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Published: August 8th 2019
No I'm not on my bike! Karen and I are taking a cruise on the Windstar lines through the Greek Isles. I've had a few people ask if I would consider blogging on this trip even though, it isn't one of my bike trips. Some of the readers were interested in both the cruise aspect of the trip as well as, how well we liked the Greek Isles and Dubrovnik, Croatia. These blogs will focus on information and education regarding our cruise and what to expect or look out for, rather than the spontaneity of my bike blogs.
Info piece #1 BOOK EARLY. Karen and I have only been on one cruise before (River cruise on the Danube between Germany and Hungary), which for the cruise ship enthusiasts out there- doesn't even qualify as a cruise 😊 . I figured 5-6 months was plenty of time to book and still get the cabin choices we wanted. Wrong-I had to be put on a waiting list. I assumed this was because the vessel we are on holds a total of 310 passengers. However I've since heard from more experienced cruisers the rule for the big ships -earlier is
better. Consider booking a minimum of 9 - 12+ months before your trip. On the flip side of this argument- if you aren't particular about your room type you can go the complete opposite route and try to catch a deal toward the end of the booking period. It will all depend on your flexibility and desired cabin type. Karen and I were lucky, we asked to be put on the waiting list for a room with two bathrooms and a about a month before we sailed we got the cabin of our choice.
We chose the Windstar line primarily for two reasons 1.) Because it is a small ship (approx. 300 ft.) it can get into some of the ports and routes in the Greek Isles which are inaccessible by the behemoth cruise ships carrying 3,000+ passengers. 2.) We wanted a smaller more intimate vessel (Windstar ships carry between 100 -310 passengers). We ended up on the Windsurf (their flagship carrying 310 passengers). Our cruise starts and ends in Athens, Greece and covers 8 ports of call and Athens over a 10 day period.
Karen and I decided to fly in a day early and spend an
afternoon and evening in Athens before we were scheduled to board the following day. This also gave us some wiggle room should we have any flight delays. We stayed at the Marriott Autograph Academia Hotel in Athens, which just recently opened in May of this year. It was fantastic and centrally located. The highlight of our short stay in Athens before boarding the ship was the dinner choice we made - we ate at the "cave of the acropolis restaurant" which sits right at the base of the iconic site. Besides an awesome view and fantastic Greek food, live Greek music was playing. A great kickoff to our trip.
The following day (day 2) we caught a taxi to the cruise terminals and boarded the Windsurf. The ship departed Athens about 5:00 PM in route to Nafplio, Greece for our first stop.
A word of caution: All of the stops on this trip will involve lots of history spanning from 2,500 B.C. to present day. If history is not your bag you will still be able to pick up lots about the local current day cultures and the sheer beauty of the country side on this trip. However,
to get the full effect of this particular cruise and its associated tours, enjoying history and being able to imagine what it was like 2,000 years ago, as you walk down the marble path making up the main street of the excavation of the ancient city of Ephesus. Knowing you are walking on the same blocks of marble which the likes of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra traversed thousands of years earlier. Imagine standing on the stage of a 14,000 seat theater at Epidarus created before 500 years before Christ was born and hearing the incredible acoustics in the theater which can not be fully explained today. However, as you can see from the pictures I've included, the historically agnostic can enjoy the beautiful scenery with the same vigor as the historians 😊
Each of the stops has a number of tour options which are diverse in both length and challenge. While most of the tours will focus on the many archaeological sites throughout the Greek isles, we also made a stop in Kusadasi, Turkey to see the amazing site of the city of Ephesus. As a special treat our cruise line was somehow able to get permission to host
a dinner on the Ephesus site directly under the 24,000 seat theater of Ephesus. It required two years of planning for the Windstar line to pull it off but it was a magnificent dinner and stunning view (definitely one of the trip highlights).
Some of the tours are more strenuous (they are duly noted on the tour descriptions), and mid summer temperatures in Greece are in the 80's, 90's and even over 100 degrees. The walks up to the acropolis's and forts are fairly long climbs on uneven stones. I looked like I had just jumped in the water when I got to the top of the Acropolis of Lindos 😊 That said: the reward for the effort is great - both awe inspiring views of the ruins and breath taking 360 degree observations of the town of Lindos and the coast line of Rhodes.
Here's a listing of the tours we took (many others were offered) and a few comments about the tour. Note: many more options were offered including private tours but I'm listing the ones Karen and I experienced directly. Note: The pictures are not in Chronilogical order because of time constraints- however most are
labeled as to where they were taken. (Between our phone camera's and our Nikon we captured approximately 1,200 pictures so this is a very brief glimpse).
Stop 1 Nafplio Greece: Theatre of Epidaurus & Venetian Fortress- approx. 5 hours starts with the amazing 14,000 person theatre built in the 4th century BC - the acoustics are remarkable, you can drop a coin at center stage and here it on the last row- the theatre is still used today. Ends with a tour of the Venetian Fortress of Palamidi which was later used as a prison by the Turks. Jim B+ Karen B-
Stop 2 Mykonos, Greece: Karen did the "Five Senses of Mykonos" tour and I went to a 5 star resort on Mykonos for a morning of swimming and relaxation. Karen's 5 senses tour included stops at little Venice and Old town Mykonos' windmills, as well as, the most photographed church of Paraportiani. Then a visit to a pastry shop and winery. They made a number of other stops for photo ops during the 5 1/2 hour bus and walking tour. Yours truly- took a 30 minute bus ride to a beautiful 5 star resort
overlooking Mykonos Bay and had access to their infinity pool overlooking the bay and with cocktails being served poolside. Karen A Jim B+ (there was supposed to be a beach at the resort but the beach was quite a ways away). In the afternoon Karen took me on the walking tour she did so I saw about half of her tour as well.
Stop 3 Ermoupoli, Syros, Greece: Karen and I took the Transfer to Kini Beach. 30 minute bus ride landed us at Kini Beach where we had reserved lounge chairs on the beach with cocktails and croissants. Very relaxing the water was wonderful- in fact the sand at Kini beach has unusually high mica content which makes the water look like it has tiny diamonds suspended in it. Karen B Jim A- (would have given it a A but we should have had more time there).
Stop 4 Kusadasi, Turkey: Ephesus and the Virgin Mary's house approx 5 hours. Started with a short bus drive up the mountain to the last known home of the Virgin Mary. We then drove back down the mountain to the upper part of the Ephesus ruins then walked down through
the entire ancient city of Ephesus dating back to the Hellenistic period where archaeologists have uncovered about 25 % of the ancient city including the 24,000 person Odeon theatre where St. Paul preached to the pagans in his attempt to convert them to Christianity. This theatre is also in use today and is where we had our special dinner on the main harbor road of Ephesus (see the pictures). Ephesus also included the Celsus Library and the Hadrian Temple. After the tours it is required by Turkish law that tours end with at a rug factory. We saw silk being processed straight from the silk cocoons into thread. The rugs were amazing and amazingly expensive- while we didn't buy a rug - a number people from our vessel had rugs shipped back home Note: rug values ranged from $500 to $25,000+ and included shipping. Jim A+ Karen A+ (where comfortable walking shoes).
Stop 5 Patmos Greece: We were originally scheduled to see the Monastery of St. John and the Cave of St. John this is where John was exiled from Ephesus and where he wrote part of the apocalypse. However, Karen and I decided to take a day off
of touring and went to the boats marina and swam off the back of the boat while we were at tender anchor. The Marina received A+ for both of us.
Stop 6 Isle of Rhodes, Greece: The Acropolis of Lindos- 5 hours.- The spec sheets calls this a moderate walking challenge which is a bunch of hooey! after a one hour bus ride we arrived at the base of the Acropolis and started our climb to the acropolis on top of the mountain where the temple of Athena was built in 4th century BC. After a very steep climb, you reached the sub- summit and then started the climb to the summit - about 1/3 of our group stopped at the sub summit. When we reached the summit we were rewarded with spectacular views of the island and bays surrounding Rhodes, as well as, the stunning remains of the acropolis. Note: some of you may be wondering about the Colossus of Rhodes. When the ship came into the Rhodes harbor we say the pillars that once housed the Colossus statue which ships passed under when the came into the port, but the giant statue has been destroyed by earthquakes
and erosion and the pillars are all that remain. Jim A Karen A
Stop 6 Agios Nikolaos (Crete) Greece: Elouda and Spinaloga - 4 1/2 hours. The tour included a 1 hour bus ride to Elounda a small fishing village in Crete, we then boarded a ferry which took us out to the Island of Spinaloga. Spinaloga is a fishing village and a huge fortification built by the Venetians during the Byzantine empire in the 13th century where it remained in Venetian control for 400 years until the Ottoman Empire took it over in 1715. In the early 20th century as the Ottoman empire was declining the fort became a leper colony from 1904 to 1956. Before taking us back to the ship we stopped at a pottery factory and saw some pieces being made. I thought the pottery factory was the most interesting part of the Crete trip. Karen B Jim B-
Stop 7 Santorini Greece: Island overview and Oia village. 5 hours- The bus drives you to the top of Santorini for photo ops then we drove to the village of Oia (pronounced "EE a"). Oia is loaded with the Blue dommed churches for which Santorini
is famous. Karen and I happened upon this little restaurant in Oia where we had to walk down into the shop then came out on a balcony. Right in front of us was the most beautiful picture of a Blue dommed church overlooking the bay (see the picture). After walking about Oia and shopping we walked through the very crowded town to the cable car to make our way back down to the harbor to find our tender back to the boat. Santorini is an absolute must see if you go to Greece or any where near the island. It is very crowded because the big cruise ships also put into port there but crowds or no crowds - it is absolutely a fabulous view! Karen A+++ Jim A+++
Stop 8 Monemvassia, Greece: Monemvassia Castle and Liotrivi Olive Oil factory (mansion). We took a 30 minute bus ride to the middle of the island where the Liotrivi Olive Oil factory is located. The world renowned poet Ritsos' family owned the mansion while he was growing up. A family of 4 cousins own the mansion now and manage 3,000 olive trees and produce some of the highest quality olive oil
on the market. We not only learned all about Olive oil and how to best use Olive oil in cooking but we also were given a bread making demonstration from scratch. After sampling the bread, various olive oils and wines made on the estate, we took the bus back to the port. The temp was in the mid 90's so Karen and I decided to skip the castle tour and head to the water party off the back of our boat. Before we caught the tender back to the boat we stopped at a small restaurant in town to try their baklava and a cup of cappuccino. I decide that since every stop on our cruise had Baklava as a food choice, I'd see how the baklava's matched up with Sophi's baklava at the Meadows restaurant in Franksville Wisconsin. Sophi and her husband Jim are both from Greece. When ever Sophi made baklava for her church she would save a piece for my brother and I (Bill and I ate lunch their 3 out of 5 days a week for about 5 years). From Athens to Kusadasi to Mykonos and on board ship the baklava's while good, didn't come near
Sophi's level. However, the baklava I had in Monemvassia at the restaurant by the bridge was at least equal to Sophi's. That say's a lot because I didn't expect to find one that good. Karen A Jim A
Other Cruise comments: Our friends ( Don Ruggles family) had suggested the Windstar cruise lines because they had taken a similar trip a few years earlier and commented that it was their favorite vacation! Like Don, Karen and I have been blessed to be able to travel a fair amount and we would put this trip as one of our top trips we've taken. The awesome people we met on the ship and on the tours were as memorable as the sites themselves. The smaller boat meant we had the chance to get to know nearly a quarter or more of the passengers. Since Karen and I are both water people, we looked forward to the afternoons when the marina opened on board the boat- the back of the boat opened up and a series of rafts and floats were tied off the back when we were sitting at tender. (at tender means we were anchored and not at dock.) We
were able to swim, kayak, or paddle board off the back of the boat. The med water temp was about 77-80 degrees and air temp in the 90's.
The Windstar is not an inexpensive venture but the quality of the food and staff make it worth the money in my opinion. If you like a little more room try getting the double room with two bathrooms and a sitting area.
We docked in Athens about 7:00 AM after our 10 days at sea and exited the ship about 8:45. Windstar had arranged a cab to the airport for Karen and I which meant we arrived at the airport quite a bit before our 1:30 flight to Dubrovnik. There were a few passengers that were staying on for the next leg of the journey into the Adriatic Sea via Corinth - Venicia and Dubrovnik. (there were also 3 couples who boarded the first leg of the vessels Med voyage in Portugal and would be on the ship for the entire 51 day voyage through the Med.). 51 days on board is extreme even by my standards😊.
We arrived in Dubrovnik mid afternoon after
picking up an hour time change. We had booked rooms at the Excelsior (thanks to a suggestion by one of our Croatian suppliers (Julija) who waived me off of my first hotel choice by letting me know that the Excelsior was the best hotel in Dubrovnik. Everyone of the Game of Thrones (GOT) stars stayed at the Excelsior. Kings landing was out our rooms window to the right and straight ahead was the island where the Iron throne sits. Thanks Julija, the Excelsior was fantastic!
We donned our swimming suits and went down to the water front at the hotel and swam in the Adriatic. The water was just as wonderful as it was swimming off the boat. We walked to the Old town Dubrovnik (Kings Landing) and had dinner in the old port. Walking around Old Dubrovnik was like being in an episode of GOT, it was easy to picture where various scenes were shot in the castle. Our cab driver suggested we have dinner at a special Croatian restaurant where they cook under a bell.
I've included a picture but it is basically meat, potatoes, and vegetables placed under a big iron bell then the hot
coals are placed on top of the bell to cook the food in what I would term a reverse American barbecue. We had to order a day in advance as it cooks for 4 hours. We had planned to rent a car and drive to a national park in Croatia but we heard that it can take as much as 4 hours to cross the Bosnian border to get to the park. Instead we took the cable car up to the top of Dubrovnik (about 450 meters), had lunch up there and visited the war museum dedicated to the Croatian - Bosnian - Serbian war (1991-1995) resulting from the break up of Yugoslavia. You can tell some people in Croatia still have a little bit of an "edge" on them perhaps resulting from the war. However, everyone was very polite and helpful. I think the added tourism from the GOT has overwhelmed the Croatian people just a little.
Croatia is a member of the EU but is not on the Euro (Kuna which is about 6.5 to 1 for the dollar). For sheer beauty it is hard to beat the cliff side views in Dubrovnik. The Adriatic Sea is
great for swimming, boating, kayaking, or just observing the views. As I mentioned the Island across from our hotel, reachable by a short ferry ride, was also used in the GOT and has the Iron Thrown housed on the Island from GOT.
After 3 wonderful nights in Dubrovnik we caught a plane back to Athens for the last two nights of our 17 day trip. We didn't have time to do any of the sites when we arrived so we left a day to see the primary Athens sites: The Acropolis, The Parthenon, Zeus's temple, and the Temple of Poseidon. Since we only would have one day to do all 4 of these sites I used American Express to set up a private driver and tour guide for us. We started out at 8:00 and finished at 3:00. The walk up to the Parthenon and Acropolis wasn't nearly as tough as the Acropolis of Lindo's on the Isle of Rhodes. It also helped that we got there before the crowds and the heat kicked in big time. Zeus's temple was not much of site but it was on the way out of town as we made the 1 hour
and 15 minute drive south of the city to the temple of Poseidon. The ocean drive was as cool as, the Temple itself. Our driver was a great historian and we learned much about both Greek Mythology and real Greek history. We will be spending our last night in Athens at a port side restaurant called Zorba's.
I'm going to test the limits of this travel blog software with the number of pictures I'm going to attempt to down load into this blog. Be sure to click below the text so you
see the other pictures that are hidden below the text. I apologize for the sloppy writing on this blog and the numerous errors but I had limited time and a lot of areas to cover over 17 days and 3 countries (Greece, Turkey, Croatia). No Guinness to report on but my favorite local Greek beer is "Fix" (although I had a number of good ones Fix stood out). If you've considered this type of vacation my advice is the same as it is for any adventure you may be considering " DON'T WAIT". If you have any specific questions please feel free to send me an
email or give me a shout.
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