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Piraeus and Athens

overcast 73 °F

Friday, I wake at 5:30 to watch our sail into Piraeus. The harbor is the busiest we've seen so far, with ferries criss-crossing every few minutes. Lighting crashes continuously just off shore. We've been preceded into port by Serenade of the Seas and Fred Olsen's Black Watch. This means we wind up berthing at Terminal B instead of the more convenient Terminal A. In addition, a dock worker strike has halted the normal shuttle bus service between the two terminals. Taxi drivers have arrived at the pier, but rather than the €15 they are supposed to charge for a trip to the Acropolis, they are charging €50 one way!

Terminal B at Piraeus Harbor

Terminal B at Piraeus Harbor

We look at the port map, listen to the recommendations that it is too far to walk to the metro, and decide to do it anyway. It takes us 15 minutes to get to Terminal A, then another 30 minutes to get to the metro from there, but the walk is safe and uneventful, although navigating the ramps and merges for the terminals and gates can be a little hazardous. We buy a pair of €4 all day tickets, validate them, and hop on the metro to Thissio station. From there, we make a long walk up the hill to the entrance to the Acropolis.

The Acropolis

The Acropolis

Once we obtain our €12 tickets, it's a steep climb up to the level of the Acropolis plateau. The path is a mix of slippery rough cut marble and loose gravel, and is clogged with plodding cruise shippers, tourists, and hundreds and hundreds of schoolchildren on outings.

Climbing up to the Acropolis

Climbing up to the Acropolis

The climb to the Acropolis

The climb to the Acropolis

On the plateau, people mill about, pushing and shoving to get the best vantage points. Nevertheless, the site is amazing to see. Restoration work on the Parthenon continues, and a large crane is in place, but much of the scaffolding has been removed. In fact, restoration work is evident throughout the Acropolis. The original marble quarries on Mount Lycabettus have been reopened, and that same marble is being used to reconstruct damaged portions of the site. It is expected eventually age and blend in with the original structures.

The white stone is fresh cut from the original quarry

The white stone is fresh cut from the original quarry

Much of the exposed statuary has been removed and replaced with replicas. The originals have been moved to the New Acropolis Museum for restoration and display in a controlled environment.

The East facade of the Parthenon

The East facade of the Parthenon

Even the famous Caryatids are replicas. We do get to see some of the recovered originals undergoing conservation in the museum.

Porch of the Caryatids, south side of the Erechthion

Porch of the Caryatids, south side of the Erechthion

We follow the very thorough Rick Steves audio tour, which takes about two hours. The view from this promontory in the middle of a dense urban city is amazing.

The City of Athens, from the Acropolis

The City of Athens, from the Acropolis

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

We descend and find our way to the New Acropolis Museum.

The Museum is a beauty, displaying many independent pieces from the Acropolis in a contextual manner. The displays are clean and fresh and laid out in a logical way. Even so, Mrs. Z is getting hot, tired, hungry, and frustrated with the bad behavior of the tourists that keep pushing their way in front of her at every display. There's so much space around the displays at this museum that there's just no excuse for that kind of behavior. We make it through the third level, which is a virtual reconstruction of the frieze, metalons, and pediments of the Parthenon, and is beautifully executed

We decide to exit the museum and try to cool down. We grab a couple of Cokes and start walking toward the Plaka. Using a recommendation from Rick Steves, we seek out Sholarhio Ouzeri Kouklis on Tripodon Street. This is an interesting place. They charge €14 per head for 5 plates of food. They bring around a large tray of dishes from which to choose. We pick fried calamari, fried eggplant, fried cheese pies, pork stew, and spinach in olive oil. The food is served with a crusty loaf of bread and a large bottle of water, and the meal concludes with what I think was halva, a farina and honey jellied dessert. Greasy but satisfied, we depart and decide to find the entrance to the ancient Agora. Our search takes us down to Monastiraki Square, where we see the diminutive Church of the Virgin, sunken below street level.

Monastiraki Square

Monastiraki Square

Church of the Virgin, Monastiraki Square

Church of the Virgin, Monastiraki Square

We detour down flea market alley, and I stumble across a small music store that features American guitars and Greek Bouzoukis. The bouzoukis are very reasonably priced, I think, at €230 pre-haggle. They feature beautiful inlay work, and I'm tempted but refrain. We can't seem to find the entrance to the Agora, we're hot, damp, and tired, and we find ourselves right in front of the Thissio station at 2:30, so we decide to call it a day. We have an uneventful metro ride back to Piraeus, but the walk back to Terminal B seems awfully long.

Just as we enter the port, the threatening skies start to let loose. A storm is whipping up, and Star Princess is being pushed away from her berth by the wind. We have to wait at the terminal while mooring lines are snugged up.

Almost there! Trying to beat the rain!

Almost there! Trying to beat the rain!

Finally, we're back on board. We enjoy a steamy cappuccino, followed by a steamier session in the thermal suite. Then, it's off to Mediterranean dinner in the Capri dining room. Tonight, I have shrimp cocktail, Shepard salad, and pork chops with fig demi-glace. Mrs. Z has fruit, a fettuccine starter, and the same pork chop. This is followed by some really nice pistachio ice cream and a sampling of baklava. We're finding that the service in the Capri dining room is much better than we've seen in the Portofino.

Tonight was supposed to be a Caribbean deck party (in the Mediterranean? Really?) and buffet but the inclement weather pushes it indoors to the Vista Lounge. We stop by, but it seems really silly. what. A band, plastic leis, no food. The ship, already lightly populated, is starting to seem positively deserted. We catch a small part of the first Celtic Tenors show in the theater before heading back to the room to crash. All of this touring is starting to wear us down.

Good thing we've got a day at sea coming up to recover before our final port call at Naples.
__________________

Posted by Zukini 20:42 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

A Day at Sea

Star Princess

sunny 70 °F

Saturday is our last sea day of the cruise. Captain Perrin lets us know that we we will be passing through the Strait of Messina on our way to Naples, and that he'll keep us close to the Calabria coast, at least until dark, for some scenic cruising. We will have a front row seat from our balcony.

All is not peaches and cream, however. The ship has gone to "Code Red" due to the increased level of gastrointestinal illnesses aboard. A letter from the chief medical officer is dropped off at every cabin, explaining the necessity. The letter claims that the bug was probably brought aboard during our stay in Egypt, and that the number of cases has peaked and begun to decline.

Far be it from me to second guess the Captain or the Medical Officer, but I know from bitter experience that SOMETHING was definitely on board before Egypt.

Sure enough, guests are no longer allowed to handle tongs, plates, salt, pepper, etc. Extra blue-gloved personnel are stationed throughout the Horizon Court to serve the passengers without allowing them to touch the utensils.

Enhanced sanitization measures start being implemented as well. I witness staff in the casino, laboriously spraying and cleaning each individual chip. Public restroom doors are propped open, so that users don't need to touch the handles. I hear grumbling from some passengers, but I'm actually relieved to see these measures, and wish they had implemented it much earlier in the week.

A Nearly Deserted Pool Deck

A Nearly Deserted Pool Deck

Movies Under the Stars

Movies Under the Stars

Neptune's Reef Pool

Neptune's Reef Pool

One of the great things about this ship (and something that makes it well-suited to Mediterranean cruising) is the huge indoor pool. Unfortunately, the Star Princess has now been moved to other itineraries, and the Crown Princess, which has no indoor pool area, has taken over this route.

Calypso Reef Pool

Calypso Reef Pool

Anyway, after we pass through the Strait, we're treated to some beautiful scenery.

The Calabrian Coast

The Calabrian Coast

A trio in a small open boat start motoring toward the ship from shore. I can see one of them has a camera with a large lens, and is taking photos. The boat keeps pace with us, just off the starboard quarter. While everyone out the balconies seems to enjoy this, we're able to see the officers on the bridge wing from our stateroom, and they don't look quite so pleased. After a bit, someone lets loose a loud blast of the ship's horn. I don't think it's intended as a greeting.

The boat falls back, then swings around to the port side of the ship, where it's lost to our view. It must have kept pace with us, because it did not reappear on our side for at least a half an hour. Then, with a few waves and shouts, they headed in to shore.

As dusk falls, we are treated to a rare sight. A village along the coast must be having a festival, as we see a sudden eruption of fireworks. It's Mrs. Z's birthday today, and I joke that I have arranged the display just for her.

Fireworks at Sea

Fireworks at Sea

Tonight is our second formal, and we head down to the Capri dining room for dinner. The menu tonight includes lobster tail and enormous shrimp, which I thoroughly enjoy. We skip the production show, "British Invasion" and get a head start on our packing, including getting some laundry done.

I'll note that the laundry room on our deck has been consistently busy throughout the cruise. One of the dryers was broken, which caused a bit of a backup. Never the less, we managed to get a load of wash done, so we've got fresh clothes for the next few days. We relax at the spa afterward.

In the morning, I wake up to a wonderful sight....sunrise over Mt. Vesuvius.

Sunrise over Vesuvius

Sunrise over Vesuvius

__________________

Posted by Zukini 08:06 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sweet Napoli

sunny 82 °F

The Port of Naples

The Port of Naples

It's now Sunday. We originally had ambitious plans for Napoli. I had worked out the timetables of the trains to figure out how we could visit the Naples Archaeological Museum for 2 hours, then hop over to the Capella Sansevero for a quick visit, then take the Circumvesuviana to either Herculaneum or Pompeii for a few hours.

When push comes to shove, as attractive as a trip to Pompeii or Ercolano may be, we've already seen two extensive sets of ruins at Ostia and Ephesus, and the idea of rushing through Pompeii just to say we've been there isn't really appealing to me.

Instead, we decide to pace ourselves and spend time at two places we REALLY want to see, and then see what happens. So, around 8am, we pack up our Pacsafe, make sure our money is secure, take off our jewelry, and stroll out into the Naples sunlight.

At first glance, Naples doesn't seem to be as scary or as threatening as it's made out to be. As we walk into the city, we're unaware of the mugging and death of a tourist that was recently in the news.

A Bank along Via San Giacomo

A Bank along Via San Giacomo

Honestly, perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, but Naples wasn't nearly as crowded, chaotic, or threatening as I was prepared for it to be. We exercised a normal amount of caution, but at no time did I feel any more uncomfortable than I would walking on a street in Manhattan. I will admit, however, that crossing streets is a little like playing Frogger, until you get the hang of it.

We stop for some pastries at a little shop on Via Toledo. Mrs. Z decides to indulge in a Nutella Cornetto, a pastry horn filled with Nutella...and "filled" is an understatement. When she bites into it, Nutella bursts out and runs down her arms. It's truly a 5-napkin cornetto!

We arrive at the National Archaeological Museum about 20 minutes before opening time, so we just hang out on the steps for a bit.

The National Archaelogical Museum

The National Archaelogical Museum

Promptly at 9am the doors swing open, and we step into this wonderful museum. Although it's empty at the moment, as the day progresses it fills with Italian and German tour groups.

Our first stop is the Farnese Collection, a set of statues amassed by the Farnese family; many of them were formerly on display at the Palazzo Farnese, not far from where we were staying in Rome. Here's the massive Farnese Hercules....there's an interesting story about his legs, but you've got to visit the museum to find out what it is! By the way, if you're offended by nude statues, grab yourself a fig leaf.

Hercules

Hercules

Of course, the big centerpiece of this collection is the Toro Farnese, "The Farnese Bull". It's a depiction of the myth of Dirce, who was tied to a bull to be trampled to death as punishment for irritating Antiope. It's an astounding work.

The Toro Farnese

The Toro Farnese

What's even more amazing, as you examine this intricate and immense sculpture, is that it is chiseled out of a single massive block of marble.

The Toro Farnese

The Toro Farnese

The other big draw of this museum is Pompeii....virtually all of the mosaics, statuary, and other accoutrements from Pompeii have been relocated here, and replaced with reproductions at the site. We get to see some of the most famous Pompeian artworks, including the original Alexander the Great mosaic:

The Alexander the Great Mosaic

The Alexander the Great Mosaic

Detail of the Mosaic

Detail of the Mosaic

....and the Dancing Faun

The Dancing Faun

The Dancing Faun

From the museum it's only a few short blocks to the Capella Sansevero. I heard about this place a while ago, and I've wanted to see it in person ever since. It's not especially well-known, yet it contains a lot of surprising sculptures, one of which, in my humble opinion, rivals Michelangelo's Pieta.

The Capella was the family chapel of the Sansevero clan, and it is wonderful and creepy all at the same time. No photos are allowed in the Capella at all, so you'll just need to click on this link to the museum's website to see what I'm talking about.

http://www.museosansevero.it/index_ing.html

The centerpiece here is Sammartino's "Veiled Christ". Sammartino learned the art of creating a "veiled statue" from his mentor Corradini, and in this case, the student exceeds the master for sure. It's an exquisitely beautiful piece, rivaled only by the incredible complexity of Queirolo's "Disillusion" with an intricate fisherman's net carved out of stone. Seriously, this is the most amazing little place you've never heard of.

After the Capella, we decide to definitely skip the trip to Pompeii, and stroll down Spaccanapoli instead. Most of the stores are closed, but the streets are still crowded.

Spaccanapoli

Spaccanapoli

We pull off onto a side street, and take a few photos of the real Naples. We found this "street of stairs":

A side street of stairs

A side street of stairs

...and here's the view from the top.

Streets of Naples

Streets of Naples

As we stroll around the city, we start to realize what makes it so different from Rome....there are NO green areas, no open parks, the few Piazzas we see are crowded and urban. The only open space is UP. Yet, there are still surprising and charming things if you take the time to look for them.

A small local shrine

A small local shrine

We wind up or visit to Naples with some Neapolitan pizza. The famous L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is closed, so we sit down at Borgo Antico near the port and enjoy some Pizza Bufalina and a vastly overpriced bottle of regional wine. We overpay for it willingly, and the owner of the Pizzeria seems to know that we're in on the joke.

Pizza at Antico Borgo

Pizza at Antico Borgo

Satisfied and full of wine, we weave our way back to Molo Beverello and the Star Princess.

Molo Beverello

Molo Beverello

Tonight, we sail past the Island of Ischia, and head for our departure in Civitavecchia. The Celtic Tenors are giving a second, unique performance tonight, and this time we're there to enjoy it. In the morning, our adventure ends with a Princess transfer to the airport and an uneventful return flight to Philadelphia. Arrivederci, Italia!

Passing Ischia in the sunset

Passing Ischia in the sunset

Posted by Zukini 21:22 Archived in Italy Tagged naples Comments (0)

Some Final Thoughts

Star Princess Egypt & Aegean Cruise, May 2011

It's been two years since we took this cruise. I originally had posted a lengthy review with photos on another site, but early this year, the photo host I used (Webshots) closed its doors, and all of the photos became broken links.

TIP: When you travel to a new time zone, remember to correctly set the date and time on your cameras. It makes organizing your photos when you get back home a LOT easier!

I started thinking about reconstructing the original review on a self-hosted site, but then I came across TravellersPoint, and thought this might be the perfect medium to rebuild it, and add fresh content moving forward as we take additional trips.

While we've always been avid cruisers, a lot has happened since we started planning this 2011 trip. In late 2010, the Carnival Splendor was adrift in the Pacific for days after a fire disabled its engines. Then the revolution in Egypt occurred, putting our itinerary in question. Of course we became ill on the cruise, and learned how that shakes out.

One of our biggest frustrations was having to always be aware of the clock, and not being to spend as much time in each port as we would have liked. We always knew that a Mediterranean cruise would be an appetizer plate for us, an opportunity to see things out of our comfort zone with the safety of a familiar, Americanized ship to return to each evening.

Since our return, we've seen the terrible disaster on the Costa Concordia, and the difficult situation caused by the fire on the Carnival Triumph. This week we heard about the Carnival Dream suffering a failure in the Caribbean. It's become apparent to us the feelings of safety we've had on cruise ships have been illusions...when a cruise ship gets in trouble now, I don't feel that things have progressed an awful lot from where we were in 1912. If circumstances had been just slightly different when the Concordia struck the rocks off the coast of Giglio, or if storm had whipped up while the Carnival Triumph was stranded without power in the Gulf of Mexico, the potential for an unimaginable scenario could have played out. We've decided that, despite 6 previous cruises, it's time to move on. Cruising has helped open the world for us, but we're ready to take the training wheels off.

For us, cruising has served its purpose. We contacted Princess to have our future cruise credits refunded to us, and right now, I have a difficult time imagining a circumstance where we might cruise again.

In the spring of 2013, we'll be taking our first land-based vacation in 10 years, as we head to Venice, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, and return to Rome. I hope you'll join me when I post fresh material sometime in June.

Until then, keep on moving!

Zuke

Posted by Zukini 21:57 Comments (0)

The Prisoners of Gate A13

Our 2013 trip to Italy starts out on a decidedly wrong foot.

Exhausted. Grimy. Disheveled. On the verge of hallucinating from lack of sleep. That's how we arrived in beautiful Venezia on the afternoon of May 13th, after a miserable 40 hour transit. The best laid plans of mice and men are at the mercy of....US Airways??

Rewind 40 hours.

We're setting off on our first trip since 2011, a 12 night itinerary that will bring us to Venice, Sorrento, and Rome. With a 2 and half hour drive to the airport, we set off earlier than we need to and arrive at Philadelphia International Airport at 2pm, well before the recommended 3 hour window for our 6:35pm flight on US Airways 714.

We're relaxed and prepared. Mrs. Zukini and I have figured out how to pack for two weeks, each using just a 20" carry-on and a small day pack, thereby avoiding the hassle of checking baggage. We stop by Vino Volo for a light lunch and a celebratory glass of wine, then head over to Gate A13.

At 6pm, boarding begins. We've actually paid US Airways a fee for priority boarding, a ridiculous extravagance, but it ensures that there will be room in the overhead bin for our bags. We settle in and wait for take off....and wait. And wait.

The captain comes on the intercom to let us know there's going to be a delay. They have an indicator light in the cockpit that needs a look-see by maintenance. We've seen this sort of thing countless times before...I've seldom been on a US Air flight without some sort of short equipment delay.

Time wears on. The captain informs us that we have the right to leave the plane, but since there's no gate agent available to let us back on, he advises against it.

Finally, we are asked to exit the plane and return to Gate A13. The problem is proving to be difficult to diagnose, and no one is sure when we will be taking off. A flight attendant tells me that we're going to be switched to a plane that is arriving from San Juan as soon as it's cleaned.

At the gate, we're told that we will depart at 8pm. A substantial delay, but still ok.

That departure slips to 10pm. We're told a replacement plane is on the way from Charlotte.

Customers are getting restive. Warm water is distributed, and dinner vouchers are handed out. Unfortunately, all of the restaurants in Terminal A close at 10pm. A restaurant is open in another terminal, but passengers are advised not to leave the gate area as "the situation is fluid and you might be called to board at any time."

Midnight arrives. The plane from Charlotte hasn't arrived....in fact, it hadn't left Charlotte, as it had equipment problems of its own. I learn that our original plane has a crack in some ductwork that part of the air conditioning and air pressurization system, along with a malfunction in the electronic controls for the first officer's seat. We're told that the plane from Charlotte is finally taxiing to the runway, and we should be on our way by 2am.

There are only three working electrical outlets that can be found in the terminal. Passengers are desperately trying to charge their cell phones so that they can contact their hotels and transportation vendors in Venice. We help a couple from Canada contact their hotel using our Skype connection.

When stranded in the terminal, he who controls the power outlets rules the world.

When stranded in the terminal, he who controls the power outlets rules the world.

Snack boxes of turkey jerky and junk food are distributed. Philadelphia Airport brings down several crates of pillows, eyemasks, and emergency blankets, and leaves them in the gate area. The gate attendants make an announcement at Gate A13, but the passengers are scattered all through the terminal, trying to find space to lie down, and most don't hear it.

Irate passengers keep coming up to the podium, demanding answers. The US Airways personnel mock their anger and outrage as soon as their backs are turned, in full view of the other passengers.

At 2am, the plane from Charlotte has arrived. It carries replacement parts for our original equipment. It also has malfunctioning rest rooms, so it can't be used as replacement equipment until it is repaired. We're assured that we'll be in the air by 4am, on either the original plane, or the repaired plane from Charlotte.

90_9F7F7FE92219AC681704BA1FE44A0FFF.jpg

At 4am, we learn that the plane from Charlotte isn't certified for transatlantic flight. We have to wait for the original to be repaired.

At 6am, we're assured the problem on the original plane has been solved, and the maintenance crew is just putting everything back together. A crew is on the way, and we'll be on our merry way by 8am. A supervisor tells me that the 767's being used for these flights are 30 years old and scheduled to be sold off to another airline. How comforting.

9FA0A88D2219AC681707A42E1709E374.jpg

At 8am, they're short a crew member.

At 9am, the remaining crew times out, and the flight is officially cancelled.

Now it's time for 200 miserable people to scramble for a limited number of available seats on alternate flights. Two podiums are open for flight reassignments, but it's taking an average of 20 minutes per person. An emergency re-accommodation phone number is distributed, and those of us with working cell phones try to call that.

We get rebooked, but the flight turns out to be from JFK to Munich to Venice...the problem is, US Airways has no way of getting me from Philadelphia to JFK. We try again, this time pulling a flight from Philadelphia to Newark to Paris to Venice. The problem is, the last leg requires a "paper ticket". How do we get that? "Just see a gate agent".

2 hours and 2 gate agents later, no one has a clue how to get me a "paper ticket". They don't even have ticket printers at the gates. They send me to US Airways Customer Service, in Terminal B.

When I arrive, the customer service is desk is closed, not returning until after my Newark flight is scheduled to leave. A cleaning person helpfully points out one of the personnel, heading to lunch. I run after her, and explain my situation. She sympathizes, but says she has no capability of printing a paper ticket either. The only solution she can suggest is that I leave the security perimeter and visit the check-in desks.

Eventually, I get my paper ticket, (along with a second trip through security screening, including a full body scan AND a pat-down) and I'm also rebooked directly from Philadelphia to Paris, and from there to Venice. My flight leaves at 6:30pm, 24 hours after the original flight.

The flight to Paris does take off on time, although, as the last seats assigned, we're stuck in the row 40 bulkhead seats that don't recline, with the galley on one side of us and the restroom on the other. Sleep? Not a chance.

It's 1pm in the afternoon on Monday, May 13th by the time we finally step off the plane in Venice. It's been 44 hours since we've left our house, with fitful bits of sleep interspersed here and there. US Airways sends an email with an apology and a $300 voucher, good for one year. As if.

Coming up, an abbreviated but wonderful sojourn in Venice.

.

Posted by Zukini 03:38 Archived in USA Tagged venice philadelphia us_airways flight_714 cancellation us_air delay flight_delay cancelled phl_to_vce philadelphia_to_venice Comments (0)

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