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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 9th, 2013, 07:27 PM
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Thanks for a great report. We loved Ephesus many years ago. It may be time for a return visit. Although we have been to Europe many times, we have never explored from a cruise ship. Will now consider that for the future.
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 09:28 PM
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Still following along and enjoying this report. Thank you--and please continue!
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Old Jul 10th, 2013, 06:11 AM
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Such a great trip. Thanks for including us!!
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Old Jul 10th, 2013, 12:55 PM
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Great report so far. I look froward to the rest of your adventure
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 04:14 AM
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Following... and can't wait to see the photos from Ephesus!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 06:05 AM
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Our next stop was the House of the Virgin Mary. There has been some debate as to what part of Mary’s life was spent here. Was she really here? Was it her final resting place? Yelda said that after all of the back and forth, the current evidence does point to her coming here and living here. The foundation of the house and the stones of the keyhole shaped pool carbon date to the right time. As well as the painting that you can see inside of the house, which is thought to be of Mary – also carbon dates back to the time that Mary would have been living at this home. I'm sure there are more facts and evidence - but that's what I remember at this point!

The foundation was all that would have remained of Mary’s house. The rest of the small building has been reconstructed to be a small chapel. The smaller room is thought to be where Mary would have slept. It is set in a very beautiful, lush mountainside. You can just imagine Mary living out her final days here in peace.

After walking through the home we went to the area outside known as the “Wall of Wishes”. This is a large wall, similar to so many in the world, where pilgrims, or visitors like us, can write our wishes on a piece of paper or fabric and leave them in the wall. Megan, Mimi and I all chose to leave a wish, or personal intention here.

There is also a water fountain here at the wall that some pilgrims believe to have special healing powers or powers of fertility.

I myself am not a particularly religious person, I was however raised Catholic. My parents both grew up in a very strong Catholic church and are both now Methodist. My mom is a very spiritual person and is very involved in her churc. Many people have asked me if being at such a religious place would have significance for someone who is not Catholic, or not religious. I can answer for myself – for me it was a very peaceful place. I don’t believe one has to be Catholic to understand the journey that these people from history took and the effect they had on the modern world we now live in. Much of Turkey is now Muslim and they honor the Catholic beginnings that came from their lands.

As we left this mountain, Mt. Koressos, we knew it was time for lunch! Yelda would be taking us to a local restaurant. Here we wouldn’t even have menus! We’d choose our food by looking at it and pointing to what we wanted! Yum!

We were wondering what type of food is typical here in this part of Turkey – or really in any part of Turkey for that matter! We arrived at the restaurant. It wasn’t fancy, there were several tables outside, and Yelda brought us inside. There were tables inside, but more important, there was a display counter with fresh meats and the appetizer courses on display. Yelda, and perhaps the owner maybe took us through our choices, explaining the different foods. Everything was pretty much what we would think of as Greek foods. She said that their proximity to Greece plays a big role on their diet. Other areas of Turkey are more influenced by a Middle Eastern culture and have a different diet.

We ended up choosing several different appetizers and main courses. The appetizers, or sort of tapas, were served family style and then our main dishes came out. We chose hummus, a Tzatziki that was very traditional and one that was mint flavored, feta with tomatoes, an eggplant mixture, mushrooms with cheese, a cheese rolled with feta and of course fresh pita to eat with it all. I have never had such fresh tasting Greek, or shall we say Turkish food – ever! We invited Yelda to eat with us and really enjoyed one another’s company.

After our appetizers, out came the main dishes. Some of us got meats, to be made into gyros. The pita bread was a bit different from what we had with the appetizers. It was thinner. Others had a meatball type dish. Alex had some beef skewers. Everything had wonderful seasonings. All of the plates had a fresh salad that was served with olive oil and a pomegranate vinaigrette. It was all delicious – and of course, far too much food!

To top it off, Yelda asked if we wanted to try the infamous Turkish Coffee. My dad and I took her up on the offer and maybe when she chose to get tea we should have taken that as a hint! It was pretty darn nasty! Once you got past the initial, well I suppose the word would be shock! Then you could manage to sip it. I’m used to cream and sugar in my coffee, so regardless it would have seemed really strong to me. But also, you can’t drink the full tiny cup because all of the coffee grounds are still in the cup and it’s really sludgy. That would be the best way to describe it! But we were glad to have tried it and it perked us up for our next stop! Tummies full and fully caffeinated, off we went to our next destination!

Our next stop was St John’s Basilica. This is set high on a hill with a fortress in the background. The Apostle, St John is buried beneath the Basilica. From this hill, you can see the pillars of the Temple of Artemis. Yelda told us that when the Basilica was built, parts of the Temple were used. The Temple was a Pagan building so there was no consideration that they were using pieces of such a magnificent structure. Same thing happened when a nearby Mosque was built. More of the Temple of Artemis was torn down and used.

After our time at the Basilica we made a quick stop at what is left of the Temple of Artemis. This was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World! You can tell by the size of the remaining column just how huge it must have been! The temple was built for the first time in 800 BC! Can you imagine? It was destroyed and rebuilt 3 times after that and before it’s final destruction in 401 AD. In comparison to the Parthenon in Athens, this temple was 425 long and 225 wide with 127 columns that were 60 feet high. The Parthenon is 230 feet long, 100 feet wide and had 58 columns. Now, having just been to the Parthenon and been incredibly impressed, it was hard to imagine just how BIG this temple must have been and how incredible it was!

We left here and made our way back to port. Once we parted ways with Yelda and thanked her for a fantastic day, we decided that we wanted to check out the Bazaar area. First mission was to try some Turkish Ice Cream! Now, this definitely was not gelato! The consistency was sort of sticky, but the flavor was good! And of course when they serve it to you they like to play around with switching the cones and flipping the ice cream around. Megan definitely got a kick out of that!

I shopped for my magnet. We were told by Yelda that Turkey is known for bargaining when shopping – now I’m sure that’s not true for a 3 Euro magnet! But for higher priced items maybe. She said that the vendors are expecting to bargain with you for everything. The shopkeepers were fairly aggressive here, but they were also very friendly. I wanted to get one of the evil eye bracelets or key chains, but couldn’t really find one I liked. At one store I picked up a key chain that you could have your name written on - I liked it, but wasn’t going to buy it. I picked something else out instead. While I was talking to the shopkeeper’s assistant – making small talk, he asked me Megan’s name. Apparently the owner had taken the keychain I had originally looked at and asked for Megan’s name and made it for her while I was talking. He gave it to me at no extra charge. He was very proud of the work he made at the store. There was a lot of hand crafted art work there and he told me that he took the store over from his father and was happy to give me the 2nd key chain. What a nice thing to do!

Alex and I hung back while everyone else went back to the ship. We bought some gifts for a friend of his and enjoyed some time together. His mood had greatly improved and would remain this way the remainder of our trip.

Overall Turkey was nothing like I had expected. I think we all felt this way! I had seen some pictures of Ephesus, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful everywhere we went today was. It’s a very clean area and there is so much open space. It’s a huge contrast to our day in Athens yesterday! I’m not saying that Athens is dirty- but it’s a huge city. Much different from today.

Once back on the ship, it was pretty much the same as in the past. Unfortunately even though tonight was our anniversary, we didn’t get to do much to celebrate. But tomorrow Keith and I are going to Portofino’s. This is the Italian specialty restaurant. Date night! We weren’t able to go tonight because it’s the Murder Mystery Dinner and there were no private reservations available. We did enjoy dinner in the MDR again though, no complaints! The Navigator feels like home to us by now, we’ve settled in nicely.

For those interested, our private tour in Ephesus was 400 Euro plus admission into the ruins and lunch.

Pictures from Ephesus:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnp...7634561372351/
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 07:01 AM
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Still enjoying your TR, great that you're having such a good time! But not really fair to compare Athens to Kusadasi and Ephesus! It's a capital city, and the comparison should be to Istanbul or Ankara. And there are many parts of Greece with beautiful rural scenery, but you need to visit the Peloponnese or the north to see them. I'm not going to get into whether food is Greek or Turkish, lol, really both!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 07:19 AM
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Oh, I wouldn't say I'm really comparing the two ports - just that after being in Athens and not having any real expectations of Turkey - we were all just so impressed by Turkey in general! I think we all had seen so many pictures of Athens and the ruins so we had a feel of what to expect. We knew it would be busy and a city. We loved Athens. But Turkey was nothing like we had our preconceived notions of. Did we expect desert? Did we expect to be in a city? We had honestly no idea? But we loved it.

I do know that Greece has many rural parts and I would love to go back - I think my statement was more of a feeling we had after being in Athens one day, the feeling of Turkey was very different. It was unexpected.

Both were highlights for us for sure!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 07:33 AM
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Actually, the west coast of Turkey that you saw was part of Greece (Ionia) way back when, and had Greek inhabitants up until the fighting and the forced population swaps after WWI. A lot of people don't like Athens, but I really enjoyed it. But I saw it in the spring before it got hot and crowded.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 07:36 AM
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You said the cruise would give you a taste of Europe and then you would know where you'd want to return for more time on land. I'm looking forward to what locations those will be as you seem so positive about everywhere you've been. A happy trip report!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 08:18 AM
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Your photos of Ephesus are amazing!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 08:34 AM
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HappyTrvlr - I'll have to remember to summarize this at the end of the report. I'm not sure that we went anywhere that I didn't have a positive experience or feeling about. But there are some places that I definitely felt that I'd like to spend much more time visiting as compared to others where I felt like a taste was good, and while a return would be great, there is more to see elsewhere!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 09:06 AM
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Wonderful shots and TR.

Hub and I visited Ephesus in the early 1980s and it looks like much more has been excavated since (although library was there). Those mosaics with red are lovely. We too were "taken" by the beautiful countryside. Expect there are more resorts now.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 10:35 AM
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I love the Ephesus photos! The cruise we want to take is to some areas of Greece where I haven't been and also to Turkey. Ephesus and Istanbul are the primary reasons I want to take this particular cruise so I was thrilled to read your descriptions.

I had the same feelings about Greece that you described about Turkey when I visited the Peloponnese and mainland (Thessaloniki, Veria, Vergina, Meteora, Arachova, Delphi). It was so beautiful and not what I was expecting.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 04:26 PM
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Still enjoying your report and pictures! I especially loved all the cat pictures at Ephesus.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 05:28 PM
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Great photos and report. Thanks
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Old Jul 12th, 2013, 06:12 AM
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Friday, June 14th, Chania, Crete
Today we docked in Chania, Crete. After many months of trying to figure out what to do here, it wasn’t until right before the trip, that I found out that the name of the town was actually pronounced as “Hania”! The ship actually docks in Souda. Our time in port is a very odd time – 6:30 am – 3:00 pm. I’m not sure why this is since the next day is a Sea Day. You would think they could stretch our time in town a bit later so we could really enjoy this town instead of having to rush to get a bus back to the ship by maybe 1:30 to be back on board by a 2:30 on last on board time. Not to mention that docking at 6:30, there wasn’t much to really “do” in town that early!

So, that’s my only real complaint at this point about the itinerary at all. But that being said. Chania is relatively new in the cruise ship world. Finding independent excursions here was much more difficult than in other ports. Also, by this point in the trip I was looking for that “something fun” for the kids that maybe was a bit different from the ruins and history that we had done for the past few days with such intensity. This was also a bit of a challenge with the timing that we were in port.

However, I was lucky to stumble upon a small company called Sea Star who runs private small boat tours around Thodorou Island, just off the coast of Platanias Beach. They got great reviews on Trip Advisor and their website showed a few different options that would fit into our short time in port. Since their boat only holds 8 passengers plus their crew of 2, we knew we’d be able to customize our day. Elise emailed us promptly once I found them and we set up a 2 hour boat tour with a stop for snorkeling. This sounded like a perfectly relaxing way to spend the day! Although when I told Keith about our plans for the day and how we’d be doing something different – he just laughed – and said “um, Shelley – how different is going out on a boat? You do realize we’re on a cruise?” Well, I meant a small boat, where you can feel the sea, swim in the Mediterranean! Snorkel! A different type of day from the walking and inundation of facts that we’d had! And as you’ve probably figured out I LOVE that type of day! But by now we all needed a bit of a break from it I think.

So – the time came and we met Elise at the port.

Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy morning. As we drove to Platanias Beach she told us how she, a woman from France, came to be here in Crete, and we enjoyed getting to know one another. This is another thing we really enjoy about private tours. Getting to know the people who live where we visit and getting to know about the cultures of the towns. We also told Elise what time we had to be back to the ship and that we’d like to have lunch in Chania. She suggested that instead of a 2 hour boat tour, we make it 1 hour – we’d still have plenty of time on the boat, plenty of time to snorkel and she’d arrange for a taxi to take us to the Old Town. She was concerned with the 2 hours we'd be too rushed in town and wouldn't have time for lunch. It was settled! This would be our plan!

We got on our boat, and off we went! Thodorou Island is a National Park Sanctuary and no one is allowed on the island, other than the care taker. He shows up each morning and cares for the wildlife and island then goes home. Also, once a year there is a pilgrimage allowed to the ruins of a small church that is on the island.

The main “inhabitants” of the island are the Kri-Kri goats! They were brought here to protect them. They are fed and cared for and now they number in the 80s. We saw several of them on the mountain side. We also saw a few falcons while boating around the island. Elise told us all about the history, geology and biology as we toured. There’s even a Venetian fort that remains at the top of the island from the 1500s!

We stopped for about 20 minutes or so to snorkel. It was the perfect amount of time. My mom doesn’t snorkel, or swim actually. She stayed on the boat and chatted with the captain. While we were in the water, Elise would dive down and bring up marine specimens to show us – starfish, shells, urchins, sponges – all kinds of things. Then she’d bring them over to the boat so the captain could show them to my mom.
We all thoroughly enjoyed this few hours. It was great to be in the water and out on the water on the boat. I enjoyed talking to Elise – she was a fascinating person and had a lot to share.

When we got back to their dock, she had their assistant call a taxi. This is where things got a bit confusing, on our end – not so much from them. Since we were a group of six, they sent two taxis. The person at Sea Star told the drivers where to take us. I assume they told us to Chania, Old Town. Now – remember, no one else in my family really had a clue about this trip – as far as planning or where we would be going or what we were doing! I was the lead! So how do we split up the six of us with drivers who don’t speak much English at all? Well, for some reason I put Keith and the two kids in one taxi with a 20 Euro bill and off they went. I don’t even know if Keith had his wallet! They left so quickly! I had our bag with everything in it, which yes - included his wallet. We asked in advance how much the taxi would cost, so I knew he was covered for the taxi fare though.

The other taxi eventually arrived and my parents and I piled in. We never thought about the fact that we’d have to find Keith and the kids! Don’t all cruise passengers go to the same place? DUH? Well luckily our driver drove through an area and Keith and the kids happened to be sitting on a wall and they flagged us down. Keith told us after they left he got to thinking how he had no ID, didn’t have his Sea Pass card and had pretty much no money! Only Megan had her Sea Pass card! He had no idea where to go, nothing! But luckily we all met up and all was well.

Sort of – we definitely were not in the “Old Town” tourist area – we were in a very busy area. But I knew we were close! Since we didn’t come here with the cruise people earlier we had no maps, we had no idea where to get the bus back to the ship…

No problem – we’ll figure it out! How hard can it be?

Well we did it! We found a security guard, asked him where the Harbor was and he pointed and said something that sort of sounded like directions. After wandering around a bit, we found the Old Town!

And as luck would have it, as we were walking down to the Harbor and looking for a place for lunch, we bumped into Catherine and Ger! Our new friends from Ireland – imagine that! Of the thousands of people in this town, we find people we know! And thankfully they did have a map and they showed us where to go to find the bus when we would be ready to go back to the ship. Feeling a bit more comfortable now, we went and had lunch.

Now here, we had probably the worst of our in port lunches. Probably our fault. We just stopped somewhere instead of looking around for something that really looked good. We were hungry and knew we didn’t have a lot of time. It did have a nice view of the water though! But probably the biggest clue that it would be bad was that the menu choices were American food. So, when Megan ordered a cheeseburger and it came out as clearly not beef, we wondered just what it was? Once the waiter translated to another waiter and so on, they finally told us “Pork” of course as if we should be shocked!

We had a bit of time to walk along the shops and take in the view before walking back up the busy street to catch what seemed to be a city bus designated as one to go directly to the port. We had to figure out where buy tickets – got that! And off we went.

While we had a great day on the boat, the time in Chania was definitely rushed and crowded. Again, I wish the time in port could have been extended.

Since it was so early when we got back to the ship, we had some time to take advantage of a partial Sea Day, I’ll call it! Keith took the kids to the rock wall and then in line skating.

And I took advantage of the Spa Special of the day! They had availability left and I booked a 5:30 appointment for the Happy Hour Special! I’m calling it my Anniversary present! It was a neck, shoulders, feet, ankle, and head massage and a mini facial. It was 50 minutes of pure relaxation! And best of all, there was no sales pitch! Sometimes on cruise ships they try to sell you all kinds of products and that just puts a damper on the relaxation you just had!

After the spa, I got ready for dinner. Tonight was our Anniversary dinner at Portofino’s. It was really good. Definitely worth the cover charge! I really don’t have many pictures – I was enjoying our meal too much to deal with the camera. But I had the Shrimp Risotto appetizer and the Pesto Pasta for an entrée. Keith had the antipasti and the Tuna for appetizer and the Mushroom Pasta. I’m not sure what we had for dessert. The service was wonderful, and we had a great view of the sea. It was a perfect, quiet meal – just the two of us!

My parents took the kids to Johnny Rocket’s for dinner and then to play mini-golf. They all enjoyed their meals as well.

We all agreed that we enjoyed our day, the weather turned around for us again!

Tomorrow is our last day on the Navigator. Even though we’re moving on to more adventures, I’ll be sad to be leaving this ship. It has FAR exceeded my expectations!

The cost of the boat tour - well I'm not exactly sure right now! The 2 hour tour was supposed to be 190 Euros, including our transfer from the ship to the dock where their boat was. Since we did the 1 hour tour, I know it was less. I want to say maybe it was 150 Euro? That was for the 6 of us including snorkel gear.

Our pictures from Crete and the ship that afternoon:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnp...7634593052429/
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Old Jul 12th, 2013, 10:30 AM
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Again, great shots. Interesting rock formations also. A good price for that sized group and snorkeling.

More soon, please!
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Old Jul 12th, 2013, 01:05 PM
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Loving your report! Your enthusiasm is infectious!!!
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Old Jul 12th, 2013, 01:16 PM
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So sorry about your bad restaurant in Chania! I have had some of my all time favorite meals there, so for next time walk past the tourist harbor, to the east along the water, and there are wonderful places to dine.
Or go back one street off the harbor to Taman(assuming Chania is on your return list.) We spent two weeks there and will return.
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