Will we go cruising again? And some general thoughts.

I’m sure we will. But it won’t be replacing other Holiday options. Would we use Royal Caribbean Cruise Line again. Yes if they go to an area we want to visit and the price is right.

Helen was more into the sea days than I was. Although everything on the ship was excellent, I enjoyed the shore days most, which gave a taster of the countries and helped priorities the areas we will return to first. Sorry Athens you are not first. A surprise to us back to Turkey in a heartbeat.

One thing I missed was the opportunity for evenings ashore, as I like exploring new places in the evenings, people watching and visiting places where tourists aren’t so evident.

We were not keen on the constant harassment by scarf sellers and people trying to sell us a lump of plastic which when splatted on a board made a splurge sound. They were evident in all the places we visited. All the same scarves and lumps of plastic, it looked to me like an organised network of illegal workers across the Med. A real shame to find people having to Eek out a living in this way, and as it appeared to me, more so as it seemed there was organised Crime involved, as we witnessed at the Colosseum one man who looked like an immigrant water seller being chased off by another person who appeared of similar heritage and a smartly dressed italian man, whilst other water sellers were ignored by these 2 men. There were obviously ‘reserved’ pitches and minders. I had read before I came to Rome of Crime Families running the gladiator photo opportunities outside, it looks to me like they are also running the water business.

Graffiti also plays a large part in the towns we visited, a real shame when you see it daubed up the sides of ancient monuments as we did in Athens.

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Our time on board.

As I said at the start of this blog, we were more used to Cross Channel Ferries as a means of transport from A to B, than travelling on a ship to be entertained and looked after.

I cannot praise the staff on board highly enough, they were always smiling, always welcoming and always working hard to ensure that their guests had a great time.

Everywhere was clean and well kept, food  was well cooked ,varied and service was excellent.  During the day and evening there was a variety of entertainment. The ship rarely appeared crowded, then only place which occasionally had a lack of seats and was busy was the Buffet Restaurant at the rear of the ship.  The only thing that needed repairing I saw was one of the table tennis tables which did not sit flat as one of the wheels was broken.

We spent the evenings dining in the table service restaurant on a table with 3 other couples who all came from North of the Watford Gap, we all got on well, and it was great to be able to share the experiences in the Ports and hear of previous voyages. After dinner we chilled in  a bar listening to music or watched a show in the theatre.

Ready for the first formal dinner.

Ready for the first formal dinner.

The ship leaving Port

The ship leaving Port

Helen loves the towel pets that inhabited our cabin

Helen loves the towel pets that inhabited our cabin

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Halloween - just when Helen thought all the surprises were over I produced our costumes for the evening.. Helen drew the line at make up though.

Halloween – just when Helen thought all the surprises were over I produced our costumes for the evening.
Helen drew the line at make up though.

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A brief time in Charnia, Crete.

We left the ship and took the short local ‘special’ bus to the town centre from the port of Souda.

We visited the Port area stopping for a break in a dockside cafe, where Helen was served the largest slice of Cake we have ever seen.

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Turkey – Ephesus, Sirince and lunch at a Carpet weaving School.

We were extremely lucky to be guided by Begum Gencer  though Ephesustours.biz  who was one of the most recommended guides reviewed on the internet.  She guided us on this most excellent day in Turkey.   This is a country we would like to return to.

She told us a lot about Turkey and the places we visited in an open and friendly way. We were pleased to have chosen to travel in a group of only six, and travelled in style in a large luxury minibus with driver and Begum. The revolving front passenger seat for the guide was a nice touch and made communication on the move easier. The Ephesus Book for us to take away  was a nice touch and a nice memento of the day.

Begum was very clear in her explanations and gave the right amount of detail, keeping the group together whilst allowing time for personal exploration.

Each part of the tour was excellent, this tour at the time we took it included a very good free lunch at Government Cooperative Carpet weaving school,after lunch we were shown the workers weaving and some of the finished carpets and given the opportunity to buy a carpet if we wished in a non pressured way. On our way back to the Port Begum gave us the opportunity to visit a pottery workshop or leather goods store explaining that these 2 outlets sponsored the tour and that we could choose if we wanted to visit one.. again no pressure… we chose to visit the Leather Factory… and were treated to a glass of Apple Tea on arrival and then a Fashion show of leather jackets, followed by a visit to the shop.

The leather coat fashion show was a little incongruous and Helen and others in our party couldn’t help laughing at the procession of models parading up and down the catwalk in front of the six of us. At over 1000 euro per coat we decided against buying one.

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Helen was fascinated by the toilets, the clean water gully at the front was to dip your  bottom cleaning sponge in.

Helen was fascinated by the toilets, the clean water gully at the front was to dip your bottom cleaning sponge in.

Our tour included the ticket price to view the Terraced Houses

Our tour included the ticket price to view the Terraced Houses.

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Sirince Village

Sirince Village

Turkish Ice Cream Kebab

Turkish Ice Cream Kebab

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Visiting the Carpet Cooperative

Visiting the Carpet Cooperative

Dinner in the garden of the Carpet Cooperative ...  I enjoyed Ouza with lunch  in Athens and Raika in Turkey today but couldn't tell the difference.

Dinner in the garden of the Carpet Cooperative … I enjoyed Ouza with lunch in Athens and Raika in Turkey today but couldn’t tell the difference.

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A day in Athens

We shared a  pre-booked taxi into the centre of Athens,  I momentarily forgot which was the passenger side of the car and went to get in the driver’s side, in retrospect this would have saved us from knuckle clenching trip into Athens centre as the driver continually switched lanes without signal or looking, narrowly missing a number of collisions.

We started at the Acropolis taking the short route from the western side.   The Acropolis was impressive but the amount of scaffolding and building materials rather spoiled the experience.

Athens was an interesting city but the amount of Graffiti  and number of visitors does not make this top on our list of cities to return to.

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This was the first theatre .. the birthplace of Drama

This was the first theatre .. the birthplace of Drama

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After we left the Acropolis we jumped on the Sunshine express to get a quick view of the other sites, this wasn’t the original train we had planned but was a Euro cheaper and we believe it took a shorter route than the other train.

Our shared lunchtime Meze before taking the taxi ride back to the ship.

Our shared lunchtime Meze before taking the taxi ‘expereince’ back to the ship.

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Volcanoes, ancient ruins and chic Sicily.

On the way to Sicily we passed the volcanic island of Strombolli at Sunrise, a great way to start the day.

On the way to Sicily we got up early to see the volcanic island of Strombolli at Sunrise, a great way to start the day.

On arrival at Port we left the ship with Matt and Rina from Chicago and Kim and Jeff from Radnor, Pennsylvania and were pleased to be greeted by smartly dressed (with shades and black jacket) degree educated linguist, Anton Sacca our driver for the day from Sicily Limousine.

Shaking Anton’s hand it was clear that we had made the right choice of transportation for the day.

He drove us first to Giardini Naxos where we looked as the fishing boats in the port and marvelled at the clear blue sea and the fishes swimming in the harbour. From there we went to a viewpoint overlooking Isolabella an Island in a bay below Taormina.

Isolabella

Isolabella

From there we drove to the top of a nearby peak to reach the village of Castelmola.

On the way up to Castelmola

On the way up to Castelmola

The Square at Castelmola

The Square at Castelmola

Leaving Castelmola we drove down to Taormina Town.

Taormina Roman Theatre

Taormina Roman Theatre

Etna in the distance seen from Taormina Roman Theatre

Etna in the distance seen from Taormina Roman Theatre

Taormina Park

Taormina Park

Taormina Town

Taormina Town

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Our Roman Passagiatta – The planning worked well.

Having taken Helen to Rome and let her snooze for a while in our room, we then set off for our Roman Passageiatta.

We paid 1.5 Euro per ticket to ride the number 64 bus for 9 stops and from there made our way on foot to Piazza Navonna.

Arriving in daylight, we strolled through the Piazza looking at the architecture and Artists and listening to the street musicians.

Piazza Navonna Fountains

Accordion Player

An ancient and a modern Roman in Piazza Navona

An ancient and a modern Roman in Piazza Navonna

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We found a cafe in a side street for our evening meal before starting our twilight walk route.

Returning first to the Piazza Navonna the darkness and street lights had brought a magical air to the square.

Piazza Navonna  at the start of our Roman Passegiatta

Piazza Navonna at the start of our Roman Passegiatta

Pantheon

Visiting the Pantheon at night has to be the best time to experience the Majesty of the building

Leaving the Pantheon

Leaving the Pantheon

We finished our Passegiatta at Trevi Fountain throwing a coin in the Water so that we may return to Rome.

We finished our Passegeiatta at Trevi Fountain throwing a coin in the Water so that we may return to Rome.

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Flying to Rome Meet and Greet, and coach transfer.

Everything went very smoothly flying from Stansted. The meet and greet parking service was easy to find and swift. We had booked this through Ryan Air and it was provided by Meteor.

We hadn’t travelled through Stanstead before and there were good facilities and seating areas. We had booked priority with Ryan Air and for an extra £10 got to walk out to the plane and choose our seats first. We weren’t particularly bothered by this but wanted to make sure we got on the flight on time, and weren’t bumped if there was a shortage of seats.

Ryan Air flight was very good and on arrival at Ciampino Airport we were quickly off and through the baggage claim area and standing quickly in the transfer coach queue. We used Shuttle Bus with the Yellow signs. I think we would book with Terravision next time as they have better waiting facilities within Termini Station, their own Cafe next to their stop, and seem more organised.

There were 3 main queues for 3 transfer coach firms and it was not clear which one was the correct one, we were reliant on Marshalls to direct us to the correct queue. There was no shade and at 25 degrees in the noon sun it was very hot. If arriving in the summer sun hats and water would be important, and on rainy days waterproofs

Disembarking the coach we walked the short distance to our B and B, all in all a very successful arrival in Rome.

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The Art Mary B and B, near Termini Transport Hub, Rome.

A clean well presented B and B on the 5th floor of an apartment block accessible using a small lift. There was a short flight of stairs to access the lift. We noticed cases in the hallway outside the reception room. this appeared to be the left luggage area, I’m sure it would have been secure enough , but some may prefer not to leave their luggage there on the last day. The male proprietor who on our arrival was sat gazing out of the window listening to classical music behind the reception desk spoke little English but was well practiced in communicating what you needed to know. He joked with us on arrival by pretending to throw our passports out of the open window, but this is just his humour. it may not appeal to all but it serves to lighten the mood when trying to communicate in Italianglish.

The atmosphere was friendly as if entering someone’s home, which I believe it is.

Rooms had a TV, fridge, safe and en suite shower and toilet. A comfortable bed and clean bedding. No facility to make hot drinks. But we were self sufficient in that department.

Centrally located within 100 metres of the entrance to Termini Station and 300 metres from the bus station and metro you couldn’t get much better for Rome’s transport hub.

We spent a couple of hours in the room showering, dozing and having a cuppa ( using our travel kettle and makings) before leaving the Hotel for an evening Passegiata.

Before leaving the B and B the proprietor who spoke little English beckoned us to the Reception desk and drew on a map showing us sites and transport links, which were much as we had planned, but we thanked him, took the map and left to explore.

When we returned later the night clerk got us to settle the bill and returned our passports. It seems that the proprietor uses the night clerk to deal with the money collection as he spoke good English.

In the morning the proprietor was back on the desk, and after offering us a glass of orange juice each gave us a voucher and directed us to a cafe about 100m away for breakfast, which consisted of a choice of pastry and a coffee.

Some reviewers have moaned about this B and B and their breakfast system. We had no issues at all and would return again without hesitation.

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A surprise Holiday destination for Helen and we are off at 8am

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About 3 weeks ago Helen asked me to book a surprise Holiday for half term, so here we are today up at 0330 getting ready to depart and Helen still doesn’t know where she is going.

In the interim I have been cooking meals from the country we will be in on the day of the week we will be there, dropping clues and blogging the results and the planning.

I didn’t realise when I started to organise the cruise that many people will book excursions and plan years in advance so have been running to catch up and have been booking private excursions and joining up with other late comers to share the cost through a roll call forum system on the cruise critic website.

We will be flying to Rome at 8am and staying overnight in a Hotel, Helen still won’t know she is on the cruise for sure until Sunday morning, and is confused by the combination of new walking boots and evening dress.

If you want to see our plans or our meals feel free to visit the blog site.

I found this a very useful way to plan and have since PDF and printed many pages.

Out plans start tonight with a moonlit Passegiatta in Rome and continue with a voyage to Greece and a Turkey, looking at a lot of ancient Sites of the Ancient civilizations.

See you all soon.

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