We get back just in time to attend the 7.30 pm performance of Sufi Music Concert & Whirling Dervishes Ceremony being held within walking distance of our Hotel at the Press Museum. We stroll home after the show and settle comfortably back into our hotel sanctuary. Tomorrow is the start of our cruise!
July 10 (Until Boarding Seabourn Odyssey)
We have a late checkout today so there is just enough time to quickly return to the Bazaar for a couple more bargains. No more time wasting touters. We are on a mission and we return in good time to pack up and bid our most gracious hosts farewell. We receive a small gesture of appreciation of our patronage which is a box of assorted Turkish delight. Yum
The taxi ride to the docks took all of 10 minutes, but I realised the error of my ways when I pointed to the Seabourn (as opposed to the Princess) bag drop point. Of course he knows the difference of class of the 2 ships and I had failed to get a quote before leaving the hotel. It was a Yellow cab but there was no meter (or he had hidden it) so when he asked for 30 Euro I corrected him by saying 30 Lira (1/2 the amount). It was the best I could come up with on short notice without engaging in a full scale brawl in front of fellow (well to do) travellers. Having no Lira I paid him with a €20 note and asked for change. He begrudgingly handed over a TL 5 note (hoping I couldn't tell the difference between euro and lira) but I stated the obvious and his reply was that he only had coin left. With my hand out he finally obliged, as I told him he was lucky because it was still way over the odds and I did not want to make a scene. Whether he understood or not was irrelevant. It was only justification to myself.
The bag drop handlers were asking us for labelled swing tags to be put on the luggage. As we had left Melbourne before the ticket & travel pack arrived we had printed e-tickets for boarding, but we did not have the labelled luggage tags. Normally this is not a problem, but we were in Istanbul, there were no Seabourn representatives within sight and the baggage handlers must have thought I had 'mug' written across my forehead. After the episode with the cab driver I was in no mood for their parochial bulls..t! I raised my voice with ire and started to head toward the terminal. All of a sudden, the little man with the scruffy beard that was demanding 'tag labelling money' disappeared and a more genial baggage handler with a smile on his face appeared with a fistful of labels whilst uttering "no problem, no problem".
We were nearly there. Just a welcoming drink, customs, ship check in and we had made it.
It should be all smooth sailing from here.
July 10 (After Boarding Seabourn Odyssey)
We are ushered into the Grand Salon passing through a corridor lined with happy, smiling attentive attendants. "Welcome, Velkom, Wilkomm, Bon Jour", is the chorus. Directed to a couple of inviting seats, the usher toting our carry-on bags sets the bags down and informs us that we will be called when our cabin is ready. In the meantime a bevy of waiters are hovering to ask what we would like to drink and snack during the wait.
We enter our cabin - a veranda suite on level 5. The marble bathroom has a separate bath and shower, double basin for his and her, Molton Brown bathing products and designer soaps. There is a fully stocked bar and refrigerator, walk in closet, queen bed, dining table, living area and glass door to veranda - and we are only on level 5! We settle in quickly and head off to explore all the amenities of this super yacht.
After changing for dinner, we select one of the 4 restaurants and make our way down to level 4. Upon entering Gail is escorted arm in arm to a table by a young smiling usher, while I have a young smiling usherette. In reply to their query, we indicate we have no objection to having another couple join us as part of the 'meet your fellow traveller' program. They were a middle aged couple from Jersey and she was a teacher. It wasn't until desert that we found out what he did, but I could have guessed by the way he was looking at us - he was a psychologist. Actually they were both very nice whom tolerated my dry humour.
We awaken to silence with an oh so slight feeling of gliding through water. Land can be seen on the horizon under the bright azure sky. Arrival at our first port of call, Dikili Turkey, is estimated at 12.00 noon and we leisurely rise to eventually make our way to level 8 for our first breakfast on board. What will we have first? Smoked salmon, ham off the bone, cheeses, cereals, juices, breads, fruits, yoghurts, patisseries, eggs, cooked meats. Wait! There is more variety on the other table! OK, let's start here and see how far we get. Anyway, we have done our workout at the gym so we can indulge. What did you say? The waiter wants us to look at the a la carte menu as well!!
Our shore excursion today is at 12.15 pm. We take a tender into the small Dikili harbour and board the arranged tour bus for The Acropolis of Pergamon & Ancient Asclepion. Our tour guide is an expert in ancient history who lives locally and is contracted by Seabourn. On the way we pass through a small town which, despite being Sunday, has an open menswear shop advertising shirts for TL 10.00 (about AU$7.50). I muse the fact I thought I was getting bargains at double that in the Grand Bazaar. Ancient Pergamon is a terrace site on the upper slopes of a volcanic hill, Mount Athos. Carved into the mountain in the 3rd century BC, just after the death of Alexander the Great, the town is cut almost sculpturally and was built by Eumenes II. The plan was to transform Mount Athos into an image of Alexander, holding an entire town in one hand, with a river pouring from the other. Pergamon was numbered among the Seven Churches of Revelation.
The ruins of Asclepion are the remains of one of the foremost medical centres of classical times, and built in the name of the God of Healing, Asklepios. On the way back our guide announces that according to the itinerary we are scheduled to stop briefly for a rest stop at the next village and since it was a hot day and everyone looks like they just want to return to the ship, he would only stop if anyone wanted to. Our fellow travellers all indicated that they would be more than happy not to stop, however this village happened to be the one we had passed earlier with the TL 10.00 shirts. We alight quickly avoiding the glares our hot and bothered travellers, calling back "we won't be long". Since we are in Turkish cotton country, and one of their main exports are pure cotton men's fashion shirts, it only makes good sense that the way to buy such products is like a local, at local prices and in the town that is located in the heart of where such products are produced. "Shame on you all for not supporting the local community" we chortle as we clamber back on board the bus which heads quickly in the direction of Dikili Harbour.
For all those readers who are bored with the detail of the luxurious facilities of the 12 month old Seabourn Odyssey which boasts a nearly one on one crew to passenger ratio for its 400 guests, please skip to the heading for 12 July, otherwise bear with me whilst I indulge a little more.
Once back on board, Gail heads for the whirlpool on our deck whilst I headed for the bar to order a couple of cocktails (all drinks included) and some nibbles to pass the time whilst we recover from our journey into the past. Once refreshed and re-hydrated, it's off to change for an early show featuring a British comedian who also sings and plays instruments. Fine dining follows, then a bit of dancing at The Club and up to the theatre to watch the last ½ hour of the final of the World Cup soccer on the big screen. We are by now very tired, so after 5 minutes we decide it would be better to watch in our cabin on the flat screen HD TV. I wake 3 hours later, turn off the TV and return to my peaceful slumber as another exciting tour is scheduled for 8.30 AM after we arrive in Kusada?i port
Today we have an internet arranged tour as it was better value than what Seabourn was offering. As we have a pre-arranged meeting time of 8.30 am at the dock we rise at 6.00 am for our gym workout (if you don't workout each day you explode from all the intake of food and drink),quick shower then off for another gourmet breakfast (I promise not to mention it again) and back to the cabin to collect cameras etc for the tour.
We alight the boat right on 8.30 am and look around for our guide. We see lots of signs - Mr. Smith, Brown Family, Messrs Lloyd-Jones & Entourage. Did I start to panic? Of course not! I turn toward the shady tree at the end of the concourse and there being held by a young well groomed Turk was the sign: Phillip ......(intentionally deleted). A brief introduction and we jump in the waiting 11 seater VW Transporter. It is only us , the guide and the driver on this tour (as arranged) so I am surprised it is a large vehicle but it matters not, in fact there is plenty of room to move and large windows for photo shoots and a handy fridge to hold our drinks.
Our tour today is the Ephesus Tour which covers the House of Virgin Mary, Ancient City of Ephesus and the Terrace Houses, Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World) and the Basilica of St John.
The House of Virgin Mary is in an airy valley on the Mount of the Nightingales - a spot where Christ's mother is supposed to have spent her last years. The foundation walls date back to the 1st century. Now many may call me a cynic, but!, the fact is that Muslims used to make pilgrimages to this region many years ago and the tourism industry was booming. In the early 1800's business was waning and it was about this time that a German nun - Catherine Emmerich had visions of Mary living in a small stone house in this region. Amazingly, 19th century clergy discovered the foundations of a house (which was reconstructed) and Christians and Muslims now make the pilgrimages and business has never been better.
The highlight of this tour has to be the Ancient City of Ephesus. There are Roman or Byzantine structures built on earlier foundations and include (but not exhaustively): the Arcadian Way, Harbour Thermal Baths and Gymnasium, the Roman Forum, the Twin Churches of Mary, the Theatre with its back to Mount Pion, the Library of Celcus, the Temple of Serapis, the Marble Way, the Streets of the Curetes, Hadrian's Temple which is next door to the Baths of Scolastica. Further toward the Magnesium Gate is an Odeum which could seat 1500 people. Of special mention is the Terrace Houses which are still being excavated and restored. They are fully enclosed as a living museum and archaeologists will be working for many years to come to discover the secrets still buried in many centuries of layers of dirt and rock. In fact, only 13% of the entire area has to date been excavated. The Terrace Houses are the homes of the wealthy of ancient times and give an insight into how the privileged lived.
All that remains of the Temple of Artemus is a solitary pillar (where storks nest) and a few blocks of granite. Upon the recommendation of our guide, we substitute the Basilica of St John (more ruins) for the Archaeological Museum. It turns out to a wise move as the Museum is very interesting. Apart from housing many originals of the replicas we have viewed at Ephesus, it had several arresting statues of the multiple bosomed goddess of fertility, Artemis. Other attractions include effigies of the phallic god Priapus, interesting mosaics and frescoes.
On the way back to Kusada?i, our tour guide suggests we visit a 'no obligation' inspection of a local Turkish carpet demonstration. Not being one to refuse an opportunity I make a deal. We will go on the carpet tour which is described as "an educational facility subsidised by the Turkish Government for the promotion of work for the local youth", providing I can use his wireless broadband upon returning so as I may upload the latest photos to Facebook and send the last chapter written in my travelogue. Deal done! We sit through a presentation of magnificent silk carpets, watch the local youth (middle aged ladies) hand weaving double knotted carpets, eat some traditional Turkish nibbles, watch Gail try her hand at knotting carpets, see how silk is extracted from silkworm cocoons and finally at the end of it all, bid the owner of the establishment goodbye as we also inform him we are not in the market for Turkish carpets. The other end of the deal is upheld as I am now typing out Chapter 10.
Returning to the ship we realise we have still time to accept the Ship's offer of a free evening concert to be held back at Ephesus after it is closed to visitors. It is a unique magical evening set against the lit backdrop of the Odeum and surrounding features. We soak in the orchestra repertoire of classical music whilst seated on comfortable fabric covered chairs bordered with gold ribbon and tables laden with delicacies reminiscent of an ancient time.
The 30 minute return on the Seabourn coach and the preparation for slumber fuses with the lingering sounds of flutes and violins and sleep comes quickly as the whisper of moving water fades ever so gently.
Bodrum is a town that dazzles against an unbelievable blue sea with its picturesque yacht harbour filled with traditional wood-varnished sailboats. It has charming outdoor cafes and small cobbled streets bursting with shops selling carpets, jewellery and local artwork. The flat roofed square built houses are almost blinding under the hot sun, their white walls festooned with great clusters of purple bougainvillaea. No wonder this town is known as the Saint-Tropez of Turkey.
We wind our way out of the streets of shops and past the white homes in search of the Halicarnassus Mausoleum - another of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. We walk along streets with no footpaths in search of the Wonder. We turn a corner and there it is. A sign indicates the entrance into the walled enclosure and we stroll past the ticket box as it is unmanned. A couple of snaps of the site and a rotund uniformed man comes quickly over saying "8 TL, 8 TL". Not particularly wanting to visit the museum I stall him (whilst Gail continues to snap) by asking if that includes the museum as well as the ancient site in which we have entered. He nods, and with a delayed reaction, I state we are not interested and leave the site with mission complete. (2 down, 5 to go).
Bodrum's medieval Castle of St. Peter is the other attraction which also houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Whilst I am sure it offered a myriad of objects and artefacts, the day was hot and another castle and museum was not high on the agenda, so we walked back slowly along the foreshore of the harbour to the waiting shuttle bus that returned us to the ship where we could relax in the sun by the pool and be waited on by the only too eager attendants (the food and drink never stops!). The short version of events after that is: shower, dinner (new fine dining menu everyday - entrees were snow crab and avocado salsa, chicken double consommE; mains were duck a l'orange x 2 and sweets were petit fours, ice cream chocolate coated one bite sensations), Broadway show and dance spectacular, late nightcap at the observation deck, and last but not least - bed. (we passed up on the disco theme dancing).
It was important to not have too late a night (before 1.00 am) as in the morning we would be anchored off Santorini and this was one port not to be missed.
We wake to a magnificent site of snow capped mountains. Wait a minute! It's 30 degrees outside, so how can there be snow? We rub the sleep out of our eyes and have another look. The appearance of snow starts to take on a different characteristic as the shapes of houses form and the colour of a deep blue presents itself majestically on domes and then doors and window frames. Yes, this is a view of Santorini in all its picture perfect glory from the veranda of our cabin on the Seabourn Odyssey which is firmly anchored just 200 metres off shore. The tenders are already running so we go through our now regular ritual of gym, shower, breakfast (I won't bore you with the details except to say that the Danish pancakes were superb), fill the back pack for the day and then off to explore.
The tender dropped us off at Skala, the seaport at the base of Fira - the pedestrian-only capital of this seductive volcanic Greek island in the Sea of Crete. We now had a choice: take the cable car up the 300+ metre slope to Fira or ride a donkey up the 588 step path. The words of Serge were ringing in my ear: "When you are in Santorini you MUST take the donkey". Who were we to ignore the sage words of an ex travel agent, so up we went on the donkeys. It certainly was different! The donkeys had minds of their own. Stop, go, close to the edge, bump into pedestrians, bite the next donkey, etc - but the most frightening thing was when the donkey you were riding came up close, alongside and just a bit behind the donkey in front so as your leg was parallel with the other donkeys bum. One only had to look on the ground to calculate the odds of a tail lift at that precise moment! Once at the top we had thrilling views of the boats, houses and islands below. Words cannot describe this breathtaking eye feast and is best left for readers to peruse the many photos (which still do not altogether pay it justice).
Many of the shops feature tourist tat but there are a few good ones among the dross. The Byzantine jewellery is especially good, however after the price points in Turkey it was hard to justify the price of pieces on show here (despite their originality).
Oia (pronounced E-Ah) was touted as the place to spend time so we headed off to find Gold Street (turn left past the cathedral) where we could take the bus to the most northerly town on the island (€1.40 each as compared to a Taksi for €25.00 - and that's after negotiating). If we thought the scenery at Fira was 10 out of 10, then the scenery at Oia was a 20. The atmosphere was also superior, with less tourists to contend with, less cobbly cobble stones (and even long spans of marble footpaths) and less volume of tatty stores.
After spending the best part of 5 hours just wandering and absorbing (and sun burning) we decided to call it a day and return to the ship for dinner at the Colonnade - where we could sit outside on the deck and watch the sunset whilst enjoying the Greek themed meal on offer. After 5 courses (and an affegato) matched with delectable wines we were so whacked from our day and evening that we skipped the nightly activities, including a concert pianist, and retired early in preparation for the morrow's activities.
Milos has all the components of a perfect Greek isle - fantastic rock formations, dozens of beaches, villages of sugar-cube houses, whitewashed windmills and glowing azure caves. Again it is a short tender ride to shore and we go in search for a quad bike hire shop so as we can get transport to go to a beach. We select the northern beach of Sarakiniko as it is known for its unusual rocks which form beautiful and strange swimming spots. There are no quad bikes available so we ask for a scooter instead (live life dangerously!). Unfortunately in Greece you need a bike license for scooters of any size so that was the end of that idea. The only alternative is an ATV which is €45. A bit rich, especially since the last tender is 4.00 pm and the time is now 11.30 am. There are only 10 taxis in town, and in any case if we get driven there by one, how can we be sure we can get one back. Next, we walk to the bus stop and hop on a bus that is leaving in 10 minutes. I obtain a timetable from the front of the bus and it is the wrong bus. (I was sure the island was too small for more than one but it actually is larger than I thought and has many routes). The bus we want will be along in 10 minutes and runs every 2 hours - too long in between as if we don't like the beach we are stuck and the weather is hot and humid. Maybe we will catch the bus we are on to its destination Tripiti - a charming hilltop village above a picturesque harbour which has incredible sea views and is conveniently close to the catacombs, an ancient theatre and the site where Venus di Milo was found. It's hot, the air conditioning on the bus is off, our ship has a special marina facility (unusual for a cruise ship) and water sports activity program scheduled from 1.00 to 3.00 pm, and we have seen plenty of villages, harbours, views and ancient sites. We look at each other with an 'are we mad' look and simultaneously alight from the bus and head to the pier for the next tender back to paradise.
The ship's marina is fabulous. There is a caged enclosure with a walk around deck. The entire structure is lowered into the Aegean Sea and you can swim in complete safety. Outside the enclosure is a multitude of toys that can be used in the open sea. This includes kayaks, peddle-o's, 2 man sailboats, water skiing, doughnut rides, and a banana ride that had 6 people being towed (and dumped) behind a speedboat. Great fun!!
A quick rinse off of the salty Aegean water in the open deck shower and we locate a table on level 8 at the Patio Bar & Cafe where we enjoy some snacks (choice of salads, pizzas, sandwiches, chicken wings, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc etc etc). Full bar service via ever present waiters ensures dehydration is not possible.
We strike up a conversation with some of the fellow cruisers we have befriended and before we know it, time has passed and despite the volume of food already consumed today, it is the 'Chef's Choice' tonight in The Restaurant (which the chef himself told Gail during 'the galley tour' "do not miss this experience'') and we hurry back to our cabin to 'glam up' as the suggested dress code is elegant casual.
Six courses later (including the classical French sorbet course) we inform the couple with whom we have been dining, that the 10.00 pm musical show has begun and we excuse ourselves so as we will not miss it.
An 8.00 am start to our on shore tour tomorrow ensures we have a relatively early night. The tour is Mycenae & Epidaurus from Navplion, Greece.
What time is it? I ask sleepily as I hear the sound of ship anchors being deployed. 7.10 am!! We have to hurry or we will miss the tour. Quickly showering, we head off upstairs to breakfast. The waiter wants to carry my bowl of cereal to our table! OK - no time to argue. Just a selection from the buffet this morning, no time for the menu or daily special (pecan pancake or something similar). Back to the suite to collect cameras etc and we make the tender for the port with 2 minutes to spare. Actually, they had our name on the list so I think they may have waited, but..... I wasn't going to stretch the friendship.
Ancient Mycenae was fascinating despite having seen many ruins previously. Entering the site via the Lion's Gate felt like being transported back to the 4th century BC and the descriptions of the Tomb of Agamemnon by our learned tour guide enhanced our understanding of the period immensely.
Just a bit further down the road was the largest example of a 'Beehive Memorial Burial Chamber'. Fully intact as a structure (apart from all the pillars and adornments and murals which have been looted most likely in the BC era) it completely over awed you upon entering such a magnificent construction which generally took around 25 years of slave labour to build (obviously and hopefully before the intended occupant had died).
Epidaurus is a UNESCO site known throughout the Hellenistic world for its unique medical facilities. It was dedicated to Aesclepius, the god of healing, and the city was filled with curative spas. Alas, today the city is mostly ruins, however through a twist of fate, the theatre is largely intact and is well used these days attracting high rating artists due to the near perfect acoustics it provides. The theatre seats 14,000 persons and is mostly constructed of marble dating back to the 4th century BC. A performance was being hosted this night and the stage props can be seen in the photographs taken. It was a modern version about the women of the Trojan War.
Despite being 38 degrees, after being dropped back at the tender pick up point on the pier, we grabbed a couple of iced bottle waters and cold face towels from the ships facilities on the pier and headed off for the old part of the town of Navplion (just across the road). We looked at the usual array of shops and galleries and at 2.00 pm when they closed for lunch (siesta) we headed back to the pier for the tender and ship for (a late) lunch. We tried very hard not to over indulge as tonight was to be our first meal at Restaurant 2 - the 46 seat, highly rated, ship's restaurant that had to be booked at least 48 hours in advance. (Mind you, I couldn't imagine how the food could be any better!).
We arrive at Restaurant 2 at the allotted time of 7.00 pm and are warmly greeted by name (all staff must study the photographs taken of passengers when first boarding for an ID card in lieu of passports when disembarking at ports, and are tested on their memory efficiency during the cruise) and are escorted to our table. Once seated we are told to relax as the chef has selected our meal and the procession of food and beverage begins.
Sorry Liz, but here are the details of what follows:
Aperitif: Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne
Bread rolls: Pan de Bonno (Columbian flour) with queso blanco (white cheese)
White Wine: 2008 William Fevre Petit Chablis
1st Course: Poached Shrimp Martini Balsamic Jelly, Split Saffron Vinaigrette
2nd Course: A trio - Seared Beef Tataki, Pickled Vegetables, Ponzu Jelly, Tahinee Puree
Crispy Curried Vidalia Onion Rings (from Georgia), bitter greens
Navy Bean Fritter, Yoghurt Raita
3rd Course: A Trio - Clear Tomato Presse, Goat Cheese Panna Cotta, Tear Drop Confit
Chicken & Pesto Strudel
White Tomato Cappuccino, Basil Foam
Red Wine: From Tuscany - Serego Aligheieri San Giovese
4th Course: A Duo - Grilled Dorade, Preserved Lemon Sauce, Ricotta Gnocchi, Parmesan Gremolata
Slow Roasted Lamb Shank & Potato Moussaka, Red Wine Jus
5th Course: Baileys Sabayon, Crushed Chocolate Flakes
Dessert Wine: Sauterne (forgot to get details - brain cells not functioning to optimum by now)
6th Course: Coconut & Passion Fruit Gelano, Almond Foam, Blackberry Sorbet, Red Beet Tuille
Night Cap: After 2 - Crème De Menthe + Baileys + Crème De Cacao + Cointreau, all mixed with a chocolate cream and topped with a Vanilla Cream (Gail had two!)
After rolling out of the restaurant we started making our way to meet up with some new friends that were finishing their cruise tomorrow in Athens at the piano concerto. It took about 2 hours as we kept bumping into others we had befriended and were also leaving tomorrow. We eventually made the concerto for the last 15 minutes and after headed for the Observation Deck Bar for a final nightcap.
Whilst many would be leaving the cruise tomorrow, we knew that our cruise journey still had 2 more weeks with the best yet to come!
Pre-amble: Sorry to all those who have replied or commented and we have not returned the reply, but it is so difficult just getting these out via satellite or internet cafes in port. (Actually we are having too much fun!)
We awake to the sounds of motorised gang planks being sent from the ship to connect with the ship terminal Piraeus in Athens. Many of the passengers will leave the cruise today and others will replace them for the next 14 days of the journey from the Aegean into the Black sea.
Another hot day is forecast and we decide to just visit the Acropolis. We go up to deck 8 to the hospitality desk before setting out, and get maps and instructions for catching the Metro to the Acropolis. It is explained to us - once you leave the terminal, cross the road to the DHL building, buy a ticket at the kiosk near the bus stop, catch the 843 bus to Piraeus Metro, catch the Metro to Thisio and walk from there. No problems, we do this, find the Acropolis and enter. We marvel at all the original and reconstructed structures: Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, Parthenon, Erechtheion and the Theatre of Dionysos. Snap, snap, snap. Time to go, it is hot - especially with all the white marble reflecting the heat. Metro back to Piraeus, walk across the road to the road to the bus stop for the 5 minute bus ride back to the ship - how easy is this and for the last week we have been blessed with everything going to clockwork.
This alone should have been ringing warning bells to a pair of seasoned travellers. When things are rolling along smoothly, one should double their efforts to keep their guard up and radar on.
Yep, the bus came along, we were jostled in with the crowd and bingo! The wallet was gone. Zipped up pockets are no match for the light fingered. Luckily, there was only a few hundred euro and credit cards (which were promptly cancelled) that went. The passports, and the rest of the cash were still safely stored on board the ship. The worst part was that the parasites got away with what (in hindsight) was obvious and should have been avoided by being more alert. The other unfortunate part of the incident was that I only had around 1 hour to report the incident to the local authorities to ensure an insurance claim to be hassle free, and that meant travelling to the appropriate police station (the Tourist Police were not interested) and going through the process and then making it back in time for the ship's sailing. Since I was 20 minutes away from where I would have to lodge the report, I figured I would report it in the next port rather than taking a chance in beating Murphy. One positive, from Gail's point of view, was that I did not blame her for what was taken from my pocket!
Back on our veranda as the Piraeus terminal fades on the horizon, we crack a bottle of French Champagne and toast the rest of the cruise. Whilst the future is unknown it must be faced with a determined and positive outlook. The sea air smells refreshing! Tomorrow is a new adventure and the first day of the rest of our journey.
This morning we wake to the sound of bow thrusters struggling against the tide and winds that were preventing the ship making a quick dock at Santorini. Despite the bravado and positive spin we put on yesterday's unfortunate event, something had changed. We struggle from the bed and make our way laboriously to the gym. As I walk towards the treadmills I am unaware that Gail has been touted by the hairdresser and was now in negotiations for a colour treatment. After the gym we are heading back to our cabin to ready for breakfast when we spy the Customer Service Manager, Jo. Gail approaches and before he has a chance to finish the robotic "Good Morning Mr. & Mrs. ......(intentionally deleted)" he is cut off mid sentence and is subjected to a venting of anger which has been festering since THAT event. An abridged version of Gail's venting follows:
• The noise of the bow thrusters and anchors in the morning is intolerable
• The touting by the hairdresser is unprofessional, and even after I had agreed to the US$80 charge for re-growth colouring I found the demand for a not negotiable US $47 blow wave ridiculous, especially on the pretext that the ship is 6 star and client's must look presentable when leaving the salon
• The lack of care and help when in a situation of need is unforgivable - especially when the so called Tourist Police located in the same area of the terminal where the ship is docked are totally uninterested in our plight and are more interested in doodling on a piece of paper than offering any better advice than "you need to go to the city police"; and the Port Authority regulating the embarkation onto the ship were no more helpful: and the Seabourn staff at the terminal had nothing to say other than "would you like a cold hand towel!"
Gail indicated that we should be compensated whilst I expressed a desire for some help in going to the local authorities in Santorini as that is where we would be heading today to make a report.
Jo seemed most apologetic and stated he would investigate matters and have his assistant contact us shortly or leave a message on the cabin phone regarding going to the Police in Santorini.
We shower (noticing it leaks), have breakfast (daily special wasn't that special and the cornflakes went soggy) and head back to the cabin. No message and we cannot contact Jo or his assistant so we head ashore to see the Port Police. Whilst we were aware we needed to see the 'Greek Police' (the ones that wear guns) I think there were so many levels of police that there were police to police the police.
The Port Police were very nice (also doodling in air conditioned comfort) and phoned the Greek Police to make sure we could lodge a report with them and that they would even be there when we arrived (twenty minutes by cab). The outcome was that we would have to go after 2.00 pm as they were very busy (probably doodling) but at least there was no rejection. We had a couple of hours to spare so we went for a walk in Santorini and lost ourselves in the maze of cobbled streets of boutiques and tavernas. Just before 2.00 pm and using the sun as our guide, we unravel ourselves from the twist of laneways and exit onto the seafront where the taxi rank can be found. To our horror, there is a long queue of disgruntled prospective fares who are constantly glancing at their watches and speaking in tongues (it all sounded Greek to us). It was clear that it would be quicker for us to return to the ship and order a cab from there and even maybe, with a stroke of good fortune, the Customer Service representative may have advanced our cause and had some unexpected news.
No such luck! In fact there was a message on our phone. It basically informed us that because it was Sunday, we should wait until we are in Skiathos tomorrow and that we would find it much easier to make the report there. However, if we insisted, she (Bianca) could organise a cab to take us to the correct police - it would be about €20 each way AND we would need an interpreter as the police today do not speak English. The best interpreter would be an English speaking taxi driver but he would have to charge the €60 per hour for all the time it would take!
Were we lucky the taxi queue was long or were we unlucky we listened to the drivel of Bianca? We could not know as we headed to the poolside bar to drown our sorrows.
Dinner came and went (the duck was too pink). At least the waiter was nice and managed to keep our spirits up for the duration. We attended half of a new show (famous singer/pianist but didn't pay much attention) and headed for a relative early night knowing (hoping) tomorrow would be better.
Today will be a short day in Port. (10.00 am to 5.00 pm). We rise early, I shake off the blues, and we head for gym with a spring in our step. Past the salon, whose hairdresser diverts her eyes from our glare, into the gym and onto the machines. Next is the shower. We ignore the shuddering of the cabin as the anchors are lowered for the 10.00 am schedule. We settle down to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, determined that today will be the last day of the saga.
Selecting an outside table overlooking a sandy beach on the shores of Skiathos (of the Mamma Mia fame) we sip our juice as a sailing boat bobs past on the gentle waves. The table next to us is empty until an American carrying a plate laden with smoked salmon, ham off the bone and camembert sits down. We look at one another and think that whilst there is enough food for 6 people the table he is sitting at is only for 2. Oh well, he may only like to have less variety and more quantity for breakfast. An instant later, the waiter that was behind him, sets down on the same table a plate heaped with at least a dozen pastries (of the large variety). We grimace at the blatant gluttony of this individual whose stature does not convey the need for such consumption. His wife (we presume) then sits opposite him with a plate of food for herself so it does not appear that any of the first two plates were going to be shared. Then incredibly another waiter appears, and with an embarrassed look, tries to squeeze another 2 plates of hot cooked food onto the table. Without success, the wife then tells the waiter to scrape the food from one of the unplaced plates onto a plate that was already on the table with the reasoning that she only wanted a taste anyhow. We had not intended to have a large breakfast ourselves this morning and certainly by now were definitely sure of our capacity to eat. We could have sat to watch the spectacle before us, but having completed our meal, there were tasks to be done and we headed for the Customer Services desk to resolve the issues from yesterday as it was our last Greek port and the final opportunity to make the report to the Greek Police.
We asked if Bianca was available and the young girl at the desk said she was busy and indicated she could help us. We stated that Bianca was aware of the issues and it would be best to speak with her. She tried Bianca's extension again and this time she answered. She relayed through the young girl that she had checked with the port representative this morning and that: "the banks would be open and could answer any queries on our credit cards" and "there were plenty of available taxis to take us to the police station and that it was about a 5 mile journey". We sat there momentarily, taking in what we had just heard. Something akin to a red rag seemed to be waving in front of my eyes as my mouth was put into gear and the invective tirade was let loose. By the finish Gail was in tears and the young girl in front of us was apologising profusely. There was however, no point in fighting City Hall. The bureaucracy at this level was impenetrable. We left whilst the young girl was making assurances that our concerns would be escalated to higher levels, and we retreated to our cabin so as I could gather what was necessary to go ashore to finalise the police issue whilst Gail could relax by the pool.
Before I went ashore I returned to where the destination representative normally sits to get a map and location of the police station. The desk was unmanned so I went further along to the tour desk where I was told that this port provided no representative. I thought this strange as our daily 'Herald' indicated there would be one. They also had no map or information so I was taken back to Customer Service where the (same) young girl then proceeded to find information and a map on the internet. I noticed Jo was also in the area and as I approached him, he held out his hand in greeting and commented that he had contacted Miami (Head Office of Carnival Lines - the owners of Seabourn) and he would have their response by 4.00 pm that day. The young girl could not get the required information but was told by another that maps with what I sought were available at the shore tender meeting point. With some positive hope I left for the 3rd level to catch the next tender to shore. Upon arriving I collected the map, located where the ta=i point and police station were indicated and set off for the ta=i point 200 metres away. I patiently waited in queue (which was actually moving with the frequent arrivals of ta=is). 10 minutes later I was away and less than 2 kilometres travelled and €3.20 paid I was at the police station. So much for the 5 miles! I collected my receipt and headed into the station. There was no reception desk, however the room to the right had 4 police engaged in what appeared to be light banter, the room to the left had two people in civilian clothes talking to a seated sergeant and the stairwell ahead of me had a sign pointing upward with "Tourist Police" written on it. I headed to my right as these police were wearing guns and that meant Greek Police.
I began to talk and the four officers stopped their banter and listened. One young officer became a translator for the other 3 and to cut a long story short (or at least make a long story less long) if I wanted to report a stolen wallet then I would have to wait quite a long time in another room to give a statement as they were very busy, and at the end of that process the details would have to be sent off (somewhere) and I could expect a reply and documentation in about 10 days (maybe). However, if I wanted to report a lost wallet (because how could I be certain it was stolen!) the process was very different and they could do it immediately (2 hours is immediately). Well I didn't tell a lie - I had my wallet at the Acropolis and I didn't have it when I got on the bus to go back to the ship. I did however lose my money and credit cards somehow. So, I got my report (in Greek) with a big blue Police stamp on it.
I walked back to the port (15 minutes) took a couple of snaps then boarded the next tender back to a ship on calming seas.
4.00 pm comes and goes and there is no communication from Jo on the other issues. OK, the ball's in his court and at the end of the day (cruise) the ship has an authority on a cancelled credit card and I have an account that has a debit balance. He who laughs last ..........
Tonight is the first formal night of the cruise and there is a Meet the Captain cocktail party at 6.45 pm. We glam up and head for the Grand Salon for the party. Most of our fellow travellers are already there and lined up to meet the Captain. Not being one for queues, we seat ourselves and just enjoy the champagne and nibbles whilst socialising with fellow cruisers. The Captain cannot greet everyone and chooses to introduce his senior crew and himself from the stage, after which there is a mass exodus from the Grand Salon into the main dining room. We wait for the line to subside and arrive at the Maitre D station for seating. Nicholas (who always greets us by name) is most apologetic as tonight is the first night since he started that all tables are full (all 320 seats). He suggests that we go to the bar for a cocktail and he will personally come to get us when the first available table is ready or alternatively we may wish to eat in one of the other restaurants. The other restaurants are elegant casual dress code and we have glammed up to formal (suit and black dress is close enough) so we head for the cocktail bar. Gail has a Cosmopolitan and I a champagne cocktail. Before we can finish, Nicholas true to his word is escorting Gail (and the Cosmopolitan) arm in arm into the dining room. We are seated at a table for 2 next to a large window looking out onto the crystal blue Aegean Sea. The table for 4 next to us is vacated shortly thereafter by the family who are finishing their meal, and 10 minutes later 2 mature age elegant couples are seated for their meal. Whilst we are enjoying our entree (caviar and smoked salmon for me and beef Carpaccio for Gail) we over hear Spanish being spoken. I look at Gail and before I have the chance to put in my request for a quiet night, she has struck up a conversation re: South American's dining late, family in Chile and (once she has established they are from Peru) how she would just love to visit Machu Pichu. Conversation drifts from political differences between Peru and Australia, living standards and how supporting 12 servants is not necessarily better than having no servants in a First World society. Two hours later we are all dancing up at the Club and match making daughters with sons.
Later, (and by now you could be saying earlier) the prospect of sitting around in the Casino with them wouldn't have the same attraction as spending the same time in a casino with my mate Con, so we bid them goodnight in the traditional South American way (like we have known them for years) and head off for a fitful night's sleep. There is a sense that the tide is turning.
This morning we dock at 8.00 am at Kusada?i - a port we visited 8 days ago. The bow thrusters start their intrusive motors at around 7.45 am as we exit for the gym. We had to be up early anyhow as we were off to the fruit and vegetable market with the head chef for his 'shopping with the chef' tour. It was an informative and interesting morning and upon returning we decided to spend a day relaxing on the ship. I headed for the rear pool area and Gail disappeared to an upper deck. Whilst there was no correspondence from Jo, we had decided to just try to forget about the issues and enjoy the cruise as best we could. I knew at some stage there must be a resolution.
The sun was high in the sky and the sound of lapping waves were melodious with the background music. The ice in my Planter's Punch was diluting the drink whilst I drifted in and out of dreaminess. A cloud in the sky began to take the shape of an upturned crescent moon. It got larger and appeared to grow teeth. I blinked a few times and here was Gail hovering over me with a big cheesy grin. "You just won't believe what I have to tell you!!". "I was upstairs getting a sandwich when I bumped into the Captain. He smiled warmly at me and extended his hand in friendship whilst expressing how happy he was to see me again". '' 'Well that is strange' I retorted 'as I have never met you before in my life!'. 'However, this is an opportune moment to inform you of some occurrences that I believe you should be aware of' ". Of course, there was no further need to have the rest of the story told. Since, the Captain is the Master of the Universe, I knew it would not be too long before the sh.. hit the fan!
Sure enough, in the distance I saw the silhouette of a fast moving tall man in a starched white uniform whose braid on the epaulettes were glistening in the midday sun.
I am now completing this chapter from the comfort of Suite 817 (I pity the poor occupants that had to be relocated to our noisy cabin on the 5th level) on the complimentary Wi-Fi (albeit for only 24 hours). Gail is debating whether she should take the complimentary spa or massage, and whilst the bottle of Pèppoli Chianti Classico is only a 2006 it still manages a 90 score (out of 100) on the Wine Library ™ scale. Oh! Did I mention the potted arrangement of exotic fresh flowers?
Sky is blue, sea is green, I wonder where next we'll say we've been. (to the tune of It's a Wonderful World).
Today is our first day of cruising. No port, no tender, no shuttle bus. The weather is a balmy 34° Centigrade. The ship's bow is slicing the water at merely 9 knots and life is abuzz with a full days program of activities available for those not wishing to take the alternative of just chilling out. Gail and I choose to be slothful and skip the gym to have an earlier breakfast in the downstairs dining room. This offers only A La Carte as opposed to buffet on the upper deck, however one must try everything. We are joined by family friends whom, by amazing co-incidence, are also travelling on this cruise and joined the ship in Athens last Saturday.
We linger until we are the only patrons remaining, and surmise that if we stay any longer we shall be presented with the lunch menu.
Since I have unlimited internet access today, I head off to a quiet corner at the back of deck 5, select a comfortable lounge, order a cool, icy beverage and settle down to do a bit of housekeeping (bills and all those dreadful tasks), whilst Gail disappears into thin air. A little later I make my way to level 9 where the Captain has invited all those that are interested to join him at the helm in the bridge for a lesson in navigating and commanding a cruise ship. I'm sure there is more to it than what we were shown, but with today's electronics and computerisation, it really didn't seem that complicated. So, while I was at the bridge, Gail was playing bridge - in the card room, where 19 others, mostly serious, had gathered for an afternoon of competition. The lesson with the Captain ends and I make my way to the card room to see if Gail is still playing. "I'm jush doing ffine, hic" Gail slurs. I look at the table and the glass of whisky next to her. "I jusht ffound iit too sstreshful whith theeese Amerhicans, butt now its jusht ffine!"
The rest of the day and evening were quite uneventful - just the usual eat drink and be merry, and at 10.00 pm we shuffled up to the Grand Salon for the evening show. Tonight it was a magic show, which was very well performed. I wasn't sure if it was the magician's hypnotic ways or just the fact I was zonked by the day's inactivity, but the time for those feather pillows, upon our suite's bed, awaiting their turn to serve their nightly duty, could not have come quick enough.
We awaken at 6.00 am. Shall we or shall we not get up? This morning at 6.15 am the ship will be travelling through the section of the Dardanelles where on the European shore is Gallipoli and on the Asian shore is Troy (as related in the Homeric Verses). We are not that motivated to rush out early for a full day's tour to Gallipoli, nor a half day tour to a lot more ruins and a wooden horse whose original existence is still a myth. However, we can get a view of both locales from an adequate vantage point which , with commentary from an onboard guide, should satisfy our curiosity somewhat.
We get up!
Çanakkale, whilst appearing quite pretty from a vantage point in the middle of the strait of the Dardanelles, is really quite grubby once you are in the township. The only reason one would wish to go there is as a way stop in transit to either Gallipoli or Troy. Many of our fellow travellers expressed disappointment in Troy and cited Ephesus as a much better example of Bronze Age to Greco-Roman metropolis ruins. In hindsight, we should have gone to Gallipoli - the consensus there was not so much one of being moved, but rather one of education of the slaughter that occurred in 1915, and not only of Australians & New Zealanders. I guess it will just have to wait for the next worldly tour to this region.
Returning to the Seabourn Odyssey from Çanakkale in the shuttle bus (30 minutes) is akin to escaping back (beam me up Scotty!) to the Enterprise from a hostile world. We luxuriate in the afternoon sun beside the main pool whilst sipping Marguerites. The sun glows bright orange as it sinks slowly to the west and eventually submerges into the deep blue sea.
Tonight is Elegant Casual in the dining room but the temperate air with a gentle breeze is too inviting so after a quick shower and change to casual (as opposed to elegant casual) we find an outside deck dining table on the starboard side of the Colonnade restaurant where a silvery moon is rising, and join with some new found English friends for a Vietnamese style meal. The shimmering moon on a navy blue sea with various tankers slowly overtaking in far away sea lanes provides the perfect backdrop for a night of good food, good friendship and memorable times.
We catch the last 30 minutes of 'The Clash of the Titans' which is being shown on the outdoor big screen on deck 9 and have one last nightcap before retiring. The ship continues throughout the night in the Sea of Marmara headed for the waters of the Bosphorus.
It is the second of the three days at sea scheduled for this cruise, and the Captain has promised us a 'civilised hour' for sightseeing as we cruise the Bosphorus past Istanbul and into the Black Sea. Gail still hasn't returned from the 7.30 am stretch class and whilst I have completed the weight training (my middle name is Adonis) there is no time left for the treadmill. It is 8.30 am as the beginning of land appears which marks the entrance to the Bosphorus and all the glory of the Istanbul coastline (on both sides - Asian and European). Under cloudless azure skies and on calm blue seas the slow journey through this narrow tract of water takes just under 2 hours and we are regularly joined by schools of dolphins who playfully ride the waves created by the massive bow of the ship as it carves its way through the ribbon of water.
A late breakfast is consumed as we enter the Black Sea and head in a north easterly direction bound for Sevastopol, Ukraine. Whilst the activities offered are many and varied it's hard to beat just relaxing on a deck whilst surrounded by sparkling ripples in a circular sea of blue whose 360° horizon meets with a lighter shade of sky blue. The only things one needs to think about are: shade or sun; lounge or chair; pool or spa; alcoholic or non-alcoholic (drink). There is an endless supply of offers from hovering waiters that respond if you just look at them: Sun screen sir? Anything to eat sir? A lens cleaner for your glasses sir?
Despite the imbibing, Gail has been spurred on by coming second in yesterday's bridge play and after breakfast had made a bee line to the card room for the 10.30 am bridge lesson.
At this point of the travelogue, I would just like to say (in case I die of an over indulgence of extreme pleasure) that if anyone is contemplating a restful break from the hurly burly of work and life, there surely can be no better choice than a cruise aboard a small luxury cruise ship.
The sun moves slowly across the sky. Nothing seems urgent. Time and space meld into one. Gail joins the moment. It's 6.00 pm.
Another Elegant Casual night. We dress for the occasion and head for The Club for a pre dinner drink. What to have? We ask the barman for a recommendation and without a further thought, a couple of spirit bottles have some contents poured into an ice filled container. A dash of this, a dash of that, a couple of shakes and 2 cocktail glasses are filled with a soft coloured liquid which tastes like a magic potion. (It's a French Martini!).
A hand protruding from a white sleeve is thrust forward in my direction and I turn to face the Captain whilst automatically accepting the offer of greeting. "How's that suite 817?" he enquires with a smiling face and glint in his eye. I nod and thank him simultaneously. The larrikin in this New Zealand Captain showed ever so subtly as he strode off to greet a seated, elderly well to do American lady who was beckoning him with her diamond laden fingers.
Entering the Restaurant we indicate to the Maitre D' that we would be happy to start a table of 8 and within 5 minutes we are happily dining with 3 other couples and sharing worldly banter. Three courses, 2 wines and much social intercourse later we excuse ourselves to catch the last half hour of the show in the Grand Salon.
Tomorrow will be the first of our Black Sea port destinations.
Sevastopol is a major port and anchorage of the Black Sea Fleet. It is a city that was reduced to rubble during the Crimean War (1853 - 6) and again during World War 2. The 7.5 km harbour is mostly filled with naval vessels (both Ukrainian and Russian) but has a majesty about it for that reason.
Our tour guide was waiting for us at 9.00 am as arranged just outside the disembarkation gate at Counts' Quay and we set off with her and her driver in the direction of Bakhchysaray - the capital of the Crimean Khanate from the 15th to the 18th Centuries. The road intersections between Sevastopol and the airport (15 minutes of driving) were heavily guarded with police. The explanation of our guide, Anna, was that President Putin and other dignitaries were arriving this evening to celebrate an annual military day of importance which occurs on the last Sunday of July each year. Unfortunately, we would be departing the port at 6.00 pm so a celebratory glass of vodka with PP could not be arranged. We pass the battlefields of great conflicts and soon arrive at Hansaray, the only existing palace of the Crimean Khans. Now a museum, in this gorgeous (by Ukraine standards) complex, one can see the Khan's palace and suites, the state council and courtroom, the harem, mosques and mausoleum. An interesting feature was the 'Fountain of Tears', which served as the inspiration for Alexander Pushkin's poem: 'The Fountain of Bakhchysaray'. A little way south east of the palace is the 8th century Uspensky Cathedral, which is a part of the Uspensky Cave Monastery. This ancient cave church hewn out of rock is fascinating and has been in continuous use for over a thousand years.
Returning to Sevastopol we have time to visit the Panorama Museum. It is sited on an old fortified hill and contains a huge (massive in fact) circular painting on canvas that gives an impressive view of the famous siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean war. In front of this 360° painting is a 14 foot wide circle of land that displays in 3D a continuation of the painting using props depicting the era. The entire circular building has no lighting other than natural light that comes in via large windows hidden by a canopy which reflects the light onto the scene as if you were outdoors. Very different indeed.
We are dropped back to the quay in good time for lunch, and we bid Anna farewell until tomorrow, when she will meet us in Yalta - the next port of call, but only 80 kms from Sevastopol.
Gail has been complaining of a slight medical ailment so I am sent on a mission of mercy (heaven help me!) into the main shopping district of Sevastopol while Gail returns to the (safety of the) ship for lunch. My mission is to find a chemist and buy some over the counter remedy. Sounds fairly simple, so I set off. I follow the general direction, through a park with a magnificent fountain, past many young males that look like they belong to gangs, but would be part of the Russian or Ukraine navies. I overtake two slow walking young females in high heel shoes whose see through clothing don't leave much to the imagination (I didn't look!) and pass the only building with English (other than McDonalds) written on it - Best Western Hotel Sevastopol. I search for any shop that even remotely looks like a chemist but to no avail. I enter various shops for help in locating one and get the same greeting - Niet Englis or words to that effect. The fact that the shops names are not in English is one thing but to be written in an alphabet I cannot decipher is even worse as I cannot even come close to sounding out a name that resembles chemist/pharmacy/apocathary etc. I head for my last option - Best Western. I approach the girl at the reception and ask in my best broken English - "Please, you can tell me where chem...mist, er phar..ma..cy is?" "Certainly, sir!" she retorts as if I am stupid, "You turn right from the hotel entrance and walk up the street to the bus stop and you will find it!". Just to be sure, I ask in perfect English this time if she wouldn't mind writing down the letters that spell out the name so I can match up the letters to be sure. She writes ?????? and I continue my quest. 'Wow, it's next to McDonalds', I wonder to myself at the fact that I missed it. I enter the shop and stand in a queue that leads to a lady, in a white nurse type uniform, standing behind a glass petition. She listens to each person's request before turning around to a wall of little boxes and bottles and locating the item for which she was asked (I presume). The customer would then place some monopoly money onto a plate and the 'nurse 'would take it off the plate and replace it with the item and usually a few coins change. I only had Euro on me and I knew you must pay in Hryvnia, but I had a plan. First I would establish that I could buy the necessary product; then I would establish the price; next I would change the nearest denomination of Euro into Hryvnia (because monopoly money is only good for playing Monopoly in Australia); then I would return to buy the product.
At last! It was my turn. I looked at the 'nurse 'and asked "Do you speak English?" She just looked at me and said "Niet". I looked back at the line and asked "Does anyone speak English?" I didn't even get a response. Actually, they were looking at me with an expression of 'hurry up or get out of the line!' I was defeated. I had no plan B.
I returned to the ship to report my failed mission. Gail will just have to wait until 4.30 pm to see the doctor. I walk out to the Patio Cafe/Bar (now on our level) to get some nourishment and liquids and returned to the balcony of our cabin to stay with Gail as I consumed my lunch and watched the harbour activity.
The rest of the afternoon passed slowly and by 7.00 pm the antibiotics the doctor had given Gail were taking effect. We ordered room service for dinner and a table was set up on our balcony. The meal came just as the sun was setting and we sat and enjoyed the meal (entree: Crab & grapefruit salad, avocado coulis, pancetta and orange vinaigrette; Seared beef Carpaccio with pesto, marinated tomatoes and parmesan shavings. Mains: 2 x Crisp seared sea bream, olive oil laced potatoes and vegetables, beurre blanc. For dessert I just went out to the Patio Cafe and got 2 buckets of Caramel with walnut, and Strawberry Ice cream. Yummo!
Early night - selected a movie from the in-cabin library and stayed in for a socialising-free evening.`
The sun is trying to seep through our Blockout curtains covering the veranda windows. We open our eyes and peer at the clock on the wall and it reads 7.05 am. Anna will be waiting for us on the dock at 9.00 am so it is time to get a wriggle on. Gail opens the blinds and the sunlight gleefully fills our cabin. The shore is in view and we can see the environs of Yalta with the main city some kilometre or two off in the forward distance. There are beaches opposite our veranda on the shore and what appears to be movement. I grab the binoculars and look shoreward to see a swathe of activity of bathers in the water and many more sunning on deckchairs or shading their bodies under large circular umbrellas. Momentarily I fear we have slept in and missed our tour appointment, however this is not possible as the ship is still moving and will not dock until 8.00 am. I guess it just a case of supply and demand, with the early risers securing their patch of sand for the day and the latecomers missing out.
Anna is waiting patiently as we exit the ship and step onto the gang plank. Her car and driver are not 10 metres from the end of the gang plank and we literally step off and into the car before being whisked away to start our tour of the highlights of Yalta.
We pass by Lenin Square whose monument of the same fame quite ironically faces McDonalds. Stopping at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral we admire the fascinating Byzantine-style building which is a typical example of Russian architecture with its onion shaped domes. We only glance at the beautiful frescoes and the 18th century iconostasis inside, as there is quite a crowd gathered for the Sunday morning service. From here we proceed directly west from Yalta to Alupka Palace to beat the bus tours which follow the same ant trail but in a different sequence. As an outstanding architectural monument and art museum, Alupka Palace is located under the towering slopes of the 1,233 metre Ai-Petri, and was initially built as a summer mansion for Count Vorontsov and more recently was the residence of Winston Churchill and the British delegates during the 1945 Yalta Conference.
After walking through the gardens and down the grand staircase called ‘The Terrace of the Lions’, we left in an easterly direction back towards Yalta, for Livadia Palace. Along the way we stop at a vantage point near Cape Ai-Todor, where we can view the fairytale medieval castle (actually built in 1911) perched high on a cliff above the sea. Of course at this viewing platform there is the usual array of tourist stalls and Gail spies a small set of Christmas decorations which are typically Ukrainian. The sales lady tells me in broken English that they are handmade at a Ukrainian art school and are very authentic. Driving along toward Livadia Palace I have this terrible thought that I have just purchased some tat that is made in China. I show the decorations to our tour guide, but she assures me they are not made in China. Russia probably, Ukraine doubtful, but definitely not China. They look nice anyway!
We come to the town of Livadia and make our way to Livadia Palace. It was once the summer residence of Tsar Nicholas II and also played a part during the Yalta Conference when it served as the venue for the historic meeting of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. Various rooms visited included the restored meeting room, Roosevelt’s headquarters and the Tsar’s study.
Driving closer to Yalta we divert up a steep hill to visit the newest church in Ukraine. It is the 2 year old St Michael’s Church which is small but very pretty. Driving back down the hill and on the outskirts of Yalta we visit Anton Chekhov’s Memorial House where the great Russian author wrote his classic plays ‘The Cherry Orchard’ and ‘The Three Sisters’.
Whilst we still had time for more attractions, we had had enough (close to 5 hours) of sightseeing and after paying Anna and bidding her farewell, we boarded the ship for lunch and a long cool drink (or two).
The rest of the afternoon was spent lolling about and drinking. Actually I think it was a case of lolling after drinking, as when the waiter by the pool was asked if he could recommend a good cocktail he returned with ‘the best’ one called a Long Island iced tea – vodka, gin, white rum, tequila, pineapple juice and a dash of coke – over ice and served in a tall glass. Time blurred until 8.30 pm when the pangs of hunger overrode a happy haze.
We thought an hour and a half would be ample time for dining as the 10.00 pm show featuring the best of Burt Bacharach was recommended as well worth seeing (by one of the male vocalists, Connor). At 9.45 pm we were ready to order dessert, but Gail had seen a special order of Salzburg Knuckle being served to another table two nights ago, and not being one to miss out, had ordered one for tonight for our ‘special occasion’(her 50th Birthday). When the Italian waiter brought the dessert menu Gail mentioned that we had a special order and that he should check up on it. “Of course, yes, here it is, it should only be 5 minutes”, he replied after referring to his note pad. Of course, we couldn’t just leave at 10.00 pm when the chef was still crazily trying to whip up this forgotten special dish, and worse was when it finally came it was enough to feed a table of 6. Gail ate as much as she could (with the rest hidden under her dessert spoon), I didn’t like it from the beginning (had a lemon flavour) and got a bowl of chocolate rocky road ice cream instead, and the nearby table of four Peruvians (the ones that always eat late) thanked us profusely for such a wonderful dessert to be sharing. We got to see the last 25 minutes of the show.
Today is our last snooze and cruise day at sea. Actually, the activity programme is jam packed with choice – from games to lectures, quizzes and debates, dance and bridge classes, book exchanges and the usual raft of tea times, coffee chats and even AA meetings if that is what you need (mind you I cannot imagine why anyone who has a drinking problem would book a cruise where all and as much alcoholic beverage as you want is included in the price). Of special interest to most is the Galley Brunch – starting at 12.30 pm it is a culinary feast which begins with appetizers of little pancakes and breads which you laden with grated eggs, onions, creams and Beluga caviar, which is all washed down with vodka shots; a full cold smorgasbord (as opposed to the smaller classification of buffet) of meats, fishes, sushi’s, salads, sauces, breads, shellfish, etc; then a tour of the Galley where there is a selection of fondues, vol au vents, and then all manner of foods being freshly cooked as you pass which denote most of the popular delights from the five continents. If that wasn’t enough then surely the selection of desserts would satisfy any further need for consumption. Of course, drinks were plentiful and free flowing. Despite being super picky about only trying new and unusual foods, and even then only morsels to taste, we both felt a sense of overeating after the event.
After the Feast, Gail joined Glenys, her bridge partner, for more games whilst I headed for the quiet, calm and solitude of the lounge chair on our balcony to watch the world drift by. Whilst the world drifted by I drifted off, lulled to sleep by the symphonic sounds of swishing sea tones.
Tonight was ‘Chef’s Choice’ in the Restaurant but first we had been invited to the Captain’s Cocktail Party at 6.45 pm. The party was for all Seabourn Club members and whilst we could not remember joining, who were we to refuse an invitation by the Captain. We were careful to not spoil our appetite (we had trouble finding it after today’s Galley Brunch) for dinner, so only accepted one glass of champagne (French of course) each and declined the canapés. It was during the Captain’s speech of appreciation for us and fellow club members that we figured it was probably the fact that we had done the one week Istanbul to Athens cruise then the two week Aegean/Black sea cruise (2 cruises) that gave us automatic membership to the Club.
We arrived at dinner by 7.45 pm and joined our new Canadian friend’s table for the 6 course Chef’s extravaganza. The only course we had to choose was the Main – Beef Tournedos or Turbot Fish. Gail chose the fish because one of the garnishes was Sunfire – a vegetation that grows near the seaside on a rocky coast and Gail helped the Chef, Rob, to select it on the market tour in Kusada?i. As usual, by the end of the evening (and meal) the conversation had drifted to food intakes and weight issues.
Today the ship will berth in Odessa, Ukraine at 8.00 am and will not depart until 10.30 pm. This gives us a lot of time for a sleep in, gym, leisurely breakfast and slow self tour around the town. The time is 7.50 am and the phone rings. I must be dreaming – do we even have a phone? The phone rings again! I feel around the top of the bedside table and locate a handset. “Hello?’’ I say in my best ‘I’m not asleep, and I’ve been awake for hours’ voice. ‘Hello Phillip’’ says the voice on the other end of the line. “It’s Alan here, and Shirley is not feeling well, and we have a private tour booked at 9.30 am with my Cousin and his family, and I shall not leave Shirley alone, and I do not want my tour tickets to go to waste, and I was wondering if you and Gail would like to go – courtesy of Shirley and I”.
“Gail, Gail” I sputter as I am simultaneously shaking her to wake. “We have an hour and a half to get up, go to gym, shower, have breakfast and get to our tour at 9.30!”.
We meet the others at the bottom of the gang plank at 9.30 am and locate the tour guide for the 4 hour city tour of Odessa. As the people mover pulls out of the port area, our tour guide asks if there is any special places we want to see. I had originally (before the cruise) wanted to visit the Catacombs in Odessa, but for one reason or another had not arranged a definite plan to see them. I mentioned it quietly to the guide (as we were only guests along for the ride) but she said it was too far and should be left for another tour. The first sight we came to were some buildings that housed students for accommodation. They had a derelict appearance and when this was pointed out, the guide answered that it was vacation time. Next, was a palace (of some description) but it was closed and in fact had scaffolding and mesh over it so you could not really make out anything of the shape, grandeur etc. We stopped at a square with a statue of Catherine the Great and our guide gave a short description and then she told us that we would walk along the Primorsky Boulevard past the Potemkin Steps and on to the Opera House. It took nearly one hour to advance 200 metres and when our guide wanted to describe the intricacies of stone bollards that were used as hitching posts for horses I knew we were in trouble. The promise of the Opera House as being a highlight fizzled when our forlorn guide came back from the entry point stating it was ‘closed today’. By now it was obvious that we had seen most of what was to be seen and despite her efforts to stretch it out, it was going to be a very painful next 2 ¾ hours. I really did not want to push my barrow but it was obvious our fellow tourers were becoming bored at best and agitated at worst. I mentioned again, this time to everyone, that a journey to the Catacombs, should be considered. I explained why I thought it may be of interest, but also that I did not want to be seen as trying to influence everyone. The guide repeated that it wasn’t possible, however, the others having realised that continuation of the city tour was a lost cause, insisted that it was what the group wanted and she should accede to what was wanted. The final objection was overcome when the guide, who thought a Catacomb guide couldn’t be gotten on such short notice, made a phone call to the site and was told one was available.
The Catacombs are the tunnels created from where limestone was quarried in the early 19th century. They thread for 2000 kilometres beneath the city and surrounding villages and served as hideouts for the Resistance in World War II. There is only one official entry point where guides are available to take visitors to see one of the underground camps that existed during the war. Hundreds of other entry points have been closed/blocked and hundreds more are thought to exist, however because of the dangers of getting lost once inside (many have entered never to be seen again) it is virtually impossible as a tourist to see any part of the tunnels other than through the official entry point. Whilst Ukraine as a country is not one you would put on your bucket list, the visit to the Catacombs certainly was worth doing and is a must if you have a connection to eastern Europe and the impact of WWII.
At the end of the tour we were returned to the ship (at precisely 1.30 pm) and the rest of the day was spent lunching, relaxing and sunning. When evening fell we remained on the main pool deck and dined casually under the stars and full moon at the Patio Grill. Gail had Nigerian Prawns (like small lobsters) whilst I ordered a simple 10oz eye fillet (which only needed a butter knife to cut).
The rest of the evening was spent on the rear deck of level 5, sipping Long Island Ice Teas and watching Odessa Port fade into the distant horizon under a bright silver full moon.
Constanta Romania is the 4th largest port in Europe. It traces its history back some 2500 years and was originally called Tomis. Legend has it that Jason landed here with the Argonauts after finding the Golden Fleece.
After the usual morning ritual we departed in a shuttle bus bound for the city. Driving along the docks the scenery was fairly ordinary, as docklands tend to be, however we thought this would change once we arrived in town. It didn’t. The only saving grace of the sightseeing was the Archaeological Museum which was located in Ovidiu’s Square, where a large statue of the famous poet Ovidius Puplius Nasos stands. The museum is housed in a 3 storey grand municipal building which is slightly more than 100 years old but looks 300 years old with never having being maintained. The diversity of the museum is fascinating and if one finds themselves unfortunately in Constanta, they may lift their spirits with a visit to this museum. Whilst we did not pay for entry (somehow we got mixed up with a large tour group when entering and besides, we did not have any local currency on us) it certainly would be worth paying whatever the fee for entry is charged.
Our ship was only in port for 7 hours and this was more than enough for everyone to get a taste of Romanian life. It was obvious to all, and confirmed by a Romanian Army General who was invited on board to give a short talk (with Q & A’s at the end) on life in his country, that poverty and corruption was rife with no foreseeable solution.
The feeling of absolute freedom and appreciation for a privileged life is never so great as when: one leaves a place of chaos, and where its people appear resigned to a menial existence with no solution for escape; simply by flashing a passport at a person sitting in a box next to a path through a barrier, which is protected by brown uniformed men with large guns, and walking on to a vessel which beholds a stark contrast to that which was just left.
Tomorrow we visit the first of 2 ports in the final country of our cruise - Bulgaria.
We leave the arms of Morpheus. The Bulgarian port of Varna is coming into view as our Captain negotiates the entry channel into the harbour. As with all the ports we have seen so far on the Black sea, there is a contingent of Navy war ships, and sometimes submarines, sitting at berth in readiness for whatever future fate beckons them forth. By now we would be feeling quite fit and slender by our regularity of gym attendance but alas these cruise ships have a way of counteracting all good intentions by providing temptations of pleasurable taste sensations.
There is no rush today as the ship has docked at 8.00 am with departure scheduled for 6.00 pm, and we have no tours booked. A stroll around town is all we intend to do and the shuttle bus will take us into the main square.
On the way to the square, from the bus window I look at a large park. The grass has not been recently mowed and I think back to all the gardens and parks of the holiday so far. It suddenly strikes me that whilst some people measure the wealth of a country by the cost of its real estate, the range and diversity of motor vehicles or even the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac, it can be done much more simply by looking at the grass in public parks. i.e.: the length of grass in a public park is inversely proportional to the wealth of the city/town in which it grows.
We alight the bus at Place Mitropolit Simeon where the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin is situated. Immediately we are touted by a torrent of taxi-drivers who seem to be oblivious to the fact we have just stepped off a bus. They even looked remarkably similar to the taxi-drivers that were touting us as we boarded the bus at the port.
The Cathedral is one of the largest and most beautiful in Bulgaria. It was built in 1886 and modelled after features of the churches of St. Petersburg. Other monuments and museums in the city held little interest for us so we proceeded to walk slowly back towards the port, firstly through a marketplace then along the main shopping malls. Since the grass was only half as long as that in Romania, the stores here were better but certainly no match to those of England or Scotland. Reaching the Primorski Boulevard (another one but ending in i) which runs along the beach to the port, we chose to walk along the water’s edge as it was cooler. Whilst there were no shops to look at (as were along the Boulevard) there were certainly many other things to see – mostly of many shapes, sizes and tones of brown from very light to very dark! For the last 100 metres we walked along the entry road to the port. It was lined with old Bulgarian women (they looked old anyway) who each had little areas of the footpath where they displayed their hand crocheted and laced tablecloths and other paraphernalia. Some of the pieces were quite beautiful and very reasonably priced.
Back on board it was just more sunning, funning, and eating (not necessarily in that order) and at 6.00 pm we attended a Captain’s farewell speech (we were leaving, not him) – a sort of reality check that this floating oasis does have a final destination.
From there, it was up to the observation deck for pre-dinner drinks with Gail’s bridge partner & co, and from there down to The Restaurant where a table of 8 had been pre-booked for dinner. Gail had organised another special dessert – this time Crepe Suzette, which the Maitre D’ cooked himself at our table. It was delicious!
Again, we caught only the last 25 minutes of the show in the Grand Salon and while Morpheus was calling me back to her arms, Gail diverted down to the Club on level 5 to revel into the wee hours.
Late nights and early gym sessions don’t mix. I do some in-cabin stretches and isotonic exercises whilst Gail has a sleep in to restore her equilibrium.
Nessebur, Bulgaria is a museum town listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Condensed into an area of 24 hectares, the maze of narrow, twisting cobblestone streets, is delightful for leisurely wandering, beneath the balconies of its old wood and stone houses typical of the 19th century National Renaissance style. The many, many churches (40+) on this little island (joined to the mainland at Sunny Beach by a man made causeway) are now mostly museums, art galleries or just in various states of dereliction or ruin. The throngs of souvenir-sellers mar the beauty of this tiny peninsula and the touters snap at your heels as you pass. Maybe my cynicism is magnified by the fact that I thought I was getting a bargain when I purchased 3 items for the what I thought was a hard bargained €20, but after travelling some little way further came across another shop selling the same for the equivalent of €2!!
Back on board another lazy afternoon passes and sadly as the sun is setting it is with the realisation that this will be our last sunset viewed from the decks of this magnificent ship (until the next cruise).
We sit for our last supper in The Restaurant and consume the bottle of red wine we received during the noisy cabin fiasco. We finish our meal and visit some new friends sitting at other tables and exchange contact information for future rendezvous in faraway lands.
We arrive back to our cabin. Our empty cases have been placed on a thick plastic sheet covering our bed, ready to be filled by us in preparation for our departure. The bags are to be left outside our cabin door by midnight so all we will take off the ship ourselves will be our carry-on luggage.
The phone rings and it is the chief purser. “We have processed your credit card and there is an outstanding amount that has been declined” he states matter of factly. “You will need to settle the balance in cash!”. I explained to him as I had earlier explained to the receptionist at Guest Services earlier in the day, that my credit card was cancelled more than a week ago and that the Guest Services Manager, Jo, was well aware of this. I added that I was fully prepared to settle the account with my new credit card as I had all the details necessary: the card number, expiry date, security number and pin number, however I was not in physical possession of the card as it had been sent to my home address in Australia. Also, I explained (as I had to the receptionist earlier) that I was aware that it had been explained to me by the receptionist that she did not have a keypad on the card swipe machine to enable an entry of details manually, however I did explain to her that it would be a simple matter of just phoning MasterCard for authorisation on the amount for a guaranteed payment which could then be put through by their head office in Miami – just as had been done when taking payment for the cruise at the outset. I began to yawn when he proceeded to tell me it was too hard to do a payment this way and that I must pay the balance in cash. “Have you been listening to me” I replied. “You will just have to do it that way, or you can send me an account if you like and I will settle it when I return home. I do not have any cash to pay you the balance of the bill!”. (I did have cash for the Dubai component of our trip, but there was no way I was going to short change myself by giving him any of it because of his intransigence.) “Well, I noticed you have made a purchase in the Perfumery today” he continued unabated. “I will need that purchase back and you will still have a balance remaining that will have to be settled in cash”. ‘Am I speaking to a moron?’ I thought. “I would be happy to return the bottle of aftershave I purchased” I retorted. “Unfortunately, I have opened it, thrown away the packaging and used it already, however if it makes you happy, I will return it for a full refund and as for the cash – well I DO NOT HAVE ANY FOR YOU. You will have to accept one of my other 2 offers!”. He muttered under his breath something about contacting Miami and contacting me in the morning, and he hung up.
We awoke early and opened the blinds. The ship was docked at the Istanbul ship terminal together with 2 much larger cruise ships and a smaller cruise yacht which I would imagine sails to the islands in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. The procedure this morning is to vacate rooms by 8.00 am and disembark by 9.30 am at the latest.
We shower and proceed to breakfast so as we can return to the cabin around 8.00 am to collect our hand luggage. At breakfast we exchange more email addresses and phone numbers with new found friends and do the usual kisses hugs and handshakes. By 9.30 am we finally make our way to The Square on level 7 to collect our passports and find out what the Chief Purser has decided (as we have, as expected, heard nothing). The Guest Services representative (same girl as previously involved) states that the account is partially paid and the balance must be paid in cash. Am I dreaming? Have I crossed over into the twilight zone? Did I travel to a different planet overnight? I look incredulously at the girl and in a slow and controlled voice ask “May I speak with the Chief Purser, please?”. The receptionist picks up the phone and after a minute of whispered talk and furtive glances in my direction, the receptionist smiles and states “everything is in order Mr ......(intentionally deleted). I will just transfer the balance to a fresh account and you can pay it by credit card. All I will need is the card number and the expiry date.” Whilst I was reaching into my pocket for the card details I had written on a piece of paper, another young smiling attendant appeared with our passports and the Guest Services Manager, Jo was spotted hovering in the background. Maybe coincidently, a minute later as a receipt was being issued, the Captain walked passed as if overseeing the whole circus.
By the time we proceed down the gang plank for the last time, I am sure we are about the last passengers to leave. Sure enough, when we enter the Customs Hall our luggage is waiting with only a few other bags. When we walk forward to retrieve them, eager porters squabble amongst themselves as to who will put them onto a trolley to take them to a dishevelled line of yellow taxis. Despite my protests the bags are taken to a vehicle with a driver only too eager to load them into an open boot. I protest “I want to know the fare to the airport before you load them”. ‘’40 euro’s” is the reply. Don’t be ridiculous” I splutter. “OK – 35 euro’s” is the counter offer. I spin to another cab looking like he has been waiting in vain and shout “How much to the airport?” He shouts back “30 euro’s”. I turn to the first driver and pronounce “he will take us for 30 euro’s”. “OK – 30 euro’s” he growls whilst quickly loading the luggage in the boot. Gail is saying “OK”, the first driver is beckoning us to get in and the second driver is protesting that he will do it for 25 euro. The porter meanwhile is pleading for his tip, Gail is agreeing “give him some coins” and I am feeling outflanked on all sides. I give the porter 1 euro despite his howls of “it’s not enough!”, I tell Gail to get in the cab as our bags are now loaded and the boot has been shut with a thud that declares ‘they are in and won’t be released until the airport’, I tell the second cabbie he had his chance in the negotiations (mind you I was still prepared to fight the good battle but I had others to consider) and I jump in the front seat next to the driver and instruct him to turn on the meter instead. He looks at me with the same look as the Ukrainians in the Chemist shop and accelerates away from the fray in the direction of the airport.
In true Turkish taxi style, the driver is imagining he is on a grand prix track with many other competitors he needs to pass. After a minute of hair-raising manoeuvres, and amidst Gail’s protests to slow down, I issue him an ultimatum to put a lid on it or he won’t have us as passengers. The freeway is in sight, so the reduction in speed is welcome until the legal limit is raised to the level to which this driver is accustomed.
At the airport, the driver unloads all the luggage and asks me to check that there is nothing remaining. I agree and hand over 2 x 20 euro notes. He returns a 5 euro note as change with a grin on his face. I look at him and say “5 more please!’’. He looks pleadingly and asks “tip?” to which I tersely reply “you have to be joking. You should consider yourself lucky you got the job in the first place!”. Without further protest he hands over another 5 euro and disappears into the stream of traffic.....................................