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Our Amazing European Adventure! Including 2 cruises and 7 days in Italy!

Our Amazing European Adventure! Including 2 cruises and 7 days in Italy!

Old Jul 7th, 2013, 12:16 PM
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Great report and the trip sounds fun. Thank you for sharing. My sister collects magnets too, and I always get one for her when I travel. You're the only other person I know who has talked about collecting magnets.
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Old Jul 7th, 2013, 01:34 PM
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"other pieces are in the Elgin Museum in England!"

Err, no. They (pieces of the Parthenon frieze) are called the Elgin marbles (after Lord Elgin who took them to England), but they are in the British Museum.
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Old Jul 7th, 2013, 02:17 PM
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i'm loving your detailed informative report which is so well written.. thanks..

could you include some costs, like for guides and hotels for reference.
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Old Jul 7th, 2013, 03:36 PM
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thursdaysd - "other pieces are in the Elgin Museum in England!"

Err, no. They (pieces of the Parthenon frieze) are called the Elgin marbles (after Lord Elgin who took them to England), but they are in the British Museum.

Thanks for the clarification - there's a lot of details from this trip - I got the names but not the specifics! Funny thing is, last summer my daughter went on an educational trip to England and France and visited the British Museum and saw the Elgin Marbles. She had no idea that this summer she'd be visiting the Parthenon where they came from!
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Old Jul 7th, 2013, 03:38 PM
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ShellD - no problem. Cool that she got to see both - probably better that way round, too. Loving your report, BTW.
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Old Jul 7th, 2013, 03:48 PM
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rhkkmk - Sure - I'd be happy to include some prices. As for the hotels, so far we've stayed just at Albergo del Senato for one night in Rome. I'd say to contact the hotel or look on their website for details since it will vary depending on the room and time of year. But this was definitely a splurge for us. The room my parents paid for was a standard double at 290 Euro, but they were upgraded at no cost to their Deluxe double. I don't know the rate for that room. The four of us stayed in the mini apartment - which I felt was huge! It had two twin beds and a king bed in a loft. Big bathroom and a sitting area. It was 445 Euros. Both included a very nice breakfast.

Food tour in Rome: 85 Euros for adults and 65 for kids. All food and wine included. Also a lot of history involved.

Sicily Tour - 450 Euro - split by 8 people - price was based on the number of people. Included the driver who was more like a guide. Only additional cost was our food for the day. The driver was with us our full day in port from 10:30 until approx 6:00 pm.

Athens Tour: 600 Euro - split by 12 people. The price would have been the same for this tour regardless of how many people in our group. Initially we had just the 6 of us, so it would have been more expensive. But we ended up with the other two families and were able to reduce the costs this way. We chose to have the guide in addition to the driver, so our cost was more than just a day with a driver only. Extra costs included admission to the archaeological sites and museum. Approx 12 Euro for the sites/person and 5 Euro for the museum. Kids under 18 were free at both. We were in port with our guide from 7:30 until approx 5:30 pm.

Of course there was the price of the cruise - but that would totally vary!

I'll try to remember to include the rest of our costs as I go along!
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Old Jul 7th, 2013, 06:27 PM
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I am booked! Thanks for the suggestion.
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Old Jul 7th, 2013, 07:40 PM
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Shell: still loving this report. You are a great planner!

We stayed at Albergo del Senato a few years ago, and luckily didn't pay as much as you did, and we even had a balcony room on the front. It is a magical location, I could see weeds on the top of the Pantheon from our balcony!
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Old Jul 7th, 2013, 09:34 PM
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I keep looking for the "like" button! Thank you for your report full of great details. I am enjoying it immensely.
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Old Jul 8th, 2013, 02:26 AM
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About the tours, as I'm sure you know, you paid well below the cost of the ship's tours and yours sound much better quality.

The agora is my favorite place in Athens. I went early one morning, light drizzly rain, maybe three other people there. Loved it.

Great trip report!
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Old Jul 8th, 2013, 04:29 AM
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Cathinjoetown - "About the tours, as I'm sure you know, you paid well below the cost of the ship's tours and yours sound much better quality."

We definitely decided against the ship tours both for the cost and the quality. I know many people prefer the security of ship tours, but with research, there are so many quality private tours out there! Our groups were so small that we had such personal service - it was wonderful. And with kids, you really need to keep them engaged! Not be in a herd of maybe 40 or 50 people!

We loved the Agora too - I don't think too many people get there. It wasn't too crowded and it was really quite beautiful!
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Old Jul 8th, 2013, 07:53 AM
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I'm loving your trip report. Italy is my favorite country to visit, but I really enjoyed Greece too.

Reading about the cruise details is interesting to me too. I have taken one small-ship cruise (200 passengers) down the coast of Croatia and Montenegro, but since it was also part of a tour (several days in Venice), all the shore excursions were included. I am considering taking another cruise in the future with my boyfriend, probably on Seabourne, and am trying to decide if it's best to take one of their excursions or arrange your own. How did you decide?

Just for future reference, it's Syntagma Square in Athens.
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Old Jul 8th, 2013, 01:20 PM
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Delaine - I'm not too familiar with what Seabourne offers as far as excursions. For us, we wanted small groups and flexibility. I wanted our whole group to feel like the guide was talking just to us - not to a group of 50. That is not an option with most of the major cruise lines. Also many of the cruise line excursions can be quite pricey for what is included and they often include a shopping stop somewhere that may (or maybe not) be affiliated with the cruise line. Also, in some of the places, the larger buses can't really get you where you want to go. They will take you to a place and just drop you off a distance from a site, there is much more walking and my dad has knee problems, so the use of a van eliminated some of the walking I think.

An example of the difference in the cruise tour vs private would be our Mt Etna tour. We had a group of 8, a small passenger van and while the tour was pre-set, we sort of designed the timing of our day. Our driver knew how much time we wanted to spend at Mt Etna vs. Taormina and went with our flow. Whereas the ship tour was on a coach bus with about 50 people. They had about 15 minutes to walk around the crater and then back on the bus. We also had the benefit of personal stories and getting a feel for what life is like where we went.

Many people feel uncomfortable with private tours and like the security of ship tours because you are guaranteed that the ship will wait for you if you aren't back in time for "last boarding time". While I'm sure that is always a concern, the reputable guides make a living doing tours and they are very aware of getting you back in time. I know there could always be an emergency - an accident causing traffic, a flat tire - but we've been very successful with the private tours on our four cruises and likely will continue to do so.

Thanks for the correction on Syntagma Square. There are so many details, and many more coming up! I'm sure I'll have many more inconsistencies that will need to be corrected!
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Old Jul 8th, 2013, 03:42 PM
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Really wonderful, ShellD.

(Don't worry about the facts. I always thought the Elgin Marbles were the 1-inch round glass globes!) LOL
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Old Jul 8th, 2013, 04:42 PM
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Just rejoined your trip after a weekend of company. Still enjoying it and your photos. You write so well!

It is hotter than heck here (has been for some time) so the description of lying in the sun and the deck pictures made me sweat even more. However, I imagine that being on the water kept things comfortable!

Thanks for sharing (as I look forward to more!)
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 09:23 AM
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ShellD,

Thank you for your insights. You brought up some things I hadn't thought about. I will do some research (which I love!) and find out how much a private driver/tour would be compared with the ship's excursions.

I did a private driver one day in Greece and really enjoyed it. He picked me up at my hotel in Athens and drove me all over the Peloponnese. I had already told him where I wanted to go, and I could take as long as I wished.

Looking forward to your further adventures.
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 09:25 AM
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ShellD,

Thank you for your insights. You brought up some things I hadn't thought about. I will do some research (which I love!) and find out how much a private driver/tour would be compared with the ship's excursions.

I did a private driver one day in Greece and really enjoyed it. He picked me up at my hotel in Athens and drove me all over the Peloponnese. I had already told him where I wanted to go, and I could take as long as I wished.

Looking forward to your further adventures.
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 10:23 AM
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Im amazed that you planned such a ambitious trip. I too am trying to plan a trip with my teen daughter husband and parents. My parents' families came from Bari and Sciacca(Sicily).They would love to visit both as well as tour Rome. We also wanted to include the Amalfi coast. I would appreciate any tips or suggestions.
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 07:09 PM
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Southerly - Thank you! It definitely was ambitious. I love trip planning though, so for me it was something that was a lot of fun. The only part that was a bit overwhelming was that I wanted to be sure to not let my parents down in any way since this was in reality, "their" trip. I would have felt a lot less pressure if it was just my husband, kids and I!

At first I felt totally overwhelmed and unprepared as far as the European aspect of the trip. We knew we wanted to go on a cruise, but also a land trip. I'd planned several trips before, but all to Central America- those seemed easy to me! Even though there was a first time for those trips too. I did all those on my own, but through research on Fodor's mainly. But this felt different. I contacted a friend of my dad's who is a travel agent, thinking she may be able to point me in the right direction. I won't call it a mistake - but as time went by, I realized I could do all of the research on my own. The only thing she ended up doing for us was getting our trip insurance and actually booking the cruises and taking care of the final payments on them.

So - I guess what I'm saying is, if you're organized and like to research, the information is all out there. I used mainly fodors and cruise critic.

For us, we had our reasons for combing the land with the cruises, as I mentioned in the beginning of the trip report, but mainly to see many places, to get a feel for these places - not necessarily need to spend days in each, and importantly for us - give the kids some down time - kid time, after each day of touring - which is why we chose the cruises as our moving hotel. Then we chose the cities we missed on the cruise and fit them in between and after the cruise.

As far as traveling with parents, and your daughter....for us - this is why I chose to do tours in each location. I knew for our family it would work best. If left on our own, we'd never get out the door! We'd end up in Europe arguing about what we'd want to do each day! We have a hard enough time choosing where to go for dinner, so if I didn't have a game plan for each day, those days would be lost. But again, on the cruise ship, we had our apart time too.

Private tours or small group tours also allowed for adjusting the pace of the tour for our varied age group. It never felt like we were waiting for my parents, or rushing to keep up with my speedy son and husband!

I also tried to find something that everyone would enjoy at some point.

I'm not sure if any of that helps, but those are things that I took into consideration when planning. If you have any specific questions let me know! For me planning is "almost" half the fun! I'd be happy to let you know what worked and didn't!
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 07:15 PM
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Thursday, June 13th, Ephesus

Today is not only our day in Ephesus, but it’s my 21st Anniversary! What better way to spend our Anniversary, than in an exotic land? Well, I think Keith could think of better ways to spend it – lying on a beach, drink with an umbrella in it, but he was being quite patient – indulging in my never ending quest for ancient history!

It was another early morning! The bright side is that I’m sleeping really well though. I seem to be waking at the crack of dawn, every day! No complaints here though. So, once up, breakfast arrived right on time and it was another enjoyable meal out on the balcony.

Today we’d be meeting Yelda from KSG Tours, otherwise known as Kagan Kosagan’s tours. I found his name also on Cruise Critic. There are several other, larger tour companies mentioned and mixed in there I found a review that mentioned his name. Then maybe another and then someone else mentioned Yelda as a fantastic guide. I did a search on Trip Advisor and he got great reviews, mainly in Istanbul, but a few popped up for Ephesus. But Yelda’s name kept popping up. Especially for tours with families. I contacted Kagan back in September, specifically requested Yelda and we were all set. Throughout the year, I’d get friendly emails From Kagan wishing us Happy Holiday’s or mentioning that they were looking forward to our visit. Also for those interested, there was never a mention of a carpet tour – we never indicated we wanted to visit one and they never asked if we wanted to. I let Kagan know what sites we wanted to see and that’s where we went.

So – we met Yelda right on time at 8:00 am. We had a short walk to our van and once in, the driver was off and Yelda started telling us all about Kudasai and Turkey. We could tell this would be a very interactive day! First was the question – are we in Europe or Asia? Why, Asia of course! About half of our group of six got this one right! On our way to Ephesus, Yelda told us about this part of Turkey today, a brief history and about where were on a map and where we were going.

I can’t really say enough good things about Yelda. She was fantastic! She had so much knowledge about seemingly everything! The history, the architecture, the religions – which play such a role in this part of the world and really all over. She kept us all engaged. Well, Alex was in quite a mood today – as you can see in the pictures from the morning. It was around today that it sort of clicked that we needed to feed him on a pretty regular schedule or he got very moody! Also, I think the pretty constant playing of the conflict that was currently going on in Istanbul at the time was weighing on his mind. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that he’s only 13, and as smart as he is, it may be hard to separate the fact that Istanbul and that conflict is nowhere near where we were going – which also happened to be in Turkey. The cruise ship had an International CNN channel that seemed to have a constant loop of the police “handling” the protest in Istanbul. At this point I can’t quite remember – was it tear gas they used? But in Alex’s mind Turkey is Turkey and where were we taking him? So, until he felt a comfort level with the day, and had a good, serious meal he was an absolute terror to be around.

The forecast was for rain, we even felt a few drops as we came off the ship, but we were lucky! The rain held off and for most of the day, the sun was shining. We had perfect weather!

Now, Ephesus. I can’t even begin to describe it, but to say it’s impressive! What made it different to me from visiting Athens was that this was an entire city of ruins in one place. You could envision the whole civilization that must have lived out their daily life here. The technology of the time was just amazing.

We absolutely went into the Terrace houses, except my dad, who was concerned that maybe there would be too many steps – I think he would have been fine. But the Terrace Houses are houses built into the hills that are currently being excavated. There is an extra admission fee to visit, but it’s very worth that small extra fee. They call them the houses of the rich – there are six residences here. You can see the mosaics and the frescos – the colors are amazing! You can see the pipes that were used for plumbing!

These Terrace Houses for me were most definitely the highlight of Ephesus. The detail of what has been recovered is amazing. The ruins are massive.

Then of course there really is so much more. There are stones with carvings indicating where the Dr would have been. There are the public bathrooms! Which apparently were quite the social gathering area! There is then the carvings that were in front of the merchants indicating that they were Christians – and this is how the first symbols of Christianity came about and eventually developed into the Jesus Fish that we have come to know today!

Moving on we approached the facade of the Library of Celcus. This itself is one huge, amazing structure! It is said to have held 15,000 scrolls! It’s here I’ll mention the cats. In Athens it was the city of the stray dogs. Everywhere! Ephesus was the ruins of the cats! Here at the Library of Celcus was a mamma cat nursing her three baby kittens. I’ll say the crowd to take pictures of this site was as busy as any part of the ruins here! Animals sure draw a crowd! Especially when baby animals are involved!

As we walked towards the exit of this part of the town on Ephesus, we had a chance to visit the larger of the amphitheaters. Keith, Alex and I went in and climbed up the rows of seats to get a view from above.

It was a great morning! But we still had much more to see. But so far, Turkey was absolutely nothing like I had expected. It was so green and lush. Rolling hills and vast open spaces! I don’t know if I expected deserts or it to be flat. But it was very peaceful, it was beautiful. We all were really enjoying our time here!
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