Mike and Renée
Cruise to the Black Sea
On HAL Prinsendam
September 2009

Page One covers the Mediterranean portion: pre-cruise in Rome; Katakalon and Olympia, Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey

Page Two covers the Black Sea portion of the cruise: Sochi, Russia; Batumi, Georgia; Trabzon and Sinop, Turkey; Sevastopol, Ukraine; returning via Kusadasi to Athens

Page Three is our post cruise tour of Northern Greece: Athens, Thermopylae, Vale of Tempe, Dion, Mt Olympus, Tessaloniki, Pella, Vergina, Chaironea and Delphi.

This was our 39th cruise, and our 8th on Holland American Line. We chose the small ship Prinsendam, used for special itineraries. Our wonderful trip began in Rome, cruised around Greece to Istanbul, continued into the Black Sea and ended at Athens. Prinsendam is a beautiful ship with an attentive and efficient crew and the trip was a great experience.
We flew into Rome a day early, and had a bit of time for touring. We booked a room at the Royal Santina Hotel, located across the street from the Termini Station in a perfect location for touring. It would be very easy to go to the nearby Metro station and travel around Rome, but we decided to walk a block to the terminal for the HOHO buses and bought a 24 hour ticket. Our first stop was at the Colosseum. This huge and imposing structure is one of the wonders of Classical Rome.
We were fortunate enough to meet one of the dignitaries of ancient Rome, a true Senator of the Republic! He was gracious enough to consent to pose for pictures, and even furnished the bunch of grapes!

We continued on the bus through and past a lot more Rome landmarks, including the Castle Sant'Angelo, Piazza Barberini with the Bernini merman fountain, Piazza Navarona past the Panthenon, the Trevi stop near the Fountain, and many more.

One of the most stunning sights of the city, of course, is St. Peter's Square, visited and photographed by so many, but I had to add one more photo!

After a great day touring Rome, we walked around the corner from our hotel to a small Trattoria for a fine dinner of pasta, lamb and seafood.

Next morning, we had the nice included buffet breakfast at the hotel (except for the typical European misinterpretation of bacon) and were met promptly by our driver from MARCOS TAXI. We made the 40 minute trip to Civitavecchia and boarded the Prinsendam. She is a delightful small ship, easy to get around and full of beautiful artwork. Two days before sailing we had been struck by the Upgrade Fairy and had a great AA cabin with a balcony on Deck 9. One of our first actions was to sign up for the wireless internet connection from our stateroom.

Day 2 is a day at sea which gave us a good opportunity to get acquainted with the ship and enjoy relaxing aboard. About 9:30 AM we sailed into view of the famous volcano Stromboli. The Captain took the ship up very close and swung her about so all could have a good view of this imposing mountain. She continually let off puffs of sulfurous smelling smoke and put on quite a show.

Later in the day we sailed through the Straits of Messina as our on board lecturer gave us information on the story of the Odyessy and the passage between Scylla, the many headed monster, and Charbydis, the gigantic whirlpool.

We enjoyed the dining room and the many facilities of the ship, and this evening we went to the rather small and intimate Queen's Lounge for the "Europa" production show. The size of this ship has many advantages and this very good show venue is one of them.

On Day 3 we stopped at the port of Katakolon. Here we were on the ship's tour, "Olympia and Zorba"! We began with the bus ride about half an hour to the ancient site of Olympia, a Temple dedicated to Olympian Zeus, King of the Gods of Mount Olympus, and the site of the Olympic Games held in his honor for hundreds of years. It is a beautiful precinct, full of ruins of many important buildings including the palaestra (dressing room) and gymnasium used by the athletes. We had quite a bit of time to explore the site.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is an imposing view even in its ruined state. It is another of those sites of the ancient world that demonstrate that the ancients did not simply build temples at whim, but chose places where they believed that the power resided, and where sometimes it can still be felt. The looming presence of some god is still within these stones. It was for this reason, and not merely to hold Games, that Olympia existed.
Nearby is the modern cauldron in which the Olympic Flame is kindled every four years to begin its journey to the venue of the Games of that Olympiad.

It stands just across from the Phillipion, the temple dedicated by Phillip II of Macedon after his victory at Cheironeia, in which his 18 year old son Alexander (later the Great) distinguished himself leading the cavalry charge. By building this altar here Phillip was demonstrating his mastery of the Greek world and his power in Greece.

Further on is the actual stadium where the athletes competed, first in a simple foot race and later in many events including the Pentathlon and the Pankration.

We then proceeded to a Taverna where we had a great selection of Greek appetizers from octopus to olives, along with ouzo to sample. On our guide's advice, we wisely watered down the licorice flavored ouzo considerably.

The dancers were wonderful. If their leader was not Zorba himself, surely he was a close cousin!

The music was lively and the dancing was enthusiastic, if not too skilled on the part of most of the passengers! OPA!

We returned to the ship in time for lunch at the grill on deck, and a lazy afternoon. The evening show was a tribute to Nat King Cole which we enjoyed very much.

Day 4 was at the port of Nafplion. We disembarked on the very first tender ashore and were met by our handsome Greek driver, Nick from GreekTaxi.gr. Working with his father Paul we had planned a busy day, and Nick was very knowledgable and worked out a good schedule which allowed us to do everything we wanted to do and still return to the ship by 2:00 to catch the tender back aboard.

We drove through the olive groves and orange orchards of the Peleponessus to the magnificent citadel of Mycenae, from which King Agamemnon dispatched the Greek fleet to Troy to recover the beautiful Helen. In approximately the 13th Century BC this was a major city of power and wealth and a center of the Mediterranean world. As it sits high on hill the path is a continually climbing one, but even with my slight mobility limitations I was able to make it most of the way up up by going slowly. The citadel is protected by the imposing Lion Gate which in ancient times would have been closed and barred with a massive wooden door.

Because the stones in the wall are so large, the myth arose that only the giant Cyclops could have put them in place. They are therefore known as the Cyclopean Walls.

A bit further on we came to the famous Grave Circle A in which the archaeologist Schlieman found a rich trove of golden goods, including a mask which caused him to exclaim, "I have looked on the face of Agamemnon!" Ascending the hill gave marvelous views over the valley, and a real sense of why the Greek citadels stood on these high hills.

We then drove a short distance to the so-called "Treasury of Atreus", actually a massive beehive tomb. If it was indeed the tomb of the Atreid family then it is a more likely place for the remains of Agamemnon than the grave excavated by Schleiman. There are many interesting architectural features, such as the "weight relieving triangle" over the lintel, a necessary feature before the discovery of the arch and keystone made more massive openings feasible. Inside, the tomb consists of concentric tapering layers of rock to a rounded roof, which gives the description beehive.
We then drove on to the site of Nemea, a temple dedicated to the agricultural goddess Demeter. In mythology this is the place where Hercules undertook the first of his labors, slaying the fierce Nemean Lion. He is therefore often depicted holding the skin of the lion over his arm. I told our guide Nick that I wanted to see the lion, but the beast was asleep, so I had to throw rocks at it to wake it up.
Nick then took us to a delightful Greek deli, where after shopping and buying some packaged Greek foods for souvenirs, we enjoyed a meal from the local sheep's milk cheese, fresh bread, and Kalamon olives.

Then on to our last stop, the ancient theater at Epidaurus. Renowned for its outstanding acoustics, this theater has 54 rows of stone seats climbing the hillside. It is still in use today for a summer festival featuring the ancient Greek plays.

We returned to the ship in the early afternoon, in time to begin the sailing across the "wine-dark Aegean" Sea.

Day 5 began with the ship sailing through the strategic strait of the Dardanelles, an important shipping lane for all of recorded history. It was pleasant to use the balcony to enjoy the views passing by. This was a good morning to start with an eye opener of tea and croissants delivered to the cabin, and then later go up to the dining room to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

Renée attended the "Cooking With Honey" class, and we then tried the team trivia but alas, came in second place today.

The weather continued to be beautiful and sunny though on the cool side. It was a perfect day to lunch at the grill on deck, while enjoying the ice carving demonstrations around the pool. The grill served good burgers, hot dogs and fries, as well as offering deli sandwiches. We enjoyed lunching there several times during the cruise.
We enjoyed many activities aboard the ship during our cruise. Cassie, the onboard Party Planner, hosted several nice cooking events. On this day we went to the Chocolate party, where Cassie made Aztec Chocolate for us and served it as prizes for a chocolate trivia contest (we all won!)
In the late afternoon we docked in Istanbul. Our balcony was perfectly placed to see some of the sights of this ancient city. This night we did not participate in any of the tours but stayed aboard and enjoyed the facilities of the ship.
Day 6 dawned cool and a bit cloudy, but soon cleared into another beautiful day. We met our amazing guide Kagan Kosagan and set off on our custom designed private tour of the markets of Istanbul. Kagan is a great guide and was very flexible in designing this special tour the way WE wanted to do it, as we had been to Istanbul before and seen the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, etc. already. Kagan first led us down a maze of small streets through an intriguing series of shops. The custom is to have all the shops of one kind near each other, so we passed shops selling metal ware, others selling textiles, others for hardware and so on. We were surrounded by the local people tending to their errands with nary a tourist in sight! The stalls which specialized in nuts, grains, and other cooking ingredients were very interesting, with some familiar items, and some very new to us. Renée was particularly impressed with the strings of dried vegetables, including eggplant, squash, peppers and other items for cooking.
Then it was on to the "touristy" market areas. In the one known as the Spice Market, which features much more than just spices, we gave in to the temptation of Turkish Delight. Next was the most famous of all, the GRAND BAZAAR. There are over 4000 shops in the Grand Bazaar, more than half of them devoted to jewelry! We visited a jewelery area, an antique area, a rug area, a textile area, a souvenir area and a leather area. Each shop is more fascinating than the last, and each shopkeeper more importunate than the last!
Our driver did a marvelous job of negotiating the streets of Istanbul, from the fast moving main streets to the tiny brick back lanes. The next stop was the fish market, where all types of fresh local catches were on sale, from octopus to crayfish, catfish to clams, turbot to rockfish. It was another very interesting stop. Kagan then led us to the ferry, and we crossed the Bosphorus to the other half of Istanbul, thereby crossing from Europe into Asia! In the area near the ferry landing Kagan took us to a local restaurant. We had some wonderful dolmades, both the classic stuffed grape leaves and also an eggplant version; pickled giant artichoke bottoms; and I had beef/lamb meatballs while Renée had lamb cooked in a light cheese sauce. It was all very delightful and far from the usual tourist offerings. Here we continued our exploration of local markets with a produce market. The wide variety of fresh local fruits was amazing and very tempting. We recognized some of the fruits and vegetables, some we did not. Renée found some delicious dried apricots for us to take back to the ship to snack on.
While on the Asian side we did our only sightseeing for the day, the beautiful Beylerbeyi Palace which served as the Summer Palace of the Ottoman Sultans. Everything here is stunningly beautiful, but Kagan told us that it is all just veneer and paint, as the palace is built on filled land and true marble and bronze would have made the palace too heavy! It was in a conference room here in 1918 that the last Ottoman Sultan surrendered to the British Admiral as 50 gunboats floated on the Bosphorus outside his window. As the palace sits on the Bosphorus, the ladies of the Harem had their own private bathing pavilion. Renée thought this sounded good to her!

Here our van driver met us and we returned to the European side by means of the bridge. Our final local market was the Begoylu pedestrian mall, which features stalls of every kind and delighted Renée .

So after a wonderful day of sightseeing (and shopping!) we returned to the ship happy but tired. A couple of hours rest and a bit of freshening up put us in the mood for our reservation at the Pinnacle Grill, for which our Travel Agent had given us a gift voucher. Renée had a beautiful filet, and I had a delicious lobster tail. The decor and ambiance are marvelous, and the service is impeccable. However, considering how good the dining room is, it is really probably not necessary to pay the extra charge for this experience.

CONTINUE with the Black Sea portion of the cruise.

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