Wonders Rare and Familiar Nov. 15-28th 2006 Our excellent adventure started with reading a brochure from Oceania Cruise Lines, about Mediterranean cruises available in 2006. One immediately drew my attention, as it included Alexandria Egypt, which is a gateway to Cairo and the pyramids. Since I was a child I wanted to travel , a song was Far Away Places...With strange sounding names... calling to me, and they did.. Over the last few years Mike & I have visited many of those places. But this one was all places I have always wanted to see and none we've been to. The cruise was rather pricey so we debated, and Mike finally said Go for it.. So I signed up for the cheapest room available, and was on a wait list for an inside room, cheaper still...more money for tours we felt. Then I decided after reading posts on a Chat room..dedicated to Oceania cruises, to do extra days stays before and after, so refused their Free Air and got a credit, did my own air arrangements and 2 days in Rome at the beginning, and 1 day in Istanbul at the end for pretty much our air credit. Thus began my adventure into being my own, and ultimately others, travel agent for the trip.
The Cruise Itinerary was : Rome (2 days before there), and Naples Italy (for trip to Pompeii), Tunisia , Malta, Crete (for the Minoan Palace of the Minotaur), Alexandria Egypt, Athens Greece, and Kusadasi, Turkey and ending in Istanbul Turkey, with an extra day there. Prices for the ships tours we very high I felt we must do tours there, so started my quest to get cheaper tours. It's amazing what you can do online! By feeling my way, and advice from the Chat room I decided to go with some ships tours, as some places port times were very short, and felt safer getting back in time to sail, and were not quite as pricey. In some ports though I found several alternatives , private guides, taxis etc. Using again chat room information, over the months arranged several tours, and advertised them on this Chat room, and soon had a whole group, going with us. Then someone else set up one when I'd finally said Enough, but asked if we'd like to be included. Finally we had some 16 of us sharing various tours, never more than 12 on any one. We made up a family in the long run. All done online through Cruise Critic message board for Oceania.
Our air flight left O'Hare airport, Chicago 11/12/06 on British Air. Seats are fairly far apart, food was decent and you have your own Entertainment Screen with multi choices for movies etc. in back of seat ahead. nice flight, next one from Heathrow to Rome..very tight seating etc. But short thankfully. Our time in Rome was NOT the best, with tours from Viator, Greenline Bus Co. Bored guides, and the Trolley we chose to ride breaking down and leaving us standing for 2 hrs after their pick-up time, then they went to lunch. All in all we only saw the Coliseum (Italian Sp.) close up, drove by many other spots . Our transfer to the ship was 1 ½ hrs. and got a better tour from the driver , who was a tour guide also. Our Cabin was as remembered from the cruises we took with the Renaissance Cruise line that ran these same small ships (680 passengers). BUT a big difference was that we had a BALCONY!!. How this came about was another great story. We received our downgrade to inside at some point, as we had requested, to save money(400$ each), but then received a free upgrade to an outside room. Well, our travel agent called 3 wks before sail date, said he had a great deal, for us..for 200$ PP. We could go into ,not only a balcony, but the Concierge Class, (special perks for them over reg. Balcony). WOW we said yes naturally. In the long run we paid less than our original amount for the porthole cabin! (We paid 1200 pp under the price normally paid) We were really spoiled by that balcony!! Room service coffee (with warm milk! Daily), viewing these wonderful ports (well some of them were just shipping ports) Sunrises and Sunsets off our own rooms deck, small as it was (app.10x5). Not room for a party but didn't need it for that.
Check-in went very smoothly, as by 2pm half the people were aboard, no lines, headed to our room to see that balcony!! Champagne was waiting for us, unpacking came next and watching further arrivals leave buses and climb aboard from our balcony with bubbly in hand (Meds. say NO so I sipped a little) next trip to set reservations for Specialty restaurants, 4 in all, plus they talked us into that evening for the Polo in addition. Food was excellent BUT too much...16oz of Prime Rib! Could have shared and had enough. First Port was Naples, which was our base for tour to Pompeii. (This was our ruin vacation) We left on the bus really early, as we only had 5-6 hrs. in Port. Pompeii was just a fascinating as I expected, but also much larger. We only explored less than 1/4 of the area already excavated, but then had to rush faster than I could walk on very uneven pavement which had been buried under 40-50' of ash for nearly 2,000 years, but was an old city before the Vesuvius eruption, streets deeply rutted. Some things are very well preserved. It was just as interesting as expected, the guide very knowledgeable, the trip back the ship interrupted by a stop at a Cameo shop which was rather interesting, but could have been done without! I was exhausted, as walking with cane was difficult there. In the afternoon we had a meeting of our touring group and had the additional pleasure of welcoming Carolyn, the Cruise Critic editor reviewing the Nautica. Dinner at the main dining room, again food was great, and meeting fellow passengers, new ones every evening, was wonderful. Some were to be friends for entire trip. The early departure was to make our trip to Tunisia possible, overnight. It was not a favorite port for most of us. I changed our tour to Tunis and the Bardo Museum, from Carthage ruins, as information stated all the best from there was now in the museum. The Mosaics were the best collection in the world, both wall and floor, from several eras, Roman occupation, Greek, Byzantine Christian, and then Moslem , all of whom did the mosaics. Best were the Roman. Took many photos here. The next stop were the Souks or bazaar, and carpet shop, which need be on the 3rd floor, with much huffing & puffing, I did the climb, as they said a panorama on rooftop was available above. Well, if you call ugly tops of other buildings a panorama, so be it! Carpets very expensive and we dont do carpets, but a short trip into the Souk was a foretaste of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Wild and persistent salesmen, and saying NO NO NO.
Next an At sea day. Sleep in, and started a new tradition, coffee and warm milk on the balcony from room service, wonderful prompt service with a smile, always! All the staff on the Nautica were happy and friendly. First dinner at the Toscana. Wonderful Italian food. Low key entertainment but just right for people who are tired from touring. Cruise Director Leslie Jon was simply the BEST, from first thing in the morning announcements, to Trivia, to Hosting the evening in the showroom! Our next stop was Valletta Malta, a very historic island, founded by Sulieman the Turk, during 500 yrs ago. The sail in to port is spectacular, as the whole port is surrounded by fortifications dating back to the Knights of St John (Crusaders). This island in WW2 was daily bombarded by Italy and Germany later, as it was a part of the British Commonwealth, and in a very strategic part of the Mediterranean. They never broke, though suffering great loss and hardship. It is a beautiful island,as is the Old Capitol, Medina, the Silent City, no cars except by residents allowed. It's built of warm yellow-red color, very Italian in style, not surprising as its off the coast of Sicily and Italy's Boot. We got lovely pictures there, then moved on to the Cliffs of Dingl, which had a great view and another Photo op. Had also visited a lovely church, the Mosta, with an unsupported Dome, 3rd largest in the world, inside was very beautiful.. We did all this with a couple from our tour group, by taxi. Back at the ship (Other couple toured a bit farther) we enjoyed a quiet time, a late lunch and the view of the wonderful buildings surrounding the port, from our balcony. After the trivia in afternoon, a nap! Old fogies us! Later attempts to picture take of our sail away in the dark ,with all the buildings lit ,only a couple are any good, (need anti shake on the camera!) But it was beautiful. Iraklion , Crete (Greece) was our next Port. Our day again was short, so we took ships tour to the Knossos Palace,a Minoan palace, supposed to be the palace of Minos, Legend has it to be the Minotaur's labyrinth, dated some 2,000 yrs. BC. Buried for much of the time since. Restoration has gone a long way, still ongoing. Some do NOT care for the fact that Wall Murals, Pillars, and other things were repainted to look like they did in the time of Minos, with VERY bright paint. Purists say it should have been left as it was, as was Pompeii, Ephesus, etc.. Regardless it is a HUGE place, with multi levels, and many small rooms on the lower level, the source of the Tales of the Labyrinth! The wall murals are very lovely and colorful, regardless of the controversy.Another early departure, so time again for Trivia, (got hooked)Leslie had HARD questions! Early in the day we were again underway on our way to Alexandria Egypt. The harbor there wasn't the nicest, all commercial ships and ferries, far out of town. This is the stop that we, and 8 other passengers had a private tour set up. As the ship arrived at 2pm ,and stayed overnight. The tours from the ship drove to and from Cairo/Giza in the one day, on the road for 5-6 hrs. Our tour took us off the ship ,and overnight in the Oasis Hotel in Giza. Our trip was hair-raising to say the least, with an armed security guard on the bus, and with us at all times during tours. We were escorted in by a police car with flashing blue lights, who PUSHED our way through rush hour traffic. (You ain't seen rush hour until you're in an urban area with 17 million people!!)We felt that we were attracting WAY too much attention, and counter productive to getting in safely. Traffic and drivers in themselves are scary when the white lines on the road are something to follow, not make lanes, and 4 lanes make 6 if you crowd. None the less we arrived to our Hotel in one piece! That night we attended the Light & Sound Show at the Pyramids, again pushing through traffic with escort. We enjoyed the show, tried to take Photos (no flash of course, which people didn'tt realize would just ruin their photos).Again only a few turned out. Bright and early the next morning, (before 7) we were on our way to the Pyramids again, as most people wished to climb up inside the Great Pyramid of Cheops, (I knew with my walking problems, I couldn't go) I instead choose the Solar Boat Museum, exhibiting a boat found in a pit next to the Great Pyramid, in pieces, and re-assembled over many years (No instructions included!)It was for the Pharaoh to sail to the afterworld. It is in amazing condition, made of Cedar from Lebanon. Pit was well sealed. After this we went to the Sphinx. The Guide ,a girl nicknamed Sue, said we had 20 min. or so to climb up to the plateau above, I decided not to go, but then changed my mind, she said she'd wait for me..the 20min. Was for those poky ones that already had made us late. So the security guy stayed with me all the time, as I was slow and alone sometimes, (too vulnerable) and helped me over the very rough ground, up steep inclines and steps. For some reason, I thought it was my cane that made people polite, but they made way for me all the time, and the persistent vendors faded away from me. A guard asked for my Ticket, which Mike had, as I hadn't been going up, and I tried to explain that, but then the guard backed off, said Go Go...into the mortuary temple, then a crowd came down a steep ramp, and my Guide/guard stepped in front of me, gave the crowd a LOOK, but they kept coming, so he casually pushed back his suit coat on the right side, and showed the AUTOMATIC PISTOL on his hip (with extra sized clip). All of the deference, and politeness was explained in that moment! He was handsome and my own personal bodyguard, must have made people think I was some celebrity (Yeah right!). Mike took some great photos up there and mine weren't too bad either. Then to the museum to see Tut's treasures. The items are fabulous but VERY poorly displayed, and dirty too, but wonderful to see even so. The 3 shrines that nested inside each other around the coffin, and that solid gold coffin and also the mask that is so famous. Wonderful. No photos allowed! Then we quickly (well in 3 hrs) returned to the ship (do you know cars sometimes drive without lights at night in Egypt??), to be welcomed back with the ships band playing (not just US but all that had traveled to Cairo, about 10 buses), cool towels, juice and officers shaking hands in welcome. Part of usual greetings, but also celebrating the date...Nautica's 1st birthday! Late supper,in the Tapas on the Terrace, the weather held enough that we could eat outside, and it became a favorite place to eat, waitstaff were same as other venues, seem to circulate around. Entertainment... then to bed.
Next day was an At Sea Day, time to wash clothes, rest up from Cairo. Also Thanksgiving, strange to be away. My DH also found out that his brother had died the day before, so we were subdued for that day and to a great extent the rest of the trip, but we couldn't go home, made no sense, and so he carried on. Let me say here, that I wouldn't have lasted from the first day without him, he was my strength, my Pull Up when needed, or Boost to get into the buses we always were boarding, the waiting for me to rest, when my legs wouldn't go further.. One of our tour group wrote to the Chat Room, He's an amazing man...A Hero. I know he's my hero! He had our older camera and took some great photos, half our yearly calendar are his pictures! He's gotten a great eye over the years.. Thanksgiving...well the ship tried ,but those european chefs don't do it well! Should have taken the advice from CC members.
Our next port is Athens. This was one of the tours I arranged for, a full day with taxi driver Paul, at much reduced rate over ships tours, we were 9 in all, as one wasn'tt feeling well. First we climbed the Acropolis. The time of year meant very few people were there, especially that early, 9am. I decided to try to climb the steps even though there was an elevator, Paul said they usually only take wheelchairs, so I climbed. DH got a photo of me coming over the top of the stairs,and it ain't a pretty sight, but I made it, then found a wet place to sit, yes rain in Athens, first and only bad weather on the trip..a light misty rain. Temperatures had been above normal most places, which meant comfortable,( in summer its unbearably hot there.) The Parthenon is in very poor repair, scaffolding and cranes everywhere, but the Majesty and beauty shows through. Same with the whole Acropolis. The Temple of the 7 Virgins, statues are replaced with copies. Pieces of pillars are stacked, waiting re-assembly. Sad really. The museum was interesting but small, only to do with the Acropolis. The sun arrived, so we got some extra good pictures with blue skies above. On to the remains of the Temple of Zeus, the largest ever built in the world, now only a few pillars remain, but they are huge. Then to the changing of the guard, done hourly, a very interesting routine. Guards wear those short kilts over white leggings, since it wasn'tt a special holiday, they were in black not the white pleated kilt. Pompons on their shoes. All these things have a meaning but do NOT remember what. Very stylized routine to march. While there DH decided to feed the birds, pigeons around the Unknown Soldier monument and was attacked and buried under birds. I kept trying to take a picture, but some Japanese tourist kept getting in my way, he was taking photos of DH, so I only got a couple. After this we had lunch at a open air restaurant next to the Archeological Museum, which has many of the beautiful sculptures ancient Greece is known for, and beautiful pottery. No flash inside building, but I got some marvelous photos anyway. Then we voted to go to the Ancient Agora, near the Acropolis, ruins and a fairly intact temple, BUT we never found it, walked the wrong way from the Taxi /mini bus. But we did go back to the beautiful old church viewed across Cemetery City ruins, (driver didn't know where name came from). The photo DH took of the church, (I was too tired and sat in the bus ) looks like a painting. Then rush hour again and long trip through narrow streets to Piraeus, the port for Athens. We had a wonderful tour, I was SOOO relieved, as Id planned it and was afraid it might not go well, and have 7 people upset with me! Now to sail away at 5pm to Kusadasi Turkey. Evenings are usually spent at the entertainment, except if we talk too long at dinner and miss it! We never watched a TV movie, or took out the DVD's we could have had in our cabin. Again a tour I'd arranged for, but things had kind of gone awry near the end, with changing guides back & forth. I'd gotten a very well respected guide to agree to tour us to Ephesus ,but then a previous commitment came up...and still in the end he took us on the tour, to his favorite place. Nejat Incedogan is from Izmir, nearby, but lives in Kusadasi now. When he picked us up from the ship, We were about 10 of us, 2 having not shown up. Nejat had to use 2 canes to walk!! Finally a guide who walked MY SPEED. It was great, to stop and rest often while he explained what we were, and would be seeing. The city of Ephesus was a very important Roman Port, until the river (Meander of all things, and it does, hence the word) silted up and the sea is now 5 miles away. So the decline of the city. It is considered to be among the best Roman ruins anywhere in the world. The Library of Celsus is beautiful and very complete. We really enjoyed Nejats talks and the city is amazing, the Marble road is ,as stated all marble. New discoveries, now under a roof to protect it,are the Terrace Houses. They cost extra but he paid for those who wanted to go to them, (but with the 56 stairs, this late in trip I wasn't up to it) so DH went ,camera in hand so I could ,in a small way visit them also. They were rich Romans' villas, (condos really), and the wall paintings, mosaic floors etc. are in incredible condition. Work continues on it today. Earlier in the day we visited Mary's House where legend has Mary and her son John, so named by Jesus on the cross, lived out their lives. Some credence is given to the story, as Paul the Apostle spent time preaching in Ephesus (hence the letter to them in the bible). The museum isn't much. Before Ephesus we did a short stop at the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the world,(Cheops Pyramid being another so we saw 2 of them, and should have passed a 3rd, the Pharos lighthouse in Alexandria ,but didn't see what is left of it). The temple has 1 standing pillar, and Nejat said it wasn't really from the temple, but foundations were there. Karaoke in late evening, contest for the Oceania Idol, DH didn't win! Now on to Istanbul. Nejat had asked another guide to take us on our 3 tours in Istanbul, his friend Levent Solmez. He is even more respected than Nejat. We arrived at 1pm, and he picked us up to take us to the Aya Sofia Museum (St Sophia) (not open the next day for our long tour) which has the 2nd largest dome in the world. It had been a Byzantine Church, converted to Mosque when Islam came into Istanbul. Beautiful Gold trimmed Mosaics of Jesus and Mary and other Christian figures of the time were covered over by the Moslems with plaster. It was thought they were destroyed, but found later to be under the plaster. Many years has gone into removing this plaster ,some 6" thick Underneath the Mosaics are beautiful. One of Christ was partially destroyed, by Crusaders looking to loot the gold tiles. When it was discovered the gold was only a glaze they stopped. That one, the face of Jesus is remarkable. Also toured us to the far side of Istanbul, the Asian side. We actually were on 3 continents, Europe, Africa, and Asia on this cruise. Next day was our disembarkation day, luggage packed, taken to dock. Levent picked us and Luggage up 8am, to go with us all day while we WALKED the whole of the Sultanamet district, including :the Hippodrome (now a road, once the largest, longest racecourse in the roman world)The Blue Mosque (Actually called the Sultanamet Mosque)where I climbed a 3 story ramp to the top floor to view things from there..I was crazy (and now completely washed up!), to the Topkapi Palace Museum to view famous jewels, and other treasures of the Sultanate Era. The Palace Hareem appropriately houses those jewels, jeweled couches, beds of gold and jewels etc..That evening we went to a dinner theater to watch a Folkloric show including Belly Dancers Found out their star was same one we had at the ship the last night! Lastly we got locked into our hotel, not the room, the whole hotel,and had to call the desk to get out!! So we could call taxi to go to the Airport! Some 14 hrs later back in Chicago.. exhausted but filled with great memories, and 1000 photos! Read Less