We used the metro to zip into town and went right to the Acropolis. We beat the hordes and had the place nearly to ourselves for the first 20 minutes :) It was incredible and well worth it, the views of the city are also great. We also went to the Temple of Zeus, worth a look if you have time. We went to Syntagma Square, but there wasn't much to do around there. We had food near the Ancient Agora and the service and quality was excellent! It wasn't even that expensive and you get to eat outside and people watch!
Got picked up right outside the ship and driven to the Ephesus ruins in an air-conditioned van. We hooked up with a fellow cruise critic couple we met through the forums and shared the cost with them (very reasonable prices). The countryside is surprisingly beautiful on the way. The tour through the ruins was fine, but it was the ruins themselves that were amazing! I loved the Library and the amphitheater is incredible! These were my favorite ruins of the trip!
City Tour Rating:
We went to a carpet weaving college on the way back. This was definitely a tourist trap, but was actually really fun, with no pressure to buy. They showed us how the weaving worked and then displayed a bunch of rugs to us. The lady with us had a birthday that day so they surprised her with a cake! It was delicious! We also had tea and turkish coffee. My only complaint was lunch is promised and included in the price and this did not happen because of the time our ship was porting. It wasn't a big deal, but I feel we should have gotten a discount because of it.
I loved this port, probably my favorite! We hung out with the same couple we took the Ephesus tour with... just seem to work well together! We opted out of any public transportation and walked everywhere. This was doable, but tiring. I still recommend walking though, because you really get a feel for the city. Hagia Sofia was closed, but we went into the Blue Mosque, free and well worth it! The Grand Bazaar was so fun! Be prepared for crowds and pushy merchants... have fun with it. I loved haggling down the price (expected and necessary)! The Spice Market is also exciting... we got tea and turkish delight there. We had kebaps, beer, and tea for lunch and dropped our stuff off at the ship before going back out to do the Bosphorus boat tour. This was relaxing and scenic... worth it if you have time. Also, don't pay more than 10 lira a person for it, some street merchants will try to get more.
*Warning* You tender at this port and the line for tender tickets gets crazy. They say pick up tickets at 1:30... get there at 12:30 and bring a book. They started handing them out around 1 instead. We got the first tender, but they get out all the NCL tour groups before the other tenders... so we were actually like 6th. Make sure you stand near the "getting off area" because the tender number calling was disorganized and you may miss your turn.
The port itself was picturesque, but not a lot to do. We saw the white church and windmills, stopped at a internet cafe (15mins for 1euro - comps available), and then took a local bus to Agios Ioannis beach. We only stayed there for an hour... just walked around, didn't swim. I would recommend that beach.. pretty and not terribly crowded.
We decided to do Pompeii and Sorrento on our own. If you're following Rick Steve's, the bus stops are really there anymore (construction). Buy the tickets at the tabacchi shop, but use the tram to get to the train station. We got to Pompeii quickly after that, but there was a staff meeting and it didn't open for another hour :( This worked out well though, because we were some of the first in and had the place to ourselves for a bit. I was a bit bored by the ruins though... it was kind of repetitive... so we only stayed an hour or so. Then we went on to Sorrento. We had pizza there and visited the lemon grove garden (worth a walk through and free with limoncello tasting in the middle). Aside from this there isn't much to do besides admire the views. We took the hydrofoil back to the ship (drops you off right in front of it). Looking back I would have skipped Sorrento and done the Archeological Museum in Naples or Capri.
This would have been a perfect day if it weren't for the metro strike. It didn't mess anything up, but we had to pay a bit more to take taxis around town. This is again a doable on your own day if you book the entrance fees ahead of time!! We went straight to the Vatican (walkable from the San Pietro station) and skipped the lines. As Rick Steves suggests... use the right exit out of Sistine Chapel to go right to St. Peters Basilica (it's a group exit only, but no one monitors it). St. Peter's Basilica was the most beautiful building I've ever seen on the inside, worth it!! The Colosseum also did not disappoint! And we skipped CRAZY line by buying tickets ahead! If you have time the Roman Forum ruins are interesting and worth a walk through.
Somehow we managed Pisa and Florence on our own, with time to spare. Walk into town and then get the public bus to the train station. Get the soonest train out and take a public bus to the tower in Pisa. We ran up grabbed some pics and took the bus back to the train station. (Probably can't fit in climbing the tower) Trains from there to Florence run constantly, so it isn't a big deal to jump back on. We had again prebooked Academia and skipped all the line and went right in after lunch in Florence. The museum is very small, but Statue of David is sooo worth it in my eyes :) We had time to spare to see the Duomo, the bridge, and do some shopping. Watch the train schedule though and don't do any later than the 3:30 train back!
We stayed the night here, so we took the bus to the Columbus Monument and then walked about 10 mins to our hotel. We stayed at the Barcelo Raval. It is very modern styled and within a close distance to the Las Ramblas. Again the rooms are MODERN, so not much shower privacy if that bothers you. We loved the place though. My only complaint was the noise from outside and the unhelpfulness of one of the ladies at the front desk.
Barcelona was an awesome city with a wonderful metro system! We were so tired at this point though, so it was a bit of a blur. We took the metro (do they 10 trip pass) to the Sagrada Familia, but didn't go in at that time because of the line. Then we went to Casa Mila and Casa Batllo, but didn't go in because of the prices. We also went to Parc Guell... this was my favorite part. It's a neat park that hosts a variety of Gaudi decorations and designs! Very relaxing and beautiful! Then we went back to Sagrada Familia and stood in line. The line looked crazy, but it actually only took 15 mins to get in. The price is a little expensive, but it helps with the construction and it is worth seeing inside!
**Try churros con chocolate... the chocolate is hot pudding stuff and it's amazing!
When getting to the airport the next day the hotel led us to believe there was only a taxi (expensive), or a aerobus (only took cash, which we were out of). But a bit of research showed that bus 46 takes you there as well and uses the same tickets as the metro system (by far the cheapest). If you have cash I would still suggest the aerobus because it's not much more and the pickup spots are more convenient.