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UK Wandering & Aegean - Black Seas Cruise - Part 4

Author: Phillip F. (More Trip Reviews by Phillip F.)
Date of Trip: July 2010

We awake to the sounds of motorised gang planks being sent from the ship to connect with the ship terminal Piraeus in Athens. Many of the passengers will leave the cruise today and others will replace them for the next 14 days of the journey from the Aegean into the Black sea. Another hot day is forecast and we decide to just visit the Acropolis. We go up to deck 8 to the hospitality desk before setting out, and get maps and instructions for catching the Metro to the Acropolis. It is explained to us -- once you leave the terminal, cross the road to the DHL building, buy a ticket at the kiosk near the bus stop, catch the 843 bus to Piraeus Metro, catch the Metro to Thisio and walk from there. No problems, we do this, find the Acropolis and enter. We marvel at all the original and reconstructed structures: Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, Parthenon, Erechtheion and the Theatre of Dionysos. Snap, snap, snap. Time to go, it is hot -- especially with all the white marble reflecting the heat. Metro back to Piraeus, walk across the road to the road to the bus stop for the 5 minute bus ride back to the ship -- how easy is this and for the last week we have been blessed with everything going to clockwork. This alone should have been ringing warning bells to a pair of seasoned travellers. When things are rolling along smoothly, one should double their efforts to keep their guard up and radar on. Yep, the bus came along, we were jostled in with the crowd and bingo! The wallet was gone. Zipped up pockets are no match for the light fingered. Luckily, there was only a few hundred euro and credit cards (which were promptly cancelled) that went. The passports, and the rest of the cash were still safely stored on board the ship. The worst part was that the parasites got away with what (in hindsight) was obvious and should have been avoided by being more alert. The other unfortunate part of the incident was that I only had around 1 hour to report the incident to the local authorities to ensure an insurance claim to be hassle free, and that meant travelling to the appropriate police station (the Tourist Police were not interested) and going through the process and then making it back in time for the ship's sailing. Since I was 20 minutes away from where I would have to lodge the report, I figured I would report it in the next port rather than taking a chance in beating Murphy. One positive, from Gail's point of view, was that I did not blame her for what was taken from my pocket! Back on our veranda as the Piraeus terminal fades on the horizon, we crack a bottle of French Champagne and toast the rest of the cruise. Whilst the future is unknown it must be faced with a determined and positive outlook. The sea air smells refreshing! Tomorrow is a new adventure and the first day of the rest of our journey.

July 18

This morning we wake to the sound of bow thrusters struggling against the tide and winds that were preventing the ship making a quick dock at Santorini. Despite the bravado and positive spin we put on yesterday's unfortunate event, something had changed. We struggle from the bed and make our way laboriously to the gym. As I walk towards the treadmills I am unaware that Gail has been touted by the hairdresser and was now in negotiations for a colour treatment. After the gym we are heading back to our cabin to ready for breakfast when we spy the Customer Service Manager, Jo. Gail approaches and before he has a chance to finish the robotic "Good Morning Mr. & Mrs. ...(Intentionally deleted)" he is cut off mid sentence and is subjected to a venting of anger which has been festering since THAT event. An abridged version of Gail's venting follows: • The noise of the bow thrusters and anchors in the morning is intolerable • The touting by the hairdresser is unprofessional, and even after I had agreed to the US$80 charge for re-growth colouring I found the demand for a not negotiable US $47 blow wave ridiculous, especially on the pretext that the ship is 6 star and client's must look presentable when leaving the salon • The lack of care and help when in a situation of need is unforgivable -- especially when the so called Tourist Police located in the same area of the terminal where the ship is docked are totally uninterested in our plight and are more interested in doodling on a piece of paper than offering any better advice than "you need to go to the city police"; and the Port Authority regulating the embarkation onto the ship were no more helpful: and the Seabourn staff at the terminal had nothing to say other than "would you like a cold hand towel!" Gail indicated that we should be compensated whilst I expressed a desire for some help in going to the local authorities in Santorini as that is where we would be heading today to make a report. Jo seemed most apologetic and stated he would investigate matters and have his assistant contact us shortly or leave a message on the cabin phone regarding going to the police in Santorini. We shower (noticing it leaks), have breakfast (daily special wasn't that special and the cornflakes went soggy) and head back to the cabin. No message and we cannot contact Jo or his assistant so we head ashore to see the Port Police. Whilst we were aware we needed to see the 'Greek Police' (the ones that wear guns) I think there were so many levels of police that there were police to police the police. The Port Police were very nice (also doodling in air conditioned comfort) and phoned the Greek Police to make sure we could lodge a report with them and that they would even be there when we arrived (twenty minutes by cab). The outcome was that we would have to go after 2.00 pm as they were very busy (probably doodling) but at least there was no rejection. We had a couple of hours to spare so we went for a walk in Santorini and lost ourselves in the maze of cobbled streets of boutiques and tavernas. Just before 2.00 pm and using the sun as our guide, we unravel ourselves from the twist of laneways and exit onto the seafront where the taxi rank can be found. To our horror, there is a long queue of disgruntled prospective fares who are constantly glancing at their watches and speaking in tongues (it all sounded Greek to us). It was clear that it would be quicker for us to return to the ship and order a cab from there and even maybe, with a stroke of good fortune, the Customer Service representative may have advanced our cause and had some unexpected news. No such luck! In fact there was a message on our phone. It basically informed us that because it was Sunday, we should wait until we are in Skiathos tomorrow and that we would find it much easier to make the report there. However, if we insisted, she (Bianca) could organise a cab to take us to the correct police -- it would be about €20 each way AND we would need an interpreter as the police today do not speak English. The best interpreter would be an English speaking taxi driver but he would have to charge the €60 per hour for all the time it would take! Were we lucky the taxi queue was long or were we unlucky we listened to the drivel of Bianca? We could not know as we headed to the poolside bar to drown our sorrows. Dinner came and went (the duck was too pink). At least the waiter was nice and managed to keep our spirits up for the duration. We attended half of a new show (famous singer/pianist but didn't pay much attention) and headed for a relative early night knowing (hoping) tomorrow would be better.

July 19

Today will be a short day in port. (10.00 am to 5.00 pm). We rise early, I shake off the blues, and we head for gym with a spring in our step. Past the salon, whose hairdresser diverts her eyes from our glare, into the gym and onto the machines. Next is the shower. We ignore the shuddering of the cabin as the anchors are lowered for the 10.00 am schedule. We settle down to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, determined that today will be the last day of the saga. Selecting an outside table overlooking a sandy beach on the shores of Skiathos (of the Mamma Mia fame) we sip our juice as a sailing boat bobs past on the gentle waves. The table next to us is empty until an American carrying a plate laden with smoked salmon, ham off the bone and camembert sits down. We look at one another and think that whilst there is enough food for 6 people the table he is sitting at is only for 2. Oh well, he may only like to have less variety and more quantity for breakfast. An instant later, the waiter that was behind him, sets down on the same table a plate heaped with at least a dozen pastries (of the large variety). We grimace at the blatant gluttony of this individual whose stature does not convey the need for such consumption. His wife (we presume) then sits opposite him with a plate of food for herself so it does not appear that any of the first two plates were going to be shared. Then incredibly another waiter appears, and with an embarrassed look, tries to squeeze another 2 plates of hot cooked food onto the table. Without success, the wife then tells the waiter to scrape the food from one of the unplaced plates onto a plate that was already on the table with the reasoning that she only wanted a taste anyhow. We had not intended to have a large breakfast ourselves this morning and certainly by now were definitely sure of our capacity to eat. We could have sat to watch the spectacle before us, but having completed our meal, there were tasks to be done and we headed for the Customer Services desk to resolve the issues from yesterday as it was our last Greek port and the final opportunity to make the report to the Greek Police. We asked if Bianca was available and the young girl at the desk said she was busy and indicated she could help us. We stated that Bianca was aware of the issues and it would be best to speak with her. She tried Bianca's extension again and this time she answered. She relayed through the young girl that she had checked with the port representative this morning and that: "the banks would be open and could answer any queries on our credit cards" and "there were plenty of available taxis to take us to the police station and that it was about a 5 mile journey". We sat there momentarily, taking in what we had just heard. Something akin to a red rag seemed to be waving in front of my eyes as my mouth was put into gear and the invective tirade was let loose. By the finish Gail was in tears and the young girl in front of us was apologising profusely. There was however, no point in fighting City Hall. The bureaucracy at this level was impenetrable. We left whilst the young girl was making assurances that our concerns would be escalated to higher levels, and we retreated to our cabin so as I could gather what was necessary to go ashore to finalise the police issue whilst Gail could relax by the pool. Before I went ashore I returned to where the destination representative normally sits to get a map and location of the police station. The desk was unmanned so I went further along to the tour desk where I was told that this port provided no representative. I thought this strange as our daily 'Herald' indicated there would be one. They also had no map or information so I was taken back to Customer Service where the (same) young girl then proceeded to find information and a map on the internet. I noticed Jo was also in the area and as I approached him, he held out his hand in greeting and commented that he had contacted Miami (Head Office of Carnival Lines -- the owners of Seabourn) and he would have their response by 4.00 pm that day. The young girl could not get the required information but was told by another that maps with what I sought were available at the shore tender meeting point. With some positive hope I left for the 3rd level to catch the next tender to shore. Upon arriving I collected the map, located where the ta=i point and police station were indicated and set off for the ta=i point 200 metres away. I patiently waited in queue (which was actually moving with the frequent arrivals of ta=is). 10 minutes later I was away and less than 2 kilometres travelled and €3.20 paid I was at the police station. So much for the 5 miles! I collected my receipt and headed into the station. There was no reception desk, however the room to the right had 4 police engaged in what appeared to be light banter, the room to the left had two people in civilian clothes talking to a seated sergeant and the stairwell ahead of me had a sign pointing upward with "Tourist Police" written on it. I headed to my right as these police were wearing guns and that meant Greek Police. I began to talk and the four officers stopped their banter and listened. One young officer became a translator for the other 3 and to cut a long story short (or at least make a long story less long) if I wanted to report a stolen wallet then I would have to wait quite a long time in another room to give a statement as they were very busy, and at the end of that process the details would have to be sent off (somewhere) and I could expect a reply and documentation in about 10 days (maybe). However, if I wanted to report a lost wallet (because how could I be certain it was stolen!) the process was very different and they could do it immediately (2 hours is immediately). Well I didn't tell a lie -- I had my wallet at the Acropolis and I didn't have it when I got on the bus to go back to the ship. I did however lose my money and credit cards somehow. So, I got my report (in Greek) with a big blue Police stamp on it. I walked back to the port (15 minutes) took a couple of snaps then boarded the next tender back to a ship on calming seas. 4.00 pm comes and goes and there is no communication from Jo on the other issues. OK, the ball's in his court and at the end of the day (cruise) the ship has an authority on a cancelled credit card and I have an account that has a debit balance. He who laughs last .......... Tonight is the first formal night of the cruise and there is a Meet the Captain cocktail party at 6.45 pm. We glam up and head for the Grand Salon for the party. Most of our fellow travellers are already there and lined up to meet the Captain. Not being one for queues, we seat ourselves and just enjoy the champagne and nibbles whilst socialising with fellow cruisers. The Captain cannot greet everyone and chooses to introduce his senior crew and himself from the stage, after which there is a mass exodus from the Grand Salon into the main dining room. We wait for the line to subside and arrive at the Maitre D station for seating. Nicholas (who always greets us by name) is most apologetic as tonight is the first night since he started that all tables are full (all 320 seats). He suggests that we go to the bar for a cocktail and he will personally come to get us when the first available table is ready or alternatively we may wish to eat in one of the other restaurants. The other restaurants are elegant casual dress code and we have glammed up to formal (suit and black dress is close enough) so we head for the cocktail bar. Gail has a Cosmopolitan and I a champagne cocktail. Before we can finish, Nicholas true to his word is escorting Gail (and the Cosmopolitan) arm in arm into the dining room. We are seated at a table for 2 next to a large window looking out onto the crystal blue Aegean Sea. The table for 4 next to us is vacated shortly thereafter by the family who are finishing their meal, and 10 minutes later 2 mature age elegant couples are seated for their meal. Whilst we are enjoying our entree (caviar and smoked salmon for me and beef Carpaccio for Gail) we over hear Spanish being spoken. I look at Gail and before I have the chance to put in my request for a quiet night, she has struck up a conversation re: South American's dining late, family in Chile and (once she has established they are from Peru) how she would just love to visit Machu Pichu. Conversation drifts from political differences between Peru and Australia, living standards and how supporting 12 servants is not necessarily better than having no servants in a First World society. Two hours later we are all dancing up at the Club and match making daughters with sons. Later, (and by now you could be saying earlier) the prospect of sitting around in the Casino with them wouldn't have the same attraction as spending the same time in a casino with my mate Con, so we bid them goodnight in the traditional South American way (like we have known them for years) and head off for a fitful night's sleep. There is a sense that the tide is turning.

July 20

This morning we dock at 8.00 am at Kusadasi -- a port we visited 8 days ago. The bow thrusters start their intrusive motors at around 7.45 am as we exit for the gym. We had to be up early anyhow as we were off to the fruit and vegetable market with the head chef for his 'shopping with the chef' tour. It was an informative and interesting morning and upon returning we decided to spend a day relaxing on the ship. I headed for the rear pool area and Gail disappeared to an upper deck. Whilst there was no correspondence from Jo, we had decided to just try to forget about the issues and enjoy the cruise as best we could. I knew at some stage there must be a resolution. The sun was high in the sky and the sound of lapping waves were melodious with the background music. The ice in my Planter's Punch was diluting the drink whilst I drifted in and out of dreaminess. A cloud in the sky began to take the shape of an upturned crescent moon. It got larger and appeared to grow teeth. I blinked a few times and here was Gail hovering over me with a big cheesy grin. "You just won't believe what I have to tell you!!". "I was upstairs getting a sandwich when I bumped into the Captain. He smiled warmly at me and extended his hand in friendship whilst expressing how happy he was to see me again". ' 'Well that is strange' I retorted 'as I have never met you before in my life!'. 'However, this is an opportune moment to inform you of some occurrences that I believe you should be aware of' ". Of course, there was no further need to have the rest of the story told. Since, the Captain is the Master of the Universe, I knew it would not be too long before the sh.. hit the fan! Sure enough, in the distance I saw the silhouette of a fast moving tall man in a starched white uniform whose braid on the epaulettes were glistening in the midday sun. I am now completing this chapter from the comfort of Suite 817 (I pity the poor occupants that had to be relocated to our noisy cabin on the 5th level) on the complimentary Wi-Fi (albeit for only 24 hours). Gail is debating whether she should take the complimentary spa or massage, and whilst the bottle of Pèppoli Chianti Classico is only a 2006 it still manages a 90 score (out of 100) on the Wine Library ™ scale. Oh! Did I mention the potted arrangement of exotic fresh flowers? Sky is blue, sea is green, I wonder where next we'll say we've been. (to the tune of It's a Wonderful World).

July 21

Today is our first day of cruising. No port, no tender, no shuttle bus. The weather is a balmy 34° Centigrade. The ship's bow is slicing the water at merely 9 knots and life is abuzz with a full days program of activities available for those not wishing to take the alternative of just chilling out. Gail and I choose to be slothful and skip the gym to have an earlier breakfast in the downstairs dining room. This offers only A La Carte as opposed to buffet on the upper deck, however one must try everything. We are joined by family friends whom, by amazing co-incidence, are also travelling on this cruise and joined the ship in Athens last Saturday. We linger until we are the only patrons remaining, and surmise that if we stay any longer we shall be presented with the lunch menu. Since I have unlimited internet access today, I head off to a quiet corner at the back of deck 5, select a comfortable lounge, order a cool, icy beverage and settle down to do a bit of housekeeping (bills and all those dreadful tasks), whilst Gail disappears into thin air. A little later I make my way to level 9 where the Captain has invited all those that are interested to join him at the helm in the bridge for a lesson in navigating and commanding a cruise ship. I'm sure there is more to it than what we were shown, but with today's electronics and computerisation, it really didn't seem that complicated. So, while I was at the bridge, Gail was playing bridge -- in the card room, where 19 others, mostly serious, had gathered for an afternoon of competition. The lesson with the Captain ends and I make my way to the card room to see if Gail is still playing. "I'm jush doing ffine, hic" Gail slurs. I look at the table and the glass of whisky next to her. "I jusht ffound iit too sstreshful whith theeese Amerhicans, butt now its jusht ffine!" The rest of the day and evening were quite uneventful -- just the usual eat drink and be merry, and at 10.00 pm we shuffled up to the Grand Salon for the evening show. Tonight it was a magic show, which was very well performed. I wasn't sure if it was the magician's hypnotic ways or just the fact I was zonked by the day's inactivity, but the time for those feather pillows, upon our suite's bed, awaiting their turn to serve their nightly duty, could not have come quick enough.

July 22
We awaken at 6.00 am. Shall we or shall we not get up? This morning at 6.15 am the ship will be travelling through the section of the Dardanelles where on the European shore is Gallipoli and on the Asian shore is Troy (as related in the Homeric Verses). We are not that motivated to rush out early for a full day's tour to Gallipoli, nor a half day tour to a lot more ruins and a wooden horse whose original existence is still a myth. However, we can get a view of both locales from an adequate vantage point which , with commentary from an onboard guide, should satisfy our curiosity somewhat. We get up! Çanakkale, whilst appearing quite pretty from a vantage point in the middle of the strait of the Dardanelles, is really quite grubby once you are in the township. The only reason one would wish to go there is as a way stop in transit to either Gallipoli or Troy. Many of our fellow travellers expressed disappointment in Troy and cited Ephesus as a much better example of Bronze Age to Greco-Roman metropolis ruins. In hindsight, we should have gone to Gallipoli -- the consensus there was not so much one of being moved, but rather one of education of the slaughter that occurred in 1915, and not only of Australians & New Zealanders. I guess it will just have to wait for the next worldly tour to this region. Returning to the Seabourn Odyssey from Çanakkale in the shuttle bus (30 minutes) is akin to escaping back (beam me up Scotty!) to the Enterprise from a hostile world. We luxuriate in the afternoon sun beside the main pool whilst sipping Marguerites. The sun glows bright orange as it sinks slowly to the west and eventually submerges into the deep blue sea. Tonight is Elegant Casual in the dining room but the temperate air with a gentle breeze is too inviting so after a quick shower and change to casual (as opposed to elegant casual) we find an outside deck dining table on the starboard side of the Colonnade restaurant where a silvery moon is rising, and join with some new found English friends for a Vietnamese style meal. The shimmering moon on a navy blue sea with various tankers slowly overtaking in far away sea lanes provides the perfect backdrop for a night of good food, good friendship and memorable times. We catch the last 30 minutes of 'The Clash of the Titans' which is being shown on the outdoor big screen on deck 9 and have one last nightcap before retiring. The ship continues throughout the night in the Sea of Marmara headed for the waters of the Bosphorus.

July 23

It is the second of the three days at sea scheduled for this cruise, and the Captain has promised us a 'civilised hour' for sightseeing as we cruise the Bosphorus past Istanbul and into the Black Sea. Gail still hasn't returned from the 7.30 am stretch class and whilst I have completed the weight training (my middle name is Adonis) there is no time left for the treadmill. It is 8.30 am as the beginning of land appears which marks the entrance to the Bosphorus and all the glory of the Istanbul coastline (on both sides -- Asian and European). Under cloudless azure skies and on calm blue seas the slow journey through this narrow tract of water takes just under 2 hours and we are regularly joined by schools of dolphins who playfully ride the waves created by the massive bow of the ship as it carves its way through the ribbon of water. A late breakfast is consumed as we enter the Black Sea and head in a north easterly direction bound for Sevastopol, Ukraine. Whilst the activities offered are many and varied it's hard to beat just relaxing on a deck whilst surrounded by sparkling ripples in a circular sea of blue whose 360° horizon meets with a lighter shade of sky blue. The only things one needs to think about are: shade or sun; lounge or chair; pool or spa; alcoholic or non-alcoholic (drink). There is an endless supply of offers from hovering waiters that respond if you just look at them: Sun screen sir? Anything to eat sir? A lens cleaner for your glasses sir? Despite the imbibing, Gail has been spurred on by coming second in yesterday's bridge play and after breakfast had made a bee line to the card room for the 10.30 am bridge lesson. At this point of the travelogue, I would just like to say (in case I die of an over indulgence of extreme pleasure) that if anyone is contemplating a restful break from the hurly burly of work and life, there surely can be no better choice than a cruise aboard a small luxury cruise ship. The sun moves slowly across the sky. Nothing seems urgent. Time and space meld into one. Gail joins the moment. It's 6.00 pm. Another Elegant Casual night. We dress for the occasion and head for The Club for a pre dinner drink. What to have? We ask the barman for a recommendation and without a further thought, a couple of spirit bottles have some contents poured into an ice filled container. A dash of this, a dash of that, a couple of shakes and 2 cocktail glasses are filled with a soft coloured liquid which tastes like a magic potion. (It's a French Martini!). A hand protruding from a white sleeve is thrust forward in my direction and I turn to face the Captain whilst automatically accepting the offer of greeting. "How's that suite 817?" he enquires with a smiling face and glint in his eye. I nod and thank him simultaneously. The larrikin in this New Zealand Captain showed ever so subtly as he strode off to greet a seated, elderly well to do American lady who was beckoning him with her diamond laden fingers. Entering the Restaurant we indicate to the Maitre D' that we would be happy to start a table of 8 and within 5 minutes we are happily dining with 3 other couples and sharing worldly banter. Three courses, 2 wines and much social intercourse later we excuse ourselves to catch the last half hour of the show in the Grand Salon. Tomorrow will be the first of our Black Sea port destinations.
Continue to Part Five

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