I'll preface by saying this was a last minute booking with little preparation for the various ports. Our port activity decisions were based solely on an electronic copy of Rick Steve's book and the ship's port expert's TV show the night prior to each visit. We found Rick Steve's book to be invaluable. We thoroughly enjoyed each port and would return to any of them in a heartbeat.
Following a grueling overnight flight (for me anyways as I didn't sleep) we took a cab (21eur)to our hotel, Holiday Inn Venice - Mestre Marghera. Our package included a 3 course dinner, breakfast and a roundtrip transfer to Venice. This place worked out great, especially for just under 150eur. We slept a few hours, had an excellent dinner and went back to bed.
Next morning we enjoy a nice breakfast, and about 11:30 we take the shuttle to Venice and the monorail to the ship. We went through boarding and were on the ship in about 10min, never had to stand in line. Princess had a water-taxi about 200 yards from the ship that provided continuous service, it was very nice of them to pre-bill our account $19 each for this service. OK, perhaps not, but we thought it was at least convenient and after a quick bite at the buffet, we were off to Venice. We went about shopping, gawking, exploring and losing ourselves in this charming city. Eventually we made our way to St. Mark's Square and joined the throngs of tourists snapping pics of all the famous sites. By late afternoon we decided to head back to the ship thinking we'd return after a short nap and a bite to eat. When we returned it was getting dark and it was far less busy; it was quaint, quiet and the gondoliers were singing... just like in the movies! We made our way to the Rialto Bridge, and noted further evidence of the old-world charm that unlike most places, seems to genuinely reflect a bygone era. We also marveled at the large vaporettos providing public transportation in and out of the area.
Day 2 and DW is sleeping in, but I'm drawn back to Venice, hoping to find a shop we visited yesterday to purchase a birthday gift for DW. It was a completely different scene; the shop keepers were cleaning windows and putting their fresh baked goods and sea creatures out for display, supplies were being loaded on small boats and delivered to places along the canals, garbage from the previous day was being hauled out through the narrow alleyways in oversized wheelbarrows, and the gondoliers were unexpectedly busy with customers (maybe the rates are lower in the morning?). A completely different look, vibe and smell from the previous afternoon and evening.
1:30 and we're sailing away, we barely get to the channel and the boat stops; the captain comes on and says something about a fire... WHAT? I guess a couple weeks here wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but we were on our way again in about 30min. Going right through the main channel in front of Venice (with the help of some tugboats), it was beautiful! We had a port side, corner aft balcony which provided us a great vantage point. We could hear the Italian music playing on the ship. A very memorable sail away!
Day 3, Dubrovnik, Croatia -- We pay a few Euros for the Princess shuttle to old town. It was pretty amazing. It is an old walled city that is very much alive inside with vendors, restaurants and musicians. Many artists were capturing the sites. We wandered through the shops, the nooks and crannies and thought we'd do the "thing to do" which was to walk the top of the wall. We approached a restaurant worker and asked where to enter? She responded in perfect English, "What, do you have a death wish? In this heat, you must be crazy? I suggest you sit down here and have a nice salad and something to drink." We had a nice conversation with this gal and set off for more wandering about. A while later we decided to head back to her restaurant where we sampled some local fare and the local beer, Lasko. Her English was so good I questioned her being originally from Croatia, I said she spoke better English than most Americanos. She said her mother taught foreign languages and that she was fluent in several.
Earlier, on the way into old town I heard this unique bird sound, I'm sort of a nature freak (I enjoy viewing, listening, gathering, shooting, catching, eating), so I tried to track it by ear. My ear led me to guy on a bench blowing into a little ceramic painted parakeet. On the way out, I had to have one, and in hind sight, I wish I'd bought more for friends and family. You put a little water in them and they whistle and warble... it will go nicely with the 3 jungle frogs I bought in Costa Rica.
Back on board it was formal night so we donned the good duds and went to the champagne waterfall (I still say the glasses are glued together) followed by dinner at one of the anytime restaurants. Sort of same old, same old...
Day 4, Corfu, Greece -- First of many Greek Isles we'll be visiting. We head into town and once again lose ourselves in the shops and wander about with no real direction. There are two fortresses here, the old one from the 1600s and the later one. We paid I think 6 eur apiece to visit the old one and climbed our way to the top where we had amazing views of the city, the two ships in port and a marina on the opposite side of the fort. After a couple hours here we had a delicious lunch at an outside cafe in a small alleyway. We shared a plate of souvlaki and a plate of fresh sardines (pretty strong tasting). The feta on the salad was a chunk about 2"x3", not crumbled as we find at home. I was finally to see if fresh sardines are as strong as those in a can (which I can't stand); they are much more palatable, but strong enough that I'd not likely order them again.
Day 5, Katakolon/Olympia, Greece -- I'd heard about a train out to the ruins, but never could locate the station... didn't look too hard after we found a private bus for 8eur round trip per person. We just had to wait for some more patrons to fill it up. We bought tickets around 9:15 and were told to come back at 10 to depart... So we browsed the shops, came back at 10 and waited until about 10:45 before departing.
The ruins were very interesting. We'd never seen stuff that old. We tried to imagine what life was like here at 400bc when the Olympics were started. The museum had many artifacts and models of the grounds. I believe it was 8eur (4eur for the ruins and 4eur for the museum).
Day 6, Pireas/Athens -- This time we found the train, just took a left when we got out of the cruise terminal and stayed on the road that followed the water, it was probably a mile or so. This is a very busy area, from the ship's deck there are apartments as far as the eye can see. Anyway, we board the train (1.4eur each way) and head for the Acropolis area. We get off the train and make our way to the Agora area at the base of Mars Hill and then proceed up to the Acropolis. We can see the Parthenon and by this time it is early afternoon, so it is decision time... spend 12eur each and go in to see the Acropolis and forgo the Acropolis Museum, or head down the hill to the museum; there was not time for both. So we head down to the museum; and we are very glad we did. As you walk in, the entranceway has a glass sidewalk, you look down and you see a village being excavated right under the museum. It was incredible, as was the museum. Back to Perias by train and then walking back to ship, stopping to sample some local foods and beverages along the way.
Surprise for DW tonight! It is our anniversary and she was thinking we had a reservation at the Crown Grill. A knock at the door at 7:15 and the festivities begin (she was almost ready) with cocktails delivered. I had our incredible room steward Federiko tidy up as we stepped out in the hall for a few minutes and I explained the Ultimate Balcony Dinner. They set up a table on the balcony with white linen, and a flower arrangement. Letisha was our waitress (she also brought our room service breakfast most mornings). We sat down and enjoyed escargot, followed by a nice salad. Then the photographer shows up and takes pics of us with the sunset and wake in the background. We had surf and turf and the fillets were perfectly prepared, mine rare and DW's medium rare. The 2 lobster tails were quite good as well. A split of sparkling wine was also included and the desert was a presentation of 4 mousses and later some petit fours (sp?).
This experience was exceptional.
Day 7, Mykonos - We get around this morning and take a shuttle into town with one goal; find a beach (we're feeling a bit over historied, over cultured and ruined). We're thinking taxi, but saw lots of folks renting quads... We've had opportunities before, but always thought them a bit too risky... Not sure what got into us today, but I handed my driver's license and 25eur to the guy, got some quick directions and off we sped... more like plodded with the last instruction being, "you'll want to go straight to the gas station". WHAT?
So following the directions to the gas station, we chug, chug, chug up this steep, long incline, cars flying by, I notice our quad is smaller than most others, likely a child's size; more chug, chug, chug then it stalls. We're out of gas. So we spin it around and start coasting back down the hill (going much faster). I'm not sure what to do as the bottom of the hill is about a mile from the rental place. As we're speeding down the hill, a ship crew member who along with 3 others, had rented quads from the same place passes us. We knew his 3 buddies would be following, and we managed to flag them down. They took DW back to the rental place; I continued coasting to the bottom of the hill. Eventually DW and some kid return on a scooter along with a two liter water bottle filled with gas. He dumps it in, starts the quad and we are once again chugging our way up this hill. Oops, stalled again; then again. Ok, that's it, I'm heading back to the rental joint, I'm going to get my driver's license and my money and we'll just take a cab!
So we chug our way back and upon arrival I notice two of the larger variety quads that were not there prior. Hmm, what are the chances of getting two duds? So off we go on a quad that we're told will do 50. So up the hills, down the hills around the turns, cars beeping; we finally get to our destination, Paradise Beach. We figure we can stay an hour. Water was pretty cold; neither of us did much more than test the water. And in spite of the topless gals I managed to retain my vision (DW did not poke my eyes out).
Back in town, we relaxed with a couple cold beers at a little outdoor cafe overlooking the bay.
Day 8, Kusadasi -- We wanted to do the Ephesus ruins, and a ship's tour seemed to be the best choice. It did not leave until 1230, so we spent the morning haggling in the bazaars. It was a great experience. The Cozumel guys could take some hard sale lessons from these guys. We ended up with a few pieces of jewelry and some souvenirs. Just up the hill from the bazaars and the main street we found Ali Baba's, a little outdoor cafe and enjoyed super cold beers, gyros and salad, all of which were excellent and set us back less than 10eur.
I'd say the Ephesus ruins were the best of all the ancient places we visited... a must do. The tour ended at a rug factory (not really a factory I guess) across from the ship. The sharp dressed English guy hauls us upstairs to this big room with benches on all walls. We are seated and he takes drink orders and proceeds to tell us about the making of these exquisitely crafted rugs; all the while this teenage girl is working feverishly on a loom, making a rug. He explains the stitching and the materials used and then the teenage boys proceed to bring out and roll out on the floor, probably 30 rugs as the speaker continues to talk about them. When the speaker finally wraps up, the room is invaded with a dozen or so hard sales guys trying to seal a deal... very interesting approach, to say the least.
Day 9, Santorini -- Probably my favorite port of the trip. Incredibly unique and beautiful as the ship anchors in the crater of a volcano and the population is several hundred feet above on the top a cliff that extends the length of the crescent shaped island that surrounds us. Upon tendering to the base of the cliff, DW took the cable car, I chose to hang with the donkeys and walked up the 588 steps to the top, I was sweat soaked, but I will not need to hit the treadmill today. I eventually caught up to her in one of the tiny alleyways and we browsed awhile, picked up a few things, all the while thinking it would eventually be a beach day. We made our way to the bus station and found out the bus to Camari Beach leaves every 30min. We still had about 25min so we went to a restaurant we passed a couple blocks back and grabbed a gyro and a beer. Camari Beach was beautiful, at the base of a mountain and at the town of Camari. They call it black sand, I call it black gravel and it was so hot you could not stand on it in bare feet. We got a couple chairs and an umbrella (4eur?) and eventually I donned my mask and snorkel and hopped like a madman to the water. I snorkeled for about 45min or so and saw nothing remarkable... everything, including the fish, is sort of a dark gray color. We decide to head back and did a bit of browsing in Camari and eventually caught the bus back to Fira.
Back in Fira, DW wants to get some calamari as some folks in front of us at the beach had some and it looked OK, the usual battered rings. So we stop at the same place we ate earlier and put in an order of calamari and an order of octopus, along with the requisite beverages. When the plate showed up our eyes about popped out. This calamari was a huge, whole squid; body with the tentacles folded over, it took up the entire platter. There was also a small octopus tentacle on another plate that paled in the visual comparison. Both were char-grilled to perfection and about 20min later every morsel had been consumed... absolutely amazing!
Back on the ship we enjoyed another great sail away.
Day 9, - Free at last! After 8 busy port days we are ready to relax...ahh, this is the life... as much to do or not do as we care to.
Day 10, - see day 9.
Day 11, Naples -- We get off the ship and take a cab to the Naples National Archaeological Museum. My first impression is that the pace of life here is insanely fast. There are as many scooters as cars and everything moving at a frenetic pace.
The museum was amazing to say the very least. The best museum by far that I've ever been to. Much of it is devoted to Pompeii. Lots of incredible marble statues... I could go on and on. We visited the secret room, which I'll leave at that. Anyway, we spent several hours here and eventually headed out and decided we'd try to find our way back to the ship on foot. We'd heard this was the worst place for petty thieves and DW made it a point of telling me we'd not be taking any side streets. Well, who was it that led us off into no-man's land? Hmmm, anyway, we wandered the back streets of Naples; saw the good, the bad the ugly, sampled the pizza from small shops. Dropped into a tiny tavern for a beer and tried to soak up as much as we could. As frantic as the pace was on the street, duck into a local shop, restaurant or tavern and time practically comes to a dead stop. The language was a barrier, but not a dead-end.
Day 12, Civitavecchia/Rome -- Unfortunately we are scheduled to fly out this afternoon and will not get to Rome. A good excuse to return! Well, my cut-rate internet deal on a shuttle was a bit inconvenient. We met our driver upon getting off the ship as he had a sign with our name on it. Eventually everyone was gathered up, but we had to walk probably a mile toting our luggage to the regular parking area away from the pier. It was $90 total, so probably worth it in the long run... we just kept walking by all the "authorized" vehicles we thought we'd be taking.
So a 9 hour flight, a 5 hour drive home and we realize we've been travelling for 22 hours. Upon reaching home, DW falls instantly asleep; I'm up all night as body is now 7 hours ahead.... Oh well, I always say sleep is over rated and what the heck, zombies do seem to be in vogue these days.