Cruise Line: Renaissance Cruise Line
Ship: R5 (now the Oceania Nautica)
Date of Cruise: January 23 to February 7, 2001
Cruise Destination: Istanbul to Barcelona
Guest Contributor: Gloria
Background and General Information:
This was our 24th cruise, our first trip to the Mediterranean, and our first cruise on a Renaissance Cruise Line. We have traveled previously on Holland America, Celebrity, RCCL, Carnival and several ships that are no longer in service today. We are in our 5th decade of life and John celebrated his 55th this year in Istanbul, Turkey. This was a trip to celebrate his retirement. We are often asked what ship we like the best and we can only say that it depends on what you value in a cruise. For service we would say Holland America, for food either Holland or Celebrity, for entertainment we like RCCL. We have only done one Carnival cruise and that was on the Destiny when she was 3 weeks into sailing out of Florida. While this ship had the best floorshow we had ever seen on a ship, it really didn't appeal to us otherwise. Most of our cruising up to this Renaissance Cruise has been done in the Caribbean and Alaska. We live in Florida and it is very easy to cruise from our location.
In this review I will take it port by port and fill you in on some of the touring we did as well as prices. We seldom do the ship tours and since we enjoy being adventurous on our own we usually read up ahead of time and study the areas we would like to tour. We have found in doing this we also save a considerable amount of money. In talking to people who take ship tours we have learned that on many occasions we have more time than they usually have to see what interests us and are not pulled away early to get back with the group. Group tours also give their groups several hours to shop which we feel takes away from really being able to spend as much time as you like in museums, ancient ruins or churches. We also enjoy shopping and do this probably too much. But why pay a tour guide to show you how to shop!
This Renaissance Cruise was on their ship the "R5" from Jan. 23, 2001 to Feb. 7, 2001. The cruise began in Istanbul, Turkey and ended in Barcelona, Spain. We made our own air transportation and from Florida we flew to JFK and non-stop to Istanbul. I might add that we saved $400.00 each by booking our own airfare off the Internet. When we arrived at JFK we quickly learned that probably 98% of the passengers on our flight were going on the cruise with us. We also learned that the flight was over-booked and Delta was willing to give $700.00 vouchers to those who could take a flight out several hours later with a change of planes in London. We had ample time to do this and volunteered, but tried to get first-class tickets to London instead of the voucher. It ended up that Delta had enough passengers willing to take the vouchers instead. We left JFK with a plane full. I doubt that many people got much sleep during the flight over which boarded at 5:30 p.m. and arrived in Istanbul at 10:45 a.m. the following day. After landing in Istanbul we got a taxi for $11.50 (this is the price for 2 people) and headed straight for the ship. Although we had read we could not board till later we had no problem getting on. We grabbed a quick bite to eat off the buffet and went to our room and unpacked some and went to bed. Later that evening, we awoke and went to dinner. This is one advantage of Renaissance--we liked being able to eat without a set time.
There are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with taxicabs. Make sure the taxi meter is running. Before getting in a taxi make a deal with the driver. If you can get your money exchanged for their money do so. Changing American dollars is easily found in banks, money exchange places all over the city and sometimes available on the ship in the morning before tours. If you see a sign stating "Cambio" it is the best place. Banks will charge you a higher percent to change your money. Everywhere we went we had a hassle. We would make a deal before getting in the taxi and then when it came time to pay the driver he would tell us things like, "Well, you give me American money and it cost me to exchange it." So the $20.00 you agreed on at first they may insist later that you give them $30.00. We found a nice program on the Internet for the money exchange in each country we visited and printed out these so- called "cheat sheets". I will give you the Internet site here and believe me this saved some hassle with the drivers. I printed them out and cut them down. Also do print it in reverse and tape the two together (example: US to lire and lire to US) Of course you need to do it for the appropriate country you will be visiting.
If they take you on a tour and give you a set price make sure you know that the price is for the entire taxi and not per person. If they tell you it will be a 2-hour tour then run over on time, they will expect more money. So keep an eye on your time you have spent in the taxi. Another thing we found is that the taxis near the where the ship docks are the most expensive. If you are willing to walk a few blocks and get away from the docks and go where the local people are you will get a better deal. It can make a big difference. One day a driver told us $20.00 at the dock and we decided to walk about 6 blocks and got the taxi for $8.00. Taxi drivers think all Americans are rich and they want a piece of it! What is usual with them is they expect you to barter with them on price and if you have a problem with them after they have taken you somewhere they claim, "No comprehendo" and they also are know to threaten you with calling the police. You probably can tell through this that I equate taxi drivers over there the same as I would petty thieves.
Another word of advice on safety. Several people on our trip were robbed. One lady lost her purse and a man had his pocket picked. We had read previous trip reports and also read where people were robbed. It is best if you purchase a money belt or body type wallet. These are easily found in K-marts or Walmarts or any place usually selling travel items. Ladies can easily purchase a flat type wallet on a string to wear and hide around inside their blouse. Do not leave a wallet in your back pocket with all your money and cards in it. As a matter of fact, the best thing you can do is do not take a pocketbook with you on the streets and do not wear flashy jewelry to attract these hoodlums. There is usually a safe in your room on the ship and if you treasure your jewels leave them in there. Do not stop for ladies selling flowers on the street. They will try to place them in your pocket and you may just end up with a flower and no wallet. We witnessed Gypsy folks with small children dressed up in what appeared like Halloween costumes. They were having the children amuse some foreigners who were sitting on a park bench who thought these children were pretty cute. Well, we did not stick around to watch what may or may not have happened, but we have read about this trick of their trade, and they will get you interested in their children and at the same time be in your back pocket. Another trick is a woman will stand on the sidewalk screaming and will tell you she is a tourist and she has been robbed to gain your attention and you will feel sorry for her. Do not buy this story, as it is just another game they have. One of the things we have always done before going anywhere is to make a copy of our passport and keep on us wherever we are. For one thing, if you go to exchange money at a bank they may require seeing your passport. We had this done to us and would have been stuck downtown without money. Almost all countries we visited wanted their money and they would often not take the American dollar. Some restaurants we found did not take VISA or other charge cards and wanted their money.
The R5 was one of the smallest ships we had been on in a long time. There were only approx. 450 people on this cruise so the ship was not full (compared to a full ship which can hold 684 passengers). We were in room 6020. We were given an upgrade to this room with a balcony. We initially had a room with a window. Many we spoke with had an upgrade because the ship wasn't full. We appreciated the upgrade and did enjoy the balcony. The room had adequate drawers, closet and space to put our belongings. We seldom saw the room stewards; yet the room was always kept up nicely. We had such a hard mattress after two nights we did place a call into room service and requested a foam pad be placed over the mattress and this was done without a problem. We like a firm mattress but this was extremely hard.
The dining rooms are on one floor and you do not find the high ceilings as in some other ships. We felt the staff was very good and we had no problems with service. Even on the last morning the staff was great. On the last morning they do provide full breakfast in the dining room. People can depart anywhere from 4:30 am to 9:00 am at their leisure which is pleasant. The tipping policy on this ship was $24.00 per day per couple. They do bill this automatically to your credit card on the ship. I have read many discussions on this on various Internet boards and realize this does not settle well with everyone. While I initially felt this was not appropriate for a cruise line to do I now think this is perhaps not so bad. There are several different restaurants on ship and many different waiters, etc. serve you. It would be almost impossible to tip each person and by letting the cruise line handle this they do share the tips between everyone. There were some that demanded that this be taken off their bill and it was done without a problem.
One of the things we really liked is there are hardly any announcements blaring over the loud speakers. One could take a peaceful nap during the day without hearing repetitive calls for bingo, etc. There were no children on the cruise, as they are not allowed. I think the age must be over 18. There is a no-smoking policy and this means just that on the entire ship. Some people had nicotine patches on, and soon as the ship docked they were out there having their smoke. This must have been very difficult for them. The food on the ship was adequate but nothing out of the ordinary. There are no Captain's dinners or midnight buffets. We preferred breakfast in the dining room, as the foods that you like hot (pancakes and eggs) were always cold on the buffet line in the morning. Be prepared for some strong coffee too. I had to switch to hot cocoa the entire trip. John would drink the coffee but would water it down with hot water.
We did eat in the two other dining rooms beside the main dining room. In the past, we understand they were charging a fee for either of the two rooms (Italian or Grill) but this fee has stopped. You must make reservations for the Italian and Grill Restaurant and these are made one day in advance. We had no problem getting reservations and several times we would walk in and ask if they had an opening and we usually got in. This was probably only because the ship was not full. They had the same menu every night for 1 week, and then changed the menu on the 2nd week. The food in the grill was not much different than in the main dining room, and we still never had a tender piece of beef the entire trip in any of the dining rooms. They do offer snacks several different times each day and have finger sandwiches, cookies, and desserts. There is an ice cream machine with soft yogurt outside by the bar at the pool but we only saw it open one day. It may have been opened more often but perhaps we were not around to notice. We enjoyed the décor of the two dining rooms and the service was as good as in the main dining. There is also dining in the buffet upstairs but it is the exact same menu as in the dining room. We saw people eating in there who were allowed to wear jeans and very casual clothing.
There are 4 washers and 4 dryers on deck 7. You must buy tokens on deck 4 at the reception desk that go in the machine for $3.00 (cost $6.00 for one load to wash and dry). We never had a problem getting a washer or dryer and used them twice. Also, they have clothes soap dispensers that automatically add soap when washer is started and this is included in the $3.00 price to wash. They also have 2 irons and board set up in the laundry. Of course, there is a dry cleaner on board with prices similar to our home cleaners.
Entertainment is not that great but they did have a few shows with the dancing troupe, a magician, piano player and they would rotate nights. There was a piano player in the evenings out by the shops who sang and played almost every night. Up in the lounge there was a couple who had a keyboard and sang for dancing. We were usually tired from touring and really didn't care about entertainment too much.
Dress on the ship was a little fancier than we had read about. I don't know if this was due to cooler weather but at night many men had on sports jackets over dress shirts or turtleneck sweaters. Some wore ties even. Some women wore dresses but more were dressed in nice pantsuits. Saw some glitter tops with slacks on some. While touring, most passengers had layered clothing. It was usually cold in the morning and warmer in afternoons. I would bundle up with a pants outfit, sweater or vest and then my London Fog raincoat with a light liner in it. Nice woolen scarves came in handy to bundle around your neck and head. The coldest day was in Florence and the temperature stayed around low 30's. We swore we saw snow flurries that afternoon. That day the wind was chilling and your eyes would tear up till you thought they would freeze. With the colder temps we only saw approx. 4 brave souls who would venture into the hot tubs. The pool was heated but regardless we weren't going in. There were some who would lie around the pool if the sun came out and bundle up in blankets. Coming from Florida, were we don't get in our pool till the water temperature is at least 92 degrees, we surely weren't dying for a wind tan.
There is a gift shop on board and they do sell liquor. We thought the prices were higher than what we pay in the Caribbean so opted not to buy there. You can take liquor with you and make a drink for yourself in your room. You can also bring your own wine for dinners and pay a storage and corkage fee. Many folks purchased wine in the ports and had them store and cork it for them.
Bathroom was adequate and had plenty of storage for your cosmetics. There is a retractable clothesline in the shower, a wall mounted hair blower, and assortments of shampoo and lotions in large plastic containers.
There is a very nice library and there are two computers that are not connected to Internet in there for your use. I took a disk from home with me and would type a letter and then while in a port would go to an Internet café and download my letter as an attachment to send back to the states. This really saves time. In port in several places I found Internet cafes from prices of $1.00 to $2.00 for an entire hour. There is an Internet room on the ship. Cost on ship was $139.00 for the entire trip to use or you could pay by the minute. Minute prices were $5.00 for first minute and $1.00 for each additional minute. Several times I looked in the room and saw all computers were being used. There were probably 10 computers in there.
There was bingo on board and other activities that we never participate in so I can't say much about activities. We would usually take a nap in the afternoon and rest up before dinner. After touring all morning and part of the afternoons we would be exhausted.
There are several bars around the ship and prices were comparable to most cruise lines. For example Crown and 7 would be $4.50 and beers $4.25. If you wanted anything more than a call drink you must be sure you specify your choice.
There was Shore Excursion Briefings each day but we found it usually geared towards those taking the ship tours. We were disappointed that the talks did not relate much to the person who wanted to go off on their own. As well as others who complained about this that were trying to tour on their own we felt this is an area that needs improving. Not everyone wants to take ship tours. It would have been nice to know more about distance to trains and approx. cost, as well as bus information. We sort of had to wing this by ourselves. Usually there would be a group of us who would meet up at the bus or train station and travel together. In almost all places it was very difficult to find someone who spoke English well enough to help you. Some would try but even then it was difficult. Others would tell you, "No comprehendo." This was especially told to us if we had a problem of any kind. On the day we went to Florence via the train, after we purchased the ticket we only were aware of getting the ticket validated because we had read this on the computer by someone who had wrote a trip report. None of the others in our group knew about this. The folks selling the tickets do not tell you this either. Anyway, we found the little machine that you must put your ticket in and it date and time stamps it. Off to Florence by train we all went and on our return the train personnel come to see our ticket. We all had purchased a round trip ticket but what we did not know was to get it validated in the little machine for the return trip. So, we were all fined $5.00 each. You could not make the gentleman understand or try to tell him you didn't know as he was not interested and would only tell you $5.00. He did not speak English either. I sensed he understood more than he could speak but we all paid up our fine and laughed later about it.
There are movies in your room each day and you can choose from 3 different movies that are shown over and over .
There is a spa on board and specials throughout the cruise are advertised.
The casino was quite nice and larger than what we expected on this small ship. There are 10-cent slot machines that are fun to play and we didn't win any big pot of money.
The medical facilities are on Deck 4 and have 1 doctor and 1 nurse. They have appt. times for each day and do have 24 hr. assistance if needed.
Remember if you want to shop in almost all of these cities you should do this during the morning. After 1:30 p.m. they close shops until 4-5p.m. Locals eat lunch later than we customarily to in the states. Lunch around 2pm and Dinner usually after 8:30p.m. About 9:30 to 10:00 p.m. seems to be the most appropriate time.
DAY 1 --Embark in Istanbul, Turkey
Arrived to the ship by taxi for $11.50 for two people. Ship did sell transfers at airport to the ship for $19.00 each person. We settled in with luggage, grabbed a bite of food off the buffet and went to bed after being awake all day and night. There was information in the afternoon on shore excursions and they did offer a package of 7 tours for $429.95 each. These tours were all the "highlights of the cities" and a tour to ancient Pompeii. As I said earlier in this post we choose to do our own tours, but many people did buy this package. We ate dinner in the main dining room this evening and went to the Welcome Aboard Dance Party show. We met with some people who went out on tour this evening and saw the Whirling Dervishes and had dinner for $79.00 each. They told us they don't know what they were eating as the food was not recognizable. Went to bed still tired and slept till morning.
DAY 2 - Istanbul Turkey
Got up early, ate breakfast and off to town. In town we hailed down a taxi and ask him to take us to the "Blue Mosque". We had quite a time trying to make him understand where we wanted to go, as he spoke no English and did not understand "Blue Mosque", so then we tried by telling him to take us to "Hagia Sophia". This he understood. The Mosque and Sophia are practically next door to one another so we knew we would land in the right location. The taxi ride was a mere $6.00 for both of us. We walked over to Topkapi Palace first and learned that the jewels in the Palace were on tour in the United States and not there. (Admission is $3.50 each) In this palace is where the Royal Treasury is found. There are 4 rooms of jewels that include the 84-carat Spoonmaker diamond. This was my main reason for going to the Palace and since they were not there we decided to head over to the Hagia Sophia. As we were leaving a Turkish walking guide approached us and told us for $15.00 an hr. he would take us on a walking tour. His English was good and he took us to the Yerebatan Cistern that was not far away. This was their ancient water system that was quite amazing as it goes on for 27 miles underground. It is an underground cavern consisting of shallow waters that reflect columns-336 to be exact. There are wooden walkways and dramatic lighting along with classical music being played. Originally, the caverns were connected to the Topaki Palace, but the passage way was blocked to stop the trafficking of stolen goods and women. We probably would not have found this on our own. The cost to go in and look around was something like $2.00 each. We then went over to the Blue Mosque. Everyone must remove shoes and they give you a plastic bag to carry them in. The interior is magnificent with blue and white Iznik tiles. Prayers begin there at 4:00 a.m. and are repeated five times a day. The muezzins cry from the minarets: "Allah (God) is the Great. Allah is great! While prayers are in sessions tourist have to wait and can go in afterwards. We walked over to the 6th century Hagia Sophia and toured. (Admission price is $4.50 each) There are no steps but a winding uphill walkway that leads to the top where there are famous wall mosaics of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1435 and then a museum in 1935. Emperor Justinian built it around 535 AD. After approx. 2 hours the tour guide decided we must meet his Uncle and have tea or coffee. Uncle had a carpet place. Please know that I am convinced that every tour guide or taxi driver in Istanbul has some kind of relative in the carpet business. I further think this was the tour guides main goal--to get tourist to the carpet store to buy carpets. After all, they do think Americans all have lots of money. We went to hear his uncle out and granted he had plenty of very beautiful carpets; none of which we were interested in. For fun we asked about a carpet in silk that was approx. a 3' by 5' and was told it was $2,000.00. They have prices that are lower but then the carpets were not 100% silk but combined with cotton, wool or other fibers. Of course the most expensive is the silk on silk. The more knots the more expensive and better quality. There were many on the ship who did buy carpets and they folded them up nicely and wrapped them. They tell you they will also ship them home for you. Somehow we were able to leave the carpet store without buying one. Needless to say, our guide was ready to dump us then and his entire attitude changed. He demanded $40.00 for entrance fees to places he had paid for. He paid for these as he told us they did not like any money except Turkish money, which we had none of. We could read for ourselves the entrance fees and knew we were being taken. Then he demanded 45.00 for his tour time that was approx. 2 hours long. We paid him to get rid of him and decided not to hire a street guide again. It is easy to visit these places on your own and they do sell guide books everywhere on the streets there. Live and Learn!
Afterwards, we walked to the Grand Bazaar that was not far. By then, it was time to look for a bathroom stop. These were few to find but there is one at the entrance gates to the Bazaar. They are marked with signs that say "WC" (water closet). On entering the ladies section there were 3 stalls with each having a porcelain flat small section in the floor. The object here is to straddle the small area. For ladies with slacks on this could be difficult. I choose not to try this activity and waited till back on ship. There were no toilets as we are used to. Another helpful thing to carry with you are small packets of tissues. There is hardly any toilet paper in many places and we did encounter one "WC" and they charged you 50 cents for 2 squares of paper. One could have a lucrative business out there selling this I suppose!Once in the Bazaar it is amazing to see how many jewelry shops and leather shops there are. We still can't figure out how that many can survive. It is easy to get lost in this place as there are many different rows and they will hassle you well. If you dare stop for a few seconds you will be surrounded. We pretended we could not speak and would just walk by them. When they realized we did not understand their broken English they would demand to know where we were from and we were even asked if we were Dutch! We stayed a very short time in there and left to walk into town. In town the shopkeepers didn't hassle you as much and we did buy some pretty pillowcases for our couch back home. They were selling them at one place for $7.00 and 2 stores down we brought some more for $4.00 each. After spending the morning we left for a taxi ride back to the ship for $5.00 for the two of us this time. We grabbed a lunch and went to nap till dinner. Other items that can be purchased are spices sold as aphrodisiacs, brass, and basket ware. That evening at dinner we spoke to some who took the ship tour that was $59.00 each for a full day and $49.00 for half a day. Half-day tours last from 2 1/2 to 6 hours, and full day is anywhere from 5 to 11 hrs. Remember on the ship tours that they allow time for you to eat and shop.
DAY 3- Cruising Mt. Athos and Dardanelles
Today was a sea day. Around 11 a.m. we were able to see Mount Athos from our balcony. A narration came over the loud speaker with information about the 20 or so Orthodox Monasteries, which many can be viewed from the ship. It is nice to have binoculars to see up closer. Men need a special permit to visit and I believe I heard them state that men must have beards to go. Women are not allowed and must keep 500 meters from shore. There is said to be a dwindling amount of men compared to the 40,000 monks that once inhabited this area. By 1970 there was only 1,145 aging men. In order to revive itself they have allowed outside males that are university- educated to join their community. Many of these men do go outside the monastery and go by ship to the outside world to teach. There are said to be priceless objects including 20,000 coins, 15,000 manuscripts and numerous icons, which constitutes an outstanding collection. Much of the collection still remains unseen. This night there was a champagne reception and dancing. After dinner a pianist presented music from Chopin, Listz and Debussy. We enjoyed the day to rest and were still trying to catch up on sleep. Both of us had a terrible time trying to get over jet lag with all the time changes.
DAY 4 - Kusadasi, Turkey
After a hardy breakfast we went off the pier to hail down a taxi driver. We were with another couple we had met prior to the trip via Internet and became traveling companions for the duration of the trip. Found a taxi that took us to Ephesus for $92.00 and stayed with us for approx. 3-4 hrs. Someone was selling guidebooks outside the pier for $5.00 on Ephesus and I offered him $3.00 and it was a sale. It was a 30-45 minute ride to the ruins. This was one of the largest and most well preserved ancient cities in the Mediterranean. Dating back to 100 BC and rich with history and many archaeological sites to explore. There is a grand theater that once held 25,000 people. At the entrance are the ruins of the Virgin Mary also called the Double Church. Arcadian Street located in the center once was lined with many shops. If you go there wear good walking shoes, as the roads are rocky. We did not go to the house of the Virgin Mary, which was several miles away as we were all worn out after the morning of climbing hills. The house of the Virgin is officially sanctioned by Vatican. We thought we'd save this for the next trip.
The taxi driver was waiting on us after and we had him let us off in Kusadasi town to look around and shop. We found an Internet café there and for $1.00 I mail off a letter I had put on disk to five people back home. There is lots of leather jacket stores here and compared to the Grand Bazaar the bazaar is on small scale. They do hassle you here too.
If you are interested in leather it is very soft and nice and they expect you to dicker with them on prices. We tried to tell them that we don't wear jackets in Florida and they would come back and tell us, "Well, we have air-conditioned leather jackets!" Our big leather buy was a $5.00 cap for John. They have an answer to everything you say. Ships tours were $59.00 half day and $89.00 full day. Had lunch back on the ship and rested till dinner. Tonight was the Show with the Renaissance dancers, which we watched, and then to bed for another early rise in the morning.
DAY 5 - Piraeus, Greece (Athens)
City named for the Greek goddess Athena. We were up early and headed out to see the Acropolis, which is the highlight of Athens. There is a train from Piraeus to Athens and it is said to take 15 minutes. Train Station I was told was 5 minutes from the pier. There is also a subway that is a longer walk from the ship (approx. 30-35 min. walk). The cost is 75 cents and it will take you to the ruins. There is the Plaka (for shopping and food) and go outside of pier and get taxi for $10.00. The four of us hired a taxi driver who took us around Athens for $120.00. He took us to the Acropolis and admission was approximately $6.00 each. This is quite a climb to the top but a breath taking view once there. The Parthenon is just a spectacular site and one not to miss. We bought a guide book and map in the store there. To stand on that ground and wonder with awe how they every managed to built such a marvelous structure gave me chills. After this the taxi driver took us to Mount Lycabettus that is in the middle of the city. What a view! He then took us to town as I was determined to purchase a bust of Apollo for my office desk. After 3 stops we located just the right one and the purchase was made.
Going back towards the ship our taxi driver practically insisted we eat lunch down by the water at a place he knew. Again, this should have been a warning to us. We arrived and the restaurant was empty. We did not get menus and we all ordered a bottle of water and a Greek Salad. This Greek Salad is very different from other Greek Salads I've had even in our Greek restaurants in Tarpon Springs, Florida that is predominantly Greek. Salad had tomatoes, olives, cucumbers but no lettuce and certainly not any potato salad in the bottom. It was coated with oil and vinegar. Rolls were also brought to the table. It was a funny little place and they had to go across the street in another restaurant to get the food and if you had to use the bathroom you also went across the street. Before we finished, another group from our ship came in the restaurant and said their taxi driver insisted they eat there too and had dropped them off. They ask for coffee and received it cold and complained, and then they ask for a menu and that evidently set the waiter off. After calming down some they were brought a plate of dead fish (same as we were treated in viewing) and they decided on some other foods. I do not know what all happened except for hear-say from them later back on the ship, but the waiter started yelling and screaming at them for complaining and they ended up telling the waiter to just give them a bill (even though they did not eat) and they'd pay it and leave without even eating. Then the waiter started threatening them with the Police. They eventually got out of there and found another taxi driver to take them back to the ship. So, it is probably best none of us at our table questioned the salads… Another lesson learned!
Ship tours were $59.00 each.
Back on the ship for rest and dinner and tonight the ship had a magic show and late night dancing like every night.
DAY 6- At Sea
Another rest day
DAY 7 - Valetta, Malta
The walled city and capital of Malta was one of my favorite stops. We walked up the hill from the pier and got a taxi for $10.00 to St. John's Co-Cathedral. One could walk the entire way that would take 30-40 minutes. Mass was being said and no visitors are allowed in during that time or you will be ask to leave. The plain exterior is in contrast to the rich interior. The floor is inlaid with more than 400 colored marbled slabs each the tomb of a knight. After visiting the church we walked around town. People were friendly and willing to help you. There were quite a few dressmaking shops that made absolutely beautiful first communion dresses ranging in price from $150.00 and up. Since Valetta is 98% Catholic there is a need for these dresses. Also dress shops that made evening apparel and wedding gowns were seen. Malta is famous for Maltese lace. There is a flea market in town and one could purchase hand-made sweaters with intricate designs and cable designs for $20.00 for adults and $10.00 for children. I brought back a few of them. We walked back to the ship as it was pretty much all-downhill and went to lunch. Ship tours in Malta were $39.00 for half day. Ship pulled out of Malta at 1:00pm.
Had dinner and piano music again for entertainment in the lounge.
DAY 8- Naples, Italy
We were up and about early for breakfast. Remember to be alert to pickpockets especially all over Italy. The four of us got a taxi for $60.00 to take us to Pompeii. Many we learned later paid $80.00 for the same. One must we willing to barter a little I guess. The admission to the ruins was $8.00 each. Pompeii is 14 miles from Naples. In 79 A.D. the eruption of Vesuvius took place and buried this town. Excavations have taken place and are still being worked on. One can see the shops, theaters and public baths, streets, and temples. When you go look close at the stones in the streets and you can actually see where chariots left indentations in the stone. Versuvius last erupted in 1944; however, there are still emissions of smoke and interior evidence of heat. One could spend many days there if wanted to viewing all of this. With only a few hours we walked enough till our feet were hurting. Again, there is uneven payment -stones, so wear good walking shoes. We did get to see two of the casts of the eruptions victims that were encased in glass.
Don't miss seeing the Villa of the Mysteries, which was a walk away from the town beyond the Herculaneum Gate. Here you can see may wall-paintings and the frieze that occupies the walls of the dining room are some of the best in the entire town that have been preserved. These paintings were from the 1st. Century B.C. There are guides there that will go with you for a charge of $100.00. If you are a big group then the price isn't bad. We had purchased a good guidebook and had been given a free map that was enough for us to find our way around. After our visit there the taxi driver wanted to take us over to the volcano, which we opted not to do. After all, I've seen several of them and they all smell alike so it wasn't a big deal. We went back to the ship and had a late lunch. Pizza is served most of the afternoon everyday and pretty tasty. We went into town in Naples and walked around and used the pay phone to call home. Italy has the cheapest phone cards I've ever seen to call back to the states. They were 90 minutes for $6.00 and could be purchased at the pier. Naples in itself is not that great. It is a dirty city with dangerous drivers. They will try to run you over. They pay no attention to lights either red or green. I began to think that red meant speed up and go like hell! One of the passengers on our ship was hit and thrown over the top of a car. We learned he was okay; just shook up and bruised. He was lucky! Tonight after dinner there was a Hollywood and Broadway production. Ship tour for Pompeii was $59.00 each, highlights of Naples tour was $39.00 each, and if you wanted Pompeii and Sorrento tour which was a full day tour with lunch it was $119.99.
DAY 9- Civitaveccia, Italy (Rome)
We walked to train station, which was a half hour walk. It would have been less time had Ren told us that there was a free shuttle bus to get out of the pier area. We were almost to the end of that road when the bus came by and picked us up. Another area of no information. Anyway, we arrived at the train station (Termini Station) and purchased tickets at the cost of $6.50 round trip per person. Make sure you validate (or convalida or punch) your ticket (When you get outside of pier area go right and walk approx. 10 blocks and on left you will see the station). Train ride into Roma takes 50 to 70 minutes. You want to get off at S. Piedro. Once out of the station area you can't miss the dome on St. Peters. There will be signs on the street and follow the ones that say S. Piedro. Museum at Vatican cost $9.00 each and one could spend a week in there. There was so much to see it was overwhelming. The Pope did not have an outside audience this week but they are usually on Wednesday mornings at 11:00 a.m. if he does.
One can request tickets for the inside audience that is usually at 10:00 a.m. by email in advance. Write your email to: firstname.lastname@example.org and address the request for a papal audience to Rev. Msgr. Roensch. Give them the date you will be in Rome. We had done this but when they wrote me back they said the tickets would be there for us the day before or else we could get them the day of the audience before 10:00a.m. The tickets were to be picked up near the Trevi Fountain. Well, we made it into Rome just a little before 10:00 a.m., and would not have had time to get them and back to St. Peters. So, this was a disappointment. To make it worse, we learned from shipmates that they got inside to see the Pope as the place was not full and they allowed them to enter. If I had only known!
Another lesson learned--just go and ask if you can get in if you don't have tickets. The ship sells transportation by bus into Rome and cost is $89.00 for their transportation. Other guided tours they have of Rome will cost $109.00 to $499.00 each. We also went into the Sistine Chapel that was beautiful but again overwhelming. You just can't possibly take it all in with just one day. After walking plenty we treated ourselves to lunch on the town. Here is one place you want to exchange money to lire. There were several restaurants we could not go in because they didn't take credit cards or American dollars. We found a place that looked clean and had a sign on it stating "Rick Steves recommends and also Fodor's." So, regardless if this was true or not we entered and had a delicious lunch. I had eggplant Parmesan, salad, wine, and bread, and John had a pasta dish with tomato sauce. Must not forget, we all had the best Tiramisu in the world. Turned out to be a good choice and we were able to rest a little. Afterwards we walked back to the Termini and headed back to port. We had no problem with the ticket conductor on the train this time. Evidently, one didn't have to punch the ticket here for the return trip or else the fellow didn't say anything to us. Had dinner and tonight was the Super Bowl Party at 9:00 p.m. Of course, by then, we knew who had won by the newsletter the ship publishes each day. Off to bed early as tomorrow another train ride.
DAY 10 & 11--Livorno, Italy (Florence)
Day 10- This was the coldest day of our trip and the temperature was around 31. As a matter of fact, we swore we saw snow flurries on the return trip from Florence back to the ship. After breakfast the 4 of us met on the pier and hired a taxi for $10.00 for the entire cab to take us to the train station. The train rides into Florence cost $10.50 each. Remember to validate your train tickets coming and going unless you want to be fined $5.00. The ride took about 1 1/2 hours or so and takes you through the countryside that we all felt this had to be better than looking at highway on a bus. Ship had a bus that would take you into Florence for $59.99 RT. Full Day tour with guide to Florence off the ship was $109.99. Ship also had tours to Pisa and Lucca for 1/2 day for $49.99.
Once into Florence we headed for the Academia Gallery that contains the famous works of the Florentine artists. Of course, the most notable sculpture is Michelangelo's David. What a magnificent statue it is. After seeing it in books over the years it cannot compare to standing there and looking up and experiencing the beauty, which is strong and sudden enough to almost overwhelm the senses. I do not have the information I put on an index card on the cost of touring in Florence, but I believe the entrance fee was somewhere around $5.00 into the Gallery. After the Gallery we walked down to the Catterdrale Di Santa Maria. There are 400 steps to the Dome and it offers a breathtaking view of Florence. By then, we all wanted some lunch and after walking back towards the train station we saw a small restaurant and entered. The owner was quite friendly and introduced himself to us as "James Bond." This is where I had some of the best pizza, good wine and James Bond gift to us after of a rich chocolate bon bon.
After lunch we headed to the train and back to Livorno. This is when we were fined by the train conductor for not having our ticket validated for the ride back. Back to the ship we had dinner and to bed early. Tonight's entertainment on ship was a Young American Tenor singing Italian tunes.
Day 11- We opted to hang out around Livorno and shop. There are quite a few stores and a grocery in the basement of one good-sized clothing store. Grocery also has an assortment of wines and liquors. We spotted the fresh food market and walked around and soon learned that this open-air market was very good size covering several blocks. Not only did they sell meat, fish, cheese and veggies but also had clothing, shoes, fabric and you name it. John purchased a very soft pair of Italian leather shoes for a mere $30.00 and he also found a quilted jacket for $10.00. We don't wear much quilting in Florida, but one never knows where one may end up and may just need it. After visiting the market for several hours we hunted for a place to for lunch. We found a small pizza restaurant and went in. Menus all in Italian and the family who ran it spoke no English.
We decided to order pizza with fungi (mushrooms) and olives and watched them cook it over an open fire grill. The pizzas were brought to us and were the size of a medium pizza you'd purchase at Pizza Hut. We had already consumed a salad prior to the pizza and of course with more vino. The pizza's had a thin crust so they weren't as filling and we almost finished them both. Going back towards the ship we just had to sample Italian ice cream that people where we live told us we must try. They were right--it was creamy and very good for $1.00 for a large cup. Once back on ship, we napped and woke for dinner. Some of our shipmates this day took the train to Pisa that was approx. a 30 min. ride and saw the leaning tower. They said it was okay but no big deal and not much else around that location to visit but a few churches. Tonight's entertainment on ship was more of the magician.
DAY 12 - Nice France
Took off on foot this morning and went from pier around where the small boats are docked and headed up the stairs to the church, Notre Dame Du Port to catch a bus to Monaco. Bus ride is $3.00 RT. You need to buy Francs, as they will not take U.S. Dollars. This was a beautiful ride with scenery along the coastline. When we arrive at Monaco we headed for the palace. You have a good amount of climbing steps and steep walking to do here. Once up to the Palace we were not allowed to tour inside. The Prince was in the Palace. We were told if the flag is up--he is in residence. We walked around the area and found out way to the Cathedrale De Monaco. Prince Rainer and Grace Kelly were married in this church and it also became her final resting place in 1982. Buried close to the main altar many had left flowers there. Up on this hill is the Oceanography Museum founded in 1910 by the Prince's great-grandfather, Prince Albert I. We walked around the museum and saw where it was built with tons of stone and perched on a cliff side. What a view from the back looking down to the sea. The former director of the museum was Jacques Cousteau until his death. There is a tour inside with admission of $10 or $12.00 each. We did not go in but opted to walk back down the hill and visit the open market there. Gorgeous flowers and veggies and small shops surround the market. We grab a few chairs and all had some hot chocolate and rested. Back down the hill we caught the bus back to town and visited some antique shops and headed back to the ship for dinner. Tonight's entertainment was dancing and the show in the main lounge was the ships dancers. Tours from ship to Monaco were 1/2 day for $59.99. The casino in Monaco did not open until 1:00 p.m. and one must have a coat and tie on to be admitted.
DAY 13- Marseilles, France
Today was Sunday and we were only in port from 8-2 p.m. Some went off in Taxis and went to Mass at a nearby church. We opted to stay on the pier, as nothing really was open in town. We later were told that a museum or two was open in town. On the docks the locals set up a small craft market and sold wines, dolls, fragrant soaps, pottery and other handicrafts. Half-day tours to town on your own could be done with the ship tours for $34.99, but we didn't see many do this. Tonight's entertainment was the pianist.
DAY 14 - Palma De Mallorca, Spain
A taxi from the ship to the Cathedral, which is a massive 13th century gothic structure, is $3.50 for 4 people one way. The Cathedral was built on a former site of a mosque and it took 400 years to build. Clothing and leather is more expensive here. If you are interested in buying leather or clothing look in Turkey (especially for leather goods) and clothing in Florence, Italy. Leather in Italy is reasonably priced for shoes. If you are interested in Mallorcan pearls this is the place to look. A 6mm of single stranded pearls can be bought for $100.00. The money exchange system here is pesetas and the rate was 177.22 to $1.00. There is a fort with a museum across from Cathedral but it did not open up in the afternoon till $4.00 p.m. Tonight's entertainment was a variety show with the Renaissance Dancers and Cruise Director, David. Ship's tour for 1/2 day to see the city was $39.00 each. There is a pearl factory tour from ship for $49.00 each.
DAY 15-16 --- Barcelona, Spain
We hired a taxi driver to take us around for 2 hours to see the Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and a few other places. We all agreed it is just as the name implies --gaudy! Gaudi's architectural style is related to more of a modern style. He carried out building the church practically alone and it is still unfinished. Today, workers are trying to complete the middle section and it appeared they have a long way to go. There is an admission charge of $4.50 each to go inside. After going inside, there isn't a lot to see really. All of work of Gaudi is mainly on the front and backsides and can be seen easily from the outside and an elevator to take you to the top. The day we were there the elevator was not working. Gaudi is buried there in the crypt.
From there we went to Sala de las Columnas that is also the work of Gaudi. There were many school children there to visit the park this day. Barcelona is a wonderful clean town with much to see. There are many museums, churches and good shopping. The main tourist street, Las Ramblas is filled with shops selling leather, silk scarves and of course Lladro. Lladro is made just several hours away, so there is just about every piece you are looking for somewhere in Barcelona. It pays to check prices in several places before you decide on a piece. In my search for one particular piece I located it from $138.00 to $240.00. So, it pays to check around.
Tonight was packing night on the ship and trying to stuff everything back in after all the purchases. We had brought an extra small roll-around case with us, which was a blessing to have. The ship allows you to get off anywhere from 4:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and breakfast is served during this time in the main dining room. A full breakfast can be obtained which is wonderful. We ate and left the ship for our hotel. We decided to stay over one night and hoped to be on a plane going back to JFK that was not so crowded (which was the case we later found). We had booked a hotel room sight-unseen except for a few pictures on the Internet. We stayed at Avenida Palace Hotel that was right in town. Cost was just 18000 ESP per night, which amounted to around $110.00. We had lunch in the hotel that day which was very good. That night we headed out to shop and found a store (El Triangle Center) that was a 9-story shoppers delight. It took up a city block and was only 1 block from the hotel. We also made a visit to the Olympic Stadium and the admission is free. That night we ate across the street from the hotel by the bank at a place called L'Hostalet and had a wonderful steak dinner with wine and salad and grilled potato for just $25.00. Quite a deal considering the salad was a meal in itself. The next morning it was off to the airport and the taxi was supposed to be $20.00 as the hotel staff told us. The taxi cab driver also initially requested $20.00, but when we arrive at the airport he demanded $37.00. We finally settled on $30.00. Guess that was driver's decision since we had no more dollars except for American money. He told us the exchange rate would equal $37.00. We just wanted out and no arguments as we were tired of arguing money with taxi drivers. We settled in on the plane for the very long ride home, which took approx. 25 hours till we reached our home. Nothing like being home after 2403 miles not including flying miles!