Honeymoon Day 19: at Sea

Our final day at sea. That translates into our final day to lounge in the sun! Matt and I were both starting to feel better thanks to the Sudafed. We spent a good amount of time lounging by the pool, then took a break from the sun to play games, pack, and relax in our room.

I took advantage of the spa, and had a wonderfully relaxing pampering session of a mini facial, neck massage and hot stone massage. I had never tried any of these, and hot stone seriously was amazing. Matt was a little skeptical of the facial (isn’t that what face wash is for?) but he kept commenting afterwards how much my skin glowed. He was impressed.

Our evening at Sea was a formal night, complete with our invitation to the Captain’s champagne reception. I put on my silky ivory dress, and Matt wore his wedding suit. Boy did that combination turn heads! We made our way to the champagne reception with the sole mission of downing as much free champagne as possible. Boy did we succeed! We met up with some friend on the cruise, Crysta and Jamie, and plowed our way through at least 4 glasses each in about 45 minutes. Dinner that night was fun!

On the way to dinner we stopped at the bathroom, and I was waiting for Matt and when I got the best compliment ever. I was standing across the hall from an old man dressed in a very sweet suit waiting for his wife. We were each minding our own business as group after group of people walked past on the way to dinner. Finally he looked over and me, smiled, and said, “geez, every single one of those people turn heads to look at you in that dress! No one is even paying attention to me!” We both laughed and so I went over to stand next to him in the hallway and talk. It was wonderful. Since it was formal night, we ate in the main dining room at our special table for two (we had been eating at the Lido mostly since the food was the same and service was faster up there). After dinner we wandered the ship, but ultimately decided to just pack, turn in, and get ready for our final port of call.

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Honeymoon Day 18: Santorini, Greece

An evening on the ship and a good night’s sleep and lots of water helped bring me back into balance after the heat incident in Ephesus, so we were all ready to go for the next day in Santorini. Santorini was another tendering port, and there was another catch in accessing this island: only 3 ways to get from sea level to the 1000 ft elevation town of Fira above: cable car, donkey, or hiking. We knew we did not want to push my climbing that early in the day (no repeats of shortened days!), we were both feeling icky from sinus infections, and wanted to make the most of our time on Santorini by getting to the top as fast as possible. The cable car is the obvious choice, but we knew that it is very slow, and cannot accommodate a ships worth of people very efficiently. We did not want to get stuck in a line, so we got up early, grabbed tender tickets early, scarfed breakfast, and got on the first boat in. No line! Perfect!

We had two main missions on Santorini: Minoan ruins of Acrotiri and photos and views in Oia. Problem: they were on opposite ends of the island. Solution: plan the day out efficiently. We grabbed a local bus schedule and hopped onto the first available bus to Acrotiri. The drive across the island was stunning, in a very dry, deserty way. It was extremely hot, arid, and brown. Most of the ground was desert dirt of volcanic rock/ash. The houses were all white, accented with bright blue and colorful bougainvillea flowers. This harsh landscape was back cast perfectly by the clear, deep blue water of the caldera. Really quite stunning and unlike any place I had ever been.

Like I mention in other posts, Matt loves history. His two favorite cultures: Roman and Minoan. And this was Minoan country. We were going to explore the ruins of an ancient, ancient people, a highly developed civilization dating back 3,500 years preserved under layers of volcanic debris. The archeological site of Acrotiri had actually been closed to tourists for the past 7 years so we were not expecting to see it, but we learned on the ship it had reopened in April! Just our luck! We toured around the beautifully excavated site (all covered and indoors…really ideal for such a hot place!) taking our time to soak it all in.

After Acroteri we were tempted to follow the bikini clad moped crew to the beach (Red Beach was just around the corner) but we decided to take the bus back to Oia and get the iconic Santorini view that I was craving. We could lounge on the pool deck later.

Oia did not disappoint. It was not the same quiet experience of exploring the ruins through. Every view was jam packed with tourists trying to replicate Santorini’s famous blue domed postcard images. We wandered town, took photos, and finally found some gyros for a late lunch. Gyros in Greece! Another local food checked off the list! The bus ride back to town was twisty and turny, and after scarfing down our gyros in record time (no food on the buses) we were feeling a bit queasy.

This time we did get caught in line for the cable car, but we enjoyed the view and were relieved that we at least did not miss the last tender boat!

First stop back onboard? Medical office. We were ready to admit that we needed something to take for these sinus infections. Everyone we had talked to had caught the same thing we did, so there was defiantly something going around the ship. It would have been better to get meds a few days earlier, but we were concerned that we could potentially, possibly, get quarantined to our room and miss Santorini. No way! However, when the nurse handed us Sudafed, we were so grateful.  A few hours later we were feeling better, sailing away, and enjoying our time aboard.

Honeymoon Day 17: Ephesus, Greece

Oh Ephesus. What a wonderful, bittersweet day on our trip. It was another hot day when we got off the ship in Kusadasi, and made our way to the public transportation spot indicated by our trusty Rick Steve’s book. Getting to Ephesus was probably the most complicated of all the public transportation that we took on this trip. Ephesus is far enough outside of the port city that we almost booked a tour…almost. We stood under the sign with a “D” on it waiting for the van marked “Ladies Beach” to come by, and it did, just as we hoped it would. Step 1: success! From here we were supposed to change vans (it was not clear where), but our driver luckily was helpful enough to tell us where to get off, and which van to catch. We had planned to make our way immediately to Ephesus, but we took a detour at the van transfer. The stop was right in front of the big public market!

Huge tables filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, spices, cheese, meat, honey…you name it, it was there. Clearly no longer in tourist-ville, we wandered the stalls taking our time to have quick, friendly greetings with the vendors. No one spoke English, and although we had been trying, even “hello” in Turkish was not sticking with us. Everyone was super friendly, and we ended up buying some local honey from a honey vendor. Matt collects honey, so it is always a focus on our market adventures. This bee keeper was very proud and opened a few jars for us to try. We ended up with a small jar of what we think is eucalyptus honey. Yum!

The market was scheduled to go all day, so we jumped back in a van to make our way to Ephesus. Now, the thing you should know about planning a trip to Ephesus is that it is basically a ruined city that is built on a hill. The tours drop you off at the top, and then you walk down to be picked up at the bottom. For us public-transportation-no-tour kind of travelers, you get dropped at the bottom (well, actually, a half mile from the bottom) and then you also have to end there. Because it was so hot, I convinced Matt that we should make our way to the “top” of the town, then we could take all the time we wanted coming down.

We wandered the marble streets in awe of how majestic this place must have once been. Everywhere you looked there were columns, streets, facades of old temples. They were all just there, and have decayed through the ages. Compared to Rome where ruins were just built over with new buildings, Ephesus was still the same city it was in it’s prime, only in ruins. It was very cool to see.

We made it to the “top”, dodging groups of tours like we practiced in Athens. We made friends with some Turkish kids on a school tour that wanted us to take their picture. On the way back down through the city ruins it was baking hot. The white marble reflected so much light, and there were no clouds or shade of any kind. I was not feeling all that spunky, and by the time we toured through the Terrace Houses, I was done. I felt faint, quick pulse, nauseous, cold and covered in goose bumps. It was horrible. I knew it was from the heat or the sun or a combination of both, so I found some shade and sat on an ancient column trying my best not to pass out or cry. We still had so much to see and this was one of the most important stops for Matt on this trip. I felt awful making him cut it short. But we had to get back to the ship. I wrapped my head in a dampened bandana (that helped a lot, even if it was the most unattractive accessory ever) and we made our way to the park entrance, and finally back out to the main road to catch the van. I slept most of the 45 minute ride back, then we quickly went through the market, and walked back to the ship.

On the way we stopped for a cool treat of Turkish ice cream. We saw gelato stands everywhere (though only in Italy were they homemade gelato), but the stands in Kusadasi served gelato and Turkish ice cream, the latter presented in a large barrel next to the gelato case. We had to try it. Matt ordered two cones of the only flavor, vanilla. The ice cream vendor scooped it out with a long, thin metal paddle. It was unlike anything we had ever tasted. Picture ice cream that is thick and rich, in the same way that full fat Greek yogurt is rich compared to regular, then add about 10x the richness and intense vanilla flavor. I was not even sure I could finish it! It was a good cool treat to finish the lackluster end to our adventure in Ephesus. I guess we just have to go back someday.

Honeymoon Day 15: Istanbul, Turkey

Since Istanbul was an overnight port of call, we woke up and were able to plan our day without worrying about an arrival time. We really only had two main sites to see: the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque…and get a good Turkish lunch in town. We started out the morning with breakfast on the ship, and hanging out on our balcony watching a cruise ship pull up next to us. Now this was one of the most memorable events on the trip. A huge, and I mean HUGE Celebrity ship was pulling up along side of the Niew Amsterdam, so natually we were watching it cruise on by. I noticed, and mentioned to Matt that there were an awful lot of men in their underwear on the balconies of that ship. And all sorts of flags decorating the verandahs. We then proceeded to realize that that was all there was on this ship…MEN! And then the flags clicked…most of them were rainbows! This was a gay chartered cruise! Oh the process of deduction was wonderful.

Anyway, after our colorful cruise watching morning we headed into town, this time opting for the metro to take us to the Sultanahmet neighborhood where the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque were located. We hopped off the metro (very crowed metro) and headed through the Hippodrome to the Blue Mosque. We waited in line for a good 20 minutes before entering the mosque. We did not find it as impressive as the New Mosque, but it was still stunning. Your neck gets sore in Istanbul for all the looking at ceilings!

From here we went straight to the Hagia Sophia and stood in a very long line (yes, it was still hot but we were getting used to the ~100 degree weather at this point) to enter this iconic building. I of course had my personal history tour guide, Matt, telling me all about the Emperor Justinian building it, and the chaotic history of its rise as the largest church in the world, then a mosque, and finally a museum as it stands today. I was not prepared for how epic this building was. We walked in and were instantly engulfed by its majesty. Towering domes and pillars, beautiful Byzantine mosaics peeking out from behind the Ottoman plasterwork. It was fascinating to see Christian symbols alongside Islamic artwork, beautifully illustrating the tumultuous history of this church/mosque for the past 1500 years.

After the Hagia Sophia we really were running out of time in Istanbul, so we found a place for lunch near the Sultanahmet metro stop (great lunch!), visited the Basilica Cisterns (so so cool) then took the metro back to the ship. We cruised out of the harbor early afternoon, ushered out by one final call to prayer blasting from every minaret. What a stunning city. We will be back.

Honeymoon Day 14: Cruising Dardanelles to Istanbul, Turkey

Some things are not as they appear. For example, the itinerary stating that today we would be cruising the Dardanelles. Now this was not really something that we were dying to see (I had never even heard of the Dardanelles prior to booking the trip) but we thought it would be a cool thing none the less. Well, it may have been if we were not going through them at 6 in the morning. Yes. 6 am. I will be sleeping thank you! Short story: we slept through them. We spent the morning and early afternoon cruising our way to Istanbul…now this was something we were excited about! Istanbul was one of the main reasons that we picked this particular cruise. Plus, it was to be an overnight port of call.

We pulled into Istanbul around 3 in the afternoon, perfect timing to go see some evening sights and get dinner. We had scoped out our options for public transportation, and decided to just walk instead. As soon as we could, we got off the ship and headed for the Grand Bazzar. We walked across the bridge over the Bosphorus, and into a crowded square in front of the New Mosque. The Istanbul skyline is just peppered with the minarets at all the mosques. They are beautiful. Reminiscent of Aladdin’s palace with shining curved domes and iconic, towering minarets. We stood in the square along the Bosphorus, just soaking in the colors, sounds and smells of the city. People were rushing all around, women dressed in traditional Islamic coats, men sitting on steps eating corn and chestnuts, and everyone just living! This felt like a real place, not just a tourist destination, but a real live city. Matt and I bought some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor for 5 TL and ate them in the square before heading off the investigate the interior of a mosque.

The New Mosque was huge. It looked regal sitting alongside so much hustle and bustle. I put on my headscarf (flashbacks to Zanzibar!) and we headed in. It was such a treat to go inside a mosque as women were not allowed in the ones in Zanzibar. The New Mosque was impressively big from the outside, but that did not compare to how breathtaking it was inside. The multi-layered domed ceiling soared above our heads, adorned with the most beautiful blue, red, yellow and green tiles you could ever imagine. Every panel had a unique design, but all together it was a symphony of pattern and color. Absolutely stunning. I immediately felt the color and life of this place, so different from that of the churches in Italy.

From the New Mosque we headed to the Grand Bazaar by way of the local shopping streets. These streets were lined with shops, two stories tall, filled with clothing and bedding and everything else you could ever possibly need. I was intrigued by all the formal gown shops. They were everywhere! Every 8th store was selling unbelievably gaudy dresses. Think prom+pageant+volume and you may be getting close. I saw one dress that I was immediately drawn to. It was a lovely sea foam green encrusted with crystals. When I went to investigate further, we realized it was actually just fabric wrapped around a mannequin in the window of a fabric shop. I wish I had taken a photo of it! It was beautiful. I decided that next time we are in Istanbul I will have an evening gown made.

In the center of this local shopping district (nope, still not to the Grand Bazaar yet!) we heard the call to prayer. This was the first time Matt had ever heard it, and it was probably one of the most memorable things for him from the trip. The call echoed across every building, and just kept growing as more mosques chimed in. It was amazing to hear.

Finally, the Grand Bazaar! This ancient indoor market was filled with everything a tourist in Turkey could imagine. Scarves and rugs, pottery, lamps, postcards…you name it! And these guys were ready to sell it to you. Matt loves Turkish rugs, so we were inspired to browse a bit. Oh boy did the shopkeepers want to sell us a rug! What they did not realize is that we are just too dang cheap to buy one. When we told them that the price was too high they would lower it, or offer up something less expensive instead. Nope, that is not really what we meant. We want the $15,000+ rug, we are just not willing to pay for it! They sure were pretty to look at though. We did come out with a few souvenirs…a scarf for me (that we bought from a super sweet vendor), a Christmas ornament painted in the Turkish pottery pattern, and some honey from a little food store.

We wound our way back through the bazaar and out to the Spice Market, another key destination in Istanbul. We were wandering through just before closing, and sampled some amazing Turkish baklava. We were seriously considering buying some but it was closing in on 6:00. And when they say it closes at 6:00, they mean it! Stores started turning off lights and everything starting vanishing into closed doors. We felt like we almost needed to run out of the market just so we would not get locked in!

After the spice market we wandered off to find some Turkish dinner. We settled on a local street café that served decent food. Nothing too exciting, but it was good. Musakka, yogurt pasta salad, and lamb kebabs, all finished with some apple tea. After dinner we took our time wandering back to the ship, and pretty much went straight to bed. We knew that the next day would be our big day to see the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.

Honeymoon Day 13: Athens, Greece

Athens! One of the great empire cities! Matt loves history, and I love having my own personal history guide to put these places in context. Athens was great for this. We took a train from Piraeus (the port, very unexciting place) to the acropolis first thing. We knew it was going to be hot, but probably underestimated just how hot. Thank goodness we climbed the acropolis first! Later in the day would have been awful. It was already close to 115 degrees (way too hot for me) and we were chugging water like crazy.

The Parthenon and views from the top of the Acropolis were absolutely incredible. Every direction you looked had ruins and temples and just cool stuff to look at. Athens is a huge city that just goes for miles in the middle of a barren desert, punctuated by the huge rock formation of the Acropolis. And groups of tourists. Boy are there tourists in Athens! Group after group funneled down the marble walkways, with tour guides speaking every language imaginable. For the amount of time each group got to marvel at the buildings and view, Matt and I were SO glad that we were seeing this place sans tour. We timed out walking and standing around the arrival and departure of these groups so that we could soak in the views just the two of us. It worked pretty well.

After we made our rounds of the Acropolis (and were extremely hot and getting tired) we headed down closer to town to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. To get there we walked through the Plaka neighborhood, stopping for some fresh Greek yogurt at a yogurt bar. Greek yogurt in Greece! A good energizing treat.

Across the street we saw Hadrian’s Arch, and eventually made our way to the Temple of Zeus. We toured around the ruins there (and shared an ice cold coke from the vending machine), then headed across town to the Ancient Agora.

This ancient marketplace used to be the center of all things in Athens. It is now just a historic site filled with ruins, and a reconstructed building that was once the indoor market. Matt and I were both getting really tired, and heat exhausted at this point, so we saw as much as we could, then headed back to the ship to crash.

Honeymoon Days 11 & 12: Kotor, Montenegro & at Sea

On day 11 we awoke to stunningly clam clear, deep blue seas for our approach into country #2 for this trip: Montenegro! We enjoyed room service breakfast on our verandah as we pulled in. It felt very luxurious eating in robes on the deck (even if the food was subpar).

We anchored just off of Kotor, and took tender boats ashore. We only had a few hours here, and it was 111 degrees before we even left of boats, so we went ashore without a plan to see what we could find. The obvious choice, go shopping! Our choice: get to the fortress on the ridge 1000+ feet above the city. We asked for a city map and how to find the trail, and the information girl told us not to go. It was too hard and too hot. Too bad. We went anyway. The trail was mostly stone steps, worn smooth from years of being walked on. The trail followed the wall that edged the entire city, rising straight up from the waterfront town.

The climb up took us about 40 minutes. Hot and sweaty, yes, very. Clearly that is a theme on this trip. Actually, in Kotor we did not have the humidity that really made the heat miserable in Italy. So it did not feel that bad.

The view from the top was stunning. We took lots of photos and video. Then headed down. We wandered the town searching for some local wine (success!) to take back on the ship, then I headed back while Matt went to explore some ruins we saw from the hike.

For the next 36 hours, our schedule revolved around the pool, movies in our room, sleeping relaxing and eating. After Kotor, the day at sea gave us plenty of time to settle in get our bearings, and enjoy the ship. We spent a good amount of time in the pool, and played many games of Carccassone. Our evening at sea was a formal night, so we got dressed up and turned heads all across the ship. In the early evening we wandered the ship before formal dinner night #1. Matt and I got dressed to the nines…me in a blue evening gown (that I will be wearing in Jenny’s wedding this November!) and Matt in his wedding suit. Getting some mileage out of those clothes!

We thought we would be more excited about the shows and activities than we were but it turned out that what we really enjoyed was hanging out, renting movies in our room, and just relaxing by the pool. And of course planning out how to tackle our next port of call. These were really the highlight of the cruise.