Ok time for a follow on Cruise blog post to “Cruise on up to Alaska”. My wife and I had a pretty wicked trip to South America planned this year. We were going to hike up to Machu Picchu, camp in the Amazon and wonder through Ecuador.
Well mother nature had other plans and for reason I attribute to genuinely feeling better about ourselves after our weight loss, little Olivia (currently loading) probably wouldn’t fair well to the altitude and immunizations mommy would have to go through. So we set out to find something that would give us some adventure but would be more leisurely. A baby-moon if you will (even though I hate that word). It was actually pretty hard to find a good combination of those two things.
After some research we decided on a Mediterranean cruise that hit Rome (Italy), Messina (Sicily, Italy), Athens (Greece), Kushadasi (Turkey), Chania (Crete) and back to Rome. After a few tips on the Royal Caribbean line we decided to go with them for the trip. As always I try to wrap my travel posts with a bit of lessons learned that accompany my charming wit and sense of humor[/ego].
So let’s start off with the lessons learned from the Ship/Company itself first.
- Bye Bye Passports.
-Messina and Traffic Free for all
I’ve been to a lot of places in my travels the common theme is that everywhere outside the US it’s basically a traffic law, free for all. In that there are pretty much no rules in when to stop or go, when to switch lanes even which side of the road to drive on. Messina didn’t disappoint. Which is to say kind of fun to watch and amazing at the same time, kind of like ordered chaos.
If you notice in some of my photos, I like to taste the local beer or where ever I go. Granted I’m sure there are MUCH better beers available in these locations but I usually get what is readily available. Honestly I’m usually let down. Just like most default local “main stream” beer, Messina beer is like an American medium ale. If you’ve tasted stella, miller lite, budweiser etc etc. It’s pretty much all the same.
In terms of what to do in Messina there wasn’t much to do in terms of shore excursions so the wife and I decided to “Freestyle”. When we walk around with no real plans and no real direction we call that free styling. Don't get excursion you can walk to most places. You cannot however walk to the volcano Mount Etna which is about 35 minutes outside of the city. So if you want to go walking on a volcano get the excursion. It was a nice town to walk through, they have one of the most ornate clock towers that I’ve ever seen and has some pretty cool moving parts. You can check that out here. (cliff notes, Lion roars, rooster crows, people die, church is displayed etc etc).
We hiked to the top of a pretty cool over look that looked out over the city took a bunch of pictures and just genuinely enjoyed our time together. Honestly, free styling is one of my favorite things to do; you just never know what you’ll come across, good food you’ll have etc.
- Greece and the Temples
We were really looking forward to heading up to the Acropolis I didn’t do the proper research to find out what the state of the site would actually be. Turns out they’ve been working on it for years filling in some of the holes that have come with time. With that, there were TONS of cranes, scaffolding and workers running around the entire time. Granted I understand why it’s being done, but man it really ruined the opportunity to take photos.
The cool thing is that the day we were there was October 12th 2011 was the 60th anniversary of when the Nazi flag was ripped down from the Acropolis and Greece was returned to the Greek people, essentially liberating them from Nazi occupation. They had a pretty cool ceremony to mark this which consisted of raising the Greek flag and having the president on hand etc.
Given the state of things in Greece economically there were quite a few protestors at the location as we exited. Kinda glad they don’t go through the same security measures as they do in the states. If so we would have never been able to get in on the same day. As we arrived so did about 3 other cruise ships, plus the ceremonies; it was a freaking mad house. Just getting in took about 30 mins.
My advice for the Acropolis and the Parthenon is that to make sure you have a good 3 hours to spend up there. We only had about 1.5 hours and it just wasn’t enough time. We wondered around a bit and before we knew it, it was time to leave.
We did the “Athens and Sonora” trip which also took you for a 45 minute trip around the coast out to the Sonora peninsula where legend has it the Athenians dedicated the temple to Poseidon after he lost the peoples favor to the Greek God of Athena (hence “Athens”). Well not so much lost favor but lost the campaign between the two of them to see who would be the favorite of the people. The first democratic vote in Greek mythology and the first guy to get laughed at by his friends for losing to a chick.
The drive out was beautiful and totally worth the extra time. And the Temple was pretty cool as well, very well preserved. And to boot, Kacey and I got to stand on the furthest point south in main land Europe (that’s two continents for me).
A few tips:
- If you don’t go through a tour, it costs 12 Euros a person to get into the Acropolis
- If you do take the tour be warned there is an “optional” yet forced visit to a local swag shop where they sell nothing but tourist junk and serve you orange tang. The bright side; it’s been like years since I’ve had a glass of tang!
- Turkey, Ephesus, Saint Paul and First footsteps on Asia
Kushadasi is on the west coast of Turkey and used to be part of the Greek empire. It’s also the site of Ephesus which biblically a ton of stuff happened that involved Paul and the Ephesians. Regardless, it was just a really cool place to go wondering through. It was actually more fun to explore than the acropolis and the Parthenon was.
Here you could actually have free reign to move through most of the old shops and houses that made up ancient Ephesus. Ephesus was hailed as the gateway to Asia. It’s where the Temple of Artemis and the statue of Diana was (one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient world).
Believe it or not, this budding world traveler set his first step into Asia at this stop. That’s right part of Turkey is actually in Asia. I was hoping to run up to Istanbul at some point though. That city (and the country it resides in) is the only city/country that resides on two separate continents (Europe and Asia). Well maybe next time. The important thing is, new continent :-D. Granted I’ll be hitting Asia pretty hard in the coming weeks, it was still cool to do it there.
I always wanted to hear an authentic Adhan (Muslim Call to prayer). I found a great little café, had some Turkish coffee on hand and waited. I looked up possible prayer times on the web and found it listed at like 1:11. So I sat until about 1:30 and it never came. I was pretty bummed, so my wife and I continued about our day and explored, only to find that in Kusadasi the closest Adhan for the time I was there was at 4:11 pm. The good news is I did end up getting to hear this walking back to the ship. In a parking lot, ticked that I was hearing it for the first time surrounded by noisy Americans (no offense), taxi’s and a 12 deck super liner. It sucked. Maybe next time.
Free WiFi main bazaar named TP_LINK_BA0BCE. It’s near a Pandora shop… just saying, if you need a fix. There is also a café where I had some more coffee called “Lisa Café”. The WiFi password for the Lisa Cafe in the main bazar is "lisacafe090909". Again, if you need a fix.
The only bad thing about Ephesus, was that we didn’t have enough time to REALLY look around. It felt very rushed. We took the tour called “Ancient Ephesus”. My suggestion is to really try to arrange some private transportation beforehand and spend a good 4-5 hours there. We only got about 1.5 hours which was definitely NOT enough time.
That said, don’t take a taxi to and from Ephesus is about 60 Euros, you can arrange private transport for 20-30 euros. Save the extra few euros for renting the self-guided radios. They even have Ipod tours. If you get a tour and they take you for a tour of Matis which is their local rug emporium, they will take you down for a “demonstration” it’s actually quite informative, however the second it’s over you get mobbed and shuttled off to individual rooms where they start rolling out rug after rug and start with the hard sell. Do yourself a favor, unless you REALLY want to buy a 3,000 dollar rug (and that’s the very cheap end) as soon as the demo is over, get up and walk out quickly, its a tarp!
Bad Turkish coffee is just bad coffee! I mean… really bad. And NEVER and I do mean EVER, drink Turkish coffee to the bottom of the cup. See, the grounds stay in the coffee. They bring the grounds, water and sugar to a boil three times. Then they pour it, grounds included. So if you drink to the bottom of the cup, you get a mouth full of spent coffee. Not good. Take my word for it.
Saffron is really cheap about 10€ for 10 grams (for the good stuff) 20 grams for the ok stuff. When we came home, my wife showed me the pinch she purchased a few weeks before for something like 8 bucks. So yeah we loaded up.
Looking on the list of things to do in Chania (hun-ya) it seemed like it was going to be a complete bust of a day. We were only at dock for about 6 hours which was very short compared to the 10-12 hours we were at other stops but I had a good sign as we sat for breakfast. We’re sitting at the table at the stern of the ship looking out over the water. And literally I watch a submarine surface right in front of me. It was the first time I’ve ever seen one do that in real life. At first I thought it was a buoy, it got larger and I figured I just didn’t look at it well enough then assumed it was an out cropping with some sort of warning light on the top, next thing I know it’s moving and has the entire deck above the surface. VERY cool thing to watch happen over orange juice and fake eggs.
Based on the things we saw available to do (or lack thereof) we decided yet again to free style and boy was that the right choice. Don't get an excursion the bus that comes right next to the ship is only 3€ per person round trip and takes you right to the city center, you can’t walk because it’s a 20 min drive.
Forget turkey if you want hand crafted leather bags Crete is the place they make them in the shops. I mean incredible craftsmanship goes into these things. Everything from diaper bags, to purses, sandals, to laptop bags.
Cool to walk to the fort through the side streets we had a map but it wasn't needed, you can pretty much roam and find your way, just keep walking down hill until you get to the Venetian harbor.
We had a great time here walking through the narrow streets, again coffee and chill time is a must I really enjoyed Crete the most in terms of freestyle-ability.
I’ve worked myself into a bit of an odd corner. I’ve inadvertently set the bar very high in terms of what interests me while traveling. When we found we couldn’t safely do our South America trip, we were trying to find something “Fun, Exciting and Adventurous” yet easy on the body and relaxing. That was WAY harder than I ever thought it would be to find.
Once we did, we had an absolute blast; my wife is a freaking mountain goat (in a good way). That chick hiked up and down the acropolis, all around Ephesus, down through the streets of Crete and dodged the crazy drivers in Messina. I was seriously impressed. With all the walking she did, we might just have been able to do Peru after all. Ok, well maybe not but still pretty impressive.
I would certainly sail on Royal Caribbean again, like I said I had to work pretty hard to find negative things to say. It was a pretty tightly run ship (giggity) and overall was a pleasant experience.
Definitely get maybe 2-3 days in Rome collectively. There is a LOT to do it’s a place I wouldn’t mind going back to and exploring a little bit more.
If you’re looking for a little adventure while still having a nice quite SMOKE FREE (talking to you Holland America) room to go back to. You should check it out.
Hope that was helpful and as always, some more.
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