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Published: September 9th 2013
Our home for 7 nights.
We have returned to Dubrovnik and Hotel Lapad. Our room is perfect. I am not convinced that we were upgraded as we were told we were when we were here last as this room is far more luxurious. Admittedly the room we had before we went on the cruise was in the old part of the hotel, a building with historical significance, but this room is new and has a balcony and magnificent view of Port Gruz. We are a little weary and I have caught a cold virus so we will order in tonight and have dinner on the balcony!
There is much to say about our seven days at sea so sit back and relax because this may take a while! I alluded in the last blog entry that the Panorama was 'interesting'. Keep in mind this is not a cruise ship as such. The Panorama is a three masted sail cruiser. It holds 49 passengers and has 25 cabins. It was launched in 1993, rebuilt in 2008 and refurbished in 2009. Fair to say it was not quite what we expected. The Variety Cruises website promo and accompanying photographs are a little misleading. The furnishings in the
public areas are dated and tired but acceptable. Our cabin was a little below par. Again, furnishings were dated and tired, the linen in dire need of replacement and I definitely had issues with the bathroom. Now I know I'm a little obsessed with cleanliness but the 'marble' bathroom, though clean in every other respect, had mould on the lip of the basin, in the shower and on the shower curtain. Keep in mind this was not an inexpensive cruise and ours was a Category A cabin. What to do? Our options were to suck it up and deal or complain. We chose the former. Complaining at this late stage wasn't going to achieve anything and potentially would spoil what we hoped would be a lovely relaxing week at sea.
We unpacked and settled into our cabin. Not living out of a suitcase, even for a short while, was going to be a pleasant change. Early evening we were called to the main lounge for a briefing about life on board the boat from the cruise coordinator, Dietmar, a German who has lived in Greece for the last 17 years. This was followed by a welcome from our very,
Entrance to Old Town
very Greek captain Dimos Tsirogiannis. Oh and of course the obligatory emergency procedures spiel! The final make up of 35 passengers included 20 Australians with the remaining 15 made up of Americans, Frenchmen, Belgians, Germans, New Zealanders and one solitary Englishman. We were fortunate that all the passengers and crew were lovely but more on them later. I did find the Frenchwoman a bit hard to take. I'm not good with people that constantly need to be the centre of attention. My bad.
The evening meal was wonderful as were all the meals throughout the entire cruise. If you enjoy Greek food as we do then you would think you had died and gone to heaven. Dolmades, olives, feta, grilled vegetables, tzatziki, fresh seafood, baklava . . . We were also introduced by Captain Dimos to raki, the Greek version of the Italian grappa. Spiros, the boat's Hotel Manager, served the 40% proof raki from a plastic water bottle which raised a few eyebrows. Clearly moonshine. A few passengers managed to drink the raki but Clive and I couldn't manage it though in order to be sociable we did try! It smelled, and therefore I assume tasted, alarmingly like
Ruins of Old Bar
the nail polish remover I had purchased a few days earlier. Sleep was not going to be an issue for some this evening. In the early hours of the morning, when we were all tucked up in our beds, the boat set off for the island of Korsula, one of the most beautiful ports in Dalmatia and the birthplace of Marco Polo.
The following morning the boat moored in the clear green seas of the Adriatic Sea and we swam off the boat. Just heavenly. Refreshed and back on board at midday we were served an ouzo and grilled octopus like we have never tasted before it was just so soft and juicy. More heaven. Spiros then barbequed marinated lamb cutlets on the back deck. Mouth wateringly delicious! No one can cook lamb quite like the Greeks. I lost count of how many we managed to consume. They just kept coming and coming . . . Imagine our surprise when we were told this was just an entree and there would be a lunch buffet!
Mid afternoon we arrived in the port of Korcula, Croatia. We waddled off the boat with the other passengers who had decided to
Locals selling fresh produce.
take the Korcula tour. Tours are offered at most of the scheduled ports of call. They are optional and not included in the cost of the cruise. As they are a little pricey we decided we would only do those that really appealed to us and which took us to places that would be difficult to get to on our own. The tour of Korcula Island took us to the rural village of Lumbarda and a winery that produces a dry white wine from the Grk grape which is unique to the Island. We were offered a taste of the dry white, a red wine and also liqueurs produced by the winery. The lovely little snack of goat feta, olives, salted anchovy like fish and fresh bread that was offered during the wine tasting went down a treat! The dry white wine was divine, clean, crisp and nice and dry. We bought a couple of bottles of the wine and also a bottle of tangerine liqueur to take home. We're not all that confident that we will have the will power not to open the wine before we get home. Time will tell! After the winery the bus took us
Greek Cooking Lesson
Spiros teaching us how to make Tzatziki on board the Panorama.
to the Old Town of Korcula for a guided waking tour. The layout of the streets in the Old Town is something akin to a fish bone. This was done on purpose to allow maximum opportunity for the different winds to move through the town and clear the air. The Old Town was a walled city, built primarily to keep out pirates during the early 17th century and, according to historical records, suffocatingly hot in the summer. The architecture is mainly Venetian Renaissance and very beautiful. We visited the Cathedral of St Mark which showcases the incredible talents of Korcula's legendary stone masons and also the alleged birth house of Marco Polo. No historical records exist to confirm where Marco Polo was born. Venice also claims him as their own as this is where he was based as an adult when not on one of his many travels. What records do show is that his mother was born and lived in Korcula, hence the theory that this was Marco Polo's actual place of birth and not Venice.
The following day we stopped in Bar, Montenegro. Bar is the centre of municipality and a major seaport of Montenegro. Montenegro was
Swimming in the Ionian Sea.
part of the former Yugoslavia before the disintegration of the Soviet Union and then part of Serbia from which it gained independence in 2006. We decided against the organised tour and instead caught a taxi (ridiculously cheap) to Old Bar, one of the world's largest fortified archaeological sites. Old Bar is located in a small valley at the base of Mount Rumija near the Adriatic Sea. The ruins include churches and buildings from different epochs, squares, medieval palaces and houses. It is hard to imagine that the town was once abundant with life. Over the centuries it was taken over by the Venetians, the Serbians, the Hungarians and the Ottoman Empire. In 1877 Montenegro reclaimed Bar from Turkey but not before the Turks bombed it and caused considerable damage. It was rebuilt but in 1979 Bar was seriously damaged once again, this time by an earthquake. The community was abandoned and Old Bar was left in ruins. Fascinating. Before we left Old Bar we strolled through surrounding streets lined with iconic little cafes and market stalls selling locally grown fruit and vegetables. I had the best freshly squeezed orange juice ever, a just reward after traipsing through the ruins in
Swimming in the Ionian Sea.
the blinding heat!
We returned to the boat and to a lesson from Spiros on how to make true Greek Tzatziki. Here goes:
1 litre of Greek yoghurt, 2 lebanese cucumbers grated and drained of all excess fluid, 150 grams fresh dill, 1 clove of garlic, dash of white wine vinegar, virgin olive oil, pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Fold the well drained grated cucumber into the Greek yoghurt. Add the vinegar, dill, garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.
Simple but delicious!
The remainder of the afternoon, evening and early hours of the following morning were spent cruising the Adriatic Sea. Our next stop was the Island of Paxos, Greece, but first a quick customs check in Corfu, mandatory when entering a EU country. En-route to Paxos the boat moored in a beautiful bay off the island Antipaxos on the Ionian Sea so we could swim off the boat before lunch. The water is turquoise, crystal clear and even more beautiful than we expected. Swimming in it was an incredible experience. What a joy! After lunch a few of the crew
The beautiful village of Paxos.
transported those who wanted to swim at the beach in the tender. Stepping out of the tender Clive Lost his footing on the slippery rocks and his feet went out from underneath him. He landed with a thud on his backside but unbelievably stood up uninjured. Equally important no damage to our camera that he was carrying in his bag! The man knows how to fall. Returning to the tender after our glorious swim at the beach it was my turn to fall. I think Clive would agree my fall was far more spectacular. We took extra care as we trod the slippery rocks but as I stepped into the tender I held on to a small island tour boat moored next to the tender for balance. All well and good except that it decided to take off while I was still holding on to it so I Lost my balance and fell into the water between the tour boat and our tender. Quite spectacular apparently. All I could think when I was under water was would I hit my head on the boat or the tender when I came to the surface. Pleased to say I didn't panic although
Busy street in Old Town.
from the look on everyone's face when I rose to the surface perhaps I had reason to! The young Assistant Captain who jumped in to rescue me was stricken. Poor man, I think I gave him heart failure. I recall him calling out to the driver of the tour boat to stop just before I fell. He maintains that the driver knew perfectly well what was happening but carried on regardless. Apparently there is recent history between the tour boat and the Panorama. Something to do with having to share mooring rights at the beach and the tour boat not being happy that this is the case. So my fall into the water was in part due to a Greek turf dispute. Awesome.
We arrived in Paxos, the smallest inhabited island in the Ionian Sea, early evening. They call Paxos an island paradise and they could not be more right. It is an absolute treasure. Paxos has no airport, can only be reached by boat (cruise liners excluded) and therefore has been able to protect itself from the strain of modern tourism. The capital of Paxos is Gaios a picturesque village built around a port and this is where
we moored. The pace of life there is unhurried, very relaxing with genuine friendly Greek hospitality. I feel like I should say more it was so perfect but all I can say is everything that you imagine when you think 'Greek island' is Paxos. Our only regret is that our stay was so short but we will return and next time we will say a while!
Early the next day we arrived in Corfu, the second largest of the Ionian Islands. It is bound by the history of Greece from the beginning of Greek mythology and is integral to the legend of Poseidon, god of the sea. The island is also laden with battles and conquests, the legacy of which is evident by the many strategically placed castles across the Island. From medieval times and into the 17th century the island became one of the most fortified cities in Europe and as a result has been officially declared a 'castle city' by the Government of Greece. We took the tour option in Corfu and visited the Archilleion Palace, built by the Empress Elisabeth 'Sissy' of Austria in 1891. Her story is such a sad one. Well worth researching if
you feel so inclined. The palace is beautiful but in urgent need of restoration. The French have agreed to a preservation tax to ensure that their historical buildings remain intact but sadly the people of Greece are in no position to do the same. The tour bus continued with a scenic tour past Perama coastal resort and famous Mouse Island, so called because of its shape. We couldn't see that it looked like a mouse but neither of us could ever be accused of having a good imagination! Once we arrived in Old Town we walked the narrow cobblestone streets, visited the Royal Palace of St George and St Michael, the 300 year old church of St Spiridon and climbed the 15th Century Venetian Fortress. The view of Corfu Town and the Ionian Sea from the top of the fortress was spectacular. When the tour concluded we stayed on in the Old Town and visited the busy shopping district. Only it wasn't busy. In the morning you couldn't move in Old Town but in the afternoon, once the cruise liner docked at Port had left with its 4000 passengers, it was delightful. It also happened to be 'mesimeri' or 'rest
Urgent renovations required!
time' which meant a number of shops were closed making the town even more peaceful. During mesimeri Clive and I stumbled across a gorgeous little restaurant and feasted on grilled calamari, grilled vegetables and Greek salad. What a life! Just as with the Archilleion Palace, many of the buildings in Corfu Town are in a sorry state. In fact many are in far worse condition than the Palace. The Venetian and French architecture is beautiful but so much is in such disrepair you have to wonder if their restoration is even possible. A Greek tragedy!
In the evening a traditional Greek dance troupe came on board and put on a show. They were gorgeous young people who were clearly enjoying dancing for us. I was dragged up, reluctantly, to dance Zorba the Greek. I can think of worse things than dancing with a good looking young Greek man so I gave it my best shot. Even Clive was pulled up to dance later in the night. Not sure what it was he was doing but he looked like he was in pain!
The following day the boat travelled the short distance to Saranda, Albania. Albania is one of
Traditional Dance Troupe on board the Panoroma.
the poorest countries in Europe which is painfully evident. Half finished buildings litter the town, their construction halted as a result of the GFC and, with few exceptions, are in disrepair. The unemployment rate is around 13% which is high but nothing like Greece's 26%. Having said that given that the unemployment rate is the number of people actively looking for a job divided by the work force this figure may not be all that accurate. The town was full of men sitting in cafes or just generally lounging around in public spaces. We're not convinced that there is too much 'actively looking for work' happening here! Still, lots of tourist potential. Warm summers, beautiful beaches, inexpensive and to be fair there are some lovely seaside restaurants and cafes. Clearly some investment is needed. Apparently Russia is interested . . . We opted out of the tour to the archeological site in Butrint. There is another tomorrow in Kotor, Montenegro and there are only so many ruins you can see in one week.
We awoke next morning to the boat navigating its way through the spectacular Bay of Kotor, the southern most fjord in Europe. Strictly speaking it is
The Archilleon Palace.
not a fjord but apparently if it looks like a fjord . . . The view from the boat of the steep mountains and Kotor's Old Town nestled high on the cliffs as we entered the bay was sensational. We had the morning to ourselves to roam about Kotor's Old Town (Stari Grad) and although we hadn't planned to we decided to climb up to the Castle of San Giovanni or in Montenegrin, Tvrdare Kotora, a 9th Century fortress. I was wearing inappropriate footwear for hiking but when we bought our tickets (yes you pay for the privilege of punishing yourself) the young man assured us it was steps all the way. Turned out he was using a bit of poetic licence. There are 1,350 steps to the top of the wall (think Jacobs Ladder times five and a half) and it is 1200 metres high. One gruelling, steep climb. To add to the misery it was hot and humid and many of the steps are crumbling to the point of being almost non-existent. I don't know what we were thinking. Anyhow we made it to the top and the view was, well, yet again, breathtaking. Definitely worth the pain.
Unfinished, abandoned buildings.
Back to the boat for a shower and lunch and then we were off on a mini bus that took us up Trojica Hill above Kotor to the village of Njegvsi. The road is one way and narrow and curvy. There is 'just' enough room to pull over if you meet oncoming traffic. On one occasion we came up against a truck on a bend. I don't know how our driver or the driver of the truck managed to get past one another but they did. We definitely don't want to relive that experience! Up in the village we stopped at a cafe and tasted the local smoked ham and cheese and sampled their red wine and cherry liqueur. Back in Old Town we visited the Cathedral of St Triphon and the Napoleon Theatre. The entire city is criss-crossed with narrow streets and squares and contains an abundance of well restored and maintained medieval architecture. Kotor is fast becoming one of the top Mediterranean destinations. It really is quite perfect.
Our last evening and it was the night of the Captain's Dinner. Along with three others we were invited to be guests of the Captain and dine with him
Sunset on the Adriatic Sea.
at his table. You know what that means don't you? You are served first and don't have to pay for your own drinks! Jokes aside it was a real treat. Captain Dimos is, as I said earlier, very, very Greek. He is a tall 'generous' man with a beautiful smile and mischievous eyes. A real character! Dining with him was such a highlight.
So, before I finish the cruise blog entry a few quick words about some of the other passengers we met on board whose company we enjoyed and made the cruise that much more enjoyable. From Australia Andrea and Mark two lovely down to earth New South Welshmen. I particularly enjoyed spending time with Andrea. She is good company and can laugh at herself. Andrea and Mark were the other couple invited to dine with Captain Dimos. Sandra, a young Puerto Rican gynecologist who resides and works in Pennsylvania. . . or was that Philadelphia? Beautiful, intelligent fascinating and and a wonderful conversationalist. Equally fascinating and wonderful to have a conversation with was Leslie, an archaeological architect. Marcie and Steve, a really lovely, recently retired, Amercian couple travelling around Europe for four months. Always smiling and friendly.
Made it to the top of San Giovanni Castle. Yay!
Marcie is also doing a blog of her travels and we have exchanged blog addresses. Brigid and Thomas, an elderly German couple. We had a few fascinating conversations with Brigid in particular about Nazi Germany. Gary and Sue, New Zealanders living in London. Committed naturalists. (Not sure we needed to know.) Paul, an Englishman in his thirties looking for love. The wrong age geographic on this cruise although he did seem keen on one of the young Ukrainian hotel staff!
Finally, did we enjoy the cruise? Yes, absolutely. Would we go on another cruise? Yes . . . and no. If we were to go on another cruise it would have to be on a bigger boat. Not one of those cruise liner monstrosities that carry thousand of passengers and are virtual cities in themselves. I've already done some research and there are some nice little ships that carry say, around 500/600 people. Why? Firstly there is no anonymity on a boat this size. No opportunity to be on your own as an individual or a couple on the boat unless you stay in your cabin which wasn't a great option on the Panorama. Secondly, a boat this size
View of Kotor Bay from the top of San Giovanni Castle.
means you feel every bit of swell. There were a few times I felt quite unwell. Thirdly, there was a little too much structure and regimentation. Although you could opt out of the tours you really couldn't opt out of the on board activities. Also meals were served at set times. You couldn't bring forward or delay when you ate your meals. The positive aspects of the cruise were that we met some really interesting people with whom we had some fascinating conversations and that we visited places that the large ships can not reach and we would never have visited otherwise. Places like Paxos and Kotor were absolute treasures and we we wouldn't have missed seeing them for anything.
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