Athens to Istanbul
 

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October 13th to 20th, 2001(continued from Elifsina

A cruise on the Song of Flower with stops at several wonderful Greek and Turkish ports.

   We were surprised, and somewhat saddened, to learn that their passenger list had dwindled to only 53 people (from a capacity of 180) – most canceling this past week since the US war against terrorism began.  However, upon meeting some of our fellow passengers, we determined that we were the “spunky” ones and are determined to have a wonderful time!

The crew welcomed us warmly, but we found out later that they were understandably stressed, since the Song of Flower has cancelled its itinerary after this trip for 6 months because of low bookings for the Middle East and Far East in the fall and winter.  Many have been assigned to other Radisson Ships, and some have been “let go” – with the opportunity to re-join in May….. SO sad…..  We toured the ship while waiting for our luggage to arrive – sipping champagne and munching on canapés along the way!  After Paul’s nap and my unpacking, we had dinner in the main dining room during the night passage through the Corinth Canal (delayed by winds ) – amazingly close to the canal walls!  We shared a table with Vickie (travel agent) and Sam (lawyer) from Boca Raton.  I had a wonderful goat cheese appetizer, endive salad, and tender lamb with vegetables.  Paul enjoyed the Chef’s special:  mussels, some salad and fish.  The food was delicious and the service spectacular.  Soon after dinner – to bed and MUCH needed sleep!

            (10-14) Today we had breakfast by the pool – a sumptuous buffet with anything you could possibly want – and eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc. all made to order.  We headed by bus to our first cruise tour to Delfi from the port in the quaint town of Itea.  We wound through dense olive groves before heading up the mountain to the famous ancient ruins thought to have the “perfect” location on three tiers cut out of the mountainside, making them look from above like they were perches in the air!  After touring the museum, we proceeded to climb to the main site where our excellent guide continued to lecture about the fascinating history of this place.  (We bought a book, which I must study!)  From there we continued on our own to the theatre on the 2nd level, then a steep, but worthwhile trek to the stadium at the top.  Whew!  How they managed to get building materials up there is a miracle.

After returning to the ship and lunch, we sat by the pool drinking wine with Kathy and Tom Dugan from near Boulder, CO – fun people!  We were joined by “Captain Dag” in his bathing suit (quite a hunk!), who had us doubled up in laughter with his stories (esp. about the “trophy bride” of the owner of a major brewery who ordered a “screaming orgasm”!…).   After countless glasses of Coppola claret ’97, Paul fell into a nap and I continued with the journal, did my nails, etc. for the formal evening ahead.

            (10-15) Last night’s formal affair was fun.  Had champagne and canapés at the “Captain’s Reception” where we found out that we would NOT be able to go to Mykenos because they had closed the Corinth Canal due to high winds – a real disappointment since we had hoped to be able to photograph the spectacular canal passage in daylight.  Instead we would be docking in Gythion in the southern port of the Peloponnese.

            For the formal dinner, we were guests at the table of Terry Kushner, the social director from Calgary, Canada.  Also at our table were Kathy & Peggy McGillis (mother and daughter from Michigan & DC) and Maryna and Erwin Baide from South Africa.  Paul again ordered the “Chef’s Recommendation”, which included caviar and lobster medallions, and I had escargot, a wonderful salad, and Chateaubriand with an excellent vegetable mélange.  The foods and wines continue to be spectacular.  After dinner we returned to the pool deck for cigars, a fantastic Armagnac brandy (actually several!) in the delightful company of 2 gentlemen from Monaco and Patrick Lescoute, the Maitre D’Hotel. 

            Slept like babies after all the food and drink, and woke as we were docking in  Gythion after the long passage along the west side of the Peloponnese.  It is a charming, picturesque place!  After breakfast, we boarded a bus for our “complimentary” tour of Mystras – after passing through modern Sparta, which was built on top of the ancient ruins (sadly).  Mystras is fascinating – the ruins of a Byzantine city dating back to 1250 AD – thought to be the best preserved Byzantine structures in the world.  The bus left us at the top of the upper city (no time to climb to the castle) and from there we headed DOWN – DOWN – DOWN over a tricky stone trail, visiting churches, the palace and a charming monastery along the way – with spectacular views of the valley.

            We returned to the ship at 1:00, then met Kathy and Tom to go to town in search of authentic Greek seafood for lunch – and we found it!  We were met by a lively young man who spoke some English and insisted his fish was fresh (he proved it by putting them right under my nose!) – so we ordered, and devoured, the tiny little lightly fried fish, batter-fried red mullet, freshly grilled calamari and grilled red snapper – all delicious, and accompanied by Greek salad, tzaziki (a delicious cucumber and yogurt dip), crusty bread, ouzo and retsina.  We will remember fondly the “Sea Tide”, and Tom’s delight in sampling this strange fare (video of the strange fare)!  After lunch we walked across the causeway to the island of Marathonisi, where it is said that Paris and Helen (Queen of Sparta) of the Iliad were said to have had a tryst – then through the charming little town and back to the ship at 5:00.  More tomorrow!…

            (10-16) Last night we had a delicious dinner in the dining room.  I had eggplant soup, an incredible thick fillet of salmon with mashed potatoes and vegetables, and a light mousse pie on mango coulis – the “Wellbeing” menu!  Paul went with the “Chef’s Recommendation”: celery soup, salad, sorbet, reindeer, etc.!  We then went to the main lounge for the show, with singer Dick Lord, the cruise director, and Ray Avon – an aging comedian who tried too hard – tough to play to such a small audience!  Then we were off to the Observation Lounge for drinks and wonderful live music (violin and piano) – a crowd of 3! – then to the nightclub where we joined the Monaco gang and I danced with adorable 15-year-old Julien.  Quite a fun day!

   Today we awoke as we were cruising into beautiful Santorini harbor – a spectacular island that now consists of only the edges of the circle and the remains of the volcano in the center.  Most of the whitewashed buildings are perched along high cliffs – breathtaking!  We took the tender to shore and rode donkeys up the steep zig-zagged path to the top – fun, but a little scary!

            After wandering through the town (filled with tourist souvenir shops and countless beautiful jewelry stores) and a failed attempt at using the phone card, we were finally able to contact Ilias’ friend Christos, who owns a restaurant in Oia – a beautiful town on the tip of the island.  After cappuccino with a view, we hired a taxi and headed to Oia – a lovely small town with fewer tourists and equally spectacular views.  We finally found “Skala” – a lovely restaurant on the side of the cliff.  Christos greeted us warmly and treated us to a wonderful lunch of local favorites, including a crostini-like dish made with hard dark bread, a zucchini & onion loaf served with thick, sweet yogurt, sautéed mushrooms with herbs, eggplant slices with tomato sauce, onion pie in phyllo, and a tender, moist walnut cake with chocolate icing – decadent!  We drank the local wine and had Mezza – a not-too-sweet dessert wine – then were driven by Christos and Martina (Irish-born employee – a real delight!) to the nearby winery he co-owns for a tour and wine-tasting – such fun!  (And it was Christos’ 45th birthday!  He told us that it is tradition to treat your friends on your birthday in Greece – certainly not the American approach, but quite charming.)

            We returned to Fira along the coast behind the main town – beautiful!  Met Tom and Kathy in town, shared our adventures over beer with a view, then headed down via cable car to the tender and a much-needed nap!

 Awoke just in time to dress for dinner at Jarle Jensen’s table (Staff Captain) in the company of Bob and Alice from Chicago, and Jochen and Brigitte from Germany.  Another wonderful meal:  raw tuna & caviar, French onion soup and lamb with veggies.  Then to the show, where Terry Kushner – and excellent singer – put on an entertaining show to a very appreciative crowd.  We then retired to the pool deck with the Monaco gang and Tom and Kathy (celebrating their 25th anniversary) for outstanding 1968 Larrissingle Tres Viele Armagnac and cigars – later joined by Ole Petter Asp, the rather inebriated Chief Engineer.  The crew’s sadness is becoming more obvious…..

            (10-17) Can’t believe that it’s Wednesday already!  We’ve docked at the island of Rhodes and had an interesting day touring the old town – an old medieval city with a fascinating history – narrow, winding streets with thick stone walls, open plazas, an excellent archeology museum in the old vast Knights of St John Hospital, and many, many shops and restaurants.  We met Kathy and Tom in town, had a quick lunch of “authentic” gyros made from slices of pork roasted on a spit (not the cones of pressed minced meat that we have at home!) – delicious!  We then did some souvenir shopping before returning to the ship and a relaxing afternoon poolside visiting with new friends.  Tonight we’ll dine at “Angelos” – the Italian restaurant on ship – then the “Liar’s Club”…..

            Dinner was OK, but less than memorable – a little sample of LOTS of food and plenty of wine.  The Liar’s Club was fun – then we had the nightly ritual on the pool deck with Finn and Bernard (the “Monaco Boys”) – cigars, cognac and delightful conversation.

(10-18) Today we docked at Kusadasi, Turkey – a lovely, lively port that has adopted tourism in a big way.  We took the tour to the ancient ruins at Ephesus – guided by Nuran – an extremely bright and dynamic Turkish woman – very liberated, “happily divorced” --- an outstanding experience!  In perfect American English (she studied in the States) she led us through this fascinating site, which is under extensive restoration.  The walk ended at the fantastic ancient theatre where one of the ship’s singers, “Staci” (from Baltimore!) thrilled us with part of an aria with incredible acoustics.  The tour ended back in town at a huge rug shop, where we enjoyed some traditional hot green apple tea during a lecture and display of the Turkish carpet industry.  Countless carpets were ceremoniously spread on the floor around the room, including classic designs, tribal designs, and some priceless silks – all exquisite and of high quality – with beautiful designs and colors.  Tempting, but we decided not to endure the shopping and bargaining required to purchase one…..

            We then headed to the Internet Café near the ship terminal and were warmly greeted by Yusuf (Joseph), who spoke excellent English.  (He studied English in school and for one year took ALL classes in English – then graduated from college as a food processing engineer.  However, because their economy is in a major crisis since April, he took the job here.  He is applying for a student visa to come to the US for graduate school.)  He invited us to the roof of their building for a wonderful view of the harbor – then, of course, introduced us to the jewelry store downstairs… We were pleasantly strong-armed into looking at many beautiful pieces…. And finally succumbed and I chose my Christmas present – a gold bracelet with many small emeralds – beautiful workmanship, but only an appraisal will tell whether we got a “deal”!….

            We asked Yusuf to take us to his favorite place for lunch (OUR treat), and after walking ~ 20 minutes through town and past many vendors, we arrived at “Summer Sun” – a popular spot for locals and visitors (esp. British and Dutch), where the owner ordered a typical Turkish meal for us, accompanied by local wine, beer, and a strong ouzo-like drink called “Raki”.  Lunch was delicious – small “cheese cigars”, followed by a dish of thin strips of beef cooked with onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, hot peppers and spices – served on a large flat pan over flame and accompanied by delicious bread soaked in the sauce, Turkish rice, sliced tomatoes, and some English “chips”.  Everyone is SO friendly – eager to know what we think of their country, and assuring us that they like Americans.

            On our walk back we made a few small purchases – bargaining aided by Yusuf!  We said goodbye after an exchange of photos and email addresses – then returned to the ship – eager to share our adventure over wine at poolside.

 

              Paul had only a brief nap and I prepared for the “Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party” and dinner.  This time we ate at the table of the Chief and First Electricians – accompanied by Kathleen and Peggy, the couple from South Africa, and met for the first time a couple from Boston with the Dartmouth Tour Group on board.  (They had 56 signed up for this trip, then both lecturers backed out and only 17 showed up!)  The meals are SO decadent!  I had a jumbo prawn stuffed with crabmeat and caviar, a delicious salad, and roasted quail stuffed with foie gras and truffles (see menus).  After dinner Paul joined the Monaco Boys and I went to the show – a cute ‘50’s and ‘60’s rock and roll review by the four excellent singers on board.

            (10-19) Today we again headed out on tour at 8:15 AM – this time from our port in Dikili, Turkey (a lot less flashy than Kusadasi) to the beautiful Acropolis at Pergamon (less restored than Ephesus) and the ancient healing area at Asklepsion.  We were delighted that Narun was again our tour guide – her agency arranged for her to meet us in Dikili, and we were again amazed, entertained and informed by her enthusiastic tour.  After four very full hours, we returned to the ship for lunch and left port about 1:30.  It’s hard to believe that our trip is almost over!  We had a wonderful relaxing lunch, taking lots of pictures of friends on the pool deck and during a fascinating visit to the bridge – lots of equipment – all computerized – but still loaded with maps, flags, charts, etc. 

Friday night we had a pleasant time – cocktails with our new friends in the Observation Lounge – then dinner with Alice and Bob (celebrating Alice’s 75th birthday!),  Kathy and Tom, and Nan and Dick.  The meal, as always, was delicious (forgot what we had since so much time has passed ….see menus – always a welcome souvenir of a cruise – all you have to do is ask!).  After dinner we went to the Farewell Show, then everyone turned in fairly early, since we were all scheduled to leave the ship between 8 & 8:30 AM!   Breakfast was tough – the crew were all so sad, no new passengers arriving and only some of them scheduled to accompany the ship to Genoa before reassignment.

 Continued in Istanbul