Trip Diary
Europe - June 2011

Our Grand Tour – Europe 2011
Three Generations – 17 days - Italy, Greece, Turkey, France

 June 14-15 (Tues-Wed) Getting to Europe

 We left the lake at 7:15 and got to Jeannie’s house at 8:00 exactly as planned.  After one false start we were on our way to Northern VA at 8:15.  We made good time & arrived at our destination at noon.  After lunch we left our cars at Holiday Inn as arranged & took their shuttle to the airport – all 7 of us with our bags filled the van.  Fortunately, only one other lady was along for the ride.

 Dulles, Delays & Difficulties

 At check-in I discovered that even though I made our reservations in March and chose our seats (2 sets of 3 by the window and 1 across the aisle, we were now all in the center section – no windows and split up on different decks.  Two explanations for this: there’s a computer glitch between Air France & Delta (who handles the AF US reservations and they switched to a different plane – a HUGE Airbus 380 which carries over 400 people. 

After pleading with the desk clerk to no avail we made our way to security where I made an effort to “look pleasant” and not attract additional attention for having a
”look of contempt” or “appearing agitated.”  All went well!

In the boarding area a helpful Air France rep was able to switch our seats so at least we were on the same (upper) deck.  Still in the center, but OK.  On an overnight flight there wasn’t much to see out the windows anyway.  Jeanne, Joe & I were in the exit row so plenty of leg room, but with traffic to & from the bathrooms.  A nice feature was the camera in the tail where we could watch the plane on take off & in flight, although once airborne, all there was to see was clouds.

Takeoff was delayed.  We were told something about a strike in Paris.  I emailed our van service & our apt owner from the boarding area with the new info.  Unfortunately, that also meant a later flight from Paris to Rome, so instead of arriving in Rome at 9:00 am, it would be almost 1:00 pm.

The transatlantic flight itself was fine, but followed by several hours in the Paris (CDG) airport where Jeanne paid 7 Euros for 2 bottles of water.  The pastry however was good and reasonably priced.

On arrival in Rome we got our luggage quickly but our van was nowhere to be found.  Then my phone didn’t have a signal.  It seems that when I change countries I have to pick “rest of Europe” again.  A nice man called and got the info that our driver was there but waiting at a different door. 

Finally we got together and arrived at our apartment where the owner Annarita was waiting for us.  It’s really lovely – 3 big bedrooms, kitchen & terrace and even a small balcony off one of the bedrooms.  Pictures will document all this.

The first thing everyone wanted to see was St Peter’s Basilica, but first we had a late lunch in a cafeteria style local restaurant - lots of food for 76 Euros.  We took the extra from Carrie & Andy back to the apt.  Then on to St. Peter’s. By late afternoon there wasn’t any line and we went quickly through security and the clothing check - no bare knees or shoulders.  5 pm Mass was going on so we couldn’t get close to the main altar, but we walked around the huge interior viewing the Pieta, the tombs of the Popes and side altars as large as in some churches.  We couldn’t get to the crypts which close at 4.

After leaving the Basilica we walked around the square & down the main street past lots of souvenir stands.  Our last trek of the day was to the Old Bridge Geletaria which is next to the wall of the Vatican.  It was recommended by Father Roderick from The Netherlands.  Soon after we got in line, a mob of people lined up around the block.  It was very good and I’m not usually a fan of gelato.  Compared to the more well known sites it was even reasonably priced.  My 2 scoops were either 1.5 or 2 Euros.

At this point we had been awake for well over 24 hours so we bought some groceries in the Billa Supermarket across from our apartment and then just crashed and slept until 8 in the morning. 

June 16th (Thursday)  Our First Full Day in Rome 

No early start for us as we slept about 12 hrs because of jet lag.  Breakfast was in the apartment with the groceries purchased the night before.  The Italian instant coffee was absolutely great.  After some cereal, juice & rolls, off we went in search of Euros.

We had a rude introduction to the Italian banking system.  Only one person could enter at a time through a revolving security door which screened for metal.  So a lot of pocket emptying was going on.  They provide locked safety boxes in the entryway so you can lock up keys, coins, etc when you enter.  We tried 2 banks.  One (German) didn’t exchange dollars for Euros and the 2nd (Italian) would only exchange $500 and we needed 1250 Euros for the apartment.

Enough of this debacle!  We went sightseeing, bought a RomaPass and visited Castel de Angelo.  We didn’t see this the last time we were in Rome.  Then there was only time enough to walk around the outside.  The Papal Apartments, the treasury room and the military aspect of this fortress defined the time when the Pope was besieged here by foreign armies.  There’s a passageway from St Peter’s to this fort.  The views from the top were wonderful.  A cannon was fired at noon from a nearby hill.

It was getting late and we had 2 pm tickets to the Vatican museum.  We went back to the apt for “church appropriate” clothes, stopped at our cafeteria & bought sandwiches “to go.”  I could eat mozzarella and tomato on assorted breads every day.  We actually ate while walking to the museum.  Fortunately we are staying very near to Vatican City.

With our online reserved tickets we could skip the long line and walked right in at 1:30.  I guess we didn’t have to wait until the appointed hour.  Just as I remembered there is a mind boggling, amazing collection of paintings, sculpture, tapestries and ancient maps in addition to the Egyptian and Roman collection.  Amazing ceilings too!  Photos will describe the tour.

Finally we arrived in the Sistine Chapel.  Last visit it was being restored and had scaffolding all around.  They did an excellent job.  We had a guidebook and a Rick Steve’s audio-guide and stayed long enough to understand the subjects of each painting.  A clothing advisory:  Although no one monitored clothing at the entrance to the museum, appropriate dress was required in the Sistene Chapel.  I saw women scrambling to fashion shawls and skirts out of plastic bags.

Then a DASH back to St Peter’s since we wanted to see the crypts before 4 pm closing time.  Thanks to a helpful guard, we made it just in time.  The easy to miss door and stairs were tucked next to the altar of St Andrew.  We saw the tombs of many Popes and Saints most importantly that of St. Peter.  His tomb is above the actual location of the bones which were discovered and certified about 50 years ago.  There is a “Scavi” tour which takes visitors to this lower level, but the minimum age is 15. 

Next was the ascent up into the Dome.  Only Jeanne & family elected to do that.  I didn’t mind 500 steps, but I knew the last 200 were tiny steps of a spiral staircase where you hung onto a central rope for balance.  From experience I know that I never like the feeling that gives me, so I settled for just seeing their pictures.  They loved their experience!

Meanwhile, I spent more time in St. Peter’s at the Pieta, various altars and the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament where you could only enter if you were going to pray.  Joe was sitting at the fountain outside and I would check in with him regularly.  We talked to some students from Indianapolis who were on a church tour tracing the steps of Paul. Jeanne & family returned just in time for 5 pm Mass so we attended – in Italian and Latin with a German choir.

After another trip down souvenir row, we went to dinner at a local restaurant.  We’re in the Preti neighborhood and there are places to eat everywhere, full of local people and reasonably priced.  We seem to be the only American tourists.

Before dinner we restocked at the supermarket including wine.  Annarita came over with her mother & we paid her for the apt.  While the kids took their showers, Jeannie & Eddie went off to see St Peter’s lit up at night.  They could even see the lights on in the Pope’s study.  He must be working late.  Evening on the terrace of our apt is lovely.  We drank wine and relaxed. 

June 17th Friday

We keep planning an early start, but it was 9 before we started on our way, but it’s always better to begin a full day well rested.  This was our trek through classical Rome with churches mixed in along the way. 

1st Stop: Plaza Navonna – fountains & the Church of St Agnes 

2nd – The Pantheon – impressive and well preserved, original 2000 year old doors, occulus, etc, largest dome in the world & the crypt of Raphael. 

3rdTrevi Fountain – Amazingly few tourists and the kids recreated “Three Coins in the Fountain. 

4thTrajan’s column & the Victor Emmanuel Monument

A fortuitous wrong turn took us to
5thChurch of Maria of Ara Coeli (Altar of Heaven).  This building on the Capitoline Hill has a remarkable history. Originally Emperor Augustus consulted a sybil here who prophesied that a Hebrew child had been born of a virgin in Judea and he would one day rule over the whole world. Augustus built an altar here to “God’s first born Son.  Also, in the courtyard was the statue of Romulus and Remus and the mama wolf – the original founding legend of Rome. 

6th – The Colosseum.  With our RomaPass we again bypassed the line.  There’s been a lot of reconstruction since we were here last time.  Then we could only walk around a small area on the main level.  Now the tour starts on the upper level and they have a section of the wood floor, steps and some box seats so we could better visualize what was there.  The large cross marked the spot where they believe the emperor’s statue once stood.  The descriptions of the executions and methods were horrifying, even worse than our Hollywood descriptions of gladiators, animals and Christian martyrs. 

7th – The Roman Forum & vicinity.  There’s been a lot of new excavation since we were last here.  The entrance is in a new place too which messed up our guidebook itinerary since we were following it backwards.  Some buildings were very well preserved like the Curia where even the marble floors were intact.  Now it was filled with bust of important Romans, lots of Emperor Nero.  Other places were just shells of themselves or a few remaining columns.  The massive Arch of Constantine, Titus and Septimus Severus are the exceptions.  These monuments on the Via Sacra mark the route of triumphal armies returning with their conquests – treasure, exotic animals and slaves.

We think we identified Mamertine prison where Peter was held, a truly horrifying place for anyone who ran afoul of the people in charge.  It was just “outside” the forum.  Carrie also got to see an aqueduct - at least a piece of one. 

We ate lunch in a place recommended in Rick Steve’s book “Café Studente

8thChurch of St Peter in Chains.  On our first attempt to visit we found it closed (12 – 3).  So we returned later to see the chains that bound St Peter in Jerusalem which fell off when he was visited by an angel and escaped and those that bound him at Mamertine prison before his execution. 

9th – A Metro ride home - very crowded on a late Friday afternoon.  This was also our first encounter with a potential pickpocket.  Two young girls with a baby jumped onto our train and stuffed a hand in Joe’s back pocket where there were only tissues and a handkerchief.  They immediately jumped off the train, a classic pickpocket operation. 

After a quick nap we were back out into the neighborhood for dinner.  Finally a stroll back to the Vatican for gelato (Old Bridge) & to see Peter’s Square at night.  There was a Mass going on with a Cardinal celebrating and people holding candles. 

We were late getting back to the apt.  We have a washer but only drying racks so we hope everything will dry OK. 

June 18th Saturday – Outside Central Rome 

We didn’t plan on an early start since we had all been up so late last night.  Our RomaPass got a workout today. 

First we took the Metro to Piramide where we saw the Pyramid shaped tomb (about 18 BC) of Gaius Cestius, a rich Roman whose tomb is which is right outside the old city wall – prime real estate.  Anything Egyptian was fashionable at that time since Rome conquered Egypt in 30 BC. 

Then we walked on the Aurealian Wall at the Porta Ostiense and viewed the exhibits.  Imagine Roman soldiers defending the city against invaders.  Aleric and his army of Goths sacked the place finally in the early 5th century.  This road led south to the port city of Ostia Antica.  The Goths attacked from the north, I think. 

Then we took bus #118 to the Old Appian Way (Appia Antica).  We missed the stop for Quo Vadis and the Catacombs of San Callistus which turned out to be a good thing because we got off at the Catacombs of San Sebastian and walked down the less traveled section of the road past the Villa and Circus of Maxentius and the Tomb of Cecilia Metella.  This woman’s name is known because of all the tombs erected on the Appian Way, hers is well preserved.  Just about all the others are gone or in ruins.  She was a daughter-in-law of Crassus, the richest man in Rome. 

We continued on and had lunch at the Antica Appia Café, another Rick Steve’s recommendation, a very nice and reasonably priced place.  Then we walked back to the San Sebastian Catacombs and took the tour.  On our last trip to Rome we toured St Callistus and this was similar, but at the end there was the Church of St Peter and Paul and Sebastian because at one time all three were buried here. 

Continuing our walk back toward Rome we walked on the same large cobblestones the Roman armies marched on.  You could see the grooves worn by the chariot wheels.  Where the road was better paved with faster traffic, we took the pedestrian path through the meadow of an area administered by the Salesians.  The path was dotted with what looked like Stations of the Cross but were depictions of Christ’s appearances after the crucifixion and resurrection.  It was startling to come upon a very large statue which we read to be St Tarcisius, the patron saint of altar servers.   

At the end of the path was the Church of Quo Vadis.  This is the spot where Peter, fleeing Rome, met Jesus on the road and asked “Where are you going, Lord?”  When Jesus replied that he was going to Rome to be crucified again, Peter returned to Rome to be crucified himself.  Seared into a slab of stone are the footprints of Christ.  According to the guide at the Catacombs, the footprints matched the size on the Shroud of Turin. 

After 2 false starts, we got bus #218 back to the city.  This bus stopped at the church of St John Lateran, the “Pope’s Church.”  There are HUGE statues of all of the Apostles.  Across the street is a chapel called “Holy of Holies” because at one time it housed many relics.  Now most have been removed for safekeeping to the Vatican.  Leading up to the chapel are the “Holy Steps” – the steps from Pilate’s Palace that Jesus ascended.  There’s a spot under glass at the top.  Pilgrims were there ascending the stairs on their knees praying the rosary as they went.  These stairs were brought to Rome by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, along with other holy relics.  The fact that in Jerusalem the steps are missing from the ruins of Pilate’s Palace gives support to the story. 

We took the Metro back to the apartment just in time to change for Mass at a local church – San Giaccomo (Joachim).  The Mass was in Italian of course and the priest was the happiest I’ve ever seen.  The church is run by the Redemptorists so we think the names of the countries on the front of the building represent the countries in which they have a presence. 

Then we walked over to the Tiber to visit the vendors.  We stopped for dinner at an outdoor restaurant right by the river.  This was the dinner of scary seafood and mixed up orders.  Memorable in a weird way. 

June 19th – Sunday – On to the Mediterranean 

The morning was spent packing and tidying up the apartment.  Annarita came at 11 for the key and we took pictures and a video of the place narrated by the kids.  Our van picked us up on schedule at noon.  The ride to Civitavecchia port took about 45 minutes.  It took another 15 minutes to embark and 10 more to get to our cabin on deck 8. 

After boarding we went to the Windjammer (WJ) buffet.  So many choices boggled the mind.  I had such a variety it was like a trip around the world.  From the mix of languages we heard, Americans are a minority on this trip so I bet the food was chosen to please a variety of nationalities.  

We met our neighbors on the next balcony.  They’re from Sweden and also have 3 generations traveling together.  Then off to explore the ship.  Eddie & the kids went to the pool.  I checked out the promenade, especially the cookies.  Our 5 PM sailaway was delayed.  Eddie registered the kids at the rock wall while the rest of us unpacked. 

Dinner in the MDR was at 6.  So many choices and everything was excellent.  Our waiter Motie and his assistant Lesly were very friendly and helpful.  Jeanne & Eddie decided to get the 7 bottle wine package.  The red we began with was very good.  The kids ate their fill and only 3 hours after lunch.  There was a wide variety on the menu and along with appetizers and desserts there were no complaints from anybody. 

Eddie took the boys to check out the rock wall again while the rest of us went to the Promenade for some shopping.  I got the ship Christmas ornament I wanted.  Once back in our cabin James & Katie from the cruise critic forum visited us.  They will be with us tomorrow for the tour of Sicily. 

Finally it was bedtime.  Our room attendant had the couch open and ready for Carrie.  She and I watched TV to drown out Joe’s snoring.  The information on the ports was interesting.  We also watched most of a movie – Alice in Wonderland. 

June 20th Monday – Sicily 

This was our first full day on the ship and we wanted to experience as many activities as possible and still have a full tour of Sicily. We had breakfast in the WJ & checked out the rock wall again.  We watched the ship sail through the Strait of Messina, approach the port and dock. 

As soon as allowed, we walked off the ship.  The process is all computerized.  They scan your sea pass as you go ashore and again when you re-board.   Our tour guide was waiting for us right outside the gate.  So we and James & Katie got right on the road well ahead of the fleet of tour buses all lined up. 

1st stop: Mt Etna, about 1.25 hours away and at an elevation of approximately 7000 ft.  We could see it in the distance as we drove with smoke (steam) rising from the crater.  Our guide was Ignazio Astone (Mario’s brother) who pointed out points of interest along the way along with relevant history.  We saw the village where the Godfather movie was filmed as well as the fortresses that were so important to this strategic port.  You have to have nerves of steel to drive here with narrow mountain roads to share with big tour buses. 

The Silvestri crater was amazing and we climbed up and down to get the best vantage points.  Ignacio provided us with a delicious snack of fruit tarts along with cold drinks before our volcano exploration. 

We then drove back down the mountain passing tour buses along the way and up again to the town of Castelmola.  We ordered lunch in a lovely local restaurant with a perfect view of Mt Etna. While lunch was being prepared, we walked around the town with its amazing panoramic views. 

Lunch was delicious and with renewed energy we proceeded down to Taormina, a picturesque town larger than Castelmola where we spent some time shopping.  We found carvings made from Lava rock for gifts and I bought a hat.  In this Mediterranean sun I need more than my visor.  The part in my hair was becoming sunburned. 

Our final stop was the town of Messina with its famous astronomical clock at the cathedral.  Ignazio got us back to our ship with 15 min to spare (whew!).  His knowledge, personality and obvious love of his island made this tour special.  In fact we were enjoying our day so much we elected to skip formal night and see the last few sites in Messina even though it meant we would miss our 6 pm dinner in the MDR. 

We really weren’t hungry after getting back to the ship so after a quick trip back to the cabin, we set out for activities.

Rock Wall:  All 3 kids made it all the way to the top and rang the bell 3 times!  Eddie did it too.

In-line Skating – Lots of fun on a “track” with padded walls. 

After strolling the promenade, the kids went to play putt putt golf.  It’s open 24 hrs. 

Finally a TV Disney movie finished off our busy day. 

June 21st Tuesday – Full Day at Sea 

Morning thoughts:  I seem to be the first up each morning so like yesterday I went off in search of coffee while everyone else slept in.  In the WJ at 7 am it’s not very busy so I sat by the window with my coffee & croissant and talked to a very friendly waiter from the Philippines.  Then 1 mile around the track and back to the room so Joe could go to breakfast.  Carrie was still asleep. I sat on the balcony and slowly drank more coffee.   

We set our clocks ahead 1 hour to be ready for Athens time tomorrow so it was later than usual when we went to breakfast.  No problem in the WJ.  Different cultures have very different ideas of breakfast food and they had something for everyone. 

We attended the “Meet and Mingle” with people from the CruiseCritic forum.  This was mainly so people who arranged private tours together could meet up before hand.  They had a drawing for several small gifts and gave us each a little RCI seapass/notepad/pen combo that hung around your neck.  Carrie made good use of hers throughout the cruise. 

For lunch Joe & I opted for the MDR while everyone else headed for the pool and WJ for a casual afternoon.   Jeanne, Carrie & I attended the Ice Show which was excellent!  It’s amazing that they could do all those tricks on such a small rink.  The guys just hung around the pool and sports deck and generally did their own thing. 

We met up for dinner in the MDR at 6.  It was Italian night.  The staff, all 115 of then sang O Sole Mio in Italian with 65 different accents.  Joe ate 3 desserts.  So did Billy, but his were 3 servings of Angel Food cake.  After dinner Joe & I shopped on the Promenade and got a variety of stuff.  Eddie & the kids went to the sports deck and Jeannie went to sleep early.  Tomorrow will be an early breakfast since we’re meeting our tour guide by 8. 

June 22nd Wednesday – My 64th Birthday in Athens 

Up early to breakfast in the WJ.  We docked at 7 and people were allowed to disembark at 7:30.  By 8 am we made it off too.  We had to take the shuttle from terminal B to A where the cabs and guides were allowed to wait.  We found Nikos quickly and by 8:15 we were on our way into Piraeus/Athens traffic.  Nikos is an experienced knowledgeable guide who prepared us well for the sites we were going to see and how they fit into Greek history.  

1st stop:  The Acropolis – for us and hundreds of other people.  Still it wasn’t as bad as it could be.  They regularly close the site if too crowded and there could be a 20-30 minutes wait to enter.  We observed that the sites were much more crowded than 15 years ago.  One reason is that back then the ships were smaller, maybe 700-1200 people.  Now 3000 is common with the large ones carrying 5000.  So 10,000 tourists arrived on 3 ships all at once and everyone wanted to see the same things.   

There were many more excavations than I remember 15 years ago and the museum has been moved to a larger facility off site.  I wore the same dress as 15 years ago on purpose.  The site as before was most impressive.  We were able to spend as long as we wanted and then call Nikos to pick us up.  On our way to our next stop we passed the Hotel Divani where we stayed during our last visit. 

2nd stop: We drove past the old Olympic stadium (1896), but it was being prepared for the Special Olympics and we couldn’t go in.  Then to the temple of Zeus with the other surrounding ruins.  Construction was begun by the Greeks years before Christ, but the money ran out.  It was completed by Hadrian after the Roman conquest.  Thus “Hadrian’s Arch” was built as an entrance into the site. 

3rd stop: St George Church on the highest point within the city of Athens (Lycabettus Hill).  Many, many steps and inclines to the top where you have a 360 degree panorama view of the city.  Beautiful! 

4th stop: This was actually an event – the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace.  The soldiers were dressed in traditional uniforms from the 17th century, but carried US rifles.  The slow exaggerated march was new to us.  This ceremony has been going on since 1934. 

5th stop: Lunch in a restaurant where Nikos arranged seating for us and along with the owner suggested the type of traditional Greek food we should try.  Gyros – unusual in that they include a few French fries & tomatoes – “to make it go down better,” fried goat cheese (very good, but salty) and Greek salad.  

6th stop: After lunch we toured the Agora (Old Market).  The Temple of Hephaestus (God of Fire – Roman name: Vulcan) dominates the scene.  Where the Acropolis is a ruin, this temple is complete.  Well marked excavations are throughout the site, including the place where St. Paul spoke to the Athenians.  At the opposite end from the temple is a museum reconstructed exactly as the old one which was destroyed.  It houses statues from the Greek and Roman eras and pottery from many centuries BC.  Finally we walked the “flea market” section of the Agora and bought assorted souvenirs – T shirts, artwork, small figurines, etc. 

We called Nikos when we were ready to leave and drove back to the ship – a full, complete and fun day.  It was nice to travel in a big AC Mercedes van instead of a tour bus and be able to keep our own schedule.   

We got back to the ship in time for a short rest before dinner. 

Dinner in the MDR was excellent as usual and the wait staff sang Happy Birthday to me with a little candle on my dessert.  Afterwards we scattered to various activities. This ship has something for everyone. One constant was the wind.  It was strong enough to blow chairs over on deck and even a glass was rolling down the jogging track.  The kids were still able to climb the rock wall because of the safety harness, but inline skating had to close early for safety reasons. 

June 23rd Thursday – Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey 

We docked in Kusadasi at 7 and easily found our guide when we walked off the ship at 7:45.  It was good to get an early start to beat the tour buses.  On the way to our first stop Yelda Celnik, our guide, told us about the history of the area, pointed out points of interest and gave us necessary background on what we were going to see. 

1st stop:  House of the Virgin Mary – an unassuming place where even the local Muslim culture believes was where St John and Mary lived.  There’s a healing spring and a wall where prayers are written on little slips of paper.  From the earliest times pilgrims came here every Aug 15th which the Council of Ephesus decreed as the date we celebrate Mary’s Assumption into heaven.   

2nd stop:  Our very detailed tour of Ephesus took 3 hours.  Yelda, our guide, was extremely knowledgeable and told us a lot about the history of the place and how the excavations came to be.  A highlight was the newly discovered Terrace Houses which are still being excavated.  The tour to this remarkable place, like condos for the rich Roman, included watching archeologists at work piecing together giant “jigsaw puzzles” of mosaics or marble or friezes.  They were even highlighting the wall paintings using natural pigment.  Yelda showed us a sign listing the organizations supporting the project.  Only one American entry – VIRGINIA TECH!  Our 3 children and 2 sons-in law all graduated from VT.  This is quite an opportunity for their archeology students 

3rd stop:  Lunch in the town of Selcut in a traditional Turkish restaurant.  We had more food than we could eat.  I just ate the “starters” with pita bread, but finished off with baklava. 

4th stop:  Next we visited the Selcut museum where all the original artifacts from Ephesus are displayed for safekeeping.  Some of the furniture from the Terrace Houses look in good enough shape to still be used.  Yelda told us that the plan is that when the site is fully restored that the furniture will be replaced to give a realistic view of life at that time.  By now it was getting quite hot and it was good to be inside.  They had a model of the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  It was good to see this first because now only 1 column remains.  The rest were carried away for recycling. 

5th stop:  Our final stop was the Basilica of St. John.  This once was a huge magnificent church where it is believed St John was buried.  Only a shell is left now.  Some parts were recycled to build the nearly Mosque or other buildings in the area. 

We returned to the ship, had dinner and watched our departure.  The Pacific Princess left a little while before we did.  It looked small next to the Navigator.  We just took it easy all evening.  We’ve had 2 days of serious sightseeing. 

Today’s guide was wonderful, the best so far and the other 2 were excellent.  She even gave us all caps with the company’s logo and a small box of “Turkish Delight” candy.  We bought many souvenirs including a “Past and Present” book of Ephesus for Carrie.  I know the hat is an advertising tool, but it was just what I needed after my scalp sunburn.  No need to buy a cap when I have so many at home. 

June 24th Friday  -  Back to Greece (Chania on the Island of Crete) 

We docked at 6:30 am.  We planned an easy beach day taking public buses (3 Euros roundtrip) into town followed by a walk to the beach.  We caught a bus at 9:00 and 20 min later were in the town square.  Following the map we were given along with our bus tickets, we walked to the nearest beach called Nea Chora.  This took about 20 minutes.  Although we were told this beach would be crowded, we found it almost empty at 10 am.  We rented 4 “sunbeds” and 2 umbrellas for a total of 10 Euros.  The water was clear and calm since the reef in the distance protected it from the waves of the Aegean Sea.  The kids, Eddie & Joe built quite an extensive framework of sandcastles.  We were the only ones doing this.  It must not be a Greek thing.   

We could see the forum recommended beach (Chrissi Akti) or Golden Beach a short distance away, but we were just fine where we were.  Perhaps it’s more crowded on weekends or later in the afternoon, but by 12:15 when we left, there were still plenty of sunbeds available.  Some people rented paddleboats or canoes and went out to the reef and some were even climbing up on the rocks. 

We walked back to the bus stop along the shore to view the old Venetian harbor, fort and lighthouse.  Joe & I bought beach towels as souvenirs.  The buses were crowded with people going back to the ship.  We boarded at 1:00.  I’m glad we didn’t delay.  “All aboard” was 2:30 and the ship sailed promptly at 3:00. 

Although no one missed the boat this time, we learned that a few weeks ago 2 crew members and 1 passenger didn’t make it. 

We had lunch in the WJ and this was the 1st time it was crowded enough that we couldn’t find a table for all of us, so we split up.  Carrie and I sat with a Spanish couple from Miami and managed to communicate OK.  The rest of the afternoon was spent by the pool.  As we left the harbor we passed a submarine! Very unexpected! 

Tonight was formal night so we got all dressed up as did everyone we saw in the MDR.  In fact many of the passengers seem very dressed up for dinner even on the casual nights.  Maybe the fact that Europeans outnumber Americans 2 to 1 has something to do with that? 

After dinner we strolled around for awhile and Joe & I attended a show. There was a cute intro audience participation warm-up followed by a Vegas style entertainer, very personable and very skilled on the electric guitar.  He had a nice voice too. 

June 25th Saturday – At Sea – Our last day onboard 

We set our clocks back 1 hour to get ready for Rome time tomorrow.  So I was awake at 5:15.  I watched the sunrise from our balcony and walked down to the Promenade for coffee.  The whole ship was empty except for security staff, a few maintenance/custodial guys and the server at Promenade.  Only one other passenger was there having coffee.  I took photos of the empty deck and brought my coffee back to the balcony.  It’s windy but warm – shorts weather. 

Carrie, Joe & I had breakfast in the MDR with 3 people from Washington DC.  Today was a get organized and pack day interspersed with activities. 

Carrie, Jeanne & I did a mile walk for charity with the Captain. They raised $3,000 for the Make A Wish Foundation.  Then Carrie & Jeanne attended a demonstration of how to make those towel animals that Roy, our cabin attendant, has been making for us.  I hovered in the background keeping an eye on the shoreline since we were approaching the Strait of Messina and I wanted to get some pictures.  The wind was really strong and some decks were actually closed for safety reasons. 

Lunch was in the MDR.  I ordered an entrée (beef fajitas) and then decided to have a “made to order” salad.  It was HUGE, but I ate both and dessert.  I haven’t passed up a cheesecake yet. 

The afternoon was spent at various places onboard.  A week ago we were just beginning to explore and now it’s all really familiar.  Once through the strait, the wind calmed down and we passed an amazing volcanic island. 

More packing, paperwork, accounts etc and of course dinner.  This time I actually ate pretty light.  We made our first visit to the “Ship Shape Center” i.e. the fitness center.  The only piece of equipment we were seeking was the scale.  Our numbers were mind boggling.  I gained 7 pounds and the others proportionally the same.  We rationalized these results with ‘the food is very salty so it’s water weight,’ it’s evening so 2 lbs will be gone by morning etc, etc.  Still no one regrets not using our vacation to work out.  We can do that when we get home. 

Tomorrow is a travel day.  Get up early, wait in designated departure area, leave the ship and find luggage on the pier. 

June 26th Sunday – On to Paris 

Up at 6:00. Breakfast in WJ and off the boat at 7:30.  Fortunately our van was early and we were on our way to the airport by 8.  Our driver pointed out points of interest along the way and we got to the airport around 9.  Unfortunately, our plane didn’t board until 2 so we did a lot of sitting around. 

Once we did get underway, we taxied away from the gate only to return because of engine trouble.  One hour later the problem was declared “solved” and we took off.  Carrie had a nice view of the Alps and eventually Paris and the Eiffel Tower. 

We got into the swing of things by taking the train to Paris.  We had been told that taking the RER from CDG airport to Paris is easy, but with 7 people (3 kids) trying to stay together while toting luggage, traversing a series of steps and escalators & turnstyles, and getting into a jam packed train and trying to stand upright as it lurched along, it was really a challenge.  We had been warned about pickpockets and had taken precautions so it was a disappointment to discover that Carrie’s backpack had been completely unzipped.  Who tries to stead from a child?  Fortunately, she had nothing worth taking.   

We got off at the Gare du Nord train station and found our apartment.  Jeanne did a great job communicating with the owner’s sister in French.  There isn’t any AC, but we do have Internet which made everyone very happy. 

Our first attempt at French cuisine didn’t go very well.  It was so smoky that I couldn’t even breathe.  Carrie was sneezing and Andy said his “nose felt funny.”  I ran away to Subway for the air not the food.  Andy & I thought the sandwiches were OK, but the other adults couldn’t even finish theirs.  We can start our real Paris experience tomorrow. 

June 27th Monday – Our first full day in Paris 

We ate some packaged rolls Joe bought last night with the instant coffee from Italy.  We filled water bottles from the faucet, cycled through the 1 bathroom and arranged van transport back to the airport for 6 am on Friday.  It will cost 100 Euros only about 40 Euros more than our stress filled RER trip.  We learned our lesson.  We also arranged to meet the apartment owner before the van arrived to settle accounts and return the keys. 

Then we went to the train station to buy maps.  The line for metro tickets was huge, at least a 30 minute wait, probably because this is a main station with lots of people.  The air was bad too.  So we walked toward the city center which took about an hour.  Still that seemed better than standing in a line smelling bad air.  There’s no smoking indoors now but generations of smoke residue will take years to clear.   

1st stop:  The Church of Sainte Chapelle.  It was a lucky break when Jeanne bought us museum passes in the Tabac shop across the street.  This church was built to house the “Crown of Thorns.”  This was a good example of a king with a lot of money to spend, but  beautiful stained glass windows in both chapels. 

Next door was the Hall of Justice.  We toured the Conciergerie and were introduced to a rather gruesome, creepy part of history.  It was here that Marie Antoinette spent her last days before being taken to her death. 

Then on to Notre Dame, the historic, Gothic cathedral, the center of France from which all distance is measured.  The interior of the church was as memorable as any we’ve seen.  The line for the bell tower was quite long so that will wait for another day.  

Next was a search for food and breathable air.  I had a croissant and a coke.  Yea! A tourist office explained where and how to buy Metro card packs.  We took a double-decker train to the Eiffel Tower stop.  On the way we met another American family on vacation from San Francisco. 

We spent hours at the Eiffel Tower.  It was unseasonably hot today, 95 degrees, but it didn’t deter the tourists.  OK, we’re tourists too.  The lines to go to the top of the tower were over an hour long just to buy tickets.  Jeanne & family elected to walk.  That line took only 10 minutes. 

Joe & I waited in the square.  We ate ice cream and were interviewed for a student video project.  There was a nice park but every shady spot seemed to have a smoker in it. We saw cute baby ducks.  I took some allergy & decongestant pills, but it was not enough.  Actually only a small percentage of people were smoking, but they sure can foul up the air for everyone else. 

Joe sat at the exit to wait for our tower climbers to return.  I roamed the square avoiding anyone lighting up.  I got really good at recognizing the prelims to smoking and getting away.  The way I was watching people, I may have looked like undercover security.  Security was everyway, complete with big guns.  I did get photos of the tower from absolutely every angle.  People even asked me to take pictures of them.   

Our climbers returned happy with photos a little more than 2 hours after they left.  It was only 5:30 so we had a good chance of finding an empty restaurant.  We found a nice place a few blocks away.  I had a “Croque Monsieur” which is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, some salad and water.  The cruise weight should disappear fast at this rate.  Yea! 

A souvenir shop was next door with AC!  It felt good in that heat.  I browsed for a long time.  Jeanne bought some T shirts for the kids. 

We spotted a bus going to our apartment area, got on, but somehow the last stop was still some distance away.  We and the other passengers got off and waited for the next bus.  Finally home, it was time to get ready for bed.  It stays light here until after 10 PM and with the heat, it’s hard to get to sleep. One good thing – there’s an extra bed in the kids’ room so at least Joe’s snoring won’t keep me awake. 

June 28th Tuesday 

I began the day with a max dose of decongestant.  Since the bakery wasn’t open this early, we had a breakfast of packaged stuff.  We took Metro to Notre Dame where Jeanne & family climbed the tower.  Joe & I walked around a bit and then visited the ND archeological crypt, a very interesting display of the ruins uncovered beneath the church along with a history of the civilizations that lived there over the last 2 ½ centuries.  Jeanne & family joined us in the museum.  They were lucky to be at the top of ND at 12 noon just as all the bells were ringing.  We ate lunch in a nice restaurant.  Most of us had a variety of crepes. 

Then we caught the bus to the Place de la Concorde with its obelisk marking the position of the guillotine.  From there a walk down the Champs Elysees to the l’Arc de Triomphe where we climbed all 280 steps to the top and took pictures. 

It started to rain as we walked back toward the Eiffel Tower and we waited it out under the awning of an aquarium.  We found a nice smoke free restaurant.  Nice food, friendly waiter and I even had a beer.  There was a pay toilet for which they gave us a token, for paying customers, I guess. 

Finally we took an evening boat tour on the Seine.  It was a lovely ride past historical sights, but with a hoard of obnoxious passengers, surprisingly none of whom were speaking English.  Obviously Americans don’t have a monopoly on rudeness.  Although everyone was asked to stay in their seats (in all languages), many people rushed to stand in the front to take pictures of the sites and of their families in front of the sites, not caring that no one could see or take pictures through them.  Both adults and children were so loud they made it difficult to hear the multilingual, recorded commentary.  Unbelieveable!  The boat staff looked helpless. 

As the tour ended, it was raining pretty hard, so we took our time and let the pushy, obnoxious crowd get off first.  By our turn the rain was much lighter.  As we waited for the bus, we could see the top of the 10 o’clock light show on the Eiffel tower, a nice way to end the day.  The bus ride was quick, no traffic.  Time to prepare for another day of sightseeing. 

June 29th Wednesday 

We slept in this morning and ate pastries for breakfast.  Then we walked to Sacre Coeur on Montmartre, the highest hill in Paris.  There was a somewhat bizarre scene.  They were setting up a 54 meter ramp for a extreme skate jump right in front of the church. 

Mass was going on so we stayed for awhile, then toured the church, the crypt and walked up the 300 steps to the Dome, even me who has no fondness for tiny, narrow spiral staircases either up or down.  Joe supported the Benedictine’s by buying some cards and CDs. 

We did some shopping on the way back from the church and got some nice souvenirs. Lunch was in a rather pricey restaurant, but the food was good.  There were African dancers outside and once in a while we could see one tumble on by. 

More shopping after lunch.  This is a good area for that – nice variety and good prices.  Eddie & Jeannie bought 2 paintings from a street artist, exactly the scene that they wanted. Then we walked back to the apartment to drop off our stuff.  Joe & I bought some pastry in a local shop. 

We got a later start than expected to the Louvre.  Those trains at Gare du Nord are crazy confusing.  Fortunately, the museum is open late tonight.  Unfortunately, a lot of other people were taking advantage of that too. 

The place is huge, even with a map we struggled to find the starting point of our tour-book route.  We saw a lot of antiquities discovered, bought or looted from their original location including the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and the friezes from the Parthenon & a lot of busts of Roman emperors.  In the halls of paintings you could easily find the important ones – the ones with the hoard of tourists in front.  Still we could see & even take pictures - Mona Lisa, Crowning of Napoleon, Liberty Leading the People etc.  It would take weeks to see the whole thing.  Once again our museum pass allowed us to bypass the lines to buy tickets. 

After the Louvre was our daily search for a smoke free restaurant.  Because smoke would drift in from the sidewalk tables, we could not find anyplace that wouldn’t make you choke.  Finally, we stopped into a CHINESE restaurant.  They didn’t have sidewalk tables so the only smoke was from pedestrians walking by the open door.  The food was different than American Chinese, somehow lighter.  There was another American family there from Seattle.  They were going to Versailles tomorrow too. 

Finally a ride home on good old bus #42.  Jeanne & Eddie went to the Metro to buy our train tickets to Versailles.  We need to get an early start to beat the crowds. The kids got ready for bed while their parents were out to get as much sleep as possible before our early morning. 

June 30th Thursday - Versailles 

Up early and out the door before 8 to the always busy Gare du Nord station.  Once again mobs of people were rushing and pushing every which way.  Once again a pickpocket attempt.  This time Eddie was the target.  They actually got the wallet out of his pocket, but it was chained to his belt.  Thank you AAA! 

We rode the RER to the end of the line and walked to the Palace (Chateau).  The opulence of the place, the kings and queens apartments, public room, the hall of mirrors etc. was overwhelming as the photos will show.  After the main building, we toured the extensive gardens with impressive fountains and statuary.  Louis XIV didn’t have any ruins around so he created his own by commissioning copies of Greek and Roman sculpture. 

On the grounds there were 2 other large buildings adorned like his and hers “mini palaces” designed to be country houses.  Further along there was a working farm built so that Marie Antoinette could recreate the feeling and setting of her Austrian homeland.  This was very attractive. 

There was even a mile long canal built so that the Royal Family and friends could simulate the Gondolas of Venice.  Now you can rent a rowboat.  There were ducks, fish, swans and even a stork in the canal and ponds on the grounds.   

It took us 1 hour to walk from the interior of the grounds back to the train station.  So I estimate the distance to be about 4 miles.  At this point (3:30) we were getting hungry since we had lunch at 10:30.  We stopped at a McDonalds – our first ‘fast food’ but sometimes you just don’t have time to wait for the leisurely pace of local dining.  Plus, it didn’t seem right for everyone to use their bathroom and then not order anything,  After all, they didn’t go the pay toilet route.

We all got seats on the RER train toward Paris since this was the first stop, nice after all the walking we’ve done.  We got off at the Eiffel Tower stop for one last look and walked along the Seine and sat on its banks. 

Our daily search for a restaurant without smoke was unsuccessful tonight.  So we caught good old bus #42 back to the apartment thinking we would pick up sandwiches from one of the local shops.  Oops!  

Traffic was horrendous with several intersections of actual gridlock and the trip took 1 hour which included our bus being cleared with instructions for everyone to get on the bus behind us. 

By 7 pm the shops were out of sandwiches except for tuna fish.  So we stocked up on assorted croissants and pastries.  Joe & I went on one more neighborhood search and found a take-out sandwich place right across the street not visible because the street is always full of traffic.  For 6 Euros they made us big Greek style chicken sandwiches, fries and a can of coke. 

The evening was devoted to organizing, packing and confirming travel plans.  Tomorrow we’ll be “Back in the USA.”


Extra notes:  I’ve included these since there are always different experiences even by passengers on the exact same cruise.

My (short) Cruise Critic Review - 

The ship:  I actually tried to look for some of the negatives that I read about on CruiseCritic.

Rust:  Looking hard I could only identify a tiny bit on the edge of the balcony ceiling panel and a smidge of peeling paint on the bottom of the sliding door on the outside.  Considering this is a seagoing vessel, someone is really keeping it shipshape.

Carpets: All fine as far as I could see.  Perhaps if you saw the carpet when brand new, you would notice a change.

Vacuums in the hall:  From some comments I was expecting commercial ‘shopvacs’.  They were small and over to one side.  The only way they would block our progress is if we walked 3 abreast down the hall.

Bathroom:  Very efficient layout.  Nice floor.  No smells.  Lots of thick towels.

Cabin (D1): The bed was fine.  The couch opened for Carrie leaving about 2 ft of space to get by.  Plenty of storage space for 3 people.  The drawers and cabinet door worked fine and there were plenty of hangers.

TV:  Not a flat screen, but the reception was fine so we really didn’t care.

Balcony:  Glass enclosed with a nicely varnished railing furnished with 2 chairs and a small low table that Carrie used as a chair when necessary.

Room Attendant (Roy):  Very friendly and helpful.  We lacked nothing and Carrie enjoyed the towel animals he made, often sporting her sunglasses.

The food:

MDR: Just excellent.  Among the 7 of us we tried just about every type of starter, entrée and dessert.  I even ate a steak once and I hardly ever want to bother ordering once since it’s never tender enough for me.  This was perfect!

WJ: So much variety I decided to pace myself better.  A few dishes I didn’t care for, but they were new to me from different cultures and obviously appealed to many on board judging by their popularity with others.  They do a good job of catering to the different tastes of multicultural guests.

Wait Staff:  Motie and Lesly were fantastic – efficient, friendly and extra nice to the children.  In the WJ the staff kept everything restocked and tables cleared which was especially difficult when everyone arrived back from tours at once.  At one point I did see them scrambling to provide clean dishes.  That’s a hectic way to earn a living.

Promenade: Open 24 hrs just in case you get hungry at 3 am.  I brought coffee and breakfast pastry from there to our balcony most mornings – kind of a pre-breakfast while watching the sunrise.  There had an assortment of sandwiches and desserts available which I sampled often as well as those big cookies.

The Wait Staff:  Every single staff member we met has been friendly and helpful.  Everyone just looks happy which is amazing once I realized how little they’re paid.  $50 every 2 weeks.  I guess room and board counts for something, but they really do depend on tips and they work hard for them.  Our waiters in the MDR (Motie and Lesly) were fantastic and especially nice to the children.

Other facilities:  The Sports Deck was great and not crowded the times we were there.

Pool: We got a lot of use out of this, especially Billy, and always found a loungechair.

Solarium:  Joe hung out in the hot tub often whenever I went to find him, he was usually alone.  Plenty of places to relax.