Ruby Transatlantic 2009 Review: Barcelona to Venice 5/4 to 5/16
The Second lag of our journey started out with good weather, and I had heard that the ship would be full as of this sailing, the transatlantic was not completely full. We were headed for Monaco again, hopefully we would not have too much wind to dock!
The food got better if that is possible! Generoso Mazzone joined us in Sardinia taking over as Maitre d Hotel, exceeding all our expectations of what it means to be the 'cream of the crop'. Generoso became like family to us, he totally made our cruise incredible. We are huge fans of Generoso; we will be following him around whatever ship he is on!
Now that we were on the Port intensive leg of this cruise, we did not participate in many activities, although there were plenty offered. On the sea days, we did laundry and tried to catch up with "all the reading" I thought I would do, and never did! Trivia had been boring, there was one team that won every game and nobody could beat them, yes I felt sour grapes! Its funny, I applaud their knowledge base of trivia (lots of cruises) but recognize the need to offer different, more challenging questions that are not repeats. Hey I want a chance! Speaking of which, I turned Elite on this cruise!
We did the ultimate ship tour, it was awesome, it lasts 3-4 hours and you get to visit lots of behind the scene places. The best part was having time with the Captain Yeomans on the bridge. He is so friendly and personable and we talked with him for almost an hour. They only have 10 people on the tourthere were 60 people in the lottery for those 10 spots. We were lucky to get in. The day after the tour we got two big fluffy bathrobes, two chef's jackets, personalized stationary, two beautiful frames and 4 large pictures each of various stops on the tour. Not only was it totally cool, it was the biggest bargain ever! You have to do this!
We saw the new production "Once Upon a Dream" and it was fantastic! It used the most advanced technology combined with talent and creativity to bring us something entirely new and refreshing, hooray Princess. Songs included selections by Pink, Enya, Simon and Garfunkel, and a hefty serving of Beatles! We all loved it, a real stand out for us. You will love it. We also saw "Stardust" another new production show developed for the Ruby Princess. It was nice, the dancing was spectacular and the singing was great! We all enjoyed the show and thought it was just a little better than the first show, which was a Broadway review. We missed the Hypnotist, who I heard was great, because of the intensity of this itinerary we are often too pooped to party! We were able to do less as the ports became more intensive.
I got a chance to pour a bottle of Champagne at the waterfall with Generoso—my first—and it was simply a blast! I adore this man, he is classy and sweet and very friendly. Generoso really knows how to make us passengers feel like Kings and Queens, and we all love it! Bless him for making this cruise so special for all of us.
Our sail into Venice was fantastic and while we got to the port at 1 PM everybody was out on the top decks by 11-11:30. We were so excited to finally get to Venice, although it was bittersweet because we were soon leaving the Ruby, our home for 28 days! I loved this ship, the crew made all the difference they were all great. Our last evening together they sang happy birthday to me, I turned 53! Yikes! I was spoiled again by Generoso who sent over the best desert wine I had ever tasted, along with good wishes and great recommendations. He is the most charming man I have ever met!
Disembarkation was shaping up to be a nightmare—at first they said no self disembark (what?) and many people sleepless and worried about making their 6 am flights, needing to disembark at 4 am! We blew it off, knowing that eventually you will get exactly what you need if you just wait. Low and behold today we were all allowed to make self disembark plans to suit our needs. Lesson learned, relax and wait because it always works out!
We got off the ship without any major events and found our way to our hotels to drop our luggage off then we were all off to the "Secrets of the Doges Palace" tour which we had purchased several months before we came. It was a great tour, and we had fun walking our feet off, so to speak! We never even used the transportation passes we bought because walking was too delicious to miss.
May 8, 2009 Amalfi Coast and Herculaneum (Mama Mia, shut up your Face!) with Fabricio
Naples was our last day with Fabricio; he took 14 of us in 2 vans along the Amalfi Coast to Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello where we ate a slow and delicious lunch that was the best meal we all had in Italy. It was perfect weather, warm but not hot and with out a cloud in the sky. We loved the hairpin turns and beautiful countryside.
This was another incredible day with Fabricio, by now it seemed like many people came running over to say goodbye to Fabricio in the morning and afternoon and for good reason. Fabricio completely made our tours in Italy, whenever we had him we laughed, learned, and did it in quick time and always landing close to sights and way ahead of the large buses. Fabricio did raise an umbrella a few times in the van to make us feel like tourists! We all laughed so much we cried, you know how that goes.
Fabricio Wanted to get us on the Amalfi coast ASAP to avoid the crowds and buses, so we went there first and it was mind-blowing. We stopped in Positano and walked, snacked, shopped, and then took off to Amalfi. We loved the tour, we changed plans when we hit crowds and finally Fabricio took us to a lovely cliffside restaurant where we all (14) sat and ate the best meal of the whole trip—the freshest pasta, salads, and pizzas and more. It was another highlight, we did not pay a fixed price and instead choose what we wanted and paid for that. We ate and drank like Kings and Queens for under 30 E! No cheese at all here!
Next we went to Herculaneum and Fabricio had arranged for a professor to guide us through and we all really loved it. It is smaller than Pompeii, more complete and better preserved, was home to the wealthiest people and therefore the nicest frescos and mosaics, and finally it is much less crowded than Pompeii! Another hit with all the gang, we also bought more "then and now" overlay books. Do buy them when you see then, you often never find them again later in the day. One couple in the group decided to build another home based on the things they saw in this incredible town where the elite lived and prospered as a colony of the Roman Empire.
It was so sad to say goodbye to Fabricio, he is the nicest guy, so polite and so funny and so many of us CC people had the privilege of using him and his associates and we all appreciated what a joyous man his is and how filled with life he is. I enjoyed every moment with him as did all the people on my tours, he is a gem. I had read some stuff about Fabricio taking advantage of people and forcing them to buy a thousand dollars in cheese but he never brought us to any cheese place, or any place where we were told to shop. I am a giant pain in the rear, I am a researcher and I teach ancient civilizations so I brought checklists of places to see and Fabricio greeted each list with joy and pleasure—he loved that I found places that he had never been. He even found the Museum of Walls for me, it was very cool. Fabricio is the best I've had, I feel safe and know he will take good care of me and whoever is with me, always mindful of our time limits and always leaving a wide berth of time in case of emergencies that could impede our getting back to the ship on time. Everywhere we went after Fabricio (except in Turkey with Kagan) we missed him so!
I even had an opportunity to use a phrase Fabricio taught us all in the dining room! The sun was blaring in my eyes and I asked for the shades to be pulled, mostly because I had a migraine in the morning and was sensitive to light. Another man at another table started complaining about this and I stood up and shook my hands (like Fabricio in traffic) and said 'shut uppa your face'! I know I'm so bad.
May 10, 2009 Mykonos, Greece
We pulled into Mykonos early in the morning, ready to disembark by 7am. There was a shuttle bus that we were encouraged to take, no other alternatives to this but walking so we shelled out 6 E each for the ride. We didn't walk because the port day was short and we were concerned that wasting a half hour walking (the bus took 3 minutes) would cut into our touring time. Turns out it would not have mattered because nothing opened until 9 am and there was an island wide blackout. So its was a cash only day, couldn't get money out of the cash machine, no credit cards taken either.
The weather is perfect, once again. It's warm but not hot and I am comfortable in shorts and a tank top. The island is beautiful, covered in boxy white homes that have hilly uneven walls that are thick to insulate from the heat. The water is so blue, except where it is shallow and then it is blue-green.
We walk through the quaint town via the waterfront which is called "little Venice" because the houses hang over the water in some places. Despite the blackout, many shops were open and we managed to spend some money, they have beautiful woven clothing and some incredible one of a kind jewelry. Yikes!
We stopped and ate some Greek food at the waterfront, relaxing with friends and watching people. I never imagined myself enjoying slowing down and eating some slow meals as much as this happened, I envisioned quick eat-on-the-go meals but hated this especially in fast paced placed like Rome. I always feel like I need to cram as much as possible into sightseeing, even if I been there several times before. This time I slowed down a little and really enjoyed it! Less is more they say.
May 11, 2009 Istanbul with Kagan Kosegan
Woke up this morning to a perfect day again! Sailing through the beginning of the Bosporus and Golden Horn, I see Aya Sophia, Topkopki Palace, the fort, more Mosques, and more. It is the best sail in I have had ever, the massive traffic in the water is intense, small ferries and boats come so close to the ship its is strange to see this happening. I am mesmerized by all of this, wake up early and don't miss this.
Kagan picked us up at 8am and had his driver drop us off at the Prison that was in Midnight Express; it is now a 5 star hotel! From there we walk to the Blue Mosque, a beautiful temple where Kagan leads us in and we promptly sit cross legged on the floor in our own private section. He begins to teach us about Islam and the traditions around praying and living. Kagan is not Muslim, he is an Eastern Christian and he is clearly educated and compassionate, we learn a lot about this religion that we knew very little about. I love this aspect of travel; it fosters tolerance through learning and 'being' in different cultures in a hand on way!
Next we walk to the Palace, we head straight for the Harem; I am astounded by the beauty of the tiles and gardens. The crowds are not too bad, we are trying to keep ahead of the large bus tours but this is almost impossible since most people are on bus tours; you can only get into Aya Sophia with a Princess bus tour.
Kagan teaches us about the Harem, the way the women are chosen and how they are kept educated and wealthy, even if they are never picked to become a favorite. We enjoy the Harem tour so much because Kagan is walking us through each room and showing us how the Sultan walked, how the girls tried to allure him, and how they were kept in safe, educated environments where they are provided opportunities to gain massive wealth even if they were never chosen! I can see why families from all over the world wanted their daughters to become part of this Harem!
Next we walked to the Basilica Cisterns which are under Aya Sophia, these are very interesting and even if I did not get into Aya Sophia, I got under it. The Cisterns are still in use today, we learn about how there used to be a fish restaurant down here that closed and the owner filled the cistern waters with fish and they are still there today. I got pictures of huge Carp swimming everywhere. The Cisterns are fantastic, held up with ancient recycled columns (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) including some with statue reliefs. Check out the upside down Medusa's at the end of the Cisterns, but men need to watch the eye contact, lol!
Now we decide to eat lunch, we imagined no sit down meals (waste too much time) but have completely changed our notion of travel on this trip. After a full morning of walking and touring, we need to slow down and relax and rejuvenate ourselves at lunchtime. Kagan takes us to a local place, one of his favorites, and we sit and break bread together and enjoy an incredible meal and conversation. As we eat we learn about the spices used in cooking, the different foods and ways of preparing them, and even the traditions surrounding meals and tea. We have Turkish tea—not apple tea—as we finish the meal. Wonderful food, this is a must do with Kagan1
After lunch, we hit the grand bazaar. Kagan walks us through the market, starting at gate 1, and shows us where the leather is, the local crafts are, food, Jewelry, and junk! He explained how we should pay about half the initial price offered, and how I should explain that 'my husband will only let me spend $___" to help the vender save face! This is the polite way of bargaining, and everything here seems quite civil to me. After he orients us, he sets us free to shop for about 45 minutes (our choice) and we love the vendors who are not nearly as aggressive as I expected. In fact, it is an entirely pleasant experience and nothing like what I expected. I got some great deals! We meet back up with Kagan at the designated time and he takes us back into the bazaar and has a man draw my name in Calligraphy, It's gorgeous.
Now we visit the markets where all the locals shop, out of the grand bazaar, and then to the Spice market where it smells divine. I buy the freshest Turkish Delight, after sampling f course. I found Rose tea (calming) and Rose jam, and in a small perfume shop I found the best Rose oil I have even had. This is the real deal here, everything is of the highest quality, and I can't believe how a small drop of oil stays with me the entire day. Finally, we find this Pomegranate sauce that we had on our salads at lunch, a must buy if you like pomegranate.
Next we walked through the old city, under the city streets through tunnels, and across the Golden horn to the Galata district in an old dinghy boat, very Turkish. This part of town is much newer, only 500 years old! We take the underground funicular to a wide pedestrian street and walk and talk about this area. We walk through a street market with tools, hardware, and home improvement stuff, among ancient buildings and walkways. We find "Venice in Istanbul" and learn the story of how a Venetian man fell in love with a woman from Istanbul whose family would not let her go to Venice, so he married her and brought Venice to Istanbul. We visit another shop for the freshest Halva around and I buy a small chunk to bring to the ship. Watch this; it is so good and so fattening, lol, not so good after all the great food on the Ruby!
We never made it to the Galata Tower, not a biggie since I know I am coming back here, love this town. We ended of walking 5-7 miles, had the best tour of our lives, and one of the best port days as well. Istanbul was a wonderful surprise and gift to me, clean and sane and safe. I fell in love with this city, its people, and especially the Islamic customs and practices of this Muslim country. I loved seeing all the different religions and customs practiced everywhere. Kagan was an awesome guide; I highly recommend him and suggest you book very early as he is popular. We loved having him to ourselves on our walking tour, he charged us $150 E plus admissions and food, and we did tip him like 25%. It was a great port day!
May 12, 2009 Kusadasi—Ephesus with Yelda (Through Kagan)
Kusadasi was quite surprising, I don't know why but we were not expecting such beautiful country with an immaculate city. Our guide Yelda was incredible, she was a nice contrast to Kagan and also quite educated, knowledgeable, and charming. She was a plethora of knowledge about the area, with a real passion for it and that makes such a difference in guides. I hired Yelda through Kagan, we were all completely pleased.
First we went to Mary's house, it was lovely and moving and I found it quite touching as a Jew. I bought some holey water and drank it up, it was delicious and I feel wonderful! We beat the large buses by a half hour, but they were right on our heels from that point on.
Next we went to Ephesus, an amazing place in beautiful country side, you sort of turn a corner in the country and suddenly Giant columns appear and you know you are in Ephesus. Oh My Gosh pops Mama Mia! This was an incredible experience; Yelda knew everything about the place including secret symbols and all sorts of secrets you never learn on larger bus tours. Those tours kept passing us up quickly, we could see they were barely explaining the info Yelda was lavishing upon us! We saw everything, walked the Marble road, visited the amazing Terrace houses, all guided expertly by Yelda. Most of people I've talked to loved Ephesus better than any ruins they saw including Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Acropolis complex in Athens. I find it hard to top the Parthenon in Athens but it is the only thing left that is beautiful, Athens is a dirty city and the locals do not seem to take as much pride in their city and heritage and it is quite sad considering they were they greatest society that lived at one time.
We had a tour for 6 although they brought a large bus for 16! It was a perfect size tour, I highly recommend keeping them small at this kind of sight. I also highly recommend Kagan and his guide Yelda in Ephesus; once again it was one of the highlight days on this cruise.
May 13, 2009 Athens Driver: Paul of Athens Taxi
We are in Athensdocked at like 5amand its perfectly clear and warm but not hot (the weather theme this 28 day cruise). Our guide picked us up from the ship at 7:30 and I wish I would have had him come at 7! Do that if you canwe used Paul the driver and he was nice but did not compared to Kagan in Istanbul, Yelda is Ephesus, and Fabricio in Italy. The Acropolis is incredible but Athens is filthy and it made me very sad to think that these people once produced the greatest minds in the world, and now its beautiful city is covered in Graffiti, it is worse than Los Angeles. The sail away from Athens was very interesting, and the sunset was spectacular.
May15/May16, 2009 Venice
Sail into Venice was lovely, we were on deck by 11am and it was crowded so you should plan on scouting out your spot early! On the Starboard side is St. Marks and all the sights of the Castillo district and St. Marks; on the Port side is Guidecca and Lido and they are darn scenic as well. There is no bad side.
We had a pre-arranged 4 hour tour with Avventure Bellissime for a combined one hour boat tour and 3 hour walking tour including a visit to St. Marks Basilica (no lines) and hidden Venice. Our tour guide picked us up "at the ship" at 2 PM (we arrived at 1 pm) and thank goodness we had scouted out what this meant, in Venice a pick up "at the ship" means you need to walk off the ship and find the area where the taxi boats are and that's where you will be expected to meet your tours. This is different than any other port we visited; glad we took the time to figure this out so it did not impinge on our touring time.
Our boat tour of the Grand Canal was lovely; we enjoyed seeing the hustle and bustle of this busy canal in the later afternoon when the light was just perfect for photos. At St. Marks square, we exited the boat and began out walking tour. Our guide was very animated; she shared a lot of interesting stories which really brought the city alive for us. We visited the basilica and then started a back street walking tour through narrow alleys and secret gardens of the Castillo and Canareggio districts of Venice. It was a great walking tour, we all enjoyed it and we were able to customize it to our preferences. We all wanted the tour to end at a good shopping location so we finished the tour at the Rialto Bridge. It was a perfect introduction to Venice.