We took a cruise of the Black sea and Mediterranean with my parents and my brother’s family to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was a 14 day cruise with stops in Greece, Istanbul, Bulgaria, Romania, Valletta, Sicily and Italy. The ship docked at a new port most days, and we would either tour on our own or take a tour organized by the ship. We got back on board for dinner as a group each night and the ship moved on to the next port while we slept.
It was a great trip and it was very nice to have time with my family. I’ve posted a bunch of pictures here.
Some highlights of the trip for me:
- Istanbul: We spent two days in Istanbul and saw they Aya Sofia, Topkai palace, Blue Mosque, Cisterns and the Bazaars. We also walked around a few neighborhoods and took a ferry from Europe to Asia for lunch. The sites were impressive, the city felt welcoming and I really enjoyed the Bosporus transit – sailing by all the sites on the cruise ship.
- Bucharest: We visited the former Soviet bloc countries of Romania and Bulgaria. In Romania, we took a long bus ride to Bucharest from Constanta. In Bucharest we toured the palace of the parliament, a huge palace built by Ceausescu, saw the square where the revolution started, and also visited an outdoor museum of historic village buildings.
- Valletta: The fortifications built on Valletta were very impressive and the city had a very distinct look with narrow streets and sandstone buildings.
- Ship tour and Chef’s table: On board the cruise ship, we attended two events that cost extra. On the ship tour we got to see many of the crew-only areas of the ship including the laundry, kitchens, engine room and bridge. We learned a lot about how the ship operates and got to see some of the equipment and scale of the operation. The Chef’s table was an elaborate fixed menu meal with a small group of passengers. The food was excellent and copious, and there was a wine pairing with each course. The caviar appetizer and mushroom risotto were excellent.
The cruise company was Princess. This was the first cruise that I have taken in 20 years, so it is difficult to compare Princess to other companies. In general, I thought that Princess did a good job. The food was very good and the service was excellent. Our waiters in the dining room did a great job and the stewards cleaned the rooms twice a day. The on-board entertainment was nothing special, but the public areas of the boat were nice. We particularly liked the promenade decks where you could sit, read, and watch the water go by. My main complaints were with the services that weren’t included in the base price. They took two photos of everyone everyday, printed them out and offered them for sale. The prices were too high and it seemed like most of the photos were being thrown away. They also had on-board shops and an art gallery that advertised with daily fliers.
In terms of planning time, this trip was average. It took us a while as a group to pick out the cruise that we wanted to take. There are quite a few companies and each one has lots of itineraries. Once the cruise was picked, we just had to decided if we were going to take an excursion from the boat or tour on our own each day. We ended up doing about half and half. Some of the locations (like Bucharest) were difficult to get to on public transportation in the time we had. Other times, it seemed like having a tour guide would make the visit more interesting (like Delos). But we toured on our own whenever possible. Going on a ship tour guarantees that you are always walking and eating lunch with 40 other tourists. Of course touring on our own meant researching the sites and transportation for that city.
Some other interesting bits:
- The monasteries in Volos appear to be built on granite or other hard stone cliffs. Once you get up close, the stone is actually a soft sedimentary rock.
- In Chios we tried mastic gum. Mastic is a tree resin, and the gum has a mild piney taste.
- The cruise ship is a floating power plant with six 8 MW engines.
- The palace of the parliament in Bucharest is the second largest office/admin building in the world after the Pentagon.
- We had the best latte ever in Mykonos. The foam was unnaturally fine.
- It is possible for the drone of a tour guide to be both unignorable and literally mind numbing.
- Pompeii is so much bigger than other archaeological sites. It is the size of a small town.
- We walked all over Rome, racking up 31,000 steps (14.5 miles)
Note: I’m back-dating this post to a couple days after we got back. It took a long time to get all the pictures gathered from everyone’s cameras and to pick out the best ones.