Our first port of call on the Celestyal cruise is Khusadasi. Troy was the only one of our group that hadn’t been to Ephesus so we had him book a tour and agreed to meet him at one of the coffee shops in the arcade linking Khusadasi and the ship terminal at 11am. It was his birthday and we didn’t want him to spend all morning alone. We’d got to sleep in and relax on the balcony for a couple of hours before being at the rendezvous point.
At 10.30 we disembarked and headed to the rendezvous point…I resisted the urge to stop at each stall along the route to the arcade and made it to the coffee shop without opening my wallet. It would be a different matter on the return walk to the ship however!!
We waited for a short time before ordering coffees, assuming Troy would turn up at any minute. Our coffees arrived, we sipped slowly, it was now 11.20am and still no sign of him. The ship was due to leave Khusadasi at 12 noon. ‘If he isn’t here soon we’d better make our way back to the ship’ Ty said, I agreed saying ‘Perhaps the tour was delayed or perhaps he was roped into the carpet factory’. We laughed at the thought as on my first trip to Ephesus we had been taken to a carpet factory supposedly to see how Persian carpets are made! The tour group was ushered into a large room and the doors duly locked behind us…no visible means of escape. The salesmen then went to work on how fabulous these rugs were and why everyone should buy a Persian rug to take home, they’d even be kind enough to ship if for us…we pay the shipping of course. I was a little naïve all those years ago but quickly learned getaway tactics to save me from dreaded pushy sales pitches. I don’t like being forced into anything like that on a tour, I understand that everyone is entitled to make a living however those on a tour should be given the chance to opt out of any ‘we’re just going to call in to this factory and learn how carpets or ceramics or huge wooden tables are made’. Yes, huge wooden tables that weigh several ton, the spiel is the same, ‘of course we can ship that to your home for you’…’how many chairs would you need to go with it’? So I was amused at the thought a carpet or ceramic salesman was trying the hard sell on our friend Troy….. bound to fail as Troy does not give up his cash easily for any salesperson……unless it’s for a Tiffany watch and for that I’m there by his side giving him as much encouragement as possible!!!!
At 11.30 we decided to wander back to the ship, stopping at the shops along the way. No rush just a slow stroll but still no sign of Troy. Eventually, as we stood on our balcony, we saw Troy in the distance…he waved, we waved…he didn’t look happy though. Back on board he complained about how we abandoned him on his birthday….now hadn’t he just had a lovely time on a tour to an amazing ancient city? Yes, but that wasn’t the point…we weren’t at the meeting place. “We were there just that you were late back. Let’s have lunch” I said trying to placate him….food or a drink generally worked!!!
This afternoon our ship docked in Samos. As well as being the home of Pythagoras, Samos is a large island in the eastern Aegean and home to 33,000 inhabitants. It covers approximately 5,000 square kilometres. On arrival in Samos the wind had finally eased and the day was glorious. Love this hot weather! We chose not to take a tour but to wander around parts of Samos on our own. Our preferred tour was cancelled.
Walking around Samos was thirsty work….a drink stop was necessary! Monos Bar looked inviting for a cold drink. We wandered in, chose a seat in the shade and the menus duly arrived. I decided on a frappé with ice cream…..’No, we don’t have ice cream’ said the waiter. Hmmm, are things on Samos so bad they can’t afford ice cream or had there been a run on ice cream and they were waiting for the next delivery? I said this to no one in particular. I ordered a frappé without ice cream but added a dash of Baileys. Frappé arrived with half the coffee and double the Baileys. Thankfully we chose to sit and watch the view for an extended period of time! Whilst watching the world go by we couldn’t help but notice a people wandering around with large bags, other people were washing clothes and laying them out to dry on the bench seats at the waterfront. What’s that about? Then we realised these were possibly refugees making their way across from Turkey to Greece on their journey to Germany or The Netherlands. Majority were men, not many women. The newcomers were sitting around on the steps of buildings or wandering in the streets or shops. A large number of refugees looked more Pakistani, Iranian or Afghanistan origins. We had all been thinking the same thing but not saying anything at the time. Our thoughts were confirmed later, in news broadcasts, when we were in other parts of Europe -the reports confirmed not all refugees were from Syria. Either way this is a sad situation for the people and the countries, such as Greece, where they were landing and expecting help them until they could complete their journey to their country of choice. Although this was confronting at times I was glad we were able to see this first hand as news broadcasts at home do not always tell the whole story.
This evening I had booked a table for 4 in the Amalthia dining room because the other dining room was still closed due to a private function. Hopefully it will be open again tomorrow night! I had also ordered a surprise birthday cake for Troy to be brought to our table tonight. Dressed for dinner we convened in the lounge outside the dining room. Entering Amalthia I mentioned I had booked a table for 4 earlier but we were directed to a table where 4 other people already sat. Not what I had requested nor wanted but the waiters were quite terse. We did as directed as it was Troy’s birthday we didn’t want to spoil it. The evening menu was a little limited and the dishes couldn’t be altered even to leave a sauce off or change a sauce….obviously not cooked as you ordered but already pre cooked which was very disappointing.
The 3 courses were very unappetising as if not much effort had been put in, I started to think, perhaps, whoever was holding these private function in the other dining room was getting the better service than the rest of us. We had completed out second course and they now came and asked what we’d like for dessert, which surprised me because I’d ordered a birthday cake for Troy. I’d been good enough to remind the maître d on our arrival and I couldn’t say anything in front of Troy so just hoped the cake would arrive with the promised fanfare.
Dessert arrived, no cake and no mention of cake. It was getting late and people were vacating the room….time to go and see why the cake hadn’t turned up. Oh, they forgot!! Ten minutes later, in an almost empty dining room, the cake arrived with one waiter playing guitar and a couple of others singing. Troy was suitably surprised and embarrassed so I was pleased about that but still felt the staff were not very attentive in the dining area and there was room for improvement in customer service.
Over the next 7 days the Thalasso bar at the rear of the deck 5 became our place of relaxation. Ivan was our barman…a young Cuban man. He supplied menus, we ordered drinks. The cocktail list looked impressive so most days it was cocktails all round….my choice was Baileys Iced coffee. So easy to drink naturally it became my staple on a daily basis….without the cream, of course. A girl does have to watch her weight!!!
Apart from the islands above our cruise would take us to: Milos, Syros, Cesme, Lavrion (Cape Sounion), Kos, Ios and Santorini. We opted for excursions on Kos, Syros, Cesme and Milos and Cape Sounion. Unfortunately several of our pre booked excursions were cancelled – very disappointing for us. Two were due to lack of participants, another had been listed and able to be purchased but wasn’t even available on this cruise. The Kos excursion we had chosen could be cancelled due to the refugee situation as it was deemed unsafe to ferry passengers on a smaller craft to another island. This excursion was duly cancelled as well. What did we have left? The excursions on Milos and Cape Sounion – that was it. I would have been extremely angry if Cape Sounion and Milos were also cancelled. Poseidon’s temple was a favourite of mine….that view looked amazing in photos.
The excursion to Milos was extremely interesting and I’d certainly recommend a visit to Milos. Milos is where the Venus De Milo was discovered. One part of the island has a moonscape, quite extraordinary scenery, made up of a white, chalky surface. Vegetation does not grow on the pure white ground but the vision is breathtaking with the deep blue of the sea glistening against white cliffs and odd shaped rock formations. In several places caves had been carved out below the cliff face. These caves, our guide told us, were possibly used by the men harvesting the rock for shelter from the sun and they may have even lived in the caves for weeks or months at a time.
After an hour it was time to return to the bus for the next part of the excursion, the ancient burial crypts on the other side of the island. Our tour was supposed to be an English speaking tour however, as with everything else on this cruise, that was not the case. There was a group of people of subcontinent heritage on the ship and although they lived in the US only spoke in their native language. We don’t have any issue with that but if you’re part of an English speaking tour then, I feel, they should speak Englishman respect the tour guide and their fellow tourists. Unfortunately they didn’t feel it necessary to speak English, listen to the tour guide giving us tour information and historical facts or return to the assigned meeting place within the requested time frame. It was increasingly uncomfortable trying to listen to our tour guides whilst these people talked incessantly, shouted to one another over the other passengers in the bus and habitually returned to the bus at least 20 minutes after we should have left for our next destination. Most of the English speaking tourists agreed this group should have been split into 2 groups but I suppose the cruise excursion office did not take the cultural differences into consideration. I would also assume they were saving money by putting both groups onto one bus.
When we reached the next site, the burial chambers or catacombs, there was a long downhill walk to the entrance of the chambers. We followed the guide along the winding path but the other group, save one, ignored the guide and stopped at the top for a discussion of their own. This gentleman pushed past us on the path. We arrived at the base and the second group arrived in dribs and drabs. The guide gave each of us a number, this would be the order in which we were to enter the chamber. As you can imagine the burial chambers were a labyrinth and not very well lit so very easy to become lost if you step away from your guide. I’m not keen on dark, underground spaces so I would certainly be staying close to the guide!! We had all received our numbers when the final group arrived. They took their numbers and proceeded to head toward the chamber entrance…the guide called them back ‘ We must wait our turn, another group is in there now’. ‘I will tell you when it is your turn’ he added. Further discussions took place as they checked their respective tickets. Several of the women looked at our ticket numbers and went to speak to the guide. ‘ You are in the tour after these people’ he pointed in our direction as he spoke. More discussions within their group and we gathered, from the facial expressions, they weren’t happy.
Contention seemed to be that the man who headed down in front of us had a number between ours. Finally the tour in front of us returned and it was our turn, however, as the guide called our numbers the other group rushed forward to enter the chamber. The ever patient guide caught them and sent them back to the waiting area as they waved their cardboard numbers. We finally entered the burial chambers unimpeded. They were gesturing to the man in our tour and I’m assuming they thought they should be allowed to jump the queue to join him. I did notice he didn’t offer to step back and wait for the next tour!
Tour over it was time to wander up the path to wait for the bus and as had become the order of the day, the second group of people with no regard for anyone else decided to wander off somewhere else or sit and chat below for 20 minutes. The arrogance was starting to annoy the guides as well because they reiterated the importance of returning to the bus on time. A bit harsh you think?? Not really, we’re on set excursion times and there is a lot to cover. Plus returning to the ship or the port in plenty of time we’re able to have a relaxing drink and watch the passing parade!! A most enjoyable pastime.
Rather than lunch on the ship today we decided that Mariana’s on the waterfront looked the place to be. The tables and chairs sat under shady vines which kept the dining area cool. Gorging Gonz was in his element when he saw the items on the menu. he couldn’t choose just one plate so chose 3 entrées! He started with Bell pepper filled with mince and rice followed by red pepper stuffed with feta and finally a beef hotpot. ‘Where do you put all this food’ we asked him on a regular basis. He’d shrug and laugh. The rest of us had one meal each. The total cost of the meal with drinks for 4 was 54 euros.
Lunch over we wandered along the boardwalk and Lord Lunchalot spied an ice creamery. Ice creams all round….1 euro 80 a scoop for takeaway or 2 euro 30 for eat in.
Our next port of call was Kos which has a lovely harbour dominated by a 15th century fortress and an ancient Agora which is free to enter and wander around. As the ship was inching closer to the dock we noticed metal fencing around us and several security cars and police cars, we thought how odd this was and it looked very uninviting. We didn’t realise till a short time later that this was protection for the ship and her passengers.
Initially the street across from the harbour looks very cramped with shops and cars but once you walk through the lanes you arrive at a large main square with restaurants and shops sitting around the edge. The square is very pretty and puts out a feeling of spaciousness whilst inviting the visitor to sit at one of the restaurants to enjoy a relaxing drink whilst watching the world go by. Just fabulous. This island caters very much to the English tourist or we assumed so. The menus have the typical english breakfast fare of sausages, eggs, tomatoes, bacon, beans and mushrooms and the Aussie breakfast came without beans and mushrooms!
Ty spied a charity tent for cats and dogs so he wandered over and was there for over 30 minutes chatting. He came back with information about the charity and the woman running the charity. She was from Bondi in Australia, retired and spends her Aussie winters in Kos and Greek winters back in Bondi….what a life!
It was hard to imagine what the island would be like without out the large groups of displaced people sitting around the town, filling the travel agencies and waiting outside as well, the huge tent city that had been erected around the ancient walls.
The area where the cruise ships docked was fenced off with high metal fencing and patrolled by guards to stop the people from trying to board the cruise ships. The ancient Agora had also become a home to many or at least being used as an area for lighting fires to cook (I assume) and their toilet. How do I know that? Whilst walking through the ruins I passed a couple of places where fires had been lit in the long grass. As for the toilet I stepped into an area, between a number of fallen columns, dotted around with human faeces. I stepped back very quickly warning the others not to venture any further. About 200 metres away under a clump of shady trees sat a large number of men who I assumed were refugees but, as in Samos, they appeared to be Pakistani men.
It was also on Kos that, whilst sitting in a cafe, we had the misfortune to be annoyed several times, by a number of young girls pushing plastic cups into our faces and insisting we give money. The girls were working in a group with a teenage girl checking the amount of money they were collecting. I have visited the Greek Island numerous times and have never witnessed this before. The restaurant and bar owners were trying to move them on and were very embarrassed. As one bar manager apologised he also mentioned how the crisis was hurting their businesses very hard as tourists were staying away. He went on to point out the people arriving on the island didn’t want to be on Kos they wanted to move on to Germany and the Netherlands as the islands were ill-equipped to deal with such large numbers of people. ”Unfortunately”, he told us, ”most don’t have any papers to prove who they are so can’t be moved on”. We were informed that the refugees were coming from a number of countries not just Syria which we noted ourselves in Samos. We were to hear and see a lot more on the refugee crisis in the coming weeks as we moved from Greece to Eastern Europe.
Moving on from that unfortunate situation our next port of call is Cesme a Turkish coastal town with a thriving night life, beautiful beaches and clear water. The excursion we had chosen was actually not offered so none of the tour staff could give us a reason why the excursion was still ‘live’ on the website. Well, we would just have to amuse ourselves today … I’m sure that wouldn’t be a problem for us. Gorging Gonz would eat his way through the day, Lord Lunchalot would stop for drinks and food as well and we’d indulge them their favourite pastimes and join in.
Given this post is quite long I thought I should give my readers a break so Part 2 Celestyal Cristal ports of call covers the other Greek Islands visited and will posted shortly.