Eastern Med cruise May 2008
This was our second cruise to the Med. We went last May and we enjoyed it so much we decided to return. We sailed on the Grand Princess Venice to Rome. We did all the ports on our own and tried to see different things from last year.
Mon: We arrived in Venice at 10:30AM and took the express bus from the airport to P. Roma for 3E (euros). We stayed at the Hotel Dalla Mora which is two small bridges from P. Roma so it was an easy walk. Of course we couldnít check in yet so we walked around some of the walkways near the hotel and had lunch. After we checked in we took a two hour nap which seems to get us over jet lag. We then walked to St. Marks Square, about 20 minutes. We listened to the Rick Steves St. Marks Square tour on our iPod which we really enjoyed. We walked along the water to see the Bridge of Sighs and strolled a little further. We wandered down many walkways and had pizza for dinner then stopped for gellato before walking back to our hotel.
Tues: The next morning we bought a 12 hr vaporetti pass and caught the #2 vaporetto to St Marks Sq. from P. Roma. The line for the basilica was very long and the Square was really crowded so we decided to take a vaporetto to Murano and then on to Burano. We found a really nice glass showroom right near the Faro stop that had a clean WC and glass blowing demonstrations. They were actually making the statue of the ďloversĒ which we had planned to buy this year. We walked around Murano a while and had lunch before catching the vaporetto to Buarno. This vaporetto was very crowded and we had to squeeze in. There seemed to be a lot of school groups touring Venice and the vaporetto was full of kids. It was at least a half hour ride to Burano from Murano. We enjoyed walking around Burano and seeing the colorful houses. After we got away from the dock area the crowds thinned out. We spent about an hour walking around and when we got back to the dock area there were a lot of people waiting for the vaporetto. We decided to take the direct vaporetto route back to St. Marks Sq. which turned out to be more like a ferry with three decks and even a WC (though it was the hole in the floor kind). The ride back was over an hour but it was a very enjoyable ride and felt good to sit down. By the time we reached St. Marks Sq. it was 4:40 and we decided to see if we could get into the basilica. There was almost no line so we were able to walk right in. We did only part of RS audio walking tour because we really didnít have enough time to finish it. We found a nice little pizza place for dinner than took the # 42 vaporetto back to P. Roma so we could do the RS audio Grand Canal tour on the #1 vaporetto. We were able to get an outside rear seat and this was a great tour. Back at St Marks Sq we listened to the orchestras play a while then went to get some gellato. We took the # 52 vap. back to P. Roma getting to pass the Grand Princess at the dock all lit up. The 42 and 52 vap. go around the outside canal and therefore take less time to get to P. Roma.
Wed: Since we had to check out of our hotel at 11:00 we didnít go too far. We walked to the Rialto Bridge and did some shopping. We bought our ďloversĒ statue and some necklaces for our sonsí girlfriends and me of course. We checked out at about 11 and walked to P. Roma but couldnít find a Princess shuttle. Since we knew it wasnít far we just walked out the road, over the bridge, took the second left to the ship and checked in. If you walk make sure you check with the guard at the entrance and he will direct you where to take your luggage before you go to the ship. After lunch we walked back to P. Roma and crossed over the St Lucia bridge and walked down the main walkway to the Jewish Ghetto. This is the main walkway from the train station to the Rialto Bridge and is very wide by Venice standards. There are a lot of great stores, a few supermarkets and even a McDonalds. Before heading back to the ship we stopped at the supermarket at the P. Roma vaporetto stop and picked up a few things.
Thurs: We got up at 7:30 to eat before sailaway at 8. Make sure you get a good spot and have your camera ready. It took about an hour to make our way out of Venice so make sure you have sunglasses a hat and sunscreen. They played Josh Groban singing in Italian all the way out and it was a little sad to leave. I much prefer sailing into Venice. Spent most of the day exploring the ship and resting.
Fri: Arrived in Dubrovnik at 8 but due to a long time to clear the ship and tender issues we werenít able to disembark until 10:15 even though we had #2 tender tickets. It was very easy to find another couple to share a cab (10E per cab) with and we headed into town. We went up onto the wall at the Pile gate (7.50E) and spent about one and a half hours walking around. It wasnít too crowded but there were only two ships in port and the tourist season hadnít started yet. We took lots of pictures and marveled at how people live in the old town. There is a snack bar on the water side with a clean WC and a few places to by drinks. I didnít notice anything on the land side. After walking the wall the main street was packed with people so we took the ferry boat to the national preserve on Lokrum Island. It was 6E RT and a nice quiet getaway from the crowds in old town. The ferry left every hour (every half hour in summer) and took about 15 minutes. This is a beautiful island with swimming off the rocks, a swimming hole, old monastery (now a restaurant), and a fort. We spent 2 hours there then headed back to the ship. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get back to the ship because the traffic gets real bad and it can take a half hour or more to go just the few miles to the ship.
Sat: Arrived in Corfu at 8 and got right off the ship. We rented a car at the cruise terminal with Royal Rent a car and we knew they have a limited number of first come first serve cars. They wanted 50E cash no questions asked. They didnít even check the gas. We just had to return it to the parking lot at the end of the day. We drove up to Mt Pantakrator. That is some drive! We had detailed instructions and knew just where to turn. There are many switchbacks and a very narrow road. But it is paved all the way. There is an old monastery, restaurant and many antennas on top. And of course a fantastic view. Not sure I would want to try this in the middle of tourist season with all the traffic on the road. After coming down from the mountain we drove along the northeast coast road stopping at several small towns along the way. We continued around the north coast all the way to Sidari but it was so crowded we didnít even stop. Instead we drove over to Arillas Beach and spent the rest of the day at the beach. Getting back was fairly easy just following the signs to Kerkyra which is what the locals call Corfu Town. Driving in Corfu is quite an adventure and you need a good sense of direction.
Sun: Katakalon This was a rest day for us. We slept late and just walked around the town. We really enjoyed the little shops that line the main street. We bought a Gyro for lunch and sat at a table on the sidewalk watching the people go by. There are two beaches in town. A long flat one with very shallow water to the right of the docks and a very small sandy one with chair rental on the left.
Mon: Since we spent the day in Athens last year we decided to explore Piraeus. I had found a walking tour and had a good map with the public transportation outlined. We walked up Sachtoyri St to Freattydos Beach and continued to walk around the harbors. Unfortunately it was Monday so the Naval Museum and the Archaeological Museum were closed. There were some beautiful yachts and colorful fishing boats. We continued around Zeas Harbor to Votsalakia Beach and watched some kids playing soccer. The beaches were your typical city beaches but the water was very clean. There were also a lot of people in swimming for May. We decided to take the #20 trolley the rest of the way around the coast and went into a supermarket to inquire about a ticket. A very nice man gave us two and explained that it was good for 90 minutes on the trolley, bus or metro. We rode the trolley to the end than hopped on the metro at the Faliro station and took it back to the main terminal. We then walked back to the cruise terminal. We enjoyed wandering around Piraeus and seeing how the people of Athens lived. On the street we passed a man with a grill cooking octopus and selling it just like people sell hot dogs here. There are also some beautiful churches.
Tues: Mykonos , Today we planned to take the ferry to Delos and walk around town. We paid to take the ship shuttle into town because we knew the road was very narrow and the traffic was heavy. Unfortunately we just missed the 9:00 ferry so we walked around a little while and bought tickets for the 10:00 ferry. These ferries get crowded so I wouldnít wait until the last minute to get a ticket. The ferry was 12E PP which was more than the guide books quoted. The ride was 45 minutes and we had to buy tickets to Delos for 5E when we got off. We thought the ferry ticket included our admission and so did a lot of other people. Of course with everyone getting off the ferry the line for tickets was pretty long but it moved pretty quickly. The only WC is in the museum or on the ferry. Ask for a map which is pretty good and the signage is good also. We walked around both routes saw the museum and climbed to the highest point in a little over 2 hours and took the 1:30 ferry back. We got to see most of the main sites but we did not read all the signs as they were pretty lengthy. Since it was May it was not too hot but I would think in the summer it would be. There is a snack bar at the museum. This is a large site that requires a lot of walking on uneven paths that are not well maintained. I had also read a lot of the history of Delos before we went so we had no trouble without a guide. In May there were only three ferries a day to Delos (9,10&11) but I would think they add more in summer. Return ferries were at 12, 1:30,& 3:00. We enjoyed Delos very much. The ruins, scenery, and wildflowers were beautiful. After we returned to Mykonos we had lunch and wandered around the streets up to the windmills and back around past where you can get the bus to the beach. It was too late to go to the beach so we headed back to the ship.
Wed: Kusadasi We did not go to Ephesus last year so we planned to go this year. There were two groups going from our roll call but they were doing all day trips and we only wanted to go to Ephesus so we planned to get a taxi. As we were leaving the ship we overheard another couple talking about getting a taxi and we asked them if they wanted to share. As we left the port the first taxi wanted 100E to go to Ephesus. The second one we found wanted 50E. Since Meander Travel is just outside the port we went in to inquire about Ephesus. They told us it was 30E PP for the four of us which included a van, driver, guide and entrance. We thought that sounded good so we decided to go with Meander. I knew they had a good reputation on these boards. It took 15 minutes to get the driver and guide. Our guide was Zhara and she spoke good English and was very knowledgeable. She told us a lot about the area and history on the way there. When we arrived the entrance was very crowded and I was glad we werenít in a taxi. Zhara took us to a vender where we could by cold water. Since Zhara already had our tickets we passed all the crowds to the entrance. We had a great tour and easily were able to ask questions. Zhara had a book with pictures of what the buildings may have looked like. We were unable to go into the terrace houses because you had to have Turkish Lira and since we hadnít requested that in advance Zhara was unprepared with the money. We were really glad to have the cold water as it was a bit hot. This was a great way to see Ephesus, just the four of us and our guide. When we got to the end there were restrooms but there was a long line. Zhara called our van driver and he picked us up. She wanted to take us to a craft market but we asked to go back to the ship as we planned to spend the afternoon at the bazaar. We went back to the ship and had lunch then spent the afternoon wandering around the bazaar.
Thurs : Rhodes is a beautiful walled city and it was nice to see a place from a different time in history. Everything looked very medieval and you could almost feel the knightís presence even though the streets were lined with tourist shops. We first walked to the new town and all the way to the beach. The beach is small round pebbles with a lot of sun beds and umbrellas. It is a fairly long beach and the aquarium is at the point. Another beach continues on the other side but it was extremely windy there. We walked back to old town shopping along the way. We returned our purchases to the ship and set out to explore old town. Inside the walls reminded me a lot of the bazaar in Turkey. We saw the Grand Palace, Street of the Knights and Sulimanís Mosque. We walked out the gate by the Grand Palace entrance and walked around the outside of the wall through the gardens to get a good view of the palace. We went back into the walled city and wandered back to the ship.
Fri: Santorini The ship arrived at 7 and had local port tenders going fairly quickly. We planned on renting a car so we headed out right away and made our way up the cable car early. There is not much of a line if you take one of the first tenders. We rented a car from Spiridakos again this year. It was 44 euros all inclusive. We toured most of the well known hot spots last year so we tried to do something different. We drove to Kamari so we could go to Ancient Thira. There is a very narrow road that has many switchbacks that takes you up to the parking area. It was early so we had no trouble finding a place to park. We then hiked the rest of the way to the site. I had read that there is not much too see but I was very surprised to see how extensive the ruins are. The walls of the buildings are not more than a few feet high but there are a lot of buildings. They also have pretty good signs explaining what is there. There is even a small amphitheater on the side of the mountain with a great view. As you walk around the site the views are incredible and I had to wonder how they got food and water up there. A lot of it is roped off so we didnít get to see all of it although there was a lot of ruins to see. As we hiked back to the car and drove back down we were surprised at how many people were walking up the road. That is quite a hike. There were also people hiking the hiking trail from Kamari on one side and Perissa on the other. We did notice a shuttle bus drop people off at the parking area. We walked along Black Beach a little but it was too built-up for our taste so we drove over to Vichada Beach. We had lunch there and spent a couple of hours on the beach.
On the way back we drove through Perissa which is another popular beach area. This area is more laid back than the Kamari area. There are plenty of beach beds and umbrellas but they are not as densely packed as Kamari. The beachfront restaurants in Kamari were also more upscale and nicely landscaped while in Perissa they looked more like what you would think a beach front restaurant should look like. We drove back to Fira stopping to take pictures on the way. We dropped off the car and headed to the donkey trail. Fira was very crowded so we didnít even stop to shop. We enjoyed the walk down the trail last year and feel it is part of the Santorini experience. It takes about half an hour and you do have to be careful of the donkeys. The sailaway from Santorini is beautiful so make sure you are out on deck.
Sat: This was a sea day so we rested most of the day. At about 7PM we sailed passed Mt. Etna and through the Messina Strait. The captain made an announcement but a lot of people were in the dining room so they missed it. At about 11PM we passed Stromboli and even though it was dark you could make it out and see lava shooting out of the top.
Sun: Naples We planned to catch the 9:10 ferry to Capri and got to the ticket window at 8:45 but the ferry was already full so we had to take the 9:30 ferry. After waiting on line to purchase tickets (34euros RT) the ferry was already loading so we found seats. This ferry was also full and needless to say Capri was crowded! The lines for the cable car and bus were long so we decided to walk up. It took about 25minutes but when we got to the square it was wall to wall people. I got a map from the info office but it was in Italian. We did find our way to the walk to the Faraglioni rocks. There were very few views on the way but the flowers were pretty. We then found the path to the Natural arch and walked there. We went back to town for lunch then tried to find Villa Jovis. We walked most of the way there but it was getting too close to our 3:25 ferry back so we headed back to the harbor. We were glad we had bought our return ticket because the ferry was again packed. Many of the tours were headed back at that time. The Island of Capri is beautiful but the crowds made it unpleasant. Iím glad we went so I have seen it but I donít need to go back.
Mon: Rome The ship arrived in Civitavecchia at 4AM. We had a 8AM departure time. Getting off the ship was very easy. No immigration or customs just walk off get your luggage and walk out the door. The free port shuttles were waiting right at the exit and we were soon on our way out of the port. Our ship was really deep in the port so it took about ten minutes to get to the exit. There were taxis waiting where the shuttle dropped us off. There were quite a few people who were walking to the train station. You just walk out the port gate and continue along the water until you see the train station. There is a cross walk there so donít bother fighting traffic crossing earlier. We were able to catch the 8:59 train. There is an automated ticket machine at the first entrance so no need to go to the ticket window. We did have to go down the stairs and under the tracks and up again to reach our train. The train took about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then we walked to our hotel. Since we stayed there last year we knew right where it was. We dropped off our bags and returned to Termini to purchase our Roma Pass. The IT is located right buy the baggage storage along track 24. We then hopped on the Metro and went to the Colosseum. Since there was a line we decided to do the Palatine Hill first. We bypassed the line and walked right in with our Roma Pass. We walked all around the area seeing the sites and visiting the museum. After lunch we went back to the Colosseum and there was no line to go through security and we bypassed the line for tickets. The Roma Pass counts the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum as one site. We used Rick Steves audio tour for the Colosseum and it worked very well. After the Colosseum we returned to our hotel and checked in. We took a little pre-dinner rest then headed out to see Rome after dark. We took the Metro to the Spanish steps and walked to the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountian was very crowded and we really couldnít get close enough to throw in a coin. We walked to the Victor Emmanuel Monument which really looked great all lit up. We continued along the road above the forum to the Colosseum. This was a really nice walk. At the Colosseum we took the Metro back to our hotel.
Tuesday: I wasnít able to get tickets for the Borghese Gallery so we needed to decide which other site to use our Roma Pass. We choose the National Museum of Rome because it was right down the block from our hotel. We had decided to go to the Vatican Museum at 1PM because we heard the line was shorter then. We very much enjoyed the National Museum. We had not been able to go to the museum in Naples and this proved to be a pretty good substitute. There were many frescos, mosaics and statues from Pompeii and all in excellent condition. This museum was uncrowded, had signs with excellent information, plenty of places to sit, and good clean restrooms. It is not a real large museum so we easily were able to see most of it. After the museum we had lunch, hopped on the metro and went to the Vatican. We were surprised to find no line at all and bought our tickets and walked right in. We spent two hours wandering around the different sections. We went to the Etruscan room and the Egypt room along with all the others. We ended it with Rick Steves Sistine Chapel audio tour. Really amazing. We took the exit to St. Peters and listened to RS tour in there also. Headed back to the metro and stopped at the Trevi fountain and had dinner. We were rather tired so we took the Metro back to our hotel. After packing we walked back to Termini to get our tickets for tomorrowís train to the airport and get a gellato.
Wed: We had to catch the 6:52AM train to the airport so we were up early. We were too early for the hotel breakfast but they packed us something to go. The Leonardo Express takes about half hour to the airport. Since we were flying an American airline we had to go to terminal 5. We caught the shuttle outside the train exit. You have to wait on many lines so you need to get to the airport early! After checking in you go through immigration and then security. Then you have to take another shuttle back to the main terminal. We finally made it to our flight to Atlanta then home to Orlando.
This is a fantastic itinerary with a lot of port days. There are many different choices of what to see. We try to balance our site seeing between ruins, beaches, towns, churches, museums and renting cars. We also like to concentrate on just a few things a day and spend more time on the things that interest us.