Continuing from my last post featuring the first portion of our Regent Cruise from Rome to Istanbul, we left Athens and headed for Santorini.
On Santorini, I opted for a tour of the museum in Fira. A lot of the art and antiquities are copies of originals that are in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, but somehow seeing them there on the island put them more in context. Recently I was unable to find even one wholesaler who could arrange the donkey’s up the hill for a family with children. Apparently there is a liability issue, but if you are determined, you can do it if you wait until you arrive on the island. However I would never do it leaving the island. Going up that switchback is scary enough but coming down is just crazy. I will take the tram, thank you very much! Besides that, by the time you would get to the top, you would be hot and smell like a donkey for the rest of the day!
The following day was Kusadasi, Turkey and the chance to visit the ruins of Ephesus which was first inhabited by the Greeks in the 10th Century BC, but had been settled by Caraans and Lelegians many years before that. The site covers a very large area, with remains from Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. Today there is one major dig still going on and that is called the Terrace Houses. This was the first time in 3 try’s that I was able to get a tour inside. All I can say is wow!
Istanbul was our last port. Next to Rome, it is my favorite city in the world. The city is divided by the Bosphorus River with one bank in Europe and the other in Asia. It is the birthplace of civilization and home to so much religious history, regardless of your faith. The Greeks called it home and it was the capital of the Roman Empire under Constantine. It was later conquered by the Turks and the city became primarily Islamic. The first afternoon in Istanbul, we visited Chora Church which is amazing. It’s beautiful Christian mosaics were ravaged by the crusaders, covered over with white plaster when the Ottoman Turks turned it into a mosque and now as a museum, the mosaics are uncovered and visited by visitors from all over the world.
Hagia Sophia is located right next to Blue Mosque and since we had all see Blue Mosque before we opted for Hagia Sophia and were not disappointed. Just across the street a bit is Basilica Cistern. That was very cool! Literally, it was the coolest place we visited that day and very interesting. The Romans built it to have water for the city but as the city grew, it obviously couldn’t handle the need. It is defiantly worth the time for a visit. We spent a bit of free time in the Grand Bazaar shopping! That is always fun and I bought gifts there for everyone at home.
The following day our private guide picked six of us up at the ship and since we had all done a lot of different things in the city, our wonderful guide gave us three alternate suggestions for our day and we chose to go across to the Asian side to visit Sultan Mahmud II’s, summer palace (Beylerbeyi Palace). It is located right on the river and is breathtakingly beautiful. From there we drove to Restaurant Chia for a wonderful lunch. It is a sidewalk café with delicious offerings. If you ever have an opportunity to eat there, try the lamb/cherry kabob! It is heaven!! After lunch we boarded a boat and did a Bosphorus cruise. It is a very good way to get a feel for the layout of the city and it was a much cooler way to spend the afternoon. This kind of flexibility is only found with private guides and the company I use in Turkey is the best! At the end of our day, we were taken to our hotel with a gorgeous view from our room of the Golden Horn. The only bad part about that evening was that we had to have dinner and try and get to sleep as quickly as possible for a 330am pick-up to go to the airport for our trip home.
I loved my whole trip so much that I have chosen to host another group October 7, 2013 from Istanbul to Rome. Take a look at this incredible itinerary and I would love to have you join me. We'll be departing from Istanbul and visiting Dikili, Turkey; Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey; Mykonos, Greece; Santorini (Thira), Greece; Valletta, Malta; Trapani, Italy; Taormina, Italy; Sorrento, Italy and concluding in Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy. I will have suggested shore excursions for the various ports and of course I would love to share this fabulous experience. October is a perfect time to be in the Mediterranean! Please give me a call - all of my contact information as well as a contact form can be found on my profile page.