Thursday, August 29, 2019

October 16, 2018 – Piraeus, Greece – Partly Cloudy – Mid 70s

A beautiful day in Athens - the temperature is mild and not nearly as warm on our previous trips here. 

Constellation Docked - Port of Piraeus

We opted not to climb the Acropolis – most of the ship’s tours involved the Acropolis.  Instead, we would walk around the area of the Acropolis and the nearby Plaka. We have been here a number of times but have never visited the Plaka - clearly a planning oversight.  After a relaxing breakfast, we got some good information from the guest services agent about getting around the area.  

Just off the ship there is a bus stop for the bus to Central Athens.  We bought round trip tickets to the city center for 4.5 Euros/pp round trip.  We were told that the drop off was at the entrance to the Acropolis and the Plaka.

The bus trip took us out of the Port – we were in Terminal C, which looked to the furthermost terminal in the complex.  Once out of the Port, the bus route passed through Piraeus and some very nice areas such as the marina (where we had dinner on a previous stay).  After getting through the town, the bus got on the expressway to Athens.  The bus ride – port to drop off – took about 30 – 40 minutes and worth the money.

We were dropped off across the street from the main garden and just around the corner from the street that borders the Acropolis Complex.  It was not a tough walk up to a point when you could take pictures of the Parthenon and other structures at the top.  Looking up at the Acropolis, the decision not to climb up the hill looked like a very wise one.

Our next destination was the multi-square block shopping area known as the Plaka.  It is part of the old city and is wall to wall shops and restaurants.  We stopped at what could have been a main square for a photo op.

We looked for pins and other items and basically crisscrossed the entire Plaka.  

We don't usually eat off ship but lunch time was approaching and I was getting hungry.  Going back to the ship now would cut our visit to the city short and would really be a waste of good bus fare.

After checking out several options, opted to have lunch at Café Venetto at the Plaka.  Ellen wasn’t hungry but I decided to order the Greek Pizza (sold by the Kg) – 3.4 Euros plus Iced Mocha Latte – 2.5 Euros – a bargain and really good (except for the occasional olive pit fragment in the pizza).  

After lunch, we hit a few more shops before walking the short distance to the bus stop.  I couldn't resist taking the picture below (a display put out by one of the shops).

After putting in quite a few steps, we made our way back to the bus pick up point.  There were a few people waiting for the Pier Bus and somebody said it just left (the bus runs every 30 – 40 minutes).  Bus after bus ran by until our bus finally came around the corner.  We were back on the ship by 4:00 PM.

The sail away was very picturesque - I was able to capture some of Athens in the gloaming.

Jayne Curry is on board (we ran into her near our cabin earlier) and her main show is tonight at 7:30 PM.  The theater was pretty full and her show, which we hadn’t seen for five years, was excellent.  I don’t recall the details of her earlier shows but this evening she combined quite a bit of conversation, storytelling, and humor with show stopping songs.  She did “The Rose” and finished up with Celine Dion’s, “All By Myself”, and included a few of Celine’s moves.  Besides “The Rose”, my favorite number was “I Am What I Am”.  The audience loved her and gave her a standing ovation. 

When we got to our room, we heard a loud, grinding thumping noise that vibrated the whole cabin.  I thought it was the engines.  The noise went on (with a few seconds of quiet) until 2 AM (3 AM real time).  I called Guest Relations at 2AM and confirmed that the noise was a Crew Party.  We found out later that the party was moved from Reflections to just underneath us due to a scheduling issue.  Sam, the Entertainment Manager, told us there would be no more parties to keep us up all night.  We are going to tired tomorrow.

Clocks move back one hour tonight.

October 15, 2018 – Mykonos, Greece – Partly Cloudy, Breezy – 65F

Today, we are in the beautiful Greek Island of Mykonos.  Mykonos is an island in the Cyclades group of Greek Islands.  The island has a population of about 10,000 people.  The main town is also Mykonos (or Chora). 


Chora from the Ship

On every past visit, Mykonos was been brutally hot with the heat reflecting off the white buildings.  Not today; we are experiencing the coolest weather of the trip so far and probably about 30 degrees cooler than average.  So, instead of grabbing a nice frosty bottle of beer at a beachfront restaurant, we are bundled up and trying to stay out of the very breezy (the island's nickname is the "Island of the Winds") and cool conditions.

Another ship is docked so we are going to be tendering into the town.  The last few times we’ve been here we have docked and taken the free shuttle to the town center. We didn’t need any tender tickets when we decided to go ashore (the tours left early and the tenders were available).  The ship’s tenders were not used and instead local boats took us to the island.  The third party boats were running constantly so there was little if any waiting for a tender. 
Tendering in gave me a chance to get some nice pictures of the island.

We walked around the town and visited the windmills abutting the beach area.  Clear and sunny but windy.

It's not a real picture until the hair is flying.

We could see Constellation anchored just a short ways off shore.

We also got some nice pictures of "Little Venice", an area of town with a Venetian influence - the island was under Venetian rule at one time and this area of town still has that look.  Today, it is a place of trendy restaurants and bars.

Little Venice

The beach area was a perfect vantage point to capture a panoramic shot of Mykonos and Mediterranean.

The conditions were just not right for an extended stay so we caught the tender and headed back to the ship.

Showtime Tonight is the Production Show, “Soundtrack”.   Featured are songs from the movies – I only recognized the songs from Bond movies, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Singing in the Rain”.  All the other songs were completely unknown to me.  The production itself was entertaining.

After the show, we caught Izzie and Moe in the Cafe Baccio Lounge.  Always an enjoyable interlude.

It was a late sail away so I was able to get a rare picture of Mykonos at night.

The windy conditions did not affect the sail away.

Monday, August 26, 2019

October 14, 2018 – At Sea – Aegean Sea – Mostly Cloudy – 70s

I was able to have breakfast in the Cafe and still caught most of Michael’s talk on the “Archeology of Beer and Wine” at 9:15 AM.  He drew a very small audience probably due to the early time slot.
I am following Michael today at 10:15 AM in the Celebrity Theater.  Talk No 4 – “Forensic Detectives: The Search for Jack the Ripper” drew the largest turnout of the cruise so far – approximately 30 percent full.  Lots of interesting post presentation discussion with passengers.

We are pretty set on going to the Oceanview Café for dinner.  The quiet and views are nice.  Again, get the pizza when it’s fresh and it’s great.

Showtime Tonight featured Aerialists and acrobats, Andrii and Ievgeniia (of the very unique hair) performing as the “Gold Art Duo”.  They are past winner of “Ukraine/Russia Got Talent” and contestants on “America’s Got Talent”.  An entertaining show but the contortion stuff is pretty repetitive.  Still a lot of fun and the audience really liked.

October 13, 2018 – Haifa, Israel – Partly Cloudy – 79F

Today, we are in the picturesque sea port of Haifa.  There are plenty of vistas to shoot from the upper decks of Constellaton.

Haifa is an easy port to visit as the ship is docked very close to the city and the exit/entry process is pretty simple.  Normally, we would take the free Tourist Bus but we were told that the bus no longer operates.  Our only option today is to walk around the town.  The only problem is that it is warm and humid.

It's a short walk to the terminal and the security check was, in my opinion, inadequate.

Security Checkpoint

Most of the stores are closed today but we did walk around the “New Downtown” of Haifa – consisting mostly of pubs and restaurants.  There were many people about in the restaurant area.

We also visited what looked like a new mall on the street that leads up to the Bahai Temple. The mall is nice inside but contains few shops.  It had plenty of visitors today.

We walked up the hill a few blocks to get a better picture of the Temple but soon decided that climbing a hill today was not a good idea.  I did, however, get a pretty good shot.

It was very warm and humid so we returned to the comfort of the ship.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the cool and comfortable Solarium.

The Showtime Headliner tonight was again Ollie Mulkeen – another low turnout for Ollie. He’s very entertaining so this must not be a show going crowd.

Friday, October 12, 2018 – Ashdod, Israel Day 2 – Partly Cloudy 78F

Notes on Ashdod.  Ashdod is Israel's largest port accounting for 60 percent of imported goods,  Ashdod is also a modern city with a population of almost 250,000 people (sixth largest city in Israel).  Real estate varies here - from modest apartments to million dollar condos.  There are malls, restaurants, and other facilities in the city, as well as a beach for water and sun.

No excursion today, as well, which meant a nice relaxing breakfast.

After seeing how nice and new the actual city of Ashdod was (during our ride here yesterday), we decided to spend the day there today.  We once again took the complimentary bus to Sea Mall.  The Mall had several floors and looked pretty new.  One section of the lower level was a kind of pot luck food court.  The various vendors had brought all kinds of food (most of which was kosher according to them) and arranged them on long tables (like a picnic buffet).  The food looked good but we still had plenty of cruise left so I was reluctant to take a chance of home cooked food.  The shops were nice and some very posh.  There were several restaurants in the mall as well – some were dairy only. 

Israelis may be crazy drivers but they do heed crosswalks.  We crossed the street to another shopping area around the corner from the Central Bus Station.  There were some pricey restaurants here (mostly dairy) and our old standby, Burgers Barn. Near the bus station there was sign for a Burger King but I would guess that store was not kosher. We had lunch at Burgers Barn (42 shekels or $10 for a huge burger and 15 shekels for fries and 10 shekels for a Coke Zero).  The total tab came to 150 shekels plus a tax of 17 percent!  It’s a good thing that there are no Burgers Barns back home or I’d be there a lot – NOTE:  The burgers put the Skokie Burger Buddy to shame – personal opinion. 

We decided to walk off some of the lunch by heading toward the beach some blocks away.  

We were also looking for another reasonable massage.  We inquired at a few beauty shops with no luck.  We did meet a very nice older couple - Bob and Hanna - who lived in one of the new million dollar condos.  We chatted with them for a while and took a picture, as well.

We went back to the Sea Mall to check on spas and found one on the lower level of the mall (there were few stores there).  The spa was very busy place that at first told us that they had no openings but said if we wanted to book right now, they could take one of us.  After some dithering, I took the opening and had a massage for NIS 165 – about $40.  The session was pretty nice but only 50 minutes long but still within the $/min spec.  My tech spoke perfect English, was pretty strong, and got most of the kinks out.  

When we left the mall, the stores were all closing for Shabbat.

We didn’t wait long for the shuttle bus (a good thing because there are no seats or shade at the bus stop) and in a few minutes we were back on the ship.

Showtime tonight paired Ollie Mulkeen and melodic lounge duo, Izzy and Moe.  An entertaining show.

October 11, 2018 – Ashdod (Jerusalem), Israel – Partly Cloudy – 80F

We are in Israel…

We decided not to do any excursions in Israel (no escorting possible, pretty expensive, and tiring) so we are going to explore Jerusalem on our own.

We took advantage of the Free Port Shuttle to Sea Mall in the heart of Ashdod. Our plan from there was to find a reasonable taxi to take us to the Old City.  After some crazy negotiating (I was getting somewhere but it was taking too long), we hired taxi driver Tomas Yitzhak - $100 per cab to Jerusalem for the two of us and Michael and Neathery Fuller (who had an appointment with an archeologist at the Israeli Museum and were staying over). 

After dropping the Fullers off at the Museum, Tomas dropped us at the Jaffa Gate and said he would pick us up outside the police checkpoint exit at the Kotel at 3:00 PM.  That way, we wouldn’t have to climb back up the stairs to the Jaffa Gate. 

Before entering the Old City, I got a pretty nice picture of David's Tower.

Jaffa Gate

We made our way through the Christian Quarter only briefly stopping to check out the shops.  

I did spend 10 shekels ($2.50) on a frozen coffee.  I really liked these the last time we were so I had to have another.  It wasn’t as good as I remember but it was still good.

One thing that was different this time in the Old City was the presence of free bathrooms.  They were pretty clean considering the number of people who use them and how frequently they get cleaned.

There was also plenty of police presence in the Quarter.

We followed the signs to the Wall and stayed there quite a while, snapping pictures and watching the activity.  It was a Thursday so there were several Bar Mitzvahs going on near the Wall.  I expected to see more police and military presence. 

What struck me as unusual was the soldiers (men and women - more women by percentage) were unarmed.  In the past, soldiers always had a rifle with them.  This time, I did not see any armed military.

On our way to the Kotel, we came across the Rambam Synagogue, the second oldest active synagogue in the Old City.  It was founded by Rambam (Nachmanides) in 1267 (and obviously restored since then). 

Rambam Synagogue

We needed to get better pictures from a higher vantage point so we wound up climbing the stairs anyway to get the big picture of the Wall.  From the top of the stairs we also could see the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aksa Mosque, the Mount of Olives, and the “City of David”.  I captured many of these sites in a panoramic shot.

Panoramic View of Old City - Kotel

Al-Aksa Mosque and Mount of Olives

Views of the Kotel and Surrounding Sites

Archaeologists are actively excavating areas around the Wall complex.

We also saw King Josiah's Wall and the Cardo from above.

We climbed back up the stairs to the square containing restaurants.  At the top of the stairs, there was a statue of two lions and a replica of the Second Temple Menorah.

After checking out a lot of places for lunch (one place was out of everything we wanted), we wound up at BBQ Meats.  We shared a Shawarma and Burger – they were both spicy and good. We treated ourselves to Coke Lites and a local beer.

We headed to our pickup spot outside the Security Checkpoint for the Kotel.  We saw lots of buses dropping off and picking up school children.  Many of the buses had special grills protecting the windows (perhaps from thrown stones).  Ellen found a comfortable place to wait for our pickup.

Tomas picked us up right on time.  We asked him for a quote to take us to visit our cousin.  He said it would be $180 to do that including a return to the Sea Mall in Ashdod.  We really didn’t have much choice so we took it because he said he would throw in a tour of Jerusalem.  The tour of Jerusalem was minimal – essentially the Knesset.  

He did take to our cousin’s town and we spent some quality time visiting.  Tomas waited in the parking lot and soon we were on our way back to Ashdod.  

We caught the shuttle back to the ship.  It was a bit pricey but a very nice and productive day in Jerusalem’s Old City.  And we still have another day in Ashdod/Jerusalem tomorrow.

We weren’t that hungry for dinner so we had just a minimal meal in the Café. 

Showtime tonight featured “Cross Country with Raegar” (Rachel – country singer from Texas and Garett West End performer from the UK).  We enjoyed their act so much that I posted something on their Facebook Page and they even replied.