Dubai to Geelong, Victoria

Early five am rise for a long day ahead. We have breakfast in our room and our bags taken to the lobby and loaded in to our car taking us to the airport.

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We arrive at the airport without issue having viewed some of Dubai’s tall buildings and very expensive supercar garages on the way.

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Duty free calls and we load up on our favourite tipples at absolute bargain prices then before we know it we board our Emirates 380 and fourteen and a half hours later arrive in Melbourne. We make a super quick exit and are on the bus and hope we remember where we parked our car.
It feels a bit strange as we have not driven for weeks and we join the traffic in a wet busy Melbourne day.

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We arrive home in Geelong and to our waiting and surprised border collies where Rebecca our life savour has looked after both the dogs and house as only she can.

We grab three hours sleep to keep us going and our aim is to last the day and get in to Australian time zones as fast as possible.

We have had an absolutely fantastic time and hope the blog/diary and pics have maybe inspired some people to get out and travel. We will certainly be continuing our travels and will enjoy future adventures round Australia and beyond.

Atlantis, Palms Dubai

Having got to bed late last night we manage to sleep so long we missed breakfast but there is so much food on offer we have not once eaten in any of the many restaurants.

Today pretty much mirrors yesterday with the exception being that we spend more time at the Imperial Beach as there is a lot more room. There is also a lot more noise from the filming going on as Kirsty Gallagher and Vernon Kay film a TV program within 100 yards of where we are sitting. It’s called the hero challenge and is a big golf thing with pro golfers arriving to take part and the noise of helicopters all day.

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We took a pic of them taking a pic, Kirsty then put that pic on instagram.

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Rumour has it that Kylie Minogue is here with a few other well known names as the Dubai Grand Prix is coming up in the next 10 days.
Having missed breakfast we once again head for the lounge for afternoon tea and manage to have a bit of food and later we do the same again between five and seven.

Already it is time for us to leave Dubai and we ensure our bags are packed, the flight is checked and the transport to the airport is booked. We will get up at five thirty Dubai time tomorrow morning, have breakfast in our room, our flight leaves at five past ten and is an Emirates 380 plane. Flight time is fourteen and a half hours and we land in Melbourne at 6.30 am local time and will then drive home finally to Geelong.

Atlantis, Palms Dubai

After a very short sleep of about four hours we are back up and head down to the Imperial Club breakfast lounge on the twelfth floor where a full buffet is on offer but no black pudding, square sausage or bacon on offer. In addition to this room we also have another four restaurants/lounges we can choose from. We dive in and scoff on with several visits and happy that the coffee is good.
We then go walkabout and we pass part of the aquarium where a gigantic fish tank has over sixty five thousand fish in it.

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We continue walking and head outside to the pool and beach area. There are several pools, one is an infinity style and is huge.

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We also have access to the Imperial Club private beach which has stunning views of the city skyline with its massive skyscrapers including the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa which is the tallest building in the world at 829 meters high. We head back to the pool and grab a towel then get in for a relaxing dip, the water temp is just perfect and the sun is shining with 30+ degrees. Only one thing missing in this picture and that’s drinks, I grab the drinks list and it’s cocktails all round bloody beautiful.

Two thirty arrives and we are now being served complimentary afternoon tea in one of the Imperial Club lounges and it’s superb with again anything you could want including sandwiches, posh ones with no crusts cut in to long strips, chips, fruit, camel stew, cheeses, fancy deserts and scones with cream and jam of course. In addition the staff who are incredible will bring you any drink you want. Faces stuffed again we head back to the pool for more swimming and taps aff tanning.
Time flys and before we know it’s time to head back to the lounge for two hours of more complimentary food and drinks and we manage behave ourselves but when you order a drink the waiters just keep them coming even though you have not ordered any more.

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We then return to our room for a while before heading downstairs to one of the many cocktail bars and have a laugh before we turn in for the night.

Venice to Dubai

The final day arrives and we are happy to be leaving Italy and on to Dubai where we hope to get some hot sun and maybe a bit of luxury at the Atlantis Palms hotel.

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We have breakfast and chillax in our room until midday where we are dropped off at a very foggy airport ready to check in and that’s when it happened.

“Do you have the black bag” says Kaz, “no” I reply and we both realise that we have left it back at the hotel. (scratch that as Kaz has told me I forgot the bag).

Kaz gets on the phone, makes a call to the hotel and they tell us that the maids had already brought it down and it was sitting in reception. We are thankful not only for the hotel being so close but the driver who just dropped us off will go back to the hotel, collect the bag and bring it back to us. We head outside and within minutes take possession of the bag which funnily contained a book that Kaz had left deliberately as she had read it. Panic over we get in and go through the pain of security and passport control before choosing a good spot whilst we wait for our boarding call. The flight today is pretty easy, only five and a half hours, with Emirates
and we have booked seats on either side of a row proving us both aisle seats and I hope not to need oxygen before or during the flight.

We have had to move from our chosen spot at the gate, it was invaded when two Asian woman sat right next to us, one wearing a face mask and the other older one coughing like a sick horse. With a full 60 minutes until we take off people are lining up to board the plane and boarding has not even been called yet !!

Long story short we arrived without issue then a bus drives us 6 km around the airport until finally we reach the gate, clear customs and grab our bags. Our driver turns up and we speed through the dark streets and arrive at our hotel The Palms Dubai, check in to the Imperial Club and head upstairs to our ocean front room.

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As we are on Venice time which is 1.am although local time is 3am we go for a stroll and finally head to sleep at 4 am local time.

Venice – Last Night

Strange day today as most of our group have all but gone with a couple of exceptions who are leaving a little later.

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We have breakfast after which we have the entire hotel to ourselves and decide to book the hotel shuttle to the airport for Sunday around 12 pm for our flight to Dubai. To allow the maids to clean the room we head out of the hotel in to a very heavy fog blanketing the area and about 10 degrees.

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Luckily we are rugged up and walk quite a short distance in to the local small town which has a little market thing on at the local church and we have a walk round it but it’s more of a flea market with used toys etc and we stroll on. As we walk it becomes clear that we are now heading out of the town already and about turn then walk back to the hotel, the entire walk lasted about fifteen minutes.
Having got back in our room we repack our cases to distribute the load and sort out our smaller cases with clothes for the heat of Dubai which is the first leg of our journey back home to Australia.
Later we walk back in to to town and share a piping hot pizza and a couple of coronas for dinner rather than go to the hotel bar or restaurant. The little bar seems to be a hang our for old people who are playing cards, reading newspapers and watching Italy v Fiji and is more like a licensed library. Later we return to the hotel and shortly after its lights out.

Venice Last Day of the European Tour

The last day of the tour arrives and everyone is up with breakfast done and on to the coach for the short drive back in to Venice. Our boat is waiting, ready and in no time we are sailing to to the Guidecca islands where we will visit the world famous Murano glass factory. Once inside we are treated to a demonstration of glass blowing and a couple of pieces made, one a prancing horse and the other a jug. Next of course it’s the showroom which is a Murano collectors dream, we have a look round but the pieces are all very expensive and we buy nothing.
Back on to the boat and off to Saint Marks to meet our guide Maria Terese who walks us through the basilica of St Marks with its glittering mosaics and we see the Pala d’Oro before Maria takes us on a tour around Santa Formosa. Dominic gets us a group discount and most of us take the chance to ride the elevator to the top of the bell tower for some brilliant view of Venice.
Back on the ground we head back to the boat and sail to Burano passing San Michelle and the Arsenale. This is a tiny place with small houses all painted in different in different colours and reminds me a bit of Millport in Scotland.

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It is here the group will have a celebratory final dinner in the restaurant Raspo De Ua. The meal itself was amazing with heaps and heaps of food and wine served including risotto, chicken, steak, fish and shellfish followed by Amaretto and biscotti. Afterwards we have a small amount of time for a walk and some shopping time. The area specialises in lace handed down by generations, all hand stitched but very expensive.

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After a short wait we are back on the boat sail the same trip in reverse but in darkness this time and meet Salvatore the coach driver who whisks us back to our hotel where we have a group shot of most people on the tour with a couple of exceptions. Then lot’s of folks say their goodbyes and head off to their rooms but we head for the bar and meet up with some other people and all of us always seem to end up having a laugh. We share a few drinks then all retire having said our goodbyes. We will stay at this hotel one more night on our own before heading to the airport for our flight back to Dubai.

The tour although short has been absolutely both fantastic and exhausting with Dominic setting a fast pace and packing as much in a he possibly could. If there is a model of the perfect tour guide then he would be it hands down.

Florence to Venice via Verona

Today we leave Florence already and head for Venice.

We don’t bother with breakfast as in most places you need to be really hungry to eat that stuff.

Dominic has a new seat plan for the coach and originally we were at the very rear which we liked we have now went forward in line with the side door which will make on off pretty easy. Some folks don’t seem to get their head round it and cause Dominic a headache but we all manage to get on and we’re off.
This morning it is raining but luckily it is forecast to clear soon after we leave Florence.
We drive through the Apennines, past Bologna in to the Veneto region before arriving in Verona. It is home to the classic Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare and we visit the balcony in the town centre where people are going crazy writing messages on the walls and attaching padlocks of love together and throwing away the keys as a mark of undying love.

We then have a walk through the lovely town centre which has lots of high end shopping and beautiful buildings like most of Italy we have visited.

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After a Roadhouse stop we arrive in to Venice and cross the road bridge built n year ten of the Grand Fascist Council which takes us to Tronchetto where our boat awaits to transport us to the River Delli Schiavoni. This is the main area in Venice and as you can imagine we are not alone.

Dominic once again comes through and within minutes we are wobbling our way in to a gondola and follow in George Clooney’s path around the waterways and bridges of the city with lots of photo’s being taken by tourists on very bridge. Tempered to belt out “just one Cornetto” which thankfully for everyone else I mange not to. The gondolas are amazing with fancy details everywhere and how the guy manages to avoid the narrow lanes with lots of other gondolas i will never know but we arrive back safely and wobble our way back on to dry land.
With everyone accounted for, including one of our group who fell getting in to the gondola we are off in to a flotilla of water taxi’s which take us down to the Grand Canal under the Bridge of Sighs which now in darkness is stunning.

The water taxi, which is not really a name fitting the boat we are in as it is incredible, made of nine different woods all polished and absolutely spotless both the leather seats below and the upper deck area where we ride taking photo’s.

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We sail back to the Tronchetto where our coach awaits to take us to the the Anthony Hotel where we will stay overnight and eat dinner as well. We are allocated our room and as soon as we walk in we walk back out. Once again we are given single beds and as we are here for the next three nights immediately get a change. This works well as the room we are given is massive and we request and receive extra pillows as we hate having only one, must be getting old.
Having settled in we get down for dinner which is typical of a hotel tour meal but hunger makes good kitchen and then after having a few laughs in the bar we head upstairs and crash to sleep. Tomorrow we will return to Venice for another days touring.

Florence

Another hectic day arrives and we are up fed and drive to the Centre of Florence.

We arrive at the accademia where we meet our guide Maddalena who is smitten with the statue of David by Michelangelo. The statue is massive and is an incredible piece of work which over the years has had some damage caused by both weather and idiots attacking it but is still just about in one piece.

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We then go on a walking tour where we visit the Piazza Duomo followed by piazza Signoria and finally Piazza Santa Croce close to the Florence Pantheon. There is then an offer to visit one of the many gold shops and also a leather factory which produces amazing hand made bags etc. we decline both and instead head off and grab some lunch and a cold drink in the square interrupted by the hordes of Romany Gypsies begging. One of these is wearing a new looking leather jacket, a skirt and shoes which don’t look cheap, she is also holding a laminated sign telling a story that she has a child dying from leukaemia. A short time later we get a visit from another older woman who has the exact same sign and she gets brushed off by us as well. Funnily we witness the first Gypsy now on her new mobile phone sitting in the square. As we are trying to relax a street artist tries to sell us paintings then another guy offers us a great deal on a selfie stick by this time our brush offs are getting a little bit faster and louder until we get some peace for five minutes.

Before long we were back on the coach where we head south making a visit to the American War cemetery of Florence.

After a short time we push on through the Chianti hills to a fantastic and picturesque little hilltop town called San Gimignano.

Dominic our tour Director shouts us all a gelato in Dondoli’s Gelateria which was superb and delivered to all in a very fast manner.

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We then tour the Mayors square where Dominic delivers a history lesson as only he could with his vast knowledge and clever delivery which makes you listen to every word.
With the sun setting we grab a bite to eat and a drink before taking in the beautiful views of the Tuscan hills and their winter tree colours before heading down the hill to the coach. After a bit of a drive we arrive at our new hotel, the Antony in Mestre where we check in and then have dinner before we shower and get straight to sleep. Tomorrow we will leave Florence and head for Venice via Verona.

Rome to Florence Via Pisa

We were up early packing our cases which will be collected and placed on the bus for us. We have soaking rain this morning as we leave Rome in to morning rush hour traffic and head north through Lazio and Umbria on our way to Florence but will stop in Pisa on the way.

As we near Pisa the rain has cleared and there is a little bit of sun trying to get through. We get off the coach and board a little train having ran the gauntlet of people trying to sell us stuff. The train takes us to the square of miracles where we get our first look at the famous leaning tower.

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It stands pretty high next to yet another amazing church and is freaky to look at as it really should topple over.

Afterwards we head north to Torre Del Lago Puccini before driving to a farmhouse for dinner. Il Poggio sits in the Tuscan hills and produces amazing olive oil, balsamic oil and wines.

We are shown how the olives are pressed to produce fantastic olive oil then have a magnificent meal with delicious wines and entertainment. We then get taken to our hotel, the Novotel Aeroporto.

Touring Rome

Today is a busy one first stop The Vatican where the lines to get in are super long but as we are part of a tour we get in along with a few other groups an hour and a half before they let the general public go through.

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We are being taken round by Marco who knows too much about this place and assaults us with fact after fact. This place is off the charts with opulence and the thinking looks to be more is never enough. As a non religious pair we just see it as historical, powerful but mostly just a big collection of stuff. We then visit St Peters basilica, St Peters square, Sistine chapel, Vatican museum which need no description from us, please see pic’s.

We then get a break for lunch and then visit a real highlight for us, the Colosseum.

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We again are taken round by Marco who is just ridiculously knowledgeable and rally paints a picture of what went on here. Although most of it is in ruins you can still feel and get a sense of how hideous it must have been for all concerned. Including the poor wild animal and slaves being mass murdered for the enjoyment of the general public and the elite of Rome.

We then return to our hotel before going back out to Rome in the evening where we visit the Spanish Steps, the crazy Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon among those buried there are the painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, the composer Arcangelo Corelli, and the architect Baldassare Perruzzi.

We then head to Piazza Navona for dinner. Sitting in the Piazza square in a restaurant suggested by our tour director was just amazing and I had the best risotto I have ever tasted anywhere. It was so good I really didn’t want to share but had to as I wanted a piece of the pizza Kaz had and although not close to mine for a pizza it was amazing.
Later we return to the hotel and crash once again knackered and tomorrow we will head to Florence via Pisa.