Oosterdam - 24 Day Barcelona to Venice
July 6 - 30 2009
Review by Phil aka Philatsea

Oosterdam cruise 2009

We departed Vancouver for Barcelona on July 4th with a overnight hotel stay in the Hotel Universal in Barcelona on the evening of July 5th. One knew things could not go as planned on this trip if you have ever travelled with me before. I had pre-booked a Limo to the Airport with the YVR Limo company High End Limo about 1 week prior to departure. The information included time of pick-up I wanted and my flight time. I had requested that we be picked up at 1:30 PM for our 5:45 flight. This would allow sufficient time if something were to happen. We were nicely waiting for the Limo and the time is getting onto 1:50 some 20 minutes after it should have been here. I made a call to the company to find that a mistake had been made and my pick-up time they had down was 5:45 the time our flight was to depart. They said there was nothing they could do and so sad to bad. I said that wasn't good enough and they better start working on another company to come and get us. I was told they would call me right back after they called the Manager at home. A short period of time goes by and they call back and say they are dispatching a Limo from Vancouver Cruise Ship Terminal, I say that is like 65 minutes away and they said they will try and get him to speed it up.
    In the end the limo arrived just before 3:00 and we were off. I was told that I would only be charged ½ of what they were going to charge me as a result. We arrived at the airport just before 4:00 to check into the flight.

We got checked in headed to the gate. Things went well and we boarded the airplane. As it was very hot in Vancouver the inside of the aircraft was very hot as well. The AC wasn't even close to keeping up till the engines were started. Some time went by and the Pilot came on and said there was a problem because 2 people who checked in did not board the flight and their luggage would have to be removed from the flight. If one knows anything about 747's they put all luggage in containers and they have to off load those containers till they come to the right one then open it then find the offending pieces of luggage. This took about 45 minutes to do while we sat and baked.

We would have to change planes at Heathrow in London. While changing planes is for the most part easy simple and straight forward Heathrow adds a twist or two into the change. First off we had to change terminals from 5 to 3. One is required to go downstairs and take a bus to the next terminal. Once we get on the bus we find this isn’t your 5 minute ride and you are there. The ride itself takes 10-15 minutes, forget the loading and unloading. Then there is the good old shock of having to take a bus to the plane which is sitting on the tarmac waiting for you. It took about 1.5 hours to complete this., so my advice if you have to change terminal in London allow plenty of time. One also has to do security again as well.

We arrived in Barcelona and had to clear Customs. There was no paper work to fill out just show our passport and get it stamped.

We retrieved our baggage and headed down to get a taxi to our hotel (Hotel Universal). We had to wait for a short period of time for a van taxi but we were soon on our way. Taxi Fare worked out to be about 35 Euro with the baggage charge.

The hotel was rated one of the top hotels in Barcelona and we found it met our needs very well. Things were a bit different in the fact one has to use their room key card for power. You place it in a slot in the wall as you enter to have power. Something a little different.

Since we arrived and wanted to hit the ground running we decided to walk down to see the Magic Fountain. The Fountain only puts on a display on the weekends. We arrived about 9:00 PM to see the display and stayed till after dark. It was worth the walk to here to watch the display.

On the way back from the fountain we went looking for a geocache ( www. geocaching. com for further information). The easiest way to explain it is one uses a portable GPS and looks for hidden treasures from the site I have listed. I have been geocaching for about 18 months now and I can tell you I have learned a lot along the way and seen things I would not otherwise see if I had not started this.

On the walk back we found a café where we stopped for a bite to eat. The Paella appeared to be rather large servings so I decided on pizza complete with it‘s own clever to cut it. We arrived back at the hotel well after midnight and then went to bed.

The Photos in the review are thumbnails. Click on the photo for the full view. You will then have to click the back button to return. Hold mouse over photo for description of photo in most cases.

Magic Fountain of MontjuicMagic Fountain of MontjuicMagic Fountain of MontjuicMagic Fountain of MontjuicMagic Fountain of MontjuicMagic Fountain of MontjuicMagic Fountain of Montjuic

July 6th - Barcelona

The following morning we had the buffet breakfast at the hotel and then headed to the ship for 11:30 AM. It took some time to get a Van taxi to get us to the cruise ship terminal. Once there we had to take a number to check-in and this number was also our number to get on board with. We drew number 14. From time of arrival to onboard was about one hour.

We elected to stay on board as it was a warm hot afternoon. Part of this decision was the fact that Katie had never been on a cruise before and Amy never had been on a Vista Class of ship. We knew that we had walked more than we had planned the night before and thus had some breathing room. We had also scheduled a walking tour with using Apple Ipod’s for the following day.

We went to dinner and found that we had a very nice table for six at the rear of the Vista Dinning Room upper level next to the window and we were the only one’s at it. I must say that it is tough to get to know your waiter and get the service you used to get on Holland America (HAL) because Holland America Line has over the years increased the number of table’s a waiter now has. In our case he has 5 tables of six. Something has to give and in our case it was service.
    I found that salad and soup were being brought together and placed side by side. I talked to the Dining Room Manager the first time it happened to ask if a change had been made again in the way dinning was being conducted. I was told this was not suppose to be the norm and it would be taken care of. I found little things like crumb scrapers no longer being used by most waiters, it only appeared long time waiters only used them.

Tonight after dinner about 10:00PM Amy and I headed out to find a Geocache (commonly called a cache) near the ship. This cache was located on the bridge near the ship. This cache was only a short distance from the ship but was a much longer walk in tonight's heat. This cache was an easy find compared to some I have done.

Bridge to the port with island Escape in the backgroundTorre Agbar by French architect Jean NouvelAmy with oosterdam in the backgroundI have the Cache.From the bridge back to the ship

July 7th - Barcelona

Today we were to meet shores side at 9:00 AM to pick-up our Ipods and maps and head out for our walking tour. While for the most part the concept is good by allowing you to explore things at your own pace it is still a long tour walking. I think the most annoying part of this tour was the fact that no where does it say when booked that we would have to pay "extra" to get ourselves to the starting point.

We caught the bus outside the cruise ship terminal for the Captain Cook Statue. Once there we started our walking tour of Barcelona. They say you can complete the walk between 1 - 3 hours. I am not sure how they figure it can be done in 1 hour but I would think you would not listen to much on the Ipod.
    We completed this tour in about 4 hours. While for the most part the tour worth the $38.00 we spent on it I think there are several other things one can do and see more. This company Discovery Walks offers other tours of other cites in Europe. I found a Gocar Tours Barcelona that looked interesting just two days before we left so I was not able to fit it into the schedule we had.

During the tour we walked up the Las Rumbas past the Theatre Principal. As we walked here we saw people gathering with flags. It wasn’t till farther down the road we would find out what this was about. We arrived at the Government building and were standing there taking photos when we heard these whistles and then the people we saw earlier marching in. We could see Riot Police assembling and at this point we decided it was time to leave. Not sure what ever happened or what it was about.

We continued the walking tour past the Barcelona Cathedral. Along the way we passed so many places it became a blur.

We slowly worked our way back along the La Rambla towards the water front where we were to catch the shuttle back to the ship. During our walk we ran into many street performers who would act as statues till you gave them money. Then they would encourage you to have your photo taken with them.

Prior to catching the bus back to the ship we stopped nearby to do another cache on the waterfront.

We departed on time at 4:00 PM Tonight was our first formal night as well. Since we did not meet our table mates last night we met our table companions from the UK tonight. Paul and Anne and they were delightful, it is going to be a great 23 days.

I must say it is nice to see so many crew from when I was on the Oosterdam last November and crew we had on the Statendam two years ago.

Demonstration in front of Goverment BuildingStained glass in orininal conditionbuilt in the mid 1500'sChurch undergoing renovationNot what you might think. This is a Towel Shop and this is how they display them.gargoyles on the churchRoman Forum Colums inside a building.Catedral Basílica de Barcelonaone of many street performersone of many squares we came across. The lights date back to the 1800's

July 8th - Monte Carlo

This morning we were up early and sitting on deck looking out at the ocean. We wondered what type of wild life we might see on this trip. It wasn’t to long before we could see two blows from whales. This lasted for a short time and as this turned out we would see nothing for the rest of the trip.

This was our first tender port and thus we had to wait for all shore excursions to get off prior to us departing shore side.

We headed ashore and saw many yachts and one that caught our eye right away was the Sarafsa docked near the tenders. It is reported to belong to Saudi Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. It is named after his daughter Sara Fahed Sultan Al Saud.

We all departed together but soon split up and Amy and I went off to look at the Gardens beside The Musee Oceanographique de Monaco. After seeing the gardens we headed back along the wall to find the only Geocache in Monaco and soon located the area it was to be in. The only problem was it involved some climbing by a beach up the rock face. The problem is one is not suppose to be seen getting the cache or signing the log. The beach was covered in sun bathers, okay most were women and topless so it wasn’t much of a hardship. As the sun disappeared behind the hill and shade moved onto the beach they soon got changed and headed out.
    It wasn’t to long before I was able to climb and get the cache.

We walked around some more and soon headed back to catch the tender. I must say during this walk one has to look at all the yachts this place has docked in it or the cars parked at the casino.

Crystal Serenity arrives with 2 Porsche Panamera on the bridge and no one on baord.Musee Oceanographique de Monaco with Oosterdam to the right sideBeach below the geocacheanother angle of the beachI made it to Monet carloJust a few YachtsAmy in the Fort with Canon BallsArriving in Monte Carlo Porsche Panamera

July 9 2009 - Livorno Italy - for Florence and Pisa

Today was the first test of our plans we had made prior to the cruise. We all met early in the Lido for breakfast. We had to catch the port shuttle to the Piazza Grande where we would catch the bus to the train station. The cost of the shuttle was 5.00 Euro each. The cost of the bus to the train was 1.00 Euro each and tickets can be bought at the newsstands. Just don’t forget to validate your ticket via the machine on the bus. This is also true of the train tickets.

I will make mention of two sites on the internet that provide "FREE" audio tours of places in Italy as well as other parts of Europe. Italy Guides  is one and Rick Steves site also provides them.

Several things have to be taken into account for this port. First if one plans to do Florence and Pisa in the same day which order is best. I used this page as a guide to catching trains in Italy. Also note that one has to get used to using the 24 hour clock in Europe. The problem became trains only ran once an hour from Florence to Livorno in the afternoon. Since several ships were in port with us and all left port at about the same time that would mean those doing the same thing would likely be catching the same train back to port. The question becomes would all get on the train? We had looked at the 17:27 train back as there was a 17:37 train as the back-up but the problem was the 17:37 arrived back at 19:22 with an onboard time of 19:30. The train just 10 minutes before arrived back in Livorno at 18:50 meaning it was doable. One has to look at this if you are planning to use the trains. It is easy and cheap, just have a back-up plan in case your train is full or cancelled. We had no less than two trains cancelled on our Pisa to Livorno leg and the train we did end up on went to places I had not seen on the morning trip. Also please note that the name Florence is a English name and when looking for train schedules on the Italian train site names change. Florence is Firenze SMN.

Now we decided we would do Florence in the morning and then around 13:00 we would catch the train to Pisa as we learned that in the afternoon trains from Pisa to Livorno run every 20 minutes so if you miss a train there is a decent back-up for you. As we had one of our trains cancelled this worked well for us.

I won’t go into details how to catch the trains as the site above I listed provides photos and a good explanation on how to do it. I will say this though don’t be afraid of using trains on your own. It will save you money and time. It also gives you flexibility. HAL wanted $89.00 PP for a ships transfer to Florence with no tours. The cost for the four of us one way was 26.40 Euro. You do the math. Also remember you are with Italians doing what they do daily. They are more than willing to talk to you.

We arrived in Florence and soon were off to the Santa Maria del Fiore. While this is about 10-15 walk from the train station is a pleasant walk though the streets. We got to look into many of the shops along the way and experience Italian life along the way. Being on a bus or a bus tour doesn’t allow for this.

We spent time looking at Santa Maria but didn’t go inside due to the line-up to get inside. We decided to go look at other buildings in the surrounding area.

I had also a chance to do one Geocache here which I did on our way back to the train station. This cache was a pleasant surprise in the fact that it took us to the place where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at only 14 years, had come to perform in front of the Grand Duke Leopold I of Lorraine. This has now become a Italian historic site and only a few years ago a plaque was placed here. This isn’t something in your normal tour book nor going down this side alley would one normally do either. I know I would not have and if I did I would not likely have seen the plaque.

We arrived back to catch the train around 13:30 which was our plans but the train was cancelled at 13:27 so we ended up on the 13:37 train only 10 minutes later but arriving something like 30 minutes after the one we should have caught. Be aware of this that just because the train is 10 minutes later it can do the scenic tour along the way.

Arriving in Pisa we grabbed some drinks and headed out for the walk to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We could have caught the bus but decided to walk. While looking at the map our table mates came up as well to look at the map and we decided to walk together to the Leaning Tower. This was about a 20 minute walk from the train station on a rather hot afternoon.

Now something to consider. If you plan on walking to the top of the tower one has to buy tickets to do this. There are about 30 tickets every 20 minutes on sale. Twenty tickets are held back for online sales and go on sale 45 days prior. We decided prior to our departure that if we were going to go see the tower then we need to buy tickets in advance. We did this and selected the 16:00 - 16:20 time slot. I saw people who bought tickets at about 15:00 when I picked up our tickets at the box office and they got a time slot for 19:00. So if you need to be back on the train at a certain time buy your tickets before you leave home. Cost for 4 to climb to the top is 68.00 Euro.

The question is; is it worth it? Sure it is, if one is going to travel half way around the world to see it then why not climb it. We have all seen it in school and studied it and seen it in cartoons etc. so why not go to the top. The climb up the marble steps (about 293) is tough and the passage narrows at the top. Also note the marble is VERY slippery and good shoes are recommended. Remember people have been climbing these stairs for hundreds of years and they show the wear. If one goes right to the top like I did then there isn’t much of a railing and if you are afraid of heights then this may not be for you. If you are also of a larger size you may have trouble squeezing through at the top.
    I have to say it is a rather odd feeling as you climb and lean one way then the other, Coming down and stepping on solid ground sure messed with my balance for a few minutes. I also heard this comment from others as well.

We did the walk back to the Pisa station minus our table mates and arrived there and proceeded to our train platform. We noted our train was running late. Soon an announcement was made in Italian but not followed in English as we had noticed on prior announcements. I made a quick dash to check the board and found the next train on a different platform. We made that train and now to retrace our steps back to the ship. We were back onboard about 19:00.

Did we get to see what we wanted to, yes we did. Could we have spent more time in Florence, sure we could have and could have spent a few days there but choices have to be made. We saw a bit of both places and enjoyed it very much.

I must say with all the walking today we hurt and the hot tub on board ship was a welcome relief.

bell at the topinside the tower at the topI made it to the top.the walkway down from the toplooking from one of the bridges in PisaFlorenceone the other archs The "Duomo": Florence's cathedralone the archs of The "Duomo": Florence's cathedralThe "Duomo": Florence's cathedralthe side of The "Duomo": Florence's cathedralThe "Duomo": Florence's cathedralthe very top of The "Duomo": Florence's cathedralone of the many buildings in Florencegiving it a helping handI don't thinkI I need to say what this is..... do I?The stairs insiide the Tower. Note the wear

July 10 2009 - Civitavecchia for Rome (Roma)

Ahh yes another early morning and breakfast meeting in the Lido.

Today is a “free” port shuttle to the beginning of the port then the 15 minute walk to the train station. Just remember if you do this stay on the right side of the road to the station as it is a much easier walk. So today we went to the news stand and bought BIRG tickets. These are basically 5 zone all day (till midnight) good on Regional trains, Buses in Rome and Metro in Rome. Cost 9.00 Euro each. Cost of ships transfer to Rome $98.00 and no bus or metro in Rome.
    The train travels at speeds of upwards of 160 kph. If you plan on going to the Vatican one can get off a few stations early but one can not catch the train back from here I have been told.
    We arrived in Rome and had a long walk to the metro. We soon were on the metro and our stop was Colosseo. Now we stepped off the train along with a thousand of our closest tourist friends. We climbed up the steps we went to the street then suddenly things stopped. What the heck, why? It soon became apparent as to why. The Colosseum is across the street from the metro and one can’t help but stop and take in the view. I along with all the others took my camera out as well to take in the moment.

The next trick was to try and cross 8 lanes of road to get to the Colosseum. Once that is done then one runs the gambit of people trying to be a tour guide and people dressed up as Gladiators trying to get you to pose with them for about 5.00 Euro.

I had downloaded the Rick Steves audio tour so we decided to bypass the tour guides. The next thing was to line up for tickets. The line moved quickly and then was divided into four windows at the front. I was pointed to window one with Amy and Sandra and Katie went to window four. We could see each other during the whole process. Once done we all turned and were to meet at the entrance just behind me and to the left. Sandra and Katie walked behind one of the columns and that was the last we saw of them till we boarded the ship later that day.
    I had all the maps and the train schedule etc.
    The only thing we had not done was to make arrangements in case this happened. So both parties are on their own now.

Amy and I started off the tour in the artifacts part and then worked our way around the Colosseum. The whole tour took us about 1.5 hours. After we left we visited the Arch of Constantine dedicated in 315 AD. From there we started up the hill to see a church. This was likely one of our blunders of the day as it was hot and the church at the top didn’t offer much.
    We came back down the hill and I decided to try and get the cache on the far side of the Colosseum. This was going to be a a tough one as there were people sitting on top of this cache. We decided to get something to drink and wait and this still didn’t help. After about 20 minutes we left this one for another day.

We then headed out towards the Pantheon and as we walked we passed several sites along the way including Il Vittoriano which was started in 1885 and dedicated in 1911 in honour of Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, the first King. From there we made a wrong turn and before long we found ourselves staring at the Trevi Fountain. This was suppose to be after we visited the Pantheon. None the less we decided to par take in the moment and enjoy it. One sees people filling water bottles out of it and tossing coins over their shoulders or just sitting there eating Gelato. We did see someone who decided that maybe soaking your feet in it would be a good idea, well not so fast as this resulted in the police blowing whistles and hauling the young man away very quickly. I leaned back and tossed my coin but Amy had no desire to do the same.

We left and headed for our next stop, the Pantheon. After a brisk 10 minute walk we found ourselves upon it in the square out front called Piazza della Rotonda.
    The original Pantheon was built between 27 - 25 BC but fire destroyed it twice. The current Pantheon was built in 110 AD and is considered one of the engineering marvels of the world.
    Today it is still used as a church.
    When you walk in and look up you can see the Oculus. The Oculus is open to the sun and the rain. So when it rains it also rains inside and thus the floor is convex to allow rain to flow away. You will also notice holes in the marble floor to drain the water away.

Once we were done we left and walked around the Pantheon. While the back side is showing wear and her age the inside is still very much intact. This by far was the best ruins we saw on the cruise.

as you step out of the Metro stationThe Arch of Constantine Outside the ColosseumInside the ColosseumInside the ColosseumThe Arch of Constantine taken from the Colessumthe walk up to the churchoutsdie the churchinside the church at the topone of the many sites of ruins we passed.l Vittoriano

July 11 2009 - Messina, Italy

We were not to arrive till 2:00 PM and thus this would allow us to recover from the last two days. We cruised past Mt. Stromboli in the morning and it is said to be in continuous eruption for the last 200 years. We were told they have small eruptions every 20 minutes.
    What we didn’t know about Messina is almost all places close from 14:00 - 19:00 and then open again in the evening. Most people on the ship doing shore excursions go to Mt. Etna or wine tasting. They also reported that they also found shops etc. closed.
    Having heard this we decided to stay on the ship and recoup after the last two days. We were also still feeling some effects from the jet lag from the flight over.

mt strombolimt stromboli villageentering the straights of Messenafishing boat. spear fishing for swordfishenterance to the harbourone of the many Churchs in messena

July 12 2009 - At Sea

We lied in the sun today and enjoyed the pool with a few drinks as well as enjoying drinks with our friends from Australia, Richard and Jo. Both are teachers currently teaching in China.
    I have not talked much about ship life to this point but will write about it at the end. We met Richard and Jo the first day up outside on the starboard side of the Crow’s Nest Lounge. We get together daily for a debriefing after coming back to the ship to share stories of the travels for the day.

Tonight was the second Formal night on board ship.

July 13 2009 Navplion, Greece

For this this port we had nothing really scheduled other than walk around the town and look around. I had one geocache for this port in my GPS. For those interested there are tours Ancient Corinth and the Canal. One can visit Palamidhi Castle where you can climb hundreds of stairs to the top. There is also Acronafplia Fortress and the Clock Tower.

This was also a tender port so we had to wait for all shore excursions to go ashore before we could.
    Once we arrived we found the temperature to be in the upper 30’s C and the humidity to be high as well making for a unbearable time. It didn’t take long before my 3 companions decided to head back to the ship. I decided that I needed to get my first Greek Geocache and I was off to the Clock Tower. Ahh yes the walk up the hill should be good in these temperatures with no water in hand. I proceeded up a narrow street with narrow sidewalks to no sidewalks. As I walked I was able to look down onto Arvanitia Beach which looked so inviting on this hot day. Many people on the beach and a few from the ship.
    I was soon arriving near the top and there isn’t a lot left of this old place. It once served as a prison I was told and appears to have been a restaurant not long ago. I arrived at the Clock Tower and had to find my way to the cache. The arrival at the cache offered some fantastic views of the harbor area.
    I soon had the cache in my hand and signed the log.
    The walk back down the hill was much easier than when I went up. I was never so glad to reach the tender dock and see those cold wet face cloths.

Back on board ship it was time for the pool and then the hot tub and then back to the pool. Oh yes several glasses of ice tea were also needed.

Palamidhi CastleArvanitia BeachThe walk up to Acronafplia Fortress Town Square - the floor was very slipperythe bell towerPalamidhi Castlepeople walking left side to Palamidhi Castlearriving at the geocacheClock Tower

July 14th 2009 - Katakolon, Greece

We arrived early and had no tours planned other than if we could catch the train we would go to Olympia. The problem with that is the two daughters decided they had their own agenda and it did not include catching a train that early in the morning. This wasn’t a big problem as this would also be our last port of call at the end of the cruise.
    I got off the ship and headed into town mid morning. Katakolon is small town of about 800 people and a nice street of stores that basically only open when cruise ships are there. Today Costa Serena is in with us till 13:00. It was busy downtown and we wandered around looking at the different stores. We came across one store that we really liked called Aristoteles wood store. Things in this store are made from Olive tree wood. While they say all olive tree’s are owned by someone and they can’t be cut down, two years ago there were major fires near Olympia. Lot’s of tree’s were burned etc and the tree’s did not grow back. The wood is now being used to make things such as cutting boards, spoons, salad tongs, boxes, chess sets etc. This store has some truly unique things.

After shopping we headed to the water front and found a nice café and sat down and ordered some squid legs and calamari along with a Greek Salad of tomato’s and cucumber and feta cheese.
    This included a few Coke’s as well as a few Greek Beer. It was great meal in a great location.

On the way back to the ship we stopped at the Duty Free shop in the port area. This may not have been a good thing because we found Greek Jelly candies. These jelly candies are addictive, forget pillow candy. I can bet that they not good for you are a Type 2 Diabetic, like me. Okay a few won’t hurt, will they?
    I also bought a nice Greek Bottle of wine here as well to drink by the Crow’s Nest during the daily debriefing.

CalamariGreek Tomato and cucumber saladSquid legsThe Restaurant where we ate.the town from the shiplooking back at where we ate lunchtrain to OlympiaCosta Serena

July 15th 2009 - Corfu, Greece

The ship now docks at the new cruise ship dock which isn’t very close to town. There is free shuttle from the ship to the port terminal but it isn’t a great help to get you to town.
    There were two other ships at the dock with us but they didn’t make much difference as they were Wind Spirit and Sea Dream II both small ships or as Sea Dream likes to refer to themselves as a yacht.
    From the terminal we all walked to town. We had wanted to go to the beach but finding the right stop for the bus proved more elusive than we had thought. It was so elusive we never did find it.
    From where we thought the bus was suppose to stop we decided to head for the Old Fort of Paleo Frourio. We took the long way around through back streets and past the local market. Once we arrived we paid the 3.00 Euro entrance fee and proceeded on our way. There isn’t much in the way of signs or information available to what the fort was used for or what we were looking at.    
    We climbed the metal stairs to the top to enjoy a complete view of Corfu Town (Kerkyra). Once we came down the other 3 went the way we came but I went the other way and found a room with some old plates in display cases dating back to the 1800’s and as late as the 1970’s. There was really no explanation as to where they came from.
    We stopped at a small café in the fort that provided drinks where we stopped for a few Coke’s as it was another hot day.
    With the weather we were having one could not carry enough water off the ship to last them for the morning most days little mind the whole day.

Upon arriving back at the port we had to stop once again for our Jelly Candies. Once back on board it was to the pool.

Amy on the climb up to the Old Fort of Paleo Frouriolooking back at the ship from the Old Fort of Paleo Frouriolooking from the Old Fort of Paleo Frourioat the topsome of the plates on displaythe stairs to the top

After the pool we had our daily debriefing with Richard and Jo.

July 16th - Dubrovnik, Croatia

I was up early today to watch the arrival into this port.

We started in nose first and soon made a 180 degree pivot and backed in the rest of the way.
    I have to admit this was my favourite port of the cruise. It was very different in a lot of ways and not what I had expected at all.        
    When we disembarked we found that HAL was charging $16.00 pp for the shuttle to town. We found that for 10.00 Euro we could take a taxi, which we did.
    We arrived early at the Pile gate for the wall and bought our tickets at about 0830. The day was already starting out to be hot and I am sure by the time we climbed the walls and finished it would be much hotter.
    A note here is that the currency of Croatia is the Kuna and the Wall will take Euros but you will get your change in Kuna.
    We started up the stairs and headed along the wall. There is only one direction one can walk as they have made the wall one way, counter clockwise.
    I have been told that it was only a year ago or so that the wall was rebuilt in places because the Serbs bombed the walled city in one of the many clashes they have had over the last several years. There is still evidence of this as one walks around but the rebuilding job has been done very well.
    When we reached the far side of the wall we decided to take a break at which time I went to get a Geocache. I was off to get this cache which is referred to as a Virtual Cache. There is no need to sign a log here just provide some information about the area and a photo of you there.
    Upon my arrival back I was told how the ticket checker at the top had a great deal going on. It costs about 7.00 Euro to walk the walls. One buys their tickets at the ticket office but people arrived at the ticket takers spot with no tickets and he would say what ever the cost was and let them through and then pocket the money. Great job and I bet he likes working this gate all the time

I should say it is not uncommon to be in this port with 4-5 other ships. Today we were lucky as we were the only ones at the dock and 2 Windstar vessels in the harbour. It was busy enough I can’t imagine what it would have looked like otherwise.

Upon finishing the wall we noticed that there was now a line-up to start climbing the wall. Down we went and stopped at Onofrio's Large Fountain where one can splash water on their faces and get a drink or fill their water bottles. It was cold and very refreshing.

We proceeded down the way to the clock tower where I did another virtual cache. The line-up to look in the church was long and hot. We decided that we had had enough and while it was only 1030 we had felt like we had been out all day. We stopped at a small restaurant in the shade for something to eat and drink. They serve a dish of pancakes and ice cream, which sounded good at this point. This was ordered along with a couple orders of fries and cokes. I ordered a Croatian Beer. While it was only 1030 and a bit early to drink beer in some peoples books I found that beer was only a few cents more than pop and you got twice or three times as much. This was true all through Europe.
    We had a great conversation with the young lady who was serving us. Her English was great and she was proud to talk about Croatia.

We left and stopped at many of the stores on the way back through the main gate at Pile. Once outside we walked across the street to catch a taxi back to the ship.
    I am glad we did this early in the morning as it there were wall to wall people coming in the gate and trying to move was a real challenge. In fact just trying to get any where else proved to be a challenge.

Once back on board ship I headed for the shower and then to the pool.

Tonight was the last formal night prior to Venice.

Sunrisethe new town outside the walled cityOnofrio's Large Fountain at the entrance at Pile Gateentering at Pile Gateon top of the wall lookingout at the enterance of Pile gate. Taxis and buses across the streetview from walking the wallstarting to sweat already and it is only 9:00walking the wallAmy at the arch. It has a date of 1835 view of the walled city from the wallview back from the previous photothe wall with two Windstar ships in the harbouryou can see the wall in the very back.garden belowPancakes and Ice Creamthe climb up to the wall at Pile Gatelooking into the walled city at Pile Gate on the wallthe wind Rose where the geocache was.the ally ways between buildingsI made it, you think I was sweating before.

July 17 2009 - Venice, Italy

Today we arrive late morning to Venice. We are scheduled to dock at Venice port in such a way we will have a view of the Fireworks tomorrow night.
    We are here for 3 nights before departing Monday morning. Normally the ship would depart Sunday afternoon but because the port is closed due to the Festa del Redentore which is a annual holiday celebration that dates back to the 1500’s. There is a bridge set-up across the Grand Canal which closes the canal to large ships.

The sail in was fantastic. The front bow area was opened up and canolli were served on the bow as well as the upper decks.

I was on the bow for the start but moved up to one of the upper decks below the bridge as there were less people up there, also the view was better.

Once we docked many people left the ship but for some unknown reason we delayed our departure as we thought of going ashore later for dinner. As the afternoon wore on the weather was getting worse and we could see thunder and lightening in the distance by the ship yards. The wind picked up and it got worse. The rain started so we decided to go to the dining room. This was an excellent choice as the rains got worse and the thunder got worse then the rain was coming down so hard you could not see the terminal building. The marble sized hail then started and lasted about 45 minutes.
    This by far became the best decision we had made.

We talked to people who went on the Gondola excursion who were caught in this and said there were not enough bridges in the Canals to hide under. They were drowned rats. Other got caught on Patio’s eating dinner.

entering the canal. The Venice cam is there somewhere.the bridge being builtthe bridge on the otherside to the church.Club MedThe Hyatt HotelSt. Marks Squarethis shows just how close we were in spots to the shorethe fireworks barges behind the shipshows how fast the water is running awayyes it is raining and then the hail came

July 18 2009 - Venice, Italy

Today would be an early start for two of us while the girls decided to sleep in a bit longer than we had hoped they would.

Off the ship by 8:00 Sandra and I were on our way. There is a shuttle bus (FREE) to the bus station but it only runs every 30 minutes. We walked to the bus station in about 15 minutes.

I have to say from there we headed towards the train station and that first look at the bridge crossing the Grand canal and the Vaporetto’s going by was as good as seeing the Colosseum the first time.

We crossed the bridge and proceeded along our way. We stopped in front of the train station to take a look. Then we headed off to find this park where I had a Geocache to find. It is so weird to see a city such as Venice where they are pressed for space yet to find a park like this in the middle of it.
    We arrived at the park and walked though stopping at a bench just to sit down and enjoy this.
    We soon left for the task at hand that was the cache, after a short look I soon had it in hand. The log was soon signed and the cache replaced. This is what makes caching so fun, we would not have found this park otherwise nor looked for this park either.

We left here and headed for the Rialto bridge. Following signs to get there and then loosing the signs a few times and getting lost is half the fun.
    On the way we had to stop at another cache at a old Monastery. Once we arrived there were few people about and I soon had the cache in hand. I signed the log and dropped off a Travel Bug in this one.

Now this is where things got interesting in a way. Almost all of you live in cites where things such as Fire Trucks, Police Cars and Ambulances have four wheels.
    An Ambulance went by us in the canal, okay it was a boat complete with signs and lights etc. on it’s way to somewhere.
    A short distance away we passed another boat, this one with appliances on board. Later in the day we saw a Postal Boat. We saw a garbage scow also as we left the area headed for the Rialto bridge.

When we arrived at the Rialto bridge we stopped for the photo shoot as well as looking in the shops on the bridge.

We left here headed for St. Marks Square. This would prove a little tougher as many people were also on their way there to stake their spot for tonight’s fireworks.
    Once we arrived at St. Marks Square we found the line-ups to be very long for things such as the Doges Palace and St. Mark's Basilica. While I am sure they are very nice inside we thought we would rather use our time walking around looking at things.
    We had also been warned to try and not be here when the crowds gathered as pick pockets rule today. We headed back towards the bus terminal via the Academic Bridge. This was where we got lost many times, even the GPS was no help. I had maps of Italy and Venice but being between buildings means the GPS doesn’t receive a signal and thus can’t tell you where you are.
    They say that is half the fun of Venice, having no idea where you are.

We arrived back at the back side of the bus terminal and decided that we would catch the shuttle back to the ship.
    It was now about 17:00 and I had to log onto my computer to log the travel bug I placed this morning. Upon logging on I found that there was a brand new Geocache in front of the train station placed the day before.
    I have been the first to find for many caches since I have started and it is like having bragging rights when you are the first to find. To find one in a different country would be totally fantastic. I loaded that cache into my GPS and I was soon off on my own to get it. I arrived at said train station and talk about busy, it was now 18:00 and people were really coming into town now for tonight. 
    Wouldn’t you know it this was the same location we stopped at this morning to take photos.
    I had to out wait a family before I could get the cache. I opened it to find I was not first to find but third to find, had I found it this morning I would have been first according to the time he wrote, dang oh well still good fun. I decided that it was time to drop another Travel Bug off at this cache that I had since leaving home. I took a photo of “Skye” with the cache and soon put the TB in it and replaced the cache as I found it.
    I headed back to the ship and it took about 1 hour from the time I left to the time I arrived back.
    It was now time to shower, again and get ready for the daily debriefing before dinner.

After dinner we resumed the daily debriefing and staked our spot out on deck for tonight fireworks.
    The fireworks were to start at 2330 and last about 45 minutes.
    The fireworks started about 15 minutes late and did last as planned. There had been some worry about the length of the show due to the rain/hail from last night. You see the barges holding the fireworks were docked just behind the ship last night when the rains etc. started. As the rains were letting up there was a mad dash of workers trying to cover them with plastic. Only the show itself would tell if they got their in time.
    I have to say that the fireworks were a bit of a yawner. There was nothing special about them and they just went bang and were much of the same over and over again.
    As I am from Vancouver where we hold the Festival of Light every year which is a fireworks contest, this was no match for that. It was obvious that the people putting this show on were not the one’s putting the show on for Italy in past years in Vancouver.
    While it was still fun I did stay right to the end in case it got better. Many people left half way through the show.

our journey beginsGarbage scowcoming up to a bridgeone of hundreds canalslooking down the Canal from the bridge by Piazzale RomaI have the cacheone the many interesting buildingsneed a fridge delivered?Rialto bridge is ahead of us.looking from Rialto BridgeAmbulance goes by.in front of the monasterylooking the other way on the Rialto bridgesquare not far from Rialto bridgeSt. Marks SquareSt. Marks SquareSt. Marks Squarefront of Train Station from across the canalOosterdam docked in venicethe bridge we walked over in the startStatue at the train Station where the geocache wasFireworks for Festa del RedentoreFireworks for Festa del RedentoreFireworks for Festa del RedentoreFireworks for Festa del RedentoreFireworks for Festa del RedentoreFireworks for Festa del RedentoreFireworks for Festa del RedentoreSt Marks Squaresee next photo explains the previous photo

July 19 2009 - Venice, Italy

Today I managed to get Amy to come with me and we headed out together early. We were walking down the streets and there was no one on them. There were city workers from time to time cleaning up the large amounts of garbage from last night.
    Amy stopped me several times saying Dad I don’t think we should be going down this street as there is no one on it or we are lost. I soon reassured her that the signs said we were going in the right direction.
    We arrived at the Rialto bridge and there was not much open being Sunday morning and few people around. After the brief photo stop and look down the canal we headed for St. Marks Square. After a few wrong turns we managed to make our way there. St. Mark's Basilica was closed this morning due to services inside. We then headed to the waterfront where we turned left and headed up the waterfront past the Bridge of Sighs. We continued for about a kilometer to an area that had a Geocache that I wanted to get.
    This was a Earth Cache which requires one to answer questions about the area. This are suppose to be fun and teach you something about the earth. I completed my task and we went to leave. Beside us was this nice yacht Anna with a helicopter on the back. Yep, no shortage of money here.

We headed back over the Rialto bridge where I stopped to look for a new tie. Sandra had seen one here yesterday but you think I can find it today. Couldn’t find it so we continued a short distance where I found one in a shop.
    I then left this shop to find a pasta shop where I bought some wine for tonight’s debriefing.

We headed out and decided that across the canal from the train station would be a good place to stop for Gelato. We did that, it was to die for.

As one arrives to the main entrance to Venice there are several car parks where Italians or visitors park their cars then walk into Venice.
    As we arrived back to the bus terminal there was a cark park and the line-up to get into it went down the causeway. The same thing was true of the other two car parks near the ship.
    It was going to be a very busy day in Venice. The bridge was in place across the canal and many people were coming in to cross it. We tried to find it on the way back but got lost in the process and no amount of back tracking could get us to the bridge.

Sandra and Katie went and did a shore excursion to Murano and Burano and then went out for dinner tonight afterwards.

We continued back to the ship late afternoon and then boarded again.

the morning after no one on the streetsentering St Marks Square the morning afterheaded along the water front from St. Marksfire boatsthe yacht Annathe bridge across the canallooking back at St Marks squarein front of Rialto Bridgelooking back down from Rialto bridge towars the square I posted earlierBridge of SighsThe Snail in venice - this was a Geocache location

July 20 2009 - Venice, Italy

This morning we depart Venice at 10:00 headed for Piraeus, Greece.

This would allow us one more sail down the Canal and to have a view of Venice even most Venetians don’t get.
    It was a warm morning (again) and I went and placed myself on the upper deck with about 3 other people. Most people don’t even know this part of the ship exists.
    The ship backed out of the berth and proceeded down the canal slowly passing a ship I once sailed on the old Noordam now with Thompson Holidays. We passed St Marks Square again and could see the Islands of Murano and Burano in the distance. As we proceeded we started to pass Lido island where they have cars on. There is even a small airport here as well with a grass strip.
    We were told that Venetians come here to get their drivers license.

Looking at lido Island one can see beaches running the length of the island.

It wasn’t long before our pilot was off the ship and we were back in the Aegean Sea.

This was another day to lie back enjoy the sun and take a dip in the pool.

Since Saturday was the turn over day for the first twelve day cruise and there about 245 people who were doing twenty four days, us included we had a whole new crowd on. In this crowd we had over 400 children.
    Well as it turned out Club HAL became Club Hell and there were kids every where on the ship. The good thing was the rear pool became an adult only pool with signs posted. It didn’t work well on Saturday and Sunday as the signs were largely ignored even by Ship’s Officers who had family’s onboard.
    Today this changed and their were no small kids in the pool and it more or less remained this way for the rest of the cruise.

As the day wore on there appeared to be a core group of kids who were hell bent on doing what they wanted no matter what. Things such as railings in the centre glass elevators were broken, chairs broken. Getting into elevators pushing all the buttons then getting out.
    This group proved to be a real problem as the week wore on. There was one night after 23:00 where we were sitting outside the Crow’s Nest and the group decided to have a contest of running Across the glass dome to the spa pool.
    There were the broken lights up there as well and then another night where the canvass tarp on the port side of the Crow’s Nest mysteriously got ripped and the ropes holding it to the frame got cut.
    The last night of the cruise was the best yet, with a spitting contest outside the Vista Dinning room on the Promenade Deck at the stern. This was right outside of the window we were having dinner at.

For the most part Club HAL did what they could but when there are kids on board who have no interest in partaking in the club then they do what they want.
    We got to see some of the good results through our friends Richard and Jo and their kids.

Tonight was another Formal night on board and thus we had to get dressed up again. This was the Welcome aboard dinner for this cruise.

There was also a Masquerade Ball tonight held in the centre Atrium. This was to show case all the Venetian mask’s people had bought ashore.

looking back at where we were beside the Costa Serenathe bridge is downthe bridge to the Church where everyone prayed.St Marks Square enterancethe ferry dock for Lido Islandairport on Lido islandbeaches on Lido Islandsunset from our table tonightLobster thermadore tonightThompson Celebration

July 21 2009 - At Sea

I have to admit that this sea day was very nice as we had a busy time in Venice with late nights and early mornings.

Now having said that our cabin was a Outside GG with fully obstructed view. I was not keen on this when I booked but it was felt after discussions with my Travel Agent that we might get an upgrade or a up sell offer. This didn’t happen even though we ran into people who booked one month out who had several category upgrades for free. Who knows how this works.
    Our cabin had floor to ceiling windows and almost went all the way across the outside wall. Very close to balcony doors but with no balcony. This offered a far better view than I thought I was going to get. I have had obstructed views before on Princess and you get the normal square window and you can see nothing but the life boat. In our case we could see lots and this also offered a lot of light in as well.
    The only problem is if you are one you likes to sleep with the curtains open at night to allow the natural light in in the morning then be aware that ships deck staff may suddenly appear from below to do work on the ship. There are times of the day where the film on the windows doesn’t make it one way glass.
    As our cabin was on the warm side covers were not always needed. I think you get my point on waking up and seeing someone standing there working all be it with their backs to the window. Still a shock to the old system.

Now once we were up and on deck we had a busy day of debriefing by the Crow’s Nest and just taking it easy. Most mornings while on the ship we did the daily quiz and today this was to be no exception. Who would have known that there could be that many questions on Coffee??? I don’t drink the stuff so it was all Greek to me.

Tonight we attended the Canaletto in the Lido Restaurant for dinner. This was a nice change from the main dinning room. They provided a excellent meal. The good part about this is there is no extra charge for this.

the bread in the CanalettosaladMenu

July 22nd 2009 - Piraeus, Greece

We arrived early this morning and were along side by 0630. This was due to ferry traffic we were told. What I didn’t like is we were docked outside the inner harbor by the breakwater because we were scheduled to take on fuel today. A small freighter pulled alongside and started the process. I was told that this can not be done in the inner docking area and that is why we are docked here. There were also two other ships in the inner harbor that came in after us.
    What this meant for us the 20 minute walk to the metro was now something like 50 minutes. I didn’t want to walk that far in the heat later in the day nor did I feel like trying it this morning and being tired for the rest of the day.
    Sandra and Katie had booked a shore excursion to the Acropolis and the new Museum there that only just open in late June.
    Amy and I decided to head into Athens on our own and do the Acropolis and other sites.
    We left the ship and then the badgering from the taxis started as to what they could offer us in the way of a tour. We had offers of 140.00 - 160.00 Euro to take us around.
    I was wearing my Canadian Helicopters hat that I have had for years. There was a taxi driver who saw it and came over to ask if we were from Canada, I said yes why. He explained that he used to live in Canada and came back to Greece several years back and his kids still lived in Canada. He introduced himself as Paul.
    Paul asked what our plans were and I told him it was to get to Athens and the Acropolis. We talked for few minutes and he said that almost all taxis here were waiting for fares that would hire them for several hours. He said they won’t take a short fare but he said they won’t make any money today as well because they will sit here all day waiting and hoping. He said for 25.00 Euro he would take us to the Acropolis, I said sure and we were off.
    Along the way he told us about area we were driving in and to be careful at the Acropolis with the marble stairs. Watch out for the pick pockets we were told when we come out as people sell maps and guide books and start talking to you trying to get you to buy and then they have your attention and that is when you get hit.
    We arrived at the parking area and Paul advised us to avoid the stairs and take the road up as it was easier and we would avoid the Post Card and Guide Book sellers. He was right we avoided them all.
    At the top we stopped to buy our tickets for entrance to the Acropolis and we were fourth from the front. The problem started when the next guy went to the window to buy his tickets. He was there for 5 minutes before we figured out what the problem was because his voice was getting louder. He was very upset that they would not take US Dollars for his tickets. He had no Euros and they also don’t take Credit Cards so to speed things up.
    There was along line-up now behind us and people were growing very impatient with him. He finally stepped aside and the line started moving again.
    I have never understood why some in the USA think every other country in the world must take the US dollar. I am sure if I tried to spend Canadian Dollars or Euros in Mississippi I would be laughed right out of the state.
    I watched people on the few shore excursions I did tip $1.00 US to the tour guide. This $1.00 equates to a whopping .68 Euro. This is like a slap in the face.
    The tour guides in Turkey and Greece have to go to school upwards of 3 years to do what they do. There isn’t one guide I had nor saw that didn’t provide information in great detail. They were proud to talk about their Country and share their own take on things.

As they say when in Rome do as the Roman’s do, so why not buy Euros before you leave or get them from a ATM when you arrive?

Now that I have added my editorial note on this I return us back to the Acropolis.

The 12 Euro Entrance fee to the Parthenon also includes admission to Ancient Agora, Theatre of Dionysos, Roman Agora, Kerameikos, Temple of the Olympian Zeus and the Hadrian Library.
    There is a separate entrance fee to the new Acropolis Museum. We did notice that the lines at mid day are very long. The museum was started several years ago and during the dig they discovered artifacts. The decision was made to sink pylons and build on those. The bottom floor of the Museum is made of glass so people can watch the dig going on the recovery of objects.

The climb up to the Acropolis was tough because it was dry and hot, the good thing was once we reached the top it was very windy. This allowed us to stay cool relatively speaking. There were hats flying all over the place and I was forced to remove mine and put it away. The Acropolis is currently undergoing some restoration so it is covered up with scaffolding in places. I was amazed the number of people who crossed the do not cross lines and entered the Parthenon. This keep the guards busy.

From here we went down to the Theatre of Dionysos. The problem is once you have seen ruins that date back several thousand years they just became old rocks for most. If you are studying this then it may be of more interest to you. I heard what is the difference if it was made in 400BC or 200 BC it is still old.

I headed to the National Gardens of Athens to do 2 Geocache‘s. The first was a virtual in the gardens and the next required a walk to over by the Parliament Buildings.

On the walk there and back we passed Hadrian’s Arch. We arrived back at the parking lot where we were and I was about to leave Amy and go off to do another cache when Paul the taxi driver from the morning walked over and asked how things were going.
    During the trip back I asked how many taxis are in Athens and Paul said there is about 13,500. I  have to agree that it looks like it.
    Since Amy was tired and hot and I was as well I decided to get Paul to take us back to the ship.
    We arrived back early afternoon and temperature was getting to a point where I was glad I was not doing an afternoon tour.

Tonight we had our Filipino dinner.

Athens from the topParthenonParthenonthe Olympic Stadium from the Modern OlympicsTheatre of DionysosHadrian’s Archtonight we had our Filipino feast - the comunity soupdeep fried pork dishOdeaon theatre below

July 23 - Istanbul, Turkey

We arrived here and docking was a problem. Costa Serena was in front and another ship was behind us. This would require a sideways docking in very strong winds. It took some time but finally the Captain had the Oosterdam docked.

The ship emptied out like it was going down once we were cleared.

For those going ashore one had to pick up a Blue Visa card on the Gangway and carry it with you.

Sandra and Katie went on the walled tour of Istanbul while Amy and I decided we would do our tour tomorrow. We waited a bit longer and around 18:00 we left the ship to go for a walk and do my first Geocache in Turkey.
    We left and headed out though the pier area and then down the street in front of the ship. This was going to be an education for both Amy and I. Let’s see 90% of people here are Muslim and Amy is a women who doesn’t cover up. The next thing is there is almost no women on the streets even though it is still rush hour and men are mostly present.
    We start noticing that Amy is drawing looks from the men walking by. We need to cross the street and there are no real stop lights everyone appears to be crossing at will taking their life into their own hands.
    Okay when in Rome do as the Romans do, or in this case change that to Turkey. We go to make the dash and make it to the centre of the street. Now the tricky part getting to the other side. I say lets go and I make the dash and she follows.
    Off up the hill in some very hot weather towards the Galata Tower. One can’t miss this tower from the ship. We arrive and there are people all over the place almost all men. After looking in the obvious parts and reading the signs along the way we decide that this area isn’t right. We also need to get back to the ship for dinner. We leave and start don the hill when the light goes on and I say it is over there. A quick walk to a side path and to the area where I think it is and I see it. I soon sign the log and replace it back. Now I have my first cache in Turkey.
    We head back down the hill along with many others and as we walk we hear this weird noise and see people in front of us running for their lives. Okay this isn’t good I think runaway truck? Car? We step off the road to the narrow sidewalk and I turn around to see a truck spraying some sort of chemical in the air. There is a small alley way to our left we dart down it with others to the end and wait for the truck to pass and the spray to settle.
    We arrive back at the ship just as dinner is about to start for second seating. A quick change and to the dinning room. Okay we arrive to find that we didn’t have to be quick as the dinning room was empty and I do mean that. If there is 20 tables being used I would be surprised.
    So dinner service was rather quick tonight. It wasn’t any better than normal even though we were our waiters only table. He has one speed, his….

The daily debriefing occurred after dinner today….

sunrise in Bosporus straightsthe city of Istanbulthe Port of IstanbulBlue Mosquethe inner harborGalata TowerGeocache in handone of the many Mosques we passedGalata Towerfrom the bottom

July 24 - Istanbul, Turkey

Today Amy and I had booked the shore excursion Panoramic Istanbul which included a visit to the Blue Mosque as well as the Hippodrome. Once this was done then we would visit “the other side” or Asia. Also we would stop at the Grand Bazaar for a Carpet demonstration.

We left the dock just after 0845 and headed for a tour around the city. The big problem is rush hour runs for ever and the traffic is brutal. We were told that the tour may not end as planned due to this. In our case our tour was to be about 4.5 hours and return was about 6 hours after we started.

We saw many things from the City Walls to the Suleymaniye Mosque. We soon arrived at the Blue Mosque. We left the bus and headed for the entrance to the Mosque. We were handed plastic bags for our shoes which one removes just prior to entering the Mosque. Many try to remove then early but that is a big no no because you get dirt on your feet or socks and bring dirt into the Mosque.
    Once in the Mosque things were explained to us by our Guide and we had a a bit of free time to walk around in the area’s where we could.
    Since Friday is a big day for Muslims the Mosque would be closed this afternoon and thus why it was so busy. The other problem is the Mosque closes to the public when the “call to prayer” is made. This happens 5 times a day.

From the Mosque we walked over to the Hippodrome and saw where the Chariot races used to take place. While the track isn’t there anymore because of the roads in the area one gets an idea of how big it was.

Once we left here we headed to the Grand Bazaar 54 where we watched a carpet demonstration . Okay one is warned about getting the “tea” treatment when in the Bazaar and we got just that. While the demonstration was very interesting it was the hard sell afterwards. We were taken to the 4th floor by elevator but we were told we had to walk down at the end when we left. As one walked down there were salesmen on every floor then the last two floors were jewellery.
    In case you wanted to know, yes we did see a flying carpet.

The area of the Bazaar we were at was the expensive end of the Bazaar. There was not much at this end that interested me so Amy and I visited Starbucks for a drink.

We re-boarded the bus and found we had lost 3 of our group. Ahh yes the two little terror kids are gone with their Mom , oh darn send out the dogs, oh wait hold off on that. The husband made it back to the tour and said he turned in the Bazaar and his wife and kids were gone. Something about she was looking for a carpet.

From here we left for “the other side” or Asia. A quick slow down to take photos of the bridge we would cross to stop be the ocean near the Beylerbei Palace.

Once we arrived on “the other side” we had a brief stop b the ocean in a park for photos.
    Turk’s refer to the Asia side of Istanbul as “the other side” no matter which side one is on.

Once we arrived back at the ship be deposited our Visa in the box and we were done for the day.

It was now time for the daily debriefing.

Bus loopold aqua duckBlue Mosqueinside Blue MosqueTemp in the morning, that is in celciusBlue Mosquewouldn't be complete if I didn't show you a carpet demonstrationone of many Mosquesbridge to "the other side" - Asiaminute of Blue MosqueHippodrome pole

July 25 2009 - Mykonos, Greece

We arrived in Mykonos just after lunch where we docked. Today a FREE port shuttle is provided to just beside the town area. The is still about a 5 minute walk to the town itself.

Today Sandra, Katie and Amy were heading over to Delos while I was going to town to walk around and grab two Geocaches. Okay the first one wasn’t far from the ship in fact it was on the dock. This one would have to wait till later because of so many people around.
    The other 3 left on their tour then I lined up for the shuttle.
    Once in town I found it very hot and muggy. Past the beach where many were enjoying the water and into the town. I slowly worked my way around the town towards the Windmills where my cache was.
    The Windmills are a big attraction of the Island and many visit this area. Today would be no exception.

I arrived at the Windmills and this was another Virtual cache meaning answer the question take the photo and be on your way.
    I headed back to town and ran out of water and still needed more so I stopped at a little store. It is amazing the cost of water from one port to another, in this case it was .20 Euro for a bottle.

As I walked back I looked in he many stores I passed along the way, but there wasn’t much that interested me here. I continued back and saw this interesting restaurant. I didn’t want to do it on my own so maybe Sandra and I could come back here for dinner tonight.
    I went back to the ship and was able to locate the cache near the ship and sign the log. Great another one down in Greece. Once the three arrived back I was able to ask Sandra if dinner was a good idea. It sounded great to her.

Once showered and changed we were off to this restaurant I had seen.
    Back on the shuttle and back to town. As we were passing the beach the sun was setting so a stop for a few photos and we were off for dinner.
    We arrived at the restaurant and had a front row table of the beach and the walk way. I ordered a Greek Salad that was different from my last one along with Pork Gyros. Sandra ordered Onion Pie which was like a Quiche and the special which looked like Lasagna with some slight changes.
    I ordered a few beer and Sandra ordered some Coke.
    The service was great and the food and the company even better.

When done I tried to pay with my Visa and they were having problems with getting Credit Card approval for anyone. Good thing we had cash. Yes I was worried I might be in for some sort of problem but since arriving home I have not seen any charges to my credit card.

We caught the last shuttle back to the ship.

A quick stop at the debriefing area before bed was in order.

Indonesian Lunch WelcomeChicken Soup - Indonesian LunchBeef - Chicken and Rice - Indonesian LunchDessert Indonesian Lunchwalk into town.Squid hanging out to dry while I was walking into townOld ChurchThe famous Windmillslooking back from the Windmillsone of many back alleysI paid this guy in a boat to sail across as the sun set...just a sliver of the sun leftOnion PieGyros Greek StyleThe Special - looks like Lasagna to me?

July 26 2009 - Kusadasi (for Ephesus) - Turkey

Today we docked all by ourselves.

Amy and I had a tour to Ephesus booked early. We were off the ship just after 0700 and on the bus headed for Ephesus.
    The interesting part was no Visa was required for this port in Turkey. The travel time from the port was about 30-40 minutes. Once we arrived we were dropped at the upper part of Ephesus where we would start the tour then walk down to where we would board the bus.
    We also had a photographer follow our group who was part of the Ephesus site who would take photos and we could by them at the end for 2 Euro each with 1 Euro to him and 1 to the site. This was great deal compared to the ship and what they charge.

The tour was very interesting but it has not been very well preserved. I am also starting to notice that one site is looking like the next.

After the arrival back from the tour we all got together and headed into town for some shopping and then over to Pigeon Island for some swimming and then a chance for me to do another Geocache. I did mange to locate the cache and sign the log on this very hot afternoon.

We walked back to the ship and some more power shopping with a stop at Starbucks and then back t the ship.

We left Kusadasi just before 1900 headed for Santorini, Greece.

Once again we had our nightly debriefing.

Tonight we had Leo Ward and after the show they were redoing the stage when two stage hands fell from a scaffolding landing on their heads around midnight. After a little discussion the ship was turned around and back to Kusadasi and the two stage hands evacuated.

Pigeon Islandthe city from the shipwalking down from the top and you can see the Library in the distancethe water pipes of then. yes they had running water.the shops inlaid in the stonesthe floors as they were inlaid with small tile.one of the many archesthe toilets of then. One on left is reproduced.The LibraryGoddess NikeLibray arch looking upThe Theatre and it is still used today.walkway outI made it backAmy made it back to.The top of the Castle on Pigeon islandCache was located here.walking through the castle

July 27 2009 - Santorini, Greece

Because of last nights incident we were late getting into Santorini. This would mean we would not get off the ship as planned as all shore excursions would get off the ship first. The problem is all shore excursions go to a different dock where the buses can get down to the water then they move the ship to anchor off of Fira. Once ashore to get to the top you have 3 choices, walk beside the Donkey’s, Ride a Donkey to the top or take the sky ride. The ride on Donkey involves you getting on the handler telling the donkey to go. Nest stop the top. We saw bruises on people who rode the donkeys. We chose the sky ride to the top. The only problem is the 20 minute wait to board. There are 6 cars holding 6 people at a time, so 36 people at time head up.

Once at the top we walked to the Taxi stand and then joined the taxi line up. We had decided to take a taxi to the beach on the other side of the island instead of the Smart Bus like we had originally planned. Time was a concern because we were late getting into port.
    We soon had a taxi to the beach and the ride over was rather quick.
    The problem was what time do we need to be back for the last tender at 1630.
    We decided on leave the beach at 1500 and this should give us plenty of time. We did this and arrived at the corner the taxi driver told us to wait at. We stood there and flagged several taxi’s down but none would take us to Fira. We tried to go into a store to call and they didn’t have a phone.
    We saw a bus stop and people starting to gather so we waited. After a sort time the bus arrived and we got on. Cost to take the bus 1.40 Euro each. It was a tour bus and was as quick as the taxi.
    We got back to Fira and headed back to the sky ride where the line-up was long and hot. It was apparent we would make it down for the last tender. After some waiting we were back to the bottom but the line-up for the tender was even longer.

We got back on board ship and needed a shower. Once this was done it was time to head for our daily debriefing.

Tonight we would attend the Pinnacle Grill for dinner.

dock arae where shore excursions startdonkey going upview from cable car going upview from the top.streets at the topview from the Gondola going downThere is a Geocache up there. I did not even attempt it.Roads going up side to the top.

July 28 2009 - Katakolon, Greece

We arrived back just before 0830 this morning. This was the only port that repeated itself on the cruise.

We all had a shore excursion to Olympia. We boarded the bus just after 0900 and headed to Olympia.

Seeing Olympia was important to us because Vancouver is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. Nothing like seeing it in person.
    We got to see the Temple of Zeus and the Goddess Nike as well as the line where the cheaters statues were erected. There was the Gym as well as the area where wrestling and boxing took place.
    There was the finishing line at the original stadium that was also used for shot putt for the Athens Olympic games.
    Now there was another group doing a tour here in the Stadium and they decided to have a race on the original track. One has to remember that the original Olympics were done in the nude here. These male teens removed their shirts to do the race and started down the track and they were noticed by the site grounds people, whistles started to blow and they were told that they had to put their shirts back on. Our guide explained that it is now illegal to be at a Greek historic site with no shirt.

We left the site and headed for the Museum which was nice because it was air conditioned. Once we entered our guide explained that one can not have their photos taken beside any of the statues of the Gods in here. It is amazing how people try and get around this rule by having family stand in the background and act as if they don’t know the person taking the photo then run up to them after the photo is taken to see it.

While the museum was interesting what is left in the statues has had some poor restoration done in the past in some cases making it hard to view because your eye is drawn to the restoration area.

We left the Museum and headed back to Katakolon where we dropped off. Myself and Amy decided to head into town to visit the Olive Wood Store. We visited this store last time and decided that this would be a unique place to buy things you would not find in many places period.

We headed back to the ship with all our wares but not before stopping at the Duty Free port to buy our last Jelly candies to take home.

We started tonight’s debriefing early as tonight was the last Formal night.

entering the grounds of Ancient Olympiawhere the Gym waswhere they light the torch for the Olympicsenterance into the stadiumthe original finish linethe stadium and trackAmy on the finish lineinside the stadiumlook at next photo for explanationlook at next photo for explanationlook at the next photo for informationHow it used to looktonights dinner

July 29 2009 - At Sea

Today marks the last full day onboard and the day in which we must come to terms with several things. I must pull out the suit cases at some point and stuff them oh I mean pack them and put them outside the door before midnight. I must come to terms with my onboard account which was nicely waiting for me when I got up this morning. I should attend the disembarkation talk at 10:00 to see if they have anything different planned for Venice. Ahh yes then there is the onboard survey that also should be completed. One thing I have noticed is they have only one or two lines for comments under each section and removed the whole last page to expand your comments.
    I learned that it is pretty much the same as last November, silent departure at the time that we were given.

Today the debriefing would start early as we had a lot to discuss. What we thought of this cruise was the main topic. What were each of our plans for our next holidays?

Farewell tonights saladlamb chopsAmy and I with Toto our table steward from two years agoAmy with Mr. KLast night on board

The Cruise/Ship Itself

The Oosterdam had a major refit in April to bring her in line with the other Vista Class ships. The ship itself was in good repair for the most part.

I saw one nagging problem in the Lido that I could not understand why it had not been repaired. On the starboard side towards the rear of the Lido there was a water leak from the ceiling which had a bucket and a cone under it for the entire cruise. Talking to staff it had been like that during the prior cruise as well. Okay that was a whopping 36 days it had been like this.
    I was sitting at the Crow’s Nest Bar one night having a drink when I noticed one of the sprinkler heads start to leak. I mentioned this to the Bar tender and he called the bridge. It wasn’t more than a few minutes before the Officer of the Watch arrived and looked at it and he got on the phone and then the Captain arrived to look at it. The leak was repaired that night. Why does this leak get repaired which was out of the way than the one in the Lido?

The Oosterdam has had crew reductions in the last year to the tune of 60 less crew than one year ago. The crew reductions have included Wine Stewards, Cabin Staff and Dinning Room Staff. There has also been reductions in on board entertainment.
    Our Cabin Steward is paired up with another Steward to forum a “team” approach. Their cabin allotment was 34 cabins. I can say that many things have gone undone since this approach was adopted last year. I noticed last November how HAL says in the Brochure that each room includes a Fruit Basket. I have used this basket on prior cruises but noticed how they had disappeared last year. Talking to the Room Inspector I was told that since the change to the “Team” approach there isn’t enough time to do all things they used to do. This was one thing that has been dropped unless one asks for the fruit. I wonder how a new person to HAL is suppose to know this?
    I did finally locate the basket in the stool under the make-up table.
    Dinning room staff had their people they serve increased. Our Waiter had three tables of six and one table of eight. Things such as crumb scrapers appear to be a thing of the past for almost all waiters.
    There are only 4 Wine Stewards for the whole upper part of the Vista Dinning room. George our first Wine Steward had it down to an art at trying to get around his section of the dinning room. I buy the 20 Glass Wine Card as I am the only one drinking wine. I used my first one in the first 10 days and ordered a second from George. The sad part is George went home after the first twelve days and we ended up with Belinda for the last twelve days. Belinda didn’t even make it to our table some nights and we had to get the Waiter to get pop/wine for us. It was so bad I never did finish my wine card in the 14 days left. The real indication came the second night when Belinda was working when she asked how many glasses I would likely be having, I said two and both were brought to me at the start of dinner.

Also note that wine buckets are no longer left beside your table to chill your wine. If you want to refill your glass because the Wine Steward is slow you have to talk to your Waiter.

There are also no longer hot appetizers served in the Crow’s Nest or other lounges as they have been replaced with cold ones. I liked the fact that we used to get Indonesian or Filipino themed ones. I was told that likely within a year these will be gone as many don’t like them. Great approach make them so people don't like them and they won't eat them and that is a good reason to get rid of them.

This cruise I took the time to read the material that HAL sent me because this was my first European cruise and I wanted to make sure I did not forget anything. I learned from the book Know before you Go that HAL now provides power bars. Great as I use a CPAP machine and require one for that. No need to pack one so I didn’t. I arrived on board and promptly asked my Cabin Steward for one and he had no idea what I wanted. I then made a trip down to the Front Office to ask for one and they said I was to bring my own. I found my Cabin Steward and asked for an extension chord, and he provided that. Later in the cruise I had a discussion with the Hotel Manager on this and he said they only provide them for Medical Equipment and they are in short supply. I think HAL has to get their act together in the fact that if there is a policy change and they print in the material sent to us they need to make sure the ship has the material mentioned and they are aware of the change.

I should mention that this cruise was two back to back twelve day cruises that form a Collectors Voyage. There are pluses to doing Collectors Voyages such as a special HAL Bag for the second leg of the second cruise instead of the traditional Canvass Bag. There is a special Indonesian Lunch for guests. There is a night of entertainment instead of the regular show in the Crow’s Nest Lounge that also includes drinks. There is also Chocolate Covered Strawberries delivered to your room. There was also a special shore excursion in Venice for those that wanted to do. There was a Cocktail Party as well. So yes I enjoyed the ones I attended.

I had VIP status from a letter of Commendation I wrote after my last cruise which included Champagne, Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Cocktail Party, Dinner in the Pinnacle to name a few.
    So during the 24 days I attended several more Cocktail Parties and functions.

This cruise was to mark my receiving my Copper Medallion during the Mariners Lunch. I attended the Mariners Lunch at the scheduled time of 1100 which was different to the 1300 the other three were to attend.
    This is not unusual for people to be split because of the cut off level they use. I took it as just that. It was not till I attended to find out that all at this lunch only had one HAL cruise under their belt. I became obvious that I would not be getting my Medallion as I thought I would be. I was not pleased.
    Leaving the lunch I found someone I met on the cruise going to the Medallion Presentation in the Queen’s Lounge. I stopped by to find my name was not on the list.
    I returned to my cabin and decided to write a letter to the Hotel Manager. I did this because earlier in the cruise had talked to the Mariner rep to find out that Mariners no longer attend the luncheon for each cruise. They only can attend the last luncheon for the cruise they are on. I had asked the question why is it as a Mariner why we have to go and find this out and we are not advised of policy changes.
    Later that night I was able to discuss the matter with the Hotel Manager and I was informed I was short days. Asked how that could be and was told I had 83 days prior to this cruise and this 12 day cruise only gave me 95 days so no Medallion. I asked why my first 12 days didn’t count and he said you were not on here for the last cruise according to our records. I then had to say so I guess I don’t have to pay my bill for the first cruise if I were not on board? I must say this got his attention real quick.
    He admitted that if I were indeed on board for the first 12 days then I should have got it but they would have to contact head office to confirm this.
    The following day I was asked to meet with the Deputy Purser and go through my Mariner account. I did this and was also asked if there were other things that were not going well. I mentioned the fact that we had been up on the Starboard side of the Crow’s Nest since the start of the first cruise and the area had not been cleaned at all. The closest ting to cleaning was picking up the dirty glasses. No picking up garbage or dumping ash trays or wiping down the tables. It was amazing to see how this changed over the next few days. Ash trays were dumped every 15 minutes tables cleaned and garbage cleaned up. Those that regularly used this area noticed the change, the sad part about it it stopped the last sea day.
    I also mentioned the Fruit Basket being in the stool. What was funny about this when I later returned that day to my cabin the basket had been completely removed.

I received a call later that day from her and she said we have determined that you are entitled to your Medallion but since the presentation is over we can’t give it to you so you will have to wait till your next cruise. I said this was not acceptable as I had no future cruises planned with HAL till 2014.
    I was told she would have to get back to me.
    When I returned from dinner that night there was a call from her saying that they had discussed it and tried to book me into the Pinnacle restaurant at the Hotel Managers expense but they found out I was already booked in there. She said that the Hotel Manager would now pick up the tab. I pointed out that Head Office was already picking up the tab from a letter of commendation I wrote last fall.
    I was told they would work something out but to be prepared as the Hotel Manager and Captain would attend as well.
    We arrived the night of the meal and were shown a very nice table nest to the window. The Wine Sommelier Leo showed up with a very nice bottle of Champagne. He poured it for 3 of us while the fourth doesn’t like Champagne. We toasted the end of a good cruise. The rest of the bottle was going to be mine Leo tells us he has a very nice bottle of Red for us as well. I inform Leo that since I am the only one drinking it that if I drink the Red you will have to roll me out of here after dinner. No problem he said.

The meal went along superbly and we could ask or want nothing. This was how I used to remember service to be on HAL.
    We had finished our appetizers when the Hotel Manager and Captain appeared.
    The Captain asked how things were going and said there was some unfinished business to take care of. I was presented my Copper Medallion I had worked for 26 years to get.

I must say I was very pleased how this was worked out and the outcome at this point.

It was at the end of the dinner that changed things when I was presented the bill for the evening. We all just looked at each other and said you have to be kidding. A quick call to the Dinning Room Manager it was reversed. Elvira even admitted she knew about the arrangement but somehow she forgot.
    I find it is this sort of detail that is missing on ships today.

I must say we had some pleasant surprises on this cruise.

Sandra and I attended a cooking demonstration with Chef Velu the Indian Chef on board. During the demonstration we were told that if any of us wanted to have a Indian dinner one night to contact him the night before and let him know.
    I went back to our table mates Paul and Anne and asked them if they were interested and they were very interested so we made arrangements for it the next night through the Assistant Dinning Room Manager Mr. K.
    I must say we must have been the envy of the people around us that night as we had a complete meal that was fantastic. It is interesting to see Chef Velu spin on dishes we have had in Vancouver.
    Mr. K could not be out done so he said we must have a complete traditional Filipino dinner one night. We arranged that for a few nights later.
    The night we had this we were not familiar with Filipino customs and thus there was a rather large bowl of soup on the table. While we were provided spoons to eat this we were not provided bowls for it. We were later told that everyone eats out of the same bowl. One places rice on their spoon and then dips it in the soup to help absorb the liquid.
    We gave Mr. K full marks for this dinner.

It was very nice to have a change from the regular dinner menu. While we were told at the start of the cruise that there would be no duplication of the menu’s for the 24 day cruise. I did notice that we had Prime Rib on the menu every 3 days and then the following day it was in the Lido for Lunch.
    The dinners had a great variety over the 24 days but in the end I just needed a break from a full sit down dinner I found.

I mentioned that we had dinner ashore in Mykonos which was a welcome break from full dinner service. Talking with Mr. K he said on longer cruises it is not unusual for people to order breakfast for dinner. I could agree with that.

I can’t say enough about the Bar Tenders Gil and Leo in the Crow’s Nest. I had met Leo back in November and now Gil on this cruise. Gil remembered all our names right away and both Katie and Amy would be in the Crow’s nest after dinner with him.

If one has done a cruise with HAL you may have run across a Deck Steward called Boozee. I had the pleasure of meeting him back in November and when we stepped on board I heard his voice and could not believe he was back. Boozee is best described as off the wall. He could make you laugh no matter where you were on the ship if you ran into him, in fact you didn’t have to run into him you just had to be in the same place as him.

As the Vista class of ships do not have onboard laundry one has to think about this for a 24 day cruise. I inquired prior to my leaving with ship board services about unlimited laundry and was told the cost would be $110.00 for the 24 days. I arrived on board to find that this was not the case and that I would be charged $80.00 per 12 day cruise. While I admit I signed up for it I was more annoyed once again with head office saying one thing and the ship something else. The laundry was done well and came back promptly. In one case placed on the bed in the morning and back after dinner. Everything was pressed and hung up.

What I found on this cruise is you pay a higher price than NCL or even Carnival as HAL is suppose to be the premium product. I do not know if the others have slipped the same way HAL has but I have to ask myself is it worth the extra cost? Should I go back and try NCL again or try MSC?

I also had a small issue with a piece of luggage being damaged in Barcelona when I boarded the ship. On day 3 of the cruise I took it down to the front office and they took it from me and said they would look after it.
    It was with about 4 days left in the cruise I had heard nothing and thought I better check with the front office. I went down to enquire to find out that no paper work had been filled out and they could not tell me where it was. I was asked to fill out paperwork and provide a cost of the luggage. I did and they looked at it and said oh I think we will just pay you out. I said that does me no good with 2 ports to go to try and find something. I would rather you try and look for it and put some effort into finding it.
    I received a call the next morning saying it had been located and repaired. Amazing it was that easy.

In the end I see the cut backs in staff having an effect on service. Is this good, no not by a long shot. I see policy being made by head office and not being passed down to the ship where it is in effect. At this point I do not see a cruise planned for the next little while as I have a few land holidays planned. My next cruise would likely be 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal and the new locks going into service.
    I do know HAL is reworking the perks of the Mariner Club and we will see what that brings. I also had some problems with the booking in the fact I ended up with a one category downgrade and a ship board credit being cancelled at final payment.
    It is things like this and the “forgetting” that I was on the first 12 days of the cruise that just frustrate me to no end.

Looking back now at the cruise I had thought this would not be as port intensive as it was because of the late evenings and then late days the next day. This was port intensive and there were days I was tired and dragging my butt. A cruise is suppose to be relaxing while allowing you to travel to different locations. I can say this wasn’t as relaxing as I would have liked.

I did get to see all the places except one I had planned for on this cruise.

I was finally able to share my receiving of my medallion with my daughter Amy. I know she was happy to see me get it.

I can be contacted at philatsea at the domain of this page with any questions.

our cabinlocation of the Fruit BasketKatie, Amy in back and Anne and Paul our table mates