"" Writer's Wanderings: September 2023

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Santorini, Greece

Our ride to shore

Back in 2012 we finished a cruise that ended in Athens and then flew to Santorini for a four day stay. It was a beautiful four days. You might even call it romantic. It's hard not to feel romantic when you explore Santorini. It is a beautiful place.

So, when our ship anchored in the caldera, the volcano basin that forms the harbor of the town of Fira, we hoped to revisit some of the places we had enjoyed. At least this day the weather looked to cooperate. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was very comfortable. Since we didn't have a tour, we took our time with breakfast thinking that the rush to tenders would be over when we were ready to leave. We hoped it wouldn't be as bad as the day at Mykonos.

Switchback trail to the top

To our surprise an announcement came just as we finished breakfast that it was open tender time. That meant that you didn't need a tender ticket. You could go directly to the tender platform. When we looked over the side from the Promenade Deck we saw nice big local Greek boats that were tendering so the operation was going a lot faster...from ship to shore.

The only way to get to the town from where the tenders docked was either by donkey, walking uphill and up about a hundred steps as well or taking the cable car. There was no way we would ride a donkey up the steep switchback trail. Walking up was out of the question as well. That left the cable car. We'd done that before from a cruise ship and it was a pleasant ride. What wasn't pleasant this trip was an influx of about 10,000 cruise passengers from four ships that were anchored nearby.

Cable car

Now some of those passengers were going on tours which were tendered to a different dock where buses awaited. Let's say a generous 30% went on tours. That left about 7,000 to try to make it up the hill to town. The cable cars take about 600 passengers an hour according to what I read. That would make about ten hours to get them all up the hill. I don't think it took all that long, but when we saw the line that was at least more than an hour long, we turned around and wove our way back through the crowd and back onto the tender to return to the ship.

Disappointed a bit but ready to spend a "sea day" in port. We gathered our decks of cards, stopped by the Dutch Cafe and got our coffees and headed down to the game room where there were nice tables to play on. Bob got even with my run of card luck and by the time we were ready for lunch I was ready to cry, "Uncle!"

The ship was quiet. The weather was perfect and the view was lovely. We sat for a long time on our balcony and enjoyed the restful time together. 

So, we didn't get to see Fira, Santorini, again close up but the day couldn't have been nicer if we had. It ended with a glorious sunset over the caldera.

 On to Athens...

Mykonos Island, Greece

How exciting to finally get to visit Mykonos, a place we’d never been before. Preparation for the visit included listening to a video of port information and then a Q&A with the cruise/travel director who talked of having to tender to the new port and then take a SeaBus (ferry) to the old port. There was a land bus but she didn’t recommend it as the SeaBus was faster and more convenient.

We were ready. Bob had gone online and gotten a code number from the SeaBus. You couldn’t purchase tickets ahead of time but supposedly the code would get you the opportunity to purchase the ticket on the dock or ferry. The cost would be $2/each one way. Now we just had to get off the ship. Not so easy.

After a nice leisurely breakfast which we thought would allow plenty of time for the rush to the tenders to be over, we headed down to the lounge where the tender tickets were being handed out. The lounge was packed with people waiting for their ticket to be called and the line was a bit long to get the tickets. When we did, we learned the wait would be about an hour before our group would be called. To alleviate the crowded lounge we were told we could wait anywhere on the ship.

We returned to the room and I charged my phone one more time to be sure we would have enough battery life for the GPS My City walk we planned to take. The weather forecast showed a 30% chance of rain and there were a few iffy clouds around so we decided to take one umbrella along just in case although at that point chances for rain were supposed to dwindle.

An hour later we were finally on our way, the sun shining although once in a while a cloud would hide it. It was keeping the temps down to a comfortable level though. The ride into the new port wasn’t bad but as we exited the open tender which was a local Greek boat, we could feel a little spritz of rain. No problem. A misty rain we could handle.

The SeaBus was just across a couple of lanes that led into a parking area and we crossed over to it, purchased our tickets and got in line to board. Just as we were next to board, it filled up and we were directed to another boat which was really a glass bottom tour boat that was put into service to handle our ship traffic as well as another smaller cruise ship that was docked there.

Thankfully we found a seat undercover because about halfway to the Old Port those who were on the open deck above started streaming down the stairs. It had begun to rain. Not hard…yet.

On shore, we found a canopy to stand under and pull up the map for our walk. The rain let up a bit and we started out. We found the first little chapel of St. Nicholas which we had actually passed by just off the SeaBus. The next church, Church of Panagia Papaortiani, was a little harder to figure out. The streets are more like walkways between buildings. Nothing is marked with names that we could see and none of them made any sense. Add to that, it was beginning to rain again. We found the place and quickly took pictures of the unusual church which is really five churches that have been built on the sight over the years beginning around 1425.

As we rounded the church and began to find our way to the next sight we wanted, the unusual windmills, it started raining a bit harder and the wind picked up. Bob had the umbrella up but by now, we were wishing we had brought both of them with us.

The path to the windmills took us through several outdoor cafes, literally. The path goes right through them. People were gathered there almost filling each one as it was the only cover around. With the wind picking up however, those closest to the water’s edge would soon be running for cover as the waves splashed against the wall next to the tables.

As we got to a point where we could see the windmills in the distance, we took a picture and then ducked into the only cover we could find, a bar. Surprisingly, it was empty but for another couple. We waited for someone to ask if we wanted to order anything but no one seemed to care. Finally I got up and fetched our own menu and we finally got the waitress to take an order for some beverages. Meanwhile, the rain was pouring down and people were ducking in wherever they could find cover.

When our drinks were finished and our commiseration with two other couples who had come in was done, we decided we’d better head back. It didn’t look like it was letting up. By that time the walkways were flooded. Water was pouring down toward us from drain pipes as well as the clouds. Of course all of the storm water would drain toward the lower part and into the sea right where we were. It was useless to try and find a dry spot to walk or even just slight puddles. Around one corner it was like a running creek. Our shoes were hopelessly soaked.

We weren’t as bad off as some who had absolutely no protection and looked like drown rats. When we reached the dock, all of us were led to a larger ferry boat and taken to the new port. From there those of us who still had to tender out to our ship made it to the tenders that awaited to carry disappointed visitors back to the ship.

And guess what? No sooner were we onboard the ship, the sun broke through and the rain clouds dispersed. By then there was no going back. It was time for dinner. And for us, that was just fine. Even though we could have returned, the ship stayed until 10:30 that night, we knew we were coming back in a week on the second segment of our cruise. We would just hope for better weather.

Showered, dressed and warmed by a good dinner, we went outside and walked the Promenade Deck since the ship was still in port and not moving so there was no wind. What there was though was breathtaking. A beautiful moon rose above the island of Mykonos and shimmered on the water before us. Peace.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Istanbul, Day Two

Part of the underground terminal
where excursion buses pick you up.

In addition to being one of the busiest ports we've been in, Istanbul has built an amazing cruise terminal since our last visit. It is mostly underground and takes a good fifteen minutes just to get from the ship to the exit into the mall that borders the docking area. You walk down a ramp into the terminal, take several escalators down further, pass through a checkpoint that requires a barcode distributed by the ship, more escalators and you finally find yourself in a huge area that looks like tourist information and you exit into the shopping area.

Reverse much of that to get back to the ship. First of all, however, you need to go through screening just to get into the shopping area, Bags through an x-ray and walk through the metal detector. It does make you feel safer in the shopping area which is quite nice with upscale shops and restaurants and a museum. You find your way to the cruise terminal entrance and then weave your way through the corridors and escalators and another security check before arriving at the ship. 

Just a few of the escalators to exit and enter

Half way through the whole thing upon return is a lighted sign with an arrow pointing to the ship and it says "8 minutes to ship." Thankfully for returning passengers who might need them, there are a couple of restrooms along the way. Toward the end is also a duty free shop and for once, you don't have to walk through it to get back as in other terminals. 

Now to get through this maze coming or going, there is no cheese but there are plenty of signs so it's not too confusing. But I digress. After our morning exercise to get off the ship, we were on our way to what we thought would be a nice morning.

The red Hop On Hop Off bus was stationed near the Galataport terminal. When we arrived at 9:30, the bus was there and several people were waiting. They seemed confused about the bus schedule and we soon found out why. Apparently this bus was just an office where you could buy tickets. Or not. Every time we tried to get a handle on when and where the bus was going we got a slightly different answer.

A small part of the Galaport shopping 
area. Very nice.

To make a long story short, we bought tickets for what we thought would be a leisurely morning of riding the route and seeing the sites from the bus. Boy, were we wrong. This bus would only take us to the starting point of the route which was where the Blue Mosque and the Hagai Sophia were located. It would go directly backwards on the route to take us there. Fine, we figured we would sit on the bus and continure from the start point. Not so.

We were told we had to exit the bus that this one was not leaving and we should take the bus in front of us which had just left and gone through the gated area and was not stopping to pick us up. We waited at the square between the mosques. Now it had already taken us a good forty-five minutes to get through the Istanbul traffic to arrive at Stop One (with no stops along the way). We were going to have to wait 40 to 50 minutes before the next bus left. Time depended upon who you asked and we couldn't even get a straight answer about the bus that was sitting there. Was it the one that we would take?

There was not enough time to go inside either mosque so we just wandered around and took a few pictures and kept an eye on the activity around the bus. We didn't want it leaving without us.

After about fifty minutes (it was now going on 11am), the bus doors opened and people poured into it. We managed to grab a couple of seats on top but when I pulled out the map to look at the stops and thought about how long it had taken us so far, I said to Bob that I didn't want to chance getting back to the ship late. It wasn't clear whether they would take a circuitous route or not and with all the traffic, we could miss our onboard time that was 3:30. It was questionable whether we would make that if we continued past stop 4 which was where we had started. Bob agreed and we rode the bus to the ship and got off.

It had cost us $48 each for that short tour of Istanbul. Lesson learned. I do believe it would have taken a whole day to ride that route given their "schedule". 

When we exited the bus, we did a short walk to one end of the mall area in Galataport and then got back on the ship. It was noon and we were tired and discouraged but grateful to have gotten another look at the two famous mosques if only from the outside. 

Roasted chestnuts and corn. Very tempting.

A relaxing afternoon and some great evening entertainment had us feeling much better by the end of the day. We looked forward to our stop the next day in Mykonos, Greece, a place we'd never been before.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Istanbul, Turkey

 Morning dawned and the sun peeked around the curtains at our  balcony window inviting us to open them and look out at the sixth largest city in the world, Istanbul. Istanbul is a city divided. Half of it is on the European continent and the other half is on the continent of Asia. 

The Bosphorus Strait separates the two parts of the city and is the busiest port area I've ever seen. Ferries and large ships and huge tourist boats keep the water churning. Added to the wakes from all the boats was a brisk wind helping to whip up the surface of the water. The upside of all of it is that the breeze off the water kept the temperatures feeling comfortable.

Our day started leisurely. We had been to Istanbul before and seen the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia mosque and the Topaki Palace. Our tour then had been a private group arranged through contact with the Cruise Critic group for that cruise. It was wonderful and we didn't think we would duplicate it so instead of getting a tour and being disappointed, we chose to do a little walking. 

Docked at the new Galataport cruise terminal, we were in a different area of the city than before so we decided to explore a couple of the sites nearer the ship. We could see the Galata Tower not too far from us so we headed in that direction using my GPS My CityApp. What it didn't tell us was that it was all up hill, nice steep hills some of which had many steps. At least it was the beginning of our walk and not the end. The rest would be downhill.

The Galata Tower from which the area gets its name, dates back to 1348 and was erected by Genoese Italians as a vantage point over the city. It was used as a fire lookout tower up until the 1960s. Once we reached it, we took a few moments to catch our breath and take a few pictures. A ticket booth was around one side and since my app said there was an elevator, we checked on the ticket price. It was 675 in Turkish Lira, $25 USD. All we were going to get for that was a view of the city and much of that could be seen from the top deck of our ship. We passed. 

Buoyed by the prospect of the rest of our walk being downhill, we started out for a mosque that was just past where our ship was. The sidewalks went from cobblestone, to brick, to flat slabs of stone and back again. Much of it was very uneven and our feet and legs began to feel it. We paused for a few minutes and sat on a small wall along the way where another couple from the ship were perched to rest and struck up a conversation.

The couple had been here before and were walking to the Dolmabahce Palace where they said there was a nice garden you could walk through and if you wanted, go into the palace for a fee. They weren't sure how much farther it was though and they were getting tired. I looked it up on my app and it showed just about a half mile farther so we continued on while the other couple contemplated the extra walk. 

They were right, just past the mosque which was built by the same sultan, was a beautiful garden and beyond it an arched palace gate. We had no desire to go inside. The line was a bit long and we were quite a bit tired with a mile walk back to the ship ahead of us. We walked around the garden and took pictures of the clock tower which was built in France and enjoyed the garden walkway that led to a nice bench in the shade where we sat and soaked in the warm temperature with the gentle cool breeze.

I read a little about the palace on my app. Apparently In the 1850s the Ottoman sultans shifted from the more famous Topkapi Palace to the Dolmabahce which is said to be the largest and most extravagant. Perhaps we should have gone in. 

We made it back to the ship, both of us almost limping from sore feet and legs and backs. The uneven pavement was really difficult to walk on for two oldsters. Since we had an excursion in the evening, we didn't venture out again and instead fell asleep for a much needed rest.

Our excursion in the evening was to be a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus with some entertainment and of course Turkish cuisine. It turned out to be quite a disappointment. The food was not all that great, the entertainment was not anywhere near where we could see it well enough and we sat on the level of the boat that had tiny dirty windows that we could only open part way to even see out. So much for seeing the lights of the city at night. I did manage to snap a couple shots off the back of the boat and one or two from the slight opening of the window. 

The couple who shared our table laughed with us as the DJ began playing Spanish pop music and topped it off with the Macarena. So much for immersion in Turkish music.

Since this was an overnight stay, we went to bed with the plan of taking the hop on hop off bus we'd seen just outside the Galataport shopping area the next morning. That would be a whole other adventure.

[I should have posted about our first man overboard experience on a cruise ship when we were in Kusadasi but I forgot to include it. We returned to the ship and were in the stateroom when a general alarm was sounded and announcement was made that there was a man overboard port side. That was our side of the ship so we dashed out to the balcony. Below us we could see a guy in red swim trunks floating on his back and then turning to swim a bit back and forth. Our first thought was some dope decided to dive off the ship for a swim. We watched until he was out of our view. A little bit later the captain announced that the man was a local who somehow swam to the ship and was now in the custody of local authorities being questioned. As the guy in the neighboring stateroom said, "Somebody's gonna have a lot of 'splainin' to do."]

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Kusadasi, Turkey

 There have been frequent stops for us in Kusadasi. Our first stop had us visiting Ephesus which is amazing enough to want to see again. When we went to book the excursion, it was already filled for this day in the city so we booked it for the next time we stop in the second segment of this cruise. The next time in Kusadasi, we had just walked into town and out to see a fort that sits at the end of a walkway which extends into the harbor. This time would be very special though. We were meeting friends for a real Turkish breakfast.

Our friends who also spend their winters in Key Largo spend part of their year in Turkey. They have lived all over the world and traveled much of it and we enjoy swapping stories. When they discovered we were going to be in Kusadasi on our cruise, they insisted we would have to meet and spend some time together. Little did we know that they lived two hours away.

Our meeting place was a hotel that was about twenty minutes walk from our ship. It was out of the traffic and chaos of the pier. We arrived a bit early and settled in at the small cafe that I believe was a part of the hotel. I love Turkish tea and ordered a cup. Bob ordered a cup of coffee and we sat watching the traffic go by and enjoying our beautiful morning as well as our beverages. 

Before long, we spotted our friends and they waved from the car as they pulled over a bit down the street to park. We paid for our tea and coffee (which was only $4.20 USD) and before long we were off to a restaurant in the countryside that they had found for a real Turkish breakfast which was really a Turkish brunch. As they explained, on a Sunday people did not eat before eleven in the morning. 

And that was only the beginning
of the food!

The ride through the countryside was fun. Out of the city the road became a more narrow two lane and wove around hillsides and past what looked like olive orchards and some farmland. We were truly out in the countryside.

The restaurant was about a half hour drive which gave us a little time to start catching up on the time we'd been apart. Suddenly we were there. Just a few spots where cars were parked off the road. We parked and were immediately greeted by the man who owns the restaurant. Now, this was not a building. This was a garden with trellised spots that had tables. It was also part of a farm so we were greeted as well by a rooster and hen. It was the perfect setting though to be able to eat and visit without a lot of people bustling around like in the city.

The owner led us to a spot that was already set for the four of us and not long after we sat down, the food began appearing and appearing and appearing. The table was so full, we ended up with a pan set on another table beside us. Most of what was there, I didn't know the name of and wouldn't remember when I was told but there were all sorts of jams (I loved the fig) and olives and fresh vegetables that included homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers. One dish was a tomato and egg combination. Another pan was fried eggs. Another pan was sliced sausage that was flavorful and just a little spicy. 

But oh, the bread! They set a big basket of it right next to me. It was too hard to resist and I didn't. Between that and the fig jam I was in heaven. Other vegetables were set down that had been grilled and served with a dollop of yogurt. There was so much I'm not sure I even got around to tasting everything.

The Turkish tea is just that. It is grown in Turkey. They brew it in a double pot. The top pot is more like a syrup and then it is diluted with hot water from the lower pot to your liking. It is a good tea. A much different flavor than the usual English breakfast tea.

As our friends explained, breakfast on Sunday was to be enjoyed slowly and with good conversation. We did both and three hours passed without us noticing the time. It is three hours we will cherish the memory of for a long time to come. 

By the time we were through, we had met everyone in the family, the wife, the son and daughter, the sister. It was truly a family affair.

On our way out, we stopped to thank them again for all the food and service and I suddenly noticed the wood fired oven that the bread was being cooked in. Wow. 

The temperature was climbing as we drove back into the city and our friends dropped us off closer to the pier so we didn't have to walk in the heat. They were on their way to the airport about an hour away to pick up a family member who was coming to visit. We said goodbye quickly in the car since the area was heavily trafficked and we walked back to the ship feeling the goodness of a great meal and great friends and an opportunity to see another side of Turkey away from the tourists.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Sphinx and The Nile

Our guide told us that many believe the pyramids were built with slave labor. She said that wasn’t true, that there was a chief engineer and there were skilled builders. Some cut the stones, some moved them and placed them. Many of those builders actually had small burial places near the pyramids. Okay, but where was the Sphinx? The pictures I’d always seen showed it next to the pyramids. We had boarded the bus to go to see it. Was it that far?

Actually what appears in many pictures to be flat ground where the pyramids and Sphinx are located is really an area of plateaus. The plateaus on which the pyramids sit are higher than the Sphinx so it sits almost in a little valley but just beneath the pyramids.

As we drove by, the guide said now was the time to get a really good shot of the Sphinx with the pyramids behind. I almost didn’t get the shot out the bus window because I thought we would be walking in front of it. Thankfully I took a couple of shots with my phone because we never got that angle back. I pitied those on the other side of the bus who didn’t have time to get up to come to our side to get the shot.

Temple of mummification

Next to the Sphinx is the temple of mummification. I’m sure it has a proper name but I don’t know it. We stood inside several columns with stone mantels laid across them and tried to listen to the guide who talked about how bodies were mummified. I lost interest in the heat. There was little breeze and the space was a bit confining. The most I got out of it was from another guide who was talking to his group about a table that would have been in the center where the group was standing and there the procedure would have taken place. I figured if I really got interested or Bob decided he wanted to be mummified, I’d find the information elsewhere.

The space around the Sphinx where we were was really crowded. We took a couple of pictures and then walked away a bit. There was no going back to the bus without our guide since wherever he was, it wasn’t where he dropped us off.

When we were finally back in the bus and on our way again, I reflected on all that I’d seen. Like many things that are great wonders, the crowds and hawkers take away some of the experience but I am so glad we had the opportunity to see it all. It is so hard to imagine that something like that has lasted for thousands of years especially given the conditions of blowing sand that has to wear it down through the ages. It was an era that dates to Biblical times and the wonders of the culture in which the Israelites survived. The desert they travel through was not so pretty as the irrigated fields we’d seen. And they wandered for forty years. Thank goodness I had a bus and air conditioning.

We left Giza and went into the city of Cairo. The second part of our excursion was a cruise on the Nile. More importantly at that point in time, we would have lunch. It was already two in the afternoon and breakfast had been at 6 am. We’d snacked on trail mix that I’d brought along but it was almost gone at this point. We were hungry.

Plenty of shopping opportunities

The bus drove through a nice area of the city as we neared the river. Lots of trees and flowering bushes graced fancier buildings many of which were hotels and restaurants. In front of what appeared to be a large river boat, we exited the bus and walked down a ramp that led through this large boat to a somewhat smaller one yet large enough to hold what I’m estimating to be about 160 of us for lunch in a huge dining hall.

The lunch was buffet with all sorts of good things the best of which was the meatballs made from lamb and of course all the lovely desserts. Not long after we were settled with our plates, the boat left the shore and sailed a bit one way on the river and turned to head back the other way. Meanwhile, when most of us were done eating, the band appeared with all sorts of instruments and the entertainment began.

One fellow had quite a costume that lit up as he twirled round and round. The music got louder and some of us, knowing the three hour ride back, found a restroom and waited in line for that away from some of the loudness. Meanwhile, Bob enjoyed the female dancer whose costume did not cover shoulders and knees as we had been told to dress. He’s still smiling the day after.

The three hour bus trip back to the ship only took about two and a half hours. We arrived a little before seven. The buffet and dining room had stayed open late for us (most people had been gone for the day) so we dropped our things in the room and went for a light snack. There would be no evening activities for us. We dropped into bed, glad to know we faced a sea day in the morning to recuperate.

So, a visit to the pyramids to contemplate historic Biblical times and a cruise on the Nile. It made Bob think of Moses in the basket among the rushes. Me? I closed my eyes and thought about being Cleopatra for a few moments. Well, a girl can dream.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Giza, The Pyramids


As we drove to the next stop at the Pyramids, I looked out at all the camels and their owners. Some were riding across sand dunes and at one point there was a Christmas card moment with three of them on a hill silhouetted against a blue sky. Soon enough though, we were back in a midst of cars and buses and vans vying for a spot to stop. Of course any spot worked since there were no lines spaces. I guess with all the sand, lines would have disappeared quickly anyway.

The guide had handed out tickets to several of the guests who were brave enough to want to venture into the pyramid. Apparently you can go into any of the three large pyramids but it is less crowded and less expensive to do one of the smaller ones. Today however with it being Friday and the place as crowded as it was, it was going to take some time for those going in to stand in line and then make the journey. Again we had a time limit of thirty minutes. I think she knew it would take more but at least she would get some of us back earlier.

We had passed on the idea of going inside the pyramid long before we’d boarded the bus in the morning. The ship had offered several sessions of explanation about the excursion and of course there were always the comments of those who’d gone before. The passage to the inner room (which has nothing in it) was said to be narrow and with a very low ceiling. One person in the Q&A about the excursion had described it as a crab walk. No matter, we didn’t relish the idea of feeling claustrophobic in a tomb. We passed.

There was a bit of a walkway to this pyramid but somehow we missed it and ended up weaving in and out of camels who were resting, waiting for their next rider. The walkway had a double chain stretched from post to post and when we got to it, we looked both ways and decided we’d better go back to find the beginning of it. A nice Egyptian gentleman in robe and kaffiyeh (cloth headdress) offered to lift the top chain so I could pass between them without having to climb over both. Wasn’t that nice? Hmmm.

We were no sooner on the walkway than he was handing us plastic bags with material inside and telling us it was a welcome to Egypt gift. Then he proceeded to open one and place the white cloth on top of Bob’s head, tie it and anchor it with a band. He started to do it for me and I backed him off. He did however say that he was selling them for his children and could we give him something. I reached into the pocket of my purse and tried to hand him about three or four Euro coins. He insisted I had a twenty in my purse. “No,” I said, “I only have a five and I showed him.” He took it and said he was sure there was a twenty in my purse. I must have been tired. I shook my head and said no only another five.

Tombs of the builders of pyramids

This nice gentleman took my other five before I could think about how stupid I was. Then he knew I had those coins and asked for one, “For my children.” He smiled nicely the whole time and we walked away with postcards and the two kaffiyehs that probably weren’t worth the ten dollars. Bob hadn’t brought more than $15 and some Euro change so we weren’t souvenir shopping any more.

We walked up to the pyramid as close as we could get without being hassled by camels and hawkers. (Boy, I thought the Caribbean was bad.) Finally we gave up on a close personal touch and walked over to another spot where we could get a selfie for posterity with the other pyramid in the background.

It was getting pretty warm, hot in the sun, so we started back to the bus. Thankfully there was a gentle breeze blowing so at least there was air circulating and the humidity was low. If the breeze had been more though, we’d have been really dusty from the sand.

We sat on the bus and waited for those who’d ventured into the pyramid. Some said it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. Others came back talking of how hot it was but worth the trip. Maybe I’d have thought about it a few years ago but I rather enjoyed viewing the pyramid from the outside.

I haven’t mentioned yet that among the camels and horses there were also plenty of merchants set up with the usual souvenirs for a dollar or two or three. I liked the answer one guy in our group had. When asked if he’d like a wooden souvenir he said, “No mate. Can’t take wood back into Australia.”

I turned to him and said, “Boy, I could be Australian.”

“You wish!” he said with a chuckle. Ah, Aussie humor.

Next: The Sphinx

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Alexandria to Giza, Egypt

 Alexandria, Egypt. Not as large a seaport as Shanghai but it is probably the second largest we have sailed into. The morning sun was just beginning to peek through the clouds as we finally made it through the lines of security to get to our bus for the excursion to the pyramids. During the days prior to our arrival, our passports were collected, Egyptian authorities came aboard, inspected and stamped everyone’s passports whether they were going ashore or not and then the next day our passports were returned to us.

The ship’s staff instructed us to carry our passports with us and to guard them carefully as a lost passport would mean going to the counsel in Cairo, spending the night in order to get another one and then flying on to our next port to meet the ship again. Not a lovely thought. Bob had left his waist belt that holds money and passports at home and we were kind of at a loss at where to keep them. My purse? His back pocket? I even considered tucking them in my bra and then thought of how sweaty they would get in the Egyptian heat. Finally, I remembered the lightweight pants I’d bought for the hot days and the zippered section in one leg. I had thought my iPhone would fit there but it didn’t. Turns out the passports, although a tight squeeze, fit perfectly.

Exiting the ship, we still had to go through a security check. Usually that happens on the way back but the Egyptian security checked to be sure our passport was stamped and x-rayed bags. I’ll take a guess it was to check for firearms or maybe drugs?

Once on the bus we were relieved to find it was air conditioned and working. The day was already warming and it was said to be up to 95 F by the afternoon. There was also a toilet on the bus but halfway through our three hour bus ride, word spread that it wasn’t flushing. So glad we were sitting near the front.

Our guide rattled off lots of history and dates and facts for the first hour and then gave up when she realized a lot of people were still sleeping. I found the population numbers interesting. There are over 5.5 million in Alexandria and the greater metropolitan area of Cairo tops out at over 22.1 million. Cairo was the direction we were headed but from the highway, it appeared that Alexandria went on for quite a while.

The drive to Giza where the Pyramids and Sphinx are was mostly highway and not a whole lot of traffic between the cities. We passed lots of flat area of mostly sand but there were quite a few areas that were irrigated and looked to have crops growing. A couple of corn fields were done for the year. Our guide said that the land here was sold cheaply by the government and later canals were constructed to bring in the water thereby making it a little more profitable for those farming the land. While I am sure there are those making a lot more money, most of the areas that were populated along our route appeared to be poorer. The median salary is less than $300USD/month.

Giza was not far off the highway. The community is still developing and appeared to be a lot newer than what we’d seen in Alexandria. The Pyramids were about five minutes from our exit but a good fifteen minutes getting into the entrance gate. The weekend in Egypt is Friday and Saturday and this was a Friday crowd swelled with tourists as well as more local people coming for the weekend.

Our first sight of the Pyramids was already pumping up adrenaline. This was what we had booked this segment of the cruise for. As we waited and watched the crowds vying for position in cars and on foot to get into the park, our guide gave us more information about the Pyramids.

I found it fascinating that there were actually seven here in Giza. Most pictures only show the largest three. The Great Pyramid, the largest, was built for Khufu (Cheops), a king of the fourth dynasty. The next largest was built by his son who succeeded him and then the next by the grandson. I believe it was the son who built his as tall as possible without making it taller than his father’s out of respect. It didn’t stop him from building it on a plateau that was a bit higher so that it actually appears taller.

Around the three large pyramids are several smaller ones which our guide said belong to other members of the family. You might say that this was a family cemetery plot.

Finally in the gate, we were instructed that we only had twenty minutes at our first stop, a panoramic view which would take in all of the pyramids. Of course that always works well when you have forty people getting off and on a bus, add the fact that the toilet didn’t work and you have half of us standing in line for the toilets that were just a step above outhouses.

Thankfully our guide could change some money for Egyptian dollars. It cost ten Egyptian dollars to use the facility. For two Euros (about $2USD) I got 4 ten dollar Egyptian bills. I used one and Bob used one to get us a spectacular adventure in toileting. The toilets were flushable but not exactly the cleanest and when you paid your fee, you received a wad of toilet paper to use. Our adventure took a good ten minutes.

Now at this stop we were also told that you could get a camel ride for $5 USD or take a picture with a camel for $3 USD. So, what about that 20 minute thing? It turned into thirty minutes or more by the time our guide and the security guy who was riding with us rounded everyone up. Oh, let me tell you about the security guys. Every one of the thirteen or fifteen buses that left the ship for the pyramids had a security guard. Each one looked like a member of our Secret Service. Dark suits and ties, sunglasses. The only difference is no ear pieces for communication. They used phones and each sported some sort of gun that looked more like one you would shoot to anesthetize a large animal. Maybe it was for a charging camel? Because there were a lot of camels!

Camels and horses were everywhere and their owners trying to hustle you for a ride or a picture. Let me tell you, they were good. One followed us at one point talking behind us cheerfully about our visit and where we were from and when I turned to say something to him, a camel was looming over all of our heads. When I startled, he said, “Not to be afraid. This is Alice. Want a picture?”

I’d like to say we stood amazed looking at the pyramids and perhaps we did for a few minutes while we took a few pictures but the crowds were endless and the, well you know, on the ground was always a possibility of walking in. Did I mention that there were few walkways and the parking lot was a total free-for-all with no organization. So we dodged camels, horses and buggies and cars and buses and found our way back to the bus thankfully unscathed and ready to move on.

Next up: Getting up close to a pyramid with an invitation to go inside.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Nafplion, Greece

The light streamed in the window from our balcony as Bob drew back the curtains in the morning. Surrounding the harbor where we were anchored were sun kissed mountains and hills and blue, blue water. Nafplion would be a tender port but it was kind of nice to not be tied to a dock. The view from the ship was spectacular.

We were in no hurry to get off the ship as we had no excursion from the ship to account to. Leisurely, we collected our tender ticket and waited but a few minutes for our number to be called. The ship was using its own tenders for those on excursions. They would be taken to waiting buses somewhere. Our tender ride would be on local boats and right to the downtown port area. Perfect.

In doing my research, I had stumbled upon a place we could explore on our own, the Bourtzi castle, which it turns out is really a fortress that was converted to a hotel of sorts back in 1930. So, I guess it was someone's "castle" for a while. 

The only way to get to the castle is by boat since it sits on a tiny island in the middle of the harbor. I had found that there was a ferry but it wasn't obvious which way we should go once we got off the tender. Thankfully, Bob spotted a tourist information booth close by and we inquired there. 

"Oh yes," she said and pointed. "That way 200 meters. 'Odeseus' cruise."

We thanked her and walked in that direction for what we thought was 200 meters until we were about to pass the city tour train and thought that the ferry to the castle had to be there somewhere. No, said the train operator and pointed a bit farther down. "My meter reader is off," said Bob, "I thought we'd walked 200."

In front of a row of large sidewalk cafes sat a small well used passenger boat and the sign across from it said "Odyssey Cruise". And there it was. Our ride.

For a mere five euros each we could get a roundtrip to the castle. The boatsman spoke enough English and had enough body language (with a smile) to indicate when it was time to get on and off and how to pay, in cash of course.

The ride to the island was fun on the old boat that ran quite well under the skillful hands of its captain and soon we stepped off and into the castle. A lady sat in a little cubby hole and almost scared us as she greeted us just inside the entrance arch. The price was four euros for residents over sixty-five but five euros for everyone else. Senior status did not get us a discount as foreigners.

We met another lady inside who was there to greet us and let us know she would answer questions but we were on our own to explore. She did tell us that the castle had sat closed for eighteen years and in the last eight years, they had done major renovation. It was still a work in progress as they were planning on putting in a small cafe and gift shop. 

There were lots and lots of steps. Most had handrails but not all. Bob's only comment on that was, "This wouldn't fly in the States." It did have some spots where someone could easily fall or make a misstep. I climbed most of the several layers to the castle but passed on the one that went to the very top. There was no handrail and a whole lot of steps. Bob braved it and took a few pictures from the top.

Several signs gave some information on the castle. One of them dated the fortress back to the late 1400s. Cleverly, they had surrounded the castle with layers of rocks that were hidden under the water's surface. Any large boat attacking would run aground. 

For anyone interested, please note that there are restrooms and an elevator for handicap accessibility although I'm not quite sure how you would get there if in a wheelchair unless somewhat mobile. And, in the future, there will be a lovely cafe, I'm sure.

After about an hour of walking around and up and down, we boarded our sweet little ride back to town and decided that we would rather take a city train tour than to walk the streets ourselves. The sun was warming the day and we weren't up for a hot walk.

The city tour train was only four euros each and was almost an hour long. It showed us enough of the city to get the flavor of it. Lovely narrow side streets, shuttered windows open to the sun and fresh air, small iron balconies and hanging plants. Here and there a church, a school (the kids all waved), and of course lots of open air cafes. All in all, a very pleasant place.

The train tour ended not far from our tender dock and we arrived in time to catch the tender as it was loading again. Lunch, a little R&R and here I am again trying to get this posted before my internet gets funky again. Oh, one last thing...

Last night we had a great performance from a stand up comic. Simon Palomares. One of the best lines from his talk about life aboard the ship was how it made him uncomfortable to go into the gym and see the captain exercising---on the rowing machine. "Think about it." HIs delivery was a lot better than mine. 

Just one more smile. Last night, according to our account statement, Bob drank 770 cups of coffee! After a good laugh, we straightened it out. "Glitch in the system." I think someone just hit too many keys on the register *smile*.

Next up is a day at sea and then the Pyramids in Egypt. We will be returning to Nafplion in another week or so on the second segment of our cruise. At that time we'll be visiting Corinth on an excursion. I'm excited.

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