Nautica Cruise Review by Cruise_Bum: Dream Cruise of Greek Islands
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Dream Cruise of Greek Islands
GREEK ISLANDS HONEYMOON NARRATION: 2009 * Wednesday, July 22 Depart from Boston Airport (10:00pm) to Frankfort, Germany, Airtime: 6 hours, 32 minutes. Ah! The flight with 50 nocturnal Italian teenagers! The sardine conditions daunted them not at all. They were in perpetual motion and their joyful mating noises echoed nonstop for seven hours. They entered the minute bathrooms in groups of three, and swarmed over and around us, happily using the back of my seat as a kind of pinball flipper when the lurching plane altered their intended trajectory. I discovered fifty painful positions to not-sleep in my cramped space. My favorite was back flat on the seat and legs curled over my chest like noodles. Gary sat bolt upright staring like a dead thing. I was impressed. It felt like a long flight, but compared with a recent eight hour drive from Massachusetts to Washington D.C. through New York city traffic, it wasn't that bad.
* Thursday, July 23 Depart from Frankfort (1:50 pm their More time) to Athens, Greece - 7 hours difference from U.S and Athens. Airtime: 2 hours. Arrive 5:30 pm and take transfer to Nautica, Oceania Cruise Ship. And would you believe all went smoothly! No runway jams, vomiting babies or violent weather! Food served on Lufthansa Airlines consisted of darling little portions of schnitzel noodles, delicately marinated chicken and exotic cheeses. The airport at Frankfort was memorable by its lack of color - a monochrome of regimented black and white. However, a maintenance guy wearing silver sneakers flashed me a heavenly smile as he pedaled an old grey bicycle down a corridor. We were met in Athens by a very beautiful woman named Elena from the Nautica. Gary was so impressed by her that he proceeded to call every female tour guide for the rest of the trip "Elena", (much to their helpless irritation as every tourist within hearing copied Gary's example) People do things for different reasons. Yes, we wanted to celebrate our love with a romantic voyage, and yes I'm an art teacher who loves archeology. But I also wanted to come to Greece because of two very wonderful dreams. I dreamed I was once a Minoan girl running along a cliff by the edge of the sea in ancient Crete. In another dream, I was Gaia, earth goddess, surrounded with stones from deep within the earth, and then flying above. I wanted to come to Greece to honor them both. It seemed a pity that our two top stops, Delphi and the Minoan palace of Knossos were at the beginning of our cruise, while we were still feeling slightly disoriented from the time differences, but oh well. I had insomnia the night before our trip to Delphi (home of Gaia, earth goddess). I woke up Gary to tell him.
* Friday, July 24; (Departs 6:00pm) Athens, Greece Excursion 8 Delphi TOUR LENGTH: Full-Day (Approximately 9 hours) Enjoy a scenic drive through the Greek countryside on your way to Delphi, once considered by the ancients to be the physical and spiritual center of the earth.
We had seen the Acropolis last year, and we admired it again in the distance as our bus circled through Athens. Some of the cruise passengers we talked to preferred small private tours they arranged on their own, but we've always enjoyed the tours offered by the cruise ships. They are effortless to book, (we did it on the internet one morning, as we lay in bed), and the groups have never felt too large. Listening to people's questions and responses to the sites has always been interesting, and there are plenty of opportunities to socialize. Our tour began with exiting Athens, and our guide (Jana, renamed Elena), proudly informed us that exiting Athens is near impossible, due to accidents, due to impatient Athenian drivers, which leads to sitting in traffic for the rest of your life. Gary asked about the mailboxes thickly lining both sides of the highway. They looked like miniature churches. Our guide informed us they were memorials placed by families for drivers who had crashed at that spot. Traversing five miles took us three hours of lurching starts and stops to avoid teeny little "smart" cars careening madly in all directions. Gary shared with me that the sickening lurches didn't bother him, because this was how his father drove. I draped myself over Gary and closed my eyes. I knew we had exited Athens when the lurching smoothed into a strange sideways rocking. I sat up to see huge mountains looming before us which we were traversing in hairpin curves. The narrow two lane road was paved right up to a sheer cliff dropping off on one side and rising up like a wall on the other. Although we were possibly doing 70 mph, little smart cars still whizzed past us, creating three lanes when they aimed at each other unexpectedly. Yes, there were LOTS of little lopsided mailboxes perched along the cliff edge. Near the top of the mountain we entered a picturesque town clinging to the mountain side. Our guide let us know that the shopkeepers refused to widen this medieval part of the road, making it difficult for tour buses. A bored looking policeman looked on as our tour bus was suddenly face to face with another tour bus coming from the other direction in what was a one tour bus space. Smart cars and motorcycles still careened between us, but we were clearly stuck. While the policeman watched, the drivers and guides of each bus screamed at each other in animated Greek. At long last a depressed looking man came out from a shop with a broken façade. He guided the buses up on the sidewalks to inch past each other. For tense moments we were nose to nose with a horrified looking Asian group on the other bus. After a five hour bus trip we arrived at Delphi. Our tour guide excitedly let us know our trip was possibly a record, a good two hours longer than it should have taken. Set nearly 2,000 feet high on the slopes of Mount Paranassu, the Shrine of Apollo even today exerts a potent grip on visitors. During the height of its glory, Delphi grew fabulously rich and although most of the magnificent structures have almost disappeared, you can still gaze upon these amazing ruins and picture how life here must have been during its 1,000 years of prestige in antiquity. During your visit to the site you will see the Castalian Spring; The Sacred Way, once lined with great statues and treasures; The Grand Temple of Apollo, beneath which the priestess Pythia sat; the theater with its excellent acoustics; and the well-preserved stadium with the marble starting blocks in position. Adding to your enjoyment of Delphi is a panorama laid out before you of incomparable grandeur. Your time here will also include a visit to the Delphi Museum where you will view such treasures as the Omphalos, which marked the center of the world, and the glorious bronze Charioteer, one of the finest pieces surviving from the 5th Century B.C.
One of our fellow tourists anxiously asked Jana how our late arrival would affect our tour. She was a massive woman and she answered in a deep, determined voice, "It will be very quick and you must go very fast and do only what I say." We jogged through the museum with Jana yelling out things like, "This is my favorite piece, very nice, yes? NEXT ROOM, NOW!" The glorious bronze charioteer is very glorious, and I didn't feel shortchanged, but I'm sure it's the fastest any large group of old people ever moved through a museum. We jogged out the back door, up the sacred way, past the Treasury of Athens, up a cliff, past the rock where the Oracle sat, past the temple of Apollo and back down again. The steps leading to the temple glistened from the wear of human feet and the iridescent gleam of shells. Now an ancient mountain top, this rock had once been an ocean floor. "Water!" Gary gasped. "Gotta get water." I could barely breathe, but I managed to say, "She may leave you here if you do!" Gary can be like a bull dog when he gets an idea in his brain, but he was worried she'd leave him too. Knees pumping, sweat pouring off us, we leaped on the bus and collapsed. August is not the optimum month to visit Greece. However, I need to travel during school vacation, and hot Greece is better than no Greece.
At the conclusion of your guided tour of Delphi, you will next travel to the village of Arachova, a popular destination for Athenians during the winter as the ski resort of Mt. Parnassus is located close by. Here, you will be treated to a traditional Greek lunch before re-boarding your coach for the return to Athens. The bus careened back down the mountain and gunned it through Arachova's narrow street to the restaurant. Jana announced on her microphone, "I have called ahead and they are expecting us. It is not fast food, but you must eat very fast to not miss your boat. They know this and will serve very fast because I asked it, THIS WAY NOW." We jogged in to a beautiful restaurant set into the side of the cliff, most of the walls clear glass to take advantage of the view. Our group rushed over to two long tables, set at intervals with plates and pitchers of wine. As we sat down, six waiters raced along the tables tossing greek foods at us with tongs. I felt a little like a family of walrus being fed in a water park. After several glasses of wine I could feel a distinct emotional shift in my fellow tourists. They were starting to hunker protectively over their plates. I watched a man on the left have a tug of war with his waiter over some yalanchi (grape leaves and rice). I myself liberated a bowl of yoghurt from a flying tray. It was delicious! I overheard muttered conversations on whether the cruise ship would really depart without 38 passengers, "And dammitall, who wants more wine?" The more serious question no one addressed was what Jana would do to us. Being a peaceful person, I took off to the ladies room. By the time I returned everyone was back on the bus and Jana was informing them she had been a tour guide for 34 years. On reflection, we all agreed it had been an awesome lunch. We arrived back at the cruise ship five minutes before departure time! Jana was an educated, logical/sequential woman who did not resonate with Delphi magic, and explained the Oracle's role rationally. Apparently, priest representatives from each of the Greek city states would meet at the Apollo Temple and discuss important political issues. If a joint decision was arrived at, the Oracle would announce it as a magic omen. If no decision could be reached, they would say the Oracle had announced the timing inauspicious due to a non-trembling albino goat, (which they ate.) That bought them another month to hammer out an agreement. In this way they successfully ruled a population of oppositionally-defiant Greek citizens who would have disagreed with any decisions arrived at by more normal means. I could tell Jana approved. HOW'ERE I still wish to believe that the more ancient relationship with Gaia that occurred before Greek males dominated the scene, was deeper and more instilled in magic - or reality, depending on your definition.
* Saturday, July 25, (8:00am-6:00pm) Crete - Aghios Nikolaos, Greece Excursion 2 The Palace of Knossos TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (About 4 1/2 hours) Forty-five miles west of cosmopolitan Aghios Nikolaos lies one of Crete's finest archaeological sites, "Knossos," the ancient capital of the great king Minos. The original palace of Knossos was constructed around 1900 B.C., but a few hundred years later, an earthquake destroyed it. In its place, another palace was rebuilt on an even grander scale. In 1900, its remains were excavated and some of the sections were painstakingly restored. The present palace consists of four wings, spread out from a central court, a complex that once served as the administrative and religious center for the whole region. As you tour the labyrinthine site, you will see the royal living quarters, rooms where state occasions were held, a theater area, store rooms and potters' workshops. Although the restoration, undertaken by Sir Arthur Evans, was controversial at the time, it offers great insight into the complexity of Minoan life nearly 4,000 years ago.
With nervous trepidation, Gary and I boarded the tour bus, but the ride was blissfully brief. Our guide Helen (who only looked briefly puzzled when everyone started calling her Elena) was eager to answer any questions. High mountains gave way to a lonely stretch of road that curved along the coast. My dream of running along this coastline back in the heyday of King Minos, was reinforced by seeing exactly the same flowers growing along the cliffsides that I had seen in my dream. I asked Helen what they were called and she said they were Oleander. Ah, proof positive! The ancient palace of Knossos had the same feeling of antiquity as Mexico's Chichan Itza ruins, but such a different culture! Here, the wall frescoes did not depict war and human sacrifice. Minoan walls display dancing men with cascading curls and fashionably slender waists. Athletes somersault over bulls, and bare-breasted women apply mascara to their beautiful eyes. Helen shared that no scenes of war appear anywhere in Minoan art, and no fortifications were built around the castle. These were a peaceful, happy people.
This tour also affords you a short visit to bustling Heraklion's main square, a wonderful contrast to the quiet splendor of Knossos.
Gary and I toasted each other on a silly looking pirate ship docked next to the Nautica. That evening we had a wonderful dinner of lobster and steak. I am glad to think I was once a dancing girl in the Palace of Knossus, but I am happy to be a modern Crete tourist!
* Sunday, July 26, Cruising the Ionian Sea The next day we woke late, and ordered breakfast in our room. The food was so pretty that Gary honored it with its own fashion shoot. In a larger ship, we never would have found deck chairs this late in the morning, but we found two perfect lounge chairs overlooking the pool right away. I sat like a queen in my very chic Italian bathing suit - the most expensive item I'd purchased for the cruise - and sipped discounted "drinks of the day" while I wrote what you are now reading. Gary re-read his beloved "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" on his Kindle's extra large screen. His kindle was much admired by many on the cruise deck, and gave Gary an opportunity to talk to people, an activity he also enjoys.
* Monday, July 27, (8:00am-5:00pm) Dubrovnik, Croatia Walking the medieval wall on our own. Main street is the Stradun, and a restaurant on the wall.
Now I presume that anyone perusing this journal is saying impatiently about now, "But what else did you wear?" Let me say that we had a few fashion "moments" that left me reluctant to give this important subject full justice. One "moment" was two hours before we left for our trip when Gary informed me that my absolutely to-die-for ivory satin sandals sent to the shoe repairman to have the backs fixed HAD NOT BEEN FIXED! The Neanderthal clod (referring to the shoe-repairman, although Gary was not one of my favorite people at this moment) had had the temerity to take the backs off, rendering them unwearable, and THEN suggest they weren't worth his while! I apologized several times to Gary later for my reaction. I believe there is a Greek Myth roughly on this subject - something about killing the messenger. The other incident, minor in comparison, has to do with the black and white bandana that Gary wears bunched in a large ball under his hat to soak up sweat. No one actually pointed when he removed his hat in Greece, possibly because they thought it had some strange religious importance. But I'd make him remove it when I caught people staring. On the whole, however, we were beautifully and stylishly turned out! For example, I shall briefly describe our ensembles worn to the prestigious Polo Grill. I wore a midnight-blue satin strapless cocktail dress, brushed antique gold leather sandals with an understated celtic design, a lighter-than-air white silk gauze Italian shawl, and a delicate three-strand necklace comprised of white gold, yellow gold and platinum. Gary wore a short-sleeved silk Mexican shirt with front pintucks, beige silk pants and loafers (which the shoe-man had deemed worthy of repair!). We set off for the Polo Grill and realized it was more "aft" than we had thought, and so we were forced to traverse the outside middle of the pool area in a fierce wind. We had a more "relaxed" ambiance when we arrived. On the somewhat less interesting subject of food, Gary ordered the oysters Rockefeller, tomato and onion salad, lobster bisque, and a 5 inch by 5 inch blob of raw flesh, which made him very happy. I had the crab cake with bEarnaise sauce, wedge of lettuce with blue cheese and bacon, lobster bisque with brandy, a wild mushroom ragout, and a whole steamed Maine lobster. I must add that the lobster arrived with a waiter who entirely de-shelled it with tiny dental instruments as I watched. He took about 10 minutes. I sweetly refrained from exclaiming, "Honey, I'm from Maine! Just shove the fork up its tail!" But the look on his face as he completed his operation was so proud that I thanked him warmly. Coffee and Crème Brulee completed our repast.
* Tuesday, July 28, (8:00am-6:00pm) Corfu, Greece. Browse the Parisian arcades, Italian architecture and English cricket square. Known for silver, fisherman's sweaters, sandals and olive wood carving. Food: stuffed grape leaves, retsina wine, lamb souvlaki.
This was a stop where we had not booked a tour. The proximity (according to a map) to points of interest looked do-able, so we were fairly confident when we set off at 8:30AM. I SAID to Gary as we left the ship, here's the map and I haven't got my glasses. Translation - "You do it." Is this hard to figure out? NO! But my new husband is a stubborn man. He understands "You do it" even when you don't directly SAY it. So he didn't acknowledge he'd memorized the map. Hey, what do I care. I love getting lost. Now Gary's agenda was that I should walk in front of him and go where he wanted me to go without his telling me. He SAID it was so he wouldn't lose me. Needless to say, I went where I wanted to go, without benefit of the map. While he ducked in a shop to buy water. NEED I SAY MORE! When I saw all the Corfu shops leading right, I went right. Gary was into walking in a hot parking lot for six miles because of the map. I found another issue interesting...what's "old"? Apparently the Corfu map had "Old Fort" and "New Fort" printed on it. I point out a clearly old area, (when I was retrieved and now obediently trekking through the parking lot) and say, "Is that the Old Fort?" "No", Gary grumps. "Why not? Looks old to me." I observe. "It isn't old enough," Gary says. "Why not? Looks old to me," I repeat. "No," Gary snarls. I insist. "Look, it has a green sign". "It's CONDEMNED!!!" Gary yells. "The green sign says GO AWAY BEFORE THIS FALLS ON YOU! It's not OLD!" "Looks old to me," I say cheerfully, loving every minute of this conversation. Payback of course for losing me. The Old Fort was subsequently found and yes, it was probably older than the New Fort, which was probably older than the falling down place with the green sign. I have to say that tours are useful. The end of Corfu consists of a labyrinthine maze of medieval streets packed with tourists and shops selling tourist items such as mugs labeled Corfu, salad tongs carved from olive wood and cheap miniatures of Roman statues. Stores also sold luxury fur coats, hammered silver and jewelry. I wondered how they could all exist, but the supply of tourists seemed pretty dense. Shop-keepers followed you attentively in the shops, boasting of their wares. "These very ancient silver objects have been in my family for generations," one informed me proudly. I had just seen 40 shops with identical items so I was skeptical. "And these are original cycladic sculptures," he went on..I looked at the endless rows of new, modernly simplified Chinese knockoffs and winced. Whatever. Gary let me know he was about to collapse, so we found a sidewalk restaurant and ate Greek foods while we people watched. I was finally able to try retsina, a Greek wine made from pine trees. It tastes like it should be in a lamp with a wick coming out of it, but it does grow on you. After we arrived home, Gary learned that pine resin had been used to seal the clay amphora the wine had been stored in, and the taste seeped into the wine. Our guide in Rhodes said that it became a source of local pride, and later was purposely added to wine. I also asked for a glass of ice water. My waiter looked up and asked the gods, "What climate does she think she's in?" And brought me a small bottled water which was added to the bill. It came in handy on our six mile trek back to the ship through hot parking lots. By the time we returned to our room, everything on Gary was soaked with sweat and I looked like a tomato. BUT, two lovely showers later, we scampered down to dinner like two over-fed rabbits. SUCH nice food everywhere!
Wednesday, July 29, (8:00am-4:00pm) Katakolon, Greece Excursion 1 Ancient Olympia TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (Approximately 4 hours) After a pleasant drive through the Greek countryside, you'll arrive in Ancient Olympia, site of the first Olympics in 776 BC and, most recently, where the shot-put competition was contested in the 2004 Olympics. It's soon apparent why this is one of the country's most popular attractions. The impressive, compact ruins at the foot of Kronion hill include the expansive Temple of Zeus and numerous temples and altars. As you walk the fabled grounds on the ancient fields of play, it's easy to imagine the fierce competitions took place here. Be sure to see the Leonidaion, a former guesthouse, and Pheidias's workshop, where the sculptor created his revered statue of Zeus. Later, tour the ancient village of Olympia.
At the start of every tour the tour guide tells you over the microphone where you are going. Our guide bellowed desperately to get it through the thickest of us, "We are on our way to O-LEEM-PEE-AHHHH!" (No, not Baskin Robbins, you stupido tourists.") Moving east from the coast we passed innumerable, identical low hills. Before long our guide pointed to one of the hills and announced "THIS hill the ancients named as the place of the birth of Zeus' father Kronos, and because of this hill the site of the O-LEEM-PIX. I looked at it in baffled surprise. Delphi was marked by spectacular mountains, the most amazing among them chosen as godlike. Why would someone choose a boring little lump for the birthplace of the father of the Gods? I wanted to ask, but felt rude. When we drove into a parking lot our guide pled desperately, "We will not be parked at this spot when we leave! You will forget this spot. This spot you have never seen. Do not ever in your lives come to this spot. This has not happened!" Everyone on the bus looked childishly delighted and turned to his/her partner and attempted a Colonel Klink voice, "I know nothing!" Except for a middle aged fellow with a waxed apple face who approached nearly everyone in the group to ask, "I'm confused! Do we come back here?" I immediately thought "Brain damage!" Yet he seemed attached to a normal looking woman and three kids. The two daughters looked okay. The boy looked unfortunate, but he was young. The wife turned to Gary and muttered, "You can hit him with your cane if you want." We arrived on foot to a designated spot and our guide bellowed, "Use your imaginations. This is the site of the Olympic Games starting in 1700 BC. Picture forty five thousand people arriving in this small village to attend Olympic Games." (My imagination worked on a picture.) "They were all men," she continued. "Women were not allowed." (adjustment to picture) "Uh, naked men, as the Olympics were performed naked," she added. (adjustment to picture). "Here we have a sculpture of Zeus and a young boy he has fallen in love with. The male body was considered more perfect than the bodies of women, and love between males of all ages the most ideal." (adjustment to picture.) "When a woman disguised herself as a man to attend the Olympics, she was discovered to be a woman when she stood to cheer for her son. The only thing that saved her from being put to death was belonging to an extremely wealthy family." I wondered why, in the same part of the world, the Minoan culture accepted women as equals, yet they stood alone in the history of this region. I felt it was naïve to ask our female guide, but I asked anyway. "Why did men believe women were inferior?" "It is still so in Greece today," she answered bitterly. "It is the way of men everywhere." I felt glad to be with Gary, because it is not his way. * Thursday, July 30, (8:00am-6:00pm) Santorini, Greece No tour. Exploring the town of Fira on our own.
The night before we anchored at Santorini, I was wakened from a deep sleep by the wild music of howling winds. I had a feeling of happy exhilaration. I had had the same magical experience last year when we arrived at this place. At no other island did I have this experience. When I fell back asleep, I dreamed of being under turquoise water. The surface above me was dappled with shifting, round coins of golden sunlight that lit the water. I was surrounded by submerged bronzes of gods and goddesses linked together in a long frieze. We were warned that eight cruise ships had descended on Santorini on the same day. The weather was scorching, and the wait to take the cable car up the mountain was brutal. But the views from the top were just as breathtaking as I had remembered. I am old, and in my life I have learned that there are times when you must leave behind you what you most love. I cried at leaving Santorini. I felt my heart breaking.
In discussing our dinners, Gary and I had a divergence of opinion on the definition of "intimate". Typically, we would arrive at the main dining hall, the most popularly attended restaurant, which did not require a reservation. We were greeted by a gentleman who viewed the available tables and selected one for us. (1) Another gentleman led us to our table. (2) Another gentleman pulled my chair out and in. (3) Another gentleman placed my napkin in my lap. (4) Another gentleman asked us our liquor desires. (5) Another gentleman asked us our wine desires. (6) Another gentleman poured our water. (7) Another gentleman brought us a bread basket and tongs and asked if we wanted bread. (8) Another gentleman asked us for our menu selections. (9) Another gentleman brought the h'oeur dorves. (10) Another gentleman asked if we wanted ground pepper. (11) Another gentleman refilled the water. (12) Another gentleman brought new utensils for the next course, and removed the old. (13) Another gentleman wiped crumbs off the table with a silver brush. (14) Another gentleman brought the soup. (15) Another gentleman removed the soup and brought new utensils. (17) Another gentleman brought the salad. (18) Another gentleman offered more ground pepper. (19) Another gentleman brought more beer and wine. (20) Another gentleman removed salad and provided new utensils. (21) Another gentleman brought entrEe and stayed to prepare entrees. (22) Wine and water and pepper guys returned. (23)(24)(25) And crumb guy with silver brush. (26) Another guy removed entrEe dishes. (27) Dessert guy came and took our order. (28) And coffee order guy. (29) And new utensil guy. (30) Dessert guy delivered order. (31) Coffee guy delivered order. (32) Liquor guy made a last ditch effort. (33) Crumb brusher, water guy, entrEe guy, and remover guy returned for bows, say farewell, and pull out our chairs. (34) (35) (36) (37). As interesting as all this may be, (I couldn't believe the amount of silverware we went through!), if I am pausing conversation to accommodate 37 interruptions, I feel like I am part of a much larger group than two. The most awkward for me was the meal when we were first in the restaurant and all 37 guys, dressed in diverse and symbolic finery, clustered around us like butterflies. Gary liked it. Later that evening as we lay in bed with the lights out, listening to the ocean waves, I asked Gary if we could order room service. "You're hungry?" he asked in surprise. "There were all those people waiting on us! I got nervous." "Alright," Gary said. "What do you want?" I turned on the light and looked through the menu. "Fruit platter," I said decisively. "Alright," Gary said, getting up to dial room service. "And the cheese platter, and the shrimp platter and the dessert platter and the chicken dinner looks good." Gary put the phone down. "What?" I ask. Gary said carefully, "You're going to eat all that?" My eyes shifted sideways, "Eventually." "Alright," he said. Literally two minutes later a tiny Asian guy lurched into the room, staggering under the weight of the food. He lowered it to the floor, and lifted a huge banquet sized board from behind our couch, which he placed carefully over our glass coffee table. He covered it with a beautiful linen cloth and proceeded to arrange the silver plates of food, beautiful crystal, and obscene amount of silverware on top. When I thought he was done, he whipped out an extremely phallic Greek flower and placed it dramatically in the middle. Gary tipped him, and we enjoyed our midnight feast on our private balcony under a full moon. Every bite full of food was of the best quality and beautifully prepared. You have no excuse to ever be hungry on a cruise! On the topic of small cruise ships (such as ours, or larger ones such as we had last year), Gary much prefers small ones. However, I miss the more international and younger group we encountered on the larger ship. I like children, and I enjoyed watching the multi-generational families interact. In contrast, it seemed most of us on this cruise were ancient - our age! For example, Gary was complaining loudly that his Hawaiian shirt, (off the woman's rack) had the buttons on the wrong side and was difficult to maneuver. A young woman leaned over and said earnestly, "It's good exercise for your brain. It may stave off stroke for a little longer." I snickered. I also realized that my prejudice about old people is pretty ironic, considering I am one. Yet, I have to acknowledge that not one of our fellow passengers dropped out of our tours. I am delighted to know now that Gary and I have at least another 20 years to travel the world!
As I am in a sharing mood, I will share with you that a Feng Shui interior decorator once informed me that my Chinese birth element is water. Apparently water people seek truth, creativity, sensitivity, are reflective and love bathrooms! When imbalanced, a water person can become restless or fearful. Bathrooms are our refuge! So, I digress on the topic of WC's. I found the architectural conservation of space on our cruise ship fascinating. Our bathroom sink was completely functional, but incredibly long and narrow, more like a tiny shelf with a faucet on one end. The best WC on the trip was a public facility on Mykonos. It was an ancient little adobe room perched directly on the sea and painted sunshine yellow. A huge window overlooked the ocean, and the sounds of the waves hitting the wall outside echoed all around me. As I came out, dozens of cats slept on a bench, surrounding an old woman, who was also sleeping. I placed a euro in a small plate and quietly left. The perfect bathroom!
* Friday, July 31, (8:00am-12 noon) Delos, Greece; Excursion 1 A Visit to Delos TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (Approximately 2 hours) The small, uninhabited island of Delos lies just a few miles from Mykonos, and, by law, it can only be visited during daylight hours. This tour offers that rare opportunity. Delos was once the religious center of the entire Aegean area, and according to mythology, it was the birthplace of Apollo, the god of music, sun, light, harmony and beauty. Pilgrims from all over Greece and other countries came to pay their respects to the god, bringing gifts and offerings, which made the island a highly respected sanctuary, a position it retained throughout antiquity. In the early 19th century, excavations uncovered the ruins of a whole city on Delos, much of which you can explore. Some of the most archaeologically important remains include the Naxos marble lions, the three beautiful temples dedicated to Apollo, and various houses with splendid mosaic floors. Rising above the ruins of this ancient city is Mount Kynthos, the island's highest point, where the earliest traces of inhabitation date back to the 3rd millennium BC.
Our cruise ship anchored a short distance from the Island of Delos, and an unfortunate number of us packed into a small life boat to reach shore. The water was so rough from raging winds that the pilot lost his hat when he stuck his head out his hatch. I held Gary's hand very tightly and asked questions about 600 people stuffed into a boat made of old tires. "It's a LIFEBOAT, Meredith," Gary said testily. "It CAN'T sink." (But I found the sign on the wall "You are not a survivor until rescued," confusing.) Indeed, we didn't sink, and shortly arrived on the deserted shores of Delos. As we started to unload, I could see our tour guide waiting for us on a nearby rock. I thought she was oddly dressed for glaring sun and sirocco-like winds. She wore long pants, high shoes, a sweatshirt that zipped up to her neck, giant whole-face wrap-around sun glasses and a hat with a thick rope knotted under her chin. As I clambered onto shore, a gust of wind shot my skirt past my nose and blasted my naked thighs with Delos sand. I suddenly appreciated her attire. Brushing my hair out of my nose, holding my skirt down, clutching my hat, grabbing my pocketbook, map and glasses, I had to make quick decisions which two items I needed most, as I only had two hands. I chose my sunglasses and pocketbook. I buried my hat in my bag, and resigned myself to wearing my hair up my nose and skirt under my armpits. Gary chose his knapsack and camera. He bagged his hat. His head ripened to a cherry red under the glaring sun and I worried about him the entire tour. The history of Delos was perhaps the most fascinating of all our tours, and the complexity of ruins the most evocative of bygone times. Pompeii was saved for archeologists by volcanic ash. Delos had no earthquakes and volcanoes, but these powerful winds had buried the ruins in African dust. At one point every inch of this barren island, sacred to Apollo, was utilized as prime real estate. Tall homes built next to each other were separated by narrow roads. Each home had indoor plumbing and was connected to a public sewer system. The city-state of Athens took over the religious site and in order to maintain political control, ordained that Apollo didn't like death and therefore no one was allowed to be born or die on Delos. Control passed from Athens to a more international business complex through the ages, but the island remained a major religious site, with temples dedicated to Greek, Christian, Egyptian and Jewish gods. More than 25,000 people lived on the barren rock, enjoying a cosmopolitan lifestyle that was the hub of the ancient world. In 88 BC Mithridats VI, King of Pontus, now Turkey, came in with a militia and killed everyone. And looted Delos. And set it on fire. After which no one came back. So, our guide began our tour. "And here is a typical home," she informed us. "Here is the central garden with mosaic floor. And here is the dining area where men enjoyed socializing with other men and mistresses. Wives were not allowed. And here is the bathroom for 12 used by men only. Women not allowed. And here is the theatre where all of Delos came to enjoy wonderful plays by brilliant writers. Women not allowed. And here is gymnasium and baths for men. Women not allowed. There also boys were educated, but not girls. And here is agora, or public meeting place. Women not allowed. Dionysus the god of wine, ecstasy, and of epiphany, "The God That Came" was worshipped and here we have examples of 7 foot marble penis and testicles which appeared often throughout Delos, in his honor. Here in agora slaves were brought in chains and sold like animals. Animals were brought for sacrifice to the gods and was said that the smoke from fires cremating their dead bodies could be seen by sailors for hundreds of miles. No one was allowed to be born or die on Delos, so all pregnant women, old women, or sick women were taken to the next island to die. Very high mortality rate, and most women died in child birth." I'm thinking about this time Greek culture had a lotta warts. And I'm not impressed by the Delos population being wiped out in one afternoon - keep in mind that Delos men hung out in the gym all day! Friday, July 31 (2:00pm-10:00pm) Mykonos, Greece; No tour. Most popular port city in Greece. Windmills on hill, Archeological Museum of objects from Delos, 15th century bakery. Narrow whitewashed streets were designed to confuse pirates. Panagia Paraportiani church in the Little Venice district. Waterfront walk you can see Petros the Pelican.
The island was over-run by bars and rich kids on motorcycles. The archeological museum closed just as we arrived, and every shop sold the same merchandise. We know because we saw them all, although not by choice. The narrow whitewashed streets designed to confuse pirates confused us as well. We never actually found the bakery, although we smelled it several times. Gary and I had just chosen a lovely outside cafe to collapse in by the dock, when the star of the island made his appearance; Petros the Pelican. A fearless and cosmopolitan resident, he flew in on giant wings and proceeded to smirk and strut up and down the entire dock. He had the presence of Dean Martin, pizzazz of Cary Grant, and strut of Red Skelton. Whatta Bird!
* Saturday, August 1 (9:00am-6:00pm) Rhodes, Greece; Excursion 1 Highlights of Rhodes TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (Approximately 4 hours) The old port of Mandraki, where this tour begins, is believed to be the site of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Historic sites abound in Rhodes, as you will soon discover after enjoying a panoramic view of the city and Rhodes Bay from atop Mount Smith. You will then visit the fully restored 14th-century Grand Masters Palace, which contains beautiful alabaster windows, French and Venetian furniture, and floor mosaics with scenes from Greek mythology. It served as a fortress in times of war, and a residence for the Grand Master and a meeting place for senior knights during times of peace. As you continue down the Avenue of the Knights, where the knights lived, the cobblestoned street seems to exude a noble and somewhat forbidden aura, as its lofty buildings stretch in an unbroken wall of honey-colored stone, punctuated by huge doorways and arched windows. At the conclusion of this tour, you can either return to ship, or remain in the old town to explore further. Today I, Gary, will narrate the continuing saga of our visit around the Aegean Sea. We arise to the strident ringing of the 6 am wakeup call. The tour doesn't leave until 9:15 but you can't be too early. We have time for a leisurely breakfast on deck 10 overlooking the port of Rhodes - Eggs Benedict, hash browns, and coffee! It doesn't get any better than this. The attention of the coffee server is welcome. He seems to lurk somewhere behind me and appears whenever my cup is half empty. If only the beer guy was as attentive. We proceed to the collection area where we exchange our tour tickets for two small cards with a blue 5 imprinted on them, and wait to be called. Finally the number is called and we all travel down the stairs to deck three. Interestingly enough, the two stairways going down merge into one, causing a traffic backup not much different than the commute most of us are trying to avoid by going on vacation. We look for bus 5 and who do I see but Elena from our first bus ride! She is our guide for Rhodes. It turns out she is a numbers person. As we ride along, she tells us of the number of olive trees, the number of foreign occupations, the number of gods and children of gods, and the number of cities they founded. As Elena checks the time and waves impatiently at the bus driver, I am guessing she knows exactly where she should be in her narration at exactly what time. The roads are just as narrow and twisting as the roads of Delphi, but our driver travels at a slower pace, untroubled by the constant passing of small cars and motorbikes that made our other bus trips so memorable. I also notice there are less roadside shrines, so maybe life in Rhodes is calmer. We arrive at the top of Mt Smith (Smith was an English general who used the mountain to spy on the French when Napoleon was running his fleet in the area). This points to a Basic Problem we tourists encounter. There seems to be a number of names for any one place, used interchangeably. I am reminded of the New Englanders' habit of giving directions using landmarks that no longer exist. "Turn where the old white church used to be". Which reminds me of the Colossus of Rhodes, a huge statue said to have straddled the entry to the harbor of Rhodes, which also smells like Maine. The Colossus was a 105 foot Apollo holding a torch. All ships passed between his legs. As it is no longer there and nothing remains, there is some doubt about where it might have been. This somewhat diminishes the story. If he didn't straddle the harbor entry, and he was just another giant statue somewhere in another old city, what happens to Rhodes' claim to fame? Many of the ruins of Rhodes are Medieval. The Knights Templar, also known as the Order of St John, had settled on the Island for 200 years (1309-1522), and were finally forced out by the Ottomans. Prior to purchasing Rhodes from a king, they had tried living in many locations in the region, such as Crete, in an attempt to keep their considerable wealth intact. Upon receiving Rhodes, they began building forts palaces and monasteries on top of pre-existing Greek temples. One of the stops on our tour was the ancient Greek Temple of Athena at the top of Mount Smith which the knights had converted into a monastery. Here, the Knights lived a celibate life. At any one time there were only 600 members, some Spanish, English, French or Italian. If a knight died, a replacement would be sent for from Europe. By the harbor of Rhodes, the knights built an impressive fortification called the Palace of the Grand Master. Many years later, during the Turk's occupation of Rhodes, (in what appears to be more than a simple twist of fate), ammunition was stored in the basement, and it exploded. Sound familiar? What happened to the Acropolis in Athens? Those pesky Turks playing with dynamite again. Not only should we beware of Greeks with gifts, look out for Turks wanting to store things. The palace was totally destroyed and then rebuilt by the Italians as a summer home for Mussolini around 1940. The second world war intervened and Mussolini, executed in 1945, never set foot in the new palace. Rhodes reverted back to the Greeks, whose culture and traditions had remained intact, despite the numerous foreign occupations. Today, the Palace has become a public museum, housing art treasures from all over Greece.
* Sunday, August 2 (8:00am-2:00pm) Kusadasi, Turkey; No tour. Missing what could have possibly been Virgin Mary's retirement home, now a church. Missing Grand Theater in Ephesus where St. Paul preached. See Kusadasi bazaar and nearby shops selling rugs and antique jewelry.
(Gary again) Our ship docked and we walked through customs into a brilliantly beautiful day. Our first encounter with the people of Kusadasi was a nice young man wearing a red tie who asked us earnestly if we were English. I thought he meant do we speak English, but no, he wanted to know if we were from London. This curiously pointless conversation included information about his family, and his knowing somebody who had been somewhere he thought might be near Springfield, MA. This segued into a staggering bit of misjudgment as he insisted on showing us a 9 karat diamond ring...for only $35,000 per karat! We turned him down on exiting the port, but succumbed on our return. It became obvious he was a portent of things to come. Kusadasi salespeople thickly lined the middle of every promenade (drinking apple tea). Loudly and insistently, they tried to herd passersby into their shops. Think Time Share sales times 1000. (Meredith describes more encounters below.) Looking only down, with a constant "no thanks" on our lips, we ran up the street, hoping for relief. I was so concentrated on avoiding sales pitches; I almost didn't hear a beautiful young woman who simply said, "I have pins". It took 5 steps before it registered in my brain. I stopped, turned back and pointing to my hatband heavily weighted with pins, said stupidly, "You have pins?" "Come into my shop", the spider said to the fly. I followed after her. She headed to the back of the shop and I passed an assistant mopping the tile floor. He gave me an evil grin. The thought occurred to me that this was the remains of the last customer. But yes, she had a small collection of pins. "You want biggest one? You take four, yes?" I purchased ONE small Turkish emblem for only 2euro. (My turn) (I just added to Gary's part what the saleswoman said about buying more than one pin. "How did you know that? I thought you were out in the street the whole time?" Gary asks. I give him a pitying look.) Anyway, we lasted less than an hour before we came back to the ship drenched in anxiety related sweat. It was awful beyond conception. Mind you, I purchased the carpet I wanted and three boxes of Turkish delight. I owe this to experiences from my past which gave me a demonic shopping fury that kicks in when needed. Our second salesperson poked us with his fingers, blocked our escape with his chest and confused our brains with curiously transparent lies. He also told us the complete history and construction of Turkish rugs. The only way we could have avoided his twenty minute diatribe was physical violence. He paused to breathe and we ran away. Every store salesman, often in groups of three or more, stood outside their establishment and screamed aggressively at us, often blocking our way physically, "Come inside, Where you from? I take your money! You need me now! You need leather jacket, nice plate, carpet, jewelry! Why not? You tell me why not, NOW! This is better shop than there, the others they all cheat you! Don't look at him, look only at me! You break my heart! You come with me!" I made the mistake of slowing in front of a second window and trying to see what they sold. Several salesmen dragged us by our elbows to a deserted third floor and plied us with apple tea we didn't want while I kept insisting, "NO! I have no money! Just BROWSING! PLEASE, NO!!!!" They showed us small silk rugs of exquisitely beautiful design he said were worth $35,000 to $160,000 and he would sell for only $3,000 to $10,000. When we tried to say no, we got another half hour lecture on the construction of Turkish rugs. We got loose from that one too, and sprinted down the street dodging fists grabbing at us, while I screamed, "NO!" And Gary whimpered, "This is the single worst experience of my life! Can we go now?" My chin jutted out, my teeth clamped shut and my eyes narrowed. I had had it by this time in our trip with Mediterranean Men. I marched into the next rug shop and when we were bodily lifted to an upper floor I turned on the salesman and snarled, "I will take your $10,000 piece of carpet if it is FREE. I won't if it isn't. I have less than one hundred dollars, my ship leaves in an hour, and DON'T WASTE MY TIME." (Gary collapsed on a luxuriously carpeted bench with another apple tea and was visibly hyperventilating). The salesman eyed me briefly and brought a new pile of rugs quoting prices $300 up. He started in on the "construction of Turkish rugs" lecture, but I jabbed one with my finger and said, "That one, onefifty now. I'm leaving." He stared again, shrugged and sold me a ten dollar rug for one hundred fifty dollars. We both thought, "ass-hole!" My adorable, well-mannered husband and I marched our way back to the ship and the first abusive salesman we had encountered said sadly, "Ah, you bought something, but not from me." Gary announced with pride, "She's part Turkish." Another positive result from the experience is that we now feel quite knowledgeable about the construction of Turkish rugs!
* Monday, August 3 (12:00noon- ) Istanbul, Turkey Excursion 6 Ottoman Essentials W/Visit to Grand Bazaar TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (About 3 1/2 hours) This delightful half-day tour of one of the world's most fascinating cities is designed to show you the highlights of Istanbul's stunning architecture and attractions. Starting off by coach, your first stop is the impressive Blue Mosque. This breathtaking mosque is the only one in the world with six minarets. Although built between 1609 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmed I (and named after him), the mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of the 21,000 Blue-green Iznik tiles, which decorate the interior. After a look at this amazing site, you'll next proceed to the Byzantine Hippodrome, which lies in front of the Blue Mosque. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, the Hippodrome was the center for entertainment, amusement and sports in the city. Later, during the Ottoman rule of the city, the Hippodrome grounds were used for festivities and ceremonies. No visit to Istanbul is complete without seeing marvelous Topkapi Palace, which served as the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for more than four hundred years. The Palace is located where the Acropolis of Byzantium once stood, on a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The palace complex covers an area of approximately 700,000 square meters and it is surrounded by five kilometers of walls. Within the palace grounds are courts, pavilions, mosques, fountains and a beautiful treasury section. One of the richest collections of French, Japanese & Chinese porcelain collections and the most valuable pieces of the treasury of Ottoman Empire are on display in the pavilions of the Palace. Your final stop will be at the Grand Bazaar, the largest and the oldest covered market place in the world with more than 4,000 shops in the labyrinth of streets. Enjoy the colorful array of shops that offer an endless selection of goods that includes jewelry, fabrics, spices and local handicrafts. Our tour guide Hyatt, explained to us that her name meant "life" and not "Hotel Chain." She was a No-Nonsense, Muslim woman, (about 70 years old), who spoke English with a Pennsylvania Dutch lilt. Calling us Dear Friends, she stiffly informed us of her doctorate in sociology and masters in art history. As our bus passed many beautiful mosques with tall minarets, roman ruins, and narrow, medieval looking shops filled with beautiful things, Hyatt described their significance. When we stepped off the bus into 115 degree heat at our first stop, I was startled to see that Hyatt was barely more than four feet tall. She herded our group across a busy street, and when a car started backing into us, she rushed over to the driver with the fury of a pit bull and abraded him, pounding his door with her small, elegant fist. "One can see, but not see," she explained with royal displeasure. When salesmen on sidewalks interrupted her lectures, she stopped for a full minute to give them a long, low "evil eye". They retreated in terror. Gary was delighted! With grand precision, Hyatt described the history of an immense Egyptian obelisk placed amid Roman ruins, and a beautiful fountain covered with gold leaf. She paused. At the exact moment of noon, the ululating cry of Muslim singers rang out from every Mosque in Istanbul. Exaggerated by sound speakers, their wild cries seemed to make the hot air pulse, and I could feel myself starting to cry. Later, in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, so named for its mosaic tiles, Hyatt described her Muslim heritage with defensive, but passionate love. In the mosque, we had to remove our shoes and Gary had to wear a blue skirt to cover his knees. Naked feet - good, naked knees - bad! The interior of the mosque was a vast space with lights suspended from the roof on long wires. A tall latticed fence extended all along the exterior walls, behind which heavily robed women knelt in prayer. An inner area, not available to tourists, was filled with chatting men and little Turkish boys dashing about or rolling comfortably on the rug. Hyatt stood on a bench to address us. "When I was a girl and I came here to the Blue Mosque, I could not understand why I was not allowed to pray at the alter with my father and brothers. Later, as a young woman, I protested that it was not right. But I have at last come to terms with it, in a way that is just my own. Please know that Devils are always presented in art as male. See how it is men who pray right by the alter. Our God must speak to them very closely. Angels are always presented in art as female. See how our women look out over our men from a distance, like angels over devils." I thought to myself that here yet again was another female tour guide informing tourists about yet another misogynist male culture. I heard bitterness in all their voices, but Hyatt seemed the most heroic. She loved her Muslim culture, and with education, wisdom, humor and compassion, had found a way to resolve the philosophical conflicts. It was interesting to me that my standard art history background, small and inaccurate as it was, had made me feel quite comfortable in Greece. But I was very uncomfortable viewing Arabic art until my rudimentary studies in Islamic calligraphy kicked in. When Hyatt discussed the beautiful tiles covering the interior of the Blue Mosque, I felt quite proud that I already knew some things. For instance, out of respect, Islamic artists were not allowed to represent living creatures that only Allah could create. Instead, they depicted organic designs and calligraphy from the Koran. They looked like a geometric variation on Irish Celtic designs, and were very beautiful. Hyatt was outraged that the ancient Turkish prayer rugs that had once covered the floors had been replaced by a cheap wall-to-wall carpet ten years ago. "Very wrong capitalist plan to line pockets," she sniffed. "Very inferior! They have been replaced now several times! Traditional carpets do not wear out! Do you know how our carpets are made?" she asked, looking directly at Gary and I. She seemed startled by the pain in our jointly screamed, "Yes!" Next, Hyatt led us across several streets to arrive at the Topkapi Palace. Most of our guides had been adorned with stunning jewelry, stopping our tours to advocate expensive jewelry stores. In contrast, Hyatt was dressed modestly and stopped us only to buy postcards from a tattered young man who was selling them from a box on the sidewalk. She announced proudly that he was from an honorable family, and he was seeking an education, and if we were to buy from him, our money would be well-spent. The royal treasure houses displayed an incredible wealth of precious objects from the Ottoman Empire. I wandered through several rooms, viewing daggers adorned with emeralds the size of eggs, flasks of gold and diamonds, ruby studded helmets that rose up to points at the top, and amazing jewelry. Gary didn't come with me because the rooms had no oxygen. I thought he looked like he was going to pass out, so we found a cafe selling water. Interestingly enough, unlike Greece, Istanbul accepts all money, any money, of any denomination. The cashier looked at my American dollars with distain, but took them and kindly gave me American change. Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar, which Gary will write, as well as our flight home. (Gary) The Grand Bazaar is reported to be the largest, oldest covered shopping area in the world. I can believe it. The bus dropped us off about 2 blocks from the Bazaar on an open promenade lined by shops and restaurants. We ducked into the first open door. Wow! Who'd guess it would be a rug shop! We were escorted up stairs to the viewing rooms "like a museum" our abductor announced proudly. The sounds of scampering feet could be heard and lights were turned on by invisible hands as we passed. We entered another showroom with rugs hanging from the walls and piled around the room. Benches covered with rugs lined the walls. I took a seat and Meredith tried to explain we had already heard the "rug construction lecture," and only wanted to see small, cheap wool rugs. Our salesman seemed to understand we weren't in the market for a $20,000 floor covering and showed us the under $1,000 stuff. This is where it gets interesting, as they seem to use various currencies interchangeably. "Look," they say, "the price is marked right here 1000." "1,000 what?" we ask? "Lira, dollars, euros?" I thought a lira was .68 cents USD and the euro 1.42 USD - quite a variation. Anywho, we bargained a price of 300 USD and everyone seemed happy. He offered us apple tea and even wanted to send out for a beer for me. So I guess we got taken. They did pack the rug up neatly and offered to hold it for us until the bus returned. I asked what would happen if I carried the package into the Grand Bazaar. Specifically, would other rug guys leave us alone. Our salesman laughed and said, "No! They will ask, where, what and how much. Then tell you they could have sold it you cheaper." We re-entered the street and proceeded ten steps to a nice cafe for a Turkish coffee and beer. The bill was once again in lira, so I used an application on my phone to calculate the US amount and left that amount. No complaints from the waiter. Two blocks later, we entered the Grand Bazaar! It had a big arched entrance, beyond which were painted domed ceilings, and crisscrossing streets lined with small shops. We walked up and down, left and right, and never saw an end. The shopkeepers were less aggressive here, probably because there were lots and lots of people walking the halls. Luckily, we were able to find our way out again and get back to the bus with just enough time to retrieve our rug.
• Tuesday, August 4, (1:55pm) Depart from Istanbul to Frankfort, Germany, Arrives 3:55pm. Leave Frankfurt (6:00pm) Arrive in Boston 8:15pm.
The last day arrived too early. The 5am call to prayer is impossible to ignore as it resonates through the city like an electrified cat fight. All our possessions, other than the clothes on our back and a limited amount of carry on stuff, had been packed up and taken away in the dark of night. After arising and showering, we went up to the 9th floor for breakfast: my last eggs Benedict of the cruise and coffee - with of course, extra bacon. With the variety of food available on the ship, the only pork I saw was bacon...a mystery. Sadly, we traveled down to the waiting area. We were called after a short wait and preceded off the ship and into the baggage area. The bags were sorted by tag color, so we had no trouble locating ours. Customs was easy and we got on to the bus. Being one of the first off the ship, we had our choice of bus seating. However, as the driver was busily loading luggage, he had not started the bus and there was no AC. I started to steam and sweat, finally running out to cool off in the 110 degree sunlight. Finally, the bus was loaded, started and cooled. I reentered for the ride to the airport. We arrived at Istanbul airport (TAV) at about 9:30am for a 1:55pm flight. We left the bus, gathered our luggage and were pointed toward the entry. I'm sure if we had done our "homework" more thoroughly, this part of the trip would have felt less stressful. Maneuvering specific airports is something we'll be sure to ask our travel agent about before our next adventure. For instance, this airport did not have assigned check-in areas. The counters are unmarked until someone turns on an electric sign board. We plopped down in front of a large display of flight numbers, and after a bit of study it appeared all the Lufthansa flights were assigned to E-F counters, so we wandered down the terminal. Meredith found an airport personnel who pointed to an unmarked counter, verifying that Lufthansa would open there at 10:30. I figured the Germans to be a punctual people, so I was a bit surprised when they opened at 10:45. But we had nothing else to do, so who cares? Not quite true, as Meredith found 2 more boxes of Turkish candy for gifts, and only spent $55.00! With seat assignments in hand and baggage checked, we proceeded to the gate. As we still had 3 hours to kill, we stopped in a nearby cafe to wait. Meredith said, "Just for ha-ha's, how much did the candy cost?" We discussed the candy incident while drinking a draft beer and house wine. We noted that the drinks were comparable to the candy. And there was no way I was going to pay another $12.00 for a draft beer. So on to the gate to wait. It hadn't opened yet, but a small bar proved that this beer was only $8.00. A bargain! The gate finally opened, and we had to enter another security gauntlet - belts off but shoes ok. Onwards to the plane and off to Frankfurt. Lufthansa is a great airline! NO charge for German bottled beer! Frankfurt; We arrived at terminal A and maneuvered a long confusing walk to keep site of the arrows marked E. The gate waiting area had its own bar. so the wait wasn't as bad with beer and pretzels close at hand. By this time I was too tired to care what I was charged. But it was only 4.80 euro per beer. At long last we boarded and lifted off. The woman in front of me immediately reclined her seat to its full extent. I tried to do so also, but a small child behind me kicked constantly, so I sat up, placing my face 10 inches from the TV screen in front of me. Head phones were not passed out at take-off, so I killed time watching a film with Chinese subtitles and making up my own dialogue. When the ear phones finally arrived, they proved useful to block out the screams of numerous small children. I watched movie after movie, drinking free beer and praying for a UFO event where everyone but Meredith and I were removed from the plane for probing. But soon enough we were in Boston! Off the plane! Through customs! Waiting for the shuttle service to the car! Loaded the car! Off we go! I had brought my GPS on the cruise just for fun, and it was able to track the ship and identify various islands, although it was unable to give us a street list on the various islands. For kicks in Istanbul, I asked it to calculate the directions home and it sort of expired. After arriving in Boston and connecting it in the car, it was very vague about directions. It calculated time backwards, estimated it would take 10 hours to get to Springfield, (a 2 hour trip), and kept trying to direct us back to the airport. Happily, it has Less
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Cabin review: 7033
Our cabin was in an excellent location: right by the elevators and thus easy to fall into at the end of an exhausting tour. As it was a mostly adult cruise, it was exceptionally quiet. The decor was cleverly designed with mirrors to make the most of the space, the cleanliness perfect, and the private balcony one of the best things about the trip. My husband thinks the refrigerator, always filled with cold beverages, was super!