I chose this cruise because of its Black Sea itinerary, mostly places I have never seen. Spending a few extra days in Athens was the icing on the cake. Check-in and boarding staff were efficient and cordial. My stateroom, a free upgrade surprise, was large and luxurious with a bathtub and walk-in closet. Cabin stewards were gracious and eager to please. The small size of the ship gave me a chance to get to know some of the guests I saw regularly. What a delightful, well-traveled group. The food was excellent with extra emphasis on local specialities.
Our first port, Volos, Greece, gave me a chance to visit the breathtaking Meteora Monasteries on a excellent shore excursion. This is a must see site with religious communities perched on top of pillars of rock formations that are like something out of a sci-fi movie. The guide was wonderful.
The Dardenelles and Bosporus cruising was narrated and a wonderful scenic tour in both directions. Our entrance into the Black Sea was cold and blustery so the crew did everything they could for our comfort.
Sinop, Turkey was a delight. It is small, walkable and a great view of seaside life. I enjoyed a talk with a young weaver who spent her time telling me about her country and shared a traditional Turkish coffee with me in her shop. Others I encountered were equally gracious. It was a delight to visit a place not built just for tourists. Sinop is historically significant as well as delightful
Sochi, Russia was an interesting Russian experience as well as a preview of the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. My chosen shore excursion was to a Caucasus nature reserve but most of the time was spent visiting the high mountain Olympic Villages that were still under construction. It will enhance my enjoyment of the Olympics but we never got our walk in the nature reserve.
Due to rough seas the captain arranged an early and overnight stay in Sevastopol as a treat and it was. I enjoyed a dinner in town where the restaurant staff were gracious and negotiated with us about a meal since we couldn't read the Ukrainian menu. The food was wonderful and the service was cordial and efficient.
My shore excursion the next day was a half day that included the ruins at Chernosses, a wonderful experience. I spent the rest of the day strolling around the clean, beautiful city.
Constanta, Romania was a view into a post-Communist city that is struggling to reclaim itself after years of neglect. I walked around visiting mosques and churches and enjoyed a coffee with pastry in a bakery. People were friendly and eager to speak English. It was a day of enlightenment and hope for the future of these lovely people.
Burgas, Bulgaria, a substitute port due to stormy weather, was a surprise treat. It is full of parks, boulevards, beaches, shops, cafés and delightful people. I walked around alone, resting in coffee shops as needed, enjoying this beautiful city.
Istanbul was a return visit for me. I spent the entire day strolling alone through markets, visiting mosques, shopping a bit and people watching. Since it was the beginning of an extended holiday, locals packed the streets providing a great opportunity to observe this diverse culture. My evening shore excursion was to the Whirling Dervish service in a mosque. This was a rare treat that was graciously explained and beautifully presented.
Our last port was Mykonos, also a return visit that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is hard to think of a more beautiful place on a bright sunny day, with Sunday church services and low tourist crowds. People are friendly, food is good and scenic views are all around.