Aboard the Celebrity Reflection cruise ship, I begin one of my first long cruises with my friend Jane and her friends, Novella and Barbara. We embark in the town of Civitavecchia, the port to Rome located about 45 minutes via train away from the Roma Termini main train station. It is a bit of a walk from the train station to the cruise ship terminal, so I would recommend a cab or shuttle service if you cruise ship line provides one. Our 11 day cruise will take us from Rome to Santorini, Greece; 2 days in Istanbul, Turkey; Ephesus, Turkey; Mykanos, Greece; Athens, Greece; Naples, Italy; and then back to Rome.
Our ship is a midsize ship with about 2500 passengers considered to be in middle class of cruise lines. With an adult only swimming pool area and quiet zone, it provides everyone with the type of cruise experience they wish to enjoy.
After a relaxing day at sea, we arrive in our first port of call Santorini, Greece. Santorini or the Greek name of Thira, is an island that was basically exploded in half with a volcano about 3600 years ago, leaving a large caldera of the ocean waters. Here all the cruise ships anchor and via their tenders bring people to the lower shores, but to really get up top and see the cities of Oia or Firo requires a way up. This can be done via a cable car system or via the serpentine pathway that has donkeys for a few dollars to ride up or you even choose to walk like I did. However, watch out for the endless donkey droppings! The views from the walk were fantastic and it was only about 30 minutes walking to the top.
As you can see it was a busy day with 4 cruise ships in the area dumping at least 8,000-10,000 people on this small island! We decide to take a short cab ride over to Oia because of the famous blue topped houses area that Oia is so known for. We spend the day walking around in the shops and catching the views from the end of this island where the sunsets are supposed to be spectacular, but since we are leaving before sunset, I will have to come back another time!
We start out again with another day at sea as we prepare ourselves for the 2 days in Istanbul, Turkey! Istanbul aka Constantinople is the crossroads capital between East and West as it is located on the Bosphorus Strait right at the edge of the Mediterranean on one side and the Black Sea on the other side. The main sites are on our touring list include the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern, Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, Topakapi Palace, and the Hippodrome are all included in our short 2 days. I will do another blog to describe more specifically about Istanbul because this blog will be too long, as there was so much to see and experience even if just for a few days!
After 2 fun filled touring days in Istanbul, we continue on our planned cruise route the next day in Ephesus, Turkey. Ephesus is a very hot place in the summer, so be prepared with sunscreen, hats, umbrellas, and water bottle for this open air uncovered tour. We had hired a bus tour for this day because we also wanted to stop at the birthplace of the Virgin Mary, House of Virgin located between Ephesus and Seljuk in a nature park off the highway. Ephesus is very famous for its ruins as a seaport city in the Ionian times around 600 BC. Seaport city you ask when the sea is now about 3 miles away! Yes, over the millennium the silt from the rivers and lack of dredging has totally land locked these ruins that once had a nice waterway to the sea. Ephesus has some modern inventions including the first set of toilets with water running underneath the seats to keep them flushed out.
We move on down the Mediterranean Sea and stop at the island of Mykonos, Greece. Famous as a cosmopolitan island with plenty of beaches, restaurants, white washed houses with a lively night life. Dating back to the 16th century, Mykonos is a place to see and be seen. I decided to rent an ATV this day to explore as many of the beaches as I can, by riding around the small island 15 km by 10 km along the main road and then popping down steep hillsides to the beaches below.
Now we are heading to the capital city of Greece, Athens for the day. Our tour will take us up to the famous Acropolis with spectacular views. Only I did not realize that we would be among thousands of others on the long climb up there! It was maddening to try to get up there all at the same time. Luckily the groups thinned out once on top and the walk down was much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, there was some major renovations going on, so we had large cranes inside the Parthenon. As write this blog, I am listening to a little bit of Yanni to put me in the mood!
Our cruise is coming to the end with our last stop in Naples, Italy before returning back to Rome. I have rented a car for the day, because Jane wanted to take drive down the Amalfi coast to her favorite town of Positano where she had often vacationed and her home in Puerto Vallarta is loaded with hand painted tile work art pieces from that area. Famous for the fabulous coastline, black sand beaches, painted houses that adorn the hillsides, and the very large lemons that are used for limocello liquor. It is a place to go if you go to Italy!