Europa 2 Cruise, September 2014
Istanbul to Athens
Istanbul
Thursday 18th September 2014

Here we are, back in Istanbul only ten days after we were last here!

Once again we were at Heathrow at 5am for the 7.10am flight. As we approached Istanbul we seemed to be following a thunderstorm, and we had a short period of intense and unpleasant turbulence. By the time we left the airport the rain had stopped and the air was muggy.

The distance from the airport to the centre of the European side of Istanbul is only about 15 miles, but the traffic is generally so intense that it takes 45 minutes to an hour to drive between the two in either direction.
Our hotel is quite small – probably only ten rooms – and it’s brilliantly situated in a surprisingly quiet street very close to the main attractions. After we checked in we went for a walk to find the ‘Basilica Cistern’, and to get there we strolled past Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque – more about those tomorrow.

The Cistern is an enormous underground chamber that was built in the 6th century to store fresh water that had been brought into the city. There are 336 columns, each 9 metres high, arranged in 12 rows of 28, holding up the brick ceiling, and its total capacity is 100,000 tons of water. Nowadays it’s a tourist attraction and the water is only a couple of feet deep.
By the time we left it was after 5pm and too late to visit anywhere else, so we went back to our hotel for complimentary afternoon tea and cake. We’re both exhausted from our early start and our journey, so we’re planning for an early evening meal in a nearby restaurant followed by an early night!

We’ve booked an all-day excursion tomorrow that will take us to the two mosques, the Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome and the Bazaar, so we’ll probably be exhausted tomorrow evening as well!
20140918_133312.jpg
Our room in the 'Seraglio' Hotel
20140918_165510.jpg
The Basilica Cistern
20140919_083623.jpg
Hotel 'Sergalio'
20140919_085048.jpg
Aya Sophia
Istanbul
Friday 19th September 2014

We went to the nearby, ‘Cozy Garden Restaurant’ last night; we’d passed by earlier in the day and had liked the variety in its menu. Gill had Sea Bass and I had ‘Mahmudiye’, which was described as a traditional chicken dish prepared in Anatolia style with apricot, vermicelli, almond, prune, fig and butter, served with baked potato and sautéed spinach’. Mmmm! During the meal a very attractive cat ‘adopted’ us, and I donated some chicken, which meant that it stayed around us for quite a while!
We had a surprisingly nice Turkish white wine with our meal. Service was a bit slow, though, and when I chased the waiter for the dessert menu he misunderstood and brought us the bill, so we didn’t get any baklava! We were in bed by 9.30pm and slept right through to our 7am early morning call.

We were met at the hotel by our tour bus. Our first stop was the ‘Little Aya Sophia’church (now a mosque). We’d been told on our previous trip here that it had been built in the 6th century almost as a test to see whether it was possible to build the full-sized version. Because it’s still in use as a mosque the women in our group had to go through all of the cover-up palaver as far as hair and bare skin were concerned, and we all had to remove our shoes.

Next it was off to the Hippodrome. The long, oval-shaped chariot racing track is still there, with various bits of ancient statuary on show, including a granite obelisk from Egypt. At the other end of the oval there’s a large, late 19th century fountain donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Next we went to Aya Sophia, which was built in the 6th century as  an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral. It had a brief period in the 13th century as a Roman Catholic cathedral, and then in 1453 became a mosque when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. In 1935 it became a museum.

It has a truly impressive interior. Our guide said that when it was first constructed its purpose was simply to be a support for the dome, which must have been truly breathtaking in its day. At the foot of the dome there are narrow windows all the way around, which almost give the impression that it is floating above the walls.

All of the Christian iconography was painted or plastered over, but now, as the building is generally being restored, the images are resurfacing. There are four angels depicted around the walls, and gradually these are having their faces restored where until now these had been obscured with feathers from their wings. Unfortunately, this work has meant that a considerable amount of scaffolding has had to be erected, and this does detract from the glory of the building.

On leaving, we had an hour’s free time before lunch, so we wandered into the Grand Bazaar. This is a simply enormous place, with 120 ‘streets’ and 4,500 shops, all under cover. You largely get left alone to wander, it seems, at least in the larger streets, which makes a change.

Lunch was a mixed Meze, followed by either beef, chicken or vegetarian kebabs and then baklava – really quite nice. We then went to the Blue Mosque, where we had to queue for half an hour to get in. Its name comes from the blue in the tiles with which parts of it are lined, but it’s hardly an accurate description. It was built in the early 17th century and has six minarets. It’s said that there was a case to be made that this was a slight on the senior Moslem mosque in Mecca, so Istanbul’s sultan paid for a seventh to be added to that one to preserve its pre-eminence. I have to say that Aya Sophia is more dramatic and impressive, at least partly because it was built 1,000 years earlier.

After the Blue Mosque it was the last visit of a tiring day when we crossed the square to the Topkapi Palace. The Ottoman sultans ruled from here right through to the collapse of the empire in 1922. We had been told several times that the palace and its grounds were enormous and that you could easily get lost. Gill had been here before and found that puzzling, and once we’d been around it I agreed – the Alhambra in Granada is *much* bigger, even when you discount the gardens. What they have in common, of course, is that they were both built and developed by Islamic rulers.

The weather today was sunny and beautifully warm, and after nearly nine hours of walking about we were well ready to get back to our hotel for afternoon tea. This evening we’ll probably go for a walk in the city and might not even bother with a meal after our filling lunch. For tomorrow Gill’s booked a boat trip on the Bosphorus. When we return to our hotel we’ll take a taxi to ‘Europa 2’ and the *really* exciting part of our holiday will start!
20140919_092439.jpg
'Little Aya Sophia'
20140919_093240.jpg
'Little Aya Sophia'
20140919_093253.jpg
'Little Aya Sophia'
20140919_093927.jpg
20140919_094045.jpg
Graveyard at
'Little Aya Sophia'
20140919_095907.jpg
The Hippodrome
20140919_100633.jpg
Egyptian obelisk
20140919_100700.jpg
Serpent Column
20140919_101047.jpg
Egyptian obelisk
20140919_102338.jpg
German Fountain
20140919_103013.jpg
Aya Sophia
20140919_114501.JPG
Grand Bazaar
20140919_114733.JPG
Grand Bazaar
20140919_143013.JPG
Blue Mosque
20140919_144742.JPG
Blue Mosque
20140919_145115.JPG
Blue Mosque
20140919_151336.JPG
Topkapi Palace
20140919_152240.JPG
Topkapi Palace
20140919_155132.JPG
View from
Topkapi Palace
over the Bosphorus
20140919_155206.JPG
View from Topkapi Palace
over the Bosphorus
20140919_161231.JPG
Topkapi Palace
20140919_185714.jpg
Dinner guest!
20140919_201901_LLS.JPG
Blue Mosque at night
20140919-093620.jpg
Istanbul / Europa 2
Saturday 20th September 2014

Another hectic day, although we had a slightly later start.

I’d left my phone charger at home, so I needed to pick up another in town before we got going. This proved to be surprisingly simple, and at 10.30am we were buying tickets for one of the hop-on / hop-off buses. The trip covered the European part of the city, staying close most of the time to  the ‘Golden Horn’. This is a large inlet on the Bosphorus that is so called because it resembles a goat’s horn in shape and because of the way it appears to glow at sunset. The pre-recorded commentary was fairly good, even if it dwelt a great deal on the city’s mosques. Then again, there are over 2,000 of them, so perhaps that’s understandable!

The bus was due back in the centre of town at about midday, but got caught up in heavy traffic on the last stretch. This left us only five minutes to join our next excursion, a boat trip on the Bosphorus, so we had to scamper to get to the meeting point in time. In the event, the party had just left, but we managed to catch up.

The boat sailed up the Golden Horn and back and then out into the Bosphorus, under both bridges and back to the starting point two hours later. The sunshine was gorgeous and the water was calm. We sailed right past Europa 2 and could see clearly what a small ship it is. It was moored next to the Celebrity Reflection, which is a sister ship to Silhouette, the ship that we sailed on in August with Mali and Ana and that carries 3,000 passengers. Europa 2 takes only 500.

On leaving the tour we returned to our hotel to collect our luggage and order a cab. The city traffic was incredibly heavy and the journey to Europa 2 took a lot longer than it should have done. However, the dockside passport procedures took no time at all, and soon we were boarding the ship.

First impressions count. Several immaculately members of the crew were standing to attention at the foot of the gangway to formally welcome arriving guests. As we entered the ship one of the stewards welcomed us, stayed with us through the registration process holding polite conversation in excellent English and then escorted us to our cabin. Very professional, and very German.

Our suite is a complete eye-opener. It’s stylish and classy beyond our expectations, and those had been high to start with! There’s a separate toilet with wash basin just inside the door, then a large bathroom with twin sinks (whoever uses both of them??) a shower and a, wait for it!, whirlpool bath! The unique feature is a clear window between the bath and the bedroom / sitting room area, meaning that you can enjoy a soak whilst looking clean through to the sea! Shy people can lower a blind for privacy ;o)

The suite, and indeed the whole ship, looks as if we’re the first people ever to set foot in it. Even before our luggage arrived we’d set off to explore. There’s a small pool on the top deck which has a retractable roof. There are pristine bar and kitchen facilities on one side. Out on deck there’s a good selection of different type of sunbeds / loungers / chairs laid out in a way that implies that you’ll never feel crowded. There are two bars at the stern, and a quick look at their menus showed reasonable pricing, we thought.

The mandatory lifeboat drill interrupted us a bit, but gave us a chance to see more of the ship. We’d booked dinner in the ship’s Italian restaurant for 7pm, and went there pretty much as soon as the drill was over. For a while we were the only diners, and the waiters stood to attention in a line, waiting to greet guests. All very Prussian!

The meal was absolutely what we enjoy most, i.e. small, beautifully-presented dishes. There were a couple of ‘amuse-bouche’ dishes that arrived unannounced and which were just perfect. The wine that Gill chose was superb but a bit pricy. Then again, there are complimentary beers and soft drinks in our fridge that are replenished every day, and we haven’t yet opened the complimentary bottle of champagne!

There’s one of those ‘capsule’ coffee makers that we proposed to use only for tea-making. We tried to flush it through with plain water and couldn’t make sense of it, so I called Room Service to ask someone to come and show us how it works. It was patiently explained to me that if we wanted a pot of tea we only had to ring them and it would be delivered to us. Ah! The luxury :o)

We’ve struggled a bit with the lighting in the suite – it all seems unduly feature-rich and complicated. We couldn’t make sense of the workings of the whirlpool bath, so again I called for help. In truth, it’s quite a ‘techy’ ship, and it looks as if the designers got a bit carried away and let style and features over-ride function. After all, all you need for lighting is an On/Off switch, whereas we have different lighting ‘scenarios’. Still, these are acceptable ‘problems’ :o)

We sail at midnight for Mitilini on Lesbos, and will be in the Dardanelles at 9am tomorrow, reaching Mitilini at about 7pm. We might take a quick stroll ashore before or after dinner. In tomorrow’s update I must explain a bit more about the restaurants on board!
20140920_100848.JPG
Blue Mosque
20140920_100904.JPG
Aya Sophia
20140920_114035.JPG
Sulemaniye Mosque
20140920_115635.JPG
The heart of European Istanbul
20140920_132013.JPG
Europa 2
20140920_135332.JPG
Dolmabahçe Palace 
20140920_135433.JPG
Bosphorus Bridge
20140920_142307.JPG
 
20140920_150450.jpg
Our cabin on Europa 2
20140920_165452.JPG
20140920_165536.JPG
20140920_173926.JPG
A choice of THREE flannels!
20140920_174319.JPG
Our lift lobby
20140920_174951.JPG
Luxury on deck
20140920_175048.JPG
Luxury on deck
20140920_180601.JPG
 
20140920_212022.JPG
Reception
20140920_212304.JPG
'Weltmeere' restaurant
20140921_072906.jpg
The 'Yacht Club'
20140921_073656.jpg
Awards
Dardanelles / Mitilini
Sunday 21st September 2014

Warning! Lots of today’s lengthy update has been written with Winnie in mind :o)

The bed in our suite is incredibly comfortable and we slept right through to 7.45am. The mattress and its ‘topper’ are 12” thick, and you sort of subside into it with a sense of extreme luxury.

The suite is incredibly well equipped. In the bathroom there is every conceivable, high quality toiletry. You even get a choice of facecloths! – standard flannel, mitten or thin Italian-style. There are orchids in dishes in both the bathroom and the toilet.
The lighting continues to be a challenge. This morning we even found an instruction manual telling us how to work them! What causes the most problems, I think is that some of them are dimmable and some not, so in some cases, you push the button and hold it until the light either brightens or dims. The other challenger is in managing the various ‘lighting scenarios’ when all you want to is turn the lights off! There is one major plus point, though; on the long corridor between the bedroom and the toilet there’s a low level downlighter, without which you’d either be feeling your way to the toilet in the night or lighting the whole suite and disturbing the other person.

We opted for breakfast in the Yacht Club, which is a partially open-air self-service restaurant at the stern of the ship. As soon as you sit down a waiter is by your side asking what you’d like him/her to bring you. We’ve found that they’re a bit quick to clear away plates, cutlery and glasses that you hadn’t quite finished with, which then means you have to ask for replacements, which they admittedly bring very quickly.

They tell you when they deliver your pot of tea how long it still has to brew, which means that they’ve only just put hot water in, which is a good sign, but they also seem to like to pour out your tea for you, not entirely understanding that the length of time that you let it brew is a very personal matter. They’ll learn :o)

There’s a huge selection of bread, fruit and hot items to choose from. They even have a honeycomb from which they cut fresh portions for you – I always remember how much my father used to enjoy it, so I always choose it myself when it’s available.
I’m finding it hard to convey the feeling of extreme luxury that Europa 2 conveys and Gill is very keen that we should do so! The design and finish of the ship is exceptional, and the attentiveness and quality of the service is simply first class. The interior is like a really expensive, modern hotel. The décor is pale wood and chrome, with black and silver drapes and cushions, plus additional splashes of colour in different parts of the ship. For example, our suite is the same pale wood and chrome with beige and lilac furnishings.

All of the staff speak English, even though the overwhelming proportion of passengers is German. There are 500+ passengers on this cruise, of which 150 are non German-speaking, which is a far greater number than usual. There are 50 British people and 60 Belgians and even a few Americans. However, we’ve noticed as we move around the ship how quiet and uncrowded it is.
Up on deck there’s not just sunloungers but a whole array of ‘reclining options’. There are ‘double beds’ which are four posters with pull-around floating curtains, circular ‘cocoons’ with a hood that pulls up to shelter you from the breeze, a sort of modern chaise longue for two made of wicker and with thick cushions, plus cantilevered sunshades. These are all spread thinly around the deck so there’s plenty of space, which means that everywhere is SO quiet!

We read on deck for a couple of hours before going to lunch back in the Yacht Club. The food was utterly enticing and delicious. You’ll rarely catch me eating what I’d call ‘salady stuff’, but that was the majority of my lunch today. Apart from the usual ingredients they had tiny bowls of ‘mini-salads’ with dishes like venison on Waldorf Salad, chickpea mousse with tomato compote, mushrooms in aspic on herb foam and tartar of mackerel on vegetable salad. There were also hot options, that were also tempting.

Gill came back very excited from her foray to the desserts counters; she said that she’d found a display that looked as if it had come straight from Hotel Chocolat, with sheets of milk, plain and white chocolate loaded with fruits and flavourings. She said she felt weak at the knees at the sight and hoped that they wouldn’t serve this every day!
Restaurants. On other cruise ships there’s a main restaurant, a buffet and then a few speciality restaurants where there’s an additional charge. On Europa 2 there are many restaurants, all included in the price of the cruise. Just imagine have a choice like this every day:

Weltmeere (Seas of the World). This is the largest restaurant, and they claim that even though there’s a menu they can cook you just about anything you like.
Yacht Club. This is where we had breakfast today. Stylish but informal ‘You can compile your menu yourself for every meal’.
Sakura (Sushi). Not sure that we’ll eat here!
Serenissima (Italian). This is where we ate last night. I think we’ll be back!
Elements (Asian cuisine). Not sure we’ll try this one either, but we’ll check the menu.
Tarragon (French). Styled on a Parisian brasserie and the ambience seems wonderful. We’ll probably eat here on my birthday!
Grand Reserve. This is primarily about high quality wine, with small dishes served as an accompaniment. Intriguing, but the cost of the wines will probably be astronomical!
Speisezimmer. A private dining room ‘with the air of an officer’s mess’. Probably for people travelling with family or friends and who’d like seclusion.
In other words, more choice than most people would need!

During breakfast Europa 2 entered the Dardanelles, and immediately we could see Gallipoli to the north. Sailing further you could see why this area would appear to be suitable for landing troops, with its shallow banks. By the time we left the Dardanelles at midday heavy cloud had covered the sky, but because there was little breeze it was still warm, and as the afternoon progressed it became steadily sunnier and warmer.

This evening, after a superb dinner in Weltmeere (see above) we went to the Captain’s Welcome, which was followed by an incredible acrobatics show.
20140921_103057.JPG
Gallipoli / Dardanelles
20140921_144445.jpg
 
20140921_144528.jpg
 
20140921_175022.JPG
Cheers!
20140922_141700.jpg
Afternoon Tea
20140922_141724.jpg
Afternoon Tea
20140922_142025.jpg
Afternoon Tea
20140922_144353.JPG
Mitilini, Lesbos
Mitilini
Monday 22nd September 2014
Even though we arrived in Mitilini around 6pm yesterday we decided not to go ashore until today. We’d toyed with taking a tender ashore after dinner, but we’d have had only an hour or so there before hurrying back for the Captain’s Welcome and the show.

We took it easy this morning, not going to breakfast until 8.30am. We finally made it ashore at about 10.30am and went straight to a beach that was only 500 yards from where the tender dropped us. It was sandy in places but with stones between the sand and the sea.

At the entrance there had been a sign warning of urchins and advising people using the beach to take care. I assumed he meant ‘urchins’ in the Dickensian sense, but Gill had immediately (and correctly!) understood that this referred to sea creatures.
The area was slightly down-at-heel, but at least had decent sunbeds and umbrellas, and the toilets were what Gill considered typical for Greece and was used mainly by locals. At only 2€ per person for entrance it was pretty good, really!

We stayed there until about 2.30pm. Gill went for a brief swim from a small jetty and found that the water was colder than you’d expect for the time of year. Still, it was a very pleasant interlude.

We went into the attractive little town on our way back to draw some cash from a machine, and had an ice cream cone each too – with white chocolate sauce poured over it! Back on the ship we went straight to the ‘Belvedere’ lounge for Afternoon Tea. This is high up at the front of the ship, with magnificent views all around and bathed in sunlight. As ever, the sandwiches and pastries were superb – aesthetically beautiful as well as tasty!

We’ve discovered that our shower, which is pretty good anyway, also has a rain shower. I only found that out when I wondered about the mysterious button. The shower also has a built-in seat, so you can luxuriate in the rain whilst seated.

Earlier today Gill rang to book us into a couple of the speciality restaurants, only to find that they were all fully booked for the rest of the cruise! However, she was told that they would see what they could do. An hour or two later we received a letter confirming bookings at 7pm for the French restaurant (tomorrow) and the Asian restaurant (Friday).

So, tonight at 7pm we went back to Weltmeere, where no bookings are required, and asked for a window seat. We had a really leisurely dinner over nearly two and a half hours. Gill ordered a Franconian wine which we really enjoyed, relying on our experience this summer!

The meal was just what we like; small courses of exquisitely-presented food. Before the main course we had a Rhubarb Sorbet. On both previous nights we were asked if we’d like some Champagne with it; on the first night we said ‘No’, mainly because we were taken by surprise, and last night they just poured a little on top before we could say ‘No’. It was really nice, so tonight we said ‘Yes’ straight away ;o) The sorbet was quite sweet, the bubbly was really dry and the combination was a perfect freshener ahead of the main course. For our dessert we had red fruits with vanilla ice cream, and the waiter suggested that we had Grand Marnier poured over it; we were too polite to turn it down!

Tomorrow we’ll be in Volos on the Greek mainland and we’re taking an excursion.
20140922_145148.JPG
Mitilini, War Memorial
20140922_150650.JPG
Miltilini, harbour
20140922_191142.jpg
Really beautiful food
20140922_201010.jpg
Evening entertainment on deck
Volos
Tuesday 23rd September 2014
Today we had our first excursion of the cruise. At 8.30am we were taken by coach to the Pelion Railway. This is a narrow gauge (2 feet) railway that climbs up into the hills on Mount Pelion to the small town of Milies. It was built between 1895 and 1903 by the Italian engineer, Evaristo de Chirico, father of the famous artist Giorgio de Chirico.

The guide did his entire commentary in German, which was a challenge in itself as he was a Greek with an extremely heavy accent, and I’m not absolutely convinced that even the Germans always understood him.

The rolling stock was wooden and quite old, but was well-maintained. It was a little unnerving at times to feel the carriages rocking around as the train ran alongside deep drops down the mountainside or crossed narrow bridges over gorges! The best bit was that we had stunning views over the landscape and out to sea in bright, hot sunshine.

When we arrived at Milies station we watched in interest as the diesel locomotive at the front was detached and reversed to a turntable that was rotated manually by eight men. The engine then took up position, facing downhill, at the other end of the carriages, ready for its return journey. We, however, set off on foot up steep, rocky paths to the town of Milies. It was 20-25 minutes of hard work, and in the town we found ourselves in a little square shaded by large trees and with a café at one side, so we settled down with very welcome cold drinks.

There was also a well-maintained Greek Orthodox chapel on the square, and it reminded us strongly of the chapel that we’d seen in Nessebar, Bulgaria only a few weeks earlier. At midday it was back to the coach and a road journey back to the ship.

On the excursion we got talking to another English couple who agreed with us that the ‘helpful’ serving staff interfere too much in the tea-making process. Their solution is to go to the tea/coffee station in the Yacht Club, choose their own tea from the extensive selection of loose teas and then make it themselves. So, this is what we did at lunchtime; the only problem is that there was no fresh milk, only cream for coffee, so we had to ask for some to be brought to us. I’m seriously thinking of e-mailing George Orwell’s 1946 essay, ‘A Nice Cup Of Tea’, to the Hotel Director as a way of letting him know how it should be made ;o)

As usual, we spent the afternoon on deck reading, then went back to our suite and ordered afternoon tea. This evening we ate in the French restaurant, ‘Tarragon’. We’ve become so accustomed to the high quality of food on this ship, no matter where we eat, and once again we had an absolutely superb meal.

We sat with a German who was travelling alone and who seemed quite reserved. I explained early on, in German, that Gill spoke only English, but his English was so good that conversation was easy. We were able to talk enthusiastically about his country – I mentioned the war once, but I think I got away with it ;o)

The show in the theatre tonight featured four singers singing ‘Queen’ songs ‘a capella’, and they were surprisingly good!
Tomorrow will be a long day – we’re taking an excursion to three Greek and Roman archaeological sites and we don’t get back until 6pm.
20140922_201124.jpg
Evening entertainment on deck
20140923_090557.JPG
Volos, Pelion railway
20140923_090606.JPG
 
20140923_094206.JPG
 
20140923_095648.JPG
20140923_102006.JPG
End of the line, high in the hills

20140923_102539.JPG
Turning the engine for
the return journey
20140923_103457.JPG


20140923_104957.JPG
Time for refreshments
20140923_105113.JPG
Byzantine church
20140923_113136.jpg
More great food
20140923_170621.jpg
'Tarragon'
Kusadasi
Wednesday 24th September 2014

Gill had brought my birthday cards along so I opened them before breakfast. I also finally found out about the secret event she’s been planning for us for October – a mini-break in Aix-en-Provence!

Today’s excursion took us to three ancient, ruined cities on Turkey’s coast. The first, Priene, was an hour’s drive south of Kusadasi. Our small coach had about 20 passengers and two guides; one for the Germans and one for the six English/Americans. We sat at the back of the bus and wore radio headsets tuned into our guide’s commentary. He spoke simply superb, American-accented English and was excellent at conveying historical information in an engaging way. The German-speaking guide was just like yesterday’s – very hard to follow.

Priene was pretty much a huge jumble of scattered carved stones on a rocky hillside, with just five fluted columns re-erected. Enough of the structure remained to give a good idea of the extent and layout of the town. The theatre was particularly well preserved, and recent archaeological work has revealed that Alexander the Great spent one winter in the town with his forces. Walking up and down the extremely steep slopes and steps was a bit of a challenge for both of us! The guide explained that the steps had been designed for both humans and animals, that donkeys need steeper steps than humans and that therefore the pitch of the steps had been set as a halfway house between the two.

We then drove for another half hour southwards to Didyma, where we saw the Temple of Apollo, which is far more complete than anything at Priene. Only three columns remain standing, but most of the walls are still in place. We learned something fascinating about fluted columns; apparently, they were first erected as plain, cylindrical columns and then the fluting was carved into them, starting at the top and working down. The guide said that this was achieved by piling earth to the top of the column and then gradually removing it as the stone-masonry work moved downwards, but this seemed very improbable; the columns were almost 20 metres high, so the amount of earth required would have been phenomenal. You’d have thought that wooden scaffolding would have been more likely.

In the centre of the structure was the entrance to a sanctuary to which access was allowed only for temple officials. It was here that water-divining (a bit like reading tea leaves) would take place, with the outcomes of predictions shouted out to lesser mortals waiting outside.

From here the coach took us into Didyma itself, to a restaurant right by the sea where he had lunch, included in the tour price. We had local ‘Meze’ with lettuce, cucumber, peppers, etc. in olive oil and fresh, toasted bread, followed by sea bream – we each had a whole fish, each about the size of a size 6 shoe! This lovely meal, together with all of the coach travel and being able to see three ancient monuments, meant that we felt that the ticket price of €89 each was good value.

After lunch we set off northwards, heading for Miletus. This was another ancient site that had been founded long before the Romans or even the Greeks got here. There were over a dozen layers of occupation, and evidence that the site had been destroyed at least once by fire. The most immediately noticeable feature is a large theatre that seated 15,000 people. Carved into some of the stone benches were reservations for certain groups within the community.

In the second century AD, in the time of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, the city had become quite large, and his sister, Faustina, paid for a large public bath, much of which still exists. You can see the terracotta pipes that led water through the building and also pick out the main areas; changing rooms, Caldarium (hot), Tepidarium (warm) and Frigidarium (cold).

Now some miles inland, both Priene and Miletus were once ports on the coast of the Aegean. Over the course of around a thousand years the local river, Meandros, had gradually silted up until by about the 1600s a very large, fertile plain had been created between the mountains. This area is now used mainly for growing high quality cotton.

As we stood in Miletus we could see where once there had been the port and its buildings. Interestingly, there seemed to be waterline discoloration on some of the remaining columns, but the guide explained that during the heavy winter rains the area fills again with water.

Before leaving for the coach we stopped at a stall and ordered a glass of fresh orange and pomegranate juice. This was prepared as we watched simply by crushing an orange and a pomegranate in a press – delicious! Gill also bought three little beautifully-decorated bowls of the type that we always admire when we’re in Turkey.

By now it was 5pm and time to head back northwards to Kusadasi and Europa 2. We’d left the ship at 9am, and had spent a lot of the day in bright, hot sunshine, so we were exhausted when we got back.

We didn’t really fancy a long, elaborate meal, and after our large lunch we weren’t dreadfully hungry anyway, so we went to the buffet-style Yacht Club. The theatre show consisted of the familiar combination of dancers, acrobats and singers, but, embarrassingly, we kept falling asleep! And this is why I didn’t get around to writing this update last night!

Shortly, we’ll be going ashore in Patmos in the Greek Islands. There’s not a lot here and we’re not going on an excursion, so it’ll be a lazy day!
20140923_204557.jpg
'Rock 4' a capella

20140924_105241.JPG
Priene

20140924_105818.JPG
Alexander the Great once over-wintered here
20140924_123801.JPG


20140924_123947.JPG
Didyma
20140924_125817.JPG
Didyma
20140924_145639.JPG
Lunchtime view
20140924_155007.JPG
Miletus
20140924_155134.JPG
Miletus
20140924_155402.JPG
20140924_155549.JPG
20140924_162249.JPG
Bath house at Miletus
20140924_165739_1.JPG
Miletus
20140924_182621.JPG
Kusadasi, with Ataturk's statue high on the hill
20140924_183509.JPG
Birthday champagne!
20140925_114300.JPG
Europa 2 from the tender
Patmos
Thursday 25th September 2014

As predicted, a VERY lazy day!

We didn’t get ashore until 11.30am. The tenders were local boats, and two of them went backwards and forwards all day which meant that you didn’t need to wait more than 15 or 20 minutes in either direction – excellent service!

We were dropped off in Skala, the main town on Patmos, and instantly fell in love with the place. It had the usual narrow streets of white-painted buildings and lots of small shops and bars, and it was immaculately tidy and well-maintained. Gill found a bar that sold ‘Italian Ice Cream’ and, better still, it had a white chocolate variety – our favourite! We sat outside in the shade, watching the buzz of everyday life and enjoying a relaxing time.

We went in several shops and browsed outside a few more. The quality of the merchandise was excellent, which made it difficult to resist sometimes, but we bought a few things as mementos. After an hour or so we made our way back to the harbour and found a bench right on the water’s edge where we could sit in idyllic surrounding and read. The water was incredibly clear, and we could see lots of urchins awaiting the unwary!

We could have sat there all afternoon, but as we all know, wooden benches aren’t dreadfully comfortable after a while, so we decided to go back to the ship. From our harbourside position we’d seen a tender come past a few minutes earlier, so we knew we wouldn’t have to wait. We were on board just after 2pm and went straight up to the uncrowded upper deck where there are all of the different types of sun loungers and chair that we described in an earlier update.

There’s also a Jacuzzi that Gill persuaded me to have a go in, even though, as Mali would say, ‘It’s not my favourite’. Gill set about finishing off last year’s Booker Prize winner, ‘The Luminaries’ and managed to finally close it. Having enjoyed the sun for most of the day it was time to go back to our suite and have afternoon tea delivered.

Having skipped lunch completely, we decided to eat in the main restaurant again, luxuriating in the extensive menu and excellent service. But first … Champagne! When we returned from yesterday’s excursion we found a bottle of bubbly waiting for me and a birthday card from the captain, so that was our pre-dinner drink this evening – cheers!

Dinner was, as usual, wonderful. Forgive me if I bore you, but we had Terrine of Venison with rosemary foam and coulis of blackberries, Grilled Breast of Quail on balsamic lentils with vegetables, Mango Sorbet, Poached Fillet of Pike Perch on creamed sauerkraut and smoked bell pepper sauce, Kefir-Passion Fruit Mousse with cinnamon biscuit. We also had some wonderful bread and a delicate seafood ‘Amuse-Bouche’ from the chef. How on earth will we re-acclimatise to life at home? ;o)

The show tonight was another performance by the Dutch ‘a capella’ group, Rock4. They really are very talented, creating their own unaccompanied versions of famous songs. They also have an impish sense of humour, craftily satirising the way that the Germans see them, and the Germans loved it.

Tomorrow we’re in our last port of call, Hydra. This is where Leonard Cohen hid himself away for nearly a decade, and it’s a place that Gill has wanted to visit for a very long time! She’s done her research and has worked out roughly where his house is – apparently he still owns it. She’s stalking him across the world!
20140925_123635.JPG
Skala  on Patmos
20140925_123826.JPG
Skala  on Patmos
20140926_090204.JPG
Hydra's transport
20140926_091423.JPG
Gill feeding the locals
Hydra
Friday 26th September 2014

We went ashore by tender fairly early, while the sun was still emerging through the early morning clouds. Gill was on a mission, and you know what THAT means!

Hydra has gradually been taken over by the wealthy in the past thirty years, it seems. Shops around the harbour had altogether more expensive merchandise on offer than had Patmos yesterday. The waterside bars were already fairly busy, and hydrofoil ferries kept arriving and disgorging more and more visitors with their suitcases.

There are no motor vehicles on Hydra, not even scooters. Anything that needs to be carried around the town, such as visitors’ luggage, requires donkeys to lug it up the very steep steps through narrow, winding streets. Any manure dropped by the donkeys is immediately picked up by their owners, although it’s not clear whether this is because they’re obliged to or because it has agricultural value.

Two days ago Gill had done a fair amount of research on where Leonard Cohen’s house might be. There were scraps of information that all had to be pulled together and then put into a search plan – I’m really not joking! Gill had the name of a road (well, a footpath, really) that ran near to his house plus the name of a nearby grocery store. She also knew that the door knocker of the house was in the shape of a hand, that the house had three floors and that a power cable ran close to one of its bedroom windows.

We’d have stood no chance at all if it hadn’t been for the Maps feature on my smartphone. Every now and then it lagged behind where we were or gave inaccurate indications of our position, but eventually we found the grocery store. After walking for a few hundred yards in the wrong direction we turned back and tried a different turning and … bingo! The house had all the right features and Gill was convinced this was it. I took loads of photos, Gill touching the door knocker, Gill sitting on the door step, a shot of the upper part of the house with the power cable at bedroom window level, etc. The house was very obviously closed up and unoccupied.

I wasn’t absolutely convinced, but Gill was content, so that was good enough for me. She’d wandered away, satisfied, and I went back to photograph the door knocker up close. And there I found what seemed conclusive proof that this was Cohen’s house – the knocker was decorated with two Stars of David. I called Gill back and we agreed that she’d succeeded in her quest :o)

After this there wasn’t a lot more to do other than wander back down through the steep, narrow, winding streets to the harbour. Gill stopped at a little jewellery shop to buy some pretty silver earrings to commemorate ‘having found Leonard’, and then we bought celebratory ice creams before catching the tender back to Europa 2.

We had our final lunch in The Yacht Club, looking across to a sun-drenched Hydra and the achievement of Gill’s long-time ambition. Then it was up on the sun deck with books for a couple of hours. At 5pm we went to the lecture theatre for a talk on the Harem system given by a German lecturer. We arrived on time to find that we were his entire audience! By five minutes into his talk another five people had arrived.

His contention was that the conventions of the harem finally brought down the entire Ottoman Empire. As a Moslem the Sultan was allowed four wives, but also had an unlimited number of ‘odalisques’. He consequently had many children, and this presented a problem as the question of succession arose. The various mothers of his children conspired to get their sons high up in the order of succession, and the harem therefore became a hotbed of intrigue.

It became the norm for many sons and nephews to be murdered in order for the sultan’s favourite to be the unchallenged successor, and this bloodbath often preceded his death. One sultan had 103 children, only 20 of whom survived the succession.
The women in the harem were effectively slaves, usually from western Europe, Russia or The Ukraine – Moslems are not allowed to enslave other Moslems, and this continues to this day. When the system was finally abolished in the 1920s at the collapse of the Ottoman Empire attempts were made to trace the families of the women remaining in the harem. In some cases they were reunited with their families, but others had to go on tour in Europe, almost as exhibits in a freak show, just to survive.

We ate this evening in Elements, a restaurant that combines various Asian cuisines. Each course was very small, and yet at the end we felt we’d had a substantial meal. Now we’re back in our suite, getting ready to pack our bags. Tomorrow we’re leaving the ship and being taken to a hotel in Athens. From there we’ll get a taxi to the airport in the afternoon ready for our flight to Heathrow.
We’ve had a super cruise, with amazing food in the most incredibly stylish ship. We’re now utterly spoilt, and will judge all future cruises by the standard set on this one!
20140926_091737.JPG
Looking for Leonard
20140926_092017.JPG
The grocery store
20140926_101428.jpg
Is this it?
20140926_101437.jpg
 
20140926_101445.jpg
Gill's convinced
20140926_101503.jpg
 
20140926_101548.jpg
The stars were the clincher
20140926_102540.jpg
Heading back down
20140926_103124.jpg
 
20140926_105243.jpg
Hydra
20140926_105759.jpg
 
20140926_105844.JPG
 
20140927_085716.jpg
Last of all, Athens
Athens and home
Saturday 27th September 2014

By the look of the decks there was a lot of rain last night and into this morning, but the sun was shining nicely as we had our final breakfast on board.
We left the ship at 9.30am and were taken by coach to a hotel in the centre of Athens where a lounge had been reserved for passengers with later flights. We took the opportunity for a leisurely stroll in the area below the Acropolis, but there wasn’t a great deal to see, so we ambled back to the hotel and checked our e-mails until the taxi came for us at 1.30pm. We had an uneventful trip back home and were indoors not long after 8pm.

Yesterday evening we were asked to complete a questionnaire about our cruise, the ship and the service, and this gave us the opportunity to take stock. Unquestionably, Europa 2 is fully deserving of its 5 Star+ rating as far as the vessel is concerned, and much of the service is also excellent. However, swapping notes today with other English passengers we found that we all had similar minor gripes that we’d found it a bit churlish to mention in our answers to the questionnaire. For the moment, let’s concentrate on the really good bits.

The ship is gorgeous and food in all of the restaurants was absolutely unbeatable, full stop. The entertainment in the theatre was pretty good by cruise ship standards. On deck yesterday afternoon we were bombarded with service that we hadn’t expected; we were offered iced tea/chocolate/coffee several times, and a waiter came round with a delightful sorbet. Gill was asked if she would like her legs sprayed with cold water and I was offered lens wipes for my glasses. A cynic would say that this was partly to pump up the scores on the survey that was waiting for us back in our cabin ;o)

The main negative was the sometimes haughty attitude of the German staff that made me at least see them as complacent and a bit arrogant. Several of the excursions were advertised as being in both German and English, and yet when we and others went to book them we were told that commentary would be German-only. They didn’t seem to think that this would be a problem for non-German speakers; at least, not one that they needed to apologise for.

The couple who we were talking to on the railway trip on Tuesday said that they’d complained about the lack of Internet service the day before. Customer Relations agreed that it had been unavailable. ‘And when will it be back?’ they were asked. They were told to just keep trying. ‘Why not make an announcement when it’s back?’ ‘We’re not allowed to make unnecessary announcements’.

On most cruises the Captain, Hotel Director, Maitre D and Cruise Director are usually very high profile, circulating daily amongst the passengers and asking how they’re enjoying the cruise. Not so with Europa 2. In fact, an English fellow passenger who we were chatting with today joked that when we left the ship the Captain and Cruise Director were saying farewells to departing guests and that he was very tempted to say to the latter, ‘Good heavens! This is the second time I’ve seen you this week!’ :o) But we’re English, and we generally don’t complain, do we?

The English consensus was that Hapag Lloyd are trying like mad to expand into the non-German market, hence the exceptionally attractive prices they were offering in the UK for this cruise. The trouble is that they seem to think that their ‘one size fits all’ German attitude to service will work with all nationalities.

Still, these quibbles didn’t stop us having an absolutely fabulous and unforgettable cruise, and we’d sail with Europa 2 again … if the price is right :o)
Back to Index