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UK Wandering & Aegean – Black Seas Cruise – Part 4

Author: Phillip F. (More Trip Reviews by Phillip F.)
Date of Trip: July 2010


Back to Part Three

July 10

(After Boarding Seabourn Odyssey) We are ushered into the Grand Salon passing through a corridor lined with happy, smiling attentive attendants. “Welcome, Velkom, Wilkomm, Bon Jour”, is the chorus. Directed to a couple of inviting seats, the usher toting our carry-on bags sets the bags down and informs us that we will be called when our cabin is ready. In the meantime a bevy of waiters are hovering to ask what we would like to drink and snack during the wait. We enter our cabin — a veranda suite on level 5. The marble bathroom has a separate bath and shower, double basin for his and her, Molton Brown bathing products and designer soaps. There is a fully stocked bar and refrigerator, walk in closet, queen bed, dining table, living area and glass door to veranda — and we are only on level 5! We settle in quickly and head off to explore all the amenities of this super yacht. After changing for dinner, we select one of the 4 restaurants and make our way down to level 4. Upon entering Gail is escorted arm in arm to a table by a young smiling usher, while I have a young smiling usherette. In reply to their query, we indicate we have no objection to having another couple join us as part of the ‘meet your fellow traveller’ program. They were a middle aged couple from Jersey and she was a teacher. It wasn’t until desert that we found out what he did, but I could have guessed by the way he was looking at us — he was a psychologist. Actually they were both very nice whom tolerated my dry humour.

July 11

We awaken to silence with an oh so slight feeling of gliding through water. Land can be seen on the horizon under the bright azure sky. Arrival at our first port of call, Dikili Turkey, is estimated at 12.00 noon and we leisurely rise to eventually make our way to level 8 for our first breakfast on board. What will we have first? Smoked salmon, ham off the bone, cheeses, cereals, juices, breads, fruits, yoghurts, patisseries, eggs, cooked meats. Wait! There is more variety on the other table! OK, let’s start here and see how far we get. Anyway, we have done our workout at the gym so we can indulge. What did you say? The waiter wants us to look at the a la carte menu as well!! Our shore excursion today is at 12.15 pm. We take a tender into the small Dikili harbour and board the arranged tour bus for The Acropolis of Pergamon & Ancient Asclepion. Our tour guide is an expert in ancient history who lives locally and is contracted by Seabourn. On the way we pass through a small town which, despite being Sunday, has an open menswear shop advertising shirts for TL 10.00 (about AU$7.50). I muse the fact I thought I was getting bargains at double that in the Grand Bazaar. Ancient Pergamon is a terrace site on the upper slopes of a volcanic hill, Mount Athos. Carved into the mountain in the 3rd century BC, just after the death of Alexander the Great, the town is cut almost sculpturally and was built by Eumenes II. The plan was to transform Mount Athos into an image of Alexander, holding an entire town in one hand, with a river pouring from the other. Pergamon was numbered among the Seven Churches of Revelation. The ruins of Asclepion are the remains of one of the foremost medical centres of classical times, and built in the name of the God of Healing, Asklepios. On the way back our guide announces that according to the itinerary we are scheduled to stop briefly for a rest stop at the next village and since it was a hot day and everyone looks like they just want to return to the ship, he would only stop if anyone wanted to. Our fellow travellers all indicated that they would be more than happy not to stop, however this village happened to be the one we had passed earlier with the TL 10.00 shirts. We alight quickly avoiding the glares our hot and bothered travellers, calling back “we won’t be long”. Since we are in Turkish cotton country, and one of their main exports are pure cotton men’s fashion shirts, it only makes good sense that the way to buy such products is like a local, at local prices and in the town that is located in the heart of where such products are produced. “Shame on you all for not supporting the local community” we chortle as we clamber back on board the bus which heads quickly in the direction of Dikili Harbour. For all those readers who are bored with the detail of the luxurious facilities of the 12 month old Seabourn Odyssey which boasts a nearly one on one crew to passenger ratio for its 400 guests, please skip to the heading for 12 July, otherwise bear with me whilst I indulge a little more. Once back on board, Gail heads for the whirlpool on our deck whilst I headed for the bar to order a couple of cocktails (all drinks included) and some nibbles to pass the time whilst we recover from our journey into the past. Once refreshed and re-hydrated, it’s off to change for an early show featuring a British comedian who also sings and plays instruments. Fine dining follows, then a bit of dancing at The Club and up to the theatre to watch the last 1/2 hour of the final of the World Cup soccer on the big screen. We are by now very tired, so after 5 minutes we decide it would be better to watch in our cabin on the flat screen HD TV. I wake 3 hours later, turn off the TV and return to my peaceful slumber as another exciting tour is scheduled for 8.30 AM after we arrive in Kusadasi port.

July 12

Today we have an internet arranged tour as it was better value than what Seabourn was offering. As we have a pre-arranged meeting time of 8.30 am at the dock we rise at 6.00 am for our gym workout (if you don’t workout each day you explode from all the intake of food and drink),quick shower then off for another gourmet breakfast (I promise not to mention it again) and back to the cabin to collect cameras etc for the tour. We alight the boat right on 8.30 am and look around for our guide. We see lots of signs — Mr. Smith, Brown Family, Messrs Lloyd-Jones & Entourage. Did I start to panic? Of course not! I turn toward the shady tree at the end of the concourse and there being held by a young well groomed Turk was the sign: Phillip …(Intentionally deleted). A brief introduction and we jump in the waiting 11 seater VW Transporter. It is only us , the guide and the driver on this tour (as arranged) so I am surprised it is a large vehicle but it matters not, in fact there is plenty of room to move and large windows for photo shoots and a handy fridge to hold our drinks. Our tour today is the Ephesus Tour which covers the House of Virgin Mary, Ancient City of Ephesus and the Terrace Houses, Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World) and the Basilica of St John. The House of Virgin Mary is in an airy valley on the Mount of the Nightingales — a spot where Christ’s mother is supposed to have spent her last years. The foundation walls date back to the 1st century. Now many may call me a cynic, but!, the fact is that Muslims used to make pilgrimages to this region many years ago and the tourism industry was booming. In the early 1800’s business was waning and it was about this time that a German nun — Catherine Emmerich had visions of Mary living in a small stone house in this region. Amazingly, 19th century clergy discovered the foundations of a house (which was reconstructed) and Christians and Muslims now make the pilgrimages and business has never been better. The highlight of this tour has to be the Ancient City of Ephesus. There are Roman or Byzantine structures built on earlier foundations and include (but not exhaustively): the Arcadian Way, Harbour Thermal Baths and Gymnasium, the Roman Forum, the Twin Churches of Mary, the Theatre with its back to Mount Pion, the Library of Celcus, the Temple of Serapis, the Marble Way, the Streets of the Curetes, Hadrian’s Temple which is next door to the Baths of Scolastica. Further toward the Magnesium Gate is an Odeum which could seat 1500 people. Of special mention is the Terrace Houses which are still being excavated and restored. They are fully enclosed as a living museum and archaeologists will be working for many years to come to discover the secrets still buried in many centuries of layers of dirt and rock. In fact, only 13% of the entire area has to date been excavated. The Terrace Houses are the homes of the wealthy of ancient times and give an insight into how the privileged lived. All that remains of the Temple of Artemus is a solitary pillar (where storks nest) and a few blocks of granite. Upon the recommendation of our guide, we substitute the Basilica of St John (more ruins) for the Archaeological Museum. It turns out to a wise move as the Museum is very interesting. Apart from housing many originals of the replicas we have viewed at Ephesus, it had several arresting statues of the multiple bosomed goddess of fertility, Artemis. Other attractions include effigies of the phallic god Priapus, interesting mosaics and frescoes. On the way back to Kusada?i, our tour guide suggests we visit a ‘no obligation’ inspection of a local Turkish carpet demonstration. Not being one to refuse an opportunity I make a deal. We will go on the carpet tour which is described as “an educational facility subsidised by the Turkish Government for the promotion of work for the local youth”, providing I can use his wireless broadband upon returning so as I may upload the latest photos to Facebook and send the last chapter written in my travelogue. Deal done! We sit through a presentation of magnificent silk carpets, watch the local youth (middle aged ladies) hand weaving double knotted carpets, eat some traditional Turkish nibbles, watch Gail try her hand at knotting carpets, see how silk is extracted from silkworm cocoons and finally at the end of it all, bid the owner of the establishment goodbye as we also inform him we are not in the market for Turkish carpets. The other end of the deal is upheld as I am now typing out Chapter 10. Returning to the ship we realise we have still time to accept the Ship’s offer of a free evening concert to be held back at Ephesus after it is closed to visitors. It is a unique magical evening set against the lit backdrop of the Odeum and surrounding features. We soak in the orchestra repertoire of classical music whilst seated on comfortable fabric covered chairs bordered with gold ribbon and tables laden with delicacies reminiscent of an ancient time. The 30 minute return on the Seabourn coach and the preparation for slumber fuses with the lingering sounds of flutes and violins and sleep comes quickly as the whisper of moving water fades ever so gently.

July 13

Bodrum is a town that dazzles against an unbelievable blue sea with its picturesque yacht harbour filled with traditional wood-varnished sailboats. It has charming outdoor cafes and small cobbled streets bursting with shops selling carpets, jewellery and local artwork. The flat roofed square built houses are almost blinding under the hot sun, their white walls festooned with great clusters of purple bougainvillaea. No wonder this town is known as the Saint-Tropez of Turkey. We wind our way out of the streets of shops and past the white homes in search of the Halicarnassus Mausoleum — another of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. We walk along streets with no footpaths in search of the Wonder. We turn a corner and there it is. A sign indicates the entrance into the walled enclosure and we stroll past the ticket box as it is unmanned. A couple of snaps of the site and a rotund uniformed man comes quickly over saying “8 TL, 8 TL”. Not particularly wanting to visit the museum I stall him (whilst Gail continues to snap) by asking if that includes the museum as well as the ancient site in which we have entered. He nods, and with a delayed reaction, I state we are not interested and leave the site with mission complete. (2 down, 5 to go). Bodrum’s medieval Castle of St. Peter is the other attraction which also houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Whilst I am sure it offered a myriad of objects and artefacts, the day was hot and another castle and museum was not high on the agenda, so we walked back slowly along the foreshore of the harbour to the waiting shuttle bus that returned us to the ship where we could relax in the sun by the pool and be waited on by the only too eager attendants (the food and drink never stops!). The short version of events after that is: shower, dinner (new fine dining menu everyday — entrees were snow crab and avocado salsa, chicken double consomme; mains were duck a l’orange x 2 and sweets were petit fours, ice cream chocolate coated one bite sensations), Broadway show and dance spectacular, late nightcap at the observation deck, and last but not least — bed. (we passed up on the disco theme dancing). It was important to not have too late a night (before 1.00 am) as in the morning we would be anchored off Santorini and this was one port not to be missed.

July 14

We wake to a magnificent site of snow capped mountains. Wait a minute! It’s 30 degrees outside, so how can there be snow? We rub the sleep out of our eyes and have another look. The appearance of snow starts to take on a different characteristic as the shapes of houses form and the colour of a deep blue presents itself majestically on domes and then doors and window frames. Yes, this is a view of Santorini in all its picture perfect glory from the veranda of our cabin on the Seabourn Odyssey which is firmly anchored just 200 metres off shore. The tenders are already running so we go through our now regular ritual of gym, shower, breakfast (I won’t bore you with the details except to say that the Danish pancakes were superb), fill the back pack for the day and then off to explore. The tender dropped us off at Skala, the seaport at the base of Fira – the pedestrian-only capital of this seductive volcanic Greek island in the Sea of Crete. We now had a choice: take the cable car up the 300+ metre slope to Fira or ride a donkey up the 588 step path. The words of Serge were ringing in my ear: “When you are in Santorini you MUST take the donkey”. Who were we to ignore the sage words of an ex travel agent, so up we went on the donkeys. It certainly was different! The donkeys had minds of their own. Stop, go, close to the edge, bump into pedestrians, bite the next donkey, etc — but the most frightening thing was when the donkey you were riding came up close, alongside and just a bit behind the donkey in front so as your leg was parallel with the other donkeys bum. One only had to look on the ground to calculate the odds of a tail lift at that precise moment! Once at the top we had thrilling views of the boats, houses and islands below. Words cannot describe this breathtaking eye feast and is best left for readers to peruse the many photos (which still do not altogether pay it justice). Many of the shops feature tourist tat but there are a few good ones among the dross. The Byzantine jewellery is especially good, however after the price points in Turkey it was hard to justify the price of pieces on show here (despite their originality). Oia (pronounced E-Ah) was touted as the place to spend time so we headed off to find Gold Street (turn left past the cathedral) where we could take the bus to the most northerly town on the island (€1.40 each as compared to a Taksi for €25.00 — and that’s after negotiating). If we thought the scenery at Fira was 10 out of 10, then the scenery at Oia was a 20. The atmosphere was also superior, with less tourists to contend with, less cobbly cobble stones (and even long spans of marble footpaths) and less volume of tatty stores. After spending the best part of 5 hours just wandering and absorbing (and sun burning) we decided to call it a day and return to the ship for dinner at the Colonnade — where we could sit outside on the deck and watch the sunset whilst enjoying the Greek themed meal on offer. After 5 courses (and an affegato) matched with delectable wines we were so whacked from our day and evening that we skipped the nightly activities, including a concert pianist, and retired early in preparation for the morrow’s activities.

July 15

Milos has all the components of a perfect Greek isle — fantastic rock formations, dozens of beaches, villages of sugar-cube houses, whitewashed windmills and glowing azure caves. Again it is a short tender ride to shore and we go in search for a quad bike hire shop so as we can get transport to go to a beach. We select the northern beach of Sarakiniko as it is known for its unusual rocks which form beautiful and strange swimming spots. There are no quad bikes available so we ask for a scooter instead (live life dangerously!). Unfortunately in Greece you need a bike license for scooters of any size so that was the end of that idea. The only alternative is an ATV which is €45. A bit rich, especially since the last tender is 4.00 pm and the time is now 11.30 am. There are only 10 taxis in town, and in any case if we get driven there by one, how can we be sure we can get one back. Next, we walk to the bus stop and hop on a bus that is leaving in 10 minutes. I obtain a timetable from the front of the bus and it is the wrong bus. (I was sure the island was too small for more than one but it actually is larger than I thought and has many routes). The bus we want will be along in 10 minutes and runs every 2 hours — too long in between as if we don’t like the beach we are stuck and the weather is hot and humid. Maybe we will catch the bus we are on to its destination Tripiti — a charming hilltop village above a picturesque harbour which has incredible sea views and is conveniently close to the catacombs, an ancient theatre and the site where Venus di Milo was found. It’s hot, the air conditioning on the bus is off, our ship has a special marina facility (unusual for a cruise ship) and water sports activity program scheduled from 1.00 to 3.00 pm, and we have seen plenty of villages, harbours, views and ancient sites. We look at each other with an ‘are we mad’ look and simultaneously alight from the bus and head to the pier for the next tender back to paradise. The ship’s marina is fabulous. There is a caged enclosure with a walk around deck. The entire structure is lowered into the Aegean Sea and you can swim in complete safety. Outside the enclosure is a multitude of toys that can be used in the open sea. This includes kayaks, peddle-o’s, 2 man sailboats, water skiing, doughnut rides, and a banana ride that had 6 people being towed (and dumped) behind a speedboat. Great fun!! A quick rinse off of the salty Aegean water in the open deck shower and we locate a table on level 8 at the Patio Bar & Cafe where we enjoy some snacks (choice of salads, pizzas, sandwiches, chicken wings, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc etc etc). Full bar service via ever present waiters ensures dehydration is not possible. We strike up a conversation with some of the fellow cruisers we have befriended and before we know it, time has passed and despite the volume of food already consumed today, it is the ‘Chef’s Choice’ tonight in The Restaurant (which the chef himself told Gail during ‘the galley tour’ “do not miss this experience’) and we hurry back to our cabin to ‘glam up’ as the suggested dress code is elegant casual. Six courses later (including the classical French sorbet course) we inform the couple with whom we have been dining, that the 10.00 pm musical show has begun and we excuse ourselves so as we will not miss it. An 8.00 am start to our on shore tour tomorrow ensures we have a relatively early night. The tour is Mycenae & Epidaurus from Navplion, Greece.

July 16

What time is it? I ask sleepily as I hear the sound of ship anchors being deployed. 7.10 am!! We have to hurry or we will miss the tour. Quickly showering, we head off upstairs to breakfast. The waiter wants to carry my bowl of cereal to our table! OK — no time to argue. Just a selection from the buffet this morning, no time for the menu or daily special (pecan pancake or something similar). Back to the suite to collect cameras etc and we make the tender for the port with 2 minutes to spare. Actually, they had our name on the list so I think they may have waited, but….. I wasn’t going to stretch the friendship. Ancient Mycenae was fascinating despite having seen many ruins previously. Entering the site via the Lion’s Gate felt like being transported back to the 4th century BC and the descriptions of the Tomb of Agamemnon by our learned tour guide enhanced our understanding of the period immensely. Just a bit further down the road was the largest example of a ‘Beehive Memorial Burial Chamber’. Fully intact as a structure (apart from all the pillars and adornments and murals which have been looted most likely in the BC era) it completely over awed you upon entering such a magnificent construction which generally took around 25 years of slave labour to build (obviously and hopefully before the intended occupant had died). Epidaurus is a UNESCO site known throughout the Hellenistic world for its unique medical facilities. It was dedicated to Aesclepius, the god of healing, and the city was filled with curative spas. Alas, today the city is mostly ruins, however through a twist of fate, the theatre is largely intact and is well used these days attracting high rating artists due to the near perfect acoustics it provides. The theatre seats 14,000 persons and is mostly constructed of marble dating back to the 4th century BC. A performance was being hosted this night and the stage props can be seen in the photographs taken. It was a modern version about the women of the Trojan War. Despite being 38 degrees, after being dropped back at the tender pick up point on the pier, we grabbed a couple of iced bottle waters and cold face towels from the ships facilities on the pier and headed off for the old part of the town of Navplion (just across the road). We looked at the usual array of shops and galleries and at 2.00 pm when they closed for lunch (siesta) we headed back to the pier for the tender and ship for (a late) lunch. We tried very hard not to over indulge as tonight was to be our first meal at Restaurant 2 — the 46 seat, highly rated, ship’s restaurant that had to be booked at least 48 hours in advance. (Mind you, I couldn’t imagine how the food could be any better!). We arrive at Restaurant 2 at the allotted time of 7.00 pm and are warmly greeted by name (all staff must study the photographs taken of passengers when first boarding for an ID card in lieu of passports when disembarking at ports, and are tested on their memory efficiency during the cruise) and are escorted to our table. Once seated we are told to relax as the chef has selected our meal and the procession of food and beverage begins. Sorry Liz, but here are the details of what follows: Aperitif: Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne Bread rolls: Pan de Bonno (Columbian flour) with queso blanco (white cheese) White Wine: 2008 William Fevre Petit Chablis 1st Course: Poached Shrimp Martini Balsamic Jelly, Split Saffron Vinaigrette 2nd Course: A trio — Seared Beef Tataki, Pickled Vegetables, Ponzu Jelly, Tahinee Puree Crispy Curried Vidalia Onion Rings (from Georgia), bitter greens Navy Bean Fritter, Yoghurt Raita 3rd Course: A Trio — Clear Tomato Presse, Goat Cheese Panna Cotta, Tear Drop Confit Chicken & Pesto Strudel White Tomato Cappuccino, Basil Foam Red Wine: From Tuscany — Serego Aligheieri San Giovese 4th Course: A Duo — Grilled Dorade, Preserved Lemon Sauce, Ricotta Gnocchi, Parmesan Gremolata Slow Roasted Lamb Shank & Potato Moussaka, Red Wine Jus 5th Course: Baileys Sabayon, Crushed Chocolate Flakes Dessert Wine: Sauterne (forgot to get details — brain cells not functioning to optimum by now) 6th Course: Coconut & Passion Fruit Gelano, Almond Foam, Blackberry Sorbet, Red Beet Tuille Night Cap: After 2 — Crème De Menthe + Baileys + Crème De Cacao + Cointreau, all mixed with a chocolate cream and topped with a Vanilla Cream (Gail had two!) After rolling out of the restaurant we started making our way to meet up with some new friends that were finishing their cruise tomorrow in Athens at the piano concerto. It took about 2 hours as we kept bumping into others we had befriended and were also leaving tomorrow. We eventually made the concerto for the last 15 minutes and after headed for the Observation Deck Bar for a final nightcap. Whilst many would be leaving the cruise tomorrow, we knew that our cruise journey still had 2 more weeks with the best yet to come!

July 17

We awake to the sounds of motorised gang planks being sent from the ship to connect with the ship terminal Piraeus in Athens. Many of the passengers will leave the cruise today and others will replace them for the next 14 days of the journey from the Aegean into the Black sea. Another hot day is forecast and we decide to just visit the Acropolis. We go up to deck 8 to the hospitality desk before setting out, and get maps and instructions for catching the Metro to the Acropolis. It is explained to us — once you leave the terminal, cross the road to the DHL building, buy a ticket at the kiosk near the bus stop, catch the 843 bus to Piraeus Metro, catch the Metro to Thisio and walk from there. No problems, we do this, find the Acropolis and enter. We marvel at all the original and reconstructed structures: Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, Parthenon, Erechtheion and the Theatre of Dionysos. Snap, snap, snap. Time to go, it is hot — especially with all the white marble reflecting the heat. Metro back to Piraeus, walk across the road to the road to the bus stop for the 5 minute bus ride back to the ship — how easy is this and for the last week we have been blessed with everything going to clockwork. This alone should have been ringing warning bells to a pair of seasoned travellers. When things are rolling along smoothly, one should double their efforts to keep their guard up and radar on. Yep, the bus came along, we were jostled in with the crowd and bingo! The wallet was gone. Zipped up pockets are no match for the light fingered. Luckily, there was only a few hundred euro and credit cards (which were promptly cancelled) that went. The passports, and the rest of the cash were still safely stored on board the ship. The worst part was that the parasites got away with what (in hindsight) was obvious and should have been avoided by being more alert. The other unfortunate part of the incident was that I only had around 1 hour to report the incident to the local authorities to ensure an insurance claim to be hassle free, and that meant travelling to the appropriate police station (the Tourist Police were not interested) and going through the process and then making it back in time for the ship’s sailing. Since I was 20 minutes away from where I would have to lodge the report, I figured I would report it in the next port rather than taking a chance in beating Murphy. One positive, from Gail’s point of view, was that I did not blame her for what was taken from my pocket! Back on our veranda as the Piraeus terminal fades on the horizon, we crack a bottle of French Champagne and toast the rest of the cruise. Whilst the future is unknown it must be faced with a determined and positive outlook. The sea air smells refreshing! Tomorrow is a new adventure and the first day of the rest of our journey.

July 18

This morning we wake to the sound of bow thrusters struggling against the tide and winds that were preventing the ship making a quick dock at Santorini. Despite the bravado and positive spin we put on yesterday’s unfortunate event, something had changed. We struggle from the bed and make our way laboriously to the gym. As I walk towards the treadmills I am unaware that Gail has been touted by the hairdresser and was now in negotiations for a colour treatment. After the gym we are heading back to our cabin to ready for breakfast when we spy the Customer Service Manager, Jo. Gail approaches and before he has a chance to finish the robotic “Good Morning Mr. & Mrs. …(Intentionally deleted)” he is cut off mid sentence and is subjected to a venting of anger which has been festering since THAT event. An abridged version of Gail’s venting follows: • The noise of the bow thrusters and anchors in the morning is intolerable • The touting by the hairdresser is unprofessional, and even after I had agreed to the US$80 charge for re-growth colouring I found the demand for a not negotiable US $47 blow wave ridiculous, especially on the pretext that the ship is 6 star and client’s must look presentable when leaving the salon • The lack of care and help when in a situation of need is unforgivable — especially when the so called Tourist Police located in the same area of the terminal where the ship is docked are totally uninterested in our plight and are more interested in doodling on a piece of paper than offering any better advice than “you need to go to the city police”; and the Port Authority regulating the embarkation onto the ship were no more helpful: and the Seabourn staff at the terminal had nothing to say other than “would you like a cold hand towel!” Gail indicated that we should be compensated whilst I expressed a desire for some help in going to the local authorities in Santorini as that is where we would be heading today to make a report. Jo seemed most apologetic and stated he would investigate matters and have his assistant contact us shortly or leave a message on the cabin phone regarding going to the police in Santorini. We shower (noticing it leaks), have breakfast (daily special wasn’t that special and the cornflakes went soggy) and head back to the cabin. No message and we cannot contact Jo or his assistant so we head ashore to see the Port Police. Whilst we were aware we needed to see the ‘Greek Police’ (the ones that wear guns) I think there were so many levels of police that there were police to police the police. The Port Police were very nice (also doodling in air conditioned comfort) and phoned the Greek Police to make sure we could lodge a report with them and that they would even be there when we arrived (twenty minutes by cab). The outcome was that we would have to go after 2.00 pm as they were very busy (probably doodling) but at least there was no rejection. We had a couple of hours to spare so we went for a walk in Santorini and lost ourselves in the maze of cobbled streets of boutiques and tavernas. Just before 2.00 pm and using the sun as our guide, we unravel ourselves from the twist of laneways and exit onto the seafront where the taxi rank can be found. To our horror, there is a long queue of disgruntled prospective fares who are constantly glancing at their watches and speaking in tongues (it all sounded Greek to us). It was clear that it would be quicker for us to return to the ship and order a cab from there and even maybe, with a stroke of good fortune, the Customer Service representative may have advanced our cause and had some unexpected news. No such luck! In fact there was a message on our phone. It basically informed us that because it was Sunday, we should wait until we are in Skiathos tomorrow and that we would find it much easier to make the report there. However, if we insisted, she (Bianca) could organise a cab to take us to the correct police — it would be about €20 each way AND we would need an interpreter as the police today do not speak English. The best interpreter would be an English speaking taxi driver but he would have to charge the €60 per hour for all the time it would take! Were we lucky the taxi queue was long or were we unlucky we listened to the drivel of Bianca? We could not know as we headed to the poolside bar to drown our sorrows. Dinner came and went (the duck was too pink). At least the waiter was nice and managed to keep our spirits up for the duration. We attended half of a new show (famous singer/pianist but didn’t pay much attention) and headed for a relative early night knowing (hoping) tomorrow would be better.

July 19

Today will be a short day in port. (10.00 am to 5.00 pm). We rise early, I shake off the blues, and we head for gym with a spring in our step. Past the salon, whose hairdresser diverts her eyes from our glare, into the gym and onto the machines. Next is the shower. We ignore the shuddering of the cabin as the anchors are lowered for the 10.00 am schedule. We settle down to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, determined that today will be the last day of the saga. Selecting an outside table overlooking a sandy beach on the shores of Skiathos (of the Mamma Mia fame) we sip our juice as a sailing boat bobs past on the gentle waves. The table next to us is empty until an American carrying a plate laden with smoked salmon, ham off the bone and camembert sits down. We look at one another and think that whilst there is enough food for 6 people the table he is sitting at is only for 2. Oh well, he may only like to have less variety and more quantity for breakfast. An instant later, the waiter that was behind him, sets down on the same table a plate heaped with at least a dozen pastries (of the large variety). We grimace at the blatant gluttony of this individual whose stature does not convey the need for such consumption. His wife (we presume) then sits opposite him with a plate of food for herself so it does not appear that any of the first two plates were going to be shared. Then incredibly another waiter appears, and with an embarrassed look, tries to squeeze another 2 plates of hot cooked food onto the table. Without success, the wife then tells the waiter to scrape the food from one of the unplaced plates onto a plate that was already on the table with the reasoning that she only wanted a taste anyhow. We had not intended to have a large breakfast ourselves this morning and certainly by now were definitely sure of our capacity to eat. We could have sat to watch the spectacle before us, but having completed our meal, there were tasks to be done and we headed for the Customer Services desk to resolve the issues from yesterday as it was our last Greek port and the final opportunity to make the report to the Greek Police. We asked if Bianca was available and the young girl at the desk said she was busy and indicated she could help us. We stated that Bianca was aware of the issues and it would be best to speak with her. She tried Bianca’s extension again and this time she answered. She relayed through the young girl that she had checked with the port representative this morning and that: “the banks would be open and could answer any queries on our credit cards” and “there were plenty of available taxis to take us to the police station and that it was about a 5 mile journey”. We sat there momentarily, taking in what we had just heard. Something akin to a red rag seemed to be waving in front of my eyes as my mouth was put into gear and the invective tirade was let loose. By the finish Gail was in tears and the young girl in front of us was apologising profusely. There was however, no point in fighting City Hall. The bureaucracy at this level was impenetrable. We left whilst the young girl was making assurances that our concerns would be escalated to higher levels, and we retreated to our cabin so as I could gather what was necessary to go ashore to finalise the police issue whilst Gail could relax by the pool. Before I went ashore I returned to where the destination representative normally sits to get a map and location of the police station. The desk was unmanned so I went further along to the tour desk where I was told that this port provided no representative. I thought this strange as our daily ‘Herald’ indicated there would be one. They also had no map or information so I was taken back to Customer Service where the (same) young girl then proceeded to find information and a map on the internet. I noticed Jo was also in the area and as I approached him, he held out his hand in greeting and commented that he had contacted Miami (Head Office of Carnival Lines — the owners of Seabourn) and he would have their response by 4.00 pm that day. The young girl could not get the required information but was told by another that maps with what I sought were available at the shore tender meeting point. With some positive hope I left for the 3rd level to catch the next tender to shore. Upon arriving I collected the map, located where the ta=i point and police station were indicated and set off for the ta=i point 200 metres away. I patiently waited in queue (which was actually moving with the frequent arrivals of ta=is). 10 minutes later I was away and less than 2 kilometres travelled and €3.20 paid I was at the police station. So much for the 5 miles! I collected my receipt and headed into the station. There was no reception desk, however the room to the right had 4 police engaged in what appeared to be light banter, the room to the left had two people in civilian clothes talking to a seated sergeant and the stairwell ahead of me had a sign pointing upward with “Tourist Police” written on it. I headed to my right as these police were wearing guns and that meant Greek Police. I began to talk and the four officers stopped their banter and listened. One young officer became a translator for the other 3 and to cut a long story short (or at least make a long story less long) if I wanted to report a stolen wallet then I would have to wait quite a long time in another room to give a statement as they were very busy, and at the end of that process the details would have to be sent off (somewhere) and I could expect a reply and documentation in about 10 days (maybe). However, if I wanted to report a lost wallet (because how could I be certain it was stolen!) the process was very different and they could do it immediately (2 hours is immediately). Well I didn’t tell a lie — I had my wallet at the Acropolis and I didn’t have it when I got on the bus to go back to the ship. I did however lose my money and credit cards somehow. So, I got my report (in Greek) with a big blue Police stamp on it. I walked back to the port (15 minutes) took a couple of snaps then boarded the next tender back to a ship on calming seas. 4.00 pm comes and goes and there is no communication from Jo on the other issues. OK, the ball’s in his court and at the end of the day (cruise) the ship has an authority on a cancelled credit card and I have an account that has a debit balance. He who laughs last ………. Tonight is the first formal night of the cruise and there is a Meet the Captain cocktail party at 6.45 pm. We glam up and head for the Grand Salon for the party. Most of our fellow travellers are already there and lined up to meet the Captain. Not being one for queues, we seat ourselves and just enjoy the champagne and nibbles whilst socialising with fellow cruisers. The Captain cannot greet everyone and chooses to introduce his senior crew and himself from the stage, after which there is a mass exodus from the Grand Salon into the main dining room. We wait for the line to subside and arrive at the Maitre D station for seating. Nicholas (who always greets us by name) is most apologetic as tonight is the first night since he started that all tables are full (all 320 seats). He suggests that we go to the bar for a cocktail and he will personally come to get us when the first available table is ready or alternatively we may wish to eat in one of the other restaurants. The other restaurants are elegant casual dress code and we have glammed up to formal (suit and black dress is close enough) so we head for the cocktail bar. Gail has a Cosmopolitan and I a champagne cocktail. Before we can finish, Nicholas true to his word is escorting Gail (and the Cosmopolitan) arm in arm into the dining room. We are seated at a table for 2 next to a large window looking out onto the crystal blue Aegean Sea. The table for 4 next to us is vacated shortly thereafter by the family who are finishing their meal, and 10 minutes later 2 mature age elegant couples are seated for their meal. Whilst we are enjoying our entree (caviar and smoked salmon for me and beef Carpaccio for Gail) we over hear Spanish being spoken. I look at Gail and before I have the chance to put in my request for a quiet night, she has struck up a conversation re: South American’s dining late, family in Chile and (once she has established they are from Peru) how she would just love to visit Machu Pichu. Conversation drifts from political differences between Peru and Australia, living standards and how supporting 12 servants is not necessarily better than having no servants in a First World society. Two hours later we are all dancing up at the Club and match making daughters with sons. Later, (and by now you could be saying earlier) the prospect of sitting around in the Casino with them wouldn’t have the same attraction as spending the same time in a casino with my mate Con, so we bid them goodnight in the traditional South American way (like we have known them for years) and head off for a fitful night’s sleep. There is a sense that the tide is turning.

July 20

This morning we dock at 8.00 am at Kusadasi — a port we visited 8 days ago. The bow thrusters start their intrusive motors at around 7.45 am as we exit for the gym. We had to be up early anyhow as we were off to the fruit and vegetable market with the head chef for his ‘shopping with the chef’ tour. It was an informative and interesting morning and upon returning we decided to spend a day relaxing on the ship. I headed for the rear pool area and Gail disappeared to an upper deck. Whilst there was no correspondence from Jo, we had decided to just try to forget about the issues and enjoy the cruise as best we could. I knew at some stage there must be a resolution. The sun was high in the sky and the sound of lapping waves were melodious with the background music. The ice in my Planter’s Punch was diluting the drink whilst I drifted in and out of dreaminess. A cloud in the sky began to take the shape of an upturned crescent moon. It got larger and appeared to grow teeth. I blinked a few times and here was Gail hovering over me with a big cheesy grin. “You just won’t believe what I have to tell you!!”. “I was upstairs getting a sandwich when I bumped into the Captain. He smiled warmly at me and extended his hand in friendship whilst expressing how happy he was to see me again”. ‘ ‘Well that is strange’ I retorted ‘as I have never met you before in my life!’. ‘However, this is an opportune moment to inform you of some occurrences that I believe you should be aware of’ “. Of course, there was no further need to have the rest of the story told. Since, the Captain is the Master of the Universe, I knew it would not be too long before the sh.. hit the fan! Sure enough, in the distance I saw the silhouette of a fast moving tall man in a starched white uniform whose braid on the epaulettes were glistening in the midday sun. I am now completing this chapter from the comfort of Suite 817 (I pity the poor occupants that had to be relocated to our noisy cabin on the 5th level) on the complimentary Wi-Fi (albeit for only 24 hours). Gail is debating whether she should take the complimentary spa or massage, and whilst the bottle of Pèppoli Chianti Classico is only a 2006 it still manages a 90 score (out of 100) on the Wine Library ™ scale. Oh! Did I mention the potted arrangement of exotic fresh flowers? Sky is blue, sea is green, I wonder where next we’ll say we’ve been. (to the tune of It’s a Wonderful World).

July 21

Today is our first day of cruising. No port, no tender, no shuttle bus. The weather is a balmy 34° Centigrade. The ship’s bow is slicing the water at merely 9 knots and life is abuzz with a full days program of activities available for those not wishing to take the alternative of just chilling out. Gail and I choose to be slothful and skip the gym to have an earlier breakfast in the downstairs dining room. This offers only A La Carte as opposed to buffet on the upper deck, however one must try everything. We are joined by family friends whom, by amazing co-incidence, are also travelling on this cruise and joined the ship in Athens last Saturday. We linger until we are the only patrons remaining, and surmise that if we stay any longer we shall be presented with the lunch menu. Since I have unlimited internet access today, I head off to a quiet corner at the back of deck 5, select a comfortable lounge, order a cool, icy beverage and settle down to do a bit of housekeeping (bills and all those dreadful tasks), whilst Gail disappears into thin air. A little later I make my way to level 9 where the Captain has invited all those that are interested to join him at the helm in the bridge for a lesson in navigating and commanding a cruise ship. I’m sure there is more to it than what we were shown, but with today’s electronics and computerisation, it really didn’t seem that complicated. So, while I was at the bridge, Gail was playing bridge — in the card room, where 19 others, mostly serious, had gathered for an afternoon of competition. The lesson with the Captain ends and I make my way to the card room to see if Gail is still playing. “I’m jush doing ffine, hic” Gail slurs. I look at the table and the glass of whisky next to her. “I jusht ffound iit too sstreshful whith theeese Amerhicans, butt now its jusht ffine!” The rest of the day and evening were quite uneventful — just the usual eat drink and be merry, and at 10.00 pm we shuffled up to the Grand Salon for the evening show. Tonight it was a magic show, which was very well performed. I wasn’t sure if it was the magician’s hypnotic ways or just the fact I was zonked by the day’s inactivity, but the time for those feather pillows, upon our suite’s bed, awaiting their turn to serve their nightly duty, could not have come quick enough.

July 22

We awaken at 6.00 am. Shall we or shall we not get up? This morning at 6.15 am the ship will be travelling through the section of the Dardanelles where on the European shore is Gallipoli and on the Asian shore is Troy (as related in the Homeric Verses). We are not that motivated to rush out early for a full day’s tour to Gallipoli, nor a half day tour to a lot more ruins and a wooden horse whose original existence is still a myth. However, we can get a view of both locales from an adequate vantage point which , with commentary from an onboard guide, should satisfy our curiosity somewhat. We get up! Çanakkale, whilst appearing quite pretty from a vantage point in the middle of the strait of the Dardanelles, is really quite grubby once you are in the township. The only reason one would wish to go there is as a way stop in transit to either Gallipoli or Troy. Many of our fellow travellers expressed disappointment in Troy and cited Ephesus as a much better example of Bronze Age to Greco-Roman metropolis ruins. In hindsight, we should have gone to Gallipoli — the consensus there was not so much one of being moved, but rather one of education of the slaughter that occurred in 1915, and not only of Australians & New Zealanders. I guess it will just have to wait for the next worldly tour to this region. Returning to the Seabourn Odyssey from Çanakkale in the shuttle bus (30 minutes) is akin to escaping back (beam me up Scotty!) to the Enterprise from a hostile world. We luxuriate in the afternoon sun beside the main pool whilst sipping Marguerites. The sun glows bright orange as it sinks slowly to the west and eventually submerges into the deep blue sea. Tonight is Elegant Casual in the dining room but the temperate air with a gentle breeze is too inviting so after a quick shower and change to casual (as opposed to elegant casual) we find an outside deck dining table on the starboard side of the Colonnade restaurant where a silvery moon is rising, and join with some new found English friends for a Vietnamese style meal. The shimmering moon on a navy blue sea with various tankers slowly overtaking in far away sea lanes provides the perfect backdrop for a night of good food, good friendship and memorable times. We catch the last 30 minutes of ‘The Clash of the Titans’ which is being shown on the outdoor big screen on deck 9 and have one last nightcap before retiring. The ship continues throughout the night in the Sea of Marmara headed for the waters of the Bosphorus.

July 23

It is the second of the three days at sea scheduled for this cruise, and the Captain has promised us a ‘civilised hour’ for sightseeing as we cruise the Bosphorus past Istanbul and into the Black Sea. Gail still hasn’t returned from the 7.30 am stretch class and whilst I have completed the weight training (my middle name is Adonis) there is no time left for the treadmill. It is 8.30 am as the beginning of land appears which marks the entrance to the Bosphorus and all the glory of the Istanbul coastline (on both sides — Asian and European). Under cloudless azure skies and on calm blue seas the slow journey through this narrow tract of water takes just under 2 hours and we are regularly joined by schools of dolphins who playfully ride the waves created by the massive bow of the ship as it carves its way through the ribbon of water. A late breakfast is consumed as we enter the Black Sea and head in a north easterly direction bound for Sevastopol, Ukraine. Whilst the activities offered are many and varied it’s hard to beat just relaxing on a deck whilst surrounded by sparkling ripples in a circular sea of blue whose 360° horizon meets with a lighter shade of sky blue. The only things one needs to think about are: shade or sun; lounge or chair; pool or spa; alcoholic or non-alcoholic (drink). There is an endless supply of offers from hovering waiters that respond if you just look at them: Sun screen sir? Anything to eat sir? A lens cleaner for your glasses sir? Despite the imbibing, Gail has been spurred on by coming second in yesterday’s bridge play and after breakfast had made a bee line to the card room for the 10.30 am bridge lesson. At this point of the travelogue, I would just like to say (in case I die of an over indulgence of extreme pleasure) that if anyone is contemplating a restful break from the hurly burly of work and life, there surely can be no better choice than a cruise aboard a small luxury cruise ship. The sun moves slowly across the sky. Nothing seems urgent. Time and space meld into one. Gail joins the moment. It’s 6.00 pm. Another Elegant Casual night. We dress for the occasion and head for The Club for a pre dinner drink. What to have? We ask the barman for a recommendation and without a further thought, a couple of spirit bottles have some contents poured into an ice filled container. A dash of this, a dash of that, a couple of shakes and 2 cocktail glasses are filled with a soft coloured liquid which tastes like a magic potion. (It’s a French Martini!). A hand protruding from a white sleeve is thrust forward in my direction and I turn to face the Captain whilst automatically accepting the offer of greeting. “How’s that suite 817?” he enquires with a smiling face and glint in his eye. I nod and thank him simultaneously. The larrikin in this New Zealand Captain showed ever so subtly as he strode off to greet a seated, elderly well to do American lady who was beckoning him with her diamond laden fingers. Entering the Restaurant we indicate to the Maitre D’ that we would be happy to start a table of 8 and within 5 minutes we are happily dining with 3 other couples and sharing worldly banter. Three courses, 2 wines and much social intercourse later we excuse ourselves to catch the last half hour of the show in the Grand Salon. Tomorrow will be the first of our Black Sea port destinations.

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