We left our apartment in Berlin around 6:20am in the morning on Saturday, 3 November. That was a great start for the day but meant we had to wake up at 5:20am. It was cold but not raining when we walked down to the S-Bahn station arriving with a few minutes spare to catch the 6:47am U4 train.
After changing train once and then catching a bus we arrived at the airport before 8am – the time our EasyJet flight check-in opened. Surprisingly we had no queues and were able to check in within ten minuets before loads of other people turned up. We didn’t have much time to spare but found a Priority Pass lounge and went in to enjoy the benefits of an airport lounge. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to eat apart from nuts and biscuits so it was a little disappointing compared to the airport lounges we have become used to in our travels. In hindsight we would have been better off just going to a café for a decent coffee. Actually overall I doubt it is worth the expense to buy airport lounge passes particularly if you have to pay 15 euro per child when you go into the lounge. Often the friendly desk person says they will let you bring the kids in for free but then they still add that you have a guest with you which inevitably means you end up getting your credit card on file charged for the pleasure.
The flight was excellent and before we knew it we had landed in Venice. As the bus fare had risen recently from the airport to our hotel (about 10 km away) we decided to try the taxi. Bad move! The bus at 4 x 6e each would have been more cost effective than a 45 euro taxi ride! I have to say the cost to get to the airport on public transport in Berlin of only 10 euro for all of us has to be the best deal we have had in our trip to date. We dropped off our bags and then caught a bus into Venice Plaza Roma pretty much straight away so we could begin our walk around Venice. First on our to do list was to walk to Academia Bridge and put our padlock on it. It took a while to get there but it was worth the effort.
Next we made our way to St Marco’s Square where we sat and gazed around for 5 minutes amazed that we were back in one of our favourite places. It was nice to hear the kids exclamations both saying how the really liked the place. Daniel also added that Saint Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) would be his all-time favourite church that we had visited. He even wanted to pop in again but we had too much ground to cover so didn’t join the queue.
Amy and Daniel wanted to go and see the house we stayed in earlier in the year despite the extra distance we would have to walk, so we did that. It was nice to walk along the canals and the pedestrian road from Piazza San Marco toward our house near the Arsenale Water Taxi stop . We really had fabulous weather when we were there in May compared to the colder foggy weather this week. I think not having the sunny warm air added to Amy’s feeling that it just wasn’t the same as before, it just didn’t seem quite right. I could understand what she meant as when we reached the bridge and the square nearby where the Di Vinci museum is it seemed shut-up and lacked the vibrant summer atmosphere it had when we sat outside with our cappuccinos in May. The café there was also the place I met the lady from New Zealand who was in Venice on a cruise – she was the one who got me thinking about the possibility of the cruise we were about to start on Sunday.
After a little persuading I knocked on the door of our old house much to the confusion of the person who was currently renting it. While she seemed fine that strangers knocked on her door she really didn’t understand a word of what we said to her but with smiles we sheepishly left and headed for the toy shop. Daniel and Amy were excited to have been able to look in the house again from the door so they thought the slight embarrassment of their father didn’t matter at all.
The toy shop we went to for Daniel, on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, was one that he attempted to go to several times when we stayed in Venice but each time it was closed and he could only look through the window at the marine animal set he wanted to buy so much. This time the shop was open but the animal set had long gone. Funny, I thought, fancy a shop selling its stock! Next on our to-do list was just down the road – our favourite ice cream shop. Sadly Amy and Daniel couldn’t fulfil their anticipated desire of an ice cream because all the freezers had broken down during the week when the all-time high tides caused the water level to rise some 1.4m above usual which resulted in their shop being flooded. I think the young lady remembered us and she was happy to have a photo taken of her with the kids. Just how often did we visit that café in the one week we stayed here?! KC and I made the most of the opportunity and bought a coffee each and then we began our massive cross-country walk to find the one and only McDonalds which was on the way to our bus station.
The walk took us about 40 minutes and we were racing. The kids did great. Amy is a fast walker so we tend to lead the way and despair at how far Daniel and Karen lag behind us. I had forgotten how expensive McDonalds was in Venice so we ended up just buying basic hamburgers and then going just down the road to a small supermarket where we bought rotisserie chicken.
The next bus was 6:35pm so I marched on quickly. We were not quite quick enough and missed our bus by about 5 minutes. The next one was 7:05pm so we sat on the bus and waited along with another family we recognised as staying at the Novatel as well. They were from Germany and spoke a little English so we chatted to them and found out they had just returned from an MSC cruise the same day. They were scheduled into port much earlier in the day but ended up having to wait in the harbour until just before mid-day due to fog. They confirmed that we could expect to pay 7 euro per person per day for tips and that it gets automatically charged to your credit card. Great news! I hope they will only charge for adults not kids as well.
After a good sleep in the kids and I went down to breakfast leaving KC to sleep in. Somehow we managed to sneak out without waking her up. Breakfast we pretty normal but very enjoyable. We were a little late checking out which goes to show that even with a mid-day check out you can still not have enough time! It was raining so we put on rain coats and walked to the nearby bus stop where we waited about 20 minutes for the next bus.
It was rather crowded so we had to fit around everyone with our many bags flowing in all directions. Once in Venice we caught a People Mover train for the 400 meter trip into the port where we then walked about 1 km to where we needed to check in. Our bags were getting heavy and we were again getting wet. Once in the terminal we almost got into the wrong line – the queues of people lining up for a drink at the bar, but then we found the correct place to line up. Apart from the weight of the bags, check in was straightforward except for the minor point that we missed the place where we were supposed to drop off our bags. That meant we had to carry them all the way on board ourselves and also we had to squeeze them through the x-ray machines at customs. We made it on board and found our room on the 10th floor. The ship was giant!
It’s easy to get lost around the ship but after the first few days we almost knew where we were going. It was exciting to discover that we could have a late lunch at the buffet which we dutifully did before taking a look at where the kids programs happen. Sadly they don’t seem that great and Daniel isn’t interested in what the 12 – 14 year olds do as it seems to revolve around Wii and computer games.
Dinner just after 6pm was excellent, as good if not better than any restaurant meal although the water was expensive and not included. The dessert was also excellent and I couldn’t eat another thing! Early on during dinner time I went up to the top deck so I could watch Venice pass by as we moved out along the edge of the island. It was wet and dark so my camera couldn’t really handle taking photos.
After dinner we had a small break in a lounge watching a pianist and two violists playing. Then I checked out the internet café and found it was too expensive to use. On the way back to our cabin we went up to the café that is open most of the day where you can help yourself to as much food and free water as you want to. I had to have a bowl of fruit salad which I really love. Later on a travel guide from Japan sat down at our table with a bowl of fruit salad and Daniel, coming back to our table assumed the food was what Amy had placed on the table so before I could stop him he picked up a grape from the plate! At the same time the Japanese gentleman arrived back. It was a funny way to meet someone.
Once the ship got out to sea it really started to rock around. I think our trip is one of the last for the season because the weather just gets too rough as the end of the year approaches. I went to sleep sometime after 11pm and woke up about four times during the night so that wasn’t too bad but at one stage we were rolling around so much I wondered if my stomach was going to handle it. The next day, Monday, we went for breakfast about 9am by which time it was difficult finding a table to sit at. This place is mayhem during meal times, like 2000 people all fighting for 300 seats. Actually there are half-a-dozen restaurants so it’s not that bad but it is difficult finding a place to sit when it is busy, usually we have to walk around the restaurant several times. It gets a bit frustrating when you do finally get you meal and then can’t find your way back to your table because they all look much the same and the room is so big. We tend to have breakfast and lunch on floor 13 which has two restaurants on each side and they are also split into two sections. You can walk around the entire deck through the restaurants and get back to where you started and they all look much the same. Some sort of sign designating where you are in the restaurant would be helpful. Today after getting lost several times I was sure I had made a mistake again and that I was at the wrong end of the ship but then I saw Karen and the kids at their table only about 10 metres away!
There is so much selection of food on board that you could spend your entire time eating. There were four different services for breakfast: one starting at 7am until 10am, buffet style; another 7:30am to 9:30am at a restaurant; another 10am until 11am, continental; and yet another, a croissant service between 8am and 12 noon. It’s crazy- you could even go to all four! For lunch there were two options, a buffet starting at 11:30am until 4:30pm, and also a more formal restaurant. For dinner we usually attended the first seating at our designated table; however, when we were in a rush we would just go to a buffet on a different floor. Once you had finished all that eating you could also have midnight snacks between 11:30pm and 12:30am! My sort of breakfast:
At 1pm we arrived at our first port, Bari, on the Adriatic Coast in south Italy. It’s on the ankle of the so called boot of Italy. We had no plans and simply wanted to walk around the old town. It was much warmer than in Germany, about 22’C, so it was pleasant not being cold for a change. We enjoyed a really good cappuccino and Amy and Karen also had an ice cream which I didn’t have any motivation to consume due to the huge array of cakes, muffins, pastries and other sweets I had eaten in the past 24 hours.
We got back to the ship around 4:30pm in plenty of time before departure and then Karen read 39 Clues to us before we went out for dinner at 6pm. Karen and Amy wore their new dresses.
Tuesday we lost an hour as we moved over the timeline. Around 2pm we arrived at our second port, Katakolon, which is the port for Olympia in Greece. We had intended to catch a train to Olympia however our time in the port was shortened by an hour and a half so we decided the trip would be too tight since it would take almost an hour each way and we had to be back on board around 5:30pm. The truth be told, we really couldn’t be bothered going to see some old stone remains since Athens was coming in a few days where we would see a lot. Also it was a lovely sunny day around 22-24’C and the kids really wanted to go for a swim. Kind of different to the 6 or 7’C in Berlin, so it was nice to have summer again. We did think of a taxi ride, 25 euros each way, which would have been okay, but the small port village looked nice enough for us to just want to walk around it and get a coffee. The main street, perhaps a ½ km long was back-to-back with touristy shops selling the usual touristy things except with a definite Greek flavour.
Once we walked the length we made a U-turn along the restaurant lined water front. It really felt like we had returned to Greece. Daniel was very excited by all the fish he could see in the water right next to the shore edge. Amy brought a Greek hat and Karen and I had our first iced-cappuccinos. I also made the most of the café’s WiFi and dealt with a few emails. On the way along the water front toward our ship I noticed a small hand-fishing line sitting on a pile of covered stuff. It was too inviting, line with hook and even bait and nice scissors that someone had either left there by mistake or placed there just for us to use. I had a quick go, then Daniel and then Amy wanted a quick go and amazingly she caught a tiny fish. If we had had longer I am sure Daniel would have got one as well but after Amy’s there was no point. Once you catch a fish and want to throw it back into the sea you have a small problem. How do you get these things off the hook? Karen bravely grabbed the tiny fish in her hands, which was a start, and then attempted to get the hook out of its mouth. In the end we called out to a guy walking along and he called out to someone else who came along and after a bit of effort saved the day. That was enough big time fishing for us – we wanted a swim.
Sadly by the time we got back to the ship the sun was racing away and the temperature was dropping. Not deterred Daniel and Amy got there togs on and jumped in the pool. It was quick dip and they were out to join Karen in the warmer spa.
Before we move onto next day I better show you some of the desserts we had for dinner. I must say the meals here are amazing. Even after this great food I still found room to go to our 13thfloor café and eat some more dessert with a cup of tea.
Wednesday was a brilliant day, my favourite on the cruise as we visited two special Greek islands, Santorini and Mykonos. Breakfast started with the usual walk around the four sectors of the restaurant in search of a table. After my second time around I found a table at the bow of the ship which was an excellent position to view the islands on both sides of the ship as we moved past them. Eventually the rest of the family found me and we ate a pretty sensible amount of food- I even started with cereal and resisted bacon and fried stuff. It was a bit of a mad rush at the end because we needed to get down to deck four to catch the boat to the shore. When we had initially boarded I had been spotted with my walking stick so magically we were allocated the first boat over to the Santorini Old Port. Karen and I had not made it to Santorini the first time we came to the Greek Islands so we were really looking forward to it. We were also excited for Amy and Daniel to see what the islands looked like with the white houses and blue doors. We had three choices to get to the town, Thira, at the top of the volcanic island. First we could walk it but it would be a challenge with tired kids and it was mighty steep. Second we could take donkey ride to the top but that had zero appeal to me. Thirdly we could go up by cable car which is the way we decided.
I didn’t have too much hope that the island could be a nice as my memories of Mykonos but I was wrong, both islands are beautiful in their own way and similar in building style which makes them so attractive. We walked along road with views of the mountain side and houses perched on it. I was pleased and relieved that Daniel and Amy thought it was pretty cool.
After about half an hour we decided to find out about a bus to the village of Oia located at the end of the island. I had been a little disappointed that we were not able to go on a tour to the village so when I found that the local bus went ever hour and only cost 1.60e per person each way I was thrilled. I had to mention that the toilets at the so called bus stop were surprisingly bad, on a par with toilets in remote Thailand. It was a bit of a gamble going to Oia as the locals in Thira, the town we arrived at from the ship, seemed to think there wasn’t much point going all the way as it was just the same as Thira.
The bus trip took about 20 minutes and when we arrived, the road side the bus dropped us off at wasn’t particularly wonderful and I thought maybe I had made a bad decision. Eventually when Karen and Amy had finished looking at the shop they somehow were drawn into I pushed us down the road a little and around a corner hoping to find something more attractive (than the bus stop car park). Not long later I was put at ease. Oia is another fabulously white-housed village with photo opportunities at every corner. Here are some photos:
The photos speak for themselves. I think this was the first place in our entire trip, apart from Rome, that Daniel wants to come back to again someday. It really was getting hot and the kids were being vocal about how they felt so we caught the bus back to Thira and then made our way back to the Old Port.
This time we walked down the mountain side which was quite an experience. Initially you have what feels like dozens of older Greek men jumping out at you to try to convince you to take a donkey ride down the hillside for 5 or 4 euros each and then after that you encounter a hundred or so poor donkeys standing on the path in the sun. The path down the hillside was one gigantic set of cobble stone stairs covered in donkey manure. After the first few donkeys the novelty wore off and they were just in the way. We met a couple from New Zealand walking down the steps to the wharf and later when Karen and I paused; Daniel and Amy kept racing on with them. We decided it was okay to let them disappear out of view as we could still hear them most of the time. The New Zealand couple had recently shifted to Australia and sure sounded like Australians but we thought the kids could cope with that. By the time we reached the bottom of the stairs my calf muscles were practically in spasms and I could barely move my legs. I was very glad we didn’t attempt to walk up them when we arrived. If we had it would have been the only thing we did and the kids certainly would have a different opinion of Santorini.
Back on board we enjoyed lunch in the nice cool restaurant where we recovered from our exercise and stocked up on our carbs. Somehow we needed to have the energy to visit Mykonos in the evening. Daniel was absolutely tired, he hadn’t been able to eat much breakfast because he was so tired when he got up that morning, and now after a busy morning he really needed a rest – well his parents thought so anyway, so after lunch we forced the kids to try to have an hour sleep. By that time it was 3:15pm and then before I knew it, it was 4:30pm so I woke everyone up. It took a while to wake up and then Karen and Amy went for a swim while Daniel and I walked around the ship.
Since we were arriving in Mykonos around 7:30pm the ship only had one open sitting for dinner at the L’Oleandro restaurant so we got there shortly before it opened at 6pm so we could get going and leave early. It was delightful to see a couple we had briefly met a few days earlier from Argentina so we had dinner with them. I found a new appreciation for our usual waiter as the guy we had that night didn’t seem to communicate well with us and at times we thought he must have forgotten us – the food was so slow coming out. Nonetheless we had a fabulous time chatting with our new found friends. Dinner wasn’t as good as normal, probably not because of the food but more the fact that we had docked and I wanted to get going. Our friends decided they wanted to get to their bus so left without dessert but I really couldn’t leave without mine. It was worth waiting for!
We had planned to walk from the port to thetown as I had been told it was only about a 20 minute walk and the chartered buses the ship arranged would cost us 30 euros to go the short distance! In the end, after speaking with a few more people I reluctantly decided to pay the bucks and go on one of the chartered buses for safety as the road was not lit and narrow in places. But outside the ship on the wharf someone we had met on Santorini thought a taxi might only cost 10 euros each way so we went outside the port gates and low in behold we found a local bus which only charged 1.60 each, each way! So in total it cost us 12.80 euros compared to the 30 euros the ship was charging everyone! By the way Daniel timed the trip home – 4 minutes by bus! We had a pleasant couple of hours walking around Mykonos town and to the windmills on the hill. Unfortunately again due to darkness I couldn’t take any photos. It was well worth the effort and we were glad we had made the trip to the town. Karen and the kids weren’t in bed until about 11pm and then I went down stairs to listen to the pianist playing for an hour or so while I worked on our blog. By 20 past midnight I decided it was time to head up to floor 13 for a snack before going to bed. It would be an early start the next day so I couldn’t stay up all night ….
I will split this week’s blog into two parts since it is so long. You can read Part B here at http://www.travellingeuropewithkids.com/week-38b-cruise-part-b/
(Week 38A: Saturday, 3 November 2012 – Wednesday, 8 November 2012)