A Travellerspoint blog

July 2015

Istanbul to Athens - Azamara Journey


sunny 85 °F

After a wonderful dinner with friends experiencing the French Buffet, we got underway and headed to Greece. We arrived bright and early at Skiothos, a wonderful island community of beaches and fun, whose church above the village was used in the movie Mama Mia.

The island has a north to southwestern direction and is about 12 kilometres (7 miles) long and 6 kilometres (4 miles) wide on average. The coastline is indented with inlets, capes and peninsulas. The southeast and southwest parts have gentler slopes and that is where most settlements and facilities are located. The terrain is more rugged on the north coast, with the highest peak at 433 m (1,421 feet) on mount Karafiltzanaka. Despite its small size, Skiathos with its many beaches and wooded landscape is a popular tourist destination. It has over 60,[3] mostly sandy, beaches scattered around the 44 km (27 mi) coastline. In Ancient times, the island played a minor role during the Persian Wars. In 480 BC, the fleet of the Persian King Xerxes was hit by a storm and was badly damaged on the rocks of the Skiathos coast. Following this the Greek fleet blockaded the adjacent seas to prevent the Persians from invading the mainland and supplying provisions to the army facing the 300 Spartans defending the pass at Thermopylae. The Persian fleet was defeated there at Artemisium and finally destroyed at the Battle of Salamis a year later. Skiathos remained in the Delian League until it lost its independence. The city was destroyed by Philip V of Macedon in 200 BC.

This is a tender port. After a brief ride on one of our lifeboats, we wandered around the town, enjoying its beauty, and had a nice lunch overlooking the sea. Tonight it's off to the Italian specialty restaurant Aqualina and then underway back to our final stop in Turkey.


Posted by rpickett 06:26 Archived in Greece Tagged skiothos Comments (0)

Istanbul to Athens - Azamara Journey

Volos, Greece

sunny 87 °F

After getting underway, we enjoyed a sunset on our Veranda and enjoyed a fine dinner at Prime C - the Steak House specialty restaurant. Bill had a wonderfully cooked filet and I had a perfect veal tenderloin. The specialty restaurants are sold out every night, so making reservations early in the voyage is essential.

Our stop today was at Volos, Greece. Volos is a coastal port city in Thessaly situated midway on the Greek mainland, about 326 kilometres (203 miles) north of Athens and 215 kilometres (134 miles) south of Thessaloniki. It is the capital of the Magnesia regional unit. Volos is the only outlet to the sea from Thessaly, the country's largest agricultural region. With a population of 144,449 (2011), it is an important industrial centre, while its port provides a bridge between Europe, the Middle East and Asia.The urban area counts 150,009 inhabitants with an area of 496.6 km2.

Volos is the newest of the Greek port cities, with a large proportion of modern buildings erected following the catastrophic earthquakes of 1955. It includes the municipal units of Volos, Nea Ionia and Iolkos, as well as smaller suburban communities. The economy of the city is based on manufacturing, trade, services and tourism. Home to the University of Thessaly, the city also offers facilities for conferences, exhibitions and major sporting, cultural and scientific events.

The major shore excursion is to the Meteora Monastaries - an 8 hour adventure. The Metéora, lit. "middle of the sky", "suspended in the air" or "in the heavens above" is one of the largest and most important complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece.

As jet lag finally caught up to us, we decided to just stay on board today and nap and read. It was well worth it! The town of Volos is not that picturesque and was an easy pass for us.


Posted by rpickett 07:46 Archived in Greece Tagged volos Comments (0)

Istanbul to Athens - Azamara Journey

Underway and Kepez

sunny 80 °F

We left our hotel at 11:00am and had a 20 minute ride to the cruise terminal. We were one of the first one's at the terminal and also the first group on board. Lunch was waiting and our cabins were available at 1:30pm. We were greeted by a wonderfully friendly staff including the Hotel Manager, who was personally walking around conversing with the guests.
After our boat drill at 5:00pm we put the Bosporus astern and headed to sea.
The Bosphorus or Bosporus is a strait that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles strait to the southwest together form the Turkish Straits. The world's narrowest strait used for international navigation, the Bosporus connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (which is connected by the Dardanelles to the Aegean Sea, and thereby to the Mediterranean Sea.)

We arrived at our first port of Kepez and the associated Sea Port of Canakkale Turkey, both located on the Dardanelles Strait.
The Dardanelles formerly known as Hellespont , literally "Sea of Helle"), is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The strait is 61 kilometres (38 mi) long but only 1.2 to 6 kilometres (0.75 to 3.73 mi) wide, averaging 55 metres (180 ft) deep with a maximum depth of 103 metres (338 ft).[1] Water flows in both directions along the strait, from the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean via a surface current and in the opposite direction via an undercurrent. Canakkale is the nearest major town to the site of ancient Troy. The "wooden horse" from the 2004 movie Troy is exhibited on the seafront. Çanakkale is the second city to be situated on two continents after Istanbul. However Çanakkale is closer to mid-division than Istanbul. The first inhabitants of the city, which hosted many civilizations, lived on the Biga Peninsula in the Last Chalcolithic Age c. 6000 years ago. However, very little is known about the identity and lifestyle of these early settlers. According to some excavations and research, the earliest settlements in the region were established at Kumtepe. It is supposed that Kumkale was established in 4000 BC and Troy between 3500–3000 BC. The real history of Çanakkale started with Troy.
We skipped the early morning tours of Troy, and opted for the complimentary shuttle into town.

After the "Officers' BBQ Buffet" on the pool deck, we headed to sea at 3:00pm. Tonight we are dining at the Prime 21 Steak House!

Posted by rpickett 06:52 Archived in Turkey Tagged and çanakkale underway Comments (0)

Istanbul to Athens - Azamara Journey

A full day in Istanbul

sunny 83 °F

Our group of 12 left the hotel a few minutes after 9:00am this morning. One couple got confused about what the correct local time was, and was off by an hour. It was fine - everyone was in good spirits.

Our first stop was the ancient Hippodrome of Istanbul, which now hosts two magnificent obelisks. The Hippodrome of Constantinople (Turkish: Sultanahmet Meydanı, was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with a few fragments of the original structure surviving.

We then headed to the "Blue Mosque" - one of the most wonderful Mosques in Islam. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Turkish: Sultan Ahmet Camii) is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Its Külliye contains a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is still popularly used as a mosque.

We then walked to the Topkapi Palace. The Topkapı Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465–1856) of their 624-year reign.As well as a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. It is now a museum and as such a major tourist attraction. It also contains important holy relics of the Muslim world, including Muhammed's cloak and sword. and the Royal Jewels. The Topkapı Palace is among the monuments contained within the "Historic Areas of Istanbul", which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and is described under UNESCO's criterion iv as "the best example[s] of ensembles of palaces [...] of the Ottoman period." The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, and covered a large area with a long shoreline. It contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople. It was originally called the New Palace (Yeni Saray) to distinguish it from the previous residence. It received the name "Topkapı" (Cannon Gate) in the 19th century, after a (now lost) gate and shore pavilion. The complex was expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire. After the 17th century, the Topkapı Palace gradually lost its importance as the sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosphorus. In 1856, Sultan Abdül Mecid I decided to move the court to the newly built Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style palace in the city. Some functions, such as the imperial treasury, the library, and the mint, were retained in the Topkapı Palace.

It was then time for lunch in a little cafeteria style restaurant that was air conditioned!!

After lunch we walked to the Hagia Sophia - absolutely one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, "Holy Wisdom"; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya) is a former Christian patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December, the commemoration of the birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia being the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom, its full name in Greek is Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God".

Our final stop was the Grand Bazaar, not far from our hotel. The Grand Bazaar (Turkish: Kapalıçarşı, meaning ‘Covered Bazaar’; also Büyük Çarşı, meaning ‘Grand Bazaar’) in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. In 2014, it is listed No.1 among world's most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors.

During the tour, we had the opportunity to view the Bosporus and the Mediterranean - a truly wonderful sight!

Although long due to the jet lag, it was a wonderful day - worth every minute. Tomorrow, we meet at 11:00am to head to the ship!

Posted by rpickett 08:54 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul Comments (0)

Istanbul to Athens - Azamara Journey

USA to Istanbul


The adventure for the past 24 hours was to get from Charleston to Istanbul on United. We were successful. We had a 90 minute delay in Charleston because the plane, coming from Dulles, had a significant ground hold due to thunderstorms in the area. This again enforces my personal and recommended policy of allowing many hours when you are connecting to an international flight. In this case we had five, which allowed for such circumstances as this. If we had a shorter connection, we would have been scrambling to find a way to Europe!
We flew through Dulles and Frankfurt. Dulles is fine - one of my more liked airports, and Frankfurt was challenging purely because of it's size. Lots of walking, getting a Lufthansa boarding pass, and going through a very thorough and tedious security screening (no passport control) was time consuming. Additionally the airport was poorly air conditioned so it was hot throughout. It took us a good hour plus in the business class lines to get from one gate to the other. I am thinking that Germany is on a heightened state of security for a variety of political reasons.
We arrived in Istanbul, and the passport control process was very organized and efficient. Turkey requires an E-visa for US tourists - about $20.00 - which made entry easy and quick, much more efficient than Germany. Our transfer person was waiting, and the car came in about 15 minutes. As it was a holiday - the day after Ramadan, a feast day - there were families everywhere. Interesting in and of itself, because the male head of the household held all of the passports and escorts the entire group through passport control.
We are staying at the Kent Hotel - a four star - not one that you would pick on a drive by - but within walking distance of the Bazaar and quite nice....wonderful shower.
Tomorrow, our group of 12 traveling companions leave the hotel at 9:00am for a full 8 hour tour of the famous sites of the city.

Posted by rpickett 08:14 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul usa to Comments (0)

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