Flew in a day early to meet up with my travel companions. I live in atlanta so i was lucky enough to get a direct flight via Delta to Venice.
22 June, Fri, Venice
Spotty sleep and arise to a warmed croissant in my face but it was better than those lil crackers. Opened the window and looked down to an amazing site - the Alps going by. That was truly amazing to see the peaks rising so close to us, especially when contrasted with the little villages nestled in the valleys. On approach to Marco Polo saw what looked like an old-towne square and remnants of a walled city - of course down the street was an Ikea. Le sigh.
We land, disembark and head to immigration which was a joke, just a lady stamping passports as fast as she could, no computer swipe or anything - and no customs stop at all. Got out and searched for an ATM as i don't like to travel with cash and find it easier to just pick up local currency in this manor. They did a great job of hiding it but finally found one tucked into a corner (to the far right of where you exit) with no signage at all. Once i was cashed up i got in line for the Alilaguna water bus behind this old couple. She obviously wore the pants in this family cause the poor old man couldn't find his head if the old woman didn't tell him where to find it. First it was what to do, then how to do it cause his was was wrong. "And why doesn't AVTV take credit cards cause in the book they took credit cards and why does it cost 12E when the book said 11 and do they just change it everyday?" Oh my, she was something.
Anyway, i got my ticket and walked out to the boat dock to find another line waiting for the boat. Here i saw another ticket stand with absolutely no wait so if you are looking for tickets skip the booth in the airport and just go out to the docks and buy passage from the stand there.
The second line found me once again behind the loving couple. She kept up her antagonizing pressure on her husband. "Harold which boat goes to Lido, where does this go? Ask this guy, ask him again!" Eventually the boat shows up and we load and slowly and bumpily make our way toward Venice stopping at Murano and Lido. After over an hour we finally arrive at Zatterre, the final stop which was perfect for trekking to my hotel in Dorsoduro. I was a little unsure where i had landed but was able to wander until i find a familiar street and then make a line for the hotel. Thankfully the map i had was both detailed and accurate and delivered me perfectly to the Hotel Messiner. Here i met up with my travel companions who had arrived a day earlier.
After a quick shower for me to wash off the airline crud we set out together for the Campo de Marhahrita. Picked up my first shot of gelato in Italy - a scoop of pistachio and melon for 1.8E. It was great, especially the melon, but not very filling. Once we got to Campo we found a little pizzeria that was too much to resist. A huge slice for 1E80 was just what the doctor ordered. In the Carpo were a few cafes where the locals were sitting enjoying drinks. They have these orange and red drinks in tumblers with a slice of lemon looks very interesting - of course i am dehydrated too so who knows?
We walked around and at the Grand Canal crossing i got a green slushie that i was expecting to be sweet lime but imagine my surprise when i got mint! It was still really yummy though and cooled me off a good deal which is what i needed. At the same stand they had fresh coconut which we got a piece of to gnaw on. While on our way to San Marco we passed a patisserie and i found a pistachio cake that i couldn't passup. And eating it did not disappoint as it was delish. White cake with a pistachio creme filling and pistacio frosting...YUM!
San Marco was up next and it did not disappoint. The space reminded me a lot of the square in Brussels..a really big open space with 2 story buildings surrounding but at the far end is an old church and beside that the doges Palace. Also here is the famous campanile which, with its fresh brick, seems strangely out of place with the surrounding marble facade. Also there were no street vendors and few artists inside the square itself which surprised me. possibly it was just too late in the day? What they did have was plenty of pigeons though, but i found out that was no accident. There are lil vendors selling what i thought was ice cream but turns out to be bread crumbs. So the thing is to hold these crumbs in your hand and have the birds essentially attack you. Forgive me if this does not sound like a good time.
We walked to our restaurant in the same area next and had a so-so meal. I got a pris fixe of old lasagna, dry pork and peas. The peas were really good, the pork could have been OK with a mild amount of sauce. Add in the fact i was already dehydrated and you see this meal was not high on my list. After dinner we headed for the canal to take our obligatory gondola ride. We found a guy who gave us 30mins for 80E which i think was a ripoff but that is hard to authenticate from here. It did traverse a bit of the Grand Canal, which was rough and choppy due to all of the water taxi and vaporetto traffic. Once we got off that and into the smaller waterways it was calm and quiet and peaceful. Really it was almost creepy as we navigated these back channels with out any sound and just a little light reflecting off the water. They guy did not sing so we didn't have that romantic vibe but that was for the best since i was travelling with friends. Walking back to the hotel we got a bottle of wine and drank it on a bridge that crosses the Grand Canal. Then it was back to the hotel for lights out and i didn't move an inch.
23 June, Sat, Venice
Woke up stupid early, like 620a and didn't go back to sleep. The breakfast at the hotel was quite diverse and good. The coffee was great and this bread with some chocolate chunks in it was amazing. And i met Romeo, the hotel cat who was friendly but not overly affectionate. After checking out and storing our bags with the front desk we headed down to a nearby Traghedero to cross the canal but the guy wasn't working yet so we had to truck back and find another less convenient one.
Our plan was to go inside San Marco but after seeing the line we opted for a trip up the campanile. After a swift elevator ride we were at the top with an impressive view of the island. A stiff breeze make it all the more pleasant so i stayed up there awhile. Coming down we did some window shopping around the Piazza. Found a really cute lace store tucked away that will probably receive a return trip.
We came back and had lunch at a lil cafe a block down from the hotel. I tried out one of those colorful drinks, called a spritz, which was not sweet and refreshing at all, in fact it was quite bitter. It wasn't bad though, just not what i was expecting.
Picked up the bags and got on a vaporetto to the P.Roma where we had read a shuttle bus was to take us to the cruise dock. Of course P.Roma is a large bus station and there are at least 40 of them sitting around. We follow some other similarly lost and confused people and eventually find our transport sitting in the back left corner, unmarked. A short ride to the marina where we dropped off our bags (we had not gotten bag tags from our TA but they seemed quite prepared for this and quickly looked up our cabin and took care of things swiftly) and then walked to the checkin.
The process was great, I had already filled out the info online before leaving home so a quick wave of the passport got my cuisecard. It looked like our dining options had not been set correctly so we talked to an attendant who was stationed right past the checking booth and got assigned to what was defined as the "greatest" table in the room...we shall see.
Upon boarding we dropped off our carryon bags in the room, grabbed the daily ship report and went up to the buffet restaurant to grab a snack and read about what was going on. I was utterly amazed at how much stuff there was to do!! Being my first cruise i really had no idea what to expect, thinking maybe i would be bored a lot - that was definitely not to be true. We took a lil walking tour of the ship to check things out and orient ourselves a little with the ship. We dropped by the room, found our bags to have already arrived (how awesome was that?) switched to swimmies and headed for the Solarium to chill in the pool area. Got a surprise at the pool as it was filled with salt water which i was not expecting. The pool was a little small but it was neat cause each side had a 4" shallow area where you could lay in the water and look up to the sky through the clear glass roof. We stayed in the Solarium as the ship sailed off and got great views of Venice as we moved out of town. From the ship we looked to be at least as high as the top of the campanile. It was neat watching the island roll by and the people on the shore stopping and waving as you went by. Looking down i could see manta rays that were swimming near the top of the water - neato.
Eventually i went back down to the room to shower before dinner. Entering the dining room the first time was something - it was exquisite and fabulous. A 2 story room well acquainted with a marvelous stairwell and flowers everywhere. We ended up with the largest table, a massive circular 12 seater in the middle of the lower dining room which lived up to the billing. Our tablemates were an awesome British couple and an american couple with their 3 college-age daughters. The dad was one of those boisterous people used to getting everything his way but maybe it was just the initial travel grumpies? I was seated closest to the British couple and we had pleasant conversation about travel and work and home and such. I had a tomato soup to start which was good. Cod as my entree which was OK and savani(?) for dessert which was like a sponge cake soaked in rum with some creme filling.
After dinner we strolled around the ship a little, tried out the casino but eventually tired and had to call it a night. Heading back to the room i found an amusing surprise, a towel had been left in my bed in the shape of an elephant! This amused me to no end, it was SO CUTE. Being my first cruise i had no idea about these things and it was really a nice touch. My room mate, who had stayed at the casino, came in around 1245a and said she won 350...not bad for a nights work.
24 June, Sun, Dubrovnik
Awoke this morning to the toilet flushing...ahh the pleasures of travelling in a closet. That was a little after 8am so i went back to sleep and later awoke to a rapping on my chamber door by our friends. I found the bed to actually be quite comfy and having a cabin on a low deck and in the rear by the engines is not a problem at all. Actually it is almost relaxing to have a soft vibration and light humming in the background. I went and grabbed a quick breakfast in Windjammer and disembarked for our day at Dubrovnik.
We grabbed a taxi with an awesome driver and left the cruise provided cattle bus in the dust. The driver had grown up in America but moved back to Croatia when he was 15. He told us the schools taught classes in English and Croatian as well as a 3rd language in the middle grades. Dropped us right outside the old city walls and we went up the walls first. Amazing view but hot hot hot and quite tiring in a few places that had a lot of stairs. About 3/4 of the way around we found a little cafe that might have saved me. I downed a bottle of water while enjoying a nice breeze though the window. We climbed up to the highest point and met a nice couple from Wyoming. They had done a sailing cruise out of Split and came down to Dubrovnik for the day. As we were walking back down the stairs the father and son started playing jazz flute and harmonica in one of the lookout stations. After finishing the wall my companions had enough so they took off back to the ship. I stayed, checking out the church and the monastery which had a cute cloister but was kinda small and a little disappointing. I walked around the old city a good bit, finally finding a bathroom - which was really nasty - before i burst. Found some kitties lying in the rain gutter being lazy - like they do - and another stretched out on a wall. I pet the one on the wall and it barely moved - I guess it was even too hot for cats. I walked around for awhile looking for the perfect souvenir or gift but couldn't find it. There were some nice drawings near the system done in blue ink but i didn't feel they were worth 30E. I ended up just getting a fridge magnet for my collection. I headed out of the city and was dreading paying for a taxi by myself but i found a lady with a RC sign pointing to a bus. I went ahead and hopped on board since it didn't seem like anyone was checking for tickets - WOOT - free ride!!
Got back to the ship, ate lunch and met up with the kids around 5pm. We chilled out in the solarium to watch us pull away from the dock. We really couldn't see the old city very well as it was miles away and a little hazy. It was at this time that i discovered they make crepes at the pizza station though - my little slice of heaven onboard. This was one of the highlights of the trip!! Crepe suzette was the crepe 'o the day - baby oranges with an orange sauce - TANGY! The crepe station would become one of my favorite hangouts. We hit the casino for awhile where my roommate racked up another load and chilled out for awhile before dinner. This was formal night so we all had to get gussied up. We had filet though so i guess it was worth it. For dessert i had Grand Mariner souffle with ice cream which was only OK - still has nothing on Roys chocolate souffle. After dinner i shuttled off to the show in the 42nd St theatre. A motown show playing things from the 4 Tops, Nat King Cole, Sam Cook, Otis Redding, Temptations, etc. They were really good and 2 of them were from Atlanta. After the show we changed and got in some quality hot tubbing and i tried my hand at some shuffleboard. Must have been beginners luck as i won 28-21 WOOT!! By this point it was 3am with a time change so definitely time for bed...
25 June, Mon, Sea Day
Had hoped to get up and go for a jog this morning but the late night and the realization that i was on vacation made that a nogo. About 930a headed up to the main restaurant for a breakfast. Had an awesome time, they have a menu based service and they seat you as you come in with other random diners. I like this a lot actually, we had great tablemates from both the US and UK and we all had a great time getting to know one another. This was our sea day so after breakfast we just chilled on the deck, i read the little pseudo news papers they have in the library and did the daily suduko. We attended the shopping discussion for our next port of call, Turkey, which was essentially a talk about rugs. and then went to the art auction. The auction was kinda neat, never been to one before and i found the proctor to be both funny and informative. We opted to partake in a wine tasting that afternoon which was ok but not overly informative. The main show that night was a swimming and dancing troupe which was entertaining. had some grilled lamb for dinner which was quite good. THe dessert menu had baked alaska which i had heard of but never seen offered before so i had to try it. It is chocolate ice cream and strawberry ice cream surrounded by yellow cake surrounded by a white creme that had been baked slightly to give the outer layer some firmness and texture and then the whole thing covered with a strawberry sauce...WOW...it was awesome.
26 June, Tue, Kusadasi
Today we were sailing into Kusadasi. We had booked a private tour through Meander Travel to tour Ephesus. Upon landing we disembarked and found our tour guide waiting for us. He quickly showed us to a van and we were on our way. Upon arriving we were surrounded by the locals yelling at us and trying to sell us guide books, lemonade, souvenirs, etc. Really terribly annoying. In any event we were led into the site and whisked from tree to tree as it was a hot day and apparently our guide was more interested in keeping to the shade the properly showing us the site. After blowing through the site we were taken to the obligatory rug factory. They were pretty nice there, gave a quick talk about how the rugs were made, gave us some tea and showed us some of their wares. We were not that interested and we headed off with no problems. We got dropped off in the town center were we found a place for lunch and i had a yummy doner platter and some AWESOME baklava. Our tummies satisfied we headed out for some shopping. First stop was Bellas as it was a "recommended" store which probably means jacked up pricing to pay for the RC commission. I didn't find much of interest but bought a couple bars of foofoo soap as gifts. In the traditional carpet stores we found the salesman were generally nice and they gave us apple tea which was refreshing on the hot day. They seemed to derive great pleasure of throwing a rug on the ground, then picking it up rotating and throwing it back down so it catches the light in a different way. Quite simply though the rugs are just too expensive. The silk ones are just ridiculous, several thousand for a 4x6 rug is just too much for me. I was hoping to pick up one for 150 or so but i had no chance. The closest i could get was a 3x5 for 400 which i was not willing to spend. I wandered around the back streets for awhile and dove into a small shop a few blocks off the main drag. I ended up with a nice 2x4 for 100 and a 1x1 for 25. Probably not the best quality but i can live with it. We headed back to the ship and rested for awhile before dinner. We realized the menu offerings were the same in Windjammer as the dining room tonight so we opted for something less formal. The coq au vin was good as was the steak and the bow tie pasta. The hazelnut torte was a bit too rich but the custard i had was good. They also had Greek havalarti which reminded me of those lil brown and white stripped candies i used to have as a kid. YAY!
27 June, Wed, Santorini
My companions were up early today for the Volcano and Hot Springs tour. I slept in a little longer but only til 830a. went and got some bfast at Windjammer and then took the tender ship over to Fira. The island is essentially the crater rim of a volcano explosion and the city is built on top of the rim, or caldera. So there are 3 ways up the slope, cable car, ride a donkey or hike. I chose the later - and paid for it. It was very hot and humid that day and i was soaked when i got to the top and probably smelled as bad as the donkeys did. The donkeys were funny though, they would just stop for no reason leaving the rider helpless until the handler came to help them out. Lots of droppings to watch out for all along the route but also the donkey being led back down as they would aim right for you sometimes. Upon reaching the top you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the volcano and the harbor. I had originally planned to take a hike along the foot path around the rim to the next city over but after my hike up i was already hot and sweaty so decided to skip the trek. The city itself basically consists of shops catering to the tourists which was typical and a little disappointing. For some reason none of the famous domes were painted blue as you typically see in the pictures..GRRR. I walked around a good bit looking into the shops but essentially just became frustrated due to the lack of diversity and heat. Funny though as i was walking down the main shopping street I ran into my friends walking the other way. They were headed to lunch at a spot their tour guide recommended. The restaurant was amazing, a rooftop canopy with an amazing view out into the harbor and a great breeze which was much appreciated. Food was good, we started with saganaki - fried cheese- which was great great great. My entree, houndaas(?), was like a mince meat pie. It was ok but i grew tired of eating it. After eating we split apart, i continued my search for something to buy. I got a small painting and headed back down the donkey path to the ship and took a nap. Upon waking i went to the Windjammer and got some more of the hazelnut torte that was yummie and then wandered back to the solarium for the crepe o the day - citris cooler - essentially a orange flavored ice cream melted - YUM. I watched us pull away from the island as we picked up speed on our way to Corfu. The nightly show was a musician that played multiple instruments: harmonica, piano, electric guitar, violin and mandolin. He was really good and got a good laugh out of having an Englishman perform 'The Devil goes down to Georgia.' It was again formal night so it was back into the spiffy clothes for me. Lobster was on the menu but i started with a duck consomme, then the prime rib, which was great. Had the sampler for dessert - a piece of chocolate tart, cheese cake and a creme puff. Got back to the bunk about 1am and am shaking as i write. This is the first time i have actually felt the ship. I guess it is the speed as the captain said we would be going 22 knots to make it to Corfu by noon.
28 June, Thur, Corfu
Up at a reasonable hour to grab some bfast at the Jammer - just some granola and yogurt. Went to the "Corfu destination seminar" which was basically the annoying shipping lady telling us (again) to only shop at the "approved" stores. She really gets annoying. We left but were walking by the main bar where a little art seminar was starting up. I stopped and listened to a discussion about different styles of art which was a good intro into the difference between editions and original pieces of art saying liths and pressings were a good way for artists to get their work out and gain exposure. Plus i got a free print and an invite to a special VIP session later, ohh lalalalala. We headed out to Corfu town after i got a quick burger from the Solarium. disembarking was no problem and there was no immigration at the port. A quick 10E taxi ride took us into the old town were we walked around and grabbed a pastry from a vendor. Walked by the Royal palace, down by the water were we stopped and dipped our feet in the Ionian sea. Back into town for lunch at Rex where i had a veal steak with a mushroom gravy which was awesome. really the food was just as good as Santorini but my entree was WAY better. I bought my requisite magnet and we made our way back to the ship. We went to the solarium for our daily hot tubbing and i got my ante of crepe. Took a short nap on the chairs but got up in time to shower and make it down to my art showing. They served us champagne and talked about works by Marko, Piccaso, Rembrandt, Dali and Max. A short film was shown which was done as a collaboration btw Dali and Disney back in the 50s which was really out of this world. They had some liths from the film for sale which were pretty cool but not really in my price range. At dinner the family decided to skip out on us so we had a pleasant dinner with the British couple. I started with a caprese and a strawberry soup (which was amazing!!), followed by tiger shrimp and penne something (a white sauce with corn, peppers and sausage). Dessert was a tiramisu - and holy @)#($, this was some of the best stuff i have ever put in my mouth - it was amazingly light and soft and perfect. I went off to the casino with the friends and watched how easy it was to lose $100.
29 June, Fri SEA DAY
Went down to the main dining room for breakfast again, and gobbled up some blueberry pancakes and eggs benedict. After some bfast we went up to the sun deck and took in some rays. There was a gale force wind blowing through that kept things cool but yet was quite annoying while trying to read. The ship had a bbq on the pool deck for lunch so we grabbed some ribs, chicken a paella and headed to the solarium. we had some cocktails and played a round of scrabble which i won (helped by my disputed 7-letter word - 'floatie') Headed for our last chance at Bingo - which no one in our party won...HUMPH. Back to the solarium where we met up with Joao one final time for my crepe o the day - banana creme and strawberry + chocolate syrup. Into the hot tub and a dip in the pool to cool off but it was a little too chilly today, i guess we were back into the cooler northern med waters? Dinnertime rolled around but i had been snacking most of the day to i asked our server James (who was great great great, btw) for something light and he got me a grilled chicken salad which was delish. I had been feeling a bit under the weather so i had a few cups of tea this evening. Up for dessert was a pineapple/coconut cake which was quite yummy. We went for a walk after dinner and found a nice full moon and a great end to our wonderful adventure. Back in our rooms we finished packing, laid out our luggage and passed out.
30 June, Sat
Was greeted at 6am by the captain announcing we had pulled into Venice. We had much later disembark times so we headed up to the pool deck to wait it out. Once we left at about 9a the crowds had cleared at the warehouse and our bags were pretty easy to find. The transportation back to the bus station was another story. There were lines of people everywhere and no one had any clue what bus went where - it was quite a mess - as had been trying to get here in the first place. Eventually we found the right line to stand in and then once a bus showed up there was a mobbing of it to try and get luggage on and a seat. Anyway we made it back to the bus terminal, stored our bags and headed back to Venice for one last day. I was feeling pretty sick at this point, i had a kinda high fever i think so i just followed as the kids wandered around. I know we went to the Rialto bridge and did some more general shopping and went in search for a Venetian mask. Early afternoon we were all kinda pooped and collected our bags and headed out on a local bus into the mainland and closer to the airport to find our hotel. It was ok, just a typical bed and a box. We walked down the street a little bit to a pizzeria and had dinner then back to the hotel to pass out.
Took the local bus to the airport the next day and flew home. In all, this was right up there with one of the best vacations i have ever had. The lil surprises like the daily crepes and the towel animals were the small touches that made my first cruise a very special experience.
About the only negative i can even think of about this cruise was the room size. we had an inside cabin, 3583, which was pretty cramped, especially the bathroom. but i thought being on the 3rd floor in the back was great cause it was just 1 quick flight of stairs up to the dining room and the theatre.
Can't wait til my next vacation!!