Below you will find a breakdown of the days we were either in Venice, Athens, or on the ship visiting the countries of Croiata, Montenegro, and Turkey. Click on the small pictures you see to get a larger version. Any pictures may be used for private purposes but permission is needed for commercial use.
Sandra and Allen Haid are getting into the cruise vacations as they provide an opportunity to relax on the ship or explore the world. We always choose the later - meaning we get up early and participate in the interesting tours when the ship docks at a port or drops anchor nearby. This cruise was in the middle of summer and yes, we knew it would be quite warm. It was initially a wine cruise that we signed up with, but the winery pulled out because there were not enough winery members that wanted to participate. We stuck with the cruise iteniary though; the Adriatic and Ionian Seas have interested us for a while. So we arrived a day early in Venice, Italy and stayed two days after the cruise in Athens, Greece to really get the most out of this experience.
Our summer cruise involved getting us to Venice and we learned that you should arrive a day early to allow for unforseen issues with weather and such. Well, good planning on our part. Our departure was delayed due to weather in New York (JFK airport had a ground hold); we sat on the tarmac at Dulles Airport (IAD) for two hours before they returned us to our departure gate and we all scrambled to get rebooked on other flights. Sandra and Allen ended up flying later in the evening to.....guess.....Casablanca, Morrocco. From there we departed for Venice and that basically put us five hours behind our expected arrival. However, our luggage followed us and overall we were very lucky. We checked into our Venician hotel around 6 PM local time and soon we were enjoying a nice dinner in Venice. A bottle of wine and all is forgiven...er...forgotten.
The next day we walked around the city to explore what we could before getting on the cruise ship later that afternoon. Sandra wanted to see the Rialto bridge, and that involved a two or maybe three mile walk through the narrow streets. Once we boarded the ship, we settled down for some relaxation and tried to meet up with a few online friends (with Cruise Critic); eventually meeting up with Jeff and Barbara. The next day, while we still in port, we took a boat ride down the Grand Canal and saw the Bridge of Sighs and the Guggenheim Museum. The weather was warm but not as hot as it was going to get later on this voyage!
We sailed overnight to Dubrovnik, the famous walled medieval city known for it's Venetian monuments. This city is also known as 'Kings Landing' in the Game of Thrones HBO series, and that's why we did the tour called "Game of Thrones - Venture Through Kings Landing". It was very warm so we kept looking for shade but there wasn't much. We toured several sites where some scenes were filmed and then went into the older sections of Dubrovnik, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We saw several cats that were doing their best to deal with the heat. There was a wedding too. However, we were happy to return to our ship to have a shower and enjoy a nice buffet dinner.
Kotor in Montenegro is a beautiful walled medieval city of twisting, pink-paved streets. There are both Byzantine and Venetian influences with the architecture of the city. With much to see, Sandra has always been a lover of music, so we did the Classical Performance in Prcanj & Kotor walking tour. This included a short boat ride to Prcanj to see the glorious Our Lady's Temple and hear three ladies perform classical music with just flutes. We then had the traditional seafood lunch before heading back to Kotor for a walking tour of the city. There were several cats on the stone streets and it was hot, so the kitties were sticking to the shaded areas. We did find a Cat Museum though and they had an interesting display of cat-related items, like postcards, stamps and things of this nature.
Our visit to the most northern town of Greece (Corfu) was limited to a winery tour, but what better way to enjoy life? We rode a bus to the Ambelonas Wine Estate for a nice tour and lunch experience. This is a centuries-old estate that has experienced fires and other problems but things were in good shape for our visit. The two major grape varietals here are the red Skopelitiko and the white Kakotrygis. There are also lots of olive trees around, some as old as 400 years. The wine tasting and lunch experience were delightful. Back on the ship for dinner, we dined at one of the speciality restaurants - Red Ginger.
Our second excursion into Greece was at the city of Katalon, where we would spend most of the day touring ancient Olympia, the Mercouri Winery and folkdancing with the sound of Zorba music. Yes, they grabbed people from the tour group to get out on the dance floor and Sandra was one of them! Allen needed to remain seated so he could take the pictures of course.
The ruins of ancient Olympia were quite impressive and if Allen wasn't so busy looking for shade (along with taking more pictures) it would have been very nice. But Allen missed hooking up with the walking tour group, which soon walked back to a gift shop leaving Allen behind. However, Allen did manage to catch up to the group before everyone got back on the bus for our lunch experience, so no harm done.
Our journey to Crete (part of Greece) brought us to the city of Chania, but our real destination was the cities of Knossos and Arolithos. We took a bus to Knossos, which was once the capital of ancient Minoan Crete. Here an archaeological excavation of the Minoan Palace reveals the seat of power of the legendary King Minos. It was hot of course but there was just so much to see here. Once back on the bus, we drove to Arolithos, a city that's a recreation of a traditional Cretan village. There were plenty of art crafts on display and of course, a few kitty cats too. We spent most of our time dining at an open-air restaurant however. There was dancing and live music for us and of course they grabbed a few travelers to get up there on the stage. We both firmly held onto our seats.
Our main focus was a wine tour at Boutari Winery, plus visits to Oia and Fira. The island has a five thousand history of growing wine grapes and we got to see how that's done. They keep the vines low to the ground, wound around into a basket shape such that the winds cannot blow them over and damage the grapes. Rainfall doesn't happen very often on the island, but in the morning the sea mist blows onto the vineyards, coating the grape leaves with much needed water. The summertime heat is kept at bay by the canopy of vine leaves, which shield the grape clusters. Harvest begins near the end of August in a typical year. Inside the winery, we were treated to a nice tasting of white and red wines, along with a gourmet lunch. What a treat!
Ah, Santorini Greece. Everyone has heard of this island. There are the beautiful whitewashed hilltop towns of Oia and Fira, which stay so white because they whitewash them each year. There are shops galore and small churches too. Everywhere you look is a stunning view, once you are off the streets and congestion.
We actually arrived at the port of Kusadasi, not Ephesus itself. Come to think of it, we specifically toured the ancient monumental cities of Miletus and Didyma, which are known for their majestic temples and impressive, beautifully preserved stadiums. The city of Miletus was a major maritime power in the 6th century B.C., thanks to it's four harbors (which are no longer near the coastline). We saw a Greco-Roman theater, Roman-era baths and things of this nature. Over at Didyma, we saw the majestic Temple of Apollo, which is considered to be one of the great monuments of antiquity. Once we returned to Kusadasi, we participated in a carpet demonstration, where they showed you how the silk is obtained and how it and other fibers (cotton, wool) are woven into rugs. This was an impressive demonstration and yes, they were hoping you might wish to purchase a rug (free shipping was the offer); we already have a few similar rugs in our house so no sale here.
The island of Delos is covered in ruins, fallen columns, a stadium, and tiers of seats from a theater. There are plenty of interesting monuments spread over a wide area, including the Sanctuary of Apollo. There is a museum with some of the more precious artifacts; much of the excavation was performed by the French and is well documented. By the time we returned to the main island, we were worn out so we just basically headed for one of the busses that would drop us off at our ship. Shopping would have to wait until we reach Athens.
Our next to last port of call was the city Chora on the island of Mykonos in Greece. We would stroll along these streets later in the day, but first we needed to board another boat and head to the island of Delos, which was said to be the birthplace of the God Apollo and Goddess Artemis. It's also a great place to visit with cats too.
It wasn't long after docking in the port area of Athens that we disembarked, as they needed to clean the ship and prepare for a return voyage with another group of travelers. Our travel agent recommended we spend two nights in Athens and use a taxi / tour service to take us around the city. We were picked up by our driver (John) and we climbed into his Mercedes for a ride to see the Acropolis / Parthenon, then the Temple of Zeus and the Panathinaiko Stadium (first modern Olympic games were held there). This first day was only about a 5-6 hour tour, and John dropped us off at our hotel (St. George Lycabetus Hill) so we could check in and relax. Our room had an excellent view of Athens, including the Parthenon, which Allen got a picture of at 0430 showing the moon above it. With evening comes dinner nearby at a street restaurant, then it was shower time and the shower / bath unit was quite interesting.
Our next day started off with eating breakfast on the top floor of the hotel, with that lovely view of the city. Then we were picked up by John to head out to see more of the city. We did more driving this day, and we saw the Canal of Corinthos, Nemea (nice Palivou Estate Winery tour and tasting), Mycenae (archaeological area and museum), and the town of Nafplio (old seaport, first capital of Greece). We did enjoy a very tasty lunch too, and a pregnant cat was happy to eat a bit of our lunches. For dinner we decided to eat at the same street restaurant as the prior night - it was that good.