Ed’s Crystal Cruise Blog – Part 3

Neflion, Greece – Didn’t know much about this port other than it was in the Peloponnese, so we decided to take a tour.  This stop was a great and very pleasant surprise.  Our tour first took us to Mycenae ruins, which was very interesting and our guide was extremely good (it was the same guide we had in Athens) at explaining the culture and what has been discovered here.  It’s a very large site and the weather is exceptional today.  Below are a couple of pictures we took at the site…

 The area itself is very green with many orchards of oranges and thousands of olive trees.  The olives are just now ripening and I suspect this will be a very good crop year.  From here we went up to the Palamidi Fortress which was built by the Venetians in 1714.  The fortress is in amazing condition and once our guide explained all of the history and purpose of the fortress, we were able to wander around the expansive area and take some great photos.  The smaller fort (Bourdzi Fort) on the island at the bay entrance was used in conjunction with city fortress and they actually used a huge chain between the small fort and the town entrance to keep invading ships at bay.

The balance of our time in Nafplion was spent wandering the old port town, exploring the many shops, squares and tavernas. This is indeed a very quaint town and we would love to have more time exploring the area.

Next stop – Mykonos!  This was one of our favourite islands the last time we cruised the Greek Islands.  The whitewashed buildings and the winding roads where we could get easily lost are all still the same.  The 5 remaining windmills add to the charm of this amazing island.  The weather was not the best being cloudy and overcast and some rain showers but it didn’t dampen our spirits as we ducked into the small shops selling their wares.  However, our experience was a little disappointing as we had to fight the crowds that the 5 cruise ships in port inevitably create…didn’t they know this was out island for the day?  Mykonos was also a little dirtier than we remembered but it is the end of the tourist season and I suspect they will spend some time sprucing it up for the next season.  All in all, we highly recommend the island for anyone in the Greek waters and our biggest tip would be to find that perfect little taverna early before all the best seats are taken!

This cruise is very port intensive and our next stop was Kusadasi, Turkey.  Best known for the magnificent ruins at Ephesus, it is the area where the Virgin Mary spent her last days and passed away.  The Ephesus site is only 10-15% excavated but what they have so far uncovered and reconstructed is breath-taking with its marble roads, the 2 storey library and of course the 27,000 seat amphitheatre.  The amphitheatre was used for many concerts right up to about 5 years ago but the last 2 concerts (I think Sting was the last) with their loud music and the vibration created, actually cracked the foundation.  No concerts are now allowed and repair work has been going on for 5 years.

It is a wondrous place to visit and although we have visited before, it still takes our breath away!

Kusadasi is also known for another great feature…SHOPPING!  With its many streets lined with shops selling jewelry, carpets, leather goods, purses, watches, knock-off clothes and other “genuine copies,” shoppers can have a great time here.  Be aware, the vendors are aggressive although very friendly for the most part.  They love to negotiate and enjoy doing it.  Many of the people we know on board came back with leather jackets (including us) that ranged in price from about $100 -$300 depending upon the quality of the leather and the style chosen.  Hard bargainers got some great deals but the quality is superb and we know we will enjoy our jackets for many years!

Today is a day at sea…finally!  We love these sea days to get caught up on things like writing this blog, a good book, a dip in the pool or maybe a golf lesson.  There is so much to do on board we sometimes forget the ship is every bit a destination on its own.  Our last stop on the cruise is Istanbul tomorrow.

Ed’s Turkish Delight – June 4 – 11, 2012

We had the pleasure of accompanying a group of Transat Holidays’ top producers on an educational trip to Turkey.  We’ve been to Kusadasi and Istanbul as stops on a cruise a few years ago and while we loved the ruins of Ephasus, I have to say Turkey was not really high on my bucket list.  Been there, done that!

Our tour was for three nights in Cappadocia and four nights in Istanbul.  We have been so busy before the trip that I didn’t have any time to research our trip which is usually something I like to do so I don’t miss some really important sight.  However, I was very comfortable that Transat Holidays had planned the trip and knew we were in good hands.

It’s a long flight from Toronto to Istanbul…about nine hours and Transat plane was very comfortable.  Transat has announced that they are refurbishing their planes and even though this plane was not re-done, it was still good.  The legroom was OK for my 5’9” stature but try to get an exit row if you can if you are any taller.  If you can afford it, pay the extra for Club Class (about $300 per person, per direction) and you will love the extra space and the extra service.

We did have the Option Plus feature and enjoyed the champagne and amenities like blanket, neck pillow, etc but the best part was the dedicated check in and early boarding feature.  Love that!

Cappadocia – this region is a result of the volcanic eruptions that formed a large tableland.  Together with the erosion of the river and wind over ten thousands of years there appeared the “chimney rocks”, complete wonders of nature.  See the pictures below, they are very cool.

Chimney Rocks

Chimney Rocks

The first Christians escaped from the persecution of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century B.C. came to Cappadocia and settled here. The first Christians created many cave dwellings and even churches.  Because the rock is relatively easy to carve out, they also created a system of defense with whole underground cities which they used to escape the persecution of the Roman soldiers.  These underground cities in Cappadocia were hidden with gates made in such way in which they couldn’t be easily observed.  Since they lived in the underground cities for long duration without being able to go out, they developed these underground cities to include provisions rooms, ventilation chimneys, wine production places, churches, abbeys, water wells, toilets and meeting rooms.  They also created secure doorways (huge stone rollers) that the Romans could not easily breach even if they discovered the underground cities.

Cave Dwelling

Secure stone entry

While in Cappadocia, we stayed in a cave hotel, which was an experience in itself.  Although quite dark and somewhat damp, it was worth the experience and definitely something you want to do if visiting the area.

Cave Hotel

Cave Hotel room

The food and drink was very good and I was amazed at the quality of the Turkish wine from the area.  It was very good and extremely affordable (under $10 per bottle).  Another new experience was Raki, the traditional drink of  Turkey.  Not too different than Ozo, it is a liquorice flavoured drink that you add water to.  Cheers!

Cappadocia is about an hour flight from Istanbul.

Istanbul – formerly known as Constantinople, is a very old city with a huge amount of history.  A very dominant Muslim city, there are many, many beautiful mosques that dominate the skyline, perhaps none more famous than the “Blue” Mosque which we had the pleasure on visiting.  Nicknamed for the blue tile used in the interior, you will be surprised at how very large the mosque is.  They are very accepting of all tourists during non-prayer times but be aware that you must be dressed conservatively.  My shorts didn’t cut it so they simply gave me a wrap to wear around my legs and many of the ladies were given shawl type coverings too.

The Blue Mosque

Another look at the Blue Mosque

Other notable highlights during our stay there included:

Topkapi Palace, the residence of the Ottoman sultans between the end of the 15th and the first half of the 19th centuries with its treasures (including an 89 carat diamond), terraces overlooking the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn

Haghia Sophia which started out as a Christian Church, transformed into a mosque and finally a museum.

Haghia Sophia

Dolmabahce Palace the sumptuous official residence of the sultans after 1856.

Dolmabahce Palace

Beylerbeyi Palace, once the summer residence of the imperial family,

Beylerbeyi Palace

We had a marvelous cruise on the Bosphorus as the weather was spectacular, and saw some very expensive homes along the way.  Istanbul has some 15 million plus residences and the city extends for miles and miles along the Bosphorus on both the Europe and the Asia side.

One of our best days was an optional day to Princess Island (on my birthday actually).  It’s about an hour ferry ride and there is no motor traffic on the island – only horse and cart transportation.  During the Byzantine period, princes and other royalty were exiled to these islands.  Later, members of the Ottoman sultan’s family were exiled there as well.

Princess Island ferry ride

Our transportation on Princess Island

No trip to Istanbul would be complete to without stopping at the markets.  The spice market was a treasure with baskets of every conceivable spice could be found (we bought quite a bit of several kinds of spices – we should be good for a while).  Surprisingly, there was a good selection of Iranian caviar,  and at what seemed like reasonable pricing to me.  Not being a connoisseur, I could have been buying a imitation and so I passed.

Spice market

The other great market you just can’t miss is the Grand Bazaar.  It’s huge!  There are sections to the Bazaar with leather, jewellery, fashion, souvenirs, antiques and much more.  You really have to keep your wits about you so you don’t get lost.  While the merchants are very aggressive to get you into their shop/stall, they were also very friendly and we never felt threatened.  In fact, I felt the Turkish people were all very friendly and helpful.  Despite being warned several times to be careful with pick-pockets, it was never an issue.  The only time we were a bit nervous, was in the Taxim Square where they were celebrating the start of the Shopping Festival with a concert.  There were several buses of riot police complete with water cannons on standby.  Thankfully they were not needed.

To summarize, Turkey is a country that should be on your bucket list.  It boasts an amazing history, fantastic sights, excellent food and drink and marvelous shopping.  Transat Holidays has some excellent priced packages.  Give us a shout and we’ll work on the right itinerary with you.  Remember that I said they were refurbishing their planes?  We rode back on one of the new planes and the change is amazing including more comfortable seating and a great in seat entertainment system!  Highly recommended!

Amazing Turkey!