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Crystal Symphony

Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
to Athens (Piraeus), Greece

May 5 - May 16, 1998

Aegean Romance

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Itinerary - Click links to jump to specific dates.

Aegean Romance - Rome to Athens

Tuesday, 5/5 - Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy

Wednesday, 5/6 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

Thursday, 5/7 - Catania, Sicily, Italy

Friday, 5/8 - Cruising the Adriatic Sea

Saturday, 5/9 - Venice, Italy

Sunday, 5/10 - Venice, Italy

Monday, 5/11 - Cruising the Adriatic Sea

Tuesday, 5/12 - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Wednesday, 5/13 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

Thursday, 5/14 - Mykonos, Greece

Friday, 5/15 - Santorini (Fira), Greece

Saturday, 5/16 - Athens (Piraeus), Greece

Tuesday, 5/5 - Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy - Depart 11:00 PM

Lunch was served in the Crystal Dining Room.  They served only a total of perhaps ten people during the hour it was open.  The menu was limited, but the selections were reasonable.  None of the food was particularly exciting, however.

We were glad we had decided not to go into Rome today.  We saw all of the major sights during a previous cruise when we took all of the day-long excursions, something we would not do again!  The weather was overcast and drizzly most of the day, with the temperature in the mid 60’s.  After lunch we just killed time in the cabin and by walking around the ship.  Bill finished the laundry with the machines all to himself.

The hallways were a mess of dirty bedspreads, trash bags, etc., until just before the first embarking passengers arrived at 3:00pm.  We headed down to the Crystal Cove to watch the new arrivals and generally make fun of them, as usual.  This batch didn’t look quite as ratty as the last, but there were a few loud groups who might be obnoxious.  As long as we don’t go on the organized shore excursions we seem to avoid any unpleasantness.  And, looking down the list of excursions offered for this cruise, this wouldn’t be a problem to accomplish.

We received two identical bottles of wine and two matching flower arrangements from the Crystal Society.  Although the arrangements were pretty, they weren’t nearly as lavish as they were in the past, nor were they as artfully arranged.  We now have four bottles of wine stacked up to try and get rid of before the end of the cruise.

Dave McFarland, the “Dean” of the Computer University walked by and spoke to us for the first time.  He still seemed kind of creepy as far as we were concerned.  All of the bar servers started laughing when a woman had a sneezing fit that sounded like a dog barking.  Sabastiano said he would be glad to tell us what to see in the Italian ports.  He said if we ever come back that he would take us into Rome personally and show us around.  Based on his conversation, we don’t plan to go ashore it Sicily, which was our original thought.  Evidently, Taormina was the only worthwhile sight to see and we did that last time around.

We had our late afternoon snack outside by the pool while watching all the newcomers wander around with dazed expressions on their face.  It’s amazing that people find it necessary to follow a map around the ship rather than just wandering around and learning it the easy way.  We used the zoom on the camcorder to see the name on the other ship that’s boarding today, the Sundream.  It looked like one of the old Royal Caribbean ships.

Prior to dinner in Prego, we wandered around looking for a place to have a drink.  The Crystal Plaza was noisy and jammed with people, so we went up to the Palm Court.  The Manila Diamonds were playing dance music, so there were a few people up there, but nothing unpleasant.  The cocktail waitress was shocked that we hadn’t just arrived because she hadn’t seen us before.

On our way to Prego, we passed a huge line of people waiting to make reservations for Jade Garden and Prego, plus another long line of people waiting to complain to Josef about their dining room assignment.  These were the longest lines for this that we have ever seen.

Click to view the Crystal Dining Room Bon Voyage Dinner menu.

Prego was packed and noisy.  Augusto was appalled that Mario was sending more people without reservations because he had no place to seat those of us who had them.  There were three groups of people we recognized as in transit guests who received the same phone call about advance booking as we had.  We assumed that the restaurant would be full of people who had stayed for another cruise and that this was a nice way that they were helping us avoid the chaos of the dining room open seating.

Augusto was apologetic, but there wasn’t much he could do.  We waited for about fifteen minutes in the Avenue Saloon before he came and got us.  Luigi, our waiter, also couldn’t believe we had been on the previous cruise.  He claimed he had never seen us before.  He was even more surprised when he found out we were frequent cruisers.  Augusto usurped his place and took our order, much to Luigi’s disgust.  We figured that Augusto was just trying to make nice by serving us personally, but in all honesty, we didn’t care who served us.

The food was, as usual, acceptable, but not exciting.  There was too much time between courses and we got bored and tired of eating before the main course arrived.  Luckily both the lamb and filet were very good.  We didn’t finish our meal until after 10:45pm.

We were appalled by the conversation taking place next to us.  Neither of the couples had ever been on Crystal before and had the most outrageous notions of how things work.  One older couple announced that they were going to eat in the alternative restaurants every night because they had no intention of dressing up and these restaurants are casual (not true, the same dress code applies “throughout the ship for the entire evening”).  The other couple was visibly shocked when a check for the gratuity arrived.  They had already grabbed their heart over the wine bill.  A woman arrived at the door at 10:30pm demanding to make a reservation.  Augusto told her she had to come back during the scheduled hours the next morning and she threw a hissy fit.  We were surprised that he didn’t give in to her, but were pleased that he stuck to his guns and required her to follow the rules.

Luigi ran after us to thank us and try to get us interested in the Italian Buffet tomorrow.  We told him that wasn’t our thing, but he was kind of disappointed that we wouldn’t be there.  We weren’t quite sure if he was being flirty or if he was just exceptionally friendly.

As we were wandering past the Crystal Plaza, Jacques came over and chatted for quite a while.  It was the lengthiest conversation we had ever had with him that didn’t involved a ludicrous amount of fawning on his part.  He wasn’t happy that this cruise was sold out.  He agreed with us that Crystal was making a big mistake trying to fill the ship with low prices and that they needed to decide to whom they were catering.  They had some problems last cruise with people not making any effort to follow the dress code.  We never observed any of that, but he said that the first seating people were quite a problem, in general.

He did a little bit of fawning by telling us that they wanted to please good Crystal Society guests like us any way they could.  We told him that our biggest complaint about Crystal is the lack of consistency and he agreed with us.  Basically, the staff on the ship tells the main office it’s a problem, but they don’t listen.  That’s pretty much what we had already decided on our own.  The product that’s being marketed simply isn’t what is being delivered on a regular basis.

Jacques said they would find out in July whether Crystal would be building a new ship.  He seemed to think it might not happen.  In his opinion, Crystal has to build a new ship to stay in the running.  He agreed with us that the new Holland America ships, the new Rotterdam in particular, are stunningly beautiful.   Crystal has a long way to go to catch up with the upscale market in general.  Evidently, they are having some complaints about the Harmony not living up to expectations anymore.

We went out on deck to watch the sailing out of Civitavecchia.  This is a port that definitely looks better in the dark!

Wednesday, 5/6 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

We stayed in the cabin for the lifeboat drill, so we’ll see whether or not they send a nasty letter about it.  Not that we care, but hopefully they make a note of guests who are in transit.  Immediately after the lifeboat drill, we rushed down to get breakfast food at the Bistro.  We finally had to acknowledge Reidulv and he responded appropriately.

Moments after we sat down, the rush began and the Bistro was overflowing with angry guests unable to find a place to sit with their plates of food.  This happens after every lifeboat drill and they really should find a better way to accommodate the crowds.  Keeping the Lido open an hour longer would be an easy way to do this.

Anne and Josef were besieged with guests complaining about God knows what.  This seems to be a bitchy crowd already.  We tried to find a spot in Palm Court to sit with the laptop, but there was a private party starting, so we ended up in the Avenue Saloon for a while instead.

After lengthy naps, we made our way down to the lobby to wait for dinnertime.  The line for the Captain’s Welcome Party stretched all the way from the Starlite Club and past Apropos.  We had never seen the line even approach the shop area before!  There were still no boarding photos posted, so we guessed that they didn’t take any.  This had to be a first in the history of cruising.  Maybe that’s the reason the line for the party was so long?  Perhaps they were taking photos at the door with the Captain to make up for it.

Everyone among the staff seemed appalled by the low caliber of the guests on this cruise.  More people were dressed appropriately than we expected would be, however.

The dining room opened about fifteen minutes late because people from the first seating were still leaving at 8:30pm.  No one had come down from the Captain’s party anyway and the line for formal portraits was quite long.  We can always tell when the ship is full of first-timers just by the length of the portrait line.

Tayfun started waving at us and making a scene from behind the glass doors of the dining room.  A woman next to us was curious as to why he was teasing us, but we didn’t really give her any information except to tell her he was a headwaiter and not a wine steward as she had thought.

Click to view the Captain's Gala Welcome menu.  Nemanja grabbed us out of the lineup and escorted us to our table.  We were the first ones through the doors, so he got off the hook by taking us to our table.  Our new assistant waiter was Artur, from Portugal.  He seemed pleasant enough.  Dinner was the same chateaubriand menu.  The executive chef had changed and the portions were quite a bit smaller.  We asked for seconds on the meat because the serving was so skimpy.  All of the food was good.

The dining room was full to capacity.  Poor Josef had a line at his desk all day yesterday and today with people trying to change seatings.  The second seating is full, so there wasn’t much he could do about it.  When he stopped at our table we asked him if he was ready to retire now, which amused him and broke the ice.  We’re still amazed that he is brave enough to walk around on the first night, seating chart in hand, to personally ask each person if they’re happy with the table assignment.  The people at the table for two behind us, directly behind the waiters, were decidedly not pleased.

After dinner Nemanja carried on at length about how unhappy guests were about Crystal’s current itineraries, particularly the World Cruises.  Without any prompting from us, he said that this was the same management who ran Royal Viking into the ground.  He also said that Crystal had increased the suggested tips to tempt more waiters to stay because Disney had been stealing everyone, including the president, captains, and other higher-ups.  He had been with Crystal for seven years and had seen the quality decline rapidly over the past couple of years as they try to attract more passengers with lower prices.  He was appalled because the last cruise and this one, people had no idea which silverware to use.  It’s not all that difficult to figure out considering that they bring only the silverware that you need for each course.  It’s amazing how forthcoming crew become after we stay on for another cruise.  Somehow it breaks the ice and they’ll tell us anything.

We went to listen to Perry rather than sit through “Some Enchanted Evening” again.  The ship was making odd noises and vibrating.  Nobody was in the Avenue listening to him play except one other couple who left after about fifteen minutes.  It is amazing what a difference it makes from cruise to cruise.  Last time the Avenue Saloon was packed every night.

Perry stopped playing at 11:30pm and told us we should go out on deck for another surprise from the Captain.  This time it was a viewing of the Stromboli volcano.  We stepped out on our verandah and there it was in the moonlight, right in the middle of nowhere, the summit glowing from the molten lava inside.

This was another of those unforgettable moments impossible to describe and impossible to see any other way except from a cruise ship.  About every twenty minutes, an explosion of molten rock would spew hundreds of feet into the air and rain sparks down the dark sides of the mountain.  It was quite amazing to witness.  The weather could not have been more perfect.  Perfectly calm, absolutely clear, and with a nearly full moon eerily illuminating the looming mountain.  It is so peaceful with the ship dead in the water, just drifting with the tide. 

The Captain kept the ship motionless for over an hour and then started slowly circling the mountain until he reached the other side and started on a course for Sicily.

Thursday, 5/7 - Catania, Sicily, Italy - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

On Sicily’s east coast, Catania has been the prize of a stream of empires over the centuries, from Greeks to Romans to Arabs to Normans to Spaniards, to name just a few. But more devastating than invaders has been the city’s geography: It lies at the foot of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest and most active volcano, which completely destroyed the town with earthquakes and lava flows in 1693. Afterward, it was rebuilt in the baroque style (with creative use of lava) for which it’s today famous.

Although the weather is the nicest yet, we decided not to go into Catania today.  We knew from a past visit that it was noisy and unpleasant.  The view from the ship confirmed that this was mainly an industrial city where any interesting sights were too far out in the country to bother with.  We had already been to Taormina on a previous visit and it was really the only point of interest here.

We waited through another crew lifeboat drill and then went down for a breakfast snack in the Bistro.  Herbert and Jacques chatted briefly and told us we should go ashore for great bargains on shoes and fashions.  Yeah, right.  Jacques didn’t believe it at first when we told him we got everything from catalogs.

Bill asked Ferenc how to properly pronounce his name (Ferentz).  He was pleased that we were interested in getting it right.  He told us that he had taught an American friend of his enough Hungarian so they could say rude things about people in public.  Since so few people speak Hungarian and it isn’t comprehensible even to those in neighboring countries, it’s a safe bet that no one will understand them.

Nikki entertained us with stories about a time when they accidentally showed part of a pornographic movie on the TV’s in the guest cabins on Royal Viking.  They had reused a tape found in a departed crewmember’s cabin to record a shipboard announcement and when it ended the pornographic movie played.  They didn’t realize it until guests called the front desk to complain that the ending was cut off. 

The weather was nice enough to sit out by the pool and read, so we did that for an hour or so.  Eventually, it got too hot and bright, so we snacked and went up to view the sail away.  The Captain and Otto were out on the bridge wing waving up at their admirers.  Supposedly, the weather will remain as nice as it was today.  The temperature when we get to Venice is supposed to be in the 70’s.  Our newspaper said that there was torrential rain and flooding in Naples, so we must have just missed it.

The Crystal Plaza was as packed with people as we have ever seen it.  Even Jacques was amazed at the crowds.  He said that the Avenue Saloon was also standing room only.  This is not what one expects from a Crystal Cruise.  Fortunately, it didn’t really bother us because we got a table early enough, but they did seat an older couple with us who never said a word. 

This certainly wasn’t a popular port of call.  It seemed as though anyone who had been here once, a large percentage among entertainers and staff, weren’t interested in leaving the ship today.  Richard went shore looking for some good pizza and had the worst pizza he has ever had.  We told him he could make up for it in Venice, which pleased him.

Click to view the Dinner menu.  The dining room was noisy and crowded again.  The people behind us who had complained about their table were gone and a new couple was there.  They seemed perfectly happy to be there.  Josef was still wandering around with his seating chart trying to satisfy everyone.

Nemanja had lightened up considerably.  It is an odd phenomenon that the crewmembers become our best buddies once we continue onto a second cruise.  There was a lemon wedge in our butter dish when we sat down.  Nemanja was appalled, but he made Artur come over and find it.  He was humiliated, but we really didn’t care, it was just strange.

Tayfun rolled his cart over and parked it right in front of our table to cook our pasta dish.  We sort of hate this because then he stands there throughout the meal talking to us.  His cart was also blocking the aisle where all of the waiters carry their trays of food.  Luckily, the pasta he made, to Dave’s recipe, was very good.  They also had a plate of bruschetta for us that was very tasty.  Nemanja offered to make it a standing order for every night, but we didn’t want it daily, so we declined.  He has been much more solicitous since this cruise began.  He told us all sorts of things he shouldn’t, which we loved, of course.  For tomorrow night Tayfun has ordered the chicken cacciatore, from the regular menu, made with boneless breast meat instead of the usual messy bone-in method.

An attempt had been made to deliver a fax to us in the cabin, but since we weren’t there it was taken to the front desk.  For some odd reason, they have to deliver faxes in person rather than leave it on the mail clip with everything else.  It was from Bill’s mother giving us the latest news from home.

The lobby was again packed with people coming and going.  If people just wouldn’t stop the moment they reach a doorway, it would really help keep the traffic moving.

Perry was singing to a totally empty Avenue Saloon when we arrived, so he chatted with us instead.  Eventually, a few other people arrived and he had to do his job.  Anne came in and gushed all over us that she was worried that we had left for an emergency because she hadn’t seen us since our dinner together at Prego.  She seems to think she’s our best friend now and was all kisses and hugs.  She isn’t going to call us up to the stage this cruise because there are eight people with fifteen cruises.  She said she wanted to have dinner with us anyway.

While Anne was talking to us, Ava Astaire McKenzie came over and barged into the conversation to be introduced.  She is Fred Astaire’s daughter and was on board as one of the lecturers (trying to sell her book), along with her husband Richard.  They both recognized us from being introduced at the last Crystal Society party and claimed they had wanted an introduction ever since.  They’re nice enough, but Ava, pronounced Ah-vah, is just too dramatic for words.  Anne almost wet herself when Richard got up to quiet some loud talkers across the room when Perry started signing.  It really wasn’t appropriate for someone working on board to do that.

The Avenue filled up as the evening progressed, at least the area directly around the piano.  This appeared to be the group of regulars for this cruise.  Unfortunately, Ava and her entourage were there every night, according to Perry.   Bernard was whining because they are sending the cast directly to the Harmony instead of back to Los Angeles to learn another show.  He said they negotiated their contracts so they don’t have to do “door duty”.  These divas are way too full of themselves!  You're performing on a cruise ship for God's sake, get over yourself.

Perry continued singing for about fifteen minutes beyond his regular time.  He really was a pleasure to listen to and a great way to end an evening.

Friday, 5/8 - Cruising the Adriatic Sea

This was a totally “do nothing” day.  The weather was perfectly clear and beautiful, but it was deceptively chilly.  There was an “Asia Café” lunch buffet around the pool that we only strolled past on our way to vegetate in Palm Court.  Lunch in the dining room was fairly good, but the Spicy Orange Chicken was better last cruise. 

Linda, the photo person, said they didn’t take boarding pictures because there wasn’t a good place to set up for it in Civitavecchia.  They never take boarding photos at that port.  She thought it was amusing when we said we thought that was probably the first time in the history of cruising that boarding photos weren’t taken.  She wasn’t happy about it because they work on commission, so they missed a big portion of their usual sales by skipping those pictures.

Before dinner we attempted to find a place to sit in the lobby area, but we didn’t get downstairs early enough and it was packed.  Palm Court was full with private parties, so we just hung around the railing and made fun of the outfits people were wearing.  We’ve decided this is the “Wig Cruise” because of all the bad toupees.  There were some hilariously poor ones tonight! 

In addition to the bad wigs, there are some truly scary women on board.  One of them we thought is Asian, in reality she isn’t, but wears so much makeup she looks like a geisha.  She also has an enormous, Bride of Frankenstein hairdo to match.  Yikes! 

We tried to use the computer in the so-called Business Center to print out a letter, but it wasn’t working properly.  The librarian offered to print it out on her computer, which she did.  We thought that was quite accommodating of her since she had to stop what she was working on to do it.

At dinner we showed Tayfun our Easter "cruise theme" menu and he was impressed.  We gave him his game back because we just can’t get past Uncle Mehmet’s Rug Shop.  Since there were only port days left we knew we wouldn’t have time to play the game again.  At least that’s the excuse we gave him.  In reality we just weren’t interested in playing it at all.

Click to view the Mediterranean Dinner menu.  Dave’s special order chicken cacciatore with no bones was very good.  Even the strange base of polenta was relatively tasty.  Bill’s swordfish was good, as well.  One of the other headwaiters accidentally knocked Tayfun’s skillet of Bananas Foster onto the floor behind us.  At first we thought it hit the man at the next table, but apparently it didn’t make that much of a scene.  A woman at a neighboring table was yelling at a man at the table for quite a while, but we never found out why.

The new lead singers ruined tonight’s production show, “Cole”, our favorite.  The male lead was simply awful and we can’t imagine how he could have passed an audition.  He left out an entire section of one song, so there was only the pre-recorded backup and no lead.  After that the female lead hit him and started laughing.  She wasn’t much better, but at least she didn’t just give up in the middle.  This was still the best show, but they had better get some better singers on board soon.

Saturday, 5/9 - Venice, Italy - Arrive 8:00 AM

Venice makes you a believer in fairy tales. Cars are banned, so the only way to get around the 1,500-year-old city is by foot or by water. From these vantage points, you'll be awed by the magical beauty. La Serenissima, "the most serene one," is filled with palaces and art, fine shopping and excellent food. Relax in Piazza San Marco, visit the basilicas, drink a bellini at Harry's Bar and wander the alleyways and bridges.

What could be better than to wake up and find yourself in Venice?

After breakfast in the Lido, we took the complimentary water shuttle into the heart of the city.  Just the boat ride was worth the price of admission, taking us along the Giudecca Canal lined with magnificent cathedrals and palaces.  The drop off point was quite a distance down the waterfront from Piazza San Marco, but the wide walkway was lively and scenic so we didn’t mind too much.

The weather was clear and warm, perfect for our planned stroll around Venice.  Our only real goal was to visit Ca’ Rezzonico, a restored palace that now houses a collection of decorative arts and a few paintings.  The tour from the ship for this location cost $58.00.  Our admission price was about $6.00 for the two of us.  At the ticket booth we were informed that only the first floor was open, which was fine with us.

Our previous visit gave us enough of an idea of the basics of getting around that it made our trek relatively easy.  Being a Saturday, Piazza San Marco was jammed, but it always is!  We walked along the ancient arcades and browsed the shops of Murano glass, cheap trinkets, lace, leather, shoes, and other Italian goods.  At this point we were only window-shopping and working our way towards Ca’ Rezzonico. 

Both the Doge’s Palace and the famous clock tower were sheathed in scaffolding that was covered in fabric painted with a trompe l’oeil representation of what was obscured.  Very clever!

We continued past the area of our hotel on the previous stay and into the Campo we remembered for the whimsical wooden mannequins outside. 

From here we crossed the Grand Canal via the wooden Accademia Bridge that leads in the Dorsodoro section of Venice.  The famous Accademia Gallery is located at the end of the bridge.  As were many attractions in the city, the Accademia was covered in scaffolding, so we were glad we saw the exterior the last time we were here.

Finding Ca’ Rezzonico was easy and interesting.  There was a boat in one side canal selling vegetables and fruit, another plants and flowers.  Around every corner was another quaint scene or fascinating detail to be discovered.

Overall, the visit to Ca’ Rezzonico wasn’t particularly interesting.  The building was remarkable, but the collection inside was boring and poorly presented.  Perhaps the mysterious second floor we couldn’t see housed the real treasures?  Maybe next time. 

We decided to take a circular route until we reached the Rialto Bridge.  This was quite a long walk, but worth every bit of effort.  Last time we were here the “must see” church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, built in 1469, was closed.  So, when we ran across it accidentally and found it open, we visited this marvel of Gothic architecture.

Our walk continued around the area north of the Grand Canal until we did indeed reach the market area directly across from the Rialto Bridge.  Crowded does not begin to describe this area, but evidently it has been this way since time began.  Some of the passageways were no more than four feet wide and negotiating these streets filled with masses of people was slow and somewhat unpleasant. 

We ran across a shop selling stunning Murano glass sculptures, but decided to skip it until we had made the rounds and decided what we really wanted to buy.  It took us a while to find the shop in Piazza San Marco where we had purchased the aquarium glass on our previous trip.  Since they had so successfully shipped a large piece of glass we thought we would look there for our next purchase.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anything in the shop that grabbed our attention except some large disk aquariums.  We still thought we could find something more interesting, so we kept walking and walking and walking, until we finally ran out of energy and motivation.

We decided to return to the original shop with the collector’s Murano glass sculptures.  A short walk turned into a very long one when we got turned around in the maze of tiny alleys and walked in a wide circle until we found it again.  They always say getting lost in Venice is the best thing you can do and they were right.  Again, around every corner was a new detail to be examined.

Upon closer inspection we decided to purchase a one of a kind glass sculpture by Belini as well as a two-part piece entitled “Planets” that came with a lighted base.  The shopkeeper was very informative and friendly.  His congeniality came in handy when our Visa card was repeatedly rejected although we knew the limit far exceeded the current purchase.  It took over an hour of repeated phone conversations with the Visa center before it was finally approved. 

Our power shopping completed, we turned more toward gift giving and returned to a small shop in Piazza San Marco where we purchased a few smaller items to be shipped home.

By this point we had given up on the idea of eating lunch on shore.  We were exhausted, hot and sore from walking.  We hobbled back down the waterfront to the shuttle dock and returned to the ship.  By the time we made it back on board it was after 6:00pm and too late for a snack by the pool so we just snacked on fruit in the cabin.  We didn’t have time to nap, so we just showered and went to sit for a drink before dinner. 

Click to view the Dinner menu.  Dinner itself wasn’t anything memorable, just the usual.

After dinner we were listening to Richard play the piano in the lobby when Jacques came up to talk.  He was very interested in what we had to say about what we see as Crystal’s shortcomings.  We talked with him for over an hour.   At one point Herbert came looking for him because they were supposed to be going ashore.  We thought it was inappropriate that Herbert would try to hurry him up when he was obviously engaged in a conversation with us.  To his credit, he stayed and listened to us instead of leaving with Herbert.

Jacques said that NYK restated their commitment to keep Crystal going and not sell it.  Carnival wanted to buy it, but NYK keeps saying it isn’t for sale.  He and everyone else readily admit that without the Japanese continually pumping money into the company that it would be history.  Crystal has to decide by July whether to build a third ship or there won’t be any shipyards available in which to build it.  Jacques said that if they don’t build the third ship he doubts Crystal would survive for long.  He told us what we have heard many times, that Disney is actively stealing employees from Crystal.  They had to increase salaries and the suggested gratuities to keep people from leaving.

Sunday, 5/10 - Venice, Italy - Depart 5:00 PM

Again, we were up early for a Lido breakfast.  Neither of us was particularly energetic or motivated, but Venice is just too beautiful to pass up.

This time we decided to just walk down toward the park at the end of the island.  There were almost no tourists out today, but the streets were full of locals dressed in their Sunday best.  We walked up a wide street that was torn up the last time we were here.  It is lined with small cafés frequented by mostly locals.  From there we veered off into the park, which was in the process of being renovated.

We stumbled across a strangely surreal area of what appeared to be an abandoned World’s Fair.  Deserted pavilions emblazoned with names of various countries lined a somewhat overgrown gravel walkway.  Referring to our guidebook we learned that this was the site of the Biennale art festival.  It must be a lot of work to resurrect these grounds and buildings every two years!

From the park we walked along some narrow neighborhood streets until we reached the Piazza San Marco once again.  Along the way we saw some charming streets full of fluttering laundry.  Sounds of Mother’s Day celebrations filtered from the upstairs windows.  It was all very charming.  The streets, just an hour before filled with people, were now almost deserted as seemingly everyone packed into the small cafés.

The Piazza was much less crowded today, but that’s not saying it was anywhere near being deserted!  There were still throngs of people everywhere.  As seems to be the case everywhere in Europe, the only people hawking knock off leather bags and other items were African men.  At least they weren’t pushy or particularly annoying.

We bought some bottles of water and a few more postcards at a waterfront stand and made our way back to the shuttle boat.  Sitting in the front of the boat we were able to get pictures and video of the trip up the Giudecca Canal to the ship.  An enormous Costa ship was taking on new passengers when we returned.

After a quick snack on the ship, we returned to shore to try to use the credit card phones we had located outside the terminal.  This time we were successful in completing the calls to the U.S., but they were literally rolling up the gangway by the time we got back to the ship at 4:30pm.

We were up on deck for the not to be missed sailing up the Giudecca Canal, past Piazza San Marco and out into the Adriatic.  What a sight!  The only downsides to this day were our sore feet and a couple of sunburned noses.

It took a bit more effort than usual to clean us up and get down to dinner.  We sat in Palm Court and watched the sunset.  The sea was absolutely flat.  The Costa ship that left long after we did passed and left us in the dust as we lazed along at only eight knots.  It was only 300 miles to Dubrovnik, so we’ll be going slowly tomorrow to create a day at sea for everyone to recover from two active days in Venice.  This is one nice thing about Crystal’s itineraries.  The active port days are well balanced with relaxing days at sea.  Other lines cram a port stop into every single day, which makes for a hectic, tiring cruise.

Click to view the Neptune's Dinner menu.  We had special ordered grilled halibut for tonight.  Tayfun kept fawning over us and finally told us that Josef had told him to be sure to do anything he can to make us happy.  Obviously Jacques had a talk with him, although we didn’t complain about the dining room.  We told him there wasn’t anything he could do that he wasn’t already doing.  In fact, he keeps insisting on making special orders, pasta, etc. for us every night.

The halibut was excellent, as special order items tend to be.  Josef saw our plain fish and started to make Tayfun get us some sort of sauce until he told him we wanted it that way.  They might be starting to get carried away in trying to satisfy us again.  That’s when things really start to fall apart.

Tayfun wanted us to have pasta again, so we decided to have it for an entrée tomorrow night.  Tomorrow is French night and there are no entrees we really want anyway.  He insisted on making Steak Diane for us on the last night of this segment, as well.

Bill went to the Variety Night show featuring Steve Teague, Tony and Margaret Long, and a juggler/comedian.  The comedian was amusing enough, the dancers were entertaining, but did the same routine they did last week.  Steve milks it too much, but he has a nice voice.

Monday, 5/11 - Cruising the Adriatic Sea

Most of this day was spent recovering from two days of walking all over Venice!  We slept until time for lunch, then went directly to the dining room.  There was a BBQ buffet luncheon on deck, but we generally skip those because of the crowds. 

The weather was clear and cool again today.  Our cruising speed was so slow and the sea so calm that we could barely even tell the ship was moving.

After lunch we booked the private car and guide for Athens.  Renato said that they had been advised there would be a surcharge because it is on a Sunday, but he didn’t think it would be excessive.  We were only in the cabin for a few minutes when we both decided we needed a nap!

Around 4:15pm, Bill went down to pick up our passports so we can go ashore in Dubrovnik tomorrow.  The procedures are a bit reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s old methods.  The information being given about this port has been so contradictory that it was hard to tell exactly what to expect.  On one hand they kept saying it was now one of the safest cities in Europe, while on the other they say to “take your patience and sympathy ashore with you as many people lost everything in the war and are extremely poor.  Leave flashy or expensive items aboard the ship.”  Usually when they inform us to be patient, it means that vendors are going to hassle us.  We hope that isn’t the case here.

We attended a very crowded Crystal Society party before dinner.  We didn’t have to go up on stage because there were several people with fourteen and fifteen cruises, but Anne did mention us by name.  The two couples who were honored had sixteen and twenty-three cruises (the Woodbury’s had twenty-three).

A couple came up to us at the party and introduced themselves.  Perry had told them we lived in Laguna Niguel when they asked about us.  Their son lives in South Peak and is an emergency room doctor at Mission Hospital.  They have also been on board since Dover.

Click to view the French Dinner menu.  Tayfun was still making sure we were satisfied and purposely overdoing the fawning, which was amusing.  He said Josef has been telling him to be sure we are satisfied, but we’re sure it came from Jacques.  With both Tayfun and Josef leaving at the end of this cruise it will be interesting to see whether the new people go over the top with the fawning.

Tayfun wants to send us e-mail, so we gave him our card with all the information on it.  He made the pasta Dave had given him a basic recipe for with tarragon, basil, garlic, onions, and chicken in a cream sauce.  At first he thought it sounded ghastly, but he admitted it smelled pretty good.  It was very tasty, in fact.  We insisted he taste it and eventually he did.  He liked it, too.

Tonight’s production show was “Berlin”.  Supposedly, this was a new show, but in reality it was just a reworked show from years ago.  If it weren’t for the terribly weak performance from the lead male vocalist, it would be a great show.  We had seen almost all of it before, but couldn’t figure out where.  We finally decided that it was one of the shows they had slapped together for the first World Cruise to add some variety.  The two women who produce Crystal’s shows really need to add some variety into their costumes.  All of the shows are starting to look alike, follow the same format, and use nearly identical choreography.  The poofy hairdos with glittery skullcap hats are now in every single show, along with beaded wigs.

The Galaxy Lounge was packed tonight.  Unfortunately, most of the audience never stopped talking.  A man in front of us was attempting to save about fifteen feet of sofa space for his party of fourteen.  We were thrilled when people started ignoring him and sitting there anyway.  A woman with him kept waving to someone in the cast.  Either one of her children was in the show or she thinks she’s buddies with them from playing Bingo or something.  Either way, waving to get their attention during a performance was inappropriate.  Someone else in the audience took flash pictures from the front row in spite of a warning that it wasn’t allowed.  Things like this have been pretty much standard behavior during this segment.

After the show the cruise director carried on about Dubrovnik being a maiden call and that Crystal doesn’t really know what to expect.  He made it sound like Crystal was the first ship to call there since the war ended, but we knew that wasn’t true.  Many cruise lines started calling there again last year.  We received more contradictory information in the port description literature that stated, contrary to what was said in the video presentation, that U.S. dollars are not accepted in any of the shops.  Someone really needed to proofread the newsletter and port information before it is sent to the guests.

Tuesday, 5/12 - Dubrovnik, Croatia - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Dubrovnik, in the extreme south of Croatia, is known as the Pearl of the Adriatic. A rich and powerful city state until 1806, the proud city once known as Ragusa has a population of over 120,000. Structural damage suffered during the siege of 1991 and 1992, at the hands of the Yugoslav People's Army, has been repaired and visitors once again flock to this tranquil city, nestled between the Adriatic and Dinaric Alps. A wealth of sites lies within the walls of the pedestrian-only Old Town.

All of the dire warnings regarding the state of services in Dubrovnik were quite unnecessary!  The busses and all other services were just as modern and efficient as any we have encountered so far.  There was some evidence of the past war, such as an unfinished bridge near the port, bullet holes in the walls around the shipyard, a few broken roofs, and a number of shuttered luxury hotels.

>Architecturally, the ancient walled city was similar to Venice. All of the streets were paved with marble blocks.  Everything was in good repair for the most part.  But, there were quite a few buildings whose interior was still a shambles.  From the outside the buildings looked fine.  They had done a great job of concealing any remaining damage.

We walked the length of the main street, the Placa, to the small harbor area, around the little plaza in front of the cathedral, and started up toward the Maritime Museum.  We decided that the route was just a bit too residential and populated with young people with kind of an “edge”.  Everyone was very friendly and anxious to attract tourists once again, but we thought it best to be cautious.

Again at the entrance to the city, we ran into Anthony, “Daddy”, and David.  David edits the shipboard newsletter.  Anthony is a traveling companion, much older than David, but obviously works out quite a bit.  We chatted briefly with them.  David has been trying to get the nerve up to talk to us for weeks and now he will be leaving in Athens.  It’s really just as well because we find David’s “poetic” stories in the newsletter to be kind of sickening.

We had to change some money, only $5.00, into the local currency so we could get access to the city walls that encircle the town.  The climb up the first flight of eighty-five stone steps was a nightmare, but the effort was well worth it for the breathtaking views over the rooftops of the city.  From this vantage point the extent of the shelling was apparent.  Probably only about one-third of the original moss-covered tile roofs remain.  The rest have been restored with new orange tiles that will never regain the patina of the originals.

It took us about an hour to complete the circle of the city on the walls.  Lovely views of the Adriatic were available from the seaside fortifications, while serene courtyards and small winding streets could be seen from the others.  It must be somewhat strange for the residents being on constant display to tourists climbing around the walls!

We only saw a few places where buildings had been reduced to rubble, but we couldn’t tell for sure that they weren’t like that prior to the war.  A few modern additions had been destroyed and never rebuilt.  One café was still full of rattan furniture tossed around by the bombs.

Outside the walled city there was a once-lovely grand old hotel that had its roof blown away.  It was still sitting forlornly awaiting restoration.  Quite a few striking, modern hotels that spilled down the hillsides to the beaches below were still closed, although most appeared to have little or no damage.  The setting alone would make this a popular destination.

Upon our return to the ship, we snacked by the pool until time to go up on deck for the sail away.  Anne tried to convince us to attend the variety show in which she was appearing tonight, but we made some excuses about being tired.  It would be asking too much for us to tell her how wonderful her performance was next time we saw her.

The deck boys fawned all over us, fetching drinks and continuously asking if we needed anything else.   They are the only staff on board who always call us by name.  They even know which of us is which, something we doubt anyone else has a clue about.

The Captain took the ship around for a scenic sail past the old city.  From that side we would see many more resort hotels that were still closed.  One of them still had boarded up windows and shrapnel marks on its elevator tower.  It really was pathetic to think what a wonderful resort this must have been before the war destroyed tourism.  As far as we could tell, the visitors from the ship were the only tourists in the city.  The resorts that remain closed were obviously upscale and were quite large, so business must have been booming at some point.  There didn’t appear to be any indication of recovery in this part of the economy.

Strangely, the city didn’t have a run-down appearance and even the shuttered hotels appeared to have been maintained to some extent even now.  The antique cable car to the top of the mountain immediately behind the city was destroyed and has no restoration work going on at this time.  The view from the top of the mountain must be incredible.

We received an invitation for cocktails in the Captain’s quarters for tomorrow night.  The invitation didn’t say whether it was for the Crystal Society benefit or not.  The invitation now says, “Dress code of the day”, rather than making the guests guess whether it was appropriate to dress up.

Every seat in the Crystal Cove was full when we went looking for a cocktail location.  They had even brought over chairs and a couple of tables from the other side of the lobby.  Palm Court was full of private parties and the Avenue Saloon was overflowing out into the hallway.  The Starlite Club was shut down completely.  We ended up just watching the activity below from around the railing above.

Josef told us that he had learned today that the closed hotels were indeed damaged to some extent.  They were still closed because the owners didn’t have the funds to repair them.  Hilton was trying to buy one of the nicest ones, but financing was hard to get because things in Croatia were still volatile.  Artur said that his cab driver told him that Dubrovnik had received lots of funding from the United States and other countries, but the surrounding villages had not even begun to recover from the war.

Jacques stopped by to be friendly, luckily it was before the food arrived. Click to view the Guest Chef's Dinner menu.  The appetizer, odd, compacted pasta wrapped in thinly sliced eggplant, was very tasty.  His soup was less of a success.  It had the texture and taste of spaghetti sauce.  An improvement would be the addition of diced vegetables.

Bill had Tayfun’s Caesar Salad, while Dave had a risotto dish.  The risotto was literally inedible.  The pasta was undercooked and had the consistency of half-cooked rice.  A very strong Parmesan cheese flavor was unpalatable as well, so even if it had been properly cooked it would have still been ghastly.  We both had the Guest Chef dessert, another mistake.  It resembled flan, but didn’t have the tasty caramel part.  Instead, it was topped with about ½ teaspoon of passion fruit seeds.  The texture was chalky rather than silky.

The dessert, besides not being all that tasty, was served in a microscopic portion, so Nemanja brought a serving of the cherry bread pudding, as well.  The bread pudding was very good and helped resurrect the meal.

We didn’t attend any of the shows or other entertainment tonight.  It’s another hour forward on the clock tonight.

Wednesday, 5/13 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

It was another perfect day at sea.  The weather continues to be cool and clear, with the ocean as smooth as glass.  We dawdled in the cabin until lunchtime, then went straight to the Lido to avoid the crush of the Gala Buffet in the lobby.

We enjoyed our lunch outside on the aft deck.  The Lido is great when almost everyone else is at the buffet downstairs!  Didi and Luigi fawned over us the entire time.  Didi was his usual strange self, while Luigi kept getting in the way by being overly ambitious in his attempts to be helpful.  The deck Filipinos know us by name and were always around, too.

After lunch we returned to the cabin to sit on the verandah, and there we stayed for the rest of the afternoon.  It was cool enough that we had to change into long pants, but it was still pleasant enough to be outside.

We were invited to cocktails in the Captain’s quarters at 7:45pm.  On our last cruise there was a long line outside the door when we arrived.  This time there was no line and perhaps a fourth as many guests in attendance.  We couldn’t figure what the criteria are for being invited.  One couple we spoke with had only been on three Crystal cruises and they were not on the Penthouse Deck.  A woman travelling alone, Jane from “wine country”, had never been on Crystal before.  She is on Deck 9, the same as we are.  None of them had any idea why they were there.

We recognized a few of the other guests, Ava and Richard McKenzie among them, but we didn’t recognize any of them as being at the fifteenth cruise.  Although we don’t care about such things, we are supposed to be invited to an “exclusive” cocktail party in the Captain’s quarters for our fifteenth cruise.  In our opinion, that means the only guests should be those with fifteen cruises or more.  Also, Nikki was the hostess rather than Anne, the Crystal Society hostess.  That would lead us to believe that our fifteenth cruise wasn’t necessarily the trigger for the invitation.

The Captain said some amusing things, as he usually does.  He’s much more laid back than previous ones.  We stayed talking to Nikki until all of the other guests had left.  The Captain said he would be leaving in Athens and Captain Brudvik would be back for a couple of months while he was on vacation.  Tunde carried on about how nice this Captain is in comparison to the others.  Herbert asked us if everything was going all right.  He looked worried when he asked us, but he lightened up when we didn’t complain about anything. 

Nikki followed us down to dinner as it was on the way to her office.  She is always so friendly and upbeat.  She really is perfection at her job.

Click to view the 50's Dinner menu.  Because this is 50’s night, so all the staff members were in their cute 50’s outfits that they hate, of course.  The food was good, swordfish and meatloaf.  The meatloaf had unidentifiable ingredients, but it tasted good.  The corn bisque was much too spicy, however.  Both Nemanja and Tayfun are always asking if everything is all right, so Jacques must be on everyone’s case to please us at all costs.

Everyone was still talking about the visit to Dubrovnik yesterday and saying how nice it was.  One of the “sluts” came up to us after dinner and said they had a driver take them around all day.  He took them to one of those formerly luxurious hotels that were damaged and now closed.  She said it was quite emotional to see how such a wonderful place could be ruined for virtually no reason.

After dinner we listened to Perry until 12:30am, then went to bed.  A full moon was shining on the water outside Perry’s window during his performance.  Another beautiful moment at sea!

Thursday, 5/14 - Mykonos, Greece - 8:00 AM - Midnight

One of the Cyclades, a group of Greek islands with beautiful white sandy beaches, rugged mountains and lush valleys, Mykonos is a cosmopolitan haven for the jet set. It's also a party destination for serious clubbers and an upscale gay set. As its popularity has increased and Mykonos has become more expensive, strict regulations have ensured that the island keeps its picture perfect vistas of whitewashed walls. More than 300 days of sunshine plus turquoise skies and seas add to the idyllic scenery.

Our day didn’t begin until around noon, but that still gave us plenty of time to wander the village of Mykonos.  The water was so clear and blue it was the color of Ty-D-Bowl, quite a sight against the stark whitewashed plaster buildings clinging to the rocky hillside.  The harbor, although relatively small, was very busy all day with ferries coming and going almost continuously.  The larger ferry came in so fast that it appeared it would slam into the shore, but it did the quickest turnaround we’ve ever seen.  Then, it backed up to the shore and dropped a wide gangway so the cars could drive off.

Again, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for strolling.  Ordinarily, the tiny winding streets would be packed with throngs of tourists.  But, being early in the season and still too cool for beach goers, the tourist traffic was pleasantly light.  We walked around the little town with no real goal in mind.  It was easy to just wander and browse the shops.

At one end of town was a group of Greek windmills that were picturesque.  We’re not quite sure of their original purpose, however.  There was an endless variety of quaint seaside cafés and restaurants that were lovely and inviting.  Obviously, this was an international tourist resort because all of the signs were in English as well as Greek, so reading menus and informational signs was simple.  They seemed to have done everything possible to make it pleasant for visitors.

The town consisted entirely of white plaster buildings with flat roofs.  Almost all of the wooded window trim was painted some bright shade of blue with an occasional red or orange thrown in.  It was all quite nice.  It was hard to tell how old any of the structures were because everything was beautifully maintained in like-new condition.  There was absolutely no trash anywhere and all of the buildings were spotless. 

Unfortunately, the tourism-oriented nature of the town didn’t bode well for shopping opportunities.  Every shop sold virtually the same merchandise and postcards.  There were, of course, endless supplies of gold and silver jewelry, T-shirts, souvenirs and art galleries.  Among the postcards were a few less-than-innocent photos, plus some pictures of an enormous stone phallus on the island of Delos.

Supposedly, this island has become a Mecca for gays and lesbians, but we saw no more evidence of that than in Laguna Beach.  We only saw two or three businesses with the rainbow flag outside and one bar with a name that implied it was for gays.  Maybe the attraction was to the stunning Greek men?  We couldn’t quite figure out what happened to them once they were over forty though.  How can it be possible to lose all of your appeal?

We ran into almost all of the crewmembers we know, either wandering the streets or sitting in a café.  Although most of them seemed to be enjoying themselves, when we talked to them later in the day, many of them said it was just OK and that Santorini was much more beautiful.  That’s probably true as this wasn’t a port we'd describe as particularly beautiful, although it was pleasant.

We wandered around town for about 2½ hours before we ran out of energy and tendered back to the ship.  Crystal seems to have perfected tender operations, as we have never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a boat.  The ride back to the ship in this case was very short.

After a snack by the pool, we had to get ready for dinner.  We were glad it was a casual night. 

Click to view the Dinner menu.  We already knew we didn’t want any of the entrees on the menu.  Tayfun made us some pasta instead and Nemanja got us bruschetta from Prego to go with it.  He was a little less cooperative about our request for the Commander’s Salad from last night, but he did get a reasonable facsimile for us.

Nemanja was happy because the friends he got together with in Dubrovnik seemed to think there was a way he could get his two properties returned to him.  He is Serbian, but was living in Croatia when the country was together as Yugoslavia.  When the war broke out he went into Serbia and the Croatian government took all of his property and gave it to refugees.  Now that things are starting to settle down, he might be able to get the government to return his property.  His friends are helping him grease the right palms to get a Croatian passport to replace his Yugoslavian one. 

He doesn’t think it would be safe for him to actually return to Croatia, but he plans to trade his property for his friends’ who are Croatian with property in Serbia.  What a mess!  His father had built the house from scratch and all of the money Nemanja had made had gone into furnishing it and adding to it.  When he lost them to the government, he had to start all over with nothing.  He’s hoping that if he gets them back he will be able to use the money he has saved for something else, such as starting a business.

After dinner we went to the Avenue Saloon to listen to Perry.  All of his groupies arrived eventually.  Unfortunately, that included Ava and Richard.  Ava just had to interrupt every single conversation and interject something.  Also, she appeared to have a problem restraining her applause until a song actually ended.  She became so excited that she would start wildly clapping at inappropriate moments.  That, and her habit of constantly looking around the room to see if anyone had noticed her, drove us nuts so we left to watch the sail away at midnight.

There was a nearly full moon rising right over the town.  Reflected in the waters of the bay it was quite a sight.  The wind had died down from this afternoon, so being out on deck was fairly comfortable.  We must not be in any rush to get to the next port, because the ship was barely moving once we got out of the anchorage.

Friday, 5/15 - Santorini (Fira), Greece - 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Glamorous Santorini, in the southern Aegean's Cyclades islands, curves round a giant lagoon, a caldera left by a volcanic eruption. The island's capital, Fira, clings to cliffs above, providing stunning views of the lagoon below. Santorini's nightlife has become as hot as its volcanic past. Ruins, including the volcanic ash- preserved town of ancient Akrotiri, amaze those with a bent for ancient history. Hydrofoils, ferries and catamarans connect Santorini to other islands and the mainland.

Crystal Symphony was anchored directly beneath the city of Fira perched atop a shear cliff 1000’ above the sea.  The anchorage was inside the ancient crater of a volcano that exploded, sending its entire center straight up.  According to legend, this was the location of the lost city of Atlantis.  Santorini is the largest island created from the remains of the volcano.  From our vantage point, we could see the city strung out along the sharp, shear edge of the crater.  The white plaster buildings looked like snow high on a mountaintop.

In the center of the water-filled crater rose a dome of newer, jumbled black lava that formed a plug after the explosion.  Essentially, this is a much larger version of what happened at Mt. St. Helens.

The tenders were provided by the local seafarers’ union rather than from Crystal Symphony, but they were very modern and comfortable.  A recording accompanied by Greek music welcomed us to “the most beautiful island in the world”.  The ride was short to the small tender landing directly below the city.  From the pier, a cable car takes visitors straight up the cliff and into the city center.

Like Mykonos, this is a town geared totally toward tourists.  Three other cruise ships, much smaller than Crystal Symphony, arrived during the day.  Several ferries brought visitors from neighboring Greek islands throughout the day, as well.  The weather was just starting to get a bit too hot for comfort by the time we ventured into town around 12:30pm.

The town, being strung along the edge of the cliff, really only had one main “street”.  It was actually just a narrow, cobblestone lane lined with neatly maintained white plaster buildings.  The street scene wasn’t nearly as picturesque as Mykonos, but the breathtaking view from the crater rim out over the harbor made up for anything lacking in the architecture.

Since the ship was scheduled to sail earlier than usual, 4:00pm, we hadn’t really planned to do anything other than stroll to the end of town.  This only took about 45 minutes, but it was pleasant and relaxing.  During the height of the tourist season the crowds would make this a most unpleasant place.  As it was, there were plenty of people, but it would still be possible to get a table in a restaurant or café.

Many people were enjoying lunch at one of the many rooftop restaurants that overhang the cliff.  The cool breeze made those locations tolerable and the food smelled wonderful.  We will probably take time to have lunch here during our return in a few days.

We purchased a ceramic and crystal plate in an art gallery.  The plate represents all of the islands, but the representation wasn’t obvious enough to detract from its beauty.  It will be shipped home, but we’re not sure whether we will have to claim it from Customs or not.  The shopkeeper wasn’t sure what happened at the other end except to say we wouldn’t have to pay any duty because it was original art.

Being geared toward international tourists, all of the locals spoke reasonable English and the signs all had translations.  This made for an easy and stress free visit.  We really had expected something entirely different, so this was a pleasant surprise.

The only ways up or down from the town were by donkey, walking a very steep, zigzag road up the cliff, or by the cable car or “Teleferic”.  Perry made the mistake of walking up to avoid the long line at the cable car, but he had every intention of riding back down.   Both the donkey and cable car cost 800 drachmas (about $2.50), one way.  We expected the line to grow toward sailing time, so we decided to make our way back down the cliff at about 2:15pm.

We ran across Tunde, Ferenc and another waiter having drinks in one of the cafés at the bottom of the mountain.  The line for the tender was long, but everyone fit into a single boat.  It appeared that the local tenders held more people, more comfortably than did those from the ship.

The layers of volcanic ash, red lava, black lava, etc. were very interesting.  With the center of the mountain literally blown straight up, it left a graphic display of how the mountain had built up layer by layer over the eons.  On the outside of the crater, the island slopes gently down to the sea as one would expect from a volcanic island.  It was obvious that the last eruption before the explosion was a huge volume of ash.  The top 150’ of the island, including the other remnants across the crater, was covered with this ash. 

At the opposite end of the island is an ancient Minoan village called Akrotiri that had recently been excavated that was preserved in the ash in a similar manner as Pompeii.  We might visit this sight on our return here next week.

It became apparent that the ship wasn’t going to sail at 4:00pm.  There were several announcements made asking a woman to contact the front desk.  As time went by the announcements became more urgent until the Captain came on and said a female passenger had been reported missing by her husband.  Evidently they had become separated in the crowded streets.  Why he returned to the ship without her, we’ll never know.

Ship’s personnel were searching through the people by the pool and in public rooms for the woman, but couldn’t find her.  Finally the Captain announced that the shore agents thought they had located her but we wouldn’t know for sure until she returned to the ship.  That took about fifteen minutes.  The moment she stepped on board, the ship pulled up anchor and sailed.  We still don’t know any details about what really happened or why she was too dippy to find her way back to the ship.  There’s no way anyone could lose their way because there is only one way down from town.

We sat outside and watched the ship slowly sail out of the crater.  It was fascinating to see all of the layers and to view the island from the outside.  From there it was amazing to think how much energy it took to blow such a huge island away.  The Captain announced that we had so much extra time to reach Piraeus that we would take our time and do some scenic cruising around the island so we could see the other side.  The outer slopes weren’t as picturesque as the dramatic interior, but nonetheless it was interesting to see.  Most of the ash-covered slopes were covered with terraces for farming the rich volcanic soil.

Click to view the Crystal Dining Room Captain's Gala Farewell Dinner menu.

Dinner tonight was in Jade Garden.  We stopped for drinks in the Crystal Cove, one of the few nights we found it deserted due to the Captain’s Farewell Party.  It was made more pleasant by the absence of the chain-smoking “sluts” who are usually perched at the bar flirting with all of the officers.  Either they don’t care, or they aren’t aware, of which ones are gay, since they flirted equally with every single male on board.

On the way to Jade Garden we ran into Didi, who was on his way there.  He insisted on carrying Bill’s cocktail the rest of the way.  As usual, the restaurant was empty.  The service wasn’t as attentive as it was the previous visit, but it was friendly and efficient.  This time, we ordered one of everything expecting it to be delivered family-style.  Bill made a point to ask for double portions so they wouldn’t cut it down like they did before.

We each ordered three appetizers.  The tempura shrimp tasted good, but wasn’t crispy.  The chicken satay was tasteless, but edible.  The vegetable spring rolls were terrible.  They tasted as though the only thing inside was cabbage and the sauce wasn’t much help.

When the food arrived, it was artfully arranged on our individual plates, with each entrée divided by a line of sliced cucumbers.  It was very attractive, but the portions were miniscule.  Each of us received one shrimp, two tiny slices of beef and half of a half of a chicken breast.  At least the noodles came on a separate plate.

Bill attempted to find out what the proper way to order is to end up with a larger quantity, but it freaked Didi out and he called Mario over.  The whole thing caused quite a stir because they simply couldn’t imagine how anyone could eat so much.  Mario understood better what we were getting at, but it was better just to go with the flow and order a round of seconds and forget about getting it up front.

We asked for a repeat of everything except the beef, which was ghastly.  This time we got smaller plates with about one-third noodles, one-third decorative raw vegetables, three shrimp, and no chicken.  When Mario came by he asked if we wanted more chicken, which we did, and he brought out two whole chicken breasts.  Along with more rice, we were finally satisfied with the meal.

Didi was very strange, as always.  He kept telling us Munich was our kind of town, but we never really did figure out what he meant by that.  He just said it was a “happening place” full of stylish people and that we would love it.  Why?  Since when are we "happening"?

Mario chatted for quite a while about his worldwide shopping spree.  He seems to have forgiven us for accidentally getting him in trouble when Bill complained about being kept waiting due to overbooking at Prego.  He said he has so many things from around the world that he wants to decorate each room in his country house from a different country.  He was happy that he had purchased one of the paintings from the on board art auction this afternoon.  It must have been fairly expensive because he didn’t mention the cost other than to say it was too much.

We couldn’t face watching “Symphony of Nations” with the current lead singers, so we went to listen to Perry for the rest of the evening.  The Avenue Saloon was completely empty when we arrived.  Eventually a couple of the “regulars” came in along with an older gay couple we hadn’t seen together before.  One of them was an ice skater and Dave thought he looked like the man who gave him a skating lesson one time.

Jane came in and we asked her to join us, which she did.  When the show let out, very late at midnight, more people came in until the room was almost full.  Ava didn’t show up until the last twenty minutes, so it was bearable.  She started sobbing when Perry finished up with “My Way”.  Evidently she thinks she knew Frank Sinatra personally.  She certainly knows how to focus all of the attention on herself!  She can even interrupt her own conversation to interject some additional inanity.  Her husband wasn’t far behind in his attempt to show his knowledge on every subject.  Thank God they are finally disembarking in Piraeus!

A couple of crewmembers have told us that we are arriving in Piraeus two hours earlier than expected, at 8:00pm.  There must be no rush to get there because the ship completely stopped and turned on all of the outside lights before midnight.  Just as in the Caribbean where the ports are too close together, we were just sitting out in the open ocean, completely stopped.

We went out on deck to take in the serene view.  There were lights of a couple of distant islands on the horizon, plus another ship parked just as we were.  A crew party was going on at the rear of the ship with throbbing disco music reverberating through the floorboards.  There was a huge red canopy obscuring the view of the crew deck and they had covered the light poles at the aft deck with red fabric.  It must have been quite a party!  We heard that the theme was Black Leather and Red Lace, but none of the crew we observed was dressed strangely.  Perhaps we’ll be able to get some details tomorrow!

Saturday, 5/16 - Athens (Piraeus), Greece - Arrive 8:00 PM

Once known for smog, traffic and tacky architecture, Athens is a city reformed thanks to fortunes brought by the 2004 Summer Olympics. Spotless parks and streets, an ultra-modern subway, new freeways, an accessible airport and all signs in perfect English make the city easily negotiable. Meriting more than a stopover en route to the islands, sophisticated Athens sites include many pillars of Western history, from the Acropolis to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, as well as treasures in the National Archaeological Museum.

The weather today was overcast and a bit cooler than it has been, but that might be a blessing for touring tomorrow in Athens.  We are still travelling quite slowly.  So slowly that we thought we were stationary.  A couple of announcements in the hallway awakened us, but we couldn’t tell what they were about.  The crew fire drill that we expected to rouse us at 10:00AM was cancelled.  Probably because everyone was hung over from last night!

We had a pleasant lunch in the dining room.  The chicken tacos actually resembled the real thing although they were decorated with sour cream in such a way that picking them up was quite messy.  The kitchen obviously can’t imagine that anyone would eat with his or her fingers.  Waldemar served us today.

Tayfun said that he was the DJ last night after 1:00am.  He was only supposed to continue until 1:30am, but the Captain told him to continue for another hour.  That’s probably when the decision to cancel the crew fire drill was made.

We had left a note for Regula last night to have the flickering light and collapsing verandah chair repaired.  The chair was gone last night, but was back this afternoon.  Someone came to replace the light bulb this afternoon.  Unfortunately, the chair collapsed the first time Dave sat in it, so that repair wasn’t quite as successful.

After lunch we perused the tour options for the upcoming ports.  We talked to Renato about them and decided to book only the excursion to Ephesus in Kusadasi, Turkey.  He told us that was a well-organized tour with knowledgeable guides and the only good way to experience the ruins.

Renato said that we could easily see the major sights in Istanbul on our own because there will be a shuttle service to the Grand Bazaar. He didn’t think a guide would be necessary here because things are still intact and easy to interpret on our own.  Everything is within a couple of blocks of the Bazaar, we decided that would be our best bet.  Renato was still checking the price of a driver and guide to take us to Herculaneum from Sorrento.  The price for a driver was about $450, but he didn’t think a guide would add that much more to the cost.  Herculaneum should be one of the highlights of the trip, so if we’re going to spend the money for a guide, this is the place to do it.  Renato agreed that we should have a guide to make the most out of the experience.

Otherwise, the rest of the ports are repeats for us so there was no need to book a tour.  We haven’t decided whether to take the shuttle into Florence yet.  It leaves us there for ten hours and that’s much longer than we are normally willing to be out and about.

We were out on deck for the arrival into Piraeus.  Originally, the ship was to dock at 10:00pm, but we arrived at the pilot station around 6:30pm.  We just sat there waiting until the pilot finally arrived.  At that time an announcement was made that it was rush hour at the port and the local ferries and jet boats had priority, so we had to wait.  Eventually we docked at a modern terminal building as it was just getting dark outside.

The port area consisted of mostly commercial buildings and concrete apartment blocks.  All of the buildings we could see were no more than about ten stories tall.  The entire area as far as we could see was chock full of the same type of concrete apartments and office buildings.  The city was clean and neat, however.  We kind of expected more of a third world look, sort of like Lisbon, Portugal, but this certainly didn’t seem to be the case.

Dinner was surprisingly laid back considering that the dining room was packed again.  Tayfun found out that they are going to make him work during the three days until he leaves in Istanbul.  Technically, his vacation starts in Piraeus.  Nemanja was optimistic that the details necessary for him to retrieve ownership of his property would be worked out soon.  He will leave the ship early, in June, if it works out.

After dinner we decided this would be a good time to make telephone calls.  There was a 24-hour bank for changing money in the terminal, so we did that and bought the required phone card for 100 drachmas.  Artur walked by in his civilian clothes and was quite happy to see us.  He was more himself than when in the dining room under Nemanja’s thumb. 

The poor Filipino deck guys were out waiting on the pier to unload the luggage at 1:30am.  After they finish that job, they have to be up in the Lido for the early breakfast at 2:45am.  After that it’s on to their regular day. 

Once we completed our calls it was time to get to bed, as we have to get up earlier than usual for our private tour tomorrow morning.

This adventure continues with "Mediterranean Magic".  Click the button below.  Pictures are posted in the Photo Gallery.

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