I realize this is a somewhat untimely trip report, but it has taken some time to get back to normal after returning from our cruise.
Sunday, 03 Nov 2019…..Kotor, Montenegro
The ship entered the fjord leading to Kotor. On the Pilot’s boat the Captain was told were blowing at 20 knots. High, but still safe enough to dock the ship. Unexpectedly, the winds picked up to 75 knots, creating a parlous situation for the ship. Using the ship’s side thrusters, the Captain decided it was unsafe to dock, made a sharp “U”-turn , and plotted a course to open water. Bottomline, the Kotor Port Call was canceled, and we had another unexpected sea day. Several days later in Venice, we were speaking with passengers from a Celebrity ship. 90 knot winds forced their Captain to also cancel their stop at Kotor. Had a good lunch and dinner in the GDR.
Monday, 04 Nov 2019…..Kadar, Croatia
The ship docked in Kadar without incident. We had not booked any shore excursions and explored the city on our own. The Ship’s complementary shuttle dropped us off adjacent to the old walled city and almost on top of the harmonic steps. The wind was really blowing, and the sea was very rough. A large sailboat just offshore was having a difficult time riding the waves and was bouncing up and down and to and fro. I would not have wanted to have been aboard her!! We walked through the old walled city and visited a couple of museums. The city is immaculately clean!
Had a late lunch at the Waves Grill. Hard to go wrong there. Dinner was at the Tuscany. DW had a veal plate which she enjoyed. After my experience with the Osso Buco, I opted to order the rack of lamb, which I considered to be a failsafe item to order. I love lamb, but my order was very gamey tasting and not very good. I only ate about 25% of the lamb and filled up on the potatoes, vegetables, and desert.
Tuesday, 05 Nov 2019…..Koper, Slovenia
I had originally planned on visiting the Skocjan Caves and had even talked DW into going. However, when getting directions on how to best get there from Koper tourist representative, she recommended we not visit them. She was of the opinion they might be to physical demanding for us. She was very fit herself and told us she had difficulty negotiating some of the grades. She also told DW that the entrance could be somewhat claustrophobic. That was all DW had to hear to decide we weren’t going. Instead, we opted to explore the old walled city. While weather did not impede our arrival in Koper, rain did end up cutting our exploration of the city short. We tried to sit the rain out at a local café to no avail. We, along with other shipmates, were able to return to the ship in between squalls. The weather never improved throughout the day.
We had a very good lunch in the GDR and a good steak at Polo’s that evening.
Wednesday, 06 Nov 2019…..Venice
We arrived in Venice without incident and took our time disembarking. Because we had booked 2-extra nights in Venice we wanted to conduct a dry run to our hotel (The Grand Hotel De Dogi). The hotel had previously emailed with directions on how to get there from the cruise terminal. I knew from my research we needed to purchase a 72 hour Vaporetto pass. The question was where?
After exiting the cruise terminal we approached a booth that was selling sightseeing tickets. The young lady in the booth was less than friendly, and even less helpful. She told us we could buy them from the newspaper vendor’s storefront. Wrong…..he told us we needed to take the people mover to the bus station and buy them from a vendor located across from the people mover terminal. By then there was a group of us wanting to buy passes. We formed a gaggle and headed for the people mover. The entrance to the people mover was not well marked and most of the gaggle attempted to enter via the exit. They soon found the escalators ran one way….down. Directions on the automated ticket machines aren’t very clear, leading to additional confusion. Fortunately, a veteran Venice traveler showed us how to purchase the €1.50 one-way ticket. A word of advice….pay in cash. It is quicker and less complicated.
After exiting the people mover terminal we found the Vaporetto ticket booth right across the street. The lady working in the both spoke very good English and was both super friendly and helpful. She wanted to know when our departure flight was scheduled and the hotel where we were staying. Armed with that information, she told us what type of pass we need and gave us directions on what Vaporetto to take and precisely where to catch it. She also gave us advice on what Valporettos to take to explore the city. In our case, we had to take the 4.2 or 5.2 around the outskirt of the city to the M. dell ‘orto stop and the walk to our hotel. From our hotel she outlined on the route map the path to take to the Grand Canal’s San Marcuola stop and to take the #2 Vaporetto.
The valporetto ride to the hotel took about 20 minutes and then it was about a 5-minute walk from the stop to the hotel itself. We poked our heads inside and told the front desk staff we would be checking in the next day. The let us know we could store our bags with them until we actually checked in. The hotel staff confirmed the directions to the next vaporetto stop and we headed out. On the way hunger got the best of us, so we stopped for a “quick” lunch. We stopped at the Trattoria Aldo Fradie Ristorante and had a great lunch of pasta and turbot. We liked the place so much we stopped there one other time for coffee and pasta. If any of you decide to eat there be aware of attempts to up sale you on your order. It happened to us and we chalked it up to a learning experience. The restaurant is located at the confluence of Rio Tera San Leonardo, Rio Tera Farsetti, and Rio Tera Della Maddalena.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon cruising the Grand Canal and visiting Saint Mark’s Square. When we first boarded the vaporetto (Rt.2 towards St. Mark’s Square) it was impossible to get a seat with a view. We decided to ride it to the last station and when everyone else got off we would grab some upfront seats and ride the boat both ways for the view. DW told the female conductor what we planned and she told us where to stand and wait. She wouldn’t start the boarding until we had claimed our seats.
The crowd that boarded included some Aussies who took the seats next to us. We had a blast sharing the time and ride with them. One of the two couples learned the hard way about the need to either buy a multi-day pass or within 75 minutes of purchase to recharge their ticket. They were unaware of the need to recharge their ticket and were fined on the spot €50 EACH. Following that incident, I observed the conductors singling out obvious tourists and checking their tickets. I witnessed two other couples getting fined.
Whereas we had a 6 o’clock gondola ship sponsored excursion we returned with enough time for a coffee and snack. There was major disconnect with meet place instructions that almost resulted in 3 couples missing the excursion. The ship’s instructions were to met in the bus parking lot across the street from the cruise terminal. The majority of us were stopped inside the terminal and told to wait for our guides. Once they showed up we left the terminal for the walk to the water taxis that would take us to the ride venue. Outside the terminal we met the 3 couples who had been waiting at the bus parking lot. Fingers were pointed and blame cast in both directions, but everyone scheduled for the excursion made it. DW had a preconceived opinion the excursion was going to be kind of hokie. Was she and I in for a surprise! Each gondola carried 6-guests. Our gondola only carried 4. The remain 2-seats were occupied by an accordionist and singer. Once all the gondolas were underway, the accordionist began playing and soon after the singer started belting them out. It was marvelous! We cruised the back ally’s with the music reverberating off the water and walls. It not only made our day, but also made the day for countless hotel guests in rooms overlooking the canals we cruised through. Windows were opened, heads popped out, and cameras flashed away. It was really fun and well worth it.
After returning to the ship, we headed straight to the GDR for our last dinner aboard. Because we had packed earlier in the day, we didn’t stop at our suite to change clothes. I was wearing light colored levis and a long sleeve polo shirt. DW had on slacks and a sweater. I assumed “O”, like other cruise lines exercises a more relaxed, but reasonable dress code for the first and last nights at sea. The maître d seated us without question, but I did get the evil eye from several passengers. In this respect, I must report that the no levi/jean policy at dinner in the GDR was not enforced. On several nights I observed mean wearing jeans or levis being seated in the GDR.
We had the Chateaubriand for dinner and enjoyed it
Thursday, 07 Nov 2019…..Venice
This morning we said farewell and disembarked. The disembarkation process was simple, easy, and unrushed. There was no stampede of passengers trying to be the first off the ship. I like how “O” sorted the luggage in the cruise terminal. It really helped making disembarkation less than an ordeal.
Our reconnaissance the day before paid off. We sailed through the people mover ticketing process, with time to help a couple of fellow passengers purchase their people mover tickets. The only issue we had reaching the vaporetto was with my wife’s suitcase. Someone broke one of the wheels during the outbound transfer of luggage from the ship to the cruise terminal. She quickly figured out how to compensate for the problem and we made to the vaporetto and hotel without issue. We arrived at the hotel, checked in, placed our luggage into storage, and were heading out the door when two couples from the ship arrived via water taxi.
On our way to the Grand Canal vaporetto stop we stopped for coffee and breakfast rolls. Our first stop of the day was St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace. Disappointingly and perhaps because it was now “off season” the extra Secret Itineraries Tour in English wasn’t available until Sunday the 10th. We found the Palace to be spacious, mystical, and intriguing. Enough so that we have to return to Venice someday just to take the Secret Itineraries Tour. We rented headsets and found them very helpful.
Our next stop was St. Mark’s Basilica. We queued up Rick Steves’ walking tour of the Basilica on our IPhones and started exploring. It took awhile to orient his tour to the actual roped off pathway we had to follow. There was no fee to enter the Basilica, but there were fees to view anything extra; i.e. the treasury, Pala d’oro on the high alter, and museum.
We stopped for coffee and water, then did a quick spin through the Correr Museum. By time we finished seeing the Correr we decided it was time to grab some dinner and return to the hotel. For the life of me, I can’t remember where we ate. What I do recall was it was late enough the #1 boat on the Grand Canal had discontinued service for the day and that by time we returned to the hotel, recovered our luggage, got settled in our room, and got ready to call it a day it was after 9. Oh, FWIW, our room had a partial view of a canal.
Let me pause to say given the time of year, the crowds are nonexistent at the tourist sites and museums. There has been no need to purchase any skip the line tickets as there are no lines. No lines also mean the venues are not crowded.
Friday, 08 Nov 2019…..Venice
We got a later start than expected. DW was suffering from blistered feet, so it was going to be slow going the entire day. Before beginning our journey, we stopped again at at the Trattoria Aldo Fradie Ristorante where we enjoyed a wonderful pasta meal.
From the restaurant we went in search of a shop where we could buy some duct tape to use in making repairs to the wheel on DW’s suitcase. Both the concierge at our hotel and the waiter at the restaurant recommended looking for the tape at the same place. Should any reader have need of hardware related stuff the name of the place is Il Quadrifoglio Di Donati Mauro E C. S.n.c. (The Quadrifoglio S.N.C.) It is located on the Grand Canal side of Rio Tera San Leonardo just before Fondamenta Di Cannaregio and the Guglie vaporetto stop. It is a small narrow shop right next to a tobacco store. The owner speaks excellent English.
Along the way to the hardware store we shopped for original Venietian masks and found one for our 6 year old grandson (a Batman one) and one for our 9 year old grandaughter (a beautiful eye mask).
There was light sprinkling rains in the morning, but no downpours. Today we decided to begin working our way up the Grand Canal towards St. Mark’s Square with the first stop being the Fari (Farari) Church. Once again we used Rick Steves’ audio guide and foud it to be useful and educational. This Venitian gothical Church is fanominal inside and out! The absence of crowds made it much easier to appreciate the Church’s grandeur. We spent more time exploring and appreciating this church than anticipated and it was well worth it!
Next we visited the Academia. We took our time exploring the museum and stopped often to rest DW’s feet. Although she is a tough old broad, her blisters bothered her enough that we decided after the Academia to call it a day. It was early evening and the #2 boat had discontinued operations meaning once again we were force to take the #1 milk run. Along the way we got off to visit the Rialto Bridge. Although it is considered by some to be a must stop and see site, we found that although it provided a Kodack minute, it was an overcrowded, overated attraction. We stopped at a nearby sandwich shop and grabbed a bite to eat before returning to the hotel. Gotta say they had some canolies.
Saturday, 09 Nov 2019…..Venice to Istanbul
Up early for the walk to the airport vaporetto stop. It was on time and uncrowded. We were the last stop before the airport, so the ride was uninterrupted and at 30 minutes short. The walk from the airport vaporetto terminal to the airline “ticket” counter was a long one, and somewhat confusing. Turkish Airlines, and perhaps other airlines, does not have a defined, well signed ticket counter per sey. Instead, they are assigned a numbered counter somewhere in the terminal. I do not know if this changes daily or is the same one each day. Bottomline, you must read the overhead display in the terminal to determine which counters your airline is using to check-in outbound passengers.
Check-in and pre-departure security checks were a snap. Venice’s Business Class lounge is very nice and was conveniently located to our departure gate.
The flight to Istanbul was uneventful. They served an excellent omelet. The most tedious thing experienced on landing at Istanbul was the very long walk to the Immigration and Customs processing area. There weren’t any lines, so clearing immigration and customs was a breeze. We arranged for roundtrip car service to our hotel and were on our way very soon after clearing customs. We were told the ride from the airport to our hotel would take 55 minutes, but our driver got us there in 30.
Our hotel, the Crowne Plaza Istanbul Old City, was selected by Turkish Airlines. Again, they picked up 2-nights of lodging as part of their “stay over” incentive program. We were booked into a standard room and found it roomy enough and quiet. The hotel is centrally located in Istanbul’s Old City and very near a tram stop. The bar/restaurant’s dinner menu was limited, so we opted on dinning out. We chose a crowded street side restaurant on a busy street and were not disappointed. DW had kabab and I had lamb. Both were excellent!
Sunday, 10 Nov 2019…..Istanbul
Started the morning with a hearty breakfast. The hotel had an excellent buffet that provided ample nourishment for a day of exploration. We walked from the hotel to the Blue Mosque. It was a beautiful morning and the walk up and down hills was good exercise. DW had switched to wearing flipflops, so blisters were not an issue. The mosque is very interesting. It was under renovations so we were not able to appreciate the full grandeur of sunlight shining through it’s stained glass windows.
From the mosque we headed next door to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. We found this museum to be very interesting and enjoyed our time there. From the museum we stumbled across the Serbethane Café & Restaurant where we stopped for coffee and water break. It is located right next to the museum, is shaded, very fashionable, has very clean restrooms, and seems to be a chosen stop for may tour guides and their clients.
Our next stop was the Hagia Sophia Museum. The tickets and entry lines were unmanageable, so we opted on hiring a guide and fast tracking it. That proved to be one of our better decisions as we learned more from the guide than we would have stumbling blinding through the huge facility. I was wearing a ball cap and asked our guide if I should remove it. He told us it was a museum, not a place of worship and that wearing a hat was OK. We took our time looking around on both the ground and upper floor. It was very impressive.
Next, we crossed the street and entered the Basilica Cistern. The entry line was manageable, but once inside the reverberating crowd noise was a distraction. DW does not enclosed spaces and quickly moved towards the exit where she waited for me to do my thing. I was amazed and thoroughly enjoyed my time underground. Given all the ambient noise, I do not think a guided tour of the Basilica would have been worthwhile. I shutter to think about the effect a large, loud tourist season crowd would have on anyone visiting the cistern during peak season.
From the Cistern we started walking back to the hotel and along the way stopped for a late lunch/early dinner. We found a clean little place on a quiet street favored by locals. The service and food were very good. After walking 6-plus miles, it was Miller time.
Monday, 11 Nov 2019…..Istanbul
We overslept and got a late start. After breakfast, we stopped at the tram ticket kiosk, a short walk from the hotel and bought a single 100 Turkish Lire ticket for both of us to use. Yes, it is permissible for multiple people to travel on a single ticket. You just swipe it once for each passenger traveling. When at the boarding area’s turnstile, a transit employee helped us out.
Our first stop was the Topkapi Palace Museum. We spent close to 3-hours exploring this museum, the highlight being the Hareem. The only line we encountered was the regulated line to enter the Treasury.
From Topkapi Palace we walked to the bustling Egyptian Market, perhaps better known as the Spice Market/Bazzar. The crowds of people in and adjacent to this market were crushing! We spent $31 on 2-kilos of shelled hazel nuts and 1-kilo of pine nuts. From the Spice Market we went to the very nearby Hamdi Restaurant. Both the spice bazaar and restaurant border a common street and the restaurant offers a view of the Bosphorus and Galata Bridge. The Hamdi was recommended to us by a fellow traveler we met in Miami’s business class lounge. Our hotel concierge also recommended it. We found the wait staff to be unfriendly, the prices inflated, and the food just OK. The restaurant’s restrooms are very clean.
Our next stop was a very uphill walk to the Suleymaniye Mosque. It was getting late in the afternoon, some shops were closing for the day, and I was unnecessarily concerned the mosque would be closed to visitors. There were no entry lines and the mosque was crowd free. From it’s hilltop location, the grounds of the mosque offer an impressive view of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn.
On our way back to the hotel, we ventured into the Grand Bazaar. Having lived, worked, and traveled in the middle east bazaars and souks are not new to us. We were impressed with the size of Istanbul’s Grand Bazzar, but were not inclined to browse around and shop.
From the Grand Bazaar, we walked to the closest tram stop and returned to the hotel. After getting off the tram, we stopped at restaurant we spied two days earlier and had a Turkish doner kebab dinner. Even using the tram, we ended the day after walking just shy of 6-miles.
Tuesday, 12 Nov 2019…..Istanbul
It must be sign of age, because we got even a later start today than yesterday. Because we had booked an afternoon Bosporus cruise and tour to Pierre Loti Hill, we had to call off seeing other sites on our agenda.
We found the Bosporus cruise to be the right length of time. It was interesting and educational. The ride to the summit of Pierre Loti Hill itself was interesting. The view of the Golden Horn, Old City, and the Bosporus was well worth the trip.
Wednesday, 13 Nov 2019…..Istanbul to Miami
Ah, the day we all meet with mixed feelings…the travel day home. And, for us, it was long one. Our airport transfer driver arrived at the hotel on time. However, instead of driving directly to the airport her took a 15-minute detour to swap drivers. It is a good thing we built extra time into our departure schedule. This trip, we were more cognizant of the time and distance it took to drive to the airport. Istanbul’s new airport is really a long way out of town.
The replacement driver never asked us our destination or airline and dropped us off next to an escalator in an airport parking garage. The escalator took us up to the departure level. The terminal was bustling with passengers and the lines everywhere were long. Fortunately, we quickly learned that we were in the wrong terminal. We had to walk back to the curbside and about 200 meters to our right before reaching the correct terminal. Once inside and before reaching the ticket counter we went through our first full security check. After checking in, we went through another full security screening and then were in the main departure lounge. Once inside the Business Class lounge we learned about the flooding in Venice and thanked our lucky stars for permitting us a chance to visit that grand city before the devastating floods. We only had enough time for a couple of cups of coffee before heading out on the 25-minute walk to our departure gate.
Most of the way to the departure gate there were no moving sidewalks and the walk to the gate took every bit of 25-minutes. Once there we had to go through yet another full security screening. And, to make matters worse, the contractors employed by Turkish Air to conduct that screening were rude. Boarding was much more organized than the Miami boarding. FWITW, it appears that Turkish Air’s SOP is not to offer cocktails to Business Class passengers until after take-off and cruising altitude is reached. They do though offer soft drinks and non-alcoholic fruit cocktails, e.g. mint lemonade and a pomegranate juice drink. The main meal was served soon after take-off and, with the help of science and the VA, I slept soundly for the remainder of the flight.
Arrival and Immigration/Customs clearance in Miami was painless. In fact, it took longer to find our car than it did to process through U.S. Government arrival formalities. We overnighted near Ft. Pierce and returned home the morning of the 14th. The past month has been spent getting back into our normal routine, picking the grandkids up from school, catching up on neglected household chores, Thanksgiving, and prepping for Christmas.
Assessment of the cruise to follow.