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Rome and Eastern Mediterranean cruise: Fantastico!

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Rome and Eastern Mediterranean cruise: Fantastico!

Old Jul 22nd, 2012, 04:04 PM
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Rome and Eastern Mediterranean cruise: Fantastico!

Hi all. Last month, we took a 7 day Eastern Mediterranean cruise. Before our cruise departed, we spent 3 wonderful days in Rome. Since we got back, I learned of two people from my area who are cruising the Eastern Med this month (one was on our exact cruise!) A mutual friend gave them my name, and I have been giving them feedback. I incorporated some of that feedback into a trip report.

Our trip started in: ROME

Campo de Fiori – we got to see this square in action several times throughout the course of the day becaise our apartment was located right off here. (This was a great location!) In the morning, there is food market, which is cleared out for the evening, when the square is a lively place surrounded by restaurants. At night, it is very active – we went out to get gelato before retiring and it was very festive.

Piazza Navona – another very large, very attractive and active square with Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain.

Pantheon – what an amazing structure with its open oculus. Raphael’s tomb is in here.

Trevi Fountain – every time we walked by, this area was always crowded with tourists. One time, we were walking the neighborhood not really sure where we were and came across it. Apparently, others did, too – as they saw this massive fountain, you could hear an audible chorus of “Ahhh” from the group walking next to us.

Spanish Steps – According to my son, these are “just steps”.

Piazza del Popolo – we walked around this large square. We were there in the afternoon, so the churches were closed. (From my last visit, I know they are worth a look).

Capuchin Catacombs in the Church Santa Maria Immacolata Concezione - Here there are five chapels containing the skeletons and bones of over 4,000 monks, artfully arranged, in patterns and designs. "Death closes the gates of time and opens those of eternity."

Trastevere – we spent an evening walking around this neighborhood – crossing the Tiber river and walking along some of the busier streets. The square where the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere is was lively at night.

Colosseum – what an amazing structure – we walked around both levels. My very best tip for visiting here – do not buy your ticket here! Your ticket is a combo ticket for the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill. We arrived around 10:30 and purchased our tickets at the Forum, where the line was about 10 deep. (Tix can also be purchased at the Palatine Hill). Later, at the Colosseum, the line was very, very long – at the very least it had to be an hour wait.

Roman Forum – this is an extensive area, and we walked around the ruins, saw the House of the Vestal Virgins, and a small museum of finds from the site.

Villa Farnesina – we walked through this beautiful villa, viewing Raphael’s Galatea and the tromp l’oiel walls – covered with painted garlands and statuary. The one room featured a wall painted with huge columns overlooking an outdoor scene. It did look as if the room continued and you could peek over the balcony into a rural scene outside.

Palazzo Spada – they have a small art collection and an interesting optical illusion by Borromini. You look down what appears to be a long passageway lined with columns; a statue is at the end. But the perspective is not quite as it seems – an attendant walked down to the statue at the end, and you could then notice that the walkway was really quite short, and the statue not very big at all.

Castel Sant Angelo – we toured this castle, with its dungeons, walkways, and rooms with more illusionistic paintings – in one, you appeared to be looking at a stairwell with a person peering back at you. The view from the top was AMAZING – we could see the Pantheon, the Victor Emmanuel Monument (the “wedding cake”), and so many of the areas we had been exploring the past few days.

Churches:
San Giovanni in Laterano – this beautifully decorated building is the cathedral of Rome. Large statues of the Apostles line one façade of the cathedral; the frescoes here are beautiful.

Sant Ignazio di Loyola – Baroque church with a soaring trompe l’oiel ceiling by Andrea Pozzo. The architecture above opens to the sky with lots of whirling figures. Adjacent is a dome – but not a real one – it’s painted on. My older son, never thrilled with churches, called this one, “the real deal”.

Gesu – another beautifully decorated church with illusionistic ceiling.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva – Gothic church with a blue ceiling with stars. It’s a large church with a Michelangelo, which we missed b/c there a service so we could not explore.

Santa Maria in Trastevere – this old church may be the first Christian place of worship in Rome. It has interesting mosaics and is on a lively square in Trastevere.

San Luigi dei Francesi – This church has 3 paintings by Caravaggio – The Calling of St. Matthew, Martydom of St. Matthew and St. Matthew and the Angel . The Calling of St. Matthew is my favorite Caravaggio – photographic reproductions in art books do it no justice.

We stopped in several other churches, but do not recall their names. (There are a lot of churches in Rome!)

[You may think we skipped some pretty important sites of Rome, which we did on this trip. If you visit Rome, be sure to include the following, which I thought the boys would be less interested in:

Vatican/Sistine Chapel

Borghese Gallery – Bernini’s statues in here are among the most amazing pieces of art I have ever seen. It is quite an impressive collection of art – I especially liked the painting ceilings in the rooms on the upper floor.

Santa Maria della Vittoria – Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa is a remarkable piece of art – it’s not just the statue, but the “stage” Bernini created it around it.

Palazzo Barberini – a lavish palazzo and collection of art, with a whirling, detailed trompe l’oeil ceiling.]
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Old Jul 22nd, 2012, 04:22 PM
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Very interested in your report! Sounds like a wonderful trip!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2012, 04:40 PM
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Thanks...we leave for Rome in 46 days. Nice concise info we will use.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2012, 06:20 PM
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Hi Karen

Yes the Capuchin Catacombs' slogan is a sobering reminder of living each day to the fullest. Translated it is "What you are, we once were. What we are, you will become."

Karen what cruise ship did you take and what was it like?

Denise: The Borghese Gallery was impressive as Karen pointed out. Booking for a 2 hour timeslot is essential. I prebooked online.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2012, 10:51 AM
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Yes, you need reservations for the Borghese Gallery!

world, we were on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas.

We have only cruised once before – on the Norwegian Pearl to Alaska. Here’s how I would compare the ships:

Food: I thought RC’s food was better (and seemingly more plentiful – for example, in the Promenade was a dessert, sandwich and coffee shop where we could get drinks/food throughout the day (no extra charge). We liked the Pearl’s flexible seating, but we were pleased to discover that the 4 of us had our own table at dinner on the Navigator. For breakfast/lunch we were seated sometimes with others, but this was a nice opportunity to get to talk to some interesting people. The service at the restaurant was excellent.

Entertainment: We thought overall the Pearl had better entertainment. But, the Navigator had an ice skating rink with a fabulous ice show.

I thought both our itineraries were excellent. I have to say on the Navigator, the excursion prices were extremely expensive. We did private tours in Sicily and Ephesus on our own – they were much cheaper than the group tours offered through the cruise. We saw a huge group from our ship trekking through the Greek Theatre in Taormina and waiting at the restrooms for their large group and I was so glad we weren’t a part of that.

We did use the cruises’ transportation-only option in Pireaus/Athens. It was ridiculously expensive. It was listed at $67 per person, but we got it for about $25 less pp b/c we attended a lecture on the cruise ports/excursions. This was still outrageous b/c we learned that a cab from the port to Athens would be about 25 Euro. The reason I was reluctant to do take a cab initially was b/c I read (here) that the cab drivers there do not want to only offer transport – they also want to give a tour, and are very difficult and forceful about that. Afterwards, when I realized how much extra we paid, perhaps we might have haggled a bit. We did take the “scenic” route into Athens and a guide offered us suggestions and narrated what we were passing, but it was a very expensive transit/(very) mini tour.

Cabins: We had a balcony cabin and my boys were across the hall in an interior cabin. I felt the balcony was worth it – I have grown weary of sitting in the hot sun sweating while loud music plays (which is what the main pool scene was like). I spent some of the afternoons at sea reading on our nice, quiet, private balcony. I really liked the interior cabin – it had an large circular window that overlooked the Promenade area. It really opened the room and made it feel so much less tiny and claustrophic – which is what I felt the interior cabin was like on the Pearl. That window also provided an excellent vantage point to watch the two parades that the cruise had that went down the Promenade.

Next: our ports (Messina, Sicily; Athens; Chaina, Crete; and Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2012, 01:36 PM
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Great report so far. Waiting for more.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2012, 04:18 PM
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Messina, Sicily

We hired a private tour through Roberto Taxi Taormina ([email protected]).

This was a terrific tour. Not only did Roberto give us such interesting info, but he knew the locations of some amazing views. Our first stop was to the hill village of Savoca, where scenes from the Godfather movies were filmed. We saw Bar Vitelli (where Michael met Apolonia and her father) and the church with Michael and Apolonia were married. We also stopped to see the mummies at the Capuchin crypt.

Next, we went to overlooks of the beautiful beaches at Taormina, also showcasing views of Mt. Etna. We were dropped off in Taormina, where we toured the Greek theatre and walked the picturesque main street, stopping into some shops and peeking into churches. One of the Christian churches was built on top the site of a pagan temple, and you could see the remains of some of the pagan site behind the church. On the way back to Messina, we stopped in the village of Castelmola.
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Old Jul 24th, 2012, 09:11 AM
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Kusadasi, Turkey

At this port, we booked a private tour of Ephesus from Ephesus Tours (www.ephesustours.biz). We had a great guide; her name was Begum. She took us through Ephesus, which is just amazing – the main street, the fabulous library façade, it was just incredible. If you go, make sure your tour includes the Terrace Houses (not all tours do). They were so interesting –– the houses had beautiful mosaic floors and frescoed walls. Afterwards, we stopped at a mosque and then had a traditional lunch next door to a rug making facility. There was no hard sell, I think they thought it obvious we weren’t interested. My boys did listen very respectfully to the demonstration of rugs for sale. They unrolled at least 2 dozen beautiful rugs. (I can’t have them in my house; my dog would christen them within a month!) My younger son said what I think we all were thinking: he wondered who was going to have to clean up all the unfurled rugs!

After the tour, the boys went back to the ship and my husband and I walked around the bazaar in Kusadasi. Every single shopkeeper practically accosted us to buy something. I did buy a scarf (yes, I haggled) and the shopkeeper tried to sell me a ring. He insisted I try it on. I told him I don’t wear rings, but he made me try on several others. I have to say, shopping there wasn’t all that pleasant of an experience, but I Iike my pretty scarf.
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Old Jul 25th, 2012, 05:15 AM
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Athens

We took the ship’s transport to downtown Athens, where we did a self-guided tour. We started at the Acropolis.

First, let me say we were underwhelmed with Athens. Perhaps it was not fair to Athens that we visited after seeing Rome and the amazing ruins at Ephesus. We thought Athens lacked charm – it appeared that their main square is the plainest one in all of Europe (well, perhaps I exaggerate, but it is definitely the most boring square of all the major cities we’ve been to). The buildings around the waterfront were a collection of boxes.

The Acropolis was a zoo. When we arrived, there were only about a dozen people each in about 3 lines to purchase tickets. This seemed to take an extraordinarily long time. Then, we had the bad timing to arrive at the entrance gate at the same time as several tour groups (one from our ship). Most large tourist sites have separate group entrances or plans to admit groups, but here, everyone converged to the entrance and we were all mixed together trying to enter. They closed the entrance gate, and every 5 mins. or so would open it a foot and let about 6 people in. I am not claustrophobic, but it was hot and I tried not think how closely pressed together so many people were, on the slippery stone path. When asked what was going on , the gate keeper screamed: “It’s for your safety”. (Cramming lots of people together with no organization is safe?! My son said it was like we were in a mosh pit). We had never experienced such disorganization at such a major tourist site.

When we finally entered, we found there were few signs to explain the sites and it was just not as pleasant as walking around the Roman Forum or Ephesus. I’m glad we went, but I was expecting to be awed more. Here’s what’s odd: when we exited – there was no line at all at the entrance gate. Somehow that huge jumbled crowd of people got in within the time frame we were walking around.

Afterward we explored the Plaka neighborhood, which was pretty, but small. We walked around the shops, peeked into some churches and ate lunch at the Hard Rock. We spent a lot of lunch taking advantage of the free WiFi, since we had been unconnected for almost a week.

Before catching our shuttle back, we walked around Syntagma Square went under the Syntagma train station, where there is a small exhibit of all the artifacts discovered when renovations were made to the Metro station. It is incredible what they found!

Crete
Our stop here was at the Souda port, where we took a local bus to the charming town of Chaina. We were stopped off at the Municpal Market and walked toward the picturesque Venetian harbor. On the way we stopped in the small, but interesting Archeology Museum.

There were several narrow and picturesque side streets to explore on the way back from the harbor. Afterwards, I read that this town is considered one of the prettiest ones in Greece, and I can see why.

Next: Practicalities
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Old Jul 25th, 2012, 06:19 AM
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Well don't feel too bad about the price you paid in Athens - yes those cab drivers are so obnoxious - we hired a cab at the port to take us to the a hotel - the ENTIRE ride was a sales pitch. Also the first day in port we got off the ship and had to walk thru a gaunlet of taxis to get to the metro - some older women were trying to line up a ride into town and ended up going back to the ship in tears. We used the metro to get to town but the walk thru Pireaus was long and hot.
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Old Jul 25th, 2012, 06:36 AM
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Wonderful info, thanks. Did I miss the name of the cruise? Did you arrange your independent tours ahead of time? Online?

Def. agree about Sant Ignazio di Loyola--it's the real deal.
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Old Jul 25th, 2012, 06:45 AM
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I have the impression that you didn't really see much of Athens..

The waterfront of Athens ( a coastline of about 30 km) is very beautiful, with lots of things to do ( shopping, fine restaurants, parks and marinas), but all you saw what the harbour of Piraeus, where your cruise ship docked.....

Piraeus is one of the biggest harbours of the Mediterranean, so do not expect to see anything exciting there...

The Plaka is a very beautiful part of Athens, with nice old houses, and very nice corners to explore, if you leave the main street, which i think you didn't...
You could climb up to Anafiotika, a part that looks like being on an Aegean Island, see the upper part of the Plaka with the old Athenian houses or one of the museums...
( there's a children museum there, a Jewish Museum, and Museum of Musical Instruments etc)
The Plaka is not small at all.... and there are also the neighbouring Thisseion and Monastiraki, that are as interesting as the Plaka....

Athens has no major square like Piazza di Spagna in Rome or Grand Place in Brussels, so there can't be any comparison as Syntagma Square is just a central square.

To my understanding all you saw from Athens was the main street of the Plaka, the Acropolis and the Hard Rock Cafe.
You haven't seen the New Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum or any of the other interesting museums of the city, not any of the sites such as Keramikos, The Panathenaic Stadium or the Temple of the Olympian Zeus or the National garden ( 3 min away from the Hard Rock Cafe)

Chania ( and not Chaina) is a very pretty town indeed, there are many cities like this in Greece, one more reason to visit the country outside of a cruise, where you will have enough time to see Greece.
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Old Jul 25th, 2012, 10:44 AM
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Great report, Karens! We're taking our first cruise in January and I booked a balcony room for the added space. A respite from the noise is an added bonus I hadn't thought of. Lots of great info here, thank you!
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Old Jul 25th, 2012, 03:37 PM
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AnnMarie - where will you be cruising? I think you will like having the balcony.

Hi, TDudette. We were on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas. We liked the ship, and our itinerary.

For our two private tours, I found both places on-line. Then, I went to TripAdvisor and both places received almost 100% excellent reviews, which put my mind at ease. I have never left reviews on TA, but I did for both places, b/c I was happy to know that others have used the tour providers and were pleased. I wanted to extend the favor to others wondering if they are comfortable with picking a tour operator off the internet.

clausar - those were my impressions of Athens, and I understand we have different reactions to the same place. We were only there a day. Part of our negative feeling was our very chaotic experience at the Acropolis. To be that crammed together, with so many people, in 90-plus degree weather with no apparent structure was a bit unnerving. I very much understand that popular tourist sites can have long lines, but there was no line or organization whatsoever. Tour groups were mixed in the crowd, and some people from one tour were admitted, while their fellow group members were stuck away from the rest of the group on the outside.

We did walk around the Plaka neighborhood beyond the main street. Part of what I love in Europe is exploring all the side streets and narrow lanes. We ate the Hard Rock b/c that was the pick up point for our return shuttle back to the port and we did not want to miss that!

One thing I do wish our cruise itinerary had was more stops to visit more of the Greek Islands. They look beautiful!

suec1 - it does irk me that I feel we got ripped off on the transportation, but it is helpful to know we avoided an unpleasant haggling experience.
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Old Jul 26th, 2012, 07:24 AM
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Practicalities:

Apartment

We stayed in the Balestrari apartment, located right off the Campo de Fiori. The apartment was very nice (air conditioned!) and it was an excellent location for seeing the sites of Rome. I thank those on Fodors who recommended it to me, and I would highly recommend it:

https://www.sleepinitaly.com/en/show...d_appartam=272

Getting around:

We made arrangements with Rome Cabs to get from the FCO airport to our apt., and from the Civitavecchia cruise port to FCO. Both drivers were professional and courteous and I would recommend Rome Cabs.

We tried to save some $$ and get from the apt. to Civitavecchia on our own, but I grew weary of thinking about lugging our suitcases to a bus, walking them to our platform at Termini (which I understand was a long walk), etc. So we stopped into the nearest Hotel we could find to our apt. (Hotel Tiziano) and asked them about cabs. Even though we told them we were not staying there, they made this arrangement for us. At 130 Euro, we paid for this convenience, but it was cheaper than the internet fares I saw prior to arriving in Rome.
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Old Aug 1st, 2012, 05:47 AM
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Hi Karen,

We're on this same cruise, but not until June 2013. You're review is really helpful! We're traveling with our two kids and had initially booked a balcony and inside across the hall, but just switched to two connecting balconies. It actually ended up costing just about the same.

I have been looking at ephesustours.biz, so your comments really help. It seems that most of the tours in Ephesus are about the same, but it's always great to hear the positive reviews! I like that you didn't have a hard sell on the carpets, but still got to see how they're made.

How old are your kids, and did they enjoy the ship itself? My kids will be just about 12 and 14 when we sail (girl and boy)

Any suggestions you have would be great! Thanks!
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Old Aug 1st, 2012, 09:50 AM
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Shell, my kids are 19 and 17. My 17 y.o. loved it - he explored all over by himself. The teen club wasn't terribly active - we went mid-June so perhaps there weren't as many kids on board as there might be during July and August. My older son was too old for the Teen Club - he hung out on the sports deck and got involved in many basketball and soccer games, so he had fun. He met a few kids and they met up in the evening to watch the UEFA football games.

They both went on the rock wall several times, and my younger son tried the ice skating rink and liked that. They didn't come to any of the shows with us.

They joined us for dinner all nights except 2 - when they went to eat at Johnny Rockets.

We were not surprised that they wanted to spend time on the ship instead of spending a lot of time sightseeing and walking around the ports. They thought Ephesus was cool. We had just rented the Godfather movie so they saw some of the things we saw in Savoca. They did not find Chania half as charming as I did
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Old Jan 13th, 2013, 04:47 PM
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Old Mar 25th, 2013, 03:59 AM
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Old Mar 31st, 2013, 09:52 PM
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thanks for this trip report - we are doing the same trip this year and I'm most appreciative of any tips - we leave June 14th!
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