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Trip Report Trip Report - Windstar Cruise Istanbul to Athens + 1 week in Paris

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I don't often write trip reports but, we had so many great experiences that I wanted to share.

Our trip began August 29th where a friend and I departed Boston for Istanbul. We few Delta from JFK to IST. I swear we were on the oldest plane in their fleet --an old 767. In fact, a passenger on the cruise who was unhappy that the seats didn't fully recline complained to a flight attendant and she was told that it was the last non stop flight between the two cities as Delta was discontinuing the route. Not sure if that's true or, not.

We arrived in Istanbul one day prior to the start of our cruise so we could see a few sights in Istanbul. I was concerned because of the conflict going on between the U.S and Syria but, we had no issues what-so-ever despite receiving daily notifications from the U.S. State Department.

We arranged for our Turkish VISA ahead of time which helped get us through Passport Control quickly. Cost: $20 https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/apply/

I got Turkish Lira from an ATM at the airport without issue and we took a taxi to the Four Seasons Bosphorus. The ride took about 45 minutes and it cost about 40 Lira I believe. The Four Seasons was a bit of a let down. The hotel itself is situated on the Bosphorus, which is really beautiful and all the public areas were very nice as well. We were given a room in the South Tower and before we left I had read that these weren't the best. We didn't have much of a choice because we needed a room with 2 twin beds and they don't have many available. We had to wait a bit for the room but they did get us in early, at about 1pm. The room was fine, just rather generic. You felt like you could have been anywhere---there was no sense of place. Compared with the beautiful public areas, I was just a bit disappointed. The bathrooms were lovely and looked like a typical Four Seasons bathroom.
Apparently we arrived on a holiday in Istanbul (Aug 30th) and traffic was crazy. It took over an hour to get from the hotel to Sultanahmet by cab. We didn't have much time for the sites but we did tour the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. I thought both were simply incredible and I only wish we had more time. I definitely loved Istanbul way more than my friend did so my husband will travel with me next time when we have more time and will travel independently.

My friend is beyond being a picky eater so we had dinner back at the hotel. The best thing about it was the location overlooking the Bosphorus. The meal was unmemorable otherwise, I truly don't remember what I ate. It was fine, just nothing special.

I'm not going to say much about the Windstar cruise because honestly, I'm not a cruise person. I went because the friend I was traveling with loves cruising. I dislike it for all the reasons he loves it so---to each his own. I much prefer independent travel. A bit about the ship----the cabins were standard size and very functional. We were aboard the Wind Spirit which does not have any cabins with balconies. From what I understand, all cabins aboard the ship are identical. There are two decks that have cabins and we were on Deck A (the higher deck). I'm not the most sea worthy person. I've had problems in the past so I was concerned as to how I'd do on this ship given that it's smaller than anything I've been on. I brought with me every seasickness treatment I think there is. Wrist bands, Dramamine and the Transderm Scop patch. We only had one night after dinner between Bodrum and Santorini where a lot of people had problems --mostly walking because the seas were very choppy. Personally I had no issues what-so-ever---YEAH! I don't think I even had to use the Dramamine. Also, kudos to the staff aboard Windstar which I can't say enough good things about. They were by far the best staff aboard any cruiseline I've ever been on (RCCL, NCL, Princess and Celebrity).

The one thing we did on our cruise worth mentioning is, I arranged for a private photo tour on Santorini. My husband and I had taken this tour with Olaf on a prior trip and it was simply wonderful so I arranged to do it again. He picked us up at the bus station in Fira right on time and essentially took us to all the best places for pictures. We both love photography and this was truly the highlight of our cruise. I mean it's hard to take a bad picture in Santorini anyway but, it was great to have someone who could take us around to places we could never have gotten to on our own in such a short time. 5 hours was 450EU.
http://santoriniphototours.com/

At the end of our cruise I had arranged for a one way flight to Paris on Easy Jet out of Athens. Easy Jet was the only cost effective option and there was one flight at 10:45am. I was very nervous about making our flight because we really didn't have another option. I made arrangements with George's Taxi for a private transport which cost 65EU. http://www.taxigreece.com/ This company was highly recommended on Trip Advisor and they were wonderful! After getting our passports we followed some other people who left the boat early so we were literally the first people off the boat. We grabbed our luggage and we were on the road by 8am. We arrived at the airport in Athens with plenty of time to spare. The driver was wonderful and put on a DVD about Athens while we were in route.
Our flight departed on time and we arrived in Paris where we met up with my husband who had flown the night before.

PARIS (One of my favorite places on earth) September 7-14

For those looking for apartments, I HAD to post this! In Paris we rented an apartment in the Marais through www.parlerparisapartments.com (Adrian Leeds for those of you who watch House Hunters International). The apartment we rented was La Musique and it was absolutely stunning. Even nicer than the pictures online:
http://adrianleeds.com/parler-paris-apartments/la-musique

This lovely 2 bedroom apartment was 1700EU which I thought is really reasonable for an apartment of this quality. I know reasonable is relative. We had no issues with the agency - it was all simple and straight forward and we paid by credit card before we left. They also took a security deposit upon arrival, by credit card as well, in case of damages which is ripped up if there are none. We were able to rent the apartment for an extra night so my husband could get into the apartment when he arrived in Paris first thing in the morning. We were told they didn't have a place to hold our luggage if the apartment was rented by other guests the night before so we wanted to make sure he could get in even though it cost us an extra night. Money well spent! The apartment is located on Blvd Beaumarchais which is a busy street but, it's located at the back of the building so we never heard a bit of street noise. The apartment was immaculate, beds were comfortable, glass showers with great water pressure, extremely quite and we never heard our neighbors. The only issue we had was with the elevator in the building not working during our stay at all. It was a pain to carry our heavy bags up 4 flights of stairs---especially when you're jetlagged. Each time we walked up I realized why Pariseans probably don't need gym memberships but it's amazing that they can smoke and still walk up so many flights of stairs!

Even though it rained in Paris pretty much every single day, it was still Paris and heck, I was off the ship so it was all good! :-) We've been many times but, we always try to do something new. Some of the highlights:

As I mentioned, the friend we were traveling with probably eats a variety of 10 different things so restaurants were challenging. We went to one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Fellini Ristorante in the 1st Arrond near Louvre Rivoli. We go at least once on every trip and we've been so many times that the waiters actually know us! It's great simple Italian food that is always wonderful and tasty. http://www.foodandwine.com/restaurants/fellini

Otherwise, the highlight of our dining for me was Verjus. http://verjusparis.com/
I can't even begin to describe what a wonderful restaurant this is. It's small and offers a price fixed menu that changes regularly. Reservations in advance are essential. This was our menu and yes, I saved it! Their menu can be paired with our without wine with each course.

1st. sea bass w/heirloom radishes, wood sorrel, scallions, lime, coriander, crispy pigs ears
2nd buffalo milk ricotta dumplins, shaved summer squash, tomato parmesan, purple basil, zucchini, pine nuts
3rd skillet cooked trout, sweet corn relish, red pepper,, ricotta salata, baby corn, bourrache
4th skillet cooked duck, smoked celery root, orange, rye, red cabbage sauerkraut
5th braised oxtail, procini and chanterrelle mushrooms, soft red polenta, pickled pumpkin
6th raspberries & blackberries, whipped creme fraiche, mini merangues and summer plums, pine nut granola, bourache flowers, greek yogurt sorbet.

Honestly, everything was a taste explosion in your mouth. It was completely decadent and one of the best meals I've ever had and my husband loved it as well.

I can't believe how many times we've been to Paris but, had never actually gone into Shakespeare & CO. Needless to say we spent probably 2 hours there and bought several hardcover books by Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald. Make sure you ask for a stamp if they don't offer. http://shakespeareandcompany.com/ These books fit nicely with our Midnight in Paris obsession.

On Friday we took the Hemingway Walk through Paris Walks (again, in the rain): http://www.paris-walks.com/
I had read many reviews on this company and this walk in particular. It was good however, the guide who led our walk was not a huge Hemingway fan so he included a lot of other stops that really had nothing to do with him. For me, one of the highlights was seeing the Rue Montagne, the street where Gil went every night at midnight in the movie. I would recommend these walks. We had over 60 people so a 2nd guide was called in and our group had to split up in two in order to make it manageable.

We did the typical other things that most tourists do as well. One day we went to Louvre, another to the D'Orsay both for the umteenth time. I loved shopping in the Marais and the market at the Bastille is wonderful and a must if you're staying in that area! It's probably one of the best I've been to. On Sunday we went to the Marche aux Puces which we have been to many times but it's always fun to do on a Sunday. I was disappointed that we didn't have better weather so we could visit the Canal Saint-Martin and the Prominade Plantee but, that's why we always go back.

In fact, we're headed back in December to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We have decided to stay at another of Parler Paris studio apartments in the 6th. I'm sure it will be wonderful and I'll try to post when we return.

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