One of the most famous cities in the world, Venice is a place that every person should experience at least once in their lifetime. Yes, it is crowded in the summer. Yes, it is expensive. But, put simply, Venice is far more than what you can see on television or read about in a book or magazine.
We decided to explore Venice on our own and were as excited to see the less traveled areas as we were to visit places like St. Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge. People shouldn't be afraid to do this as you really can't get lost for long, the people are friendly and there certainly are better deals on food to be found.
The tourist area of Bari, near where the ship docks, is rather small. There are really only three things to see including the two main city churches and a fortress built near the harbor. Yes, it is interesting to see where Santa Claus is buried (actually St. Nicholas) but if you have small children this may be hard to explain. We were in port for about 4 hours and that was plenty of time to see things.
Katakolon itself isn't much to see. The reason that the ship stops here is that it is only about a 25 minute drive to the ancient ruins of Olympia. We decided against taking a ship sponsored excursion and instead decided to rent a car and drive to the ruins (50 Euros including gas). Excellent decision! Driving to the ruins involves only two turns and is mostly on a well maintained highway. Parking near the ruins wasn't too bad and we had plenty of time to experience the ruins and adjacent museum without worrying that we wouldn't be back in time to catch the ship.
The ruins are amazing. Although not as extensive or well maintained as Ephesus, the history of the place can not be overlooked. There is a reason why the site was one of the ancient wonders of the world. Certainly a place that anyone interested in ancient civilizations should visit during their lifetime.
We booked our English language excursion through Costa primarily due to the great distance between Izmir and the ruins. However, given the excellent guide on our adventure who not only provided thorough information throughout the trip, but also kept the group moving in an efficient manner, we were very glad we booked this trip.
In addition to the ruins, our guide took us to a carpet making school in the area. Yes, we are sure that the guide was given a kick back by the school with the hopes that someone would buy one of their beautiful masterpieces, but it didn't matter. Sometimes current culture is as important as ancient culture.
Absolutely one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world. Spending 11 hours in this city was no where enough time to see even a small portion of what the city as to offer.
From a visual standpoint the closest city I can think of is San Francisco with its harbor, museums and cultural attractions.
Fortunately we had spent a good amount of time researching our day in Istanbul prior to arrival to have an idea of the places we wanted to visit and the best times to do so. We visited the Blue Mosque first as we know that prayer times occur several times per day. From there we proceeded across the park to the Aya Sophia. These two places of religion are not to be missed. After spending time in the two mosques, we toured to the Sultan's palace. If visiting the palace the two areas not to be missed are the Harem (an extra charge - well worth it!) and the treasury (where the crown jewels are kept). The final site not to be missed is the Grand Bazaar. I'm sure many of the scenes from the Star Wars movies was based on the areas located in the Grand Bazaar!
Istanbul is a city that we easily could have spent several days visiting. Definitely a place that we would return to for more extensive touring.