Sunday, 29 September 2013

Slovenia and Croatia.

16/09/13 SLOVENIA

We were facing all manner of problems trying to hire a car in Italy and drop it off in Slovenia. Car hire companies wouldn't let us do it. So, our gracious host in Slovenia, who's place we are staying at for three days, agreed to drive all the way to Venice Italy, pick us up and drive us back to his apartment. About a four hour round trip.  We paid him of course but none the less it was a grand gesture and one that saved us a tremendous headache.

Hvala Andre, ste gentleman.

Slovenia is an interesting little country. It has a small population, a little over two million and has in fact only been in existence as it's own country since 1991. Scientists say that prehistoric man lived here over 250,000 years ago and the worlds oldest wooden wheel, over 5000 years old, was found in an area covered in marsh lands, just 20kms from the capital Ljubljana. 
They also have a kickarse basketball team and have just beaten the Greeks to advance to the European quarter finals. Go Slovenia.
Everyone has had a finger in the Slovenia pie over the millennia.  The Romans, the Austrian-Hungarians, the Turks, the Nazi's in WW11 but finally they are their own people.
Slovenia was a real rest stop for us. We're all off us at some stage or other of this dreaded "cruise cough" and a bit of down time is in order. So apart from a walk into town to get the new hire car we did very little.

A leisurely stroll by a Slovenian canal, could be Amsterdam or Berlin

18/09/13. Well I stand corrected. My apologies to the manic froggie drivers in the South of France. I have found your match. It would appear the crazy Croatian's love nothing better than to put on their ugly face when they hop behind the wheel. While immensely entertaining watching these idiots move into top gear to overtake a bus on a sheer blind corner it was a little nerve wracking making sure you were far back enough to not end up as collateral damage. 

19/09/13 Happy Birthday to you Callum. The first teenager in the Van Waardenburg line for  over three decades.  

Happy Birthday Handsome
We had all sorts of really neat things planned for him today. Things that we knew he would just be champing at the bit to get into. First it would be a riveting short drive down to the Plitvicka National Park that lies just a couple of kilometres from our little farm stay here in Croatia. Then a breathtaking short walk to a boat for an adrenaline soaked ride through the beautiful valleys, mountains and lakes followed by an awesome two hour walk that would leave us all begging for more. Then, saving the best for last, an explosive mind blowing action packed one hour bus ride back to the start.  He was gonna love it. Unfortunately, as my dear old granny used to say, men make plans and the gods laugh. 

We woke up on the morning of Callum's birthday, pumped and ready to go, 'til we pulled back the curtains to see nothing but dark grey skies plump with bulging rain clouds.  A chorus of thunder and some punctuating lightning made it very clear that today would now be an inside day.

Callum was very disappointed that he had to stay in his PJ's all day, eating home bake roast chicken for lunch, Nutella birthday cake for desert and playing on his I devices.
Christina supplied the chicken
Charlie supplied the entertainment
Thankfully things took a change for the better and during the early afternoon the clouds retreated and the blue skies made a return. It would seem that an abridged version of our previous plans were now possible. So, we all shed our house skins, threw some clothes on and headed down to the National Park for Plan B. We stopped just outside of the Park and took a short stroll to a set of old steps that would take us all the way down to the famous Plitvicka Lakes and a very pleasant, though crowded, meander around the pristine glass clear lakes.  
The pictures don't really do it justice
I do like this one though
Even the bus loads of shutter bug Asian and German tourists crowding the narrow slated walkways couldn't detract from the charm of the area.

We managed to snap this one in between busloads
We finished the day off with tasty takeaway pizza and Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire.  I think Callum would agree while maybe not his ultimate 13th birthday, all things considered, not to shabby.

A teenager at last
20/09/13 I have something else to say about the fine folk of Croatia besides their kamikaze driving. Particularly the folks of the gorgeous little seaside town of Split.

We were let down, for the very first time mind you, by our Air B and B host who was suppose to meet us around 3 - 4 pm to let us into his apartment and show us what is what. He didn't show, he was apparently somewhere out in the Pacific, his dodgy mate told us when he finally arrived at 6.40pm. With our phones not working at that stage we had to rely on the generosity of locals to use their phones. Within 90 minutes we had three offers of help, one including a place to sleep for the night if we needed it and another left her number and said to call if we get stuck, she will come help us make other arrangements. Another said he had an apartment for lease and he could set us that night if we needed it. 
There generosity and helpful spirit went a long way to make up for the inconsiderate nature of our host.
We're looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful place tomorrow.

21/09/13. Overcast and drizzly day and everyone still feeling a bit chesty. Four episodes of Breaking Bad, nothing else to say here.

22/09/13. The sunshine is back. Clear blue skies and a very pleasant 25 degrees. The old town of Split is literally a ten minute walk from our apartment so it was pack a couple of water bottles, the cameras and off we went.

I had people treading over me to take this shot
Nothing says ancient Rome like a couple of guys in skirts with spears

Split was settled by the Greeks way back in 600 BC and today has a tidy little population of around 178,000.

The retired Roman Emperor Diocletians built his retirement palace here over 1700 years ago.  It was a massive walled complex build in the style of a Roman Fortress and spanning nearly ten acres. At one time it had a population of over 8000 living within it's walls. The place is built right on the stunning harbour of Salona which today has a wide boardwalk with bobbing boats, ferries and cruisers on one side and picturesque cafes, restaurants and shops on the other. 
A panorama of the beautiful Salona boardwalk on one side
And big boats and smiling families on the other

The walled palace itself is today home to many different retail outlets, cafes, bars and restaurants.  All set among the decayed ruins of this ancient palace. It's quite an amazing place.

23/09/13 We said goodbye to Split and headed down the Dalmatian Coast to the battered city of Dubrovnick. 

The Dalmatian Coast, I want to sail this one day, seriously, it is amazing 

The Dalmatian Coast is an absolute gem. So picturesque, so beautiful. Many people come here to hire yachts and drift up the coast. It is now on our list.

The drive took us all day so it was check in, walk down to check out the beach, a feed of Croatian Mex- that was interesting- and an early night.

24/09/13 All sorts of big plans for today. Hit the beach in the morning, go book a speed boat for the day to cruise the islands, maybe head down to the old city for a peak and dinner overlooking the ocean.
We did exactly.. none of it. Everyone is still in recovery from the "cruise cough" we picked up and while intentions were good the bodies weren't willing. House day.

25/09/13 Enough already with the coughing and spluttering. Regardless of how we felt we packed up the towels, the sunscreen and the bottled water and hit the beach. Well not exactly the beach. We found a small jetty just a little away from the crowds and camped there.  It was magic.

Our own private jetty, just deep enough to dive off
How beautiful is that water

The water is as clear as glass and a balmy 24 degrees. We lay and let the sun bake us to the perfect swimming temperature then slipped over the side of the jetty into the warm embrace of the sea. We paddle, we floated, we made like overfed sea otters diving here and there. It was the perfect antidote to our feeling under par.

On our way back we stopped in to book a boat for tomorrow.  We get our own driver for up to nine hours, fuel and drinks included. We checked the Croatian weather forecast and all looked good. 
From here it was back to the apartment for some R & R then Christina and I caught the bus down to the Old City. 
The Old City is a remarkably well preserved example of a late Medieval walled City, built somewhere around the 11th century. Bombed mercilessly during the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990's, she is now fully restored to her former glory.

It's a lively place
The crowds were big but the city is bigger so once you're off the Main Street there is plenty of room to move and plenty to see. Many people still live within the walls of the city and going by the number of retail outlets, restaurants, bars, cafes and apartments for rent, the city has found a new lease on life. 
An ancient set of steps to a quieter section of the city 

The Serbian General responsible for bombing the UNESCO protected city was jailed at the conclusion of the war. Rightly so. The damage has since been restored using as authentic materials and style of workmanship as was possible.  They did a good job. It is difficult to tell the difference between restored and original.

26/09/13 Today we get to cruise the calm waters of the islands off Dubrovnik, the sandy beaches, the Blue Grotto cave, the spectacular diving spots. Sounds great doesn't it. Well, imagine if you will, your worst experience as a child on the most traumatic theme park ride you ever took.  I'm talking the sort of stuff that still gives you nightmares today. Maybe you were seven and your Uncle thought it would be fun to take you on the bumper cars where for a full five minutes every dropkick in a Stay Calm T shirt rammed you at speed sending your poor growing organs from one side of your body to the other.  Or the first time someone convinced you to go one one of those tumbling rides where you get harnessed in that tightly it's hard to breathe then you're continuously and repetitively thrown head over heel like a lone sock in a dryer.
That was our first hour and a half of our relaxing day cruising the Adriatic coast on our own little private boat. It started when we left the heads and turned into the open sea to cruise down for a look at The Old City from the water. 

Tearing away from the Old City to dry land, soaked before we even got in the water

The clear skies that the Croatian Bureau of Meteorology promised were probably there but just hidden behind massive grey clouds threatening to break open and shower precipitation upon us at any second. The waves mirrored the clouds, big grey and ugly. We moved along at about 5 knots, the waves too big to aqua plane across the top. After about 45 minutes of bouncing from one wave to another we reached the Old City. It was breathtakingly unimpressive but it put us between the coast and another island so the waves were calmer. We took a handful of quick photos and directed our fine driver to head for the nearest bit of land which happened to be Lokrum Island. Apparently Richard the Lion Heart was ship wrecked there in the 11th century. Someone being shipwrecked here comes as no surprise to us.

We docked and wandered into the island, thankful to have some solid ground under our feet and the opportunity to put some of the food we had bought with us into our stomachs. 

There were peacocks everywhere. They were like quokkas on Rottnest, roaming everywhere and totally comfortable coming up and trying to snatch crusts from your hands.
Dont let the pretty feathers fool you, they're just Liberace seagulls

They hovered like technicolor seagulls grabbing any scrap they could see, sometimes leaping up to try and grab something straight from your mouth. 
We finally found a little cafe and settled in for a coffee and some hot chocolates before heading back to the boat. Then the clouds gave way. Unable to hold on any longer, like an old man with too many shandies in him, it let rip and down she came. It just poured.  Oh this was so worth $500.

We finally said stuff it and walked back to the boat in the rain, not looking forward to the return trip.We spoke to the driver and said pretty well much, this isn't working, take us back. Half way there the weather appeared to be breaking behind us and we gave the driver the benefit of the doubt when he said, "just let me show you this one beach, if you no like we go back"
To cut a long story short, the beach we got to was great but he had to anchor off shore and we had to swim in with all our gear. No thanks. But, the weather had broken and we were now in calmer waters so we told him to find us a great place to swim, where we can anchor at a jetty and there are good places to eat.
"no problem, we go to next island"
And we did and it was perfect. 

At last, a calm port
We ate, we swam and we basked in the now copious amounts of sunshine. 

Spaghetti Marinara and grilled fish and chips.  Dobar tek
Sunshine = smiles

Come four o'clock our bodies were water logged and the salt was now starting to dry on our skin. We decided it was time to head back in but our illustrious boatman wanted to show us one more spot.

The Blue Grotto is a slit of an opening in the cliffs off the island of Kolocep. Not a particularly inviting gap to swim through but once you make the effort it opens up into the most glorious cavern. 
That tiny gap on the right is the doorway to another world
What a fantastic way to finish the day

The light shines off the white sandy bottom and illuminates the cave like the twinkling of a thousand blue diamonds. It was truly one of those little gems that you find when you travel. There were no cameras to capture it so we bobbed and swam and tried to soak up as much of the experience as we could before heading back out to the boat. And finally, back to the jetty.

An absolute disaster had turned in a truly memorable day.

27/09/13 Nothing memorable about today apart from finding a bar that had has been built inside a cave just down by Lapad beach. This was very cool.

28/09/13 Last day today before we fly out to Rome and we could not leave without one final swim down at our favourite little jetty and another great home cooked meal. 

Looking back from our jetty to Lapad Beach

The famous Croatian culinary cuisine seemed to have eluded us this trip. The bureks were nice but basically they were just a flaky pastry with a meat or a cheese filling. 

It was an opportunity to indulge in some good old home cooking and we took full advantage of the kitchen.
We have loved Croatia. The people have been friendly and although english is not as well spoken here as in other European countries you get by and everyone is happy to have a go at making themselves understood. Including us. The coastline is spectacular and certainly worthy of a longer visit.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Cruisin' Part Two

Craig Writes;
11/09/13.  Today we went to Kusadasi. Home of the old city of Ephesus and the burial place of The Virgin Mary, or so says an old German Nun back in the 17th century.  She woke up one morning and told her neighbour that during the night she had received "a vision from god".  Apparently that's all it took.  A few people told a few more people who told a few more and bingo, perception becomes reality and that's now where The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, is buried.  There is also a rumour that Jesus told John, one of his disciples, while he was on the cross that he was to look after his Mum when he was gone. 
Apparently John went to live and subsequently die in Ephesus and it is assumed, there's that word again, that if John was there then Mary must have been there too. I don't know why he didn't just send a guardian angel down to do the job for him and let John get on with writing scriptures and letters etc.

We decided to give Mary's tomb a miss and just got off to wander around the town and the port.  The water was so amazing, so inviting, I just had to drop my kit and dive in. 

I was so hot and the water looked so cool. I had to no choice.

It was delicious. Cold, salty and so clear you could see the tiny schools of minnows swimming on the bottom. Christina was not impressed because she felt that she couldn't do the same and as such I should not have fun while she couldn't. Also she had to walk through the bazaars and cafes with a man with a large wet patch down the front of his pants looking very much like his colostomy bag needed changing. But hey, I may have been wet, but I was cool and happy.

Kusadasi is a small little town of only 65,000 but that number swells to over 500,000 at the height of the tourist season. 

It's a very quaint little seaside town where the shopkeepers and merchants spend their days flirting with the tourists.  Everyone who passes by is a potential customer and everyone gets their attention. The sale pitches come thick and fast and while persistent you can't help but feel a lot of it is all tongue in cheek and they're having as much fun as the tourists are. 
And unlike Istanbul, no one threatened to shoot us for not buying.
Although there was one young fella, about fourteen I'd guess, who tried to get our attention by using a different kind of strategy.
As we pass his stall he looks at us and yells, they like to yell a lot here,
"hey you, hey old couple, come see our jackets".
We both looked at each other and then turned to him in disbelief. 
"you talkin to me, are you...talking to me" I say in my best Robert De Niro
We're probably in the youngest percentile of tourists that cruise these places and he's calling us "old couple". 
We had to do the kid a favour and gently informed him that while his strategy of reverse flattery was unique, it wasn't going to get him any business. 
"you might want to rework your sales pitch there kid, that isn't gonna work so well". 
He turned a  nice shade of red and drifted back into his store, we kept laughing and turned away down the street. He got our attention, he just wasn't going to get this "old couples" business.

12/09/13 Only a couple more days to go before we depart this floating Shangri-La. Today we landed in the Port of Piraeus and are going to head into Athens for a look see at the Acropolis and the mighty Parthenon. This amazing White Pentelic marble temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena, was built by the savour of Athens, Perikles, in 447 B.C TO 432 B.C. The city had been overrun by the Persians but the brave Perikles managed to put together a coalition of the willing among his neighbours and regain his city. 

There is a brilliance and an ingenuity here that is reminiscent of so many other ancient civilisations, monuments and works of architecture that we have had the opportunity to see. Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Pompeii, Pont Du Gard, Chartres Cathedral and more.

The CVW'S minus one. Charlie chose the kids club today.
The Temple Of Athena
The only dampener was the 17,000 other people who all happened to land in port on the same day.  There were no less than seven large cruise ships all hitting the same port at the same time. We were like ants on a big marble toffee apple. 

And it was hot. Officially 33C, but where we were, crowded and standing shoulder to shoulder on a massive great outcrop of marble and stone, it would have been much hotter  Our guide, who was no doubt very informed about the history of the place, spoke so softly and had an accent so thick it was like trying to listen to her through ear muffs. If you weren't standing right next to her you missed everything she said. 
The views, over the top of the heads of the tourists, was impressive and on any other day it would have been a real treat. While there is plenty else to see in Athens, a city that goes back over 2500 years, we'll leave this for another time.

13/09/13 A day at sea today.  We do love our days at sea. No where to go and nothing to see except endless miles off ocean.  No beckoning ancient monuments, cathedrals, churches or bazaars. It's ping pong, eating, target shooting, eating, lying around the pool and yes, more eating. 

14/09/13 Today we find ourselves gliding gracefully down the Grand Canal towards our final port,Venice. 

Entering the Grand Canal
What an entrance this magnificent ship would make to those lucky enough to be watching her as she slips silently through the wide waters. It is early afternoon on a beautiful balmy day.  There are no clouds, just a gentle sun leaving a warm glow on your skin. We're in Mike and Eleanora's room, on the balcony peering down from 11 storeys high into and over the top of this beautiful old city.

Venice, here's lookin up your canal
No caption needed
As though to ease us gently from our cruising cocoon, the ship is here for two nights, so there was no hurry to disembark. Many of the passengers get off early, eager to throw themselves into the crowds but we waited till mid afternoon when the gangways and shuttle boats are less crowded. It makes absolutely no difference of course to the crowds that were to greet us when the shuttle boat dropped us at St Marks Square. Unsurprisingly, it was like bees around the honey pot. 
It's like someone shouted,"Free Beer"
We did the obligatory walk through St Marks Square, which is charming and ancient but also in need of a little of work. A lot of the facades are just plain grimey and grey. We turned down one of the many small arteries that take you away from the maddening throng.  The further in you went and the more tiny bridges you crossed the thinner the crowds became. 
The back streets were the place to be.

It would be good to have a couple of days to spend getting lost among the back alleys and canals.  The gondolas were doing a great business. In some of the bigger canals they were literally "bumper to bumper," waiting in line to go under a bridge. 
What did John Cleese say, Gondolas here , Gondolas there Gondolas every ....

And where is the singing and the accordion playing? We saw a hundred of them but only heard one fella carrying a tune. 
The price was $100 euro for a boat for about 30 -35 minutes but I'm not sure if they take into account the time your stuck in a line waiting to get under a bridge. I liked the idea and if I had bought more $$ we would have done it but alas they don't take cards, only cash. So our turn to be sitting camera fodder for the herds of happy snapping tourist leaning over the sides of bridges will have to wait till next we are in Venice.

Unfortunately I have got Christina's bug and have been laid low the last couple of days so our last night on board was not a big one.  She is still recovering herself so there were no party frocks and dancing pants tonight.  It was more a case of throw the last of our stuff into our cases and get it out into the hallway before 11pm to be collected and taken dock side tomorrow morning for us to pick up and be on our way. 

15/09/13 One last dig at the breakfast buffet before we finally disembark and head off to Slovenia. We wipe a tear from the corner of our eye and some bacon grease from the side of our mouth as we bid a fond farewell and clunk our way down the gangplank for the final time. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013


Craig Writes; 
Yo ho ho and a bottle of red. We have finally set sail on the magnificent Royal Princess, all 141,000 tonne of her and all 3560 of us, plus crew of course. She was only launched in June 2013, so she should just about have all the bugs ironed out by now. Rather than be boring and spend 1000 words describing the ship, here's a link so you can see for yourself, if you're interested. Royal Princess
Our boat
Our first port of call today was Toulon, Provence. Now we've just spent a few days in this beautiful part of France so our big adventure was not going ashore but taking the opportunity of practically having the whole ship to ourselves to go exploring and use the facilities without any crowds. A leisurely workout in the gym, which even on a sea day is never overcrowded, unlimited shooting at the target range, shootin some hoops and generally just wandering.
Shootin' hoops with da boys
Even on our last day at sea we were still blown away by the sheer magnitude of this thing.

4-6/09/13 Even as early as the second day you could see certain habits starting to form. Free food is everywhere you turn. And I mean good stuff, freshly baked roast beef rolls with mustard and cheese, seafood salads, great pizza and fresh pastries that just keep appearing. So, with the novelty still very new you do what you do. We ate, then we ate some more. 

The thing with this whole cruising thing seems to be that you have to get yourself involved or you end up doing nothing but eating and lying around the pool baking like a fresh croissant. Not necessarily in the karaoke contest or the movie trivia nights but get out and get a slice of some of the great entertainment they have on board.
Thought we'd get the early seats
So far we have seen a comedian,who was pretty good, certainly better than Tim Allen who we saw in Vegas and each day they have really interesting talks on the next days port. It's history, best things to see, places to avoid etc. Todays was on Napoli. They have a giant movie screen in the centre of deck 17 which is where the main pool and eating areas are. Here they show movies and live concerts through the day and late into the night. We've seen two movies under the stars so far. You lie on your poolside recliner and they bring you drinks, pizza, cookies and milk and popcorn. Even a little rug if the night air is a bit chilly. Talk about pampered. Last night when the others were settling in for the night I went to see the Ian Bacon Jazz trio. I had a sampler of three very nice aged Scotches while sitting back and taking in some very good late night jazz. With the omnipresent buffets and snack venues I have devised a morning routine of yoga on the top deck followed by a work out in their oh so excellent gym. It's that or a new wardrobe. Callum and I decided to enter a ping pong tournament today, coz we're both such hot ping pong players, and blow me down I made the semi finals. There were only six people in it though. 
Warming up for the Big Tournament
Damn those tricky Asians and their sizzling spinning return shots
Tell me why do the Asians always win those things? They have the most amazing simulated shooting range here. Turns out I'm a pretty good shot so I'll go in the shooting comp when they have that. You have to be 18 and over to use it but a little of the old aussie charm and they let Callum have a go. Even Charlie had a turn. It turns out Callum is also a bit of a sharpshooter.

Christina and I decided that we should make the investment and bought ourselves a pass to the Lotus Spa Enclave for the duration of the cruise. It is an amazing spa including three different steam saunas, a huge spa pool, heated ergonomic curved seats, four different showers ranging from a soft mist to a tropical rain and then a relaxation room with teas, water, fruit and some soothing music to relax in. 

We've been on board for the last three days but tomorrow we start to play tourist again with a trip to Pompeii. It has been great having Eleanora and Mike on board with us. We're all pretty well much doing our own thing during the day and catching up for a show or dinner in the evening. Fantastic show tonight, A pianist for Frank Sinatra for over thirteen years, Ray Coussins also happens to have a bit of a rat pack thing goin on with his own singing style. I think he was channelling a bit of his old boss and some of the many pals who Ray got to play with over the years. Sammy Davis jnr, Dean Martin, Tony Bennet and so many more. It was exactly what you'd expect from an old Vegas showman. Some great music punctuated by some A grade name dropping stories. Like the time Liz Taylor came sat next to him on the piano to make Richard Burton jealous. Then he'd turn back to the keys and bang out Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue like it was the last song he'd ever play. He had some great stories and played some mean piano. 
7/09/13 Today was time to get off the boat and go for a walk through the ancient ruins of Pompeii and The Museum of Archeology in Napoli.

This guy likely had no idea what hit him
I was hoping that was just my stomach rumbling
There has been much fuss made about Napoli being the birthplace of pizza and how good the traditional pizza of mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil, the colours of the Italian flag, was. Sorry Napoli, not even in my top 10, not even close. And this from a place recommended by our taxi driver, you'd think he'd know. Soft undercooked crust, very little cheese and one scraggly bit of basil. Pompeii was interesting. It is a massive place to walk through and we didn't do the place justice. One member of our travelling troupe did not want to be there and it made it all a bit to much like hard work.
Check out the chariot ruts worn into the stone
We were there for two hours but you're going to need half a day to do it justice, a litre and a half of water and some snacks. You can't buy anything once you're inside the city ruins. We also found it very poorly set out for the tourist in respect to finding your way around. It is not well signposted. You are given a numbered map but you have to do a bit of detective work to find the numbers. They're tiny and in some cases hidden behind other information boards. You definitely want to get yourself a tour guide here. Having said all that, it has been amazingly excavated and you get a very real feel for life in the city prior to 79AD when Mt Vesuvius exploded in all her glory. She sits just behind the city, a benign looking hill, hardly capable of causing such destruction. But looks are not always what they seem and even today she remains still very much alive and capable of causing havoc. 

8/09/13 Today was is what we in the cruising world call a "sea day". Effectively we're that far away from our next port we have to "put the foot down" for a full day and night to reach the next stop which means everyone on board for the day. This is not as bad as it sounds. There are enough places for people to disappear to that it never seems crowded. And, they are very organised here, there's lots to do. I spent the morning on the simulated rifle range and in the batting cages then some swimming with the kids and then a relaxing afternoon in the spa with Christina.
Just one of the many distractions
Tonight was the first "Formal" night and time to break out the rented Tux. My my, it's been a while, close to 20 years maybe, since I wore a tux. It was fun. Pretty well most of the guests get in the swing of things and dress up. What a fine looking bunch we were.

The things you do for a free champagne. It was great fun
Beautiful new ship, everyone dressed to the max, a band playing, all we needed was an iceberg.

9/09/13. Today we landed at Mykonos in Greece. It was a short stay. On the island at 9.30am and back for lunch around 12 as the boat sails at 1.30pm. It was just as you had seen it in the movie Shirley Valentine and perhaps you glimpsed it briefly at the end of the Matt Damon movie, The Bourne Identity. All white washed buildings, pale blue shutters and clear pristine beaches. And tourists, lots of em. It's a small town and there isn't a lot of places to hide a sudden influx of 3,500 people.
Aarrr Mykonos, you beguiling jewel of the Mediterranean
Who knew the Greeks invented the first vertical Hills Hoist
A rare deserted street, isn't it just perfect?
What a picture, The Med, Mykonos and The Royal Princess
It would have been good to have the luxury of spending a full day there and maybe catching a bus to one of the more sheltered beaches. The wind was really up today and when we got back to the boat the towels we took were as dry as what they were when I packed them. An excuse to come back I suppose. Got to say the coffee in Greece comes in a poor third behind France and Italy but still miles ahead of the US.

10/09/13. Istanbul, a massive city of over 13 million people and a history that goes back to the Byzantines in 685 B.C. A city of magnificent palaces, majestic monuments and amazing museums that has been home to the Roman, Byzantine and finally the Ottoman Empire. It is also the only city in the world that straddles two continents, Asia and Europe Our time was limited here, as it tends to be when your doing the whole cruising thing.
It is, without doubt, one of the most intriguing places we've been to
We picked the couple of sites that most interested us. 

Point of interest: The tulip did not originate in the Netherlands. It came from Turkey and was introduced to the Netherlands several hundred years ago. 

Our first stop was Hagia Sophia.

The Hagia Sophia
A magnificent example of Byzantine architecture and Istanbul's first and oldest mosque. A place full of mystery and contradiction, a lot of which was revealed to us by our guide Selahattin. We don't normally go the route of the private guide and I think that it cost us in Pompeii. So this time we paid the 30 Euro and got our own guide for about an hour. He was amazing, a real student of ancient religion, architecture and history. He absolutely boggled my mind with revelation after revelation of the history of religion, the real discoverers of our solar system and so much more. We will be taking guides whereever we can from here on in. Hagia Sophia first started it's life as The Church of Holy Wisdom, built by the Roman emperor Constantine The Great in 325 A.D. When the Ottomans took over in 1453 they gave it a facelift, plastered over the amazing mosaics and it became a muslim mosque. There is a 9th century mosaic of ArchAngel Gabriel holding a globe of the world in his left hand. A "globe of the world", in the 9th century, think about that.
A 9th century mosaic showing Gabriel with a Globe of the world, Columbus wasn't around until the 15th Century. I love a good mystery.
There is a mosaic pictorial, over 1,500 years old, surrounding the sacred spot where the Emperors were corornated. It shows the nine planets of our solar system plus the sun, the moon and Orion. All in varying shapes according to their respective sizes.
This is about 1000 years before it's time
I say again, a map of our solar system over 1,500 years old. There was so many other amazing things bit's of information this guy kept throwing at us. I wish I had written them all down. Next stop before a very traditional Turkish lunch was The Blue Mosque. Built fairly recently in the early 17th century, this place takes it's name from the breathtaking interior. Over 20,000 blue and green Iznik tiles adorn the walls and floors cast an ethereal glow throughout.
Blue skies, Blue mosque, Blue shirt, so nice to be at one with your surroundings
Unfortunately, by the time we got there it was closed for prayers but we got to enter the massive paved court yard where thousands come to pray. One of the staff on board the ship said the interior was indeed beautiful but with thousands of people removing their shoes every day to pray and Johnson and Johnson foot powder not being in big supply, there was a really bad pong of bad cheese in the air that made it hard to stay for too long. After a brief look around the exterior we headed back to the restaurant strip and allowed ourselves to be sweet talked into walking up four floors to a look-out restaurant. Glad we did. The view over the Hagia Sophia out to the ocean was great, the beer was cold and the Haloumi was fresh and salty. The eggplant dips, the yogurt dips and the tomato and eggplant stew were unbelievable. I even had a couple of dolmades that I normally would not go within a mile of and they were delicious.
The Turkish food was brilliant
The jury is still out on the coffee
The Grand Bazaar was our final stop before heading back. With over 4,000 shops under cover and 18 different entrances we were warned not so much about pick pockets but more about getting lost and missing the last bus back to the boat. It was quite an experience. We even had one crusty old guy who obviously wasn't having a great day whisper to us as we left the bustling markets, "hey you, you buy something or I shoot you". 

It's like Alladin's cave in there
We kept walking and I turned to Christina to make sure I had heard right. Yep, he said he would shoot us if we didn't buy something. I looked back after a few metres and I could see the old bastard was still looking our way. Very interesting. Old men threatening to shoot you aside, we loved Istanbul and would love to go back but for a few days or even a few weeks. It is an enormous city so rich in history and diversity. A place to return to.