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.

This page 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.

Day Seven found us in Sochi, the Russian Riviera. We began with a very good room service breakfast. Full breakfast is available from room service, not just a continental breakfast, and we enjoyed it on days when we had an early tour.

Here we booked the ship's excursion to the tea plantation at Dagomys. A thirty minute drive up a narrow winding road into the mountains took us to the sunny hillsides where the tea is grown. We learned about the different kinds of tea and how they are prepared, and had a chance to explore the plantation and see the tea plants..

Then we proceeded on a scenic walk through the woods at the crest of the ridge to the teahouse, where we sampled the tea with bread, jam and hazelnuts. A folkloric group performed on the accordion and balalaika. It was a fun experience and a bit different from the standard city tour.
We returned to the ship in time for lunch on deck, and a bit of absorbing of the beautiful sunshine as the weather continued to favor us. Although the low 70's did not seem much like swimming weather for us, the many Russians on vacation here populated the small boats and the pebbly beaches and even ventured into the water. Stalin originally built a dacha here in the 1930's and much of the Russian elite followed, so this is a favorite vacation destination.

This evening we had dinner and then took a nap so we could be up and awake at 11 PM for the Indonesia Crew Show. This is always a highlight of a HAL cruise. The crew was very talented and we enjoyed the presentation of the folklore play in which the White Monkey rescues the Princess!

On Day Eight we found ourselves in Georgia. No, we had not made a fast trip back across the Ocean to Atlanta. We were in Batumi in the Republic of Georgia, formerly part of the Soviet Union. This was a beautiful little town, and Prinsendam was the largest cruise ship ever to dock here. Renée went off on a morning tour of Old Batumi including the Eastern Orthodox Church, culminating in a visit to a Georgian home, which she thoroughly enjoyed. They got to meet the three generations of the family, sample some local delicacies, and even had a song and dance performance by local school children.

Meantime I stayed aboard, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then went to the spa for along relaxing shower in their big well equipped showers, followed by a steam and sauna, and then back into the shower for the cold wakeup. It was a thoroughly invigorating experience and I was glad I had the time to enjoy it.

For the afternoon tour we both went to the "Georgian folklore performance". Rather than folk dancers, this turned out to be a performance of the highly professional State Ensemble of Achara. It featured an instrumental trio and an acapella men's chorus, but the dancers were the main attraction. They performed many beautiful dances based on local folklore, with the ladies floating across the stage in wonderful long gowns and the men demonstrating amazing feats of acrobatics, culminating in a wonderful sabre dance!

This is a beautiful little port, way off the beaten track for cruise ships, and very interesting. Just as we returned to the ship we picked up a bit of rain, the first we had this trip. We came back aboard, relaxed a bit and put on our formal wear for the third formal night of the cruise.

Day Nine had us returning to Turkey to the port of Trabzon, or Trebizon. It was interesting to get up early and sit on the balcony as the Captain brought the ship alongside the pier. He did it the same way porcupines make love -- slowly and carefully! He used the side thrusters to put the ship into its slot with grace and gravity.

Here we had no shore excursions booked so we were able to take our time arising and enjoy a nice breakfast in the dining room. Although the buffet breakfast was always excellent and ample, the dining room breakfast is a bit of a luxury and features some things such as waffles not available on the buffet.

Renée took the ship's shuttle into town for a bit of shopping while I enjoyed relaxing on the ship. We had lunch in the dining room, which we seldom do, but a nice experience on a leisurely day. Then Renée took advantage of the port day special in the spa, and afterwards we joined the Team Trivia once again, and this time we won! HAL luggage tags were our reward. After dinner we played Majority Rules and stayed for the showtime with the ship's dancers. It was a very nice low key day.

Day Ten was in the port of Sinop, Turkey. The day dawned bright and beautiful with the spectacular weather we enjoyed most of this trip. We had more chances to enjoy our fortuitous upgrade to a balcony than usual on most cruises.
Renée had the ship's excursion "Treasures of Sinop" and she enjoyed the Archaeological Museum, Alaaddin Mosque, and of course a bit of shopping. In the afternoon we played some more Trivia, went to one of the cooking classes, and enjoyed the day. We had an early dinner, caught the show and went to bed, as the next morning calls for early rising!
Day Eleven found that the ship had crossed the Black Sea again, and we woke up in Sevastopol, Ukraine. Renée had only time to grab a bite at the buffet and set off on the ship's tour of the Crimean Rivera. She visited the Swallow's Nest, and Lividia Palace, summer residence of the Tsar and the site of the Yalta Conference of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt.
Meanwhile I had the tour of Sevastopol, which stopped at the truly stunning museum of the Panorama of the Defense of Sevastopol. This 360 degree 3D and 2D artwork depicts the attack on Sevastopol during the Crimean War when the French and British took the city, from the point of view of the defenders. It is a really marvelous work and the amazing detail shows the bulwarks reinforced with baskets of dirt, the shelters for the troops, the soldiers, the officers, the cannons and cannonballs, the wounded and dead laid in front of icons, the priests, the nurses, the wagons of supplies and all the many parts of war. In many places it is almost impossible to discern where the 3D portion merges into the wall painting.
Then we toured the city a bit more, stopping in a beautiful seaside park to see the monuments, and proceeded to the Navy Officers Club for a performance of the Naval Ensemble. We were treated to orchestra music, dancing, a balalaika virtuoso, and a very good bass and a very good tenor soloists. It was an enjoyable interlude.

On returning to the ship, I took advantage of our continued beautiful weather to eat at the grill on deck again. The view of the harbor was great, the sunshine was bright, and a slight breeze made for a great lunch. Following a lazy afternoon we put on our formal clothes for the fourth formal night and had yet another wonderful dinner in the dining room.

Day Twelve was our last day at sea. Early in the morning the ship returned to the Bosporus, and our travel commentator Frank gave us a description as we passed through the city of Istanbul again. We attended the disembarkation briefing which was the most entertaining we had ever had, hit the buffet for lunch on deck, and then went down for another hard fought game of Team Trivia! We won today, with 21 1/2 out of 23 points, and got key chains for our efforts. Here we are with our frequent Trivia companions, Dave, Euan, Miriam, Renée , Marilyn, and Mike, exulting in victory!
Day Thirteen was the port of Kusadasi, our third visit to this fascinating port. We were met by our outstanding guide, Hakan from Ekol Travel. He worked carefully with us to outline the day's plans to cover all the things we wanted to do. We drove through Kusadasi and our first stop was at the cave of the legend of the Seven Sleepers.
Then we went on to the famous House of the Virgin Mary. This is a beautiful place, with time for contemplation between busloads of tourists. Three Popes have visited the House and declared it to be a site of worship. On the way down from Mary's House we stopped for a beautiful overview of the ruins of Ephesus, with the huge theater being the most prominent part.
Hakan was a wealth of information and gave us all the details of everything we saw, as well as lots of information on historical and modern Turkey. Next we visited a ceramic factory. We had a chance to see how the local mud is thrown on the wheel, fired in the kiln, and hand painted. It was very interesting and some beautiful wares were on sale. Of course we came home with some.
Then it was on to our favorite stop in this port, the lovely little Turkish village of Sirince. We drove up the winding road through groves of olives, pears and quince and arrived in the village square. We had a lot of time to explore the village. Then after a while I sat down in a little tavern under the trees to sample some pomegranate juice and relax.
Meantime, of course, Renée continued her shopping. Up and down the narrow winding lanes of the village are many small shops and stands offering everything from jewelery to vegetables. She found many things that caught her fancy.
Hakan recommended a beautiful local restaurant for lunch. We sat by the fountains and enjoyed a meal of many specialties. It was a wonderful day and we got to do all the things we wanted to do in this port. We returned to the ship in time for one more game of Team Trivia, and then packed and put our bags outside the door in preparation for disembarkation.
CONTINUE with our post cruise tour of Greece: Athens, Thermopylae, Mt Olympus, Thessaloniki, Pella, Edessa, Vergina, Vale of Tempe, Delphi, and Cheironeia.