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UK Wandering & Aegean - Black Seas Cruise - Part 4Author: Phillip F. (More Trip Reviews by Phillip F.)
Date of Trip: July 2010
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(After Boarding Seabourn Odyssey) We are ushered into the Grand Salon passing through a corridor lined with happy, smiling attentive attendants. "Welcome, Velkom, Wilkomm, Bon Jour", is the chorus. Directed to a couple of inviting seats, the usher toting our carry-on bags sets the bags down and informs us that we will be called when our cabin is ready. In the meantime a bevy of waiters are hovering to ask what we would like to drink and snack during the wait. We enter our cabin -- a veranda suite on level 5. The marble bathroom has a separate bath and shower, double basin for his and her, Molton Brown bathing products and designer soaps. There is a fully stocked bar and refrigerator, walk in closet, queen bed, dining table, living area and glass door to veranda -- and we are only on level 5! We settle in quickly and head off to explore all the amenities of this super yacht. After changing for dinner, we select one of the 4 restaurants and make our way down to level 4. Upon entering Gail is escorted arm in arm to a table by a young smiling usher, while I have a young smiling usherette. In reply to their query, we indicate we have no objection to having another couple join us as part of the 'meet your fellow traveller' program. They were a middle aged couple from Jersey and she was a teacher. It wasn't until desert that we found out what he did, but I could have guessed by the way he was looking at us -- he was a psychologist. Actually they were both very nice whom tolerated my dry humour.
We awaken to silence with an oh so slight feeling of gliding through water. Land can be seen on the horizon under the bright azure sky. Arrival at our first port of call, Dikili Turkey, is estimated at 12.00 noon and we leisurely rise to eventually make our way to level 8 for our first breakfast on board. What will we have first? Smoked salmon, ham off the bone, cheeses, cereals, juices, breads, fruits, yoghurts, patisseries, eggs, cooked meats. Wait! There is more variety on the other table! OK, let's start here and see how far we get. Anyway, we have done our workout at the gym so we can indulge. What did you say? The waiter wants us to look at the a la carte menu as well!! Our shore excursion today is at 12.15 pm. We take a tender into the small Dikili harbour and board the arranged tour bus for The Acropolis of Pergamon & Ancient Asclepion. Our tour guide is an expert in ancient history who lives locally and is contracted by Seabourn. On the way we pass through a small town which, despite being Sunday, has an open menswear shop advertising shirts for TL 10.00 (about AU$7.50). I muse the fact I thought I was getting bargains at double that in the Grand Bazaar. Ancient Pergamon is a terrace site on the upper slopes of a volcanic hill, Mount Athos. Carved into the mountain in the 3rd century BC, just after the death of Alexander the Great, the town is cut almost sculpturally and was built by Eumenes II. The plan was to transform Mount Athos into an image of Alexander, holding an entire town in one hand, with a river pouring from the other. Pergamon was numbered among the Seven Churches of Revelation. The ruins of Asclepion are the remains of one of the foremost medical centres of classical times, and built in the name of the God of Healing, Asklepios. On the way back our guide announces that according to the itinerary we are scheduled to stop briefly for a rest stop at the next village and since it was a hot day and everyone looks like they just want to return to the ship, he would only stop if anyone wanted to. Our fellow travellers all indicated that they would be more than happy not to stop, however this village happened to be the one we had passed earlier with the TL 10.00 shirts. We alight quickly avoiding the glares our hot and bothered travellers, calling back "we won't be long". Since we are in Turkish cotton country, and one of their main exports are pure cotton men's fashion shirts, it only makes good sense that the way to buy such products is like a local, at local prices and in the town that is located in the heart of where such products are produced. "Shame on you all for not supporting the local community" we chortle as we clamber back on board the bus which heads quickly in the direction of Dikili Harbour. For all those readers who are bored with the detail of the luxurious facilities of the 12 month old Seabourn Odyssey which boasts a nearly one on one crew to passenger ratio for its 400 guests, please skip to the heading for 12 July, otherwise bear with me whilst I indulge a little more. Once back on board, Gail heads for the whirlpool on our deck whilst I headed for the bar to order a couple of cocktails (all drinks included) and some nibbles to pass the time whilst we recover from our journey into the past. Once refreshed and re-hydrated, it's off to change for an early show featuring a British comedian who also sings and plays instruments. Fine dining follows, then a bit of dancing at The Club and up to the theatre to watch the last 1/2 hour of the final of the World Cup soccer on the big screen. We are by now very tired, so after 5 minutes we decide it would be better to watch in our cabin on the flat screen HD TV. I wake 3 hours later, turn off the TV and return to my peaceful slumber as another exciting tour is scheduled for 8.30 AM after we arrive in Kusadasi port.
Today we have an internet arranged tour as it was better value than what Seabourn was offering. As we have a pre-arranged meeting time of 8.30 am at the dock we rise at 6.00 am for our gym workout (if you don't workout each day you explode from all the intake of food and drink),quick shower then off for another gourmet breakfast (I promise not to mention it again) and back to the cabin to collect cameras etc for the tour. We alight the boat right on 8.30 am and look around for our guide. We see lots of signs -- Mr. Smith, Brown Family, Messrs Lloyd-Jones & Entourage. Did I start to panic? Of course not! I turn toward the shady tree at the end of the concourse and there being held by a young well groomed Turk was the sign: Phillip ...(Intentionally deleted). A brief introduction and we jump in the waiting 11 seater VW Transporter. It is only us , the guide and the driver on this tour (as arranged) so I am surprised it is a large vehicle but it matters not, in fact there is plenty of room to move and large windows for photo shoots and a handy fridge to hold our drinks. Our tour today is the Ephesus Tour which covers the House of Virgin Mary, Ancient City of Ephesus and the Terrace Houses, Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World) and the Basilica of St John. The House of Virgin Mary is in an airy valley on the Mount of the Nightingales -- a spot where Christ's mother is supposed to have spent her last years. The foundation walls date back to the 1st century. Now many may call me a cynic, but!, the fact is that Muslims used to make pilgrimages to this region many years ago and the tourism industry was booming. In the early 1800's business was waning and it was about this time that a German nun -- Catherine Emmerich had visions of Mary living in a small stone house in this region. Amazingly, 19th century clergy discovered the foundations of a house (which was reconstructed) and Christians and Muslims now make the pilgrimages and business has never been better. The highlight of this tour has to be the Ancient City of Ephesus. There are Roman or Byzantine structures built on earlier foundations and include (but not exhaustively): the Arcadian Way, Harbour Thermal Baths and Gymnasium, the Roman Forum, the Twin Churches of Mary, the Theatre with its back to Mount Pion, the Library of Celcus, the Temple of Serapis, the Marble Way, the Streets of the Curetes, Hadrian's Temple which is next door to the Baths of Scolastica. Further toward the Magnesium Gate is an Odeum which could seat 1500 people. Of special mention is the Terrace Houses which are still being excavated and restored. They are fully enclosed as a living museum and archaeologists will be working for many years to come to discover the secrets still buried in many centuries of layers of dirt and rock. In fact, only 13% of the entire area has to date been excavated. The Terrace Houses are the homes of the wealthy of ancient times and give an insight into how the privileged lived. All that remains of the Temple of Artemus is a solitary pillar (where storks nest) and a few blocks of granite. Upon the recommendation of our guide, we substitute the Basilica of St John (more ruins) for the Archaeological Museum. It turns out to a wise move as the Museum is very interesting. Apart from housing many originals of the replicas we have viewed at Ephesus, it had several arresting statues of the multiple bosomed goddess of fertility, Artemis. Other attractions include effigies of the phallic god Priapus, interesting mosaics and frescoes. On the way back to Kusada?i, our tour guide suggests we visit a 'no obligation' inspection of a local Turkish carpet demonstration. Not being one to refuse an opportunity I make a deal. We will go on the carpet tour which is described as "an educational facility subsidised by the Turkish Government for the promotion of work for the local youth", providing I can use his wireless broadband upon returning so as I may upload the latest photos to Facebook and send the last chapter written in my travelogue. Deal done! We sit through a presentation of magnificent silk carpets, watch the local youth (middle aged ladies) hand weaving double knotted carpets, eat some traditional Turkish nibbles, watch Gail try her hand at knotting carpets, see how silk is extracted from silkworm cocoons and finally at the end of it all, bid the owner of the establishment goodbye as we also inform him we are not in the market for Turkish carpets. The other end of the deal is upheld as I am now typing out Chapter 10. Returning to the ship we realise we have still time to accept the Ship's offer of a free evening concert to be held back at Ephesus after it is closed to visitors. It is a unique magical evening set against the lit backdrop of the Odeum and surrounding features. We soak in the orchestra repertoire of classical music whilst seated on comfortable fabric covered chairs bordered with gold ribbon and tables laden with delicacies reminiscent of an ancient time. The 30 minute return on the Seabourn coach and the preparation for slumber fuses with the lingering sounds of flutes and violins and sleep comes quickly as the whisper of moving water fades ever so gently.
Bodrum is a town that dazzles against an unbelievable blue sea with its picturesque yacht harbour filled with traditional wood-varnished sailboats. It has charming outdoor cafes and small cobbled streets bursting with shops selling carpets, jewellery and local artwork. The flat roofed square built houses are almost blinding under the hot sun, their white walls festooned with great clusters of purple bougainvillaea. No wonder this town is known as the Saint-Tropez of Turkey. We wind our way out of the streets of shops and past the white homes in search of the Halicarnassus Mausoleum -- another of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. We walk along streets with no footpaths in search of the Wonder. We turn a corner and there it is. A sign indicates the entrance into the walled enclosure and we stroll past the ticket box as it is unmanned. A couple of snaps of the site and a rotund uniformed man comes quickly over saying "8 TL, 8 TL". Not particularly wanting to visit the museum I stall him (whilst Gail continues to snap) by asking if that includes the museum as well as the ancient site in which we have entered. He nods, and with a delayed reaction, I state we are not interested and leave the site with mission complete. (2 down, 5 to go). Bodrum's medieval Castle of St. Peter is the other attraction which also houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Whilst I am sure it offered a myriad of objects and artefacts, the day was hot and another castle and museum was not high on the agenda, so we walked back slowly along the foreshore of the harbour to the waiting shuttle bus that returned us to the ship where we could relax in the sun by the pool and be waited on by the only too eager attendants (the food and drink never stops!). The short version of events after that is: shower, dinner (new fine dining menu everyday -- entrees were snow crab and avocado salsa, chicken double consomme; mains were duck a l'orange x 2 and sweets were petit fours, ice cream chocolate coated one bite sensations), Broadway show and dance spectacular, late nightcap at the observation deck, and last but not least -- bed. (we passed up on the disco theme dancing). It was important to not have too late a night (before 1.00 am) as in the morning we would be anchored off Santorini and this was one port not to be missed.
We wake to a magnificent site of snow capped mountains. Wait a minute! It's 30 degrees outside, so how can there be snow? We rub the sleep out of our eyes and have another look. The appearance of snow starts to take on a different characteristic as the shapes of houses form and the colour of a deep blue presents itself majestically on domes and then doors and window frames. Yes, this is a view of Santorini in all its picture perfect glory from the veranda of our cabin on the Seabourn Odyssey which is firmly anchored just 200 metres off shore. The tenders are already running so we go through our now regular ritual of gym, shower, breakfast (I won't bore you with the details except to say that the Danish pancakes were superb), fill the back pack for the day and then off to explore. The tender dropped us off at Skala, the seaport at the base of Fira - the pedestrian-only capital of this seductive volcanic Greek island in the Sea of Crete. We now had a choice: take the cable car up the 300+ metre slope to Fira or ride a donkey up the 588 step path. The words of Serge were ringing in my ear: "When you are in Santorini you MUST take the donkey". Who were we to ignore the sage words of an ex travel agent, so up we went on the donkeys. It certainly was different! The donkeys had minds of their own. Stop, go, close to the edge, bump into pedestrians, bite the next donkey, etc -- but the most frightening thing was when the donkey you were riding came up close, alongside and just a bit behind the donkey in front so as your leg was parallel with the other donkeys bum. One only had to look on the ground to calculate the odds of a tail lift at that precise moment! Once at the top we had thrilling views of the boats, houses and islands below. Words cannot describe this breathtaking eye feast and is best left for readers to peruse the many photos (which still do not altogether pay it justice). Many of the shops feature tourist tat but there are a few good ones among the dross. The Byzantine jewellery is especially good, however after the price points in Turkey it was hard to justify the price of pieces on show here (despite their originality). Oia (pronounced E-Ah) was touted as the place to spend time so we headed off to find Gold Street (turn left past the cathedral) where we could take the bus to the most northerly town on the island (€1.40 each as compared to a Taksi for €25.00 -- and that's after negotiating). If we thought the scenery at Fira was 10 out of 10, then the scenery at Oia was a 20. The atmosphere was also superior, with less tourists to contend with, less cobbly cobble stones (and even long spans of marble footpaths) and less volume of tatty stores. After spending the best part of 5 hours just wandering and absorbing (and sun burning) we decided to call it a day and return to the ship for dinner at the Colonnade -- where we could sit outside on the deck and watch the sunset whilst enjoying the Greek themed meal on offer. After 5 courses (and an affegato) matched with delectable wines we were so whacked from our day and evening that we skipped the nightly activities, including a concert pianist, and retired early in preparation for the morrow's activities.
Milos has all the components of a perfect Greek isle -- fantastic rock formations, dozens of beaches, villages of sugar-cube houses, whitewashed windmills and glowing azure caves. Again it is a short tender ride to shore and we go in search for a quad bike hire shop so as we can get transport to go to a beach. We select the northern beach of Sarakiniko as it is known for its unusual rocks which form beautiful and strange swimming spots. There are no quad bikes available so we ask for a scooter instead (live life dangerously!). Unfortunately in Greece you need a bike license for scooters of any size so that was the end of that idea. The only alternative is an ATV which is €45. A bit rich, especially since the last tender is 4.00 pm and the time is now 11.30 am. There are only 10 taxis in town, and in any case if we get driven there by one, how can we be sure we can get one back. Next, we walk to the bus stop and hop on a bus that is leaving in 10 minutes. I obtain a timetable from the front of the bus and it is the wrong bus. (I was sure the island was too small for more than one but it actually is larger than I thought and has many routes). The bus we want will be along in 10 minutes and runs every 2 hours -- too long in between as if we don't like the beach we are stuck and the weather is hot and humid. Maybe we will catch the bus we are on to its destination Tripiti -- a charming hilltop village above a picturesque harbour which has incredible sea views and is conveniently close to the catacombs, an ancient theatre and the site where Venus di Milo was found. It's hot, the air conditioning on the bus is off, our ship has a special marina facility (unusual for a cruise ship) and water sports activity program scheduled from 1.00 to 3.00 pm, and we have seen plenty of villages, harbours, views and ancient sites. We look at each other with an 'are we mad' look and simultaneously alight from the bus and head to the pier for the next tender back to paradise. The ship's marina is fabulous. There is a caged enclosure with a walk around deck. The entire structure is lowered into the Aegean Sea and you can swim in complete safety. Outside the enclosure is a multitude of toys that can be used in the open sea. This includes kayaks, peddle-o's, 2 man sailboats, water skiing, doughnut rides, and a banana ride that had 6 people being towed (and dumped) behind a speedboat. Great fun!! A quick rinse off of the salty Aegean water in the open deck shower and we locate a table on level 8 at the Patio Bar & Cafe where we enjoy some snacks (choice of salads, pizzas, sandwiches, chicken wings, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc etc etc). Full bar service via ever present waiters ensures dehydration is not possible. We strike up a conversation with some of the fellow cruisers we have befriended and before we know it, time has passed and despite the volume of food already consumed today, it is the 'Chef's Choice' tonight in The Restaurant (which the chef himself told Gail during 'the galley tour' "do not miss this experience') and we hurry back to our cabin to 'glam up' as the suggested dress code is elegant casual. Six courses later (including the classical French sorbet course) we inform the couple with whom we have been dining, that the 10.00 pm musical show has begun and we excuse ourselves so as we will not miss it. An 8.00 am start to our on shore tour tomorrow ensures we have a relatively early night. The tour is Mycenae & Epidaurus from Navplion, Greece.
What time is it? I ask sleepily as I hear the sound of ship anchors being deployed. 7.10 am!! We have to hurry or we will miss the tour. Quickly showering, we head off upstairs to breakfast. The waiter wants to carry my bowl of cereal to our table! OK -- no time to argue. Just a selection from the buffet this morning, no time for the menu or daily special (pecan pancake or something similar). Back to the suite to collect cameras etc and we make the tender for the port with 2 minutes to spare. Actually, they had our name on the list so I think they may have waited, but..... I wasn't going to stretch the friendship. Ancient Mycenae was fascinating despite having seen many ruins previously. Entering the site via the Lion's Gate felt like being transported back to the 4th century BC and the descriptions of the Tomb of Agamemnon by our learned tour guide enhanced our understanding of the period immensely. Just a bit further down the road was the largest example of a 'Beehive Memorial Burial Chamber'. Fully intact as a structure (apart from all the pillars and adornments and murals which have been looted most likely in the BC era) it completely over awed you upon entering such a magnificent construction which generally took around 25 years of slave labour to build (obviously and hopefully before the intended occupant had died). Epidaurus is a UNESCO site known throughout the Hellenistic world for its unique medical facilities. It was dedicated to Aesclepius, the god of healing, and the city was filled with curative spas. Alas, today the city is mostly ruins, however through a twist of fate, the theatre is largely intact and is well used these days attracting high rating artists due to the near perfect acoustics it provides. The theatre seats 14,000 persons and is mostly constructed of marble dating back to the 4th century BC. A performance was being hosted this night and the stage props can be seen in the photographs taken. It was a modern version about the women of the Trojan War. Despite being 38 degrees, after being dropped back at the tender pick up point on the pier, we grabbed a couple of iced bottle waters and cold face towels from the ships facilities on the pier and headed off for the old part of the town of Navplion (just across the road). We looked at the usual array of shops and galleries and at 2.00 pm when they closed for lunch (siesta) we headed back to the pier for the tender and ship for (a late) lunch. We tried very hard not to over indulge as tonight was to be our first meal at Restaurant 2 -- the 46 seat, highly rated, ship's restaurant that had to be booked at least 48 hours in advance. (Mind you, I couldn't imagine how the food could be any better!). We arrive at Restaurant 2 at the allotted time of 7.00 pm and are warmly greeted by name (all staff must study the photographs taken of passengers when first boarding for an ID card in lieu of passports when disembarking at ports, and are tested on their memory efficiency during the cruise) and are escorted to our table. Once seated we are told to relax as the chef has selected our meal and the procession of food and beverage begins. Sorry Liz, but here are the details of what follows: Aperitif: Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne Bread rolls: Pan de Bonno (Columbian flour) with queso blanco (white cheese) White Wine: 2008 William Fevre Petit Chablis 1st Course: Poached Shrimp Martini Balsamic Jelly, Split Saffron Vinaigrette 2nd Course: A trio -- Seared Beef Tataki, Pickled Vegetables, Ponzu Jelly, Tahinee Puree Crispy Curried Vidalia Onion Rings (from Georgia), bitter greens Navy Bean Fritter, Yoghurt Raita 3rd Course: A Trio -- Clear Tomato Presse, Goat Cheese Panna Cotta, Tear Drop Confit Chicken & Pesto Strudel White Tomato Cappuccino, Basil Foam Red Wine: From Tuscany -- Serego Aligheieri San Giovese 4th Course: A Duo -- Grilled Dorade, Preserved Lemon Sauce, Ricotta Gnocchi, Parmesan Gremolata Slow Roasted Lamb Shank & Potato Moussaka, Red Wine Jus 5th Course: Baileys Sabayon, Crushed Chocolate Flakes Dessert Wine: Sauterne (forgot to get details -- brain cells not functioning to optimum by now) 6th Course: Coconut & Passion Fruit Gelano, Almond Foam, Blackberry Sorbet, Red Beet Tuille Night Cap: After 2 -- Crème De Menthe + Baileys + Crème De Cacao + Cointreau, all mixed with a chocolate cream and topped with a Vanilla Cream (Gail had two!) After rolling out of the restaurant we started making our way to meet up with some new friends that were finishing their cruise tomorrow in Athens at the piano concerto. It took about 2 hours as we kept bumping into others we had befriended and were also leaving tomorrow. We eventually made the concerto for the last 15 minutes and after headed for the Observation Deck Bar for a final nightcap. Whilst many would be leaving the cruise tomorrow, we knew that our cruise journey still had 2 more weeks with the best yet to come!
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