Venice to Rome on the Grand Princess - Part 2

5/26/07 to 6/07/07

Ports of Call: 

Part 1:  Venice, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Corfu, Greece; Katakolon (Olympia), Greece; Athens (Piraeus), Greece

Part 2:  Mykonos, Greece; Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey; Rhodes, Greece; Santorini, Greece; Naples/ Capri, Italy; Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy


Mykonos, Greece:

We couldn’t believe what great luck we were having with the weather.  It was another beautiful day with the high expected in the low 70’s.  Since we had visited Mykonos on our first Med cruise in 2004, I thought it would be nice to visit the island of Delos.  It is a 20 minute boat ride to what is supposed to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, a very important location in Greek Mythology.  The island is uninhabited because there is no water source there any more.  The only people around nowadays are the many tourists that come in the day and the guides to show them around.  The island is said to have a lot of spiritual power and many can feel it when they are there. 

I was anxious to visit the island.  Carol decided to pass on this excursion and try to recover from the last three very hectic touring days.  She made the right decision since there was a lot of walking over uneven ground on the island that could have done her in.  As with the other ports, we had several of our CC friends on the tour.  It was nice to have someone along to share the experience with.  The boat ride was very relaxing and refreshing with the cool breeze.  As we approached the island, we could see that there were a lot of ruins. 


When we got off the boat and began our tour, I was a bit disappointed, since it looked as though this might be a repeat of the Olympia tour, with more “ruined” ruins.  As we started the tour, it didn’t look like the trip was going to be too memorable.  But as it progressed, we came to the Lion Terrace.  They are the statues that are the most famous landmarks of Delos.  Some of the original ones are in the Delos Museum and there is one in Venice. 



We then turned toward the center of the island and headed for the museum and a restroom break.  In addition to the original lion statues, there were lots of sculptures and some lovely mosaic floor samples.


We left the museum and started walking up the hill to where the residents once lived.  The houses were in pretty good shape.  They had stairs, columns and mosaic floors in some of them.  The guide pointed to a house where Cleopatra lived at one time, but it was difficult to tell which structure was hers.  The water system was also in very nice shape. 




Well Preserved Mosaic Floors                Where Cleopatra Once Lived

The last section that we were taken to was the theater that seated 5,500 people and was built in the 2nd century BC.  It wasn’t in the greatest shape, but it did look like it was an impressive place in its day.  The guide mentioned that there were some houses on the path near the top of the theater that were very well preserved and had some of the best tile floors.  I had to go see them for myself.  I climbed all the way to the top, but couldn’t find them.  I did get a nice view of the island; but I was also getting a nice view of our tour group leaving the theater and heading back to the boat.  I hurried on down and caught up to the group as we completed the tour.


I did enjoy the trip to Delos and am glad I went.  It is an interesting place.  Although the temperature was in the 70’s, the heat from the sun was very hot.  Thank goodness we did have some cool breezes.  This would be a painfully hot experience in July or August.  Since there is very little shade on the island, one would really have to be into archeology and Greek mythology to take this excursion during the hotter months. 

One of the benefits of this excursion was that the dock for the boat returning from Delos was right behind the Grand.  As we arrived, I saw Carol waiting for me on our aft balcony.  It was a nice welcome home.  It was the only time on the cruise where I was able to get a picture of Carol on the balcony, so it made it special.


We had a quick lunch in the Horizon Court Buffet and headed down to take the bus to town.  Since we have thoroughly explored the town of Mykonos, we were just doing a little leisurely shopping and enjoying the lovely beaches and scenery.  We stopped at a café for drinks and to do a little people watching.  I wanted to walk around and take some photos.  Since Carol was still trying to take it easy before tomorrow’s big adventure in Ephesus, she headed back to the ship.



I went over to the area called Little Venice, where the famous windmills are.  This area also provided a nice view of the Grand further down the island. 



Mykonos is a nice port to visit.  It is a very relaxed place and a good place to chill out.  It is also a lot of fun to just wander around the narrow streets and get lost.  Most folks must have been taking advantage of the popular Mykonos beaches while we were in town, since it wasn’t particularly crowded.




Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey:

Kusadasi was the port we had been most excited about visiting on this cruise.  It was the main reason we booked the Brilliance of the Seas cruise in 2003; but it was cancelled due to the war.  We had been so disappointed in 2003, and we had been so worried this year that something might happen to repeat our previous disappointing experience.  But all was well.  The weather was beautiful once again, and we were visiting Asia and Turkey for the first time.  I had not expected Kusadasi to be such a large city. 


In 2003 we had booked a tour guide, Nejat Incedogan (email at ).  We had read many excellent reviews about him.  He has been a licensed tour guide for over 25 years and is very knowledgeable about Ephesus and the Istanbul area. We knew that Nejat was crippled and had to use crutches to get around; but his customers all said that he maneuvered around just fine.  He has a driver, and his disability had no effect on the quality of the tour.  The things we had read about him were certainly true.  He is an amazing man, and we can highly recommend him.  

We had booked this tour with two of the couples we met on our Cruise Critic roll call.  Rich and Sharon are from California.  Grant and Wendy are the Canadians we had also shared the Athens tour with.  We had planned to meet Nejat at 8:30; and when we arrived a little early, he was there waiting for us.  We headed out the terminal to meet the van.  Nejat’s driver Atilla drove into the loading area and we all got in the van.  Now this was a van!  At full capacity it could hold 15 people.  There was lots of head room and the air conditioning worked great.  Nejat also had a very good sound system so everyone could hear what he was telling us.  This van was going to be a pleasure to ride around in.


Our first stop was at the site of one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis.  Unfortunately, there is only one column still standing there.  Just behind the temple are the remains of the Basilica of St. John, where he is believed to have been buried.  There really isn’t much to see here, but it is one of the required stops on any tour of the area.


As we drove to our next stop, the House of the Virgin Mary, we were startled at how mountainous, beautiful and green the area was.  That was not at all what we had expected Turkey to look like.  The area was a really pretty place. 

The House of the Virgin Mary (Link) is believed to be her last residence.  We were surprised to learn that this house is a sacred site for both Christians and Muslims.  Over the years, it has been visited and blessed by three different Popes.  Muslims honor the shrine because they also believe in the virgin birth and revere Mary as the mother of the Prophet Jesus.  Many people make pilgrimages there, and the crowd going into the house was very reverent.  It was a moving experience and the people were very quiet as they left the house.  On the way back to the entrance of the site, where there are numerous souvenir shops and cafes, we passed by the prayer wall, where thousands of prayers have been left on scraps of paper.


We met Nejat where he told us he would be, and he led us to a little café for a short rest and a drink of the local specialty, apple tea.  It was quite good and stopping for a moment helped us to pace ourselves for what would be a strenuous day.  After the refreshment we all did a little looking around and souvenir shopping. 


I admit that we had preconceived notions about the country, so I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the Turkish people appeared to be.  Very friendly.  Even the police we saw waved and smiled at the tourists.  I guess we were apprehensive about visiting a Middle Eastern country because of the reputation of some of their neighbors.   After our visit there, I know I would thoroughly enjoy seeing much more of Turkey and its people.

Atilla picked us up and then dropped us off at the ancient Ephesus site.  Since there are two entrances to the archeological site, it is most important that you are dropped off at the Hercules Gate which is at the high end of the slightly sloping hill that the site is on.  This way you are walking slightly downhill all the way rather than uphill. 


Even though it was a mild day, the rays of the sun were quite warm.  The regular breeze was refreshing; but if it had been any hotter, it could have been quite uncomfortable.  We could have kicked ourselves when we saw some folks walking around with umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.  We hadn’t brought ours because there was no chance of rain predicted, but we quickly wished we had.  Fortunately Nejat had provided us all with lots of bottled water, which we certainly needed. 


Nejat had a very good routine worked out for touring the site.  He had pre-determined spots in the little bit of shade where we would sit down, and he would tell us about the different structures we would see before the next stop.  We would then head off to the buildings, and he could take his time getting down to the next meeting place to wait for us to get there.  It worked out really well since it gave us a chance to slow down periodically, and he didn’t overload us with too much information that we could forget or confuse.  It was amazing how he knew just how long it would take us to see the things and get to the next meeting spot.  He had everything timed just perfectly.


Ancient Public Restrooms

There were so many well preserved buildings and structures there.  Curetes Street stretches from the Hercules Gate to the Celsus Library.  It offers many fascinating mosaics and statues to inspect.  Ephesus really is an amazing place.



We had asked Nejat to allow time for us to go to the Terrace Houses while we were at Ephesus.  We had read about them and had been told not to miss them.  They are also referred to as “the houses of the rich”.   The excavation of the Terrace Houses only started in 1960, so many tourist don’t know that they are there. 

The houses themselves are totally covered with what looks like a large unimpressive fiberglass building, so we really had no idea what we were about to see inside. 

In order to buy tickets to see the houses, you have to pay in New Turkish Liras, 10 per person, which is about $8.00.  Most people on the cruise had not changed their money into liras because most places in Turkey happily take dollars and euros.  Nejat knew that, and so he gave each of us the liras we would need for the tickets.



As we walked inside, we couldn’t believe what was there.  The first tier of rooms was really beautiful.  Because of the type structure we were in, the rooms were very well lighted.  Rather than actually walking on the terrace house floors themselves, an elevated structure of stainless steel rails and thick glass walkways marked our path.  In this way you could see what you were walking over without damaging it.  Since it was Saturday, the workers were not present; but I imagine it would be fascinating to watch them working below you.  What an amazing way to display these marvelous houses! 


The rooms are ornately decorated with mosaics and frescos.  It almost became funny how each time we would walk up the stairs or around a corner to another level how we would all oooh and ahhh.  The beauty of these houses is really indescribable.  I am so glad that we have pictures to show.  It was nice to be able to view these houses without the crowds that were outside.  While we were touring the houses, there were only about six other tourists in the structure.  We were very fortunate to have this most amazing archeological exhibit almost all to ourselves.  If you are lucky enough to visit Ephesus, do not miss the Terrace Houses.  They are incredible.


The most famous structure in Ephesus is the Celcus Library.  For a very long time I had dreamed about seeing it in person.  It was worth the wait.  It is quite beautiful.  What was surprising to me is that so many of the other structures around and near it are also in such excellent shape. 



We continued down the walking path to the Theater.  It is where the Apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesians. The massive stadium could seat 24,000 people.  It is in remarkably good condition, and is an impressive structure. 


The Turkish government has done a remarkable job in preserving ancient Ephesus.  There are many excavation and renovation projects still underway that will provide even more wonderful views into the history of the area.  It is a moving experience to visit Ephesus, and I am so grateful to have been able to go there. 


It was almost 1:00 and we needed to head out for lunch.  Atilla drove us to Selcuk, which is the modern name for the city of Ephesus.  Only the archeological site is still called Ephesus.  Because it was Saturday, the Selcuk market was taking place.  Nejat walked us through the market to get to the restaurant.  The fruits and vegetables at the various stands looked so perfect and tasty.  It was a preview of some of the ingredients we would have in our upcoming meal. 


We sat outside at the restaurant.  Since it was a mild day, it was quite pleasant as long as you were not in the sun.  They brought out our drinks and various delicious appetizers.  This was our first experience with real Turkish food.  It was all very different and all very good.  The main course was a type of shish kebab with some wonderful vegetables and rice.  Quite yummy.  I am now a fan of Turkish food.  Later when we got on the Grand, everyone we talked to was raving about the Turkish food they had tasted on shore. 


Atilla and Nejat                                                  Shish Kebab

After lunch, Nejat bought some cherries and apricots in the market on the way to the van.  He asked if we wanted to go to a place that would show us how they make Turkish rugs, or would we rather go to the Kusadasi Market.  He didn’t push us to go to the rug factory, but we were all interested to see how they were made. 

He took us to the Turkmen factory.  The fellow that was showing us how the silk was processed from the cocoons and made into thread sounded like he was from the USA.  He spoke perfect English.  He told us he was raised in Canada, which explained it. 

He then showed us how the women sitting on ground level benches, were actually making the knots that create the rugs.  They then cut them off and there is a new row of carpet.  One really gets an appreciation for the amount of hand labor it takes to make a Turkish rug, especially the ones made out of silk that have so many knots per inch.  The women don’t even use a pattern.  They look at the design and do it on their own.  They are very skilled and from what the guide said there are less of these skilled people available, because most people don’t want that type work for a career. I can understand that, since it takes many months to complete one rug.  It is very meticulous work, very hard on the eyes, and probably doesn’t pay much.


    Threads from Silkworm Cocoons                                       Making Rugs                   

The guide then took us to the sales floor to show us the products they make.  He asked what we would like to have to drink.  One of the offerings was Turkey’s national drink, raki or lion’s milk.  Several of us had to try it.  We had been told that it tasted like ouzo and sure enough it did.  Although the actual liquor is clear, when it is mixed with a little water, it takes on a milky color, hence the name lion’s milk.  Since I like ouzo, which has an anise or licorice taste, I also like raki.


Then the show began.  They brought out the various kinds of carpets starting with the least expensive, wool on cotton, then wool on wool, and then silk on silk.  It was quite entertaining.  I had read about the rug selling routine, but had never experienced it.  They kept bringing out big rolls and then laying them out.  Since we have two cats, we could never buy an expensive carpet for our house; but we were interested in possibly a small silk rug for a wall hanging.  They would bring out samples and sail them through the air calling them flying carpets.  We did find a couple that we really liked, but they were much more than we wanted to spend.  We felt bad since the salesman was not pressuring us at all and had a very good manner; so I guess he really was a good salesman.  He just didn’t get the sale.

We then headed back to Kusadasi, where Nejat dropped us off close to the market which was within a very short walk to the ship.  We thanked him and Atilla for an absolutely wonderful day that we will remember forever.  He is a wonderful ambassador for Turkey.   We had chosen an outstanding guide for a day in an amazing port. 


Carol went back to the ship while I checked out what was available in the market, I ran across a Turkish rug shop.  What a surprise!  I thought that I was wasting my time looking since I already assumed that silk rugs, even small ones would be too expensive.  I was thrilled when I found one that I was able to justify buying.  It was fun to surprise Carol with my find.  It makes for a great souvenir and reminds me of our day in what is now one of my favorite countries.


Rhodes, Greece:

I woke up early on Sunday.  I was very excited about our first visit to the walled city of Rhodes.  As I walked out onto the balcony to see where we were, we were just coming into the port.  We were blessed again with what was going to be another beautiful sunny day.   I grabbed my camera and headed up to my favorite photo position on deck 15.  The early morning sun did a beautiful job of illuminating the massive walls that surrounded this old city.  This looked like it was going to be a great day.


We had booked a half day Princess tour because we wanted to have some time to see the old town that everyone had raved about, but we didn’t want to overdo it since we had done so much the previous day in Kusadasi.  The tour, Mt. Philerimos & Rhodes Town, sounded like it would give us a nice sample of the Rhodes countryside and provide a guide for some of our time in the old town.  I had originally wanted to go to the ancient town of Lindos, but decided against it since it would involve a long drive and a lot of walking.  It was the right decision for us, since no ruins could compare to the splendors we had seen the day before in Ephesus.  The ride to Mt. Philerimos took us by Mandraki Harbor and many of the beaches of Rhodes. 


Mandraki Harbor                                             Beach               

It looked like a nice island.  At the top of the mountain, only about 1,000 ft. above sea level, is the Church of Our Lady.  The ride up was quite pretty and we were looking forward to the view.  The grounds had many peacocks walking around and sitting up in the trees.  If you have been around peacocks, you know how loud they can be.  This place was loaded with peacocks, so there was never a quiet moment in the gardens. 

Our guide was very pleasant and told us the history of the chapel.  The grounds were quite pretty with all the bougainvillea blooming.  As with most of the Princess tours, we had to wait our turn before she took us inside the church.  It had a very medieval look with icons here and there. 




From the church, we could see a huge cross on the other side of the grounds.  There was a path that had little structures with the twelve Stations of the Cross that led to the cross.  On the way was the little Chapel of St. George that was built in the 15th century.  It had some very nice frescos all over the walls and ceiling. 


At the end of the trail is the huge white cross.  The area behind it had a great view of the island.  Some people chose to climb to the top of the cross on what they told me was a very narrow staircase that would only allow one person at a time to use it.  I decided not to climb up.  The view I had was good enough.


After arriving at the old city of Rhodes, we walked through the gates of the city.  The system of three dry moats must have been a great defense from invaders.  It looked impressive anyway.  These walls made the walls of Dubrovnik seem pretty lame as far as protection goes. 



After the general discussion of the town, our guide took us into the Palace of the Grand Masters.  We climbed a very steep staircase to get to the second floor.  This place really looked like a castle.  There were some lovely statuary and furnishings, but the special feature was the gorgeous mosaic floors.  There were so many rooms to see.  It is a big castle.




After leaving the castle, the guide took us on a walking tour that ended near the shopping district.  Once the tour ended, we were free to wander around old town for a short time before taking the bus back to the ship, or we could just stay in old town on our own.  Since it was only about a 5 minute walk to the ship, I stayed in town.  Carol did a little looking around and went back to the ship with the group. 




I had seen the Mosque of Suleiman from the ship that morning and wanted to get closer to it.  I knew that since the mosque roof had been damaged, that it was now closed to visitors.  I walked down several streets trying to find it but lost sight of the tall minaret beside it, making it more difficult to find.  Finally I found a road that ran beside it.  Unfortunately, due to the location, it is very difficult to get a good picture of the mosque.  I was able to see close up the severe roof damage that it had suffered.  I would think that this historical building would be renovated to provide another tourist attraction for the city.  Maybe some day.


Walking through the town was most enjoyable.  There were some pretty structures and the views to the water were very pretty.  I would enjoy visiting Rhodes again when I have more time.  There is too much here for just one day.



Santorini, Greece:

We fell in love with Santorini on our last Med cruise.  We have been anxious to return ever since.  We were so glad when we saw the Patter's weather forecast of sunny and 82 for the day.  It might be a bit warm, especially in the sun; but it wouldn’t be raining.  When we arrived at our anchorage, I was a bit disappointed since it was a hazy morning.  I was anxious to photograph the beautiful island, but would have to wait till it cleared.

We had rented a car for the day, so we caught an early tender to Fira.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones that had early plans for the day, twelve of our Cruise Critic friends were on the same tender.  Being on one of the first tenders allowed us to get on the funicular without waiting in line.  As the funicular ascended the cliff, we passed people on mules going up the curving trail.  A lot of folks take the mules, but most people only do it once.  That tells me I don’t even need to try it. 



We have never rented our own car in a port.  Santorini seemed like the perfect place to do it, since they drive on the right side of the road and it would be virtually impossible to get lost on the narrow crescent shaped strip of land. 

Due to glowing reviews we had read, we decided to use Tony’s Car Rentals (Link).  Tony had emailed us a map showing us how to get to his location.  It looked easy enough, but somehow we missed a turn and had some problems.  Fortunately, one of the landmarks on the map was a school.  When we asked for help, everyone knew where the school was.  After about fifteen minutes, we found it.


Tony was a pleasure to work with.  He is a very nice person and was very concerned about our having a nice day on the island and being comfortable.  We had reserved a car online for only 30 € including insurance.  Tony upgraded us to a very nice blue Kia in excellent condition.  Before we could leave, Tony walked around the car and marked down any minor scratches.  He showed us what he found and made sure we were in agreement.  I normally do a walk around myself, so I was glad Tony did it also.  I understand the need to do this very carefully in Santorini, since the roads can be very narrow and some drivers careless as they are sightseeing while driving.

The island is what remains from the eruption of a volcano in the mid 16th century BC.  Most of the larger villages are situated around the edge of the caldera.  With the buildings being built down into the caldera, the steep elevations provide for a beautiful view of the mostly white structures.


We had planned to head for the lovely town of Oia on the northern tip of the island first.  We wanted to go there before the ship's tour buses arrived, if possible.  Since Tony’s and most of the rental places are north of the main town of Fira, we were able to avoid much of the traffic we would run into later in the day.  The main road took us along the back side of the island which is much less populated than the caldera side.  It did provide for some lovely views along the way.  At last we were back in the lovely town of Oia.  It was just like we remembered.


All of the maps we had were difficult to use if trying to find a specific road.  This made navigating a challenge, since most of the streets and roads didn’t have signs with their names on them.  Fortunately, with Santorini being a small island, it wasn’t that big of an issue.  In Oia we found a parking spot in a lot near the main street we were looking for.  I was worried about this, since the main parking area requires a climb up a pretty steep hill. 


On our last visit, we discovered that the best views could be found by turning on a side street that headed down toward the water.  By taking a street named Aeriko, you’ll find the panoramas with the blue roofed white churches that are so famous. 


There is another lovely viewing area at the extreme north end of the town.  It is a pleasant walk, passing by many interesting shops and restaurants.  We got a big kick out of the local "taxi".  It made sense to use a donkey, since no other vehicles could navigate the streets.


A movie crew was setting up for a shoot while we were in Oia.  It was kind of interesting, but it did add an additional level of traffic and congestion with the moving of large pieces of equipment and thick cords lying across the paths.  I finally got to the scenic lookout that I remembered.  I believe it is located where a fort once stood.  From there you can look down to the fishing village of Ammoudi.  The path down to it looked just like the donkey path in Fira, probably for a good reason.



As Oia started to fill up with tourists, it was really difficult to even move in some places.  It wasn’t that congested four years ago.  It has become more popular and more ships now visit there.  We headed back to the car to begin exploring areas we hadn’t been to before, on the south side of the island.  Any drive south requires you to go through Fira.  I couldn’t find a by-pass.  The traffic was thick and the roads narrow.  Of course business vehicles were double parked, reducing the streets to one lane in places.  Thank goodness most of the cars on Santorini are sub compacts; otherwise traffic would come to a total standstill.  I understood why Tony was so careful about verifying what scratches were on the car.  It was very easy to have your mirrors scrape passing cars' mirrors or to get side swiped.  We found out later that one of our CC couples did get scraped in their rental car.  I did not enjoy this part of our Santorini road trip. 


At last we got past Fira and headed toward the less populated areas.  My first destination was Red Beach.  We had no desire to swim there, just see it.  After a few wrong turns we came upon the walking path over the hill to the beach.  There was a pretty little church in the parking area.  The walk up the hill revealed a very red walled area with a pretty beach at the bottom.  I was shocked at the large boulders that had apparently fallen off the cliff side and appeared to be blocking the path to the beach.  I did see people climbing around the rocks, so it was passable; but it didn’t look inviting to me.  I would be satisfied taking pictures from afar.  The beach did look quite inviting.  I had never seen one that had so much red rock around it. 


As I was about to leave, I heard a commotion and looked over to see what appeared to be a small rock slide in progress.  Sure enough the pile was growing as more rocks fell from the side of the cliff.  I question the safety of swimming there.  But it was a very pretty location.


In researching where to visit on Santorini, I had read about the hilltop town of Pyrgos.  It was supposed to be quite pretty and an interesting place to visit.  We found Pyrgos, but couldn’t find any roads wide enough for our car that would take us further up the hill.  We drove all around the base of the hill trying to find a way, but it appeared the only way up was to climb and that was not in our game plan for the day.  We also wanted to get back to Fira for lunch and to spend some time there.  On the way back we had a nice view of the Grand at anchor.


We had planned originally to do some more exploring in the car, but since it was so difficult to get through the traffic to look for a parking place near the center of Fira, we decided to just take the car back and walk around town for the rest of the day.  It turned out to be the right decision. 



Like the roads, the walking paths of Fira were full of tourists.  It was really too crowded to enjoy this lovely island.  On the walk to the main Fira tourist area, we found a little restaurant called Kamares Snack Shop.  There was a nice breeze on their upper deck, and we were ready to stop and rest for a while.  We both got their Gyro Special.  I got a large Mythos.  I was starting to get attached to this Greek beer.  The meal was quite good and recharged us for some shopping in town.


When we where here in 2003, we met a local jeweler named Nikolaos Papadeas, Nick the Greek.  I had gotten a lovely cross and chain last time, and Carol had also found some nice items.  I had been looking for another cross during this cruise; but since I had found the one I wanted on Rhodes, I was out of the jewelry search.  Carol on the other hand wanted to check out what Nick had, and we both wanted to see him again. 


After finally finding someone who could direct us to where Nick’s shop was, and we were able to find him.  The shop had doubled in size, having taken over the shop behind him.  Business was good.  He had also opened a very nice bar/restaurant right around the corner named Quinta.  We were pleased to also see that one of his sales people, Edyta from Poland, was still working for Nick.  She has been there for seven years, and is very sweet and helpful. 


Looking around the shop, we didn’t see anything in particular that interested us.  But like the last time we were here, Nick has a very large inventory in the back that he can access once he gets an idea of what you want.  Carol first found a Byzantine ring she liked.  Then she found a gorgeous Byzantine cross that matched the ring quite nicely.  She was trying to decide which one to get, but I convinced her to get both.  It wasn’t too difficult to do.  We said our farewells and promised to visit with Nick and Edyta again when we returned.  It is a very nice store with top quality merchandise and reasonable prices.

We decided to head back to the Funicular area so we would be closer when we decided to go back to the ship.  When we got there a little after 3:00, we couldn’t believe the line that was already waiting.  There were two other cruise ships in port, so there were lots of people using the funicular.  We couldn’t even see the ticket building from the end of the line.  We decided that we had better get in line now before the line got even longer.  Surprisingly, it only took about 20 minutes to get to the front of the line and purchase our tickets. 


When we got back on the ship, some people told us that later on they had to wait over an hour to get their tickets.  On the way down, there were lots of people that were taking the donkeys down as well as walking the path.  I honestly don’t know how people can do this.  The smell itself was just terrible and it just doesn’t look very safe to be walking with the donkeys potentially running into or pushing you into the side of the path.  The funicular is the best and easiest way up and down.  Of course if you wait too late in the day, the donkey path is probably the only way to get back to the ship in time.


This trip to Santorini was not as enjoyable as the first one due to the larger crowds in Oia and Fira.  I understand why so many people want to come here, but the crowds really take away from the beauty and tranquility that we had found on our first visit. 


Oia                                                                      Fira 


Naples/ Capri, Italy:

After twelve days of beautiful weather, other than the half day of rain in Dubrovnik, we were going to have some rain.  But since this was our only sea day, it didn’t affect any port touring.  A lot of folks were disappointed because although it didn’t actually rain a lot, the cool breeze made it difficult to lie around the outside pools.  Plus the seas were the highest yet at 7.5 ft to 12 ft.  The Grand handled them well, but there was some movement.  For Carol it was packing day, so the weather was not an issue.

We woke up on Wednesday morning, our last port day, in Naples.  We had been very excited to return to Naples, since we would be spending the day with one of our favorite tour guides, Marcello Marresca (Link).  Last time we were in Italy, we spent our best day of the cruise with Marcello, visiting Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast and having one of the best Italian meals we have ever eaten. 

Since we first met Marcello, we have kept in touch via emails; and he has become a dear “long distance” friend.  When we booked this cruise, we wrote Marcello asking for his advice as to where we could go that we had not been to in 2003.  He said not to worry; he had many more wonderful places to visit, so we left the planning to him. 


One of the reasons that so many people enjoy touring with Marcello is that he shows you “his Italy”.  He doesn’t spend a lot of time in the crowded tourist areas unless his clients request it.  Some tour guides drop their clients off in a shopping area and come back and pick them up after a couple of hours.  Not Marcello.  He enjoys showing tourists what life is like in the Italy that he grew up in.  He is very proud of the life style and beauty of this area and wants to share it.

We got off the ship and followed the signs showing where to go in the terminal if you were doing an independent tour or were touring on your own.  The ship tours used a different gangway and exit.  We easily found the right terminal exit, and there waiting for us was our old friend Marcello.  It was so good to see him again.  He is so full of life and is such a pleasure to be with.  As we headed away from the port in his Mercedes van, he told us what his plans were for us for the day.  They sounded great.  We were concerned that the weather could hurt the day since the forecast was for scattered showers, and it looked pretty cloudy right then.  He assured us that the clouds would clear like they always do and it would be a lovely day.


Rather than taking us to the hustle and bustle tourist towns that are full of buses and crowded streets, he drove south of Amalfi to show us some of the beautiful coastline villages where people live a quiet life.  I can’t remember all of the town names, but they were all so beautiful and peaceful.  One of the towns, Vietri sul Mare, is where tiles are made and many of the stores had lovely mosaic pictures on the outside of their buildings.


The views along the road and from the towns were just breathtaking.  It is such a beautiful area of the world.  We stopped at a lovely fishing village for coffee.  It was so nice to be sitting outside with Marcello, relaxing in a beautiful Italian village with no other tourists around.  It is a wonderful way to experience Italy.  This particular town, Cetara, had a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary on the dock.  Everything about this village was such a pleasure to experience. 



Marcello said that many of these small towns have lost a lot of their inhabitants due to their wanting better jobs in the cities and in other countries.  There just isn’t much business in the area other than tourism, fishing and agriculture.  Those students who do go to college can’t find work in their hometowns.  As a result many of the houses are vacant.


Another town that we drove through was Tremonti, a gorgeous town in the hills along the Amalfi Coast.  Leaving Tramonti, we passed through a flock of goats being moved somewhere by a shepherd.  Of course, they had the right of way!  It did feel like we were in the Italy of old.


We rode through the Ravello area admiring the gorgeous views down to the ocean.  We didn’t stop there since we had visited it on our previous trip.  We did stop in the small town of Minuta.  On the wall was a picture of all the residents in the city, a total of about 50 people.  Kind of nice. 


Ravello                                                                         Minuta

Minuta's 50 residents


Marcello took us to another town, Pontone, where we would have lunch.  What incredible views there were looking down into the town of Amalfi.  As we walked up to the restaurant, he stopped at an area where the residents had built a little model of their city molded out of the rock with small figures of the people.  It was quite fascinating, but it was even more fascinating to us that something like this could be here and people didn’t disturb it. 

As we were walking around, a lady named Maria waved to us from her garden.  She began talking to Marcello, and he told her that we were visiting from America and he was showing us around.  She invited us up to her house.  She showed us where she made her own wine and canned her vegetables.  She let us sample her homemade wine; and then she gave Marcello a bottle for us to take home.  It was so kind of her to invite total strangers into her house and to share her creations with us.  It was a special experience.


We then walked over to the restaurant, Antico Borgo, where some other clients of Marcello’s had already started eating.  We were pleased to meet up with one of our Cruise Critic roll call couples, Gary and Linda.  They were having a marvelous day with their driver.  It was nice to be able to meet Marcello’s other drivers also.  He is very particular about who he will trust his clients with.  Marcello values his excellent reputation and will not risk having a driver that will not meet his high expectations.  Meeting the other groups for lunch also gave him a chance to spend a few minutes with his other clients to make sure that they were enjoying their tours.



As expected, the homemade food was quite good and there was way too much to eat.  We filled up on the delicious wine, appetizers and pasta well before the main course was served. 




In addition to the main course of various meats, we had a scrumptious assortment of desserts to eat.  Oh so yummy.  At the end of the meal, several bottles of various liquors made in the area were placed out to try. 


It was a great meal in an absolutely beautiful setting.  The restaurant owners and staff were very nice and quite proud of their restaurant.  The whole family, including the grandmother worked there.


The last time we were in the area, we didn’t stop in Amalfi, only passed by it.  I had seen pictures of the cathedral there, and I asked Marcello if we could go by there this time.  He dropped us off near the cathedral and pointed out the passageway to get there, while he looked for a place to park.  What a beautiful church and square.  I am so glad we were able to stop.  I thought about going up the long stairway to see what the inside of the church looked like, but I decided to save my strength for the many churches I had planned on visiting in Rome.



On the way back to our last stop, Marcello took us way up the mountains to an unbelievable scenic lookout.  What a view!  Like Marcello had promised, the clouds had lifted and we were having a beautiful day in Paradise. 


Marcello had told us that he was anxious for us to see the archeological site he had been showing his clients.  Since our last visit with Marcello, he had been studying up on the area, particularly the archeological history.  He said he had read every book he could find, and we could tell that he was a wealth of information.  He was taking us to a Roman Villa that had been buried at the same time as Pompeii. 

We didn’t know what to expect; and when we arrived in the parking lot we were the only tourists there.  We walked up to the guard’s booth, and there was no charge to enter the villa.  We just needed to write down our name and where we were visiting from.  That was nice.  As we approached the villa, it looked in great condition; but we had no idea what a treat we had in store until we went inside. 


We walked in and there before us was a real Roman villa from 79AD.  It was in beautiful shape.  The walls had lovely paintings on them and the mosaic floors were beautifully restored in parts.  This was a complete house with living rooms, bedrooms, a kitchen, swimming pool, inside steam room and cool down pool.  It was in such good condition that I felt sad that most of the millions of tourists that come to this area will never see it.  We only saw two other tourists walking around this grand residence. 



Steam Room                                                        Cool Down Pool


Marcello was able to tell us all about the history and the different rooms.  He was very proud of the Villa, since it so beautifully displayed his Italian heritage. 



I am amazed that this site isn’t crowded with visitors, but it was quite nice to be able to basically have it to ourselves for awhile.  Marcello said that there are other villas around that are in similar condition, and that tourists don’t visit them because the local officials don’t advertise them.  It is one of the special treats that Marcello is able to share with clients experiencing “his Italy”.

As we walked out of the villa, we could see Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.  I had been hoping that the clouds would clear so we could see it.  Marcello was right.  He had said the clouds would go away in the afternoon, and they did.


Marcello delivered us back to the port after an absolutely wonderful day with this very special driver/guide.  He is one of a kind.  It was sad to have to say goodbye again; but we were happy to have been fortunate enough to spend a second time with our friend.  We hope someday to be able to show him around our part of the world.


Disembarkation and Post-Cruise in Rome, Italy

Well the day had finally come to disembark the Grand.  The weather forecast I had looked up on the web was not too promising.  We were supposed to have scattered showers both days we would be in Rome.  I couldn’t complain, since we had had incredible luck with the weather during the whole vacation. 

The disembarkation process was the smoothest we have experienced.  When they called our group at 8:15, we walked right down to deck 6 and off the ship with no line at all.  Then when we got in the huge building with the luggage, all of our bags were easily found close together.  It was just too easy.  Congratulations to Princess.  Since we hadn’t expected how easy it would be, we had arranged for the van to pick us up at 9:00.  We had to wait a little while for the van to arrive, but that was okay.

We had arranged a transfer through Rome Shuttle Limousines (Link).  They had a good reputation and reasonable prices.  It was especially reasonable since we were able to share it with four of our Cruise Critic friends Tom, Tenia, Judy and Carol.  It worked out to about 52 € per couple to drop us at two separate Rome hotels.  When we ordered the van, I told them that we had at least 13 pieces of luggage and that we would need a large van.  They sent a big one that handled all of the luggage and provided lots of room for each of the passengers.  I was quite pleased with this transfer company and would use them again.

We were excited about returning to Rome and enjoying it at a slower pace than on our previous two visits.  We had picked a hotel in the main tourist area of Rome, Hotel della Torre Argentina (Link), so we would be able to walk to main tourist places and not have to rent a car. 


We checked in and wanted to go to our room.  We didn’t see anyone around to take our luggage, so I proceeded to take it to the elevators myself.  When the doors opened, I couldn’t believe how small the two elevators were.  I later measured them and they were just over 2 ft by 4 ft.  That is a small elevator, but at least they did have elevators.  Many European hotels don’t.  I was able to squeeze two suitcases on at a time, so it only took two trips.  The room was nice and the air conditioning worked great.  It was a bigger room than I was expecting and quite comfortable, not fancy but perfectly fine.



Before we left home, we had bought two day tickets on the 110 Trambus hop-on hop-off bus (Link).  We have always enjoyed doing this type of tour in the cities we stay in, since it normally gives an excellent overview and gets you familiar with where the tourist sites are.  The HOHO bus we took was the red route.  We took it rather than the green because it stopped close to our hotel and the other didn’t. 


The bus itself was OK, but the ticket taking/selling process was very slow and as a result, we had to sit at the stops for a long time without moving.  That made it hot and boring.  The narrative on the first of the buses we took was very weak.  On the second one, which was a newer bus, the narrative was very good.  I would have thought that all buses would use the same narrative, but apparently not. 


As we rode around the various sites in Rome, we had issues with bus and traffic fumes being very strong.  It was very difficult to get a breath of fresh air due to the pollution.  Additionally, the buses didn’t seem to have shock absorbers, and we could feel every bump.  It was not a pleasant experience.  Carol was getting a headache from the fumes; and I was experiencing a stomach virus.  We had already decided to get off when we came back by our hotel; but that wouldn’t be for several more stops, including one at the bus terminal. 



The Roman Forum                                      The Colosseum

When the bus pulled up to the main starting point at Termini Station, there were three other buses waiting there ahead of us.  They told us we would have to get off and get in line to get on the first bus.  By this time, we both needed to find a restroom and get out of the sun.  We hadn’t eaten lunch so we went to a pizzeria right across from the bus stop.  I had no desire to eat but needed a cold drink.  Carol ordered a pizza for herself, and we were able to slow down for a little bit before we got back on the bus.

The bus route itself was very nice, and we did get to see the highlights of Rome.  Since we had been to Rome a couple of times before, we didn’t need to get off and explore further.  The view from the top of the bus was very good, and I was able to get a lot of photos since it was such a clear day.  The beautiful Monument to Victor Emanuel in the Plaza Venezia was under major renovation and had a large section covered with cloth.  It still looked quite lovely; but since we had seen it before, it wasn’t the same with part of it covered. 


In other cities, we had enjoyed using the HOHO buses for transportation after we had done the initial sightseeing, since they are quite convenient.  We decided that we wouldn’t be using it again in Rome.  Maybe it was because we weren’t feeling good, but we just didn’t enjoy it. 

On the way back to the hotel after we got off of the bus, we stopped to look inside of the large beautiful St. Andrea della Valle Church just down the street from our hotel.  This church was used in the opening scene of Puccini’s opera Tosca.  It also has the second highest dome in Rome after St. Peters. 


It is an incredibly beautiful church.  We were shocked by its interior beauty because the outside is not particularly noticeable.  It’s not that the outside is plain; it’s just that it is black from the pollution and sort of just blends into the surrounding buildings.  This is unfortunate since a church this gorgeous should have lots of tourists enjoying it; but like we had seen in Naples, some of the best places in Italy are unknown to the masses.  If you are near Piazza Navona, it is worth your time to walk down and see this lovely church.



When we got back to the hotel, I had a slight fever and just wasn’t feeling too well, so I took a short nap.  Carol took it easy and enjoyed being out of the fumes. 

Since we were expecting Friday to be a rainy day, I needed to go Thursday afternoon to some of the sites that were within easy walking distance of our hotel.  Carol stayed at the hotel and I headed off to the Pantheon.  It was just a few short blocks away from our hotel’s convenient location. 


This was my third visit to the Pantheon.  I am always impressed with the oldest building in Rome.  It was rebuilt in 128 AD and is an amazing architectural feat.  Even though the opening in the roof allows light and rain to come into the building, it has had no problem surviving the elements.  As usual there is a large crowd in the building and around the square in front of it.


Right down the street from the Pantheon is the church of Santa Maria Sopra Laterno.  I had found out about this church while researching the area online.  It has a famous statue by Michelangelo, Christ the Redeemer.  The church had some very beautiful chapels along the outside of the interior.  Just in front of the church is Bernini’s elephant that supports an Egyptian obelisk.  Some people say that the elephant looks like it is crying.   It is worth visiting this church if you are at the Pantheon.



My next destination was Piazza Navonna.  It is only a few blocks away from the Pantheon.  I was disappointed to see the most famous statue there, Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, was under major renovation and covered in scaffolding. 



Since I had been having luck finding beautiful churches, I decided to go into the Church of Saint Agnese in Agone right next to the statue.  It was a smaller church, but very ornate and pretty. 


I was finished touring for the day.  When I got back to the hotel I lay down again and took another nap.  When I woke up, we needed to make a decision.  I had still not eaten anything and Carol’s headache was bothering her more.  Neither of us felt like going out for a nice Italian dinner.  The hotel had provided us with a very nice fruit dish with bananas, oranges, kiwi and apples.  We had some of the fruit and decided to take a short walk to a local gelato shop we had found earlier in the day.  They had a wonderful flavor called dolce latte.  It was a nice way to end our first day in Rome.

I slept okay, but Carol ended up with the worst migraine she has had in years.  I felt so sorry for her, since she really wanted to do some touring in Rome, but was worried the fumes would set off another migraine.  I was quite surprised when I looked outside and it was another sunny day.  The expected rain must have been delayed.  Lucky again.

We went down for the included light buffet breakfast.  It was OK, nothing special, especially after our wonderful experience at Al Ponte Antico in Venice.  Carol decided to stay in the hotel this morning while I did my running around.  I was feeling slightly better, although I knew I was still sick.  I had planned on going to several churches that I had read about in the book Angels and Demons, but decided to pass since I didn’t want to get on the HOHO bus again. 

The one church that I just had to see was the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.  It was supposed to be the second prettiest church in Rome after St. Peters.  First, however, I wanted to go by the Trevi Fountain before it got too crowded with people.  It was just a few blocks from the hotel, like everything else.  The previous times we had been here, it was difficult to move for all the tourists. At 10:00 on Friday morning it was much better.  It is very beautiful fountain.


I had been a little concerned about walking to Santa Maria Maggiore, but it was only about 1.25 miles from the hotel.  It seemed like I had to climb all seven hills of Rome to get there.  I found out later that it actually was on top of one of the seven hills.  I was quite worn out when I arrived, but also very excited about getting to see this famous church. 


It was indeed a very beautiful church.  It was definitely worth the walk.  It had quite a different look with the flat gilded ceiling.  The almost three tons of gold used in the ceiling is supposed to be the first that was brought from the new world, and it was given to the Pope by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.  A very special sacred relic in this church is the remains of the baby Jesus’ crib.  There are five pieces of wood contained in the golden egg shaped container. Just in front of the relic is a statue of Pope Pius IX kneeling and praying.  Also, the artist/sculptor, Bernini, is buried in this church.  So it is a rather special church and quite a beautiful place.





Relic of wood from Baby Jesus' crib

                        Statue of Pope Pius IX                           

The walk back was more downhill than uphill, so it went much faster.  I wanted to visit a couple of churches near Piazza Venezia; but they were closed, so I headed back to the hotel.  On the way, I stopped at Area Sacra which was right next to our hotel.  The area was only discovered in the 1920’s, and is where four temples once stood.  This is where Julius Caesar was assassinated when the Senate was meeting at one of the temples.


When I got back to the room, Carol was feeling much better.  We were ready to head out again for lunch.  The hotel concierge recommended a salad restaurant just up the street.  Since it was warm outside, we were pleased to find that there were inside tables, and it was air conditioned.  We both had salads and they were quite refreshing.  We had to have dessert at our favorite gelato place though.

We went back to the room, and the final packing for our flight home began.  While doing this, we actually had a nice rain outside.  It helped to clear the air and cool down the temperature some.  It was finally time to pack our cameras.  I had taken 3,650 pictures and Carol had taken almost 1,000.  We had lots of memories.  Carol wanted to do a little last minute sightseeing, so we walked over to the Pantheon, Church of Santa Maria Sopra Laterno and Piazza Navona. 

We ended the day with an excellent Italian meal at a restaurant close to the hotel and a last gelato at “our place”.  We went to bed early since we had to catch a cab to the airport at 4:45 AM.  It was a short night.

The flights back were much less stressful.  Even Charles DeGaulle airport went smoothly.  Imagine our dismay, when we returned to our own “home airport” at Miami and experienced the only bumps in our return trip.  We have passed through Miami’s airport more times than I can count, and never had any problems.  The difficulties this time were the long lines at immigration and the horrible baggage claim area.  In the past there have always been separate lines for returning U.S. citizens and they move quickly.  This time we were all herded together with people holding foreign passports, so it took forever. 

By the time we got down to the baggage claim area, it was already packed with people.  The bags had been taken off the carousel and just piled helter skelter together in one area.  There were no rows or organization to it and no room to get in among the luggage, which made it hard to find your own bags.  Additionally, the bags were put right near where the exits to customs were so there was major congestion.

While we were desperately searching for our last piece of luggage, our name was called over the loud speaker.  The missing bag had never left Paris.  No big deal, they would deliver it by 9:00PM the next night.  Actually, we received it three hours later than scheduled, at 12:15 AM in the morning.  They woke us up, but we were happy to have our lost bag.


Recap –

This was another wonderful cruising experience.  The ports were just outstanding and the weather was incredibly good.  We had really lucked out.   We also lucked out by being able to share this cruise with a great group of new Cruise Critic friends.  We hope to be able to share future adventures with many of them.


Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
Shutterfly Albums


Photographic Equipment Used in Review

Canon Rebel XT digital SLR camera
Canon 17-85 IS lens
Canon 10-22 ultra-wide lens
Canon 70-300 IS telephoto lens

Canon SD550 Digital Elph camera


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