I will cut and paste my daily log.VIKING STAR APRIL 2015
For the past two years I have been planning this cruise. I read about Viking River Cruises planning to construct an ocean going cruise ship, and get into the ocean cruise business. I went on line and booked the maiden voyage of the yet to be built ship, the prices were cheap but we were required to pay for our cruise in full when I booked. It took a leap of faith, but I went for it. I had been on several ships on their final voyage to the scrap yard, but never on a maiden voyage.
April 9, Thursday: I booked the Super-Shuttle to pick us up at 4:05 p.m. for our 8:30 flight on Turkish Airlines, business class, non-stop from Houston to Istanbul. The van arrived at 4:30 p.m. and the traffic was heavy, but we made it to the airport at 6:30 and because there were no lines at the ticket counter or at security we were at the United Club lounge by 7 p.m., giving us time to relax before boarding our flight around 8 p.m.
April 10, Friday. We flew over Labrador, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Poland while sleeping (more or less) in our lay flat bed seats. Over Romania I looked out to see the mountains of Northern Romania were we visited Vlad’s castle last October on our Viking River Cruise. We landed on time, and spent the next hour and a half going through Immigration and Customs which was slow but painless and got a taxi to take us to our Hotel Sultania which was downtown in the Fatih (old part) section of Istanbul. The taxi over-charged us, but I was too tired to argue and we got to our beautiful hotel before sunset. We had a corner room on the 4th floor with balconies on both sides, the best room in the house. We walked outside to the pedestrian street in front and found a small local restaurant a few blocks down (there were many restaurants on the street but Ines chose this one) and I had a lamb shiskabob and she had a whole fish. It was a good meal, and they even served me a beer in a paper cup because they were not supposed to serve alcoholic beverages there. We returned to our hotel and went to bed, still tired from the trip.
April 11, Saturday: We both woke around 2 a.m. because of jet-lag, but managed to stay in bed when we got to sleep around 5 and slept until 9 a.m. We had breakfast in the lobby, and then packed our bags and left them in the lobby while we walked around the old city. I fell down and twisted my left ankle on an uneven sidewalk, but managed to continue our walk. We walked to the Railroad station and then took a taxi, again overcharged (no meters in Istanbul taxis) to the Blue Mosque. It was a beautiful sunny day, fresh but not really cold. We walked past Santa Sophia back to our hotel, got our bags, and took another taxi to our ship, the Viking Star. We were not overcharged for this taxi, it was about a quarter of the price we had paid for the other taxis. There were no lines at the check in when we arrived about 1 p.m. and we were on board for lunch. We were among the first paying passengers to ever board this ship. We walked around the ship and ate at the buffet in the World Cafe. Our room was ready before 3 p.m. Ines booked some spa treatments, and I booked a tour of Ephesus that included a visit to the house where Mary the mother of Jesus was supposed to have lived in her old age. The ship is decorated in a Scandinavian modern décor, not a traditional maritime type of ship with mahogany and brass, but I like it. All the rooms, even ours on deck 3 have balconies. I got the cheapest room, cabin 3023, but it is above the weather deck and three decks below the bridge. There are 8 decks in all.
At 5 p.m. we had an abandon ship drill, everyone mustered on deck 2, theater forward or dining room aft. The crew are new as well as the ship, and when Ines showed her room card to a crew member they told her to go to deck 5, not a good sign of proper crew training, since the card was for muster station 5 for lifeboat 5 which was in the theater. She did find the right place anyway. Lifejackets are stored next to the boat embarkation on deck 2, not in the cabins which is permissible under IMO regulations. Only about half the passengers boarded today thanks to delays in air travel due to a strike at Charles de Gaule airport in Paris, a major European hub. There will be another drill tomorrow before sailing for late arrivals. The dining room was not very full for dinner, and we went to bed early since there was no show this evening and we were still tired from jet lag. We were sorry we did not make contact with our friends who were arriving in Istanbul from Buenos Aires today or tomorrow.
April 12, Sunday (Sailing Day). Again we woke up in the middle of the night, but were sleeping soundly when our alarm went off at 6 a.m. for our 7 a.m. tour of Istanbul and the Bosporus. We had a cup of coffee and a croissant for breakfast and met in the theater for our tour. The tour is included in the price of the cruise. We were on the first group to leave, and our guide was good. We took a bus around the new and old sections of Istanbul, and stopped by the spice bazaar which was still closed, so we took the boat ride on the Bosporus down through the bridge and past palaces and villas along the shore, down to the second bridge at the narrowest point where Europe and Asia are only 800 meters apart.
The boat returned along the Asian shoreline and docked again in the Golden Horn. We spent another 40 minutes at the spice bazaar which was now opened and I bought a kilo of pistachios. We were the first bus to return to the ship, which was good since we were seated and served quickly for lunch, which got crowded later when the other buses returned. After lunch we took a nap until sailing time, which we watched from our balcony. At 4 p.m. we had a Cruise Critic meet and greet party and met the captain and Viking officials as well as the editor of cruise critic. It was a nice meeting and I saw people who I had communicated with these past two years since booking this cruise. Almost all the passengers were the retired demographic, but a few younger ones. After the meeting Ines went to the spa and I went to listen to the piano and the trio of young women who played the viola, cello, and flute with light classic music.
We went to dinner at 7:30 but the service in the dining room was slow, I guess our waiter forgot, the galley was not used to a full load of passengers, or our order was lost in cyberspace, but after a 40 minute wait I complained and they bought out a bunch of food that we did not order as well as what we ordered immediately. We wanted to finish in time to make the 9 p.m. show in the theater, which was a nice musical and the theater was not crowded. We walked around a little after the show, and went to bed by 11 and slept well for the first time since arriving in Europe.
Monday, April 13 We awoke around 8 while sailing down the Aegean sea to the port of Kusadasi, Turkey which is a passenger ship port for the Greek ruins of the city of Ephesus where we arrived at 11:30. We were booked onto a premium excursion that included the house of Mary, the mother of Jesus, rather than on the included excursion that only went to Ephesus. Therefore we got to leave earlier than the others. The weather remains beautiful, sunny with temperatures in the 60’s. Our guide was good, and we went directly to the place in the park like hills above Ephesus where it is said that the mother of Jesus spent her last years, having traveled there over 1000 miles from Nazareth. Maybe she went with Paul? Or perhaps it is just a legend, but I was here when a cadet with American Export Lines in October of 1962.
Later the pope came to this spot and it got to be more famous because of his visit. Now there is a spring of holy water below the house and souvenir shops at the parking lot, it is more developed than before in a Moslem country that recognizes the value of tourism. After Mary’s house we went to the lower gate of Ephesus and walked around the ruins of this city that dated from 600 B.C. when it was a Greek, then Roman seaport on the Western coast of Turkey. It has been reconstructed over the years, much more impressive than my visit 53 years ago. After visiting the city we returned to a mandatory visit to a carpet factory where we were given a weaving demonstration and sales pitch, and later made to walk through the building, which reminded me of Ikea furniture stores, where we had to pass jewelry and souvenirs on our way back to the bus. It was too much of a hard sell for most of us on the tour, but one man did buy a rug. We returned to the ship and sailed soon afterwards at 6 p.m. After dinner the captain and chief engineer were introduced in the Atrium lobby where the ships musicians were playing. We went to bed early
Tuesday, April 14: We both woke up in the middle of the night, still jet-lagged. Ines was worried about her office, and needed to write a letter, so I helped her type a suitable letter and send it to the office to print and mail. We were tired when we awoke when docking in Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece. It was the same dock where we left our Azamara cruise a couple of years ago. Again we were on a premium tour of the country side, not the standard visit to the Acropolis which we had done on several previous visits. We got on the fist bus with only 11 other passengers and left town towards the southern part of Greece across the Corinth Canal (which is too small for all but yachts and coastal ships) which is dug into a vertical cut across the isthmus between northern and southern Greece.
We visited a number of ruins on the eastern part of this peninsula where king Agamemnon had his palace and is buried. Again we had a long bus ride back to Piraeus, and I saw a liberty ship in the harbor just across from our ship. After dinner we sailed at 9 p.m. when we were in a lounge called Torshaven where some great singers entertained us, but it was really overflowing with passengers. We went to bed just after the show and are sailing for Santorini, our next port.
Wednesday, April 15: Tax day! I’m glad we sent our tax forms and payments in two weeks ago before leaving on this trip. We slept better last night, and are ready for Santorini. I got Ines up a little before 8 for her Zumba exercise class. I went to the dining room for breakfast, and watched our arrival into the caldera of the volcano that exploded here about 3500 years ago and wiped out the Minoian civilization that existed here. What is left is a ring of islands surrounding the original crater.
Perched on the peaks of each of the islands are white houses with blue roofs, all hanging on the sides of cliffs to get good views of the sea. There are some flat lands that are cultivated, especially on the Southern parts of the islands. We did not book a tour here because we have been here before with Azamara and did not want to be with a group. Although we arrived on time the crew seemed to have a bit of trouble getting the tender platforms rigged up, so that we got off about 30 minutes late, but that was not important. Viking gave us tickets for the cable car that takes us up to Thira, the major town of the island. We waited aboard for our tender and talked with the Viking owner’s representative, a guy from Kirkness, Norway who was about my age and knew a lot about ships but most of the last few decades he was working ashore in management. We got the first tender ashore for those without tours, and rode the cable car to the top, although you could ride up on donkeys or even walk up the 1400 feet if you wanted to, like the Grand Canyon trail only paved, but still well covered with animal dung. I got Euros out of the ATM at the top, and we walked through the town and had a nice lunch in a beautiful spot overlooking the ship and harbor as well as the town. After lunch we walked around the town visiting shops, and Ines bought a lot of souvenirs. I had a beer, and finally we returned to the bottom on the cable car and took the tender back to the ship. We picked up the anchor and sailed at 6 p.m., and our next port will be Kotor, Montenegro on the Adriatic sea on Friday morning.
April 16, Thursday, our day at sea. I like days at sea to just relax and watch the sea go by, but Ines loves the activities in ports, so our next cruise will probably be a river cruise. This year we have scheduled a trip to Florida with the Brauns on May 15 to 20, and our “camino” trip to Spain in late June and early July, as well as a trip to New York for my 50th reunion for my class at Kings Point. David called us at 3:30 a.m., unaware of the time difference. He said that all was well, so that I told him to call us in the morning his time and that all was well with us. Otherwise we slept well and got up around 8. Ines went to the gym, and I went to hear an enrichment lecture about the Geology of the region, the volcanoes and earthquakes that formed this region. We had lunch in the cafeteria called “World Café” on deck 7 where many people were hanging around the pools. It was a bit cold so not many were in the water but were sunbathing. Ines has a 1 p.m. massage scheduled at the spa. I will take it easy at the lectures and bars around the ship. Later we had tea together, and then I went to an Explorers Society toast with the captain and cruise director. This was a function for past Viking customers where there were free drinks and I got to chat with other customers and the cruise director. Then Ines and I had dinner in the main dining room and attended a song and dance show in the atrium. After that we went to bed.
April 17, Friday: We set our clocks back one hour during the night and were told to wake up at 6:30 to see the sailing into our port of Kotor, Montenegro. It is at the end of a fjord that twists and turns through high mountains with small villages hanging onto the hillsides near the water’s edge. It was really spectacular. Kotor is a walled city similar to Dubrovnik, our next port. We booked a tour of the countryside for the morning and a walking tour of the city for the afternoon. Our tour this morning took us down the coast by bus to an overlook of a resort hotel called Stefan, which costs a minimum of 800 Euros per night (breakfast included) and has suites about ten times more expensive. It was on an island connected by a viaduct and on a stony coastline. Maybe Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren stayed there, but if so, they had more money than they had brains.
We then returned up the coast to a walled town called Budva and spent an hour or two there walking around the narrow streets and visiting a few churches. We then went back to the ship for lunch and left on our walking tour of the city of Kotor, which was nicer than Budva. We saw a maritime museum as well as a cathedral. Kotor is really not on a fjord, but rather a river valley that was sunken into the ocean by earthquakes or melting glaciers, but since the river valley was surrounded by high mountains, it now looks like a fjord of Norway. It has a lot of twists and turns, and it was impossible for invading navies to enter the harbor without getting sunk by shore batteries or defending warships. The residents of Kotor were probably pirates who attacked trading vessels heading towards Venice. There is a wall all around the city and up to the top of a mountain in the background, and stairs lead past monastaries and churches to the very peak of the mountain, about a 1500 foot climb. We returned to the ship about 6 and had a dinner at 8:30 at Manfredi’s Italian restaurant aboard the ship. The food was good and portions were large, much larger than the main dining room. The service was better as well, but reservations are hard to get unless you book one of the premium priced rooms on the upper decks, and we bought the cheapest cabins. We sailed about 10 p.m. for Dubrovnik, our next port, and we went to bed.
Saturday, April 18, During the night you could, for the first time, feel the ship move in a swell, it was gentle but it woke up Ines. I woke up just after 6 a.m. and watched our arrival in Dubrovnik, which I had visited when captain of the Letitia Lykes back in 1992. It was during a war between Serbia and Croatia, and the Serbs were on a mountain top overlooking the city and lobbing mortars down on the ancient walled city. There were no tourists at that time in a town famous for tourism, and was called the “pearl of the Adriatic”. We docked early on a cloudy, hazy day, but it did not rain. Our Dubrovnik by land and sea tour was cancelled due to weather, so we booked the all day tour that included a walking tour of the port and then a bus trip into the mountains to a restaurant along a river with a restored water wheel and grist mill. It was a very nice trip, and we had the best guide of our cruise, his English and his humor were very good. We missed the bridge tour, but the captain and his wife met me in the lounge and offered me a private tour and we chatted a while about ships. There were free drinks on a farewell party by the pool and most of the crew attended, including the entertainers and the captain. The weather improved all day, but there was a cool breeze. We sailed at 6 p.m. for Ploce, which is near Venice at the head of the Adriatic.
Sunday, April 19 we were in a moderate sea last night, and some people complained about the motion, which was not really very much, nothing fell down or broke, but you could tell we were moving. The stabilizer fins were out so we only rolled a few degrees. We arrived in Ploce about 8 a.m. but there were some delays, and we didn’t get into the tender until 9:30 and then had about a 50 minute ride in the lifeboat from our anchorage into the port. The boat handling wasn’t really very good, the Philippino boat crew had not much boat handling experience in my opinion. We had a 2 hour walking tour of the port, which had many Roman ruins, including the stadium which was in pretty good shape. Most of the stores were closed because it was Sunday, so after the tour we took the tender back to the ship and started packing up for our disembarkation tomorrow morning in Venice. Ines saw the ship’s doctor and is trying to arrange an MRI for her knee and using our trip insurance for it when we get to Venice. We will see what happens.
Monday, April 20 Arrival in Venice. I awoke very early, around 4 and saw our entrance into Venice from our balcony door. As always it was beautiful, even at night passing the Lido and the Grand Canal heading for the cruise terminal on the Western end of the island. It was too bad that this arrival was not scheduled for daylight hours. We got up at 7 because they had to make the room available to the next passengers who were arriving at noon and we had to vacate by 8 a.m. It’s a hard life for the crew of cruise ships. We had our two big suitcases sent down last night to unload on arrival, so we only had our two carry-on bags to take with us when we left the room and ate breakfast in the cafeteria. Disembarkation was a breeze, they told us we could leave at any time so after breakfast we left the ship, picked up our bags in the terminal, and got a taxi to Plaza de Roma, the closest cars can get to the city.
Our hotel is near the railroad station, but getting there was not easy. Rolling luggage is not really useful in Venice because of the many bridges, all have many steps to climb and descend. We finally gave up and got a porter to take them on a cart designed to handle the bridges. It cost us 20 euros but it was worth it. Just one bridge wore us out. The hotel Grand Canal is beautiful but expensive, the room was not ready on arrival but they took our luggage into storage and told us we could come back in an hour. It seems that there are many African immigrants, all selling the same thing, selfie sticks. We walked to Rialto bridge, where we bought two day passes on the vaporetti taxi boats, a good investment. We went to Saint Mark’s square where we had a couple of capuccinos and some biscotti in front of an orchestra and again it was expensive (40 euros with the cover charge) but really a pleasant way to spend an hour. We took the vaporetti back to the train station and walked back to our hotel, where our room was ready, a beautiful corner room overlooking the canal and railroad station across the canal.
In the afternoon we took the train to Mestre, the city on the mainland where Ines wanted to visit the hospital d’ella Angeli, and ask about her knee pain. We got off at the wrong stop and had to take a taxi, but we got to the hospital and after a 90 minute wait she was seen by an orthopedic doctor who could not do an MRI scan but she was satisfied. The charge for this visit was only 25 euros, but the machine that collects the fee could not take our American credit cards. We will have to go to another place here in Venice to pay. We took the train back to Venice and went out to dinner at a nice restaurant in the area. After dinner we took a series of vaporetti that after a few changes of boats got us to Saint Marks square via the East end of the island and even the Lido. The square which was packed with tourists, mostly Americans taking advantage of the strong dollar-euro exchange, was after dark not very crowded. We walked around awhile and took another boat back to the hotel. Read Less