Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last Four Ports

Piraeus, Greece,
The 8th of January brought us to the port of Piraeus and our tour excursion to Athens. First of all, let me say that the majority of the beginning of our tour was via the window of our bus. The first leg of our journey was a “scenic” tour of the coast. I attempted to take some pictures out of the window but unfortunately got a lot of blur and some fuzzy trees. Our first stop took us to the Greek Olympic stadium. Unfortunately that stop was just a photo stop so we hopped off the bus and snapped a few quick photos of the stadium and a few quick shots of the Acropolis from below. Next we headed up the mountain to see the Acropolis. Our tour did not include going up to the actual site of the Acropolis but did give us some free time to roam around at the bottom of the mountain. Instead, we decided to grab the boys in our packs and run up the steps and paths and spend the last 45 minutes that the site was open running from building to building taking pictures. The site was beautiful except for some scaffolding that was up as they were doing some restoration. Thankfully, a few folks did help us get some family photos and Rhys was his usual self and didn’t really cooperate. After our photo bonanza we rushed back down the mountain to do a bit of souvenir hunting before meeting our tour group for the ride back.

Izmir, Turkey,
Our tours of Greece and Turkey were back to back. We normally get a sea day in between our tours so this was a unique challenge as we didn’t have as much time to prepare and rest as usual. Nevertheless, we woke up early and headed out on our bus to view the lovely city of Izmir. Our tour started off with a quite a long drive out to Ephesus, which is an ancient city of Turkey. Along the way we saw a lot of industrial type areas and one castle on the hill, which the locals called, “Goat Castle”. It got the name through a story our Turkish tour guide told us, which I’ll post later as we don’t have enough time to get into it now. Once we arrived at Ephesus, we got out with the boys and our guide took us through the ruins. He took us through portions of the ruins explaining different aspects of Turkish culture and how the city of Ephesus was advanced for the time as most of the city had running water, a hospital, and many other things that we enjoy today. After the ruins we watched a live show, where we saw a demonstration of a Turkish court, gladiators, and a court jester. After the show we got back aboard the bus and headed to our next stop. This was at a carpet museum/shop where Rhys insisted on helping the staff and running around like a mad man. We enjoyed some apple tee, wine and snacks from the locals before heading back to the ship, tired, hungry, yet happy that we got to see such an amazing country.

Alexandria-Cairo, Egypt
After a relaxing day at sea, we arrived at the port of Alexandria where we would spend the next two days. One of our two shore excursions in the wondrous land of Egypt was a crackin’ tour into Cairo which began with an early start for a nearly 3 hour drive into Cairo. Let me sum up our drive: Rhys throwing the longest and loudest tantrum that I have ever seen. Rhys hated the bus, hated sitting still for such a long piece of time and made sure that we and everyone else aboard the bus knowing it. Most people just politely ignored it, but we did get a few looks from some of the “older” members of our tour. Neither Emma nor I were impressed. It isn’t like there is much we as parents can do about a screaming child, especially one that wants nothing but to not be where he is at that particular moment. We did the best we could until we finally arrived at Giza Plateau.
First of all, let me say that no movie or photo can really accurately portray how massive the pyramids really are. We actually saw them from miles away to begin with, and as we came closer and closer they took up more and more of the sky until they dominated everything else around them. We got the boys off the bus and tooled around, taking pictures for awhile and desperately trying to avoid the merchants that were trying to peddle their trinkets to anyone and anything that had a heartbeat. After the pyramids we made our way down to the Sphinx, which like the pyramids, no picture did justice. We are glad to be among the few that can say we have seen them, and the boys will have their Egyptian Visa stamp in the passports to show for bragging rights. After the sphinx we had a lovely lunch and saw a few other sites and began the long trek home back to Alexandria. Rhys did not enjoy the ride back. Neither did Emma and I.
The second day we had an excursion to Alexandria, but unfortunately Caden’s cold had worsened to the point where Emma and I didn’t think it would be wise for us to take him out. So we decided that Rhys and I would take the tour and Emma would stay with Caden on the ship. Emma and Caden had a nice morning taking photos and walking around the ship. Rhys and I went to visit the sites of Alexandria, included some catacombs, the museum, and several large mosques. Unfortunately, another ship was in port and they were also doing the touring so it was rather cramped, but we enjoyed ourselves. After our touring was finished, we headed back to the ship and met up with Emma and Caden. Emma had gone off the ship while we were out and bought Caden a little stuffed camel, which when squeezed plays some kind of Arabic song which was cute to begin with, but now is amazingly annoying.

Valetta, Malta
Let me just say that as we stepped off the ship onto the tiny island of Malta, Emma and I both instantly liked it. Malta is an island that is rich in history and culture. Many empires have made their stamp on Malta, but the most recent was the British. Consequently, a lot of British influence still remains on the island, and made Emma feel quite homesick. Also, Malta is one of four countries that Emma and I know about that drive on the left side of the road. Just FYI. Our tour started off with a short drive up to the cliffs of Malta in a lovely garden overlooking most of the city. After some photo-snapping, we walked through the town center of Valetta, and into St. John’s Cathedral, where most of the Knights of Malta were entombed. The cathedral was very beautiful, adorned in gold and marble, the tombs of the knights extravagantly decorated with intricately carved statues. After the cathedral we visited the Grandmaster’s Palace, which was also just a beautiful. We walked through the rooms of the Palace as our tour guide explained the history of the knights and Malta to us in more detail. After the palace, we headed out for some free time in the city. Emma was excited and surprised at the amount of shops that she recognized from the UK and took the opportunity to shop for a few more souvenirs’. After our touring was over, we walked to a local theater and watched a very interesting short film on the history of Malta. Rhys almost let me sit through all of it. When the film was over we all filed out of theater and made the mad dash back to the ship. Our tour was quite long and left us only thirty minutes to spare to board the ship before it disembarked. Thankfully we made it back, and with us brought back some wonderful memories and a promise to ourselves to return to this lovely island.
Here we are finally on the last stretch of our cruise with mixed feelings of wishing we were staying on and others of excitement to finally be back on land. It’s been an amazing experience which we will be doing all over again next year. We will be back tomorrow so once we are all unpacked and settled we will have our final blog with pictures galore.

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