Mediterranean Vacation Day 14

Tuesday, June 19: Athens to Boston 

The road home.  We had a nice relaxing breakfast in the rooftop garden restaurant again (can you believe the view?), and then got picked up and transported to the airport.  

Oddly, on the flight from Athens to London, they didn’t even give out water without you paying for it, yet on the London-Boston leg, they gave up to 2 alcoholic drinks and 2 1/2 meals for free.  Of course, trying to eat in coach class is always a challenge.

That about wraps up our 2018 vacation.  We had a fantastic time.

After reflecting on the whole trip, here are some of our final impressions. 

Overall impressions – The Cities

  • Rome was a fascinating city that I’d be willing to visit again, though given a choice, I’d find a hotel closer to downtown, and I’d study the Metro system more.  I felt there was plenty more to see there. 
  • On the other hand,  I think I’ve seen everything I need to see in Athens. Beyond the historical sites, which you can cover in a couple of days, it’s just a big city.
  • Athens had the cleanest Metro stations of any city I’ve ever been in.
  • In both cities, in fact in every place we visited on this trip, I was delighted with the abundance of al fresco restaurants.  In the 2 cities,  they were literally stacked together to the point where sometimes it was hard to tell where one restaurant ended and another began (usually the giveaway was the tablecloths). 
  • I would like to have had a couple more days in Rome especially, so that I could have spent some more time relaxing in those restaurants. We definitely felt a bit rushed to see as much as we could. 
  • Boy, you can’t get away from the smokers over there. It seems like EVERYBODY smokes, and unlike in the U.S., they can pretty much smoke wherever they want. 

Overall impressions – The Cruise: 

  • The daily schedule of hosted events on the ship didn’t SEEM to be as dense with activities as on previous voyages. 
  • The shows in the theater were of a much lower quality than on previous cruises we’ve taken. 
  • Jeannie was a little concerned about the state of the ship; there was water leaking from the ceiling in the cafeteria, and one bank of elevator buttons wasn’t working (the elevators themselves were working, but the call buttons were not).

Lessons Learned – Cities:

  • We had great experiences in both cities with the Hop on Hop off busses.  However,  they are not the most efficient way to get around.  Use the Metro to move fast. 

Lessons Learned – Cruise :

  • Excursions
    • Avoid the “walking tour of the town” excursions.  Very often, the guide alternates between boring you silly with a long monologue about something you barely care about, and rushing from place to place to make sure that they check the box for seeing everything the tour description promised. You can really do just as well on your own with a good guidebook or audio tour. I highly recommend Rick Steves’ walking audio tours.   
    • Full day excursions are exhausting.  Avoid them if you can.  Be sure to allow time to enjoy the ship’s amenities. 
    • Don’t book an excursion on the last cruise day. Especially not a full day excursion. It makes the whole offboarding process a bit too hectic. 
  • Wardrobe
    • Take half as many pants as you think you need, but be sure to have a ‘day’ shirt and an ‘evening’ shirt for at least  2/3 of the days you’re onboard. That’s assuming that you will do laundry at least once if not twice while onboard.  The ‘evening’ shirt (for men) should have a collar  if you’re eating in the main dining rooms. Your ‘day’ shirt will be pretty stinky by the end of the day if you’ve done any excursions.  
    • Speaking of which, plan to do laundry on the ship either really early or really late, since those ship laundromats stay pretty busy.  Also, when choosing your wardrobe for the trip, try to pick colors that can all be washed together, because the laundry costs about $9 / load.
  • Don’t bother with the specialty restaurants.  The food and the service in the specialty restaurants are slightly better than in the main dining rooms, but IMHO, they’re not $30 better. 

I will point out that the little annoyances that I’ve documented here in this blog series were just that: little annoyances. They did not detract from the overall greatness of the trip.  Because this was a GREAT trip.  We had a blast. 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 13

Monday, June 18: Athens
Today, Jeannie and I started out together, just taking a leisurely stroll around the base of the Acropolis, comparing notes about the tours we had taken the day before. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap.
Once we were done there, I wanted to visit one more Archaeological site, so we agreed to meet for lunch.
I visited the Ancient Agora, which was the city’s main marketplace in ancient times.
After lunch, we were strolling around the touristy district when it began to rain. Downpour, really. Cats and dogs. That lasted about 2 hours, and after a bit more wandering, we ended up in the square where we were to meet our guide for the evening.
This last excursion of the vacation was one that Jeannie planned for me: a Greek cooking class where we would prepare, under the tutaledge of a professional chef, an authentic 5 course Greek meal, and then enjoy the meal we had prepared with chef on the rooftop dining room.
We really lucked out, because there was only one other couple in the class, so it was like getting a private lesson. The class itself was great fun and informative, we learned quite a bit. Then, we enjoyed the meal on the roof with a great view of the Acropolis, and great conversation with our chef and the other couple. What a great last adventure for our vacation!

 

 

 

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 12

 

Sunday, June 17: Athens, Greece
This morning, Jeannie and I took separate paths again. I was planning to get a “Combo Pass” to several of the city’s monuments. The Rick Steves guide I got from Kathy H. indicated that I should go to one of the lesser monuments to get the pass, since then I could skip the long ticket line at the Acropolis. So after breakfast I went across the street from our hotel to the Temple of Zeus, which was supposed to open at 8am. However, there was a sign saying that it wouldn’t open until 9:30. So I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to wait in line at the Acropolis, and headed that way. However, when I got there, not only was there a long line there, but it was also not open yet. There was a caravan of black vans and limousines, though. Apparently there was some VIP in town (rumor had it that it was the President of India, and the garb worn by his entourage supported that) who was given the run of the place first thing in the morning. Anyway, we waited about a half hour, and finally the entourage left, and we were able to buy our tickets. I suspect that their next stop was the Temple of Zeus that I had tried to get into earlier.
Funny side note: there was a lot of security around, including a pair of snipers who hustled down to their vehicle just before the main body left. Only they weren’t in a sleek black van, but in a beat-up old Pathfinder, which they had a real hard time starting! I wondered if we would have to keep them push it to a decline, but they eventually got it going, and followed the rest of them down the hill.
Anyway, there I was, finally, at the Acropolis, where I could compare the original Parthenon with the full scale replica that we had seen in Nashville TN last November.
I was being guided by a Rick Steves audio tour that I had downloaded, and boy was I impressed! He gave just enough info to be interesting without being boring. The timing was excellent too. He and his co host talked just enough for you to comfortably stroll through the particular area of interest, taking the pictures you wanted, without too much hurry.
So, what can I say about the Acropolis itself? It was awe inspiring. It was breathtaking. It was just cool.
When I was done there, I continued on with a walking tour of the ancient city. Sadly, my iPod battery gave out halfway through the tour, but I was able to complete it with the aid of the printed guide.
Meanwhile, Jeannie was off adventuring on her own. She did some shopping in the morning, and took a (human) guided tour of the ancient city in the afternoon. That tour was included with the purchase of our Hop on Hop off tickets.
In the evening, the whole group of us (9 in all) had dinner on top of the tallest hill in Athens. The view was spectacular, the food was delicious, and the company was great.
When we got back at about 11pm, Jeannie and I were still ready to go, so we thought we’d have a nightcap at the restaurant on the roof garden of our hotel. We met a young couple (Mason & Sasha) of the same inclination, and so we joined them for a drink and pleasant conversation; a very pleasant end to the day.

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 11

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 16 June;  Athens. 

We were kicked off the ship at 9AM this morning.   Since we didn’t have any arranged transport to the hotel, we got into a taxi,  which we were told would cost about 23 Euro.  We made the mistake of not confirming that before getting into the cab.  Sure enough, the cabbie started chatting us up about him taking us on a private tour of the city for “only” an extra 120 euro. Once we had firmly declined, he went suddenly quiet.  He ended up charging us 40 Euro for the trip, while our friends  in the cab ahead of us paid only 27.

After getting to the hotel, and showing our luggage, Jeannie and I bought our 2-day Hop On Hop Off tickets for 30 Euro total.  Having nothing better to do for a few hours,  we just “rode the rails” so to speak, taking the farthest bus route.  That happened to be right back at the cruise port. We were much chagrined to realize that we could have just hopped on the bus right there and saved ourselves 40 Euro! 

Our hotel has a rooftop restaurant with spectacular views of the city (see above).

And here we are, beginning the last leg of our trip.  Tomorrow, the Acropolis! 

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 10

Friday, June 15: Mykonos, Greece

Today was the tour of Delos, an island which is, in its entirety, one big archaeological site.  It was originally inhabited by the ancient Greeks, and like Pompeii, you can meander through the streets and imagine what it was like to live there 3000 years ago.  Our tour guide ‘Iffy’ was very good, if a bit long winded.  

Then we took the ferry back to Mykonos town for a whirlwind tour of the tourist district.  I felt bad for all the shop owners, because we had no time at all to browse,  shop or stop for refreshment. 

Then we were back on the bus to visit another monestary.  We’ve seen several of these along the way, and while I was looking forward to roaming around the grounds, seeing how the monks/nuns lived and worked, in every case, we were shown into the Orthodox church,  and that was it.  Still, it was interesting to compare the decorations here vs. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches that we’ve seen so many of elsewhere in Europe. 

Following the monastery, the group was directed to a tavern for lunch, which may or may not have been included in the price of the tour,  we’re still not sure. Ever the non-conformist, Jeannie decided that we would have lunch in a different tavern in the same plaza. We ate at “the Fisherman”, which was excellent. And not crowded. 

Our next stop was an exclusive beach, where we were given 20 minutes to…  I’m really not sure WHAT we were expected to do at a beach for 20 minutes.  There wasn’t even enough time to get a beer.   Anyway, that was it for the tour.  We got back on board and took a quick nap in our stateroom before going to our last onboard dinner. 

After dinner we went to a show from a guy that was trying hard to be a one-man Il Divo. I won’t say whether he succeeded, but I will say that Jeannie bailed after 2 songs to watch the ship’s version of “What’s My Line”. 

After that we watched another improv comedy show by Doug Funk.  He was pretty hilarious. 

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 9

 

Thursday, June 14: Crete, Greece

We didn’t actually dock in Crete until noon, so we had time to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before participating in a “speed painting” event, where everyone got 2 minutes to start a water color painting, and then everyone shifted one canvas to the right and got one minute to work on another person’s painting. This continued until we got all the way around the circle of canvases. It was a great idea, I thought. I started painting the Starship Enterprise, but somewhere along the way, one of the other artists decided it looked more like a banjo. Anyway, it was great fun.
The ship landed at the far western end of Crete, in a town called Chania. The ship offered excursions to the central area of Crete, where the really interesting parts of Crete are, like the Knossos Palace of King Minos, and other artifacts of the Minoan civilization. However, they were a 2 hour bus trip away, so we opted for a little shopping in downtown Chania instead. It was great, because I got to sit in a nice al fresco restaurant and sip on some beers, while Jeannie got some shopping therapy.

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 8

Wednesday, June 13: Corfu, Greece
Our tours had a late start this morning, as 500 tourists sat in the lounge for an hour waiting until the busses arrived. We had been reminded last night to turn our clocks forward an hour for the new time zone. Perhaps the bus drivers didn’t get the word.
I was visiting the St Paraksevi monastery to and the Paleokastritsa Caves by boat this morning, while Jeannie was taking a “Wine and Dine” tour of Corfu town.

When we arrived at the boat dock, it was entertaining to watch the somewhat controlled chaos of all the little privately owned tour boats clamoring to get to the single gangway where one guy was shouting at the boat drivers, coordinating the onboarding and offboarding of the tour boats, which varied in size from 6 passenger to 16 passenger. I lucked out and got into a 10 passenger boat where everyone had a seat by the rail, for good photo ops.
The caves themselves weren’t exactly what I expected. I was expecting (from the description of the tour) that the boats would be entering large caves lined with glittery rock formations. Sort of a Howe Caverns experience. In reality, the caves were about the size of a 1 car garage, which the small boats pulled into for a few minutes and backed out of.
The real cool thing about the tour was the water itself, which was crystal clear, so that you could see to a 20-30 ft. depth. In total, it was a beautiful aquamarine color.
After an exciting drive up a narrow switchback road in our (huge) motorcoach, our next stop was the monastery, which for some reason, was the only “rest stop” made available on the tour. That would have been OK, were it not for the fact that there was exactly one toilet for the 3 busloads of people that arrived at the same time. The monastery itself was not terribly interesting, but our guide did her best to give us enough details of local customs and beliefs to make it so. Then it was back to the ship.

Jeannie had nothing but praise about her tour. In her words: “After a 30 minute drive into the countryside, we stopped at the restaurant Spiros & Vasilis. The setting was beautiful, with the tables under the trees dressed with white linen. Our feast began with the traditional shot of (homemade) ouzo, after which they served a selection of homemade wines from their own vineyards. This was followed by my favourite Greek appetizers; taramosalata, feta cheese with olive oil, and tzatziki. Then they gave a cooking demonstration, showing how they prepared every dish; they even gave us the recipes for every dish they prepared for us. Finally we enjoyed the main meal of mousaka, Greek salad and fruit.
After the meal, we went down to the old town of Corfu for some shopping.”
Back on the ship, I really enjoyed the Beef Wellington for dinner, which was the tenderest piece of beef I’ve had in a long while. There was a show that was part musical, part magic show, which we really didn’t ‘get’. Before we retired for the night we got a little dancing in.

As a side note: looking back at my posts so far, it may seem as though I’m only complaining about the trip. Actually, we are having a FABULOUS time on the trip. I’ll try in the future to include more of the good stuff. : -)

 

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 7

 


Tuesday, June 12: Kotor, Montenegro
The crew didn’t lie when they said it would be worth getting up early to watch the “sail-in” to Kotor. It was a very impressive view. What was even more impressive was seeing this gigantic ship snaking it’s way through the narrow channel.
Jeannie and I took separate excursions this morning; she took a walking tour of Kotor, ending with a lunch in the private home of a famous(?) chef. She said it was a great experience and lots of fun.

My excursion took me to a little medieval town called Budva. To someone that had never been to a medieval walled town (like Rothenburg ob der Tauber), it would have been really cool, but for me it was ‘meh?’ Not particularly worth the half-hour drive. The tour guide was unexceptional, as well. She did not anticipate additional customers for her tour and so did not have sufficient radio receivers for the entire group. Guess who didn’t get one? It was OK, though, because she was a boring speaker with a minimal command of English.
The walking tour of Kotor was likewise uninspiring — I’d have done better wandering on my own, because the town itself (also with a medieval wall) was pretty neat. There was a switchback road climbing up to a fortress atop the hill which would have been interesting had I not spent the whole morning on the bus.
Gotta say though, the scenery was very nice, both sailing in and out.
Cruise meals are generally pretty good, which is why I’ve barely mentioned them, but tonight’s leg of lamb was particularly good.
After dinner, we saw the comedian Doug Funk, who was very funny and clean to boot. Following that was the movie Jumanji, which we watched on the deck “Under the Stars” on a jumbo tron screen. Really enjoyed the movie.

 

 

 

Mediterranean Vacation; Day 6

 

Monday, June 11: At Sea
Today was pretty laid back. We decided to have breakfast in the formal dining room rather than the cafeteria, since we had plenty of time. They asked us if we would like to share a table with someone or have our own table. We asked for our own table. They put us in a row of tables for two that were set up not more than 9 inches apart. So much for not eating with other people. It’s OK, really, because the people on both sides were very nice, but I was reminded of the scene in Animal House where all the nerds were seated together on the couch at the freshman rush party.
So today, since we were at sea the whole day, it was our chance to sample the ship’s amenities and activities. First, we figured it would be the best time to do laundry at the laundromat on our floor, but unfortunately, everyone else on the floor thought the same thing. We tried several times over the course of the day to no avail.
Jeannie and I agreed that this cruise doesn’t seem to have as many varied activities as we’ve seen on previous cruises that we’ve been on, and many of the ones that are scheduled are not hosted. Nevertheless, we had fun with some people that we introduced to the game “6 Nimmt” at the board game session. Of the 6 or so tables that were occupied, ours was the only one that wasn’t playing bridge or mah jong. When we were leaving, though, we spotted a couple playing Carcassonne, so that was encouraging.
We also hopped in the pool for a few minutes and then got ready for the formal dining night.
I’m still not sure what I think about these formal nights. While I have no objection to dressing up, it seems wasteful (of luggage space) to me to pack a dinner jacket for 1 or 2 nights on a 14 day trip. I’m pretty sure that if we were not traveling with people (that we were dining with every night) we might just skip the formal nights and go to the cafeteria for dinner.

We watched the “Dancing With the Princess Stars” show,  which was entertaining.  I thought the fix was in when a 12 year old entered, but I was wrong,  he was cut in the 3rd round.  After that,  a little bit more dancing,  and we were off to bed. 

Mediterranean Vacation; Day 5

Sunday, June 10: Salerno

Our first breakfast on board we enjoyed on the back deck of the ship. It surely pays to go early, since by the time we left the buffet area at 7:30, people were having a hard time finding a place to sit.
We got close to the meeting place for our excursion when I realized that I had forgotten the tickets! So Jeannie had to run back to our stateroom, which of course was at the opposite end of the ship, but she made it back on time for us to board the bus with Kathy & Randy.
Our first stop was a Limoncello factory, which offered free samples (Yay!) and free facilities (Yay!).

From there we were dropped off in Sorrento, a quaint little tourist town, for 2 hours of wandering, shopping and eating. We had to rush through lunch and skip dessert to get back to the meeting point in time, only to find that the bus was late!
Well, anyway, we drove from there to the famous ruins of Pompeii, where we got a guided tour of the ruins by our guide, who claimed to be a part-time tour guide and full time archaeologist.
The place was Huge! Much bigger than I expected.
The tour itself was informative, if long, but it was wicked hot. They gave us each a radio receiver and the tour guide had a transmitter, so we could all hear him, even if we couldn’t understand all of what he said due to his rather thick accent. Nevertheless, this did eliminate one of the problems with guided tours I mentioned in a previous post. It didn’t eliminate the in-one-ear-out-the-other problem.

Back on the ship, we had a relaxing evening; didn’t do much but walk around the ship and retire early.