Below is a day by day of our recent GOLDEN PRINCESS TRIP ROUND THE WESTERN MED.
I have also included my answer to a question, comparing princess to another cruise line (in this case Royal Caribbean) i posted on another chat board.
Hope this is helpful to other cruisers. Carole Davis
Day 1, Stanstead to Treviso and Venice
Our flight was at 6:25am, so we had to get up at 2am to get to Stanstead for 4:30am. We had the car booked in at the car park so got to them, and they then took us to the terminal, so far so good. The check in lines were quite long, and Ryan Air did not open them until 6:45. However, the boarding started on time, and we got seats about 5 rows from the front. Then we sat there, and sat there. Then the Capt. told us all that the luggage carousel had broken down and we were waiting for it to be fixed so the remaining luggage could be delivered. In the meantime we had missed the take off slot, so would not be getting another for 50 min. I just hoped the buses that were supposed to take us to Venice from Treviso would still be there. Finally we took off, and the remainder of the flight was without incident.
We got to Treviso, (about 30 miles north of Venice) and collected our luggage. The terminal building was small and had a bureau de change, car hire offices, and a ticket office in the foyer. I left hubby with the luggage while I went to find out where the buses were. Found 2 of them and established that we had to buy tickets at the terminal office. So I queued for those. Finally got loaded up on to the bus, hubby had to stand as they were full, the buses A/C was also broken, and the temp was around 95°... so needless to say this was not the most comfortable trip we had ever taken, I think they poured us off in Venice...
So, there we were in the Piazzale Roma, the center for buses and vaporettos (the water buses) of Venice. The place was crawling with folks all dragging luggage, or staring at maps or queuing for tickets. I went to get the Venice Blue Ticket I had ordered on line. The ticket official looked at me as if I had 2 heads when I gave her the email reservation sheet. After about 15 min it was established that I still had to pay for the ticket, sort of useless ordering it on line really.
Anyway, we had been told that there was a free shuttle to the harbor terminal from the bus station, but could we find it? We stood in the blazing heat for a while in the hope that it would drive past us. Husband went to ask at an info booth, and they said we could walk from that location in about 10 min. So, off we went, dragging a large suite case and a carry on each. We discovered that the '10 min' walk included crossing the railway tracks by a metal bridge. The heat was stifling, and the cases got heavier and heavier. We got to the ship dock, only to be told that we could drop off our luggage there, but we would have to go to the terminal to check in. Off we slogged around the harbor to the other side. The terminal building was beside the docking berth for the Costa Ship, and was signed for their embarkation. We hunted around for Princess signs and were told to follow the Costa signs to the upper floor at the end.
We had requested 'express check in' and completed all the paperwork before leaving. Seems of the 200 people there at that time 198 of them had also requested this option, and as there were about 12 check in desks you can imagine that we found ourselves queuing yet again. Finally we had our keys, and made our way to the ship.
The room was ok, not fabulous but clean (despite the rather nasty stain on the carpet), with enough space for us. The 'walk-in' closet was right outside the bathroom door, which meant if one of us was selecting clothes, the other could not come out of the bathroom until they had moved. The bed was two singles pushed together. There were plenty of mirrors to increase the light and make the space look bigger. The balcony was large with 2 reclining chairs, 2 regular chairs, a table and foot stool. The deck was covered in hard plastic tiles with a rather uncomfortable non-slip surface which I ended up using the interior mat to cover in front of my chair when I sat out. However, the ships balconies were terraced, which meant that half of the balcony area was exposed to the floors above, and the same to those below. Our room was about 5 from the very front of the ship, so we were also overlooked by the bridge facilities which stick out from the side of the ship, somewhat like a hammer head shark. We showered ( the shower was small but the head was powerful and easy to operate) changed and refilled our water bottles.
We headed back to Venice and found our first vaporetto down the Grand Canal to the Rialto bridge. Then changed to the one that took us to Murano the glass making center. We ended up in the second studio from the harbor. I found a glass bowl to replace one that had been broken in one of the moves, some glass beads for Mum, 2 Miafiori medallions for hubbie's Mum and Grandmother. So we did very well there! We took the vaporetto around the island of Venice to St Marcs Sq. Where we joined the throngs looking at the amazing architecture. It wasn't too long before we decided to revisit the square early in the morning of the next day, to see it without all the people.
We then walked to the super market, so we could stock up on wine. We also needed washing tablets for the laundry on board, (but I forgot them this trip and had to return the next day). So it was about 6pm and we were completely exhausted by now. We made our way back to the ship via the vaporetto picked up again at the Rialto bridge. The Venice Blue Card had paid for itself already.
Back on board we decided to eat in the southwestern style Desert Rose, one of the cover charge restaurants ($8 each). As we were anytime dining we could eat when it suited us, very convenient, especially with the port intensive trip we were on. The restaurant only had 4 other people in it, so where did they sit us...? yes you guessed it, right beside them. There was a duo singing - they had both kinds, Country and Western...so loud that I could not hear what hubby was saying on the other side of the table. The food was tasty, but the portions were small, later in the cruise we realized we could have asked for 2 of the things we liked.
We strolled around the Promenade deck, then went back to the room. Thus ended the first full day.
Day 2 - Venice
This may sound crazy, but we had breakfast delivered at 5:45am so we could eat it on the balcony without rushing, then be at St Marcs Sq. by 7am or as close as. What they don't tell you is that you can order what you want for breakfast, not just what is on the door card. So we had scrambled eggs and omelets, toast, croissant and orange juice. A good set up for the day.
We took the vaporetto to St. Marcs Sq. and I took lots of pictures - in the process discovering that the camera has a video capture facility with sound! Magic! So I did video of the sq. and the pigeons, the gondolas, the Bridge of Sighs with a boat going under, etc. etc. took the vaporetto across the Grand Canal to the Academia gallery. It is just as well we got there early (8:15am) as there was no air conditioning, or electric lights - everything had to be viewed by natural light. Many Tintoretto's, Giotto's, Bellini's, and of course the Titan's. We spent 3 hours there then spent an hour or so in the cafe in the sq. outside watching the world go by - mainly sweating across the Academia Bridge over the Canal, we got video of a sparrow eating peanuts out of my hand.
We crossed back over the canal then made our way through the streets to the supermarket again (for washing tablets, remember?) On the way we stopped in a masque shop and picked up a black and gold cat masque. We then proceeded to get HOPLESSLY lost. In and out of the narrow streets. The trouble is you have to plan your route to the bridges - and not every street has a bridge. We did go through this one square 3 times, basically we took every street out of it there was. Eventually we found our way to the street with the supermarket and got the washing tabs - next time I think I'll just pack enough for about 4 washes. Unfortunately the time we spent looking was the time we could have had in a restaurant. So we never did end up trying Venetian cuisine. Instead we headed back to the ship, a/c and showers.
We did laundry and ironing (all my clothes had become crushed in the getting there, so this was the best opportunity to fix that. Also as there was no ironing board in the room, I figured this was a good idea).
We then had to do the safety drill. This had to be the biggest waste of time. They herded us into the theater at the front of the ship, then told us where we would have to go if there was an honest to god 'abandon ship' emergency going on. Otherwise we would just stay in the theater. There was no roll call. Instead they sent people to check the rooms - yeah right, I can see that happening as the ship slides beneath the waves...
We then changed and went to eat in the Donatello restaurant. There are 2 'anytime' eating restaurants - Donatello and Bellini. It seemed that folks did not realize that they had the same menu. Everyone was crowding to get into the Bellini, upstairs and completely ignoring the Donatello beneath it. We decided to check both out, and of course picked the one with no q's.
So, we had 6 waiters hovering around us practicing their English and whipping the plates away as the last mouthful was being consumed. Then a large party of Orientals sat in the same area as our table, and all the chatting stopped. Quite nice not to be asked a question every time you put something in your mouth!
We then walked the Prom deck again and then returned to our balcony to watch the ship leave Venice. As usual, our balcony was on the wrong side. ( Must remember for future to book a right side cabin) But never the less we had a very good view of Guiddecca Island as we left. We polished off a bottle of Asti while we took pics, and wondered why they had Andrea Botchelli singing his greatest 'musak' hits. Rather than Verdi, Puccini, Vivaldi, or any of the great opera arias, which would have been SO much more appropriate. (little did we know what was in store for Istanbul...)
We cleared the harbor and immediately noticed the wind pick up and the white caps on the waves. The weather was choppy the whole night, and I discovered that the ship 'sounded' as it rose and fell onto the water, so the booming echoing through the hull kept me awake most of the night. I was glad the next day was a day at sea.
So here we were all at sea at the end of day 2.
Day 3 - All at sea.
We slept in until 9am. Then had breakfast on the balcony before strolling through the casino to Sabatini's. ($15 cover charge each here). The slots are very tight on the ship, forget winning your trip expenses.
As we progressed, we could not help but notice all the ads for the art auctions that afternoon - and the next day. A very heavy sell. We were the only ones taking 'brunch' in Sabatini's, which we found out later only serves the one menu through out the cruise. The meal was nice, we did a bottle of Asti with it. Which the waiters seemed to find amusing. (So what if it is cheap!). We were there about 1 1/2 hours to do the full 5 courses. Then we changed into swim gear and decided to try out the Terrace pool, which was supposed to be for adults only.
Of course by this time it was 2pm, and the place was swarming. There were no loungers left, and a multitude of empty ones with towels left on them, despite the signs saying not to 'reserve' them. We sat on the wooden steps at the one side of the pool, which was about 6ft deep and about 18ft across. The Horizon Court buffet was near here and there was a pool bar. Both areas playing their own musak. So between the sound of hundreds of people talking, the two types of musak and the water churning from the props below, it was not a quiet place to be. Still we swore we would get a good spot the next day...
We returned to the room to change for the formal night, and meet with the folks I had been emailing prior to the trip. We were a little late but 3 other couples showed. Funny, about 30 people replied to the email Laura sent out. Amongst those that did not show were our neighbors on the left side of our room. I had received an email from them a week before saying they were in the cabin beside us, and hoping that we did not party too who knew... I had hoped they would come to the gathering so we could say hello and decide if we wanted to associate with them further. We had seen each other from our balconies, but they had not seemed too concerned with doing the 'over the garden fence thing', which suited us. So, as they did not show, we were glad we had not made contact.
We stayed with the group for a couple of hours then promenaded the atrium area looking at the other dressed up folks. Then we made our way to the Bellini restaurant for dinner, retiring to the room after that.
Day 4 - also at sea.
We rose at 6am, for breakfast, determined to secure a slab of real estate at the terrace pool. This we did, and found a small spot on the level over looking the pool just large enough for 4 loungers. We had a nice unobstructed view of the Greek Islands as we passed, in the shade. Basically we stayed there all day, reading, writing and eating. We had copious amounts of the fresh pineapple and cantaloupe, which were very good, then pizza and burgers form the other pool area snack bar. The Horizon Court buffet was patchy at best for the food. The pasta tended on the rubbery side, but that is the nature of buffet. There was no smoked salmon, or fresh shrimp on offer, but the pate was excellent as were the fresh bread rolls.
Around 4pm we decided to take a couple of platefuls of grub back to the room. Seems the people on the balcony below/right had thrown food overboard which had been blown back on to the surrounding balconies, including ours. Seems cruises are too accessible today, and the class of folk you have to live with are definitely below par. I am definitely not in favor of the semi-exposed balcony either, you feel as if you are being watched ALL the time. Our cabins, while being comfortable were 20 rooms from the lift, so you had to plan to leave the room, none of this 'popping back' to get stuff.
Well, day 4 ended quietly we had a bottle of wine and watched the water scud by. The sea was calmer than the previous night. We watched the info channel on Istanbul, then watched a movie, which can't have been too interesting as I forgot to say which one it was in the diary...
Day 5 - Istanbul Again we found ourselves on the wrong side of the ship to fully appreciate the Bospherus skyline. So contented ourselves with the thought that we would get to see it at sun set instead.
This was the only day of we took a ship organized tour. We got off in good time and sat on the a/c coach waiting for the rest of our party to get aboard. Things seemed relatively well organized, so we were optimistic that this was money well spent.
The first stop was the entrance to the Blue Mosque/Old City area. We stood like cattle in the shade of the obelisk for about 3/4 hour while the guide spoke about the 30 names for Istanbul, and the founding of the city. Seemed that the thick accent was not of a help, and the tour group was too large, there was a certain amount of elbowing going on as folks jostled to get close enough to hear what the hell he was saying. It was about 9am, but already the day was warming up.
From this area we walked to the Blue Mosque, to be shepherded into the inner courtyard while other tours were taken into the mosque itself. Here the guide talked about the use of the mosque (it is mainly used as a community center - not a church as such) I have to admit I found the information quite interesting and was surprised at how much of it came as a 'well I never know that'. He related that the black attire Muslim women wear is based on the costume of Greek nuns (blame it on the Greeks), and that the Koran does not instruct them to dress so, merely that the head and shoulders and knees should be covered. He also told us that there are no official priests, or that prayer has to be done in a specific place. The concept being that religion is between the individual and God, there does not have to be an intermediary. Nice idea on paper, shame the reality is so different. He also stated that Muslims have to believe in all the previous prophets, Moses, Jesus, etc. That was news to me. One wonders what they are fighting for on the West bank other than control of the power...
We then moved from the shade of the courtyard to the q for the mosque itself. That took about 30 min. During the wait they distributed plastic bags for you to put your shoes in. I had wondered how they were going to deal with all those pairs of shoes. The interior was quite gloomy, and at first seemed cooler than outside. However as the contents of the 10 coaches gradually filled the room it got rather clammy again. Still we got to see the inside of a mosque, which for many non-Muslims is the only time that will happen. I took pics. despite the darkness, just to say we was there.
Then we took a short ride to Agia Sophia, which was once a Byzantine church, but is now a museum. (Since we got back we have watched From Russia With Love, which features shots in this church, and around the Grand Bazaar - hasn't changed much) We shuffled through the twilight interior and listened to the guide tell us what we could be seeing if the restoration scaffolding was not there...
Then again we were loaded up for a very short trip up the hill to the street leading to the Bazaar. We had been told we could attend a carpet demonstration in the shop near where we stopped. I had visions of seeing the weaving, and dying process. Silly me. It was a carpet selling demonstration. I had intended to purchase a rug/wall hanging on this trip, so I inquired after a hanging I noticed during the 'demonstration'.
We were ushered up another flight of stairs to an upper show room, in other words separated from the herd. It is a little disconcerting. A bit like the process of buying a car - the guy on the forecourt gets you in and assesses your interest, then hands you off to the guy in the show room who establishes your needs and wants then shows you the thing you can't afford. Then you haggle and barter the extras and when you are ready to sign they hand you over to the finance guy who checks your credibility, draws up the documents, watches you sign, then passes you back to the inside showroom guy who gets your coat and shoves you out the door...
It was sort of like that. But I made them show us about 8" (height stacked on the floor) of carpets before I saw the one I liked. It's a Sumak wall hanging from the Mt. Ararat area. So we signed the papers, and they said they would pack it and have it ready when we returned from our trip to the Bazaar. I also asked if they would be able to tell the taxi driver where to take us in the harbor area to get us back to the ship, they agreed. So hubby and I set off into the seething masses of the Bazaar.
We never experienced any problems with pick pockets on any of our shore excursions. We think this was down to the routine we established of hubby walking a little behind me and I keeping the shoulder bag on the inside of us. This arrangement allowed me to dart about looking at stuff, and him keep tabs on me, it also, we thought put off any would be miscreants.
So, we started in the Gold section of the bazaar (it is divided by product - leather, clothes, gold, silver, souvenirs, food, spices). Then we walked through part of the clothes section on the outer walls of the building to the far corner. We had been given a map by a couple on the coach, who had two, so that was very helpful. Then we walked back and decided to have a spot of lunch. The guy outside the restaurant assured us they had a/c. So we walked in to the back and up the very steep stairs to the 2nd floor.
Yes they had a/c. One window unit, struggling to create even a breath of slightly cooler air in the room. The tables were 3 long trestles set side by side. The middle one, right under the a/c unit was filled with Turkish locals. We sat at the one on the left, and ordered what the waiter assured us was a mixed kebab. Which was true - what we didn't know yet was it was the most expensive thing on the menu, it did not feature the prices for food...we figured we could afford it.
Anyway there we sat. Then the waiter came back and assured us that it was cooler on the next floor. You think we would have learnt our lesson from the a/c assurances. So we upped and moved. To discover that the 3rd floor was where they stuck the tourists. And the a/c there consisted of open windows. Hey ho.
As a last minute thought I had packed a Chinese fold-up paper fan. That certainly paid for itself, over and over.
The food arrived, the pita bread was rather interesting, as it had tomato and herbs baked into the surface, very tasty. We ate and sat for about an hour just re-grouping.
Then we set off into the bazaar again this time using another of the many entrances. I had noted the hanging lanterns, but decided that we could shop or those in Kusadasi. We made our way back to the carpet shop and picked up our wall hanging. As they had agreed, they had packed the rug. Then they got a taxi from the rank outside the shop and told him where we needed to go. Then began the taxi ride of a lifetime!
The Turks don't drive on one side or the other, but where there is a space big enough to fit the car into. I spent much of the trip with my eyes closed - and I have a fairly high tolerance for this sort of thing. The last part of the journey was through a very narrow street, filled with folks crossing and vehicles parked unloading. As with the rest of the trip it was taken at about 70mph, and with it seemed, a complete lack of regard for normal road rules. Still, we did notice that the cars were not trashed as you would expect with this sort of driving. It seems that if everyone is following the same 'rule book' accidents are avoided. When we had got in, the driver had asked for 10Euros, I said 5, and we settled on 7Euros. It seems that haggling for EVERYTHING is the norm.
So we got back to the ship in one piece. We stopped at one of the multitude of bars and ordered a large Sprite with the soft drinks voucher. This was an item that was also paying for itself quite quickly. We then took a glass back to the room and showered and changed. We then watched the huge city of Istanbul slide buy as we departed. Apparently there are 15 MILLION people there...and they all commute from the Asia side to the European side every day. What a nightmare.
The ship wide tannoy had chosen to play Enya, as the 'musical tribute', as we progressed. I wondered whose bright idea that was...as we consumed a bottle of wine and decided to give dinner a miss. We retired, and fell asleep watching the Athens info video.
Day 6 - Kusadasi NB pronounced 'Kushadasi'.
The ship was not due to arrive in port until 12pm, so we had a 9am breakfast on the balcony, and hung out in the room, then the Atrium bar until we decided that the herds had left for Ephasus. I had visited Kusadasi back in 1987, and had visited Ephasus then. There is absolutely no shade there, and all the ruins are white marble, so it is not pleasant in the heat. I decided that shopping in town would be nicer. Earl did his usual 'sure', so we strolled along the harbor into town.
The Camel/Caravan Seri (Seri means palace) was just there, so we went in to the courtyard that I remembered was rather nice. The building is now a hotel and the courtyard had the various stages of making a carpet being demonstrated, from the unwinding of the silk cocoons to dying to the actual weaving of the carpets. THIS was more the sort of thing I had imagined when we heard about the 'carpet demonstration' in Istanbul. So that was an interesting interlude.
Kusadasi has quadrupled since '87, and the bazaar area now has tarps over the streets, and many of the smaller side streets are blocked off. The stalls on both sides have goods spilling over onto the street, so we watched with interest as 2 cars attempted to pass each other in this environment.
We had definite things in mind as we started to shop. 2 gold chains and 2 hanging glass lanterns and a couple of the souvenir machine made rugs. We ran the jewelry shop gauntlet and ended up in a store where the employees had decided NOT to hassle the passing tourists. As an added bonus the store had REAL a/c. We haggled for about 30 min for chains finally settling on figures we were all happy with.
Then we wondered further into town and I saw a lantern I liked the look of. Unfortunately the shop owner had to go to another store to be able to get me 2 of them so we hung about in the shop for about 15 min.
Finally stopped at a shabby cafe for beers. The waiter gave us a small plate of kebab meat, hubby wasn't interested and only had a tiny piece, I snacked as we drank. We must have sat there about an hour. We watched the goings on of the street that ran past the alley where we sat, and the occupants of the other tables, and the construction that was going on in the buildings to the side.
We then strolled back to the ship in plenty of time to get ready and have dinner in Donatello's. The Maitre'd was reluctant to have us sit by the window as all the tables were for 4 or more. However as we were the ONLY people sitting down to eat at that point he relented. So we got to watching the sweaty hordes returning from their trips to Ephasus and the Virgin Mary's house, and finally the ship slipping her moorings in the a/c comfort of the dinning room.
We then went to Sabatini's to book dinner for the 7th (the anniversary), and a foot massage for the afternoon of the same day. The wind had picked up again, but despite the ship's 'sounding' I managed to sleep through it.
So ended our brief sojourn into Asia.
Day 7 - Athens
We booked breakfast for 5:30am. Hubby complained of an upset tum, I wondered if this was due to the apple tea we had while we were haggling for the gold chains in Kusadasi. He said it wasn't bad enough to halt the days events.
We were on deck by 7am, and as the ship had docked in Piraeus while we awaited breakfast, we expected to be getting off fairly quickly. Silly us. The staff down by the gang plank did not know when disembarkation would happen, or which plank would be open first. So we hovered on deck watching the dock for signs of movement. At 7:45, we saw folks getting off, there was no announcement, so we made our way down and asked for directions to the metro. We then used the map sent to us by the Greek tourism board. The walk took us around the harbor area for about a mile. Finally we found the metro building, bought tickets to 'Akropoli', for .70c each. A bargain.
The journey should have been 6 stops. The train was full of folks who had got off the ferries in Piraeus from the Greek Islands, so lots of rucksacks and suitcases. At the second stop, everyone got off. We were herded off too, and shepherded over the bridge out of the metro station on to a bus. Talk about packed in. I got talking to a chap from Bolton who said the bus would stop in Omonia Square in the center of the city, not too far from the Acropolis, guess he knew enough Greek to know what the announcement we had heard on the train had been about.
So we get off in Omonia Square, fortunately we could see the Acropolis at the end of the long street ahead of us. We set off, thankful that it was still early in the am and not too hot yet. The station we would have come out at had, the metro been functioning, was at the end of the street we walked. So I oriented us on the map and we set off up the rear of the Acropolis hill. This was fortunate as it was in the shade.
This side of the hill also overlooked the Agora ruins so I got a shot of those too. Bonus.
We reached the ticket area and found about 3 coach parties already milling about, but we were able to go straight in to the Parthenon complex. Although we had to do the slow shuffle through the crowds that bottlenecked in the gate way to the Parthenon.
Then we were out in the open and in the shadow of the most famous classical building in the world. It was just as memorable as I remembered from my school cruise in 1977. I had hubby take a shot of me by the same boulder I had posed by back then. We were very glad we had come up early, it was getting warm, and we could see how busy it was going to get. We wondered about listening to the guides, and taking pics for about an hour before deciding to head down into the Plaka (Old Town/Market area).
We stopped for water (3Euros a bottle! What a rip off!) then set off down the back path again (it was still in the shade). The path would around the Acropolis and got narrower and narrower, until it was blocked by a fence. I realized that the map I was looking at showed paths coming down from the hill that had been drawn to look much wider and more accessible than they were in reality. We found what looked like a path into some ones garden...we took it and surprisingly, it cam out on a main road.
We made our way into the Plaka. The shops were still opening, and we realized that if we wanted to see the changing of the guard at 11am, we would have to set of at that time (10:30). We found a gate into the city park and I navigated us through that, rather than walking along the busy main road, which looked rather boring. We got to the area where we needed an exit and I saw a small gate standing open. We headed for it through the bushes, to be stopped by a couple of cops, who pointed us further up the path. So we thrashed our way back to the path and finally found the main gate - just as the palace guards were marching by. Very fortuitous. So we followed the crowd following the band around into Syntagma Square where there were about 10 coaches lined up so there had to be a 1000 folks there.
Hubby went as far forward in the crowd as he could and took pics. I had to delete a couple of shots from the docking in Piraeus and Kusadasi so we could take shots of this event. Time to get the data transferred to disc.
The whole event took about 30 min. We were glad we had taken time to visit it. It is a very strange affair. The costumes seem to hark back to classical tunics, but much more ornate, can't imagine the soldiers fighting in them. The cloggs had pom-poms on them...it's anyone's guess what their symbolism is. I cannot recall seeing any classical images that show anything like them, but that doesn't mean much.
We then crossed over the busy road outside the Parliament building back into the Plaka. I was trying to remember any of these areas from the trip I was on so long ago. I recalled the Parliament building from the coach trip they gave us, but I could not recall where they let us roam about. Of course, that large crowd of people were now heading in the same direction, we broke away from the herd, searching for a lunch place. We checked out a couple of places, many of them packed with tourists, their screaming kids and bags of souvenirs. We selected a quiet cafe on the Metropoli Square, with half a dozen locals sitting under the umbrellas. Hubby was still feeling a bit rough so declined food, opting for beer. I said he should be drinking water...I had the 'Russian' salad (veggies in mayo) the olives were VERY tasty.
We sat for about an hour or so, then set off to find transport back to Piraeus We strolled back to Monistariki, the metro station we had originally intended to arrive at. The square outside the station was holding a rather odd event. Greek guys dressed as North American Indians miming to music played over their amp system...The Greek N. American Indian convention?? We walked back up the street Atheneas where we saw the buses lined up. However we were unable to read the destinations, and rather than get on a bus with no idea where it would take us, we opted to try to get a taxi.
Back in Omonia Sq. we tried to get a taxi to stop. That took about 15 min. Finally one stopped and I asked "Piraeus?" his reply? "No". It then occurred to me that we may have difficulty getting back, as the taxi drivers would not be able to get a return trip to the city very easily. Hmmm.
We decided to buy a metro ticket (we needed that to travel the bus) and try again to sort out which one would take us to Piraeus We stood with others and asked, but it seemed that the answer was that the bus would take us to Piraeus, 'eventually', I did not feel comfortable with this. We set off again to Monistariki Sq. where there were tourists gathered. As we entered the sq. we saw a taxi draw up. I asked him and he said "Yes, 25 Euros", at that point he could have said 100 Euros and we still would have jumped in!
His a/c even worked...we gave him the unvalidated metro tickets, I figured he was lucky to get a tip, the taxi ride should only have cost us about 10 Euros, so he made money on us.
We hit the bar on the way back to the room. It is seeming that every time we ask for soda, there is a problem with the soda fountain, no CO2, no power, broken button/valve etc. I am beginning to think they are realizing that the drinks voucher is loosing them money (they charge $1.50 per soda). We then paid a visit to the digital photo studio to have the digital pics put on disc. They would be ready the next day after 6, but cost us $24 per stick (128mg, we had 2), I requested that both be put onto one CD rather than the 2 they usually did (a CD is 600mg).
We then changed and made our way to the Terrace pool. We found a couple of loungers and settled down to read and write, then watch the ship leave Piraeus, a very busy harbor. We could still see the Acropolis in the distance. We decided to have dinner in the room this evening. We ordered from the Donatello room menu, at 7:15. Then called to check at 8:30. To be told it would be another 15 min...guess someone dropped the order.
It eventually arrived, except for one starter (we had ordered 3 as I couldn't decide which to have - just as well as I was not able to eat everything that did make it, anyway). We ended the evening star gazing as the sky was very clear.
Day 8 - At sea
I had been trying without any luck to get the cell phone to work, as I wanted to confirm the tours we had organized for Naples. Tried all sorts but it just would not receive anything. Even the room phone would not work. We called in at the pursers desk on our way to the Horizon Court for breakfast with the herd.
I also asked about paying the room bill with one of the convenience checks I had received from the credit card just before we left - nice low interest rate. They said they would have to take a copy and fax it to head office to have it cleared, ahead of time. I'm glad I thought to do this early rather than the day we needed it.
The Purser gave us the ship to shore number we should have been using and I was then able to confirm the tours start time and that they would collect us from the ship. (A 2 min call that cost $9.00). We decided to watch movies and lay about the cabin that day.
We were going to go to the Horizon Court for dinner too - it is not the best food but it is the most convenient way to get food. We were waiting at the lifts on our floor and realized that folks were all dressed up - could this be the 2nd formal night?? We went back to the room to check the Princess Patter, the ship's rag that tells you all the art auction times...sure enough it was so. I trotted up to the laundry to iron the dress. I was intending to alter the lining somewhat as it had split. So I took Earl's Swiss Army knife and cut the lining to knee level. The outer layer of material was now rather thin but as the dress came with a short jacket with semi-transparent sleeves, I figured I could get away with it.
We then sat in the Promenade bar watching the folks go by, then decided to q for dinner. They gave us a beeper, but it beeped continuously, so hubby took it back and we got another. After about 30 min we were seated. This was the only time we had to wait for food. It was our own fault as we left it rather late. The place was packed, sounded like a school canteen and the service was quick almost to the point of being perfunctory...we retired as soon as we were through, hubby was still feeling a bit off color.
Day 9 - Naples
Day dawned with himself not looking too good at all, he was running a fever. So we went down to the Med center. I was glad our tour was not due to set off until 10:30.
They took his temperature which was a bit high then the Doc saw him and recommended an anti-inflammatory injection. This was administered by a nurse from Kings Lynne - about 30 miles from here - of all places. He was sat in reception for 15 min to make sure there were no adverse reactions, his temperature went up t 104°, and he got the shakes, but they considered this a normal sort of thing. We went back to the cabin and he took paracetamol and laid down. This hour of 'attention', cost $140.00, charged to the room account.
At 10:00 the sainted hubby decided he felt well enough to tackle the tours. So we got our kit together to meet the guide. We walked though the terminal building keeping our eyes peeled for someone with a sign with our name on it. Then we stood at the entrance in a similar state of readiness, for about 15 min...I decide dot go back into the terminal in case we had missed them. I had just negotiated the large flight of stairs by the entrance when hubby appeared behind me saying the guide had just arrived.
The guide walked us to the mini bus. On the way explained the sights that could be seen from the area we walked across, the monastery on the hill, the palace in front of it and the vineyards to the side. The mini bus had about10 people already in it, we were the last, so I sat up front with the guide hubby sitting behind me.
We drove for about 40 min to get to Pompeii through the outskirts of Naples. All I remembered from my first visit here was the coach trip from the airport to the harbor, at night, and what a dirty city Naples was...it has not changed in 26 years. At the area of Pompeii we were off loaded at a hotel cafe to wait for another bus load to meet us. It was explained that our guide would see us through Pompeii then hubby and I would be handed off to another guide for our trip to Vesuvius. We were the only ones on that part of the trip.
Finally we were all assembled and we obediently followed our guide around the sights of Pompeii - we clung to the shade, again like cattle. Fortunately the guide was relatively easy to understand, and she took us at a fair clip around the site. Our party had 2 'characters', one we dubbed 'Waldorf Salad', after the Fawlty Towers episode with the pushy American. The other 'Look at me", for obvious reasons...So they were the comedic relief for us as we moved around. Pompeii is a more substantial ruin that Ephesus. There are fresco's, and 2 story buildings to walk between.
It really is not a hard thing to imagine the streets alive with Romans going about the daily business, carts and chariots rumbling down the streets filled with sound and smell. I wondered if they had had the same problem with the ash blowing in their eyes as we were having.
It was very warm, as were all the ports we visited. Neither of us had ever sweat as much for so long, dehydration was always an issue, so I was loaded down with water bottles most of the time. The heat did make the tours and visiting we did a matter of determination. It would have been all too easy to just stay in the cabin in the a/c, and then regret it as soon as the ship left port. We did enjoy the port visits, but would recommend not going in August (we should have thought of that when we set the wedding date...!)
Anyway, back to the tale. Finally we were lead back to the hotel cafe. The rest of our party were shepherded off to some other venue. Hubby and I were given a whole Margarita Pizza each. Needless to say he pecked a small amount of his. I ate the outer couple of inches, the inner was a little underdone for my liking. We drank plenty of water, then took up with our new guide, but the same driver, to go to Vesuvius.
Don't ask me what I expected this to consist of...bus drives us up to the crater, we get out, guide talks about volcano, we take pics buy souvenirs and leave...the reality was somewhat different.
The bus wound it's way up a road somewhat like that leading to the top of Mt. Lemon in Tucson, switch back galore. Hubby was wishing we were on the motor bike, I thought about all that black metal baking under the 100° sun... Then we got to the car park. The guide pointed to the top, saying we would walk the remaining distance, 800m. That's the vertical measurement. Unfortunately you achieve this distance by a zigzagging path made from volcanic ash, which strangely enough shared the same optically irritating habits as the stuff in Pompeii. I wondered if hubby would manage this.
At the start of the path they give you a walking stick. We did not go too far before we realized that this was a VERY useful tool. Off we trudged. We rounded the first bend and half way to the second I stopped to ask about the lava flow we could see in the valley. Actually I was about to have a coronary, but was damned if I was going to let the guide know that, or all the old fogies that were blithely tripping up the hill ahead of us! It seemed this was a good place for hubby to take a breather too. We set off again. This time we found a good pace for us all, and did not need to stop until the entrance booth.
Very smart that, make you walk half the distance THEN charge you to get in! Folks are not as inclined to say 'forget it' if they have already done half the work! We paused for water and to admire the view, then set off again. Paused again for more water at the lip of the crater. Which was when the guide decided to tell us that the tour included walking about 2/3 way round the crater rim...we girded our loins and gritted our teeth (not to hard to do with all that ash in the air). The path had no rail on the down slope side, and I could tell hubby was holding his breath as we walked single file past people coming in the other direction. Pompeii was pointed out, as was Capri and the far side of the Bay of Naples. Nothing was very clear as there was a lot of haze around. But we were oh so thankful for that breeze. I do not think either of us would have made the trip otherwise.
The guide was clock watching for us, and we turned and headed back I took pics of the haze and the crater walls, which sort of look like textured back drops, I was not able to get far enough away to really show the size of the crater. Oh well. Needless to say the trip down hill was much easier than the one up. We stopped at all the watering holes. I think the pizza made me even thirstier than usual. I must have guzzled at least 4L of water that day. Finally we handed back the walking sticks (with a small tip), and gratefully sagged into the seats of the a/c bus. The drive back took about 40 min again. They delivered us back to the ship at about 4:50. Well timed.
We showered and decided to watch the port recede from the buffet dinning room. Our balcony was so hot the plastic tiles on the floor burnt my feet, so we retired and watched 'Simone'.
Day 10 - Livorno
The ships info rag stated that the shuttles into town would not start to leave the docks until 9am. Florence was a 2 hour drive or train journey from Livorno, then you had to get from town back to the ship. They also charged $4 each to take the shuttle. It occurred again that as the ship had the berth furthest away, not only was this cheaper, but they could also make more money (2600 people at $4 each, given that the coach co. would probably want $2 each, that is still $5200 for doing nothing). We noticed with envy the Crystal Serenity berthed right in the city center, and wondered to ourselves if their passengers would have been charged for a shuttle, had they needed it...
The up shot of all this being that we decided that Florence would be too risky to attempt. After the trouble we had getting to and from Athens - and that was only 10miles from Piraeus - we did not want to end up stranded in Florence. So we opted on Piza as the more comfortable option.
We paid our $8 and got into town. As we left the coach I asked the ship rep (a good idea that, having a rep to answer questions as people leave the bus) how to ask for our ships berth on the return, she wrote it down in the back of my trusty notebook/diary. Thus armed we walked around the corner to the newsagents and purchased a map. Then we stood around waiting for taxis to appear.
The first one wanted 110 Euros to go to Piza. It's about a 30 min drive. We said no. Then we realized most of the taxis were going to Florence and wanted to take folks 'for the day' for 350 Euros! We even started looking at the bus stops to see where they went.
At this point we got talking to a couple from Ireland, who also wanted to go to Piza. We decided to share a taxi (what a concept). We got one to agree to 50Euros for 4 of us and figured 25 per couple was good enough. The driver seemed to think there was an emergency so we set off at breakneck speed. Past camp Derby (where hubby's Dad had been stationed) and on into Piza. We said thanks to the couple and headed into the Field of Miracles complex where the tower was situated.
It is an amazing sight. TV does not do that angle justice. But we were not inclined to haul our sweaty carcasses to the top, thank you.
The right side of the road around the square is thick with souvenir stalls. The other side is laid to grass - do not: sit, lay, walk the dog or yourself on it. Needless to say there were those ignoring this as there were those ignoring the dress codes for the churches. We strolled to the end where the tower is located, took pics. Then realized that if we wanted to go into the church we would have to buy tickets from the office on the other side of the square. We q'd for about 20 min in stifling heat. I have never had sweat running down my arms before - not even when I exercise. Then we shuffled through the doors to the church. There were many fresco's, but poorly lit and with no descriptions near - guess we should have bought the guide book...
We cracked open the map in the shade of the church and decided to head off into the old town for lunch. We walked down to the river, then cut back into town. Many old buildings and elegant squares. We found a piazza with a cafe in the shade and had beer and expresso. I was not keen on their 'sandwiches only' menu, and the fact that they had pictures of the food - too touristy.
We wandered further back towards the Tower and found a restaurant that was relatively quiet. Well, apart from the couple with the baby who got thorough the door first, and who then decided that they just had to sit RIGHT next to us. So we got to witness them feeding a kid that wasn't interested at all in food (probably too hot). We realized about then that we had done our usual 'rent-a-crowd' thing, and the place had filled with folks with kids. There was only one other couple sans kids. They looked fed up too. BTW, I had spinach salad with parmigiano shavings, followed by gnocchi bolongnase, then we had glace's for dessert. We headed back to the tower complex, purchasing more wine on the way.
We hung about outside the main complex gate trying to catch the eye of a taxi, to no avail. So we decided to head for the train station and try there. So we walked this way and that way (amazing how two folks can read a map and come up with completely different rationales for the way they want to go...) Anyway, in the blistering heat tempers got frayed, so we finally settled for stony silence - it was too hot to argue. Hubby maintains that I got us lost, he extracted us. I figure if we had just gone the way I said in the first place we would not have had the extra walk... We got to the station to find that it was not the one we needed (Centrale) but the provincial station (San Rossario), so no taxis, no trains. We sat for 15 mins to take stock, and peel our pants from off our bums.
We decided to try at the tower gate again.
Fortunately, this time we found the taxi rank and flagged a guy down. I have to say here that this was the most comfortable taxi ride. It was the only one we did not feel we had been ripped off on. The a/c was going full blast, it was not a ride of death, and his meter was running - that was a first. We got back to the ship for 32 Euros, Earl gave him 40 and said keep the change, I would have given him a 5 tip, oh well.
We did our ritual stop for a soda or two at the atrium bar then watched a bit of a movie, then decided to go to the Terrace pool again. You know this is supposed to be an adult only area. No kids in the pool, and kids under supervision around the pool. As no one was enforcing this, of course no one took any notice. So guess where the woman with the 2 kids sits? Yup right in front of us. Guess we just look like we want to put up with other folks kids - yet again.
It was here, in Livorno harbor, a most unromantic setting, that we decided that we would not cruise again until we could afford the non-working class variety - Crystal, Costa, Cunard.
We decided to change and eat at the buffet again - seems convenience wins out yet again. We q'd with the swarming hoards, then took our food to the other side of the restaurant - we were the only ones who had thought to do this, thank goodness.
Then we strolled the upper decks and watched the ship going through the departure process. We had to wait for another cruise ship to leave first, but eventually we got our turn.
We checked out the jacuzzis and decided the best view of Monaco, the next day, from up top. I had this idea that it would be a very nice start to the Anniversary watching sunrise and the advent of Monte Carlo while sipping
champers, immersed in one of the jacuzzis.
With that planned out we retired for the day.
Day 12 - Monaco
So, our vaunted 10th Anniversary dawned.
We set the alarm for 6am, hubby grumbled a little at this. I had ordered breakfast for 8am giving us plenty of time to do the jacuzzi thing then get back and shower.
We got to the selected deck to find that the jacuzzi we wanted to use had a net over it with a sign saying they were doing 'maintenance'. I was a bit annoyed, so we moved to the lower deck. To discover that those too were undergoing 'maintenance'. It seems the ship was preparing for the next invasion before our own was out of the way. I asked about this when
I was having my foot massage, and was told this was due to "All the kids on the ship". Yummy.
We returned to await breakfast. We ate on the balcony as usual, but there were members of the crew on the bridge which as you recall overlooked the balcony. They were intent on the lifeboats that were shuttling folks to shore. We were glad we had decided not to go ashore. There were forest fires on the mountains behind Monaco, so not only was it hot, but acrid with smoke. BTW they charged $5 each to go ashore...talk about mercenary.
We watched a couple of movies then it was time for my foot massage. After that we changed to go sit at the Spa pool and put on a couple of loads of washing while we were there. Hubby took on the task of popping back to secure a dryer. The Spa pool had also been allocated an adult only usage after 3pm. Unfortunately, as with everywhere else on board, the kids were running wild, unattended by adults. We did note that during the Captains televised interview, that Princess had been taken over by Carnival, which itself was part of Disney. That explains the general atmosphere.
We sat at the Spa pool until 6pm, then changed for dinner at Sabatini's. This time at least we were not the only ones in there. We took a bottle of wine with us ($10 corkage fee). I asked for 2 of the caviar starters, well, two of the small lumps of cheese with the tiny scoop of caviar on, not two of the scoops of egg yolk, egg white and onion that went with it. Basically we had the same menu to choose from, as the first time we ate there. That was a little disappointing, you think they would have at least had a couple of changes of menu during the cruise. By the time we were done we did not feel up to the champagne we had in the room.
We watched them up anchor and sail away from Monaco.
Day 12 - Barcelona
The ship was not due into Barcelona until 12pm.
This enabled the organization to hold the last of the annoying art auctions that took up so much of the central bar/walk space.
We took the time to pack as much stuff as possible. Amazing how much more space the un ironed clothes take up. We decided to carry all the souvenirs and jewelry, everything else went into the suitcase.
We had received labels for the luggage showing our disembarkation color and number, and instruction on when we could expect to collect our luggage from the terminal the following day. We were not due to fly until the evening of that day (the 13th of the trip), so we were not too concerned. However, we did want to spend more time in the city, so we planned to get off as soon as was expedient).
So, we watched the docking process. Of course we were in the furthest berth yet again. And yet again they had laid on coaches at $4 each to get us into town. So we sucked it up and got to the Columbus Monument near the Ramblais.
I had done internet research prior, and asked the Princess rep where we were to find the tourist buses, as we got off the coach. Fortunately it was just around the corner across the road, and what was more, there was a bus loading up with folks as we got there. The buses are similar to those that run in London, Oxford and Cambridge. You pay a one time fee (in this case 15 Euros) and you can go round and round to your hearts content, getting off and on as you want. We wanted to go to the Guardi Cathedral first, so sat and listened in the heat to the guide. Yet again the weather was in the high 90's and as the seats on top were taken we sat inside and sweated in situ.
We had been given coupons as we got on the bus, one of which gave 2 Euros off the entry to the cathedral. So we made use of that. The Sangrada de Familia is a pretty amazing construction. No roof yet, but a pretty complete frontage. The column tops inside looked more like oil rig drill bits. We shuffled through the 'interior'. They had displays at intervals that showed what element of the construction was happening at that time. We visited the museum too, which had more explanatory displays and models of the finished article. Quite interesting, the site is worth the visit.
We took pics from outside the site, then jumped back on the bus. We intended to travel by train to Gerona, where we would fly back from. So I wanted to reckie the train station, and find out where the left luggage area was, what platform the train would be leaving from, and reconfirm the price. Eventually the bus brought us to the train station. In the process we saw the Olympic stadium, the botanic gardens, and some pretty good views of the city from the hills to the north.
The train station was a/c, that was something of a surprise. It was also very busy. Back packers, folks with luggage, and long lines of people q'ing for info and tickets. We wondered about and finally found the left luggage. We would need 4.50 Euros for each compartment. We would need two as our cases were too big to fit them in one. Then we hunted down the platform info, and stood scratching our heads in front of the automatic ticket machines. Finally we were satisfied that the area would not surprise us the following day, when we were burdened by luggage, so we got back on the bus, this time with the aim of going into the Barrio Gothica and food.
The buses are cheap and a good idea, but, they are not the quickest way to get about. 70min. later we got off in the Barrio area. I had a list of tapas bars and we headed for one of them. We eventually found it after about 20 min of hunting down narrow streets. We got in, ordered beer and inquired about tapas, to be told that they did not do those until 8pm. Damn. It was only 6:30 and we were hungry NOW. Shame the tapas bar list omitted this vital bit of information. So we crossed the road and said we would eat in the first one that we came to.
Which we did. It was a relatively small cafe/bar, we sat at the back at one of the 5 tables there. 4 or 5 folks sat at the bar, which had the food in chillers in front of the seats at the bar. We ordered in all 9 tapas, eating them as dinner, rather than as appetizers - we could not be bothered to hunt down a restaurant, we were just too hot and tired.
So we left, sated, and hailed a taxi. We had the printed sheet that described the berth of the ship and I showed it to the taxi driver. This did not prevent him from taking us to the wrong terminal, and having to charge us about 1/3 more than it should have by the time we got to the ship.
On board we discovered that to get a printout of the room bill, we had to go to the Pursers desk - I imagined huge lines - but as we were thinking ahead we got there before the herd arrived. We sat in the atrium bar and went through the bill. It was at this point that we found out that the tips for the room service and chamber service were automatically added to the bill every day - just as well we were not unhappy with the service. Wonder what evidence we would have to have brought forward to support a claim against paying the whole tip...
We returned to the room and consumed that bottle of champagne as we watched folks coming and going from the ship. We worked out that we were in the wrong business. Adding up the room service thus - $3.50 + $6.50 x 2 (2 people) x 10 cabins (approximate number serviced by each chamber person) x 13 days = $2600 per cruise! Good grief.
Day 13 - Barcelona, Gerona, Stanstead
We decided that 7am was a good time to get off. Enough things would be open in town by the time we got there. We collected our luggage from the terminal, then dragged it to the front of the taxi rank - which most inconveniently was located at the opposite end to the exit doors.
We started off up the road across the draw bridge that exited the terminal area, only to have to wait for 20 min as the bridge went up to let another Princess ship come in to berth. And yes you know the taxi meter was running... Eventually we got to the rail station, after negotiating the road works in town that our taxi driver seemed to be drawn to. A 10Euro trip cost us 19.80 Euros. Needless to say we did not tip him. Taxi drivers will be the first against the wall come the revolution!
At the train station we stowed the luggage then stopped for coffee. The underground station was right there, so we did not rush ourselves. Hubby was still a wee bit fragile, so it was a matter of knowing where all the loos were...The Purser on the ship had said that Ryan Air did a bus to Gerona. but her wasn't sure where it would leave from. I intended to call them. But their offices did not open until 9am. We talked about this option. It would be 10 Euros each, and we were not sure if the vehicle would have a/c. The train would cost 5.50 each and we figured it had a/c, if the station did. Also, we did not relish having to lug suitcases across the city, or, being at the mercy of another ^**&*!# taxi driver. There was his stomach to consider too - the train would definitely have a toilet. We decided to stay with out first plan.
We wanted to buy tickets for our train now, rather than later. We were not sure how to use the automatic machines, they were a bit more complex than the ones we had used for other things. So we q'd at the info to find out if this was possible - the q here was much smaller than those to the ticket booths. Finally we spoke to a woman who gave us a time table, and said we would not be able to buy tickets until about 30 min before the departure of the train. Oh well. We checked the platform info again, and this is when I noticed a sign saying that there was track maintenance going on between two of the stops on our route, which was slowing trains by between 30 - 45 min. We were glad we saw this, as it affected the time we turned up at the station - we decided to get the earlier train.
We went down into the subterranean transport system. Tickets were purchased from automatic machines, and the platform had screens advising when the next train would be along - 3 min I think was what was said when we got there. It was stiflingly hot, which surprised me, I had expected it to be a bit cooler. The paper fan got a beating this day. The train arrived as advertised, and we were on our way to the Barrio Gothic.
At the exit there was a large covered food market on the Ramblais, a wide tree lined avenue. We decided to have a look around it. All that fresh fish. Huge mounds of shrimp and sardines. The market was divided into food types, fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and sweets, dairy. I would have liked to have picked up some cheese, but it was not practical. We walked on into the the Barrio proper and wandered into the Plaza St. Joseph Oriol, where we found a nice cafe. We settled down to watch the setting up of an art market. We watched the family at the table next to us, and those at the tables around us. We must have sat there for nearly 2 hours, we really just wanted to do the Mediterranean sitting and watching thing. I did a bit more to the diary, and ran the pen dry. Earl popped into a 'Hallmark' shop and got me another.
The cafe was getting busy, so we decide to look further into the area. We wandered around the art market, seemed it was being put on by the local art club. Wed then came up around the cathedral from the rear. The streets were narrow to the point were four people had difficulty walking abreast. We saw street musicians, and a flamenco group performing. We finally got to the in front of the cathedral Read Less