2013 WINDY GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE

Voyages to Antiquity

"The Isles of Greece, Where Delos Rose and Phoebus Sprung"

Istanbull to Athens. For natural beauty and outstanding archaeological sites, there are few journeys in the world that can compare with this cruise of the Greek Islands and the coast of Turkey. After a two-night hotel stay in Istanbull, you will board Aegean Odyssey for a cruise visiting the most inspiring monuments of the ancient world: you will pass through the Lion Gate into Mycenae; have the opportunity to stand on the stage of the Greek theatre at Epidaurus; enjoy the beauty of Santorini and visit the splendid monuments in Delos, the birthplace of Achilles. On the Turkish coast, you will visit Ephesus - rightly one of the most famous Graeco-Roman sites in the Mediterranean, and Pergamon - less well known but no less impressive. It is then on to Athens, where we have an unforgettable time touring the Acropolis and the other wonderful sites that bless this city. Includes a wasted 2-night hotel stay in Istan(more)bull. (Yes, I'm deliberately spelling it with 2 "L"s. Hint!)

There is lots of repeat here - Istanbull yet again - and I've been to the Izmir, Turkey area, and also to Athens but that was quite a while back. It does give me a good chance at the Greek Islands - and on a much smaller (378 rather than 1500 passenger) ship - and one that I've traveled on before and liked. There are no days "AT SEA" so we get on shore every day. I wish we were going to Rhodes rather than the days in Istan(even more)bull or the Izmir stop.

"Late note:" THIS PARTICULAR DEPARTURE IS "FULLY BOOKED", so the ship will be jammed. Also, having just upgraded my cabin for the Grand Med cruise, while on the SE Asia cruise I was thinking about upgrading on this cruise. But when I asked, there was nothing available. However, when I finally received my trip documents, I found that I had been up-graded (down-graded?) to a supposedly higher category one deck up.

Day 1, Friday, April 12: Depart North America
Depart North America. Voyages to Antiquity set me up with a nice flight schedule - easy late afternoon departure and nice layover times. I'll take the StuporShuttle at 12:45 - 1 PM since it's an international flight.

I've been calling it the "StuporShuttle" because so many times the driver goes to the wrong address or just doesn't show up at all. Today was another case. (See the end of the notes.) As usual, I was out early and saw a StuporShuttle go "flying by" and continue on down to the next block where it stopped - but nobody came out. Their policy is to wait a set time and if nobody shows up, just continue to the next stop … and I would have been left behind. Fortunately my neighbor, Richard, was out talking to me and volunteered to drive down and try to get the shuttle driver out of his Stupor. That saved lots of hassles. Many thanks to Richard.

I'm flying British Airways rather than United. It's a 6-hour time difference between Houston and London, 2 more hours to Istanbull.

British Airways BA 0194Houston - London4:55 PM - 7:55 AM9:002:35


Day 2, Saturday, April 13: Istanbull, Turkey
We had a nice tail-wind on the way over and got in a bit ahead of time, but then had to wait about 20 minutes for a plane at "our" gate to finally make a late departure. After a reasonable layover in London, it's on to "The Bull."

BRATish Airways BA 0676London - Istanbull10:30 AM - 4:20 PM3:5015:25

It was a miserable 4 hours since I was stuck next to a young, kicking, screaming (brat) kid. Miserable. I wanted to have her "go outside and play." Instead of calling this a BritAir flight, I'll call it a BRATair flight.

When I arrive in Istan(more)bull I don't have to stop and purchase a Turkey Visa ($20) at the airport; one is supplied by Voyages to Antiquity; it will be billed to my onboard account. After I get through the formalities and gather my luggage, there is a representative to greet us then, once all the stragglers are gathered up, we are transferred to the Grand Hyatt Hotel. By the time we get through our own formalities and wait for the stragglers, then fight Istanbull traffic, it's about 6:45 before I get to my room. It's supposed to have a view of the old town or the waterways, but my room just gives me a view of the buildings across the street.

Supposedly they have a "Snack Bar" for a light afternoon meal both days (false) so I was stuck with an over-priced, sub-par dinner in the main dining room. Mistake - I should have just "gone hungry."

I was in Istanbull in 2008, and three times in 2011 so this is a re-re-repeat. I would have preferred to have arrived on Monday and gone directly to the ship. The Friday morning Weather forecast was: Sunday, 49 - 59 with a 50% chance of rain; Monday, 50 - 56 with a 70% chance of rain; Tuesday, 49 - 57 with another 70% chance of rain. It was nice today, but rain is still in the forecast for tomorrow.

Day 3, Sunday, April 14: Istanbull, Turkey
We have a morning city sightseeing tour (same sightseeing tour as I've had before, we do it yet again) including BLUE MOSQUE, HAGIA SOPHIA, Topkapi Palace. This afternoon there is an optional Bosphorus tour. I've done it twice before (disappointing) so won't to IT again.

I'll take the morning tour (if no rain butbut there's a 60% chance of rain) only because it IS included so I've already paid for it. However that miserable "dinner" I had last night is still disagreeing with me, so I just decide to "pass." Just as well - the day is cold and gloomy (it's hard to make out land across the sea even when it should be visible) and the rain forecast was correct. There's nothing of interest nearby and I'm not inclined to get out in the weather, anyway.

The breakfast was fine; the only question now is what shall I eat for the other meal of the day since there's only the one (miserable food) restaurant? All the other places are just bars. Grumble! The ice machines in the hotel aren't working - just running water. Bad!

ISTANBULL HIGHLIGHTS PART 1: Byzantium. Constantinople. Istanbull. With its strategic location between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbull has been the center of things for centuries. The tour takes us to the highlights of this exotic city. Visit the Byzantine cathedral of the 6th century Hagia Sophia with its immense dome and magnificent frescoes, the Hippodrome of Constantine where chariot races were held in antiquity, and the fabulous Blue Mosque with over 20,000 brilliantly-colored Iznik tiles. Also visit the famous Topkapi Palace, seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years. Magnificently situated above the Bosphorus, the 143-acre complex features courts, fountains, gardens and, as is natural for a Palace, a harem. Admire the treasures of sultans including the 86-carat Spoonmaker Diamond, the Emerald Dagger, and rich collections of delicate Japanese and Chinese porcelain.

BOSPHORUS CRUISE ($45 - NO) Enjoy an afternoon sail on the Bosphorus, the winding waterway that separates two continents, Asia and Europe. Aboard a private boat, relax and take in the unfolding scenery that most visitors to this iconic city never explore. I've done this twice before and both times came back very disappointed. Definitely not a re-re-repeat even though they have added more to the excursion.

Day 4, Monday, April 15: Istanbull, Turkey / Depart (7PM -)
Again, there is a 60% chance of rain. Our morning is at boredom; I (don't) take an optional tour of the Archaeological Museum & CISTERNS since I've done it at least twice before on the earlier trips. Instead, as yesterday, if it's not raining (but it is, and quite cold as well) I'll just wander around the area. Unfortunately it's in the "newer" section of Istanbull, so there is nothing at all of interest in the immediate area.

Although I skipped the tour this morning, since it's optional, getting to the ship isn't a problem. I'll stay at the hotel and transfer later (with others who also skipped the morning tour) to embark on the Aegean Odyssey and start on the cruise. We have to have our luggage outside the room at 10, check out of the hotel by 10:45, wait around for a while, and then head for the pier at 12:30 or so after a very disorganized luggage hassle. We arrived in time for a late lunch which solves any meal problem since dinner is onboard tonight. It was nice to be recognized as a returning passenger and greeted by name, even.

My (upgraded??) "single" cabin is definitely "single" (very cramped) and is interesting in that it doesn't have either a window or porthole. Instead I have a not-easily-accessible "micro-balcony." Being far in the aft section of the ship, it's also much noisier than my "415" cabin, has only one electrical outlet in an inconvenient place, and is subject to more noticeable rolling.

Lunch was nice, but dinner was only "so-so." We finally depart about 6:30 - in the rain, of course.

ARCHAELOGICAL MUSEUM ($48 - NO) The Istanbull Archaeology Museum is located in the Eminonu district in Istanbull, near Gulhane Park and Topkapi Palace where you can trace the footprints of Anatolian civilizations thousands of years back. Another "been there, done that" excursion. No thanks.

Day 5, Tuesday, April 16: Lemnos, Greece (cancelled) / Mount Athos = "AT SEA"
FINALLY! Four days gone by and only now am I going to see and do Something New, at least that was the plan. Cruise the Sea of Marmara and DARDANELLES. About 4:15AM we clear the narrows out into the open sea and it's VERY, VERY noticeable. My "micro-balcony" door was latched but not locked and the winds on the open sea promptly blew it open letting in lots of a strong, very cold wind. It took three tries to get it closed and locked. The ship is now definitely rolling, and is very consistently heeling to port so my starboard cabin has a definite downhill slant towards the door. It stays very windy and quite cold all morning. There are several large waves and lots of whitecaps on the sea. They now have their "CAUTION STRONG WINDS" signs up on all the external doors. This doesn't look promising. I came for a Spring-Time cruise, not a cold, windy, wet late winter cruise.

About 9:30, the weather is still cold and windy with a noticeable trace of rain in the air and the seas are getting much rougher. It's NOT pleasant. The Captain announces that the weather is so bad that tendering ashore to Myrina would not be safe so that port of call is deleted from the cruise. Instead we will cruise on to pass MOUNT ATHOS this afternoon, something that was originally scheduled for tomorrow morning, then spend all day tomorrow in Skiathos.

MOUNT ATHOS, the so-called "Holy Mountain" is really a long peninsula which rises at its southern tip to a 6,000 ft peak. Dotted along its length are some twenty monasteries, some dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Women are absolutely forbidden to set foot on the Mountain, even - in theory - all female animals. Fortunately most of the monasteries are on or near the coast and can be seen (whatlittle there is to see) from our ship if we dare the elements. The rain has cleared off but it's still cold and "breezy." Our lecturers will make sure we don't miss a thing but just if we are out on deck to hear their talk.

SHADES OF CARNIVAL: At 10:30 this evening the ship suddenly lost all power - lights off, air circulation off, engines off. In just a few seconds the emergency lighting came on in the hallways and a battery powered "nightlight" in the cabins. Between 5 and 10 minutes later standard (lights) power cam back on, but no air or engines. Finally just after 11, the air circulation system came back and a few minutes later, I could tell that the engines were running and we were moving again. Fortunately the weather was nice with calm seas so while we were "disabled" there was only some very mild rolling.

Day 6, Wednesday, April 17: Skiathos, Greece (8AM - 6PM) (tender)
According to the early documentation on the cruise, all visits will be full docking, all visits will be full docking, not a TENDER. That's good news - but it's false. We will have to be tendered in at FOUR of our port stops.

This was originally supposed to be just a 4-hour port call, the shortest stop on the cruise and maybe an indication of how much there is to see and do here. Instead, we are tendered ashore and have all day today is at leisure/boredom in SKIATHOS, the western most island in the Sporades. It is famous for its splendid beaches (but with the cold weather, very few people would be out there).

The shade cast by the tree-covered hills is said to have inspired the Pelasgians to give the island its name. Dionysus, the god of wine, was worshipped here. Herodous wrote that the residents used beacons to notify the Greeks of the approaching Persian fleet in 480BC. Following the Peloponnesian Wars, the island endured successive waves of conquerors. Today, cosmopolitan Skiathos draws visitors from all over Europe. If the weather permits (it's COLD and breezy out there and stays cold), there are the superb beaches, the walled town of Kastro, a lively town where you can sample the local produce.

Otherwise, there is just an overextended stay. We are here all day but No tour is included, and little guidance or information as to activities. We're just "marking time." I'll wait until the early rush ashore is over and until it warms up a bit, then go ashore for a couple of hours. We depart about 6 and as soon as we clear the harbor, we start doing our rock-n-roll routine. The Captain has already announced it will be rough crossing tonight.We depart about 6 and as soon as we clear the harbor, we start doing our rock-n-roll routine. The Captain has already announced it will be rough crossing tonight..

Sinuses: As soon as I arrived in Istan(more)bull, my sinus problems started to get worse and worse. By noon yesterday, and all night, it was really bad so I went to the ship's doctor this evening and although he said there was nothing serious (yet?) he gave me some medicines to take. I'm supposed to check back with him in 2 or 3 days depending on the results from the medicines.

Day 7, Thursday, April 18: Izmir, Turkey (NOON -) (dock)
The visit here is almost all a repeat from my 2008 trip. At least we finally have a full docking status. We have a choice of a short walking tour of the city of Izmir or a half day trip to EPHESUS, the ancient Roman capital of the province in Asia.

I've been to Ephesus before, and liked it, so although I had initially signed up for it, I switched at the last minute to the Izmir City tour. It's true that the Ephesus trip would be more interesting, but I've been there so I chose to do something new. Also it's a 75-90 minute drive each way to and from Ephesus. The weather forecast is good.

As for the city tour, we got a brief orientation drive, then a nice, interesting visit to the Agora. The museum was good also, but the bazaar was a total waste of time - just lots of little regular retail shops for the locals, not tourist oriented. Ho Hum!

IZMIR CITY TOUR (L2): Discover Turkey's third largest city, called Smyma until 1923, named after a diety worshipped before the Aeolians built their settlement here in 10BC. From the port, drive along the streets of the city, home to over 2.5 million people. Your first stop is the Agora, set of the slopes of Izmi's highest hill. This impressive open-air market was constructed during the rule of Alexander the Great, devastated by an earthquake in 178AD, and rebuilt due to the efforts of gaustima, the wife of Marcus Aurelius. This was the commerical, judicial and political nucleus of ancient Smyma, and is the site of several ongoing excavations.

Our tour includes a visit to the city's Museum of Art and History located in a spacious green Culture Park. The museum houses a collection of artifacts, statues, and funerary objects found in excavations throughout Izmir. Three bildings are dedicated respectively to stone, ceramic, and precious goods, including rare coins and jewelry. Finally stop at the 18th century bazaar, Kemeralti, one of the city's most fascinating structures. This huge covered marketplace is a medley of old and new with mysterious vaulted shops alongside modern boutiques and cinemas. Everything from hand painted handkerchiefs and leather to dried fruits and spice dealers can be found in this delightful shopping spot.

EPHESUS TOUR: The cosmopolitan city of Ephesus was, in its heyday, on a par with Athens and Rome. Once home to over 250,000 people, this site affords ancient snapshots of daily lives of the Greeks, and their conquerors, the Romans. The seaside port that fueled the city's prosperity in antiquity has silted up, leaving the grand sites frozen in time in a state of remarkable preservation. Over the centuries Ephesus was a sacred center to Artemis, a Roman stronghold, and later, a center of Christianity. There is evidence that St Paul, St John and the Virgin Mary were in this city, along with a cast of characters that includes Croesus, General Lysimachus and those famous lovers, Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Highlights of our walking tour include the Library of Celsus with its splendid columned façade, the Grand Theater where St Paul once preached his sermons, the terraced houses and the Temple of Hadrian. Few places bring antiquity so vividly to life.

Day 8, Friday, April 19: Izmir, Turkey (-- 7PM) (dock)
After an earlier than usual breakfast, today we tour either PERGAMON (been there), including the remains of the altar of Zeus and the Greek theatre OR APHRODISIAS. Both are "included" full-day tours but we have to choose between them. At the last moment, I changed to Pergamon because it's less demanding walking.

It's a 2 - 2 ½ hour trip each way - definitely a "full day" excursion: we leave at 8:30 and get back about 5:30. At least my memories and notes from my earlier visit are quite good - not as great as Ephesus, but very nice.

Our visit to Pergamon was nice but "marred" by being quite cold, and with extremely high winds - at times almost blowing us off our feet. It also had a very noticeable effect on the cable cars as we rode up and back to the top of the hill. The footing was rough at times, but manageable. Of course there are not as many standing ruins as at Ephesus, but the temple area is great as is the stadium. It was definitely worth a repeat visit.

We then have a "buffet" lunch at a place that caters to large tour groups, i.e. not fancy, (I settled for carrot salad and spaghetti with catsup sauce) and continue our tour at the Askelopolis, one of the earliest health clinics, both medical, and looking at mental and emotional disorders. Again, the stadium and tunnels to the treatment areas were the most interesting. Finally after fighting traffic, we made it home by about 5:30.

PERGAMON TOUR: (FULL DAY TOUR with lunch) Ride a cable car to the spectacular hilltop capital of Pergamon and visit the city's ancient healing center on this adventure. Pergamon rose to power as a Greek kingdom in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, but was earlier ruled by Lydians and Persians before falling to Alexander the Great in 334BC. He was followed by his general Lysimachus and a line-up that included the eunuch Philatairos, founder of the Attalid Dynasty; Eumenes, whose great library caused Egypt to withhold papyrus and Pergamon to invent parchment; and King Atallus III, who bequeathed the kingdom to the Roman Empire in 133BC.

One look at the unassailable site reveals how the city got its name: from the Greek word for citadel. Pass through the Royal Gate to explore the noted library, the 10,000-seat theater carved into the steep slopes, and the dramatic Temple of Trajan overlooking the Selinus River below. See the base of a monumental Altar of Zeus (German archaeologists carted the entire top back to Berlin's Pergamonmuseum). Also see a shrine to Dionysus, a sanctuary of Demeter, the gymnasium and Agora. Next, tour what may be the world's first full-service health clinic: the Asclepion. Pergamon's rehabilitation center is named after the god of health, and was a site of pilgrimage for centuries, entered by a sacred road lined with columns. A sacred spring fed pools that were the basis for various water therapies. The Asclepion had latrines, a library, a theater, and treatments that included honey cures, a psychotherapy tunnel and dream interpretation.

APHRODISIAS: (L3 - difficult) (FULL DAY TOUR with lunch) Two and a half times the size of Pompeii, Aphrodisias is named after the Greek goddess of love and could be said to rival Ephesus in a claim to be "the most well-preserved ancient site in the world". Aphrodisias sprang up around one of the finest marble quarries in antiquity, and was the center for Greek and Hellenistic sculpture for nearly seven centuries. Monuments include a magnificent theater, vast stadium and the remains of a great temple. Ongoing excavations reveal superb sculptures each year - more than any other classical site in the Mediterranean. Additionally, because of the remote setting in the hills surrounding the valley of the Meander, the site is relatively free of tourists and utterly unspoilt. After an enticing local lunch of Turkish delights, sit back, relax and enjoy the drive back to Izmir.

Day 9, Saturday, April 20: Delos & Mykonos, Greece (7AM - 1PM / 2PM - 11PM) (tender / dock)
Our crossing last night wasn't as rough as I had expected. Today we visit two different locations / ports on two different islands: we visit Delos in the morning with an included tour, and Mykonos in the afternoon but NO GUIDED TOUR IS OFFERED in Mykonos. Like yesterday in Pergamon, it's going to be VERY windy on both of the islands, much more than in Pergamon. At times onshore on Delos, we did almost get knocked down by the wind.. Also, it's only about 48-50F so the wind chill was really low.

We have another early breakfast since we have two islands to visit today; my group has one of the early departures. This morning we have to be tendered into Delos - a 15 minute bouncy "run" being hit by lots of spray, from where we anchor to the pier. Delos is a totally deserted (except a café (?), a museum, and facilities for any archaeologists in residence). The Delos tour visits the Sanctuary of Apollo, Avenue of the Lions, and the Sacred Harbor but not the theater. The walking is on basically level ground;; not quite walkways, but close. The only "facilities" on the island are at the small but very nice museum. After our walk, we take that 15 minute bouncy ride back to the ship. It was a nice stop despite the wind.

About 1PM, we make a short 1 ½ hour cruise to the nearby island of Mykonos (where it is also extremely windy and fairly cold due to the strong wind) to visit our second island port of call in one day - but here there is no guided tour included. At least we get to do a full docking here. From the docking area, we have to take a short shuttle (bus) ride, about 15 minutes long, to the "Old Town". We are told that we can walk from the "drop off point" to almost any area of interest in a bit over 30 minutes.

Grumble, grumble, growl, etc. It's my fault however - the battery in my camera went dead after only two pictures. Why not go back to the ship for a fresh battery? A) By the time I walked over to try for some pictures and discovered the problem, I've just missed the return shuttle and it's 30 minutes to the next one; B) I doubt I can take the shuttle ride (15 minutes), get up to my cabin and get a battery; and back down in 15 minutes = another 30 minutes down, plus C) another 30 minutes to the next shuttle (now 1 ½ hours lost); D) the 15 minute ride back to the drop-off point makes it 1 ¾ hours just to get a battery. It's not worth it. The only pictures I have are taken from the ship, and not much can be seen from the "new" / commercial port.

Not only that, but I strained one ankle yesterday at Pergamon and the other this morning on Delos (getting in that bouncy tender) which limits my walking around anyway. I seem to be jinxed re getting in and out of small boats (Bangkok, remember?).

Contrast the sacred sights of Delos with the more worldly charms of Mykonos, a whitewashed resort that is the very image of a Greek Isle. It's also a Greek version of Wakky-Ki, Hawaii; virtually pure Tourist Trap designed to Fleece the Tourists. The huge granite rocks strewn across the hilly landscape are said to be the graves of the Titans. The windmills are a later refinement, dating from the 16th century, used for grinding grain for shipment when Mykonos was a major seaport between Venice and Asia.

In town, the streets are a delightful maze, designed to confuse attacking pirates (and tourists), although eventually the island became the headquarters of the corsair fleet and a place where pirates recruited for their ships.

Today these winding streets are lined with tempting shops, galleries, and boutiques that all exact their tribute so there are not that many old/interesting places to see; it's all way too commercialized for all the tourists. The windmills area and scenery are the most interesting. The area of "Little Venice" is also an interesting area to visit. We are on our own to wander around all afternoon and evening if we wish, then take the shuttle bus back to the ship by 10:30PM.

SACRED DELOS TOUR: Discover the tiny, deserted isle of Delos, the religious center of the Cyclades, where columns lie glistening in the sun, and the Lions of Delos guard the Sacred Way. As the reputed birthplace of the god Apollo, Delos was once a principal religious and commercial center of the Eastern Mediterranean. Pilgrims, traders, politicians, and warriors alike came from all over the Mediterranean to this sanctuary. In fact, the "Cyclades," the name of this island group, means "those islands around Delos."

In the 5th century BC, the Delphic Oracle decreed the island was to be purged of all the dead and that no person could either die or give birth on Delos to preserve the isle's sanctity. Some of the richest archaeological treasure troves in Greece await as you leave the Sacred Harbour on your guided walking tour. Imagine the merchants in the Agora and the pilgrims entering the Sanctuary of Apollo. Walk along the spectacular Avenue of the Lions. Pay homage to the guardians of the Sacred Lake where Leto gave birth to the twin gods, Artemis and Apollo. And above all, savor the almost-mystical silence that pervades this haunting site of antiquity.

Day 10, Sunday, April 21: Santorini, Greece (7AM - 5PM) (tender)
This is probably the one stop I've been most eagerly looking forward to visiting. We have a full day tour here, including lunch. However, for me, it's a full day onboard since something I ate yesterday at "tea time" doesn't like me. (Many bad words censored.) To make matters worse, it's raining lightly. It is, of course, cold and very windy.

What the others are doing: This morning their first visit is to the AKROTIRI excavations. They have the included lunch in this area. For the second stop today, drive all the way north to the other end of the island and visit OIA. The afternoon tour continues with a visit to FIRA town and their Prehistoric Artifacts museum. The last bit is a long cable-car ride down the mountain to the local port so they can tender (very rough) out to the ship

Later update: For those who were not taking the full tour, the plan had been that after the ship moved down to the Fira port, they would run continuous shuttles back and forth. However due to bad weather and very rough seas, they will now run ONLY ONE trip each way. The wind is getting even stronger. The scheduled tours will run as planned - if the weather permits. I feel sorry for those who tender out to the ship later this afternoon.But there is an option. There is a "Donkey Trail" down the cliff face from Fira to the port. It takes about 40-45 minutes to walk but be careful since it's very steep, has some loose rock places, and look out for donkeys and their ****.
<<== It's a real Zig-Zag

Although the tour is listed as Level 2, not Level 3, we were told that there are very many, sometimes steep, steps. With my trouble on steps, staying onboard may not be that bad. I wish we were doing a harbor/caldera cruise so as to see more of the remains of the great eruption from a different perspective but as the ship moves to the second port, I'll see more that way. TThe weather clears up very nicely by noon - bright sunshine and clear skies - except for that wind.

I shot a few pictures but all of them required the use of "Paint Shop." Also shooting from sea level up to the tops of tall cliffs makes it hard to really get a view of the houses and the town layout. I also miss the chance of getting an overall view from the top of the cliffs to get pictures of the (whole) caldera which would have been very interesting.

SANTORINI (FULL DAY TOUR with lunch) One of the Aegean's most spectacular sights, the cliffs of Santorini rise from a great half-moon caldera; all that is left of the formerly circular island once called Strongyle. In 1600BC, here was the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri, an affluent society that farmed, built two-story homes and painted frescoes.

This morning's tour includes a visit to Akrotiri and then a discovery drive around the island. A highlight is our visit to exquisite Oia, a village of whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches and tavernas carved in the cliffs. Wealthy sea captains built the pastel-colored mansions that now are home to cafes, boutiques and art galleries. From every direction the views are breathtaking.

Your final visit is to cliff-top Fira town and the Prehistoric Museum of Santorini. Afterwards you can wander colorful streets lined with shops or proceed to the cable car for a panoramic ride directly to port.

Day 11, Monday, April 22: Rethimnon, Crete (7AM - 7PM) (dock)
We dock about 7:15AM in Rethimnon (aka Rethymno and a few other spellings). For once, the weather is nice: a light breeze and it will be quite warm by noon. Finally!!

Enduring centuries of occupation by various conquerors, the picturesque town of Rethymno provides a glimpse into the soul of Crete. On this island, the legendary birthplace of Zeus, the sophisticated Minoan culture flourished from 2600 to 1100BC. Centuries later, under Venetian rule, the island was used as a food source and Rethymno became an artistic center and haven for scholars leaving Constantinople.

Our morning tour is to the Minoan site at KNOSSOS. We drive for a bit over 1 ½ hours from Rethimnon to Knossos on the main (only) highway which is very hilly with many sharp curves - and dangerous traffic due to its width. The terrain is sandy and rocky with lots of scrub brush. Of course there are the endless fields of olives, grapes, etc. We pass Mount Ida, the highest mountain on Crete which, even now is almost fully snow covered. We come back the same way since it's the only way. Due to the long drives, and the traffic, we don't get back to the ship until about 1:30PM (make that almost 2) for a very late lunch of leftovers (the grill quits serving lunch at 2).

Knossos is a very interesting place to visit and see. The walking area is almost all either elevated boardwalks or relatively smooth paths and not too many steps. A lot of the buildings in the area has been partially reconstructed (questionable accuracy) but making it much more interesting. Fortunately we were able to get into the Throne Room which, along with the Queen's Chambpers, is the highlight site here. Since the weather is nice and the QuietVox system is now working, this has been my favorite visit so far.

QuietVox: a (many words censored) radio system which broadcasts our guides speaking to our individual receivers and earpieces. Up until today, our group has been given the same main unit. Starting in Izmir, the reception was spotty; in Pergamon it was almost nonexistent, and in Delos, which could have been nice if we could have heard anything, we got nothing. It turns out today that the guide's (always the same unit) was defective and progressively failing. When all of us were complaining that we weren't hearing anything, we were finally given a new microphone / transmitter so today was the first day I've been able to hear what was being said. Why weren't the transmitter units checked regularly. (Censored)

What is left of the afternoon is free to explore RETHIMNON on our own, or take an optional transfer to visit the Venetian city of CHANIA but it is also "on our own" and no tour is offered there. I stayed and just wandered around town for an hour or so which did have some interesting things to see.

PALACE OF KNOSOS: Even without the tales of a bloodthirsty Minotaur, this magnificent palace complex with its flamboyant decoration, courts, audience chambers and residential areas is an impressive and inspiring site. Constructed around 1900BC, it was the administrative and religious center of the Minoan kingdom. Here King Minos held court and - so mythology holds - his wife gave birth to a half-man, half-bull creature that lurked in the palace's labyrinth. This fearsome beast was appeased only by human sacrifices. An earthquake destroyed the original complex; it was then rebuilt on an even grander scale, only to be destroyed again by the massive volcanic eruption on Santorini around 1500BC.

Though periodically excavated by Greek archaeologists in the late 19th century, credit for the full excavation and restoration is given to amateur Victorian archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Roundly criticized for occasional missteps in restoration, Sir Arthur poured his fortune into the effort and did a remarkable job for the time period. Knossos today, at least, allows the visitor to visualize the palace as it once was and understand its intricacies. The guided tour will take you through this legend-rich, entrancing complex that sprawled across five acres, where everything from throne room to royal living quarters is reconstructed with meticulous care.

CHANIA TRANSFER (L1) ($18 NO) This option is a transfer only, not a tour. It is about a 1 hour drive each way with about 2 hours on your own in town. This is NOT a tour.Chania is known as the "most picturesque town I n Cret. It is Crete's second largest city and is conisdered to be Crete's cultural and spiritual capital. With both the old and new towns, there is plenty to explore in Chania. Visit the Main Square of the old town; walk down the promenade at the sea front. This port town has an atmosphere reflecting both its Venitian and Turkish past and is well worth a visit.

Day 12, Tuesday, April 23: Nauplia, Greece (7AM - 10PM) (tender)
Nauplia (again there are many spellings) was the capital of Greece during the Greek Revolution. The city has been ruled by many different groups and cultures over the years, and each has added to the style of the city. This morning we have an included tour to Mycenae, and in the afternoon, either stay and explore Nauplia or take an optional tour to EPIDAURUS, sacred to the Gods of Medicine and home to one of the greatest theaters, still in use.

But - GRUMBLE! Today we have to use the tenders, not just once, but twice.

This morning we travel about 40 minutes to the ancient city of MYCENAE, home of tales of Agamemnon and Homer. The style of Mycenae is known as "cyclopean" as it was believed that only the one eyed giants of legend could have erected such structures. We enter through the famous "Lion Gate" and explore the ruins. Overall, I think it is over-rated.

There is also an option to climb to the summit of Mycenae (a long 30 minute climb). Or we can stay around the Lion Gate for more exploration at "ground level" or the small museum. We make a short 10 minute drive to visit the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the tomb of Agamenmon - the best preserved tomb at Mycenae and was built in the 14th century BC. We then have that long 40 minute back to the ship, arriving, maybe, in time for a leftovers lunch.

Since getting even leftovers on the ship would entail a tender ride out to the ship, eat leftovers in a hurry, then take another tender ride back to shore, I was planning to stay on shore but saw that the wind and waves were getting much worse in the harbor so I decided to head out to the ship, just in case the weather gets worse.

Bad News! Again there was a very long step (height) down from the dock to the tender. One bad step, and I now have a very sore ankle so rather than do more damage this afternoon with all the walking, and particularly all the steps at Epidarus, I had to cancel out of the optional excursion. I lose the price (non refundable) but I'm protecting the ankle and I've seen a bunch of theaters anyway. Since I'm not doing either of the tours tomorrow, essentially the trip is over this evening.

MYCENAE / AGAMEMNON TOUR NAUPLIA: Tales of Agamemnon and the time of Homer's heroes take center stage today on this visit to Mycenae, one of the greatest cities of the highly-developed Mycenaean civilization. This culture dominated the eastern Mediterranean from the 16th to 13th century BC and laid the foundation for classical Greece.

From the port of Nauplia, a scenic drive across the Argolid Plain takes us to the imposing city of warrior-merchants that Homer described as "rich in gold". The citadel that stands guard over the city is built high above two rock-strewn ravines, and legend holds that it was erected with the aid of the Cyclops. Enter Mycenae on foot through the Lion Gate, Europe's oldest piece of monumental statuary: it was here that the victorious, battle-weary Agamemnon was greeted by his wife, Klytemnestra, on his return from the war with Troy, only to be murdered by her lover. Inside the gates, explore the Royal Palace, view the shaft graves and relive the tragic stories at an archaeological briefing in the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon.

EPIDAURUS TOUR ($68 - Yes) In the 6th century BC, Epidaurus was sacred to the god of medicine, Asclepius.The medical facilities and healing treatments were popular and the ensuing wealth used to inaugurate a 4th-century BC building campaign. Today Epidaurus is a vast UNESCO World Heritage site with temples and hospital buildings that provide insight into the healing cults as well as the theatrical arts of the time. The jewel is the theatre designed by the architect Polycletus. Over 14,000 seats are carved into the hillside and the acoustics are so perfect that it is said you can hear a pin drop from the highest tier. The theatre, universally admired, was extended in Roman times, restored in the 1950s and is still in use. It is so easy to envision the staging of the great tragedies and comedies than in this pure masterpiece of Greek architecture.

Day 13, Wednesday, April 24: Piraeus, Greece (Athens) (7AM - ) (dock)
We arrive in Piraeus port early - about 3AM in order to "beat the morning rush." By breakfast, there are at least 5 large (1500-2000 passenger) ships here plus, by noon, at least 12 several large (inter-island?) ferries. From where we are docked, there is nothing to see except the port. Because the port is so large, and the city is relatively small, there is nothing of any interest within walking distance so I won't even get ashore. The ship is again, as it usually is, docked with my side looking at the pier; I can't even see anything in the harbor from my cabin. During the cruise we have travelled a total of 1081 nautical miles.

For me, this is a wasted day. I've done both of the tours twice. Our morning tour would include a trip to the ACROPOLIS but there is dangerous footing here as I discovered in 2008; because of that, and the fact that (for me) there isn't that much else of interest in Athens, I decided to skip it. Also my ankle is still sore from yesterday and that tender transfer. As we found out late yesterday, this is NOT a CITY tour; the included tour goes ONLY to the Acropolis and no other sites in Athens and even before the cruise, I had no intention of climbing up so many steps to the Acropolis then having to risk walking around on that slippery, uneven surface. So skipping that tour is no loss at all for me.

This afternoon is an optional tour to the National Archaeological Museum, but since I've visited it before, I won't spend another $55 to visit it again. So the afternoon is free (boring) but there is plenty of time to pack. Like Istan(more)bull, so much for Athens.

The only activity today that is important for me is our disembarkation briefing tonight at 7. We have to have our checked luggage packed and outside our rooms before midnight.

CITY TOUR - actually JUST the ACROPOLIS: Visit the sublime expression of Classical Greece, the Acropolis with its sweeping views of Athens. Commissioned by Pericles in the 5th century BC, the site is dominated by the majestic Parthenon: a building that embodies the stunning achievements of the Athenian "Golden Age". Surrounding the great temple are the other architectural masterpieces of the citadel: the Propylaia (monumental gateway), the Erechtheion with its beautiful Karayatid Porch and the Temple of Athena Nike (Winged Victory). Below the temple complex is the theater of Dionysos where the dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were performed. Then explore another marvel: the $200-million, 226,000-square-foot Acropolis Museum. In the dramatic Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis, ascending floors of glass literally "float" you above the excavations for an extraordinary perspective of the layers of Greek history that lie below.

NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM ($55 - no) The Museum is nice but I've \visited it before so no thanks for $55.

Day 14, Thursday, April 25: Piraeus - Depart (-- 8AM)
All departing passengers get herded off the ship before 8AM and transferred to the airport for flights home. Since I have an early flight, I have a transfer at 5:15AM which is almost an hour later than I expected. Even so, as usual I'll miss breakfast. Thanks to traffic, I just barely made it to the airport in time. At least, it turns out that neither flight is with AlwaysLateHansa. Hooray!

Aegean A3 830Athens - Frankfurt8:15 AM - 10:15 AM3:003:35

With a decent, (I hope it's enough) 3 ½ hour layover in Frankfurt, I might even have time to get a bit of lunch to make up for the missed breakfast - we get "refreshments" only on the first flight. The second flight is actually a United flight. By going through their web site, I was able to book seat 19F, an "Economy Plus" seat for the long flight back from Frankfurt to Houston. Chance of rain in Houston: 40%.

United UA 969Frankfurt - Houston1:50 PM - 6:10 PM11:20 17:55

With a decent, (I hope it's enough) 3 ½ hour layover in Frankfurt, I have time to get a bit of lunch to make up for the missed breakfast - we get "refreshments" only on the first flight. The second flight is a United Airlines flight. By going through their web site, I was able to book seat 19F, an "Economy Plus" seat for the very long flight from Frankfurt back to Houston. Chance of rain in Houston: 40% but no rain.

EXCURSIONS:
Day 3 - The BullISTANBULL HIGHLIGHTS (re-re-repeat)skipped
BOSPHORUS CRUISE$45 NO
Day 4 - more BullARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM$48 NO
Day 5 - LemnosLEMNOS TOURno port call
Day 6 - Skiathosnone - on our own-
Day 7 - IzmirEPHESUS TOUR (repeat)included
Alternate
IZMIR CITY TOURincluded
Day 8 - IzmirPERGAMON TOUR (all day) (been there)included
APHRODISIAS TOUR (all day) (new)included
Alternate
Day 9 - DelosDELOS TOURincluded
--- Mikonosnone - on our own-
Day - 10 SantoriniSANTORINI AREA (all day)included but sick
Day 11 - RethimnonPALACE OF KNOSOSincluded
CHANIA TRANSFER$18 NO
Day 12 - NaupliaMYCENAE / AGAMEMNON TOURincluded
EPIDAURUS TOUR$68 YES but skipped
Day 13 - AthensCITY TOUR (repeat)skipped
MUSEUM TOUR$55 NO

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

Izmir
Pergamon
Pergamon
Delos
Santorini
Rethimnon
Knossos
Nauplia
Mycenae


REASONS WHY THIS TRIP DIDN'T GET THE EXPECTED "GOLD STAR"RATING - AND GETS A "THUMBS DOWN" INSTEAD
1) The Weather - cold, windy, occasionally wet
2) Limited visit to Santorini
3) Sinuses
4) Major problems with the QuietVox - seldom worked
5) More tendering than expected
6) Wasted days in Istanbull
7) Wasted day in Athens
8) Up-/Down-graded cabin

STUPORSHUTTLE:
A) On two occasions the driver has gone to the wrong address / block / street and by the time I called their office, he was too far away and they had to send a cab.
B) On at least two occasions, the driver went to the wrong place but I called them "in time" and they told him to come back and pick me up.
C) On one occasion, the driver got lost and I was already on the phone to their office before he managed to find the address to pick me up.
D) On this occasion, the driver went to the wrong block and fortunately Richard volunteered to drive down and get him to come back for me.
That's at least 8 or 9 STUPORS

.

"Le (nice) Barge"





This is the ship that I cruised on for the Black Sea Cruise and liked so much. I signed up for the same cabin on both the SE Asia cruise and this one, but somehow I ended up with a so-so (??)upgrade(??) to "EE Deluxe Outside Single" on this cruise.

<== With the surprise cabin upgrade, this is is a very misleading picture of what could be my cabin.

For a web page with full DECK PLANS click here.. For more information on the ship, see Black Sea Cruise with the ship description at the end of the notes.

LARGE SHIPS COMPARISON

Descriptor2011-13
Aegean Odyssey
- Multi
2012
Zuiderdam
Caribbean Cruise
2014
Veendam
Panama Canal
2014
Eurodam
Vikings Passage
2014
Queen Mary 2
America
& D-Day
Cattle capacity
378
1916
1350
2044
2620
Crew
180
817
580
929
1253
Length
461'
936'
720'
935'
1132'
Beam
67'
106'
122'
125'
135'
Speed
18 knots
24 knots
22 knots
22 knots
30 knots
Cattle decks
5
11
10
11
13