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Cruise Diary: The Mediterranean Shines with History, Culture and Cuisine

Guests Carol and Terry Sjostedt from Australia took an extended Mediterranean cruise on Prinsendam and are sharing their impressions of the ship and several of their favorite ports.

Prinsendam – First Impressions
So, the ship…Prinsendam is beautiful! It is a gorgeous ship and our cabin is fantastic. The bathroom with a full sized bath is great and we have a walk-in warobe. We embarrassed ourselves not being able to work the lights and bath plug, but Franz & Raymon, our stewards, sorted us and looked upon it as jolly good fun. Dinner was outstanding, so we are suitably staggered to be surrounded by such luxury. Sailing out of Athens at sunset was magical.

Prinsendam alongside, and Carol and Terry departing Piraeus (Athens).

Prinsendam alongside, and Carol and Terry departing Piraeus (Athens).

Alanya, Turkey
We loved Alanya, Turkey. It is the prettiest place, with ancient walls climbing right down the hill. The views from the castle ruins on the hill were astonishing and the colour of the water is unbelievable.

The harbour at Alanya, Turkey.

The harbour at Alanya, Turkey.

We found a Turkish restaurant I read about, Ravza, and it was so much fun. The same family have run it for 50 years and they welcomed us like family. We had a feast which included the most divine bread about a metre long. I laughed and said ‘too much’ and the waiter said that this is ‘just little bit’ to a Turk. Needless to say we ate it all plus grilled meats of every kind, dips, and a shepherds salad. All this with bottled water plus free wifi cost 17$ US! We were talking to our family on Skype and one of the waiters got on to say hi. It was a great travel experience.

It was a feast fit for royalty at Ravza.

It was a feast fit for royalty at Ravza.

We then fell thankfully into a shop where the merchant wasn’t practically dragging us in by the hair, and had a nice time getting some Turkish bits and pieces for Terry’s workmates and the kids. He earnestly inquired about each one, then ran around making suggestions. The more we bought the cheaper it got! We all had an excellent time and departed with much handshaking and waving.

Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey
Coming into the port for Ephesus, Kusadasi, was unbelievable as the sun rose over the mountains. We can see that sunrise arrivals and sunset departures will be magical. Terry was on the top deck supervising as the Prinsendam reversed her rather portly bottom into dock.

Arrival at Kusadasi.

Arrival at Kusadasi.

How to describe Ephesus? The ruins are emerging year by year, but as it stands you can see the ‘retail’ streets with the shop type engraved in stone, residential sectors and recreational sectors (including the Brothel). The ‘terrace houses’ were stunning – like a modern upmarket apartment block. The inside walls were gloriously decorated with frescos, some of which survive. We saw one bedroom that showed how three successive owners changed the frescos, much like we do with wallpapers. Remarkably the restoration of the terrace houses is being partly funded by ‘Austrian Friends of Ephesus.’

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Other highlights included the Celsus Library, said to be one of the most important ruins in the world and the Amphitheatre which seated (and still will) 25,000. Elton John and others have performed here and the acoustics are apparently perfect. However, it is perilously steep and steps to access the theatre and seats are slippery with no railings or anything to cling to. How many tourists end up in hospital is anyone’s guess. We have the Dencorub out tonight I can tell you!

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In the afternoon we wandered the waterfront of Kusadasi, where a festival to celebrate their democracy was in force with families picnicking, drinking coffee and generally having a good time. We had coffee, with Terry trying Turkish which made his eyes spin alarmingly in his head. I took a pic which he has demanded I delete! We were fascinated to see a Lions Club fundraiser – a carriage and two horses toting tourists around.

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Katakolon (Olympia), Greece
How to describe Olympia! The site of the Olympics for 1,000 years – it is set amongst green hills and many, many trees. The story goes (I think!) that the King of Sparta got the idea of games to pull together the warring city states of Greece. He decided to go to the Oracle of Delphi to ask if this was a good idea. The Oracle said it was – on three conditions:

1. The games should be held in Olympia, not Sparta
2. No games could take place if city states were fighting.
3. They were to held every olympiad (4 years).

Picture us walking along pathways shaded by Olive and oak trees with ruins of a gymnasium, bath houses, visiting dignitaries’ suites, officials’ guest houses, training rooms and in the centre the Temple of Zeus. We went to the stadium and did the pretending to run shots and generally soaked it all up.

Olympia was the site of the first Olympic Games.

Olympia was the site of the first Olympic Games.

Finally we went to the onsite archaeological museum which is crammed with artifacts from the site, including massive statues in varying states of repair. I was thrilled to see one of my personal favourites, Marcus Aurelius, who was unfortunately minus his head.

Olympia will go down at the top or near the top of the list of the ancient sites we have visited. Apart from the stunning array of ruins, the shady green site was magical.

We then came back to the port of Katakalon and had lunch on the waterfront in a cafe with blue and white chairs overlooking the bluest of waters, with pretty wooden fishing boats moored nearby and thinking life was pretty good. (Us not the boats!) I had moussaka which was excellent and Terry had spaghetti.

Carol enjoying lunch at a restaurant in the harbour .

Carol enjoying lunch at a restaurant in the harbour .

While wandering the shops there was a commotion and smoke started pouring out of a shop, to our great alarm. We asked was there a fire? The shopkeeper where we were explained it was a smoke bomb, which they use when there is a shop lifter. It enables the shopkeeper to try to grab the person and alerts the other shop keepers, who rally about!

Leaving port was magical – all the ruins, walls etc were lit up, including the ancient ship yards, domed stone arch structures in the rocks on the waterfront.

Iraklion (Temple of Knossos), Greece
Terry has realised his dream to see the temple of Knossos, the ruins of which date back to 1600 BC. (On a site that goes back to 6500). It is a huge site with many buildings and ruins, and once again, evidence of the good life. Many of the rooms have what we would call patios overlooking the mountains. The siting of the complex is magnificent.

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Sir Arthur Evans is widely criticised for his restoration at the site where he spent 50 years, as he reconstructed buildings (sometimes using concrete) according to his idea of what it looked like. He used bits and pieces of ruins, frescos, etc. to support his work. Someone told us yesterday Evans had ‘ruined’ the site. Well, for a layperson it is wonderful, as you can make sense of the layout and room uses. It was a great experience and we finished off with coffee & wifi in the ‘Minoan’ cafe, where the host tried to talk us into champagne at 10.30 a.m.!

Rhodes, Greece
Rhodes is another fascinating place, with a complete walled old city built by the Crusaders. The worst problem is the scooters – you do get sick of jumping for your life. We gazed at all sorts of impressive buildings and streets, accompanied for some time by a very solemn brown dog, who appointed himself as guide and protector. It was very funny – he didn’t seem to want attention, just stayed with us.

The ancient city of Rhodes.

The ancient city of Rhodes.

Eventually we succumbed to the shops as they were the best we have seen yet. We allowed ourselves to be adopted by three different shop keepers and bought some lovely things at reasonable prices, while enjoying a good chat. With one fellow it was about Greece during the second world war (bought verdi green figurines) and I enjoyed a chat with a lovely guy selling silver jewellery (bought Greek opal earrings and ring). He was admiring my rainbow moonstone earrings. Again there was enthusiastic handshakes and waving.

Farewell Prinsendam
We went mad at our last dinner in the gorgeous dining room – all four courses! Then the farewells with all our cruise buddies.

In the morning we waved our Elegant Explorer goodbye, feeling a little sad. The itinerary was awesome, but the cruise itself was wonderful too. Loved the cabin with bath, warm, attentive staff, the dining experiences, the Library – everything! Holland America has two new fans.

Have you taken a Holland America Line cruise and are interested in writing a Cruise Diary like Carol? Email info@hollandamericablog.com and let us know!

(All photos in the post are courtesy of Carol and Terry Sjostedt.)

1 Comment
  • Luh Mc Devitt Madera

    Wonderful photos. Captured the area incredibly well. Thanks!

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