I jumped in bed half-an-hour after mid-night on Thursday night after a lame supper and had a pretty good sleep, waking only about three times before 6am when the ship’s heavy vibrating and rocking woke me up. The rocking wasn’t too bad but the vibrating felt like a jackhammer breaking rocks. I contemplated getting up but in the end fell back to sleep in time to wake up just before 7am. It would have been good to start early as the ship docked around that time and we could have done with much longer in Athens. I was at breakfast not long after 7:30am which was excellent because there were plenty of tables along the window with a good view of the Piraeus port – not the most exciting view but still of some interest. It was the first time in this cruise that I haven’t had to race around in search of a table so a nice peaceful start to the day. About quarter of an hour later the kids and Karen found me – the end of a peaceful day … joking, it’s not much fun having breakfast by yourself.

By the way this blog is about the last half of our cruise, if you missed the first half then you can read Part A at http://www.travellingeuropewithkids.com/week-38a-cruise-part-a/

It was pretty cloudy and as we stepped out of the ship it felt cold and windy so we turned around and went back to our cabin to fetch our jackets. I think we finally made it off the ship around 8:40am so much later than I had hoped but we didn’t have to be back on the ship until 3pm so we had enough time. We began our journey to the train station and then we were told that the trains were on strike so we would need to catch a bus. On the way to the bus station we found a hop-on-hop-off bus and for 54 euros decided our day would be much easier if we went on it.

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I was glad I had my woollen hat with me because it was freezing in the wind. This was not the weather I expected after such a hot day on the islands the day before. The bus took about 30 minutes from Piraeus, one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the busiest ports in the world, into Athens. The commentary of the few sights along the way was ultra-boring, pretty much highlighting the various buildings used for the 2004 Olympic Games. In Athens the bus dropped us at the Acropolis where we spent an hour or so in the cold looking around.

The Acropolis and nearby Theatre Of Dionysos, constructed some 400 or so years BC, were the main two sights we wanted the kids to see in Athens. The amphitheatre looks impressive. It could seat up to 17,000 people.

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During this trip I have lost count of the number of times I have told Daniel to not climb on things so today was special day when the authorities kindly reinforced my continuous nagging. Karen and I were walking a little behind Daniel who was climbing up the path ahead taking the rough road rather than the usual road. In the photo here of Amy you can see Daniel in the background just in front of the marble pillars and stone wall:

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This is the entrance leading to the Acropolis, referred to as a Propylaia, of which, it is thought that construction began in 437 BC some 2500 years ago. Of course there were no signs directly in front of Daniel saying do not touch so he continued up the levels feeling a sense of pride when he reached the top where I think he made some sort of victory stance that he had beaten us up and a claim that he was the king! That of course drew the attention of the security guards who looked on with horror at this kid dancing around on their national treasure! So whistles starting to blow and the guards started to shout at him in Greek demanding that he got off!

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Daniel looked around not comprehending fast enough what was going on and what exactly he should do! Should he walk along further into the marble structure to reach the rope that was preventing people from the path stepping on to the area or should he climb back down over the structure to where he had had been! Karen and I looked on trying to work out if we should run and hide and disclaim any relationship with him; or should we call out to help and give him directions as to how to get out of the spot. I decided on the latter and joined in with the security guards shouting at him to come back down to us, well not totally to us but back in our direction. Well that was embarrassing for us all … When we walked back up the normal path there were signs everywhere telling people not to even touch the marble let alone climb on it! Okay Daniel, from now on please don’t climb on anything.

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Well that behind us we continued up to the Acropolis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acropolis_of_athens) . Two of the major buildings with archaeological remains are the Parthenon and the Old Temple of Athena. Both are temples dedicated to the maiden goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. The Old Temple was destroyed in 480 BC by the Persians and then later in 447 BC construction began on the Parthenon.

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The view from the Acropolis:

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After the Acropolis we got on the tour bus (www.citysightseeing.gr) and went on the 90 minute loop around the city, briefly seeing some of the sights. The audio content wasn’t all that interesting and I think it would have been better to just use a guide book. However the sights are spread out a bit and the roads between the m look rough and dirty so the bus would have been a good idea if you had time to get off at some of the sights to take a look around on foot and then resume the tour by bus. In our case we were pushed for time so it was probably better than nothing. A couple of sights I spotted as we drove past in less than a minute, were Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus. It was a shame we couldn’t take any time to see them properly.

20121112 PC Wk38 Cruise 20121108_124208_1024x616The hop-on-hop-off bus back to the port details half-a-dozen sights but none of them were of interest to me. In fact for the whole bus tour I think the most fascinating thing was the way the commentator explained the state of ruin of the modern buildings. Athens is one place you have to visit but it’s a dive, dirty, graffiti ridden, full of buildings that fell apart in the 70’s or 80’s and still haven’t had any care or maintenance on them. The solid flow of graffiti on buildings and even monuments was a disgrace. I could not believe the sight of some of the otherwise-beautiful old (as in 300 years not 30) buildings covered in black and red graffiti! It is as if no one in Athens takes pride in their city, except of course the security guards at the Acropolis.

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We arrived back on the ship just before 3pm and had a relaxing afternoon; well I worked on this blog anyway and then finished just before 6pm when I went for dinner.

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In the evening we went to a fantastic show called “The Young Samuri” a mix of storytelling, dance, magic tricks, acrobatics, and juggling. I was surprised I enjoyed it so much. The magic tricks included one of a disappearing women, and also one where a women had a sheet over her for a split second and then when it was removed she was gone and a man stood there. The acrobatics and performance of a man and a woman on a swing suspended about 10 metres above the ground was amazing and the best I have ever seen. The photos below are from the 007 show we went to another night:

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The next day we didn’t arrive at Corfu until just after 1pm so we were able to at last relax in the morning and catch our breath after a busy couple of days. It must have been the first time in a long time that I lay in the sun doing nothing. Although it was difficult making myself get up from the deck chair we made it off the ship just before 2pm and then caught a local bus into town which was nearby. It was a lovely sunny day and good to be wandering around again. As usual we were inundated with watch sellers that had the deal for us. The price for a watch starts at 20 euros and drops to 10 euros fast. In the end we brought two, one for Karen and one for Amy, for 14 euros. I noticed coming into the harbour on the ship that the buildings looked magnificent. Although grand, up close they needed a bit of a paint job but unlike Athens I don’t think I saw any graffiti. In some ways the cobble-stoned streets reminded me of old town Nice with wider streets, however I think the buildings here are a different style.

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We didn’t have anything planned but when I saw McD’s I decided to check my emails so we got a coffee and waited for the slow internet to do its thing. Next we went to a café down the road to buy gyros, like donar-kebabs but with french-fries included inside the bread. We then walked to the old fortress and enjoyed walking around in the remaining sun of the day.

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On Saturday we went to a new country for us – Croatia. We docked at the port of the medieval city of Dubrovnik around 1pm. I enjoyed seeing the city as we approached, it is nested in hilly yet lovely country side and the city looks magnificent from the harbour. It has a population of about 43,000. We caught a local bus from the port to just outside the Old City. Already I was impressed with the modern city before even setting foot in the Old City. The bus trip along the hillside reminded me of the bus trip from Nice to Monaco. Then the minute we walked into the Old City I was amazed at the sight, it was like we had walked through a time gate going back 300 or 400 years. Here are some photos which do better to explain what it was like:

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We enjoyed walking around, we had a wonderful cappuccino to begin with, to get access to toilets, and then we wandered the old streets every now and again bumping into people we recognised from the ship. Dubrovnik’s Old City is surrounded by a 2 km wall and has several entry points. Facing out toward the Old City harbour is a gate which we walked through to sit in the sun and eat our lunch.

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There wasn’t a lot we felt we had to do except enjoy walking around in the sun so we went back to the ship as our final boarding time was set at 1pm. We really liked our brief visit to Dubrovnik. It was so clean and vibrant. It virtually had no graffiti which was a stark contrast to Athens. As our ship left port we moved past the impressive looking cable-stayed Franjo Tudman Bridge which reminded me of the bridge we saw in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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This is our waiter who served us in the formal restaurant on the ship:

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On Sunday we had to vacate our cabin by 7am which meant getting up rather early and taking our carry-on cases to breakfast with us. On the best of days it had been difficult to find a table to sit at so I figured that with everyone heading for breakfast at the same time, along with their hand baggage, we had better be going before 7am. I found a table with a view around 6:30am, so we could see Venice as we entered port, and Karen and the kids joined me around 6:45am. Not a bad effort.

Venice was fairly badly flooded and as our ship moved pass the streets that were familiar to us we marvelled at the sights. St Mark’s square was evidently more than a metre underwater and later we found some of our friends had to wait around off the ship for the water levels to drop before they could reach their hotels whose entrances were as much as 1.5 metres underwater.

We stretched out breakfast as long as we could bear by eating much more than usual and then we went to the designated lounge-waiting-area. Sometime around 11am we were finally told we could leave the ship and collect the bags we had put out the night before for customs. I had mixed feelings leaving the ship. The cruise was much more enjoyable than I expected it to be; we had quick visits to lovely ports and nearby towns, we had met some nice people, we had eaten too well, but I decided I was pleased to be moving on.

(Week 38: Saturday, 3 November 2012 – Sunday 11 November 2012)