Thursday, March 31, 2016

Athens (Piraeus), Greece

Wednesday March 30

There are many cruise ships docked in Piraeus (Pie-Ray-us).  Makes for lots of people everywhere.  First, our tour took us for a drive through the port city of Piraeus where we saw the small harbour of Zea (Zee-ah) whose 5th Century BC docks still survive.

We decided a 5 hour tour which goes to the Acropolis and the Parthenon would help us personally experience the Acropolis and its ruins.  It was crazy busy here.  Apparently there is an average of 5,000 visitors each day.  Most of these visits occur in the cooler morning hours.  We also had a little free time to shop in old downtown Athens.  Bob managed to find a few caches.  We also stopped at the Panathenaic Stadium, the venue where the first Olympic Games of the modern era took place in 1896.  It was also a great spot to see the Parthenon in the distance atop the Acropolis.  At the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, we momentarily saw the Presidential Guard, known as the Evzones, in their distinctive dress uniform of cotton kilts and pompons.  They move as if in slow motion.  

Tonight we witnessed our first Sammenkomst (a Norwegian gathering).  Our Norwegian Captain, General Manager and Cruise Director made a mad dash from deck 8 to deck 3 to see how many hands they could shake along the way.  Wine and canapĂ©s were served.  Crazy party in the hallway!  Great way to meet our neighbours.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

Tuesday March 29

We had a nice walk in the ruins of Ephesus, one of the best preserved cities of antiquity.   The main features are the Great theatre, built for 25,000 spectators and the library of Celsus which once housed 12,000 scrolls, and the Gymnasium. 

The guide then dropped us off at a carpet factory.  The presentation was most interesting...from explaining the process of extracting the silk from the cocoons, to the making and softening of the threads, and the making of the carpet and trimming of the pile.  Some carpets were made of silk, others of cotton/wool combination, and some were embellished with silk.  Again we were offered tea as well as Turkish coffee, Turkish Raki (liqueur), beer and wine.  Then, we got the sales pitch.  It had to happen.  

Afterwards we walked around the Kusadasi bazaar.  These vendors were much less pesky than those of Istanbul.  They are so fun!  

For supper we tried The Restaurant (they really need to find a name for this place).  Again the food was good.  The problem, it is very noisy.  You can't talk to each other and you find yourself listening to other conversations.  

Later, we went to the Viking Star Theatre for great entertainment.  The theme this time was operatic.  There are 8 Star Theatre singers and dancers.  They are excellent entertainers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Canakkale (Troy), Turkey

Monday March 28

Smooth sailing all night long.  Awoke to a beautiful sunrise over Turkey.  Docking at Cannakale.  We decided to order room service for breakfast today to save some time before the tour.

Mustafa, our guide for the Troy Tour, was very knowledgeable.  He authored 2 books on the subject. Troy is a fascinating place.  Ruins date back 4500 years.  There are 9 Troys.  Each time Troy was destroyed due to war or fire, it was rebuilt on the same site.  You can tell the different eras by looking at how the the bricks and rocks are sculpted to create gates and homes.  In Canakkale (Chanak-keh-leh) we walked around old town and the dock area where we saw Brad Pitt's Trojan horse (from the 2004 Troy movie).

Another delightful supper... Beef Wellington, lobster in puff pastry, another duck dish and gelato.  

Party with the captain tonight.  Champagne, music, introductions of our gregarious, jovial, comedic captain, Rune Lokling, and heads of the departments. Then we were introduced to the singers who will be performing a Cabaret, tributes to the Beatles, Rat Pack and ABBA.  What voices they have!  Looking forward to those programs.  According to the captain, we are no longer passengers....we are Vikings!  We learned that by 2020 Viking Ocean Cruises will have 6 ocean vessels.  Obviously popular!  Already Viking Star has won many awards.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Boarding Viking Star

Sunday March 27 - Easter

A Slight change to our itinerary.  We were to leave Istanbul Monday afternoon.  However, that has been changed to Sunday night due to recent incidents.  We will be visiting Canakkale (Troy) instead as a bonus on the way to our scheduled port of Ephesus.

Viking Star day.  We boarded at 11 am.   Went through security, showed our passports at 4 checkpoints.  The fourth  time they kept our passports and told us we would get them back in Athens.  We were given a card which serves as a boarding pass and a cabin key.  As we boarded, we were greeted with champagne.  That's classy.  We started by booking the specialty restaurants and tomorrow's tour of Troy and Cannakale.  Throughout the day we visited the facilities, listened to lovely live music, had lunch at the Pool Bar and Grill, had supper at the World Cafe.  Supper comprised of seafood buffet, salads, duck a l'orange, filet mignon, shrimp and crab soufflĂ©, large shrimp, sushi, gelato.  All food is freshly made from scratch.  Our cabin hostess is Rosalyn.  It is the first time she has guests who stay for the entire trip.  She is excited!   The cabin is a decent size:  king bed, 2 chairs, desk, desk chair, and nice bathroom with heated floor.  

The crew we have met since boarding have been helpful, happy, pleasant, cordial, hospitable.  They have made our first day on Viking Star memorable.  They are from  Phillipines, Indonesia, Norway, Montenegro and other countries.

We left port at approx 10:45 pm.   Having a nice, smooth, peaceful ride on the Bosphorus watching the city go by with its well lit tower, mosques, and palaces.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Istanbul Part Four

Saturday March 26

Viking changed our leaving Istanbul to Sunday night rather than Monday afternoon due to recent events. As a result, our Monday boat tour of the Bosphorus was cancelled. We decided to take it on our own.  The boat tour began on the European side and returned on the Asian side.  We had a great history lesson.  There are so many palaces.  Some have become luxurious expensive hotels.  Others have become museums.

We stopped to visit Kucuksu Palace where we set foot on Asian soil for the first time.  We passed by Dolmabahce palace, Ciragan palace, Rumeli Fortress, Anadalu Fortress.  At the end of the boat tour,  we returned to the dock and continued on a bus to the top of Pierre Loti mountain (more like a big hill).  Here we ate lunch with a grand view of the city spread out below.  Later we descended the mountain by cable car to our waiting tour bus.   Returning to our hotel we stopped at the adjacent restaurant for another complementary tea. Turks are so hospitable.

If you are not yet following the blog, please do so.  You will find the tiny "follow" button next to our photo on the right hand side of the blog.  It might help simplify our process.  This way, Bob will just need to email the link to the photos.  Enjoy!

Istanbul Part Three

Friday March 25 - Good Friday

We had another 13 km day!  We started out at 8 am to find a couple of caches before the Basilica Cisterns opened at 9 am.  It is best described as a large underground shallow pool with lighted columns and catfish in the water.  It is cavernous.  Very interesting place.  The entrance is on one street and the exit is on a different street.  We became disoriented.  We turned the wrong way for the Grand Bazaar and found ourselves at the Spice bazaar where we bought Turkish Delight and Turkish Apple tea.  This is a nice little market with many venders selling spices, Turkish delight, baklava and tea.  Each claimed to have the best prices and the best products!

Then we went to the Grand Bazaar the long way.  We learned later there was a shortcut which would have saved us thousands of steps.  It is overwhelming.  We visited just long enough to get a flavour of the place.  We stopped at a restaurant for some apple tea.  That was a much needed nice rest.  Then we headed home.  As we walked by last night's restaurant, we were invited for tea on the house.  Bob jumped at the opportunity.  So, more apple tea.  I tell you, people here are so nice.

Tonight we experienced our first Hammam (Turkish bath) located in our hotel spa area.  We have really mellowed out!

For anyone who is concerned, security here is quite rigid.  Topkapi had guards with rifles and 2 sets of security scanners like you find in airports.  Hagia Sophia also had security scanners.  Spice bazaar and Grand bazaar had security guards with hand scanners. Everywhere you go, parks and public places, there are police and security guards.  This makes one feel quite safe despite recent events.

Istanbul Part Two

Thursday March 24.

Our street is very cool.  It is narrow, one way, and pedestrians share the road with speeding vehicles (including tour buses).  It gets interesting.  There are several small hotels, with restaurants and shops.
On our 13 km walk today, our first stop was The Blue Mosque, so called because of the blue tiles inside.  Rose-Marie forgot her scarf/shawl  Bobbie gave her for the occasion.  To enter, she was given one and we  removed our shoes. Inside, the floor is carpeted and comfortable for our feet.  The workmanship and the vastness of the space were awe inspiring.

Looking for the entrance to the Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya) we found ourselves at the entrance of Topkapi palace.  Might as well go in, we are here.  The expanse of this property is impressive.  The view of the Bosphorus was hindered by a bit of fog,  What is impressive is the number of ships and tour boats.  Apparently 150 large ships come through here daily.  The museum houses artifacts from 400 AD to the 17th century.  These include jewelled knives, sabers, pots, rugs, medals and more.

Outside Hagia Sofia there is a lovely park with a dancing water fountain.  Hagia Sofia is undergoing major restoration inside.  The frescoes and ceramic tiles are very damaged.  This is definitely a multi year project.  The place is massive and quite fascinating.  There is a multilevel cobblestone ramp going up to the viewing gallery.  It is well worth the trip up.  You take a different ramp on the way down.  There were several calligraphy signs with no explanation of what they meant.  That is unfortunate.

Tonight's supper was at Turkuaz Gurme restaurant next door to our hotel.    Although we did enjoy our dishes, we both found them a bit salty and did not care for the bits of rosemary in the dish.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Istanbul Part One

Wednesday March 23.    

We left Lethbridge Tuesday March 22 and arrived Wednesday March 23.  Basically, all went well with our flights in spite of a one hour delay in Frankfurt due to excessive air traffic over Istanbul.  Best Western Premier Regency Suites is a small (16 rooms) hotel.  It is very well appointed, and has an exercise room, Turkish bath, sauna.  Our room has a sitting area, a bedroom and a jacuzzi. The included breakfast is very interesting with  bread, eggs, cookies, fruit and a variety of Turkish foods.  Yes, we had cookies and Turkish Delight for breakfast.

At the end of our stay in Istanbul we will be sending a link to our photo blog in our drop box.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

At Last!

Today is Tuesday March 8, 2016.  It all starts March 22 with a flight to Istanbul. That is only 2 weeks away. We booked and paid for this trip 2 1/2 years ago, finally we have arrived!

Time to prep. I was starting to organise for packing Sunday when I realised I was missing my backpack. I left it in the park model in AZ. After my initial panic attack, I remembered our former Saskatoon neighbours were returning home via Cardston this coming weekend. They agreed to bring it to me. We were to meet at Timmies on their way through Lethbridge anyway. That meant I had to contact friends with the key to hunt it down and bring it to them. All is well with the world.  I will have it early next week.

Our Cruise specialist called today to say our final papers were ready.  It's pretty exciting!  Woohoooo!

Viking is an amazing organisation.  They gave us a personalised book detailing our excursions, recommendations for restaurants, and all the information we need for the trip.