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Norm Blackburn
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Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Norm at
alohanrm@comcast.net
Norm and Nancy Blackburn live in Santa Rosa, California. Before moving to Santa Rosa they lived in Hawaii for three decades. They are avid travelers. Following is the report of their recent cruise to Greece and Turkey.
We decided to take a Greek Island cruise to see where modern civilization and democracy started. Here are a few observations.

Day 1 En route
I think we set a marathon record from San Francisco to Athens via Frankfurt. It took almost 17 hours plus a four-hour layover in Frankfurt. There is a ten-hour time difference between Greece and California.
Day 2 Athens
This morning we woke to a balmy and breezy day. After breakfast we went into the heart of Athens and took a walking tour by ourselves. The city is busy but we are told it’s relatively quiet now since August is the time when everyone has gone on vacation. The temperature is normally around 100 F but it is only in the 80s today.
Greece is hard to navigate because of the language and street signs. I think the early Greeks gave children crayons and let them scribble and then called it a language. If it weren’t for the college fraternities and sororities the language never would have survived.
We saw the high-stepping guards with red pom poms on their shoes at the Parliament building and then we visited the old churches and mosques. Lots of history here!
Of course we got lost on several side streets and were accosted by shopkeepers offering us the best prices in Greece and the entire Western World. We always try to buy a charm of the countries we visit for Nancy’s bracelet. We finally found one of the Parthenon for a price that seemed fair but was probably twice what we would have to pay if we were better bargainers.
Had lunch at a lovely tree covered outdoor restaurant in the Plaka, which is a tourist area near the Acropolis. We had two large glasses of Alpha, the local beer and a Greek salad for Nancy and a lamb dish for me, both with lots of feta cheese.
Back now at our hotel for a rest and cocktails before setting off for dinner at a taverna. We went to the old industrial district in central Athens, which has been revitalized. Like most Europeans, the Greeks eat late so we were the first at to arrive at Mamacas. This is a beautiful outdoor restaurant with white chairs and tables and twinkling lights and good Greek food. We would recommend Mamacas the next time you are in Athens.
So far we are impressed by Athens. It is clean and although busy with speeding cabs and mopeds, seemingly safe for tourists like us.
Day 3 Athens
This morning the sun broke warm and continued until it reached a bit over 90. But much to our pleasure there was a slight breeze and no smog. In this city that was known as one of the most polluted in Europe. Hosting the 2004 Olympics provided the incentive for the clean up and modernization of Athens. We still see a lot of graffiti and the sidewalks could use a good power wash. One has to watch their step between the broken pavement and traffic that seems to ignore any speed limit or direction.
We had our usual breakfast on the terrace on the Club level. We certainly made the right decision in paying a bit more to be on this floor. They have a hot breakfast buffet and an open bar with canapés in the afternoon.
As we had our croissants with jam we could see the object of today’s activity, the mighty Acropolis. It seemed to challenge us to climb its walls to reach the top of the plateau where the Parthenon and other relics reside. We had read how daunting the climb is and the best time to go is early before the heat of the day. We didn’t get our act together until about nine and took a taxi to the base of the Acropolis. Nancy and I took along our walking sticks anticipating a steep climb. The driver stopped at a barricade and apparently told the police that his passengers were disabled. I held up my stick to confirm and the police opened the roadblock and up we went about a third of the way. Nice cab driver!
We purchased tickets and the climb began. It was crowded with several tour groups following their leader’s flags. So many languages were spoken; we thought the United Nations might have moved here. To our relief there were many handrails and despite the uneven stairs and rocky paths, the climb was relatively easy. Sort of like a long uphill par 5.
We couldn’t help but admire the people who built these ancient temples and despite wars and fires and re-builds the buildings have lasted over the centuries. Of course the original Parthenon is long gone and another rebuilt in its place, but this was a look into the very distant past and a sobering one. To us, this ranked right up there with the pyramids and the Brooklyn Bridge as one of man’s engineering miracles.
After the trip down we visited the nearby New Acropolis Museum. What a place! It is brand new and built to the exact same size as the Parthenon. The columns are of stainless steel and around the walls are relics and reproductions of the original carvings. The main level has a glass floor so you can see down to the excavated ruins. One of the main purposes of building this museum was to convince the British that they should give Greece back the many artifacts that Lord Elgin "borrowed". Those we talked to said this is unlikely. Even though we were tired, this was a great place to visit and have a light lunch.
To get back to our hotel we decided to take the new underground Metro. We had only one stop but got lost anyway. A very nice lady stopped and gave us directions. We have found the Greeks to be very friendly. Waiters, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, even strangers all have a sincere smile and a helpful conversation for us. Although we heard many languages, English is spoken everywhere. If only they would ban smoking!! Everyone seems to smoke here. Restaurants usually have non-smoking areas but the smell is hard to get away from.
Back for a nap and then a plan for dinner. We returned to the Plaka and wound up at the place we had lunch on Wednesday. The same table and the same waiter. Nicko, our waiter, although busy found the time to chat with us and give us some local insights. I asked him where he would like to travel and he said California for the surfing, Miami and Hawaii. He made these choices after watching Gidget, CSI Miami, and reruns of Hawaii 5-0. We needed a taxi and the first one wanted 10 Euros. A bit much (about $14) for a drive under ten minutes. We found a taxi with a meter and paid four Euros including tip.
Our day ended with a glass of wine on the Club terrace looking over the conquered Acropolis.
Day 4 On Board
Today we board the Regent Seven Seas Navigator. We had to talk our way onto the bus, as the Regent representative didn’t have us on the list. She made an exception. This was the first of many nice things the Regent was to offer.
We were escorted right onto the ship with no waiting. While we registered and as our cabin (they call them suites) was being made ready we enjoyed a glass of Champagne. We were shown to our suite and there was a plate of fruit and an ice bucket of Champagne. Our stewardess asked if we would like a bottle of wine and or liquor for our suite. They brought a liter of Grey Goose vodka and a liter of Tangueray gin. This is an all-inclusive ship. All drinks are free and they don’t ask for your room number at every turn. Charges are made only for the casino and gift shop and if you want a really expensive wine. Water, soft drinks and beer are replenished daily in our refrigerator. A nice change from past cruises. Also the off ship excursions, airfare and tips all are included built into the price of the cruise.
We met a very nice Austin Texas couple at dinner. The food was delicious and we chatted until after ten. Our excursion for tomorrow was cancelled because of a national religious holiday – the ascension of the Virgin Mary. I asked the tour desk how they could have missed a 2,000-year-old event.
Day 5 Naupilon
A wonderful night’s sleep with our jet lag behind us. Our suite is spacious with a king size bed, walk in closet, sitting area with two chairs a table and couch, separate bathtub and shower, flat screen TV and a balcony. In all it measures 330 square feet. The ship holds 450 passengers and just about as many crewmembers.
We toured the port city of Naupilon on our own. A walk through the shops and then a cold Alpha beer on the waterfront. They have outdoor cafes catering to the locals as well as the tourists. We took the tender back to the ship for a light lunch and a quick dip in the salt-water pool to cool off.
We have dinner tonight in the Portofino restaurant, the only reservation restaurant on board. The food is exceptional with at least five courses. Being an Italian restaurant, we had antipasti, which is served from a buffet about twenty feet long with choices of salads, cheeses, olives, and lots of other inviting morsels. The main course is served at the table and includes zuppa, a pasta course, a main course of either ossobuco, grilled scallops, lobster, calamari and shrimp or fresh local Greek swordfish. Of course, you could also choose tournedos of beef or half a chicken or eggplant lasagna. There were six selections for the Dolci course, plus Italian wines. All of this on the Weight Watchers Diet plan. Sure! The wine steward is quite knowledgeable about California wines and we traded notes about our favorites.
The Captain delayed our departure from Naupilon so we could watch the fireworks display in honor of the Virgin Mary. This diversion was typical of our Captain.
We go to bed as we sail the Aegean Sea to Santorini.
Day 6 Santorini
We ordered breakfast in our cabin, oops, I mean suite, since we had an early tour. Then onto a tender for the ten minute trip to shore. Santorini is an island that was made into a crescent after a volcano blew the center out. The highest point is well above sea level affording panoramic views of the whole beautiful island. The landscape reminded us of Hawaii’s Big Island with many layers of lava. Houses, big and small are perched on the steep hillsides. As you probably know Santorini is famous for its white houses and blue domed roofs. Actually not all the houses have blue roofs but most have half round white roofs.
The villages we passed through were really small collections of houses and hotels. Some have “infinity” pools and decks extending out over the cliffs. This is a tourist island so the villages all have restaurants and tourist shops selling everything from post cards to clothes and jewelry. Again the shopkeepers were very nice and not a bit pushy. We saw people from all over Europe and Asia, not just Americans.
They grow a lot of wine grapes here. The vines are close to the ground and spaced far apart. They told us that the grape leaves get most of their moisture from the humidity since there is little rain and no water table. There are some wells but not enough water for agriculture. We saw a few laborers picking grapes but we think the harvest is a month or two away.
We also saw pumice mines, which produced much of the pumice for the Panama Canal. Who knew they used pumice? The included lunch was at a nice restaurant where local wine and tomato fritters were the specialties. The day was hot and we climbed many stairs and paths. I think we did as much uphill walking as we did in Athens.
To get back down to the pier and catch the tender we had our choice of donkey or cable car. The cable car ride proved to be faster and more comfortable. By this time the sea had become pretty rough and the tender rocked and rolled. We tied up to our ship and people started to make the transition. Nancy was the last one off before the bowline came loose and we drifted away. I was still on the tender. After about twenty minutes of maneuvering we were able to successfully pull alongside and the rest of us boarded. A thrill a minute!
We shared our dinner table with some very nice people from the Midwest. Another gourmet menu in the Compass Rose, the main dining room. There is open seating so you have a different table each night. The food and service was what you would expect in a five star restaurant.
I should stop here and tell you we had a shock when we boarded in Athens. We found that the captain, Aage Hoddevik, is the same fellow as we had on our South America cruise on the Marco Polo and also on a NCL Baltic Sea cruise we took a few years ago. We haven’t had a chance to see him yet but have heard his familiar voice on the announcements. By the way, they keep the announcements to a bare minimum. This morning there were no announcements on the tour departures. The captain speaks only once a day for a brief time. When we go on an excursion we meet in the showroom and get a bus assignment. No stickers to wear.
We ended the day in the lounge with a group of six new friends. Ouzo all around! We could only finish half a glass and then to bed.
Day 7 Kusadasi and Ephesus
Today we reach Kusadasi, Turkey. The ship docks at the pier so we don’t have to deal with the tender. We again have breakfast in our cabin in order to make the 8:30 departure. Our bus had only 19 people and a very good lady guide.
We drove to Ephesus, which is a major, ruins area dating back to the 3rd century BC. The Roman buildings have been slowly restored but 85% are the original columns and temples. There are baths, a huge library that is now only columns and a few steps and a partial floor. We sat on the ancient toilets that originally were for men only. Those Romans would get in a lot of trouble today. The remains of an amphitheater that holds 25,000 people is here. It is still used by such as Elton John and the Italian tenors. An amazing place.
It was very hot today with the temperature up to 100. Midway through the tour our ship had cold towels and a small orchestra for us. A nice touch. There were several other tour groups from other ships but there were not throngs of people. The two ships in port with us are the Windstar and a two thousand-passenger liner out of London.
Our tour ended with a very interesting demonstration of Turkish rug making. Beautiful rugs that were, guess what, all for sale. Actually they looked very nice and a 3x6 rug sold for about $250 including shipping. We resisted the temptation.
After a lunch of cold salmon and a Heineken, a salad and ice tea,
In a seaside restaurant, we are back on board.
The dinner BBQ around the pool was truly amazing with a table of seafood, one with cheeses, one with salads one with cold cuts and the hot grill served steak, chicken, ribs and sausages. Waiters came around with whatever beverages you wanted. Again, this is an all-inclusive cruise so no chits to sign or waters to tip. After dinner the dance band played. We went to a lounge for an after BBQ drink.
When we arrived back at our cabin there was a note asking us to join the captain on the bridge tomorrow evening for a Rhodes sail away. We have no idea why we are selected for this except we mentioned to a crew member yesterday that we had sailed with this captain twice before.
Day 8 Rhodes
Today we are in Rhodes. We know that because when we walk down the gangplank they are singing, “On the Rhodes again”. Sorry, Willie Nelson!
We took the five-hour culinary delights tour. An old fortress with walls about thirty feet high surrounds the harbor. Our guide shows us the mosaic floors that are not reproductions but the real thing. It is said the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven ancient wonders stood nearby. We leave the port by bus and climb Mount Smith (an ancient Greek?) for a panoramic view of the island and the Aegean Sea.
We descend to the “old city’ and tour the Grand Master’s Palace. This is where the crusaders once occupied inns. The Street of Knights is a narrow alleyway, which now houses the French council and several other foreign offices.
Our tour ends with lunch in a typical taverna. We are the only group there and the owner stands behind his table to demonstrate the preparation of his local menus. Then they bring out the dishes, which are much more than we can eat and all the local wine we can drink. Our guide says that the owner is unhappy that we don’t finish our plates so we assure him the cooking is fine but the portions are too large. We leave with pages of his recipes.
When we return to the ship we have a short nap and then join the captain and about six other guests on the bridge for the 7:00 PM departure. We have a chance to tell captain Hoddevik that we were with him on the Marco Polo around South America and on the NCL Dream for the Baltic Sea cruise. We have a nice chat about both trips. The bridge is amazing with everything done by computer. The ship is steered by a “joystick” about two inches long. The First Mate complains that it squeaks! We stay for about 45 minutes and make our way aft for dinner.
Portofino, the Italian restaurant is by reservation only but we dropped by to see if they had an opening. We were asked to return about 8:30 for a table. We did and were given the same table we had the first night we were there. In order to start using up our credit we ordered a $130 bottle of Duckhorn merlot. I think we were the last to leave. The chief, the sommelier, the waiter and the maitre d’, all signed our menu.
When we returned to our room with a half full wine glass from dinner and after a half hour jazz show we found another invitation. We are to dine at the captain’s table tomorrow night. I think they have us confused with someone else.
Day 9 Mykonos
We anchor off Mykonos Harbor early in the morning. Breakfast in our suite again. Too bad the captain can’t join us. A tender takes us to the pier and we board a bus for a tour of the island. The local guides on this cruise are very well versed and speak excellent English. Most of them have been to the U.S. and studied at our schools. Today we visit a monastery. Mykonos isn’t very large but has several white sand beaches. They are much smaller than beaches in Hawaii but have thatched umbrellas and free lounge chairs. The beachgoers are still asleep as the party people stay up until three or four in the morning.
The houses are all white. That’s the law if you want to get power to your house, which incidentally, is brought in by cable. In the winter months the winds blow in from Africa bringing sand that turns the houses a tan color. Each house is then repainted white. The color of the door is optional but most are blue or red. There are several old windmills on the hillsides but none in working condition. We do see one big wind generator on top of the highest hill. There are several luxury hotels and many smaller less expensive ones. Also we see a number of expensive homes. The whole island looks clean and tidy.
We tour a Greek Orthodox Church that is still in use. They claim to have a relic from Jesus’ time that they parade around the town twice a year. Gold rings and necklaces that the women contribute and are auctioned off each year to support the church and new jewelry that is donated surround the panel in which the relic is framed.
We then return to the port and are taken through narrow winding alleyways to an old bakery where they still make barley bread in a wood burning oven. The town is loaded with jewelry shops and souvenir stores. Nancy buys a very expensive necklace and I get a golf cap! We have lunch in a pier side restaurant and board the tender for our return to the Navigator.
Tonight we have diner at the captain’s table. I sit next to Elda Pauluzza, the assistant cruise director. She is in charge of all the passenger activities. Nancy is across and a few seats down from the captain. At our table is a couple from Atlanta and a family including a seven year old. They have had many voyages on Regent and this is the boy’s fourth cruise. We still think they have mixed us up with someone else. Guess Captain Aage remembers us and likes to reminisce about past cruises. We choose from the same menu as everyone else in the Compass Rose restaurant. The wine that is served from a decanter is very good, Maybe Duckhorn. I wonder if he paid $130 for it?
After a wonderful dinner we repair to the Galileo’s lounge for an after dinner drink and a dance. A memorable day on the Navigator.
Day 10 Istanbul
We sail into Istanbul before lunch. We approach this huge city with his mosques and minarets. From our balcony we see high-rises and a very active harbor. We have lunch and are ready for a tour around the city.
Our tour starts at the Blue Mosque. It is a very large building with a dome and towers. The “blue” name comes from the 20,000 tiles inlayed on the walls and ceilings and the 260 stained-glass windows. Men with shorts, like me, are requested to wear a wrap so our knees don’t show. Women must wear some sort of head covering. There is a large area for worship. The entire floor is carpeted in beautiful red, blue and gold colors. They vacuum the carpet every day and change it every two years. It takes that long to weave a new one.
Next we visit the Topkapi Palace. This vast compound was the home of sultans as well as the seat of the Ottoman Empire from the 1450s to the middle of the 19th century. We pass through the Imperial Gate into a big courtyard. The second courtyard was once used for ovens where more than 1,000 cooks who toiled to feed the residents whose numbers sometimes swelled to 15,000. The Harem was roomed here as well as the sultan’s private apartments. The third courtyard has a building that houses the Treasury. We see imperial thrones, bejeweled swords and daggers, and two uncut emeralds weighing eight pounds each. A huge diamond sits behind safety glass.
Our last stop is the Grand Bazaar. You could spend days here. Halls branch off left and right, each selling specialty items like furniture, rugs, jewelry, and almost anything else you might imagine. We find a lovely Turkish charm for Nancy’s bracelet. My bargaining skills were put to the test and although we thought we made a deal about 2/3rds of the asking price, we might have done better if we had tried harder.
We take our bus through the unbelievable traffic back to our ship. This is the day before Ramadan so everyone is doing their last minute shopping. We didn’t have time to visit the spice market or see belly dancers or whirling dervishes. That is for our next time in this most interesting city.
Back to the Regent Navigator for a final dinner and to pack our suitcases for an early debarkation.
We are sorry to see our wonderful cruise end but we depart with memories of a beautiful ship and the wondrous countries of Greece and Turkey.
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