July 31, 2006

Day 4 - Nikko Japan

While Kris worked, I took a day tour to Nikko. We took the hairpin turns of Irohazaka to reach Nikko National Park, enjoy lunch overlooking Lake Chuzen-ji, visit the splendid Kegon falls, and marvel at the shrines.

Tokugawa Iemitsu built the Taiyuin-byo Shrine (1653) for his own mausoleum and the Tosho-gu Shrine (1634) for the mausoleum of his grandfather Tokugawa Ieyasur. His intent (successful!) was to impress upon any rivals the wealth and power of the Tokugawa family.

July 30, 2006

Day 3 - Atami and Hakone Museum of Art

Kris started the morning by following the careful instructions for enjoying the "onsen" or hot spring bath e.g., "wash thoroughly before entering and NEVER bring soap with you into the onsen itself". He enjoyed the experience but I desperately needed the sleep!

We enjoyed another lavishly prepared Japanese meal - breakfast - with our hosts followed by a self-guided audio tour of the very interesting Showa Shell Museum.

After saying our goodbyes to one couple, the other couple drove us to the fabulous Museum of Art in Hakone. The art of woodblock printing, the Noh Theatre (always has a pine tree on the back stage) replica, and the golden tea house were several of the highlights.

We were then taken to the Takashimaya department store for some shopping and a delicious tempura meal. Then we were driven to our hotel (Grand Pacific Meridien) in Daiba.

July 29, 2006

Day 2 - Atami Japan

We arrived at Narita airport where it took several hours to get through the immigration process. We got excellent directions from the information booth at the airport and began our train journey to Atami. Atami is on the Izu Peninsula and a resort area near Tokyo. We did not arrive at the Showa Shell guest house until 8:30 pm.

We showered quickly as our hosts were waiting (Japanese normally eat at 7 pm). We ate one exquisitely prepared dish after another from 9 pm until 11:30 pm. Our hosts were patient and gracious as we had so many questions.

At the end of the meal, we were shown the onsen (hot springs) and given some specific instructions and encouraged to use them the next morning. Then, it was on to the beautiful room with plans to eat breakfast at 7:30 am the next day.

July 28, 2006

Day 1 - London to Tokyo via Bangkok

Thai Airways was our most economical option. Suffice it to say, it took MANY hours to reach Tokyo via Bangkok. But it was great value and we would not hesitate to fly Thai Airways again.

July 16, 2006

Day 15 - Rome to London

We took the bus to the Sunday Market which was a complete waste – repetitive and junky. In order to take advantage of the free shuttle from the hotel to the airport, we had to get to the airport much earlier than necessary. Our flight was delayed. When we finally arrived in London, there was a baggage handling strike and we waited over 2 hours for our luggage. We splurged on the Gatwick Express and then took a taxi home from Victoria to Kew. A bit cranky, are we?

July 15, 2006

Day 14 - Rome and SCAVI Tour

We were picked up by our driver in Citavecchia where the Princess berthed. It was extremely fortunate that we had arranged for a driver since there was a taxi strike on in Rome. He drove us to Plaza Garibaldi and our hotel (Crowne Plaza – very nice) near Travestere. He then took us to St. Peter-in-Chains, the Catacombes, Colosseum and Pallatine Hill, SCAVI Tour (only 200 people allowed per day – with serious guards), St Peter’s Basilica, past Sophia Loren’s former home, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and numerous other sites.

July 14, 2006

Day 13 - Naples and the Amalfi Coast Italy

The Amalfi Coast stretches from Sorrento to Salerno.

Pompeii (and Herculaneum) were destroyed and buried by a volcanic eruption in 79AD. This catastrophe killed 2000 people but preserved a unique look at their way of life.

Our guide was knowledgeable but advised us to visit the coast first, take a leisurely lunch, and visit Pompeii last. We would have preferred to visit Pompeii first when it was cooler, taken a quick lunch, and cut the Amalfi coast drive shorter if needed.

July 13, 2006

Day 12 - At Sea

I thought I would resent wasting time “at sea” but by now we really appreciated it! Even the yoga class seemed strenuous at this point, and we spent most of the day getting our much needed rest.

July 12, 2006

Day 11 - Santorini Greece

We took the funicular up the steep mountain to get into the town of Fira. There we rented a car and drove around the island which is only 23 miles long. The houses are perched high up on the cliffs. We visited a winery with an awesome view, walked up to a church, bought cookies and pistachios at a local bakery, ate lunch at Marios on the beach (fresh 2.5 kg fish for 75€) and shopped in the town of Oia. Katie, Kris and I walked the long switchback down to the tender. Occasionally we were within kicking range of the donkeys, got swiped on the head with a tail and nearly slipped on donkey dung – but the views were worth it.

July 11, 2006

Day 10 - Rhodes Greece

Rhodes was a lazy day. Leisurely breakfast in the dining room and eventually we got into town about 10. Rhodes is a beautiful walled city on the Aegean Sea. We bought some soaps and ties and then returned to the ship for lunch in the dining room.

July 10, 2006

Day 9 - Ephesus Turkey

In sharp contrast to Nic in Athens, Denis of Sisantours was very enthusiastic, and the tour was $45 pp including lunch and a nice tip. He guided us for 4 hours through Efes which was much more crowded than our last tour with Pacha Tours. In the arena, someone sang an impromptu "Amazing Grace" and the acoustics (and her voice) were fabulous. Efes (aka Ephesus) was one of the largest cities of the time.

Later, Nic drove us to Virgin Mary house, took us inside a mosque, to a ceramics demonstration and leather fashion show, and on a short detour to view an aqueduct in the hills. He dropped some of us off in the shopping area and others at the port (plenty of duty free shopping opportunities there). We thought this tour was excellent!

July 09, 2006

Day 8 - Mykonos Greece

We took the shuttle with Aunt Gloria and Jan to Mykonos. Although the town was only 1.2 miles from the ship, the roads were too narrow to walk. Kris dragged us up the hills and then I dragged him down to Little Venice and to the Internet café (where he enjoyed a scenic beer). The town had white washed adobe houses with bright blue doors, lovely seaside, wave-lapped homes and windmills.

July 08, 2006

Day 7 - Athens Greece

Jan hired a “driver” (Nic from greektaxi) for ~$40 pp. He was a mechanical engineer and somewhat indifferent – always asking us where we wanted to go. He drove us past the olympic stadium, presidential palace, Syntagma Square and some other sights before dropping us off at the Acropolis (“High City” including the Parthenon, Propylea, Temple of Athena Nike, Erectheion and Museum). We bought our own tickets and toured on our own, enjoying the site, views and museum. Kris and I walked through the Ancient Agora, museum, and small Zeus temple (also saw a tortoise).

We walked into the Plaka (town) for lunch AND a phone charger. We all met at Starbucks near the Mitropoli Cathedral and Nic then drove us up to the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Theatre of Dionysus. He then drove us up to the monastery – we did not climb up to the monastery but the view was spectacular.

July 07, 2006

Day 6 - Olympia Greece

Katakolon is perched on the west coast of Peloponnesus, Greece’s largest peninsula (population 300). We took the ship tour that started at 7:45 am. We met in the Princess lounge where we taken out quite efficiently to our bus (there were about 25 buses with 45 people plus one guide per bus). Our tour guide was an “archaeologist” with a university degree. She was trained not for “digging” but for guiding. She was excellent and knew a lot. She guided us through the ruins and then through the museum. The Olympic Village was touristy and small. We enjoyed the tour overall at ~ $59 pp.

July 06, 2006

Day 5 - Corfu Greece

Jan rented a 6-seater van and Tom drove. Corfu lies between Italy and Albania on the Ionian Sea. We visited the Achilleion Palace and gardens, which Kris and I enjoyed. Then we drove to Glyfada Beach for a nice lunch and a dip (I dipped my toes, Kris swam) in the Ionian Sea. We ended in town but it was siesta time and only the souvenir stores were open.

July 05, 2006

Day 4 - Dubrovnik Croatia

We “climbed the walls” for spectacular views around the city on the Dalmatian coast. Lots of stairs but it was worth it. Dubrovnik suffered during the Croatian War of Independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 – bullet holes and new roofs as evidence. We roamed about, visiting a variety of sights from our guidebook. We bought wine and water from a local supermarket, ate a nice lunch on a street café, admired the local cats and later enjoyed a beer plus 30 minutes Internet café for 4€. Katie tested the waters from the onofria (well).