Monday, June 24, 2013

Back in Athens

By the time we woke up next morning, our ship was already docked in Piraeus harbour. It sailed all night while we slept and arrived in the port at about 5.00 am.

We were back in Athens. We were going to stay one more night here and we still had a day and half in this ancient city. We intended to visit some of the places we missed during our earlier stay.

After checking into our hotel, we made our way to Plaka once again to look for food. Benson and Nelly did not join us. They decided they didn't need lunch and opted to stay back in the hotel to rest.

The remaining four of us walked around and finally settled in this restaurant.

We did not eat inside. Instead, we opted to go alfresco across the road.

We shared the dishes, starting with this Caesars. It was nice change from the already mundane Greek salad.

Followed by 2 pasta dishes. The spaghetti bolognese was really quite good. The sauce was rich, the meat generous and the pasta texture was nicely al dente.

The penne carbonara was likewise. However, penne has never been my favourite pasta.

This was pork souvlaki. The meat was tender and grilled superbly.

This risotto was the worst of the lot. It was like soggy porridge. We cannot trust the mat-sallehs to cook rice, can we?

In their countries, I prefer to stick with their breads. These were freshly baked - still warm - and were very good.

After makan, we took a walk around the city. We explored Monastiraki, the Athens flea market.

There were a lot of things but not a lot of people to buy them.

The square outside was a lot more lively.

A small group of people had a banner and used loud hailers to make a lot of noise. We were later told that they were teachers demonstrating for more pay.

From there we took a cab to Lycabettus Hill and where we met up with Benson and Nelly.

At 227 meters, it is the highest point in Athens. It was a very short ride up by funicular train.

From up there, the view of the city was spectacular.

As night fell, it was even more dazzling.

That evening, we dined at the hill top cafe. We had been warned not to eat at the hill top restaurant because it was super expensive. But this was not the restaurant. It was the adjacent cafe, managed by the same people. It was not expensive at all. There was a special seafood menu - all we could eat for 20 euros per person.

I liked the cafe. The food was reasonable. The ambiance was very nice. And the view was fantastic. My only complaint was that the place was too dark and did not allow me to take very good pictures.

We started with a mushroom soup, served in an fancy oversize plate. I remember the soup as not bad.

Followed by a simple salad.

Then they served us this delightful deep fried shrimps. It was fried whole - head and shells. And eaten as such. The flavour was marvellous. It was crispy and aromatic.

The mussels were cooked in a spicy sauce. The flavour was ok - in fact quite delicious. But the mussels were too small. There was hardly anything to eat.

The entree was this pan fried fish. It wasn't great. I do not know if it was that fresh. It wasn't fishy but it did not have the fresh "sweetness" of fish.

After dinner, we lingered outside for awhile more to soak up the night lights and to take more pictures. It was getting very cold. We then took the funicular down and back to our hotel for a good rest.

Next morning, we visited the new Acropolis Museum.

It was quite a fascinating place. The relics were very well exhibited. But they did not allow photography inside. All I could manage was this outside shot.

After the museum, it was time to makan again. By now we were so ready for some Chinese food. It had been more than a week since we had an Asian meal. We came across one Chinese restaurant during our time in Athens before the cruise. We went looking for it. And we found the restaurant!

The place was named Shang Hai Night. It was managed by some mainland Chinese. When we arrived, the place was packed with a group of Chinese tourists. We had to wait outside awhile for a table.

Benson ordered the dishes. We then settled down for some nice Chinese tea. I really missed my Chinese tea. I think I missed that more than the Chinese food.

We started with the Szechuan hot and sour soup. It was so very good.

This was a spicy pork dish. Another marvel. Absolutely delicious.

The vege was just so-so.

The onion omelet was ordinary. But it still tasted good.

This was a spicy "mar por" tofu. They prepared this dish very well. The sauce they used was not like those I tasted back home in Malaysia. It was delicious.

Finally, this was the steam fish. They did not serve the fish whole. They were fillets. The fish was very fresh. I liked the dish.

I had double servings of rice. It was a most satisfying lunch. It wasn't because it was our first Chinese meal after nearly 10 days in Europe. The chef actually did a very good job.

After the hearty meal we rushed back to our hotel, collected our luggage and headed to the airport. We had a flight to catch - on Scandinavian Airlines.

Our destination - Stockholm, Sweden.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Aegean Cruise

On our 6th day in Greece, we were in Piraeus, the sea port of Athens to board the Louis Olympia for a 3-day cruise in the Aegean Sea. The cruise should had been a good respite after nearly a week of hustle and bustle in Dubai and Athens. But it did not quite turn to be so.

Boarding, immigration and security checks, etc were surprisingly very easy and efficient. We found our cabins with little difficulties. Before we had time to settle down and to adjust the small confine of the cabins, there was a public announcement summoning us to the deck for the all important safety drill. We were made to wear our life jackets and to assemble at the lifeboat allocated to us in case of mishap. But we did not take it seriously. Instead, we amused ourselves taking pictures...

...enjoying the harbour scene below.

The Louis Olympia is a good size cruise ship, with 12 decks and can accommodate up to 1450 passengers.

There was ample facilities to keep the passengers occupied and entertained.

In the day, if island hopping was not in one's agenda, the swimming pool and the open deck would be the perfect place to relax.

In the evening, there were several bars and lounges to have one's fill of boozes. Or perhaps the casino or disco. For passengers who were not the drinking, gambling or dancing type, there were nightly shows in the Can Can Lounge.

Soon after lunch on the first day of the cruise, the 3 ladies went missing. I later found them, absolutely relaxed in the Sky Lounge.

This was way up in the 12th floor with a fantastic view of the whole ship.

The ship did most of the sailing in the night. During the day, it stopped at various islands and ports where optional excursions were organised for the passengers, at additional costs. The first of such stops was the beautiful Greek island of Mykonos.

Our ship docked at the island at about 4.00pm on the first day of the cruise. Coaches took us the the edge of town. It was a very pleasant walk along the water front and from there we explored the town on foot.

Mykonos is a fascinating island. It was first popularised by the gay community. It is now very hetero. There are still many gay bars, marked by rainbow lights at the door. The island is apparently a very happening place. Parties start in the late evenings and last till the early mornings - every day of the week.

The buildings in Mykonos are all painted white. The local authority does not permit any other colour. Doors, windows and other structures can be of other colours but they must all be made of wood. No metal fixtures are allow.

The narrow roads or pathways are all of a unique grey and white leopard-spots design. They blend with the white buildings perfectly. Through these walkways are bars, restaurants, shops and boutiques. Some are of exclusive brands.

It is an island of windmills - they are now purely decorative and no longer functional.

And even a "Little Venice".

Our visit to this small Greek island was a real exhilarating experience. It was such a pretty place.

Next morning, we had a hearty breakfast before a full day on shore. The ship has 2 restaurants. The Seven Seas is a proper five-star dining place; while the Lido is an enclosed area of the ship's deck near the swimming pool serving only buffet meals. Breakfasts on all 3 mornings of our cruise was in the Seven Seas.

They were all buffet breakfasts. The spread was wide, appealing and appetising. What better way to start a day.

After breakfast, the ship docked in the Turkish port city of Kusadasi.

We disembarked and cleared immigration. After that, we were taken by coach to visit the ruins of Ephesus.

Ephesus was an ancient Greek city in Turkey. It's history dated back to about 3000B.C. It was a fascinating experience walking through this 5000 years old ruins. Excavation of Ephesus apparently started in the 1869. Today the exposed ruins are so extensive, it takes more than an hour just to walk from one end to the other. We were told the exposed ruins is only a fraction of the old ancient city. There are apparently a lot more under the ground.

This apparently was the main street of Ephesus. This was the commercial centre of the city. The city was then very near to the sea. Ships would dock and sailors would come on shore to trade. However, the sea has since receded and the shore is no longer in sight.

The library of the city is amazingly intact. There is a story about this library. The library was apparently very near to a shopping area. The men would take their wives to the shopping centre. "Dear, go ahead and shop. I will go to the library". Unbeknownst to the wives, there was apparently a secret underground passage from the library to the city's house of pleasure. While the ladies shopped, the men had some other activities beside reading.

The was the city public toilet. They were very well constructed. There was even running water below. In those days, only the rich and powerful were allowed to use this facility. In winter, they would send in the slaves to first warm up the seats before they used them.

This was a large amphi-theatre where actors and musicians entertained thousands of people. There was apparently no need for sound amplification. There was none in those days. The theatre was situated in such a position that breeze from the sea would throw the voice the actors clearly to the audience.

More pictures of the ruins...

After our tour of Ephesus, we returned to the ship where we had lunch. Lunch was in the Lido. It was buffet. The selection was really very good. There was soups and salads and meats and fish - the whole works. The selection varied everyday.

The Lido was a very conducive eating place. The atmosphere was casual and relaxing. Sometimes we had our meals near the swimming pool where we could see the sea drift by as we ate.

The ship left Kusadasi as we had our lunch. About 3 hours later, it arrived at the island of Patmos. And we were off again.

Patmos is a small Greek island near the coast of Turkey. It was the island of St. John, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. After the crucifixion, St John fled to Greece. He was later banished to the island of Patmos by the Romans where he lived the rest of his life. He lived and prayed in a small chapel now known as the Cave of Apocalypse. It was in this grotto that he saw the apparition of Jesus Christ. He wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.

We were not allowed to take any picture of the Cave. These pictures of the entrance and the plaque were the best I could manage.

This small church marks the location where St John lived before he moved uphill to the Cave of Apocalypse.

Further up the hill is a large monastery dedicated to St John.

Besides being a religious place, Patmos is apparently also a favourite place for the rich and famous. Celebrities take quiet holidays here to get away from the paparazzis. Many apparently own exclusive apartments here.

We were back in the ship in time for dinner. All our onboard dinners were in the Seven Seas Restaurant. We could order anything and everything in the menu. It was all inclusive in the cruise package.

The waiters and staff were friendly and efficient. We even had this guy serenading us while we dined.

These were some of the dishes we had over the 3 evenings; starting with this Greek salad with feta cheese.

Some mundane Greek beans.

Another bean starter, ground to a paste with olive oil.

These small pyramids were also beans-based. All these beans dishes were not fantastic.

I cannot remember what this was. It definitely was a starter but I have no impression of its taste.

Finally some real food. Big prawns grilled in skewers.

I do not know is this was kebab or Greek souvlaki. It was meat on skewers, served with fries and pita bread.

This was squid stuffed with rice. It wasn't good. The mat-sallehs just do not know how to cook rice.

Grilled fish. Not at all exceptional.

Another fish dish served with rice. The fish was OK but the rice was yucky. They had a lot of Asians working in the ship. Surely they could find someone who knew how to cook rice.

This was a vegetarian dish. My wife said it was good. I did not have a taste of it.

These were some Greek desserts that I sampled. I was neutral to the flavour.

On the 3rd and final day of our cruise, we visited 2 more islands. In the morning the ship docked in the island of Crete. This the largest of all the Greek islands with a population of over half a million. In Crete, we visited Knossos.

Knossos is the ruins of an ancient palace, dating back to about 1900BC.

We found the visit incredibly boring. It was just another ruins and the story narrated by the tour guide was not the least interesting. Anyway, here are some pictures of the place.

After lunch, the ship arrived at the island of Santorini. This is perhaps the highlight of the cruise for Santorini is the most popular of all the Greek islands.

Santorini is the largest of a circular archipelago of islands. The islands were the remains of a single island where a volcano erupted in 197BC. The massive eruption resulted in a tsunami that inundated nearby islands. It also caused the centre of the volcano to collapse into the sea creating a caldera. The volcano, now under the sea in the middle of the caldera, is apparently is still active.

The side of the island facing the caldera are steep cliffs. The cliffs were apparently the result of the collapse of the volcano. Towns are built on the top of the cliffs and roads are cut winding up the cliffs to the towns.

Our ship could not dock on the island. We had to be ferried to the island by tender boats.

When we reached the harbour, coaches brought us up the winding road to the towns. The view from the winding road was stunning.

The landscape, building and houses in the island were beautiful. These are some shots from the bus.

The coach stopped at the town of Fira. We got down to explore. The walking around town was exhilarating.

Fira is the main town in Santorini. The whole town is perched on the cliff. Houses overlap each other. It appeared everybody was fighting for space to build their houses to overlook the caldera. The sights were amazingly beautiful.

The coach later took us to another part the island for our descend to the sea. We lingered on, soaking up the atmosphere of another township on the cliff.

We then took a cable car...

...down to a beautiful water front.

Where tender boats were waiting to ferry us back to the ship.

As our tender boat sped towards our ship, the beautiful sunset was a sombre reminder that our cruise was coming to an end.

It was a most memorable cruise. However, I felt it was a little too short. We visited 5 places in 3 days. We did not have much time to enjoy the ship. I would had liked another 1 or 2 more days to do nothing but just remain onboard and relax. Perhaps another time, another cruise.