For once, I didn’t pay much attention to the online world. I scanned my emails since I had a few business coals in the fire, but mostly, I ignored the internet and what was happening in the rest of the world.

We embraced the local food and culture and had a blast.

Here are some of the highlights, which I’ll blog about in greater detail in the weeks to come.

1. Visiting the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, which was full of gorgeous art deco features.

2. Tapas in Barcelona

3. Sicily and Mt. Etna

4. Herculaneum and Mt Vesuvius

5. Santorini, the donkeys, the scenery and the food

6. Kotor, Montenegro – a welcome surprise

7. Food tour in Istanbul, Turkey. Awesome!!!

8. Italian food – pasta and pizza. Wow!

9. Rhodes, Greece. History, castles and gorgeous food.

10. Mdina, Malta. More history and good food.

We soaked up the culture, and I took notes and many, many photos as ideas for future romance novels exploded in my mind like popcorn. Watch this space.

I’m slowly getting back into writing and have several projects underway. The writing is going fine, although I’m still on a bit of a go slow when it comes to the internet. I’m sure I’ll get with the program soon, although it has been good to switch off from online drama.

When you go on holiday, are you able to switch off from the internet and social media?

Dreams of Africa…

Kenya is a country of color. There’s the red of Masai warriors, the purple of the Jacaranda trees, which were in flower when we were there, the pink of flamingos en masse, the green of the mountains, the mishmash of brightness at the markets and the dry expanse of the National Parks.

Some of my favorite all-time memories occurred in Kenya.

Black Cab, Nairobi, Kenya

We hired a black taxi cab to visit the giraffe reserve and Karen Blixen’s house.

Hubby Feeding Giraffes

Browns and ginger are prevalent here! Hubby feeding the giraffes.

Shelley Feeding a Giraffe

More browns with a touch of red. Me feeding a giraffe. Check out that tongue!

Karen Blixen House

The greens of the gardens and trees and the sienna of the brick. Karen Blixen’s house!

Handsome Masaii Men

The red of the apparel. Handsome Masai men!

Pink flamingos

Pink flamingos!

Lion Snooze

Brown and green. A pride of lions having a midday snooze.

As I said, Kenya holds lots of great memories for me. I can still feel the rasp of that giraffe’s tongue. They were amazing and it was the coolest thing seeing different types of giraffes. I’ve had a thing for giraffes ever since.

What is one fun memory from your past that has really stuck with you?

Weta Workshop in Wellywood!

Anyone who is interested in movie special effects will have heard about the award-winning Weta Studios. They’ve been involved with many movies and TV shows including the Lord of the Rings movies, King Kong, Avatar to mention a few and more recently Thunderbirds.

Weta Studios was started in 1987 by Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger. They initially worked out of their Wellington apartment.

It’s free to visit their shop and view many collectibles plus watch a movie detailing the origins and different things they work on at Weta. It’s also possible to do a tour, but since many of the things they work on are proprietary, only a small portion of the actual studio is accessible.

Troll

On arrival at the shop, you’re greeted by these huge trolls. I’m 5’ 9” so that should give you an idea of how big they are.

Gollum

Gollum – this model was just amazing. The face looks so real as does the fish he’s holding.

Weta Studios

The entrance to the studio, which is guarded by a huge genie!

Trolls

Me braving one of the other trolls. I’m so glad they weren’t real because they were so lifelike. You could see right up their noses…

The movie we were shown contained glimpses of special effects and indicated what some of the talented people work on each day. It must be such a fun job. The tasks ranged from making armor and working with leather to making swords, designing computer graphics and so much more.

I have to admit I have a fondness for action movies, and I always enjoy the special effects such as explosions and the fight scenes, especially those where the actors wear armor. I watched The Mummy movies again a few weeks ago. All those creepy mummies and the insects, the sand storms and plane flights. Good fun!

What is your favorite movie when it comes to special effects?

Captain Cook’s Cottage

During our recent visit to Melbourne, Australia we visited Captain Cook’s cottage in Fitzroy Gardens. This cottage, built in 1755,  is the oldest building in Australia, and although it is called Captain Cook’s cottage, the building was actually owned by his parents. It is thought that James Cook did spend some time there during his holidays.

The cottage originally stood in Yorkshire, and when it came up for sale in 1934 Sir Russell Grimwade purchased the building. The brick cottage was dismantled, each brick labeled and shipped to Australia. On arrival, the cottage was reassembled.

These days the cottage is a tourist attraction with the rooms furnished in a typical style. The cottage is surrounded by a cottage garden containing flowers and vegetables.

Cooks Cottage Notice

Cooks Cottage

The cute exterior.

Cottage Garden

Part of the cottage garden.

Cooks Cottage Lounge

Ground floor interior. Lounge room.

Cook Cottage Bedroom

Parents’ bedroom, off the lounge. At night the curtains would be pulled for privacy.

About Captain Cook

Click to enlarge.

Cook Brass

A brass of  Cook, out in the garden

Captain Cook is an important part of New Zealand and Australian history. He visited New Zealand three times, charted much of our coast line and named many of the coastal landmarks. He also discovered and charted the Australian east coast and named it New South Wales.

If you’re ever in Melbourne Cook’s cottage is an interesting place to visit. I recommend it. Smile 

Do you enjoy visiting historical houses? Do you have a favorite?