Pat's Emails-to-Home Journal

Monday, April 4, 2016, Canakkale, Turkey

Yesterday after 24 hours of traveling we landed in Istanbul and were chauffeured to the Viking boat. The route to the ship took us past numerous parks filled with families enjoying the beautiful weather; past freeway walls featuring vertical gardens; past beds of magnificent tulips. Unfortunately, due to the terrorist bombings, driving through Istanbul is all we are going to see of the city. We SAW the spice market and we SAW the blue mosque. BUMMER. Our 4/4 touring of the city was canceled and the boat moved on to dock in Canakkale. That is the bad news. 
          The good news is that on 4/4 we got to go to Troy. The site dates back 5000+ years and has 7? levels which reflect 5000 years of occupation. Everything is quite crude. It is much like Old Sarum. Troy's prominence was due to the fierce winds coming through the Dardanelles. Merchant ships sailing through this "pass" could only sail when the winds were favorable for moving them in their desired direction. The ships would pull into Troy to wait for the winds to change and they were charged a docking/waiting fee. Troy lost this source of revenue when the ability to tack was discovered. No revenue stream = no Troy.
          Quiet day.
          We were back on the ship by 2:00. We absolutely had to have lunch. Food as on all cruises is fabulous.
          This afternoon there was some hot-tubbing, walking, reading. This evening we went to a restaurant that is a prefix. Tonight was Scandinavian night.
1-Rain deer consume,
2-gravlax and lingonberry infused tartare salmon with caviar and pickled cucumber.
4-lamb Farikal known as sheep in cabbage
5 and for dessert cloudberry soup, vanilla white chocolate Panama cotta.
          Plus each course had its own wine pairing.
          All were foods that we would never order. Each course was wonderful.


Tuesday April 5 Ephesus

Beautiful day and fabulous tour.  Today we went to Ephesus.  We saw the huge, beautiful theatre which sat 24,000 people and the impressive library that housed 1000's of scrolls.  The public loos (exactly like the ones we saw in Corinth) were for men only!  And there was an intricate sewage system.  We walked down the Main Street which in ancient times ended at the port.  Now it ends in trees for the port, via silting and earthquakes, has filled in.  This street also saw the likes of Anthony and Cleopatra stroll by.  This site was so much more than I expected.  I had not realized that Pompeii was not the only beautifully preserved city on the planet.
          Then, just outside the gates one must run the shopkeeper gauntlet.  Signs were up for ice cream which was like no ice cream we had ever seen.  This kid pulled this big blob out of the freezer, shook it so it elongated into a 3' foot long clay looking teardrop then cut off a chunk and stuffed it into a cone!  Ice cream cone!  A sign read guanine fake watches.  Our big purchase of the day was a bunch of blue eyes.  Eyes that will keep away evil.  Not quite sure how to flesh that out; guess I will have to include a photo.
          We had a fabulous guide.  She kept talking the entire 4 hours and never lost our attention.  She pointed out an old hilltop castle that was the site of the very first settlement in the area.  It was also a place where Paul was imprisoned.  We saw goat herders and sheep herders.  We saw nomads.  And back in the city near the dock we escaped being pressured into buying a Turkish rug.  We hotfooted it back to the boat!
          Upon our return to the ship at 2:00 we had lunch.  We finished eating at 3:00.  We went up to the sports deck to lounge and read.  All of a sudden Judy shouted it's4:00...time for tea!  Jim sat up straight and bellowed out is it time to eat?  Too funny.  Yes, we did have tea and scones.  By the time we get home we will all be tub-shaped.  Breakfast will be a soda cracker with both lunch and dinner allowing us one piece of lettuce.  E-gad
          went to watch the evening entertainment which he said was fabulous.  I waddled up to our room and took a shower.  Darn, those calories just will not wash off!

Wednesday, 4/6/2016, Athens

Today is another beautiful, sunny day.  We chose to take a brief bus tour of the historic district.  The drive in from the dock at Piraeus took only about 30 minutes.  The views on the way were of several other ports and peaking in and out on the other side of the bus was the Acropolis.  Our first stop was the Archeology Museum.  We had a fabulous guide.
          Our guide took us into the oldest collection; dating back to the Linear B tablets.  Wow.  Up through the items uncovered in Ancient cemeteries of Crete.  Beautiful gold death masks, jewelry, cups.  Unbelievably beautifully wrought items.
          Next was the earliest Greek sculpture which had a very Egyptian look.  Very expression of movement, no facial expression.  Moving on to the sculpture having one foot slightly forward and on to the statuary having a Mona Lisa smile.  Fascinating!
          And then I was blown away!  Around a corner and face to face with the perfectly balanced bronze, chased wax larger than life Zeus in the act of hurling a thunderbolt.  Or Poseidon hurling a thunderbolt; take your pick.  I just could not believe I was standing in front of the statue I had discussed with my world history students 50 years ago.  The line of veins, the living musculature.  I cried!  I recovered until...
          We entered the next room and there, fished up from the bottom of the sea, stood The Jockey!  Another emotional moment! And another topic of lecture 50 years ago.  What a day!!
          We ended our morning at the Arch next to the Palaka.  The arch lead to the old agora while the Palaka is the today, picturesque shopping district located at the base of the Acropolis.
          Jim and I signed up to go back to the Palaka for dinner in a taverna.  It was fun.  We began in a fabulous rooftop garden with an incredible view of the Acropolis but then any view of the Acropolis is incredible.  Back downstairs and a walk into the Palaka past the fun, colorful shops.  Dinner was fine, the dancing enjoyable.  But then onto another magical moment.  We walked out of the taverna, it was night and the view, in front of us was of steps leading down to our walking route past the shops, was breath taking.  Here the tavernas were about 30 feet apart.  The steps went down through the middle.  Some tavernas had small terraces while others had cushions strewn on the steps. There were no overhead lights.  We viewed a block long staircase lined with tavernas, packed with locals enjoying the soft lighting provided by the fairy lights wound around trees and by lanterns and by the light spilling onto the steps from the tavernas.  We felt as tho we were walking through a movie set.  How can any such moment be real?

Thursday, April 7, Santorini

Aquateri was a Linear A city.
Destroyed 1600 bc
 1967 excavation began...clues to its existence came via a rainy season when a donkey fell through the surface.
 Estimated pop 30000
Excavation suspended due to financial situation of Greece.
 Excavated section believed to be city center.
City originally a port
Central sewage, water.
No bodies have been found here.  Assumed eruption preceded by numerous earthquakes so population vacated, emigrated.
Pop moved goods to their doorways.  Intention was to return.  We're killed during explosion awaiting boats to get them at another port or killed be tsunami.

Friday, 4/8, at sea

We left Santorini yesterday around 6:00 and are due to dock tomorrow morning in Kotor, Montenegro.  So today is an on board (but not bored) day.
          After breakfast Judy and I decided to visit the onboard shops.  I said I wanted to use the bathroom before we shopped.  She said, "You want to vacuum?"  Our ears are wearing out and our speaking ability seems to be compromised too.
          We window shopped, caught up on emails, edited the photos we took, had a great lunch, attended another art history lecture, gathered with other repeat travelers for a champagne toast with the captain, and had afternoon tea.  Tea is served around the fringes of the pool and always features music...pianist or classic guitar, or a violin + bass + flute trio.  Then of course we trooped into dinner at around 7:00.  It usually takes a couple of hours to eat.
          Tonight there is all kinds of entertainment going on but I am staying in with my feet up the wall.  Pooped!

Saturday, 4/9/16, Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor is nestled into the crook of Europe's southernmost fjord.  Kotor was a medieval port and is so deep that the ship could dock right in the town.  We were able to walk off the ship and right into the small the city.  To get into the bay of this fiord the ship navigated between two mountains, through a narrow channel.  Beautiful views.
          A huge wall from the 1400's surrounds the city and this wall is the only large thing in sight. We had a super tour of this tiny village.  Everything was small:  tiny shoppes, tiny museum, narrow passages.
          The morning saw rain.  From our balcony we watched the people getting off the boat to gather for their walking tours.  Every cabin has a red umbrella and everyone on the various tours was carrying a red umbrella.  It made a lovely picture.  All the gloomy rain, the texture of the city walls then the bright umbrellas.  I said the passages were quite narrow well, in some spots the passages were so narrow that two umbrellas could not pass.
          In the evening Judy and I took a big bus and then a small boat to get to a small island, Our Lady of the Rocks, to attend a concert.  The 40' X 60' island had a church that would only hold about 56 people when stuffed.  We emerged from the boat only to be greeted by champagne.  A very nice way to begin a concert.  We took so many photos of the church and the mainland and of so many stone sinks brimming with flowers.
          Inside the church walls were filled with paintings and hammered silver prayer plaques.  We listened to a wonderful classical guitar concert and returned via boat and bus to our ship.
          We sat with the ship captainís wife who was able to explain the explosive success of Viking:
          Other lines charge both passengers and crew for wifi.  Viking does not. One of our waiters is able to communicate with his children 3X a day.  He worked for another line and was charged $8.00/day for wifi plus he paid for food
          The staff is not paid on a commission basis and the staff have adequate bunk rooms and bath facilities.  Plus they have their own chef who prepares food common to their origins.  Vikings idea is that a happy crew insures happy customers.
          there are no photographers following passengers to take then sell photos
there are no provisions made for children.  In fact the ocean cruises are limited to adults over 18.
          So the staff is treated well and believe me they treat the customers well.  Everyone from the captain down has a smile and a good morning.  As a result the ships not yet built are selling out!  Customers taking multiple trips are common.  250+ of the passengers on our ship were staying on for 50 days.

Sunday, 4/10/16, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

OMG what a charming city!  Beautiful walls and churches and views.  We took a 3 hour walking tour viewing the sculpture and paintings.  And then, great fun, there were groups singing in various spots around town.  They were in native dress and singing their little hearts out. We walked around the old port, through/around the interior of the walled area, had coffee and finally made our way back to the ship.
          The cravat was invented here.  It evolved into the necktie.  We went into a very posh shop that had a door handle in the shape of a tie.  Jim and I strolled along the tiny bay where there are dozens of boats, even a few with glass bottoms, all set to take one out on a sight-seeing tour.  So colorful!  Then again walking through the city there are small passages with a photo op at every corner.  Some people walked up the steps to the top of the wall.
         This city was not only the original home of the cravat but it also saw the first apothecary.  Visitable, of course.
           We caught a bus to go back to the ship.  We were met, just outside the ship, with some very loud music..."what the heck is going on?"  About 20 of the shipís crew had formed a gauntlet.  They were passing out champagne, dancing, singing and as we approached with our champagne the cruise director decided to shake up a bottle of champagne and spray everyone
          What did I say about keeping the crew and passengers happy!!  We wanted to go out again just so we could come back!

Our Sunday dinner was at 7:00 and again in the prefix dining room.  Tonight the theme was Venitian.  Another wonderful 2 hour meal with wine pairings.  Exquisite

Monday, 4/11/16, Pula, Croatia
          Today was another day where we had to be ferried to the mainland. This time our transportation was via lifeboat!  There are 6 life boats each holding 270 people plus there are numerous huge canisters that contain additional inflatable zodiac type life rafts.
          Pula is located on the Istrian Peninsula.  It has another Roman amphitheater.  Those Romans built theaters all over the place!  This one held 22,000 people and it too had gladiatorial combat.  It is still used for concerts and operas.  Under the colosseum/amphitheater there are tunnels that were used 2000 years ago coordinating with the upstairs activity.  The tunnels now house ancient wine presses and containers.    This whole area was once controlled by Venice; the area is reminiscent of Tuscany.  And this coast of Croatia is dependent on wine and tourism.  As we drove to our village we passed vineyards.  The vineyards have small stone round "houses."  They are much like the trulios found in Puglia, Italy.  Except these are scattered in the vineyards and only large enough for a worker to take his siesta.  Only large enough for a nap!  Our goal today was to visit the walled town Rovinj.  One can barely walk more than 10 feet without coming across another photo op.  Charming walkways, flowers in pots on steps or growing over ancient walls.  The colors of the houses are all Mediterranean earth tones of red/orange, gold, terra cotta with deep green shutters and stone everywhere.  We had time out for coffee and cheese cake.  Yum.  But we had more than coffee and cheesecake we had time to watch life passing by.  A tiny tyke on a little scooter, a dog hopping up into a fountain for a noontime slurp.  Ladies coming from the farmers market carrying bunches of lilacs, a workman pulling a cart with building materials.  Our guide in Rovinj lives there.  She the told us that people do not live inside their homes.  They are always outside.  The outdoor cafes are always full of people sharing the evenings.  Their homes are for sleeping.