Athens: We entered the port about 7am. We were lucky enough to have our concierge, Yahira, take us out and met Nicolas from privategreecetours. We went immediately to the Acropolis. Nicolas gave us some brief history as well as a cell phone to call him when we were finished. Tickets for the Acropolis were 12 Euros each, cash. We walked to the top though a basically empty path. Greek soldiers were marching down from raising the flag at the site, fully armed. . Many heroic stories exist around this flag pole, including two teenagers (one who is still alive) who raised the Greek flag after the Nazis ordered it removed. The other story centers around the Greek soldier ordered to lower it by the Nazis who then did so, warped himself in the flag and jumped to his death.
Once we spent some time at the top, many, many, many people began to arrive. The path is uneven with some parts consisting of gravel and others parts are marble. Marble can be extremely slippery. Be careful. Wear good shoes.
Next we visited the Temple of Zeus. Only a few of the original columns remain.
Next we visited the Parliament building and watched the changing of the guards. Nicolas told us where to position ourselves to obtain the best photographs. Next we went high up a hill to obtain some magnificent photos of the city. We then visited the modern Olympic stadium. We stopped at the old market for some shopping and an authentic Greek lunch. We also stopped at a local market for other supplies,then back to the ship in plenty of time.
Barcelona: We arrived at 5am. Still sleeping and dreading leaving the ship. We had breakfast in Cagney's one last time and then were escorted off with our luggage by Yahira. Very easy.
We met outside with more from our group for a tour of the city with Barcelona Day Tours. Anna was our guide. She was delightful. This was a shared tour and we picked up six more who were getting on the ships( 4 to the spirit and 2 on a RCL ship) the tour included la Sagrada Famllia(church of the holy family) Anna was very knowledgeable and shared her expertise. We then said good bye to our Canadian Friends (happy planner and family) and went on to our hotel Holiday inn express with Haleoak. This was a budget friendly hotel that had a marvelous boulevard with cafes and shop and vendors one street over that lead to the Beach. This was very lively without the crowds of Las rambles . By now we had had enough of crowds and markets. We enjoyed Paella on the beach at Eseriba.
Cingue Terra and Pisa:. We hired a private tour company, Papillion. Nicolette was our driver. We drove to the Portovenere where we had about 20 minutes to explore the town . Then she gave us the boat schedule for the different towns. We purchased ferry tickets for 16 Euros each. The Ferry was very crowded as there was a cruise ship in La Spezia which is very close to Portovenere . Romaggione, the lovers walk is stilled closed as of September 2013. Be quick to get off the boat as the captain does not linger We missed the first stop as by the time we walked forward the captain had tossed off to the next town. It all worked well, however ,since we spent more time in Vernazza. We climbed to the top of the Belforte Tower (1,50 Euro admission, worth the price and the climb for the incredible view). Being part time Hawaiian residents, we never leave for a warm inviting coast line without a bathing suit on or in our backpack, so we were prepared to surrender to the clear waters and jump right in.
Next we took the ferry to the last town, Monterosso. More swimming and lunch at Il Casello. What a beautiful setting and amazing view. We then travelled back thought the mountains to Pisa. We visited the square and climbed the tower. Our driver Nicollete brought both couples a package of be noting, a rather fat spaghetti with a hole in it at one end that we had fallen in love with at the previous ports.
Istanbul:. Again we travelled with Ephesus shuttle. Husain was our private guide Husain and driver. Husain was very well educated on Turkish and Istanbul history. All of our guides were amazing; I would say Husain was outstanding.
We visited the Blue Mosque removing our shoes and covering our heads, shoulders and knees for women. Men covered their knees. There were wraps available for those who had shorts and short sleeve shirts. The mosque was amazing. Pictures were allowed. Next was the Hagia Sophia. This is a very large museum. After that we walked to the Topkapi Place. Armed guards were present at the entrance. We had a wonderful lunch overlooking the Bosporus straight at the Konyali restaurant.
After lunch we viewed the sultan and his family's wardrobe and the Crown Jewels. We then entered the area where many holy relics are kept. Then we visited the clocks and weapons area. After this we visited the spice market, as the grand bazaar was closed as it was Sunday. We bought some saffron and tea.
Purchasing items in Turkey. This is very confusing. Businesses will accept other currencies but they are estimating their best options for currency exchange. My guess is they would need to estimate on the high end. Try and estimate what you might spend and then pay cash items in Lira and use your credit card if you need to, but purchase items in Lira.
Ephesus: Again we were off early. Today we traveled with Ephesus shuttle. This van was brand new and the tour guide was included in the price. The drive was just under an hour on a very modern highway. Benjamin's spoke all the way telling us about Turkey. We went first to the House of the Virgin Mary. This was up a hill, the countryside was very pretty and the air was cool at the site. After this visit we stopped for some Turkish tea and coffee. Next we went down to Ephesus with Benjamin explaining the ruins as well as life in the ancient city. The ruins are impressive as well as the Terrace Houses. The amphitheater is amazing. We stopped and did some shopping at the shops at the end and then back to the ship. Benjamin turned on a hot spot for us allowing us to check email. Nice touch. Today was a short day. I could not even imagine trying to do this as a DYI. The day is too short, and the distance too far from the port.
Mykonos:. We docked at this port. The crew said it was the first time this season. Usually the Spirit tenders at Mykonos. Then we were bused to the port. We were supposed to go on a kayak tour, but after driving to the other side of the island and studying the water the operator decided it was too windy. The narrow streets were full of tourist on ATVs. We therefore went back to town and first swam in the sea. Then we walked into town we took pictures at the windmills and little Venice. We had a couple of beers at a very nice place right on the water, Rhapsody Cocktail Bar-pub.
Amalfi and Pompeii: We hired Simply Amalfi this tour. Salvatore was our guide. He was very funny. The views were simply amazing along the coast. We had lunch at a local restaurant but the bill was very confusing as we did not get separate checks; and all of the drinks were listed as one item. One member of our group could not eat her lunch. Salvatore felt bad about this and brought her a book and a bottle of limoncello. Next we went to Pompeii. We hired a private guide for this site. This was a great choice as the area is massive (66 football fields) and the guide was very knowledgeable.
Rome: Romeinlimos Ultimate Tour of Rome. Our guide for today was Sergio. We went straight to Rome after disembarking the ship early again. If you have the opportunity to do this, take advantage of it for Athens and Rome. Both drivers in these ports were pleased we were some of the very first off the ship.
Rome included the Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Parthenon and the Vatican. We did not visit the Vatican as we had been there before. Instead we went back to the Forum. We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon exploring more of the Forum. Sergio then took us to a grocery store and a quick stop for gelato.He aslo stopped so we could get some more euros! We were running oiut by now! Too much fun! The gelato was very good. Our ticket for the coliseum allowed us entrance to the Forum. Ah Roma!
First Class Service all the way!