Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eastern Mediterranean Cruise

Thursday, May 27, 2010
Train from Neuchâtel to Venezia (Venice), Italy

We spent most of the day traveling to Venezia by Train. I like riding in trains. It is comfortable, easy going and by the end of the day you get where you’re going. We arrived in Venice late afternoon. Having called ahead to our hotel, we knew we needed to take the No.5 bus to our hotel. We walked to the bus stand, found our bus and rode it for about 25 minutes and were dropped off 100 meters from our hotel. Easy peasy. We ventured out from the hotel to have dinner at a nearby pizza place called Crazy Pizza. We had a Diavola pizza that had spicy salami very similar to pepperoni. We also ordered a 1.5L pitcher of Pepsi. It only cost €13.00. You figure the exchange rate, but it was expensive. The pizza was good though.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Our day in VeneziaGetting back to Venezia was only slightly easier than getting to our hotel. The bus stop to town was directly across the road from the hotel. The bus was cheap transportation (as compared to a taxi); only €1.10 per each way. Our plan for our day in Venezia was to take a vaporetti (water bus) down the Grand Canal from the train station across the island to San Marco Square. From there we just meandered back through the city to where we started.

The vaporetti was just like a bus - both in function and size. Our guide book suggested taking boat no. 1 because it stopped at each stop allowing us plenty of time to take in as much as we could. The boat zigzagged down and across the canal to each stop. Each stop was on the opposite side from the previous stop. There are few bridges crossing the Grand Canal. One that does is the Rialto bridge. A grand bridge marking the geographic center of the city.We got off at San Marco Square and began our odyssey through the city. Since we had only one day in Venice, we made no plans. The canals slicing and dicing through the city are quite small. Nothing at all like the Grand Canal. Bridges over the small canals are plentiful and you can walk every where, just not in a straight line. The streets vary in width from 2 to 3 meters down to a narrow 1 meter in places. Occasionally we came upon a open plaza. Shops, shops and more shops are everywhere. The city is in a way like an outdoor shopping mall.We got the boys matching Venice pirate t-shirts. Later we would find that we could get the same shirt at seemingly every port. Only the location printed on the shirt was different. Kathleen found a nice looking bag with an aerial view of the city painted on it. We also saw some watercolor paintings we liked. We deciding on thinking these over and may get them (if still available) when we return from our cruise. Somewhere in the city we had some oh so yummy gelato. I don’t know what the difference between it and ice cream is, but the stuff is good. We also had a slice each of Diavola pizza. Later for dinner at a street side café we would have Diavola pizza again. Kathleen though, having her fill of pizza, chose sea creatures instead; aka calamari, salad and wine.Midday we stopped in a nice plaza for drinks. Payton looked around on his own; even chatting it up with some the ladies. He took to asking people if they spoke English, saying he spoke a lot of English, but only 5 French words.Check out these icky pizzas! The spicy salami and french fries was call a USA pizza. Who names these things? I have never seen a pizza like it. 'course just because it is named that doesn't mean you can get it in the USA. The other pizza had hot dog slices on it. Yuuuccckk.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Embarkation day

Our hotel was a great place to stay even though it was far from the city and the boat docks. We weren’t the only ones staying there going on the cruise. The hotel provided us a shuttle to the boat.
By 11:30 we were at the boat and were boarding shortly after noon. For this cruise we have the same type of room as our Moroccan/Canary Island cruise, except that we upgraded to the 14th floor and the Garden Villas.

The Garden Villa suites have their own small swimming pool and hot tub - covered as needed depending on weather conditions such as rain or cold. There is also a private sun deck as well. All in all, it is pretty swanky. Another daily benefit is being able to have table service breakfast and lunch around the pool or we can go downstairs one level to Cagney’s restaurant for the same service. I don’t particularly care for the Cagney's menu choices and prefer the Garden Buffet's choices. Either way we don’t have to fight the daily crowd in the main Garden Buffet. It can be a hassle eating and finding a table when you want.

It was a nice day, but we could see some dark clouds approaching. About the time we left port it started drizzling. But hey, we went up to our garden pool where the weather was perfect. We soon sailed out of the bad weather and were on our way to our first port of call - Dubrovnik, Croatia. For dinner we went to the Japanese place were you sit around the chef while he prepares your meal. Payton loved the place last time and did this time too.

Sunday, May 30, 2010
Dubrovnik, Croatia

What a surprise this place was. This isn’t a big city, nor does it have a deep water port. We anchored off shore and were shuttle in on the ships life boats. Old Dubrovnik is a walled city fortress. The place was very clean and very well maintained. Definitely one of the best ports we’ve been to.

We had an excursion planned, but not the usual sort. We weren’t shuttle about to see this or that. Our excursion was an activity instead. We went sea kayaking. It was fun. The water was beautiful. Our boats were two person kayaks. Kathleen paddled Payton around the first half or more of our adventure. Payton sat in front keeping his paddle dry. I teamed up with Hanns from Virginia. We paddled to a secluded beach and stopped for some rest and snorkeling. The water was too cold be me; I shriveled up and couldn’t breath. Kathleen toughed it out. Some of the younger guys climbed up the rocks for some diving. It was quite scenic. I swapped places with Kathleen for the trip back. Paddling by yourself isn’t easy.

We had plenty of time before we needed to shuttle back to the ship so we walked around within the walled city. There were lots of shops and eateries. The city was blasted pretty good from the war. Incorrectly assuming WWII, we were told it was the war in the early to mid 90’s with the Yugoslavians, Serbs, etc. They fixed the place up real good. I couldn’t see the old vs. the new.

Monday, May 31, 2010
Sea day

Monday was a long day on the water. We were heading for Athens, Greece. We spent the day at the pool, just lounging around, at kids club and seeing a show. Check out our pool area. The picture was taken from the sun deck on deck 15. You can see the retractable roof in the picture.Nothing quite like sitting pool side with a beer and a babe. Those 'imported' beers are good, but the American babes are better. I had plenty of burgers available to me as well.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Athens, Greece

Except for when we left Venice, the weather has been great for us. Being further south Athens was the warmest so far. It was slightly overcast and there was a cool breeze so we were comfortable all day. Our excursion would show us the ruins of the Acropolis and Temple of Poseidon.

It was a busy day at the Acropolis ruins. We were happy to see this. Back in its day it must have been quite a site. Perched high atop a hill in the center of the city, you would have been able to (actually can) see it from all over. From the Acropolis you could see the city of Athens stretching out for miles in all directions.

With our time up we headed back to the tour bus. A family with two boys was late back to the bus. This blew hot air up our tour guide's skirt. One of their boys got locked in a bathroom. That happened to Payton on our last cruise at Funchal, Maderia Island. The boys were just slightly older than Payton and Parker and Payton chatted with them the rest of the tour. He found some buds.

The next part of our excursion was a long drive south down the coast. It was a pleasant enough drive to the Temple of Poseidon. There wasn't much there; just the ruins and not much else. Okay, been there done that, another hours drive back. You can't expect much on a cruise excursion. They give you a quick look at something at your stop. You don't see everything, just something. Better than nothing I suppose.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Izmir, Turkey

Turkey, Asia Minor, Western Asia; once stepping off the boat me and boys officially walked upon a fourth continent. Kathleen had already accomplished this feat. We only have South America and Australia to conquer. (And by the time you read this Kathleen will have walked upon Australia.) Yes, there is also Antarctica. But really, do you think we'll ever even try to go there?

Turkey turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. We didn't actually do anything in Izmir. Instead we went south to see the ruins of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city. But first we went to see the House of the Virgin Mary. Both of these historical sites are about 40 miles south of Izmir. Our guide was very good and made our trip most memorable, though I can't remember his name.

The Virgin Mary's house sits a top a mountain (overlooking Ephesus) and is a very small stone structure. It is only two small rooms. It is believed by many Christians and Muslims that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was taken to this stone house by Saint John and lived there until her Assumption into Heaven according to many Catholics. Beneath the house runs a spring. Its water is supposed to have healing properties; health, wealth and love. We filled some clay pot containers to take home with us. Two of the four made it all the way back to Ohio.

At the bottom of the mountain is Ephesus. A city that once was the world's second largest city having a population of 250,000 in the the 1st century BC. As ruins go this place was pretty cool. Better than the Acropolis. It was just as busy here as it was at the Acropolis. Thankfully our guide company used bright orange umbrellas and our guide was the tallest guy around. The Ephesus ruins were very interesting. Much of the city is still yet to be excavated, but they did manage to uncover some toilets.
The Library of Celsus is the grandest part of Ephesus. Its façade has been carefully reconstructed from all original pieces and was built ca. 125 AD by Gaius Julius Aquila in memory of his father and once held nearly 12,000 scrolls. Designed with an exaggerated entrance — so as to enhance its perceived size, the building faces east so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light.
As with all the excursions, you are always taken to a place that sells the local wares. We stopped by a rug weaving place. They showed many rugs and how they were made. The silk rugs were the best, very beautiful and very, very, very expensive. Look at the rug that Kathleen bought - ummmph. We now have a handmade Turkish rug in our dining room. Don't tell Kathleen, but I wanted the rug too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010
Nafplion, Greece

Our last stop on the cruise was a short one, but to a very nice little place. No excursion today. Like Dubrovnik, Nafplion wasn't a deep water port and we were shuttled in. The old city was right at the docks so we just went on our own walking tour. We had some great gelato. The Italians sure can make ice cream; though technically I am not sure if gelato is ice cream. The streets (closed to car traffic) and the main plaza were tiled with marble. It was very nice. Our impression of coastal Greece is very favorable. It would be nice to back there another day.
Later back on the ship Kathleen checked her email. For the most part she left her Crackberry put away.
Mickey, our room steward, had a new towel animal waiting for Payton each night. By cruise's end he had a zoo of animals.

Friday, June 4, 2010
At Sea

Our last day of the cruise was spent at sea. Payton spent the day in Kids Club - it was pirate day. Kathleen and I played Bingo! Later we lounged around the pool and Payton went hot tubbin'. We had dinner at our favorite restaurant on the ship - the Japanese place where your food is cooked in front of you. Payton gets a real kick from the place. It was a long day and he tuckered out before it was over.

Saturday, June 5, 2010 Venezia, Italy

Venezia. Venice, Italy. Our cruise was over. We knew the ship would arrive to late for us to catch the train back to Neuchâtel so we planned another day in Venice and caught the train back the next day.

We walked around and saw some different things. We noticed many of the towers around the city have a lean to them. There are some cool door bells on some of the buildings. We bought some pictures of Venice to frame. We ate more Diavola pizza.

It was time to get home and get Parker.

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