Well we made it. I have to admit that for most of the cruise I was expecting a cancelation of our Turkey stops, Kusadasi/Ephesus and Istanbul. So imagine my surprise when our captain informed us that we are a go, green light to Turkey.
Tourism is a sad state of affairs in Turkey at the moment. Most of the cruise ships have announced they will not be calling on Turkey ports this season. That is sad. Turkey is one of the most hospitable and friendly places I’ve visited. And it is a rich history lesson as are all the European countries we’ve visited over the years. Then you can toss in the lure of Turkish trinkets, carpets and Turkish Delight.
We were told not to dress like tourists, not to stand out in the crowd, but there was a couple of Tilly hats and Canada pins in our group that made us look…well…like tourists. So we were not going to be tricking anyone. We looked more like we were on safari than anything.
Our first stop was the port of Kusadasi, where we jumped on a bus and headed to Ephesus, an incredible city built in the 10th century BC. Folks, if you get a chance to visit Ephesus you should jump at it. It blew my mind. When you walk through it you can see the outline of an entire city, the main street, the shops, the terrace houses of the wealthy. The frescos, the brothel that was attached to the library by a secret tunnel (Honey, I’m going to the library to...ah…explore some new bodies of work?), all is presented in a way that keeps you spellbound throughout the entire visit.
We also visited Mary’s House, a serene place that they believe was the place Mary lived in her later years. Yes THE Mary. I don’t think they have any proof that it was her house but it was a great place to visit. I lit a candle for my dad there, and left a note on a wall of notes to Mary. I didn’t ask her for a Vespa. I asked her to keep watch over my family. I do want a Vespa just to clarify…
Finally we visited the temple of Artemis which is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. That one really asked us to use our imagination, especially considering it is a swap with almost nothing showing.
Perhaps it has something to do with some of the ruins we’ve visited on this odyssey we have been on, but visiting Pompeii I imagined a few buildings we could explore. Wrong. Pompeii, the bedlam of prostitution up to 79 AD is massive, and at that only partly unearthed.
Our journey began at the port of Naples where our guide Carmine had his van waiting. We had a free washroom stop in the guise of a presentation about cameos. We are used to this sort of thing on tours… Uncle Rick and I were going to review washrooms after our perilous washroom visits in China but we had nothing bad to say.
Before we watched a movie on the ruins a few months back I had thought Pompeii was covered in the lava of Mount Vesuvius but this is not the case. In fact it was pelted with pumice stones that unleashed toxic gases.
Not so lucky for inhabitants I admit, but a bonus for us folks who want a glimpse into their lives since, well, it would be a tad bit more difficult to excavate lava. Just saying…
Once a thriving and sophisticated Roman city, this vast archaeological site is a fascinating view on life in Pompeii before all hell broke loose. And while we saw the usual parts of a city—stores, houses, bakeries, etc., the focus of this place is the oldest occupation on earth. And they were very open in showing the way to the brothels. In fact there were 35 of them in Pompeii, or one brother for every 71 people in the city.
There is extensive artwork inside the brothels, a kind of order screen of the past. Since many could not read, customers can say I’ll take that one, with a side of that one, supersized please. Oh the things I could say here but I will restrain myself.
Our trip also included a Naples-style pizza and beer and a tour of the museum that included artifacts of both Pompeii and Herculaneum.
It was a great visit and we had the final view of Mount Vesuvius, the sleeping giant. It is amazing that so many houses and businesses have built on the mountain side. To those folks I say good luck. You may need it one day. In the interim you might want to invest in a gas mask.
Ever since my first trip to Rome I have tripped over Pantheon and Parthenon. One is the world’s best-preserved Roman building, dating back to 126 AD, with the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome and an oculus. The other, from 438 BC, is the most important surviving building of classical Greece. Now if someone asked me if I’ve seen the Pantheon or Parthenon I can say yes without hesitation. But I would have to think about which is which again…
Our tour began with a drive through Athens. Mellissa had told me that Athens is chalk full of graffiti, but I would never have thought it would be as…well…graffiti’d. From the view of the bus the city is concrete, dirty, with graffiti everywhere. Our guide said the messages were focused on three things: sports, politics and art. I can be frank in saying none of the graffiti I saw had anything to do with art. In my town we call it tags, not art.
We visited sites that were part of the 2004 Olympic Games as well as the site of the first modern Olympic Games. Our guide said Greece had not planned past the games and the venues are in sad shape. Not like other places we’ve visited who have made their cities into Olympic tourist traps like Barcelona and Beijing. It’s sad since Greece could really use the money…
For all you Greek history buffs out there who have dreamed of seeing the Parthenon, I’m going to make you mad. I was underwhelmed. We were lucky to be there when admission was free, or a visit would have cost $20 Euro.
Maybe I have been saturated by history, or perhaps it had something to do with the scaffolding. But I climbed to the top, took a few pictures like a tourist, then left. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Greeks. I like their yoghurt, hummus and pitas, and I don’t even mind their olives. But they don’t know how to put on a show for the tourists at the Parthenon.
I’ve seen a lot of Rick Steves videos, and whenever we travel we look them up online and get a quick glance at where we are going. I was excited today to meet Niki, the tour guide who has been featured on Rick’s TV show. Little did I know I was going to be memorable in their world, with both Niki and her sidekick Joanna bidding me farewell and telling me they will always remember me. I wish it were for something like my charm and wit. But it was not I’m afraid.
I like living slightly under the radar, so when we visited Olympia today and ran the track like tourists are supposed to do I thought everything was going great.
How could it be any different from great? It was 27 degrees Celsius, the sun was up, we were in rooms and ruins dating back to 500 years BC. My camera battery burned out with the videos I shot—a first.
The Zeus Temple especially enamored me. It was at that particular temple where my mom said she was going to take a few pictures and meet at the assigned time. Only one thing went wrong. She didn’t show.
Full on panic set in as over 1.5 hours of searching the area came up with no sighting, Mellissa had four members of the tour company driving the streets on the lookout, and I was going to all the places around the ruins and the museum. I’m not going to overstate this. I really thought something terrible had happened. But thankfully she was located downtown just before we were going to call the police. Now she will stick like glue beside me!
Did I mention that Olympia was awesome? It was. You can read more real information about Olympia on Mellissa’s excellent blog, Just Sayin.
Well friends, it was another spectacular day on the Koningsdam as we cruised into Dubrovnik Croatia for the day. It was especially special since one of our friends on board, Joe, did an outstanding job telling us all about the city, the history, and the must-see moments. Way better than a cruise ship tour guide. We’ll be sure to buy him a drink for his efforts.
We jumped into cabs (I only travel in Mercedes…kidding…most of the Mercedes cabs are old) and headed to the Old Town. Awesome. We had a walk through the shopping tourist trap area, so picturesque, and then walked the entire city wall, with breathtaking views of the city and the water. We settled into a café for drinks and a salad. It was pricy and always leaves us with buyer’s regret but we must move on.
Rick-o and I bought some Croatian beer to take back on the ship, and we made our way back to the ship. Then of course we went to Happy Hour in the Crow’s Nest, two for one drinks, then back to the cabin to get ready for dinner.
Tonight we dine with Rick and MaryLou at the Canaletto, a very good Italian restaurant on the Koningsdam. And if we are all still standing we can go to the Happy Hour part two in the Crow’s Nest.
Today we ventured into Corfu without a plan. Sometimes you just need to do that, make a chance and let things fall where they may. Our fall didn’t last long. Moments really. We walked out en masse from the cruise terminal and within a few minutes were speeding through Corfu on a private cab tour.
Corfu doesn’t seem like much when you start out, but if you have a good guide and a tank of gas you never know what you’ll discover.
Our stops were the monastery on the top of the mountain and a palace that wwas built by an Austrian queen, and finally a stop in the old town. We bought some baked goods and had a snack, the rest of the team headed back in a taxi, and Mellissa and I explored more of Old Town and walked back to the ship.
Our exploration was the highlight for me of Corfu, finding streets and alleyways that meander through the city, finding artisans at work who sold us some of their work, and lots of interesting stops along the way.
Our ship was also scheduled to pop into Albania for a service stop so we jumped at the chance to visit a second country in one day. The tender was a short trip so we wandered the town and landed in a bar restaurant, purchased 5 beer for 10 Euro (wow!) then headed back to the ship.
We were just in time to see the show on the world stage, a singer for the UK.
That’s a long day folks. Tomorrow we head to Katakolon, the gateway to Olympia. We have a tour booked so it should be another great day of exploring.
The theme of the new ship Koningsdam is music. My favourite subject. I am absolutley blown away by the artwork created for the ship. This coming from a guy who runs an ad agency and works in the creative business every day. I love artists. They can really make art sing, especially here. take a look:
It seems that when we go on vacation we don’t rest. We keep going. Take today for instance. Today started at 600 am wake up, 630 in a taxi to meet up with our guide for a Vatican tour. There were six of us, two cabs worth, I had the trusty instructions in my hands for cab #1, with my mom and uncle Rick as out team.
Little did we know Cab #2 had no idea where we were going and went right past the meeting point. We were a bit panicked, calling MaryLou on her cell, emailing her, and also calling Mellissa just in case they called her. But just as we needed to make a decision – go on the tour or give up and find Cab 2 occupants - they ran up last minute.
Our guide was terrific, entertaining us with stories and fascinating information about the Vatican, the Pope, and…well…the Popes throughout history stealing stuff… We went into the Sistine Chapel to start, so we had fewer than 100 people in there with us. It was great, especially since we had a pre-Sistine chat about what we were about to see. It is amazing how much artwork one person can create. Michelangelo was a busy guy, as a sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer…
It was 27 degrees today so it was hot and sticky. Perfect. My kind of weather.
We had another tour only a few hours later. It was an “eating Italy tour” called Twilight Trastevere Food Tour, with our guide Anna from Boston who came to Rome to study and somehow stayed.
It was great, we had an assortment of meat, cheese vegetables, pasta, wine, and of course Gelato. She told us that 80 % of the gelato in Italy is fake powder. You can tell real stuff when it is not fluffy and flowing over the sides of the container, when the banana flavor is white and not golden coloured (the inside of the banada is white of course), and so on. So I had a carrot cake and pumpkin gelato from one of the best places in Italy and it was super duper.
Now we are home, catching up on email and blogs and all things red. Tomorrow is cruise day. Time to see the brand new ship, the Koningsdam, where we will be on her for her maiden voyage to places like Croatia, Turkey, and Greece. I now have The Lover Boat running through my head. And now it wil run through yours...sorry about that...
I was thinking… Could I live in Italy? Short answer, yes. Long answer, yes.
Breakfast is bread (I love bread: hello desert island!) and meat and cheese and great coffee with steamed milk. Tough business. Then you throw in great wine (every area it seems makes the best), great seafood, so much green—even the mountains put on a show for you when you are heading down the highway.
There is the language issue to contend with but I think I can probably master a few important phrases, like, “sir, where can I purchase 10 litres of Chianti Classico?” Or, “how much for that block of cheese?” Or, “how about that local football team?”
We arrived at Carrara where I hoped to secure a new countertop and check it as oversized baggage at the airport. What we did end up with is a clock and a fridge magnet and a great deal of respect for the people who work in this very challenging business.
The sight of a quarry is amazing, giant slabs of white marble, the stuff that Michelangelo used to make cheese cutters and his chum David with. Now the quarry has a computer that can sculpt anything for you, just in case you wanted Dave, Mary, or any of those folks for your garden.
Our guide said the marble would never run out, pointing out that it has been mined for 2000 years and there’s still plenty. But my guess is someone somewhere is developing a laser that, from space, could slice up a marble staircase like a loaf of bread. If that happens the “last forever” line would be a tough rock to swallow.
We are now off to…wait for it…a private vineyard and olive oil farm for…wait for it…wine tasting (which in Italy means wine drinking) and olive oil tasting. Oh and we will be treated to a farmhouse lunch to go along with the vino.
My worry is we will feel obliged to add to our wine collection, which at this moment is at six bottles. We can only bring one bottle each aboard our ship so we must consume four bottles (or more) between now and Friday. Happily Mellissa’s family is arriving soon so they can take care of some of the consumption. They are all very good at wine and other drinks. I’d even go so far to say they are experts. That is good because my mom also has four bottles…
Well I just arrived back on the bus after food and drinks. It wasn’t as severe as 12 bottles of wine for 12 people like the last time. But it was good. I am not a huge fan of olives but when I’m in Italy and I eat them fresh and they are great. I mentioned to our fellow tourists that the Safeway olive area makes me stomach turn when I walk near it. But fresh olives are another story.
We’ve been thinking that our pre-cruise tour felt like a vacation and we could be ready to go home now. But as Karen Carpenter said, we’ve only just begun.
Tomorrow early morning is a Vatican tour (looking forward to going back there, and my mom is looking forward to her first visit), an “eating Italy” tour in the evening, the to the cruise ship Friday. Did I also mention that after the tour we are going to Amsterdam, one of my favourite places on earth? Sometimes I feel rich, especially in life experience.
Oh I almost forgot the quote of the day. I ventured outside from our wine tasting/drinking to use the washroom and found our tour guide in his oversized yellow sunglasses, all 73 years of him, sitting in the sun with a bruschetta in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other, a fresh smoke burning in the ashtray. He looked up at me and said, “We all have our crosses to bear.”
It is day three of the tour that will now showcase the Cinque Terre, “the five lands.” The Cinque Terre is a string of seaside villages that are each centuries old, hanging nervously on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline.
Outside of the obvious places of call for tourists, the area is known as the home of pesto, and if you believe our splendid tour guide Diego, it is also responsible for the production of the best white wine in Italy, and the world’s best mussels and anchovies. I'll take his word on the anchovies.
It is impressive that the Cinque Terre is known for so many things since the population of all five areas combined is a few thousand.
By boat we made our first stop was Porto Venere, passed by Rio Maggiori, Manorola and Corniglia, before stopping in Vernazza and Monterosso. We’ve been to Vernazza and Monterosso before so I was pretty excited to revisit them. The colours of the buildings, so we learned, was so sailors could see their homes as they came home from sea (in case it may have fallen to the sea is my guess). For us it is a reason to have a watercolor set.
The food and drinks in Monterosso was fantastic, having gnocchi and fresh pesto and of course beer, and our friend Robert bought a bottle of Cinque Terre wine that was really good. And we took in a free taste of Lemoncello. For dinner I had a "large beer" and we shared another great bottle of wine.
I am now seriously growing myself another liver.
I continued my work taking pictures of things are red. It’s a tough job but I am up for it. Hope you like the photos!
MEDITTERANEAN BLOG Hi all. There is a quote on my homepage that says, "I haven't been everywhere but it's on my list." My words to live by. I want to see it all. On this trip we will see Turkey, Greece, Croatia, and Albania. All places I have not been. So time to take a few off my list!