Let’s Talk Turkey: Ephesus To Be Precise

Note to Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, prime minister of Turkey:  I realize it was my first time to visit your fine country but the official greeting committee, shown below, which you sent to welcome me when I stepped off the ship was so much more than I was expecting.  Simply having President Abdullah Gül standing there offering me a cup of Turkish coffee and presenting me with my medal while the military band played the İstiklâl Marşı (Turkish National Anthem) was more than sufficient . . . and even slightly embarrassing for a man of my notable humility.  (Note to reader:  Unfortunately, the picture of that historic moment was snatched out of my hand while feeding an overly aggressive sea turtle from the aft deck.) 

Turkish greetingBut let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  By now, you know the drill.  First we look at one of my favorite aspects of the Navigator of the Seas and then I regale you with fascinating and occasionally true stories of my exploits at the latest port of call.

A FAVORITE FEATURE

“Those are my principles,” Groucho Marx once famously said, “and if you don’t like them–well, I have others.”  One of my own principles is that I never over indulge.  It may have happened once or twice that I was over-served but I think we can all agree, that is hardly the same thing.  Nonetheless, I must admit, I do enjoy the fruit of the grape from time to time.

Vintages on the Navigator of the SeasThere are few better places to sip a mellow Malbec or sample a crisp Cabernet or imbibe a saucy Shiraz or . . . I think you get the idea . . . than Vintages on the promenade deck of the Navigator of the Seas.  This cozy gathering place features more than 60 vintages in their 600 bottle cellar.  Frommer’s has a very nice review of this venue midway down the page here under the heading Public Areas.  Be honest, doesn’t just looking at this inviting image make you yearn to be sitting there right now?

A PORT TO PONDER

For those of you whose biblical knowledge is a trifle rusty, Ephesus was a city visited by the Apostle Paul in his evangelistic journeys and a place which bears the name of one of his epistles.  Just so you don’t embarrass yourself at the next Sunday School pot luck dinner, okay, the Epistles were not the Apostles’ wives!  The epistles were pastoral letters written to burgeoning congregations of Christians in places like Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth and Philippi.

Ephesus was built on a small hill with the entrance at the top and the exit at the bottom, a rather unusual design.  That reality is clearly illustrated from this picture.  It is not at all difficult to imagine this main thoroughfare crowded with people from all over the world 2000 years ago just like it was on the day I snapped this picture.

Ephesus, TurkeyIf you would like to view the many pictures I took during my stroll through Ephesus (too many to post here) just visit this site.  (Tip:  The pictures are in chronological order just as Houses of the Wealthy in Ephesusare these Golden Circle posts.)  This is truly one of the most amazing excavations anywhere in the world.  There is a large covered area where massive excavations are underway to unearth “Terrace Houses”, also called the “Houses of the Wealthy.”  These impressive homes were built right into the side of Bulbul Mountain opposite the Hadrian Temple.

This is a picture of the Grand Theater where the Apostle Paul once preached.  It is the largest extant theater from the ancient world with a seating capacity of 24,000.  Just think of it as the “Cowboys Stadium” of Ephesus' Grand Theaterantiquity.   If you have never been to Ephesus, you owe it to yourself to make the effort.  If you have even a remote interest in the ancient world, this is a must see.

For those who need an additional incentive to make the trek, like shopping for example, take note of this head scratching sign that I could not help but notice in the small shopping bazaar just as you exit the ruins to return to the motorcoach park.

Sign in Ephesus market

I am thinking about adopting the slogan for this blog: “Genuine Fake Blog Posts!”  What a great disclaimer against charges of false advertising.

Athens: The Eye Of Greece, Mother Of Arts And Eloquence

If you like the title of this post, be sure and look up John Milton when you arrive safely on “the other side” and shake his hand. He has been over there for more than 300 years signing autographs so he should be almost caught up by now. The phrase comes from Paradise Regained (1671), Book IV, line 240.  My little gray cells have taken off early for the Christmas holidays and the best I was coming up with for a title for this post was Athens Is Really Neat . . . not exactly Miltonian in its rhetorical splendor.

Following Sicily (see previous post) our next port of call was Athens.  In just a moment I will tell you (sadly with none of the lyrical brilliance of John Milton) just how fascinating it was. But first, let’s take a stroll around the Navigator of the Seas and focus on what I am calling in this series of posts:

A FAVORITE FEATURE

Navigator of the Seas' Two Poets PubThese good folks, whoever they may be, are sitting outside the Two Poets Pub. (I am not that great a judge of age but I am pretty sure the lad on the left needs to be carded!) Here is a nice little YouTube video taken by a guest who was obviously having a good time back in May at this pub. It is a great place to sample a pint (or two) from all over the world.  They Famous Beer Quoteshave a very clever and informative menu with categories such as: Good For What Ales You, I Just Like The Taste, Brawny Browns and Second Cousins.

There is a section shown here with a lot of very funny quotes.  If you can’t read the small print, call me and I can book you on the next sailing of the Navigator out of Galveston for a mere pittance and you can read the entire menu while plying the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  I love the etymology of words and sayings and from this menu I learned this little gem.  “In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts.  So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender used to yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down.  This is where we got “Mind your P’s and Q’s.”

A PORT TO PONDER

Quite obviously, in the time remaining, I am not going to be able to do justice to one of the Our guide in Athens marvels of the ancient world.  But here are a couple of highlights.  We were extremely blessed  to have such a knowledgeable and erudite guide for our day in Athens.  I would be only too happy to share her name with you had I not managed to lose her business card somewhere between Athens and Ephesus.  Dear lady, if you recognize yourself, send me your contact information and I will update this blog post!  What I especially appreciated is that she spoke slowly and methodically which permitted even my plodding mind to keep up!

We spent most of the morning on the Acropolis.  This picture, taken as we descended from the Parthenon itself, gives you a sense of how all the edifices built upon this famous hill dominated, and still dominate, the entire landscape.

Descending from the Parthenon

As you can tell from this picture below, the Parthenon is in the midst of substantial renovations.  The ravages of time and modern pollution have taken a heavy toll.  The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens.  At one time there was a magnificent golden statue of her standing in the midst of the Parthenon.

Parthenon in Athens, Greece

This model from the museum will give you an idea of how it looked in the ancient world.  Model from the Acropolis Museum

Following our tour, we ( a couple of busloads of my closest friends and I) stopped off for a delicious lunch of traditional Greek food at one of the many restaurants nestled between shops in the Plaka district.  This happens to be one of my favorite cuisinesRestaurant in Athens for those of you who are assembling a scrap-book of all my preferences and peccadilloes.

Following lunch and a brief time to browse the shops, we made our way to the breathtaking new Acropolis Museum. I could have spent hours in there.

All in all I would have to say, it was a great day . . . and a Greek day, as I think about it!  I was worn out from all the trekking about but also very inspired.  So, as I was taking a long shower back in my cabin getting ready for dinner, I decided to do a little carving with the bath soap and my toe nail clippers.  Not too shabby, huh?

New Acropolis Museum in Athens

Picture It, Sicily 2013

First things first.  Apologies are no doubt due to the late Estelle Getty who famously portrayed the fictional character Sophia Petrillo-Weinstock on the hit TV series The Golden Girls for the shameless rip-off in my title of one of her most popular comic devices.  She would start a sentence “Picture it, Sicily 1922”, or some other year, with a hilarious story inevitably ensuing.  Thanks Estelle, for all the laughs.

Marina in Massina, ItalyYou needn’t expect this blog post to meet, much less exceed, the high comedic standard set by that show.  Fortunately, regular devotees of Travel By Terry probably figured out mid-way through my initial post to keep their expectations lower than a world champion Jamaican limbo dancer.

The next few posts will recount my recent voyage through the Mediterranean on Royal Caribbean’s incomparable Navigator of the Seas.  In each post, I will relate one of my favorite aspects of the ship, i.e. A Favorite Feature and describe one of the enjoyable ports of call, i.e. A Port To Ponder.  In that fashion, keeping to two simple points, even my readers on Ritalin can stay engaged.

A FAVORITE FEATURE

Did I mention that I celebrated my birthday on my Golden Circle cruise?  Possibly not.  Did I mention which birthday?  No chance in #@%$*!  In any case, some of my dear friends invited me to share a birthday dinner with them in the Chops Grille which immodestly but accurately touts “the best steak on the high seas.”   If you are not familiar with specialty dining on Royal Caribbean cruise ships, it is the opportunity to upgrade your dining experience from merely great to gourmet.  Take a moment and watch this video!

Chops Grille on Navigator of the SeasThere is a modest up charge of $30 per person for the experience but because I am blessed with magnanimous friends (thanks Tim and Margo!), I did not have to bother my pretty little head with that pesky detail.  The food was sumptuous, the wine delectable (thanks Roger!) and the convivial atmosphere delightful (thanks to the entire table!).  Even if it is not your birthday and you are not accompanied by friends from whom you can con . . . ahem charm an invite, you still owe it to yourself to visit one of the two specialty restaurants during your cruise.

A PORT TO PONDER

Our first port of call was Messina, Sicily.  After perusing my handy Royal Caribbean Shore Excursion guide, a settled on “Taormina On Your Own“.  (There were eleven choices by the way!)  I did this for two reasons.  The price was easy on my pocketbook which, by this point in my travels, was getting lighter by the day.  Also, I figured staggering around through a small village like a vagrant looking for a cigarette butt was well within my limited capabilities.  As it turned out, I couldn’t have been happier with my choice.

I amused myself no end by taking pictures of things that for some odd reason you were not supposed to photograph, like this shop window.  I suspect that this was actually a little Sicilian reverseTaormina, Italy shop window psychology to get you to stare at their window.  If that was the case, all the little signs with X-ed out cameras had the desired effect as I found myself unable to withstand the temptation to take a picture.  The same is true, apparently, of the guy on the right.

Speaking of signs, this little jewel caught my attention.  Who would Street sign in Taormina, Italyhave thought that flashing, Mardi Gras style, was a huge law enforcement issue in Taormina? The tiny print under the top image says, “Circolare a torso nudo – Do not go bare-chested.”  Considering it was about 40 degrees that day, a violation of that edict might have proved very interesting, if you catch my drift.

Taormina is an absolutely charming village.  It is an excellent place to get your cannoli fix, as I must confess, I did!  On the edge of this quaint village is a magnificent Greek theater built in the 3rd century B.C.  This tour offers a relaxing three hours to tour the shops, stop off for lunch at a sidewalk cafe and, on a clear day, view the snow-capped peak of Mt. Elba.

Taormina's Greek TheaterI may have missed the mafia tour called, “In The Godfathers’ Footsteps” but I live with no regrets.  I walked in my own footsteps and had a wonderful time doing so.  And just for the record, I kept my shirt on the entire day . . . sparing me a fine and the entire populace a grotesque visual!

My Trip / The Ship / A Tip

Those of you who have been paying attention . . . just for grins let’s kid ourselves and assume that’s 100% of you . . . will have noticed that this recent series of blog posts has been called “Golden Circle 2013”.   I’m curious.  Did that unfamiliar term cause you even a moment’s pause or did you just shrug your shoulders and mutter “Whatever” like some bored tween being asked to clean his room?

Picture from my balcony on Navigator of the SeasGOLDEN CIRCLE 2013

Not that it happens all that frequently on these pages but there happens to be a perfectly logical reason for the use of this term.  Every year our franchise organization, Travel Leaders, sponsors a reward trip for some of its top performing franchisees called, not coincidentally, the Golden Circle.  To qualify you have to be willing to sport a gold belly button ring of no less than twenty-four carats.  (OK, I’m being silly.  Fourteen carats is perfectly fine.)   Actually, you just have to be the creme de la creme of the travel industry, able to dispense expert advice, draw upon decades of distilled experience and resolve prickly problems all without breaking a sweat or mussing your hair.

This year’s trip was a seven night Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas in and out of Civitavecchia, Italy, the port near Rome.  More about the cruise ship momentarily.  But why, pray tell, did I fly to Rome from Dallas-Fort Worth by way of Dubai?  For those who can still afford a globe, even a cursory glance will reveal this is not exactly the most direct route.  In fact, it is 14 hours from DFW to Dubai and another 5 1/2 hours from Dubai to Rome.  I promise I was not amassing frequent flyer miles.  I did it for the perfectly sane reason all of us travel zealots do what we do.  I succumbed to a new destination’s allure, a new airline’s ambiance and a new culture’s attraction.   The travel itch, mon ami, simply has to be scratched!

Navigator of the Seas PromenadeNAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS

The Golden Circle cruise was aboard the Royal Caribbean vessel Navigator of the Seas.  The cruise that I was on was the penultimate cruise before the Navigator left the Mediterranean for its new home, Galveston, Texas.  Would you believe that the reason for this repositioning was that I struck up such a fast friendship with the captain that he wanted a home port nearby where I could continue giving him little navigation tips to enhance his career?  No, I didn’t think so.

Would you believe that I wrote an entire post explaining this move back in May?  You should!  It was called Travel Industry Proposes, Royal Caribbean Disposes.  Read this post and you will learn that not only is the ship coming to Texas but will be undergoing an extensive dry dock revitalization.  In upcoming posts as we sail from port to port, we . . . that is the we of majesty in case you didn’t notice my toe ring . .  will share  more about this charming vessel.

Sidewalk cafe in Ladispoli, ItalyA TIP

Being slightly intoxicated by the holiday spirit(s), I have magnanimously decided to share three tips for those contemplating booking a Med cruise!   First tip, never ever book your flights to arrive the day the ship sails.  That is a sure-fire recipe for unnecessary stress.  Arrive at least a day earlier. as I did.

Secondly, if you are sailing from Civtavecchia (near Rome), you might want to consider booking an overnight stay in the charming little town of Ladispoli.  (Bonus tip:  the accent falls on the second syllable.)  I stayed at a modest but perfectly suitable little place called the Hotel Alle Tamerici which offers a very cozy restaurant.

Tip number three.  So how do you get from the madhouse known as Fiumicino Airport in Rome to the tranquil Italian seacoast?  I’m glad you asked.  You simple contact Raffaele Rispoli with My Cab In Rome.  Raffaele is a charming and knowledgable denizen of that region of Italy and will gladly spirit you wherever you need to go.  Here is his website and email address (rrispoli at gmail dot com) if you would care to avail yourself of his dependable services.

Did this blog post ignite an all-consuming urge to experience even more?   There are two possible responses to that impulse:

1)  Take two aspirin, lie down and see if the feeling subsides

2) Click on this link where you can view over 200 pictures I took on my Golden Circle trip

Check back soon to hear about our first port of call.

Travel Industry Proposes, Royal Caribbean Disposes

One of my favorite quotes comes from “The Imitation of Christ” by the German-born Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): “For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands.”  We in the travel agency community are a little like that.  We propose all sorts of brilliant ideas, at least in our own humble estimation, yet we face the reality that in most cases we have zero power to dispose.

Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the SeasI recently interviewed Vicki Freed,  the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, right here on this incomparable little blog and one of my queries was, for her at least, this very familiar and possibly tiresome question:  “When will Royal Caribbean start sailing year round out of the port of Galveston?”

For a little context, travel agents throughout Texas and surrounding states have for a few years now  been clamoring, cajoling, carping (and various other exertions too embarrassing to mention in print) for Royal Caribbean to position a ship in Galveston year round.  We travel types are nothing if not annoyingly persistent.

I have big news!  Let me share a brief excerpt from a press release issued today.  “Royal Caribbean International, the cruise line known for first at-sea innovations, announced today that it is basing 3,114-guest Navigator of the Seas year-round from the Texas port city of Galveston.”   Unlike when mighty Casey struck out, there was great joy in Mudville today. More than one of our travel agents was observed doing the happy dance on their desks!

Navigator of the Seas cabin

Since by design, these “Hear It Here First” posts are intended to be short and sweet, you can click here to read all the details.One exciting aspect of the news is that not only will Navigator of the Seas begin sailing year round from Galveston beginning this November but also will be emerging from an extensive drydock revitalization in February of 2014.  

This is absolutely going to be a very popular ship and departure port so start making your plans now.   Click here if you would like a full schedule of departure dates and itineraries and reach out to me for prices and to secure space.

Remember, you heard it here first.  And, if you didn’t, then clearly you aren’t as devoted a follower of this blog as you should be!  Come on, let’s muster a little fanatical devotion here.