We awoke this morning to find ourselves already in Piraeus with the unloading of suitcases well underway.
We took breakfast in the MDR which was surprisingly deserted so I guess everyone else had chosen the buffet. We had made the decision to self disembark so used the lifts for the first time this cruise, it’s the only time we allow ourselves to do this. Getting one empty enough to get in with the cases became another challenge so Nicole took the stairs as soon as I had managed to get in one with the cases. This worked well in the end but in order to get an empty one we had to hit the going up button and ride up before being able to get down to deck 4. We got there in the end. 😁
Our transport was arranged for 9:00am to take us to the airport and the journey took 70 minutes. Unfortunately for us, our flight got moved from 2:15pm to 5:15pm and when we arrived at the airport terminal we had to wait as our desk didn’t open until 2:30pm.
The four hours plus seemed to pass fairly quickly and we found ourselves airside within 25 minutes.
Our plane was delayed from Heathrow which had a knock on effect with our leaving.
After a 45 minute delay, we eventually took off at 6:00pm arriving at Heathrow at 7:55pm.
So that’s it for this trip, I hope you have enjoyed tagging along with us over the last 10 days or so. We certainly enjoyed this one. 😁
Today was our last full day of this cruise and a good portion of it was a sea day. Earlier in the morning, looking through the windows it was really deceiving because again we had partly cloudy skies interspersed with bright sunshine but a really blustery chilly wind and sitting outside was only for those with Eskimo blood in them.
However, by 10:00am the wind had subsided enough to sit outside without needing a sheltered spot. Because of the timings today, packing was 95% completed this morning by Nicole in her ever-efficient way thus leaving us time to sit outside and await for our arrival at Mykonos.
Our designated port slot was from 1:00pm until 9:00pm which really was a strange one for the last day/night onboard and adding to that we had to tender ashore as well. Tender tickets were available on a first come first served basis from the library at 10:30 and when I went to check it out at 10:20, the queue was hideous so we decided to wait until tendering went to an open ticket. Fortunately, our friends from one of the private tours had thought of us and got us slot 7 tickets. Tendering started 30 minutes early and we eventually got on the tender boat at 1:45pm.
Once ashore we set about navigating the small but picturesque passageways and alleys that make Mykonos what it is.
The Happy Cow app once again found us an amazing lunch spot and after we made our way to the Windmills for a photo stop.
Before heading back onboard we made one last stop at Little Venice for one last drink and probably the best photo location in Mykonos.
Great timing for the tender boat back to the ship gave us ample time to get ready and go for our last dinner in the Grand Pacific MDR and say our farewells to our servers from the last 9 nights.
Today was our 4th visit to Istanbul and our aim was to visit a couple of places we have missed on previous visits, incredibly we have not been to Hagia Sophia so that was our main target of the day along with the Galata Tower. Almost as soon as clearance had been given we were off the ship and navigating the new and massive cruise terminal in Istanbul. It’s huge and not too dissimilar to an airport. Once through we set off on foot towards the Galata Bridge and then on to Hagia Sophia.
The walk took 50 minutes but seemed to take no time at all. Thinking that by being early we would beat the crowds, we were very disappointed to see a massive snaking queue of people waiting to go in. It wasn’t moving so we decided to go elsewhere then come back later in the hope that the line had shrunk.
Heading off to the Blue Mosque instead and finding hardly any queue at all, so in we went, spending around 30 minutes inside taking a few photos and admiring the interior.
We then returned to the Hagia Sophia to find a shorter queue that was actually moving so we joined it. We waited for about 40 minutes in line and were rewarded with entry at 10:00am.
The building is once again a fully functional Mosque and a strict dress code is now required to enter, not only that all but two items depicting human form have been removed, not sure why some are still there and can only assume it has something to do with it being a UNESCO site. It is a stunning place and one that I can now happily say that I have visited.
We grabbed a quick coffee before setting off back over the Galata Bridge and onto our next stop, the Galata Tower.
After a bit of a climb, we made it to the base and tickets were purchased to get us to the top. We had a short wait for a lift to take us up and were soon enjoying the views over Istanbul.
Our final stop before heading back to the ship was for lunch at a vegan restaurant we found on the Happy Cow app. After a delicious and filling meal we headed back to the ship. Off for 6½ hours with 20,000 steps recorded on my Fitbit. The rest of the afternoon was spent out on one of the sundecks taking a well-earned rest and reminiscing about the day’s activities.
This evening we are eating early in one of the speciality restaurants called Teppanyaki, they have said that they can and will facilitate Nicole’s vegan diet with the only drawback being the only available slot was at 5:30. This worked out to be a blessing as we were both feeling fatigued after the days walking.
Teppanyaki was a huge success for Nicole, we were wondering how they would cope and in the end, all concerns were dismissed because they cooked her food before anyone else’s.
Kusadasi is somewhere we have been a few times, and we visited Ephesus many years ago from Izmir so today was a bit of a kickback day. We arrived before sunrise just before 5:30am so managed to see how the place looks in the dark.
Once everyone had departed for their tours, we went for breakfast in O’Sheehan’s which is a sort of bar-come restaurant. Its menu changes throughout the day but to date, we have only eaten breakfast there. This has become a regular place for breakfast because it pretty much stays open 24 hours and was useful for our early Israel starts. They have a breakfast menu where I can have eggs cooked to order while Nicole has also managed to get a couple of breakfast options in there too so it works for both of us. And it’s never that busy and very close to the cabin 😁
We found ourselves off the ship at around 8:30am and made our way through the plethora of traders and taxi drivers that had congregated outside the cruise terminal. In Kusadasi, this area has been set up like a complete tourist trap with no obvious way around it.
Last time we were here in 2015 we walked to Pigeon Island which when we got there found it to be closed. Since our last visit, it has had a lot of restoration done and today we managed to get in. It’s free entry and once inside it’s basically a walled garden/park which we enjoyed walking around.
We stopped for a coffee at one of the cafés near the terminal after which we made our way along the promenade in the opposite direction from which we had just come.
We covered about 1½ miles before turning around and making our way back to the ship. We briskly passed through the tourist trap and were back onboard just in time for lunch. The afternoon consisted of blue skies and scattered clouds and out of the wind, it was not too bad. We managed to find a coveted spot and stayed until around 4:00 but eventually, the wind blew us inside where we found a couple of seats in the atrium.
While sitting there, I decided to have a look at some of my photos from 2015 (pre-refit) and compare them with what is there today. The first thing that struck me was the quality of today’s photos which came from my mobile phone and the ones from my camera in 2015.
Tomorrow we have a day in Istanbul which will be our 4th visit to this port.
With nothing booked today, we enjoyed a little extra time in bed. The ship was cleared at 8:00 and we made our way ashore not long after.
Lots of tour buses seemed to head off elsewhere so we enjoyed looking around the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes which was more or less deserted.
It’s a really fascinating place, the building itself is very impressive let alone some of the artefacts housed within the rooms on the top floor. After that, we set about walking around the inside of the medieval city which is so picturesque with all its small alleyways and passages.
All the traders started to come to life as we walked around, all wanting to sell you the best meal or souvenirs of Rhodes, but if you can turn a blind eye to it all then it’s a really lovely place to visit. We like to try and find somewhere vegan for Nicole to eat when we are ashore and using the Happy Cow app on the phone found somewhere really good just off the beaten track.
After walking the food off, so we set off to visit Saint Nicholas Fortress which when we got there found it isn’t open to the public.
Just along the jetty at the entrance to the harbour are two columns each with a bronze deer (a stag and a doe) at the top. Apart from being the symbol of the island, they stand guard at the entrance to the harbour.
They are also believed to mark the location of the Colossus of Rhodes which was a statue of the Greek sun god Helios, it was said to be the same size as the Statue of Liberty but collapsed during the earthquake of 226 BC.
On our way back to the ship we stopped off at the Church of Panagia tou Kastrou (Our Lady of the Castle) for a quick investigation. The building was originally built as a Byzantine church which was subsequently converted into a mosque. Today it houses a small exhibition of icons and medieval sculptures.
After a quick gelato, we made our way back to the ship to relax for the rest of the afternoon.
It’s been another fabulous day and we have thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Rhodes. Sailaway was at 5:00 and we are now on our way to Kusadasi.
Although Cyprus wasn’t new to me, it was the first time I had visited it on a cruise. So, the question was, what should we do with our day while considering it a slightly shorter day in port. The answer came from our Cruise Critic roll call in the form of a private shore excursion to Paphos. The beauty of this was there was a maximum of 16 people which meant we could move around much quicker. We were given instructions to get off the ship as soon as clearance was given so we could get away as soon as possible. Everything worked perfectly and we were soon heading towards Paphos and our first stop which was basically a photo stop at Petra tou Romiou – Aphrodite’s Beach Birth Place Rock which as the name suggests is the mythological birth place of Aphrodite.
20 minutes later we were on our way to stop two, the Agia Paraskevi Byzantine Church in Geroskipou village. This is a five-domed church which has some wall paintings dating back as early as the 8th century. No interior photos were allowed so I have one of the outside only.
Moving swiftly on we then visited the Tombs of the Kings which is the impressive necropolis that is located to the northeast of Paphos town. There are 8 tombs you can look at and our guide (Mary) showed us the best ones. Local archaeologists predict there are many yet undiscovered on the site.
Before getting to our last venue, we made a quick visit to Ayia Kyriaki church and Saint Paul Pillar, the latter is where the apostle St. Paul was tethered and whipped.
Our last stop of the day was the Paphos UNESCO Archaeological Park where we were guided around the House of Dionysos Mosaics. I have to say the floors are of amazing detail and condition and I know the photos won’t do it justice.
To finish the visit to this UNESCO world heritage site we made a circular walk around the perimeter to take in various other things, including the impressive Odeon.
The journey back to Limassol took just over an hour and we were back onboard for a late lunch. After we set sail, the open decks became very windy and none of the prized sheltered spots were available so we decided to go back to the cabin and sit out on our balcony which unfortunately was in the shade.
Tomorrow we are in Rhodes with no plans at all so it will be plenty of walking I suspect
To our surprise, today we were joined by the same group as yesterday along with the same guide (Erez). We actually got away on time too which was a big improvement from yesterday. We started with a 40-minute drive to Nazareth. Our tour was labelled as Galilee Shore Excursion and apart from a few extra places was a journey around some of the New Testament locations where Jesus performed some of the documented miracles. Our first stop was in Nazareth (Church of the Annunciation) which is where the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced that she would give birth to Jesus.
We then visited the Mount of Beatitudes where there is a small church built on the area where Jesus is believed to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount. A very busy site and just something to tick boxes for us.
Next, we travelled to the Church of Tabgha which is on the site where Jesus is said to have multiplied the loaves and fish miracle.
We then travelled to Capernaum to see the church of Peter which has been built over the remains of the ancient temple, this area was considered Jesus’s home city.
After a lunch break, we carried on to Jordan River (Yardenit baptism site) which is where Jesus was said to have been baptized by John the Baptist. Today it is still visited by millions of pilgrims wishing to be baptized in the same location.
With this area covered, we set off back to Haifa for one last stop for a Panoramic view over the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, a UNESCO world heritage site.
We have had an amazing 2 days and seen and visited some incredible places Tomorrow is another early start which I will document as and when time permits.
We finally made it to Ashdod and here we booked a private excursion with a company called Private Tours Israel. As a requirement for entry, everyone had to pass through a face-to-face border control inspection and collect our Israeli permit which lasts for 28 days so can be used for tomorrow in Haifa. This process started at 6:30 and we joined the line at 7:00 and eventually got through at 7:45 where we were met by our guide. After a 20-minute delay waiting for others to arrive, we set off on the 1½ hour drive to Jerusalem, on the way, our guide gave us a very informative talk about Israel, its origins and the current political situation.
The first stop was the Mount of Olives where we were able to over to the old walled city of Jerusalem and see places we would later visit.
The next stop was the Garden of Gethsemane for a brief look around the area where Jesus experienced great anguish and prayed to be delivered from his impending suffering and also where he was arrested
Right next to the garden, the Catholic Church of All Nations is built over the “Rock of the Agony” this is where he is said to have prayed the night he was arrested.
It was then back on the bus where we were dropped off for a 2-hour walk around the old city. The first place in this section was the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall where we were given 15 minutes of free time to wander.
Next, we passed through the Muslim Quarter and followed Via Dolorosa which is the route Jesus to his crucifixion. It is marked along the way by several Stations of Cross which are events that are said to have occurred while he made his way.
The old city is a maze of alleyways and passages and our guide did an excellent job of keeping us all together considering how busy it was.
The final 4 stations of the cross are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which today we found had some large scaffolding being built right in front of it
We had 20 minutes of free time inside after being given a quick briefing on where and what to see as this is the most holy site in the Christian religion. Inside is where Jesus was crucified known as Calvary, and also the tomb where Jesus was buried and then resurrected. Today, the tomb is enclosed by a shrine called the Aedicula. Which had long queues to see inside.
Inside the church’s entrance is the Stone of Anointing, believed to be where Jesus’s body was prepared for burial. Many people bring things to place on the stone or touch it as miracles and cures have been said to have been experienced by people who have done this.
Everything we visited was extremely busy today and decent photo opportunities were few and far between.
We exited the city through the Arab Souk and then out via the Jaffa Gate. The last place to visit on our tour today was the Dead Sea which was a 40-minute drive from the city. There was just long enough to get changed, spend 15 minutes in the water, get showered and changed again before we headed back to Ashdod. It was a great experience but one I will be happy not to repeat.
It wasn’t at all what I was expecting with regard to both facilities and the sea conditions. Yes, you do float but there is still a bit of balance required to allow you to float on your back. Floating on your stomach or trying to swim is not advisable as it is much more likely you will get salt water in your eyes and mouth.
The drive back took over 1¾ hours and we arrived back at the port at 6:20pm Another thoroughly enjoyable day and with part 2 to follow tomorrow when we tour with the same company from Haifa.
Apologies if some of the above is gibberish, it’s been a long day and I need a drink or two. 🍷🍷
Last night was a bit of a milestone for us in that it was our 365th night onboard a ship since we started cruising in 2006. That means over the last 17 years, we have spent one of them onboard a ship. That works out at 5.88% if stats are your thing. 😂 So, today was a sea day and it gave us a chance to reacquaint ourselves with NCL and also the ship which has had a refit (2017) since we were last onboard.
We ate breakfast outside this morning in an area at the back of deck 12 called The Great Outdoors, with partially cloudy skies and intermittent sunshine it made a great start to the day. The Garden Cafe which is an inside venue was very busy and noisy so to be able to eat outside looking over the wake was an easy decision. At 10:00 we had an informal meeting with a few members of our Cruise Critic roll call to share plans and information about tours for the next few days. Tomorrow is a hot topic because the whole ship including the crew has to pass through Israeli Immigration before being allowed ashore. Ships tours have priority followed by each deck working down. The process starts at 6:30 and we have a meet-up time of 7:45 for our tour. Six of us have arranged to go through as a group to try and expedite things. 🤞🏻 Along with it being a sea day, it was also extremely windy and although brilliant sunshine was not the best environment to sit out in, so sheltered areas were in high demand. We eventually found ourselves back in The Great Outdoors which was very handy for lunch. We stayed there until about 2:30 and went in search of sheltered beds and were rewarded more or less straight away.
An isolated spot where someone else had abandoned two sunbeds which were perfect for our needs.
We stayed until 5:00 before going back to the cabin to shower and get ready for dinner.
An early night too due to the early start and the immigration conundrum.
We had a reasonable night’s sleep and went for breakfast around 8:00 this morning. Breakfast was in the 8th-floor bar and quite busy due to the fact the outdoor seating wasn’t being used because of the damp conditions. It was buffet style and offered a decent selection with enough for Nicole to eat okay as well. We were going to have a quick walk but the weather meant we just had an easy morning, checking out at 10:15 and waiting the remaining 45 minutes in the hotel lobby for our transport to Piraeus to arrive at 11:00am.
Our transport arrived 15 minutes early and we found ourselves at the port at 11:00 where we then had to wait for immigration to allow us to board.
There were only 3 officials on duty which was probably due to the fact it is a public holiday in Greece. In the end, the wait wasn’t too long and we were onboard by 11:45. This was then countered because we were informed that we would not be able to access our cabin until 3:00pm. To fill the gap we grabbed a bite to eat in the Garden Cafe (buffet) and then set about trying to find out about Nicole being able to eat vegan onboard. Starting with the buffet, nothing was labelled for any dietary requirements so not the best of starts. We then spoke to the Specialty Restaurant reservations team who told us to eat in the Grand Pacific (MDR) this evening where we should be okay. There is the potential for us to eat in Teppanyaki (Japanese Restaurant) and La Cucina (Italian Restaurant) if we give them notice. 🤞🏻 I have to say, we have been spoilt by recent cruises by having cabin access really quickly and today was a bit of a throwback to the old days. At least the muster was able to be done on the phone and then completed by visiting the muster station once onboard.
Having gained access to the cabin at 3:00pm we then had to wait until 5:40 for our cases to arrive so we have done a lot of hanging around today.
At 7:00pm we made our way to the Grand Pacific MDR for our evening meal, as things turned out it was a positive experience with Nicole eating well for the first night. She was also able to pick her selection for tomorrow evening so things seem to be heading in the right direction. The service was great and exactly as we remembered it to be from past NCL cruises. After we wandered around the ship gauging the best venues for evening entertainment, we ended up in the Spinnaker Lounge until we decided to turn in for the evening. Tomorrow is a sea day so things should be a little more relaxed.