Sunday, April 30, 2023

MSC Splendida Cruise - Adriatic Sea / Agean Sea - Istanbul - April 30-May 6, 2023


MSC Splendida Cruise - Adriatic Sea / Agean Sea / Greece & Turkey - April 30-May 6, 2023
Just the Facts
Ship:  MSC Splendida,  Fantasia class ship launched in 2009 @ 138,000 tons.
Ports: Trieste, Italy - Katakolon Greece - Pireus Greece - Kusadasi, Turkey, Istanbul, Turkey

An immediate follow-up (B2B) of our long adventure cruise with five more days on the MSC Splendida.  Other than Trieste, all familiar ports for us. I am sailing with the Dear Wife (DW). This is my 3rd cruise on the Splendida, and I have now sailed all four ships in the MSC Fantasia class.  This is my 18th cruise on MSC, and my 200th total cruise overall. 

Day One -- Sunday, April 30. — Trieste, Italy.
We were up early to finish packing as we change cabins today for our new cruise. We went to Guest Services to get our new Cabin key cards before our excursion. It took a while but we finally received them and tried to exit as soon as possible for our early excursion meet time. We took a shortcut to get off and went through Italian customs and were out at our meet point at about 8:00 am, we were late but the second ones there. Our excursion was Day Trip to Ljubljana. We finally got our 14 guests together, boarded our roomy bus, and were off at about 8:20. As we drove away from the harbor we passed the ruins of the ancient Roman Theater a reminder of who founded the city of Trieste. We passed the most beautiful green hills and mountains as we drove to Serbia, a new country for me. Ljubljana is the capital and was built at the confluence of three rivers. A medieval castle dominates above the town. We were allowed a full four hours to explore on our own…perfect. We began at the main square and the architecture of the old buildings is amazing as are the triple bridges over the river. Dragons are the theme of the city as two statues guard the oldest bridge in town. There are many restaurants along the river walkways and although the Market is closed on Sundays there was a Sunday ‘Flea Market’. The town was so clean, they have a modern underground trash collection system, and they are proud of being very green. The city center is very walkable…and there were many walkers with many taking their dogs. We had a nice hearty lunch and drinks at Restavracija Paninoteka. It was a bit cool so we sat inside in a nice window seat and view. I ordered the Slovenian Plate and two local beers. The DW had a Hugo Spritz and ordered Potato Fries with fresh thyme seasoning. It was very good. We continued our walk and then met our bus at 14:30 for the return to the port. We were back at about 16:00 so we walked over to Piazza Unità d'Italia, the main square in Trieste, one of the largest and unique in Italy. It had amazing administrative buildings and others including a Harrys, of the famous Harry’s Bar franchise. Lots of people out on a Sunday afternoon, we walked a bit on the pedestrian walkways but soon reversed course for the return to the ship. We did the 2nd highest number of steps today (after Petra). Having our new card made returning to the ship very easy. We were anxious to get to the new cabin and when opened the door and saw all of our bags we were relieved. Love the new cabin with a bathtub and a much better balcony view. We relaxed and then went for a slice of pizza as we knew we would not be going anywhere on the ship nor dinner in the MDR. I then had a nice hot bath and retired early. It was a great excursion day in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Day Two -- Monday, May 1st — at Sea 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We turned our time one hour forward to Greek time overnight. I was up early and worked on my Blog and posting photos online. I went solo to the MDR for breakfast ordering the Eggs Benedict. The Australians are noticeably gone…very few English speakers are remaining on board. We are settling into our new cabin, we have the same great cabin steward Suadnyana Komang (Indonesia) so the DW still has acartohygieiophobia. At noon we went to the La Reggia Dining Room for lunch. I had the New Orleans Salad, Legume Soup, Turkey escalope, and a Sour Cherry Sundae for dessert. It was good, but service was slow which has been typical. We did a walk about the ship... visit to Excursions Desk to get credit for a canceled excursion at Kusadasi, made reservations for the steakhouse, and bought perfume at the big sale (we were tipped on the last cruise to wait until today to purchase) at the Perfumery. We were able to stream some live American TV this afternoon, so the early morning shows. We had Butcher's Cut Steakhouse reservations for 19:00 this evening as this is the only port free day this cruise. We ordered similar to just last week: NY Strip steak, Filet Mignon steak, Hearts of Palm, a very nice Green Salad, Baked Potato, Brussel Sprouts, and one large Cookie to share for dessert. We retired soon after dinner. It was a good day for food and rest on this only sea day on this cruise.
Day Three -- Tuesday, May 2nd -- Katakolon, Greece 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well and late. We had been docked a while when I woke at about 8:45. It is overcast with a poor weather forecast (the same as the last cruise here) so we took our time getting around this morning. We went up to the buffet for a light breakfast, they served real bacon but it was undercooked. We went ashore at about 11:00 and walked to the seaside shops and cafes. We stopped at Cafe Del Mar sitting inside by the door with a view and breeze. I brought my laptop as I suspected I’d have an online workday, and the WiFi was very good. During the course of the day, we had Coca-cola, Mythos beer, Pita Bread, Tzatziki, and Water at €14.5 ... a deal. The DW did some great shopping too…rainy day deals. We began back at about 13:30 quickly walking in a light mist. We were back in the cabin by 14:00 and sat on the balcony enjoying the Macaroons and Prosecco that were delivered while watching the high winds pound the port. We were two hours past departure when they made an announcement that we might be stuck there for a while. They have had a tug on the aft holding us in place all day. At 18:30 we went to dinner in the La Reggia Dining Room, a new table for us this cruise. I ordered: Williams Salad, Casarecce (pasta) with Seafood Ragout, Oven-roasted Veal Leg Goccia d’Oro, and Arroz con Leche for dessert. DW had the same Salad and Risotto Primavera the best vegetarian dish so far. Very pleased with the dinner and service. We were still docked when we retired at 21:00, but soon got away ten minutes later with tug boats in reserve. It was rough sailing for a bit. I worked on my Blog and looked at the map of Athen for tomorrow. It was a fair windy day in Katakolon today.

Day Four -- Wednesday, May 3rd -- Piraeus, Greece    
Rolling seas overnight and I slept well. I woke at about 1:30 am to watch/stream some Oklahoma softball, they won and are 46-1 for the season. Then slept until 8:30 and guess what? Where not in Piraeus…they could not make up that almost 6-hour delay. We’re considering staying on board anyway as rain for Athens is in the forecast. We have a nice private excursion for Kusadasi so want to be on time for Thursday. I went to the La Reggia Dining Room for lunch at about 13:15 just before they closed. I had a nice lunch, ordering the Rural Salad, the Fregola Sarda pasta, the Saltimbocca Roman-style entree (pork escalopes), and the Peach Melba Sundae (2). It was very good. Before I finished dessert they began debarking was a mess for tours as they all left at the same time since we were so late into port. We decided to sit this one out as we were just here a few days ago. While most guests were off the ship I had a Jacuzzi all to myself for an hour on the pool deck. It was nice. I had my own party on the balcony (photo) with the Greek beer I had purchased here last week. I did make a beer run to the terminal for Coca-cola, Lay’s Potato Chips, more beer, and some candy. It was fun watching guests arriving back and the view of the Aegean Sea. Just as they left this afternoon, most guests arrived back at the same time, a huge line from 19:00 to 19:45 extending into the parking area. I knew most would be going direct to the buffet so I went up to get light snacks for us and we settled into the cabin for the evening. We have done so much walking this cruise that the day off was good for us. Again a great early excursion for our final day so we retired early. It was another great day on the MSC Splendida.

Day Five -- Thursday, May 4th - Kusidasi Turkey

Smooth seas overnight as we sailed east to Turkey. I slept well but woke early, we had some FaceTime on the computer with DD and Grandaughter. We arrived in port just after the 7:00 am scheduled arrival, but being so far behind due to the weather very pleased. We picked up some breakfast snacks to eat in the cabin as we prepared for our excursion. We were off before the 8:00 am meet time and as we left the terminal our private guide Kerem was holding a sign with my name…good to see. We had a nice Limo-Van with a driver and the guide sat with us in our compartment. Nice. We had booked a private tour of Ephesus, Ephesus Terrace houses, Basilica of St. John, & Artemis Temple. Following a short drive, we arrive in Efe and the first stop was at the ruins of the Basilica of St. John. Very historic in Christianity as the Apostle Timothy was a Church elder here and the remains of the Apostle John are buried here. Located just below was the site of the Artemis Temple…nothing remaining other than the outline of the site and one large column. We later did see the famous Statue that stood in the Temple. The major stop was next at the restored Ephesus site. We began at
the back entrance so we could walk downhill. The first site inside was the Roman Baths, then the merchant area, and several Temples…amazing to see them again and the guide was great. We then took the tour of the restored Terrace Houses located on the hillside and protected by a large roof. This area is a special ticket and is limited to only a certain number of guests per day. Again great with a guide. The DW enjoyed this portion of the tour to see the old homes of the ancient Romans who lived here. A lot of the original wall paintings and mosaic floors survived. We met the head archeologist of the site who our guide knew…he said the plan was to excavate more of the hillside to expose even more old residential areas. Amazing. We then finished the rest of Ephesus beginning with the most popular Library Building (photo left) built as a monument. Both DW and I realized how similar it was to the Treasury at Petra. As it wasn’t too busy we were allowed to enter and see the facility. We weren’t allowed on my previous visit here. Continuing on we came to the Roman Theater, the largest ancient theater in the world. It is really large and they do contemporary concerts there still yet. In our free time, we choose to visit the Ephesus Archaeological Museum we paid our admission as it wasn’t on the tour, and very glad we did. It contained much of the statuary and items from the various Temples and sites around Ephesus. The major is the Statue of 
The Artemis of Ephesus (photo right)There are approximately 64 thousand pieces exhibited in the Ephesus Museum. We spent most of our allotted 45 minutes there. Amazing. This was a fantastic tour that covered everything we wished to see (we had already been to the Virgin Mary House) in a concise amount of time. Being just the two of us with a good guide we wasted no time as large tours tend to do. We have an early sail away time from the port but we had time to visit our favorite merchant, drink two Efes beers, and eat a Turkish Wrap. Once back on board, I had a hot bath (yes we have a tub) then go to our third Diamond Party in the La Prua Lounge. We again had our favorite Hugo Specials and spoke with the Captain and Hotel Manager. Nice event. We were a little late for dinner due to the party, but had a nice meal and visit with our table mates. I ordered the Greek Salad, Andalusian Gazpacho Soup, Lasagna Bolognese entree, and Turkish Baklava for dessert. Good food and good service. After dinner we retired to pack our bags, we have to have them outside our cabin by midnight. It was an amazing day in Ephesus/Efe and the final full day on the MSC Splendida.

Day Six -- Friday, May 4th - Istanbul, Turkey — Debarkation / Post Cruise 

Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. We received permission to stay in our cabin until our designated departure time for Diamond Guests @ 11:00 am so we had a smooth morning. I went up to the buffet for a light breakfast then began packing our final items for our carry-on (off) bag. We enjoyed two Coca-colas as we docked in Istanbul. Interesting being docked in the Dardanelles between Asia and Europe. So busy with activity…boats and ferries of all sizes as well as sea-faring ships of all types passing in a small area. At our assigned time of 11:00, we proceeded down to deck 4 and debarked the ship. There was a long line for passport control, but we endured only to discover that we needed a Visa to enter Turkey. We made our way to the Visa office and paid $30 each for a Visa, we were told we could bypass the long line upon return and we did so it wasn’t too bad. We collected our bags from the baggage area and proceeded to a scan of bags then out into a taxi area. We shared a nice VIP taxi/van to the Old Town with another couple from Ljubljana by coincidence @ €25 per couple. Fair. We are staying at the (Deluxe) Golden Horn Hotel… an excellent location and a nice room with a balcony. We only had a very short wait and our room on the top floor (6) was available. So from ship cabin to hotel room in just over an hour and a half. Excellent. We unpacked and did the 10+ minute walk to the Grand Bazaar. We enter from gate one, built in 1481 (photo), into the largest under one roof Bazaar in the world. Believe me, it’s huge, and be prepared to be lost, but that’s half the fun. We shopped and saw one possible purchase item and went on to look for food. We ate at Havuzlu Restoran, perhaps the most famous of restaurants inside the Bazaar. I
ordered the Chicken Kabob meal, and it was very good, but the Baclava with creme was the BEST I have ever had. Amazing. We decided to find the stall where we began some negotiations and good luck finding it…the place is like a maze. But we did and ended up buying a very nice and unique Turkish Carpet Bag. It is beautiful and will serve as a carry-on for air travel. Silk, leather, and brass so excellent materials and handwork. We started at €400 and finally agreed on €160. We then returned to the hotel for a wee nap. I did some work with speedy WiFi then at about sundown we decided to go out for dinner. What a great decision that was…just a block away is the beginning of a series of wonderful Sidewalk Cafes and Restaurants. We chose the Sultan Palace. We had a corner table with a heater and a great view down two colorful passageways (photo right). We ordered three Appetizers, Epes Beers, and a warm Wine. Interesting people watching and some great Street Musicians came by as we enjoyed our time on the street. So glad we didn’t fuddy-duddy out of the evening at the hotel...It was fun!! We returned to the hotel and had proper shower volume for the first time in 23 days. We then retired for the evening. It was a great transition day in Istanbul, Turkey.


Day Seven -- Saturday, May 5th - Istanbul, Turkey — Post Cruise 

We slept well overnight but woke early (5:00) with morning prayers. We got around about 8:00. Weather forecast is a rainy morning but clearing in the afternoon. We will make plans accordingly. We had breakfast, nothing special, other than the great view of the Blue Mosque. We walked down to the Haifa Sofia, but already very long lines so we visited the nearby Sultan Ahmet Tomb. Then we visited the Basilica Cistern a huge underground Roman water source held up with 336 marble columns covering 9,800 sq. meters. This is only one of many Roman cisterns in the area. We then walked towards the Bazaar and took a Coca-cola break at a corner cafe. We later spotted a Hakkı Zade Hafiz Mustafa 1864 pastry shop and purchased gifts for the family back home. This is the premier pastry shop in Istanbul with several locations. We then decided to walk back to the hotel to drop off the purchases. I had some internet time while the DW watched the Coronation of King Charles III on Turkish television. We later walked over to the Bazaar, only 12 minutes from the hotel, and explored new areas. I had a nice Chicken Wrap too. We bought some smaller items at the Bazaar then left to go back to Mustafa 1864 for pastries for ourselves and a Turkish Tea. As a tourist, just assume that any local that approaches you to help with directions or anything at all… really just wants to sell you a carpet. We were back at the hotel before 17:00 and made arrangements for Airport Shuttle at 3:30 am. We enjoyed our time at the Sultan Palace so much that we returned again tonight. We ordered entrees tonight, special dishes cooked in Clay Pots. DW ordered a vegetarian and I ordered a mixed grill of Beef, Chicken, and Lamb combination. It’s kind of a special show when they break the pots and pour the entree into waiting heated cast iron plates. It was great. They receive an ovation from all when they presented ours. And the food was great…so glad we returned. The entertainers did a special song for the DW as well…another fun evening. We were back at the hotel by 21:30 as we have an early day tomorrow. It was a very nice day in Istanbul.
Day Eight or Day 27 overall -- Sunday, May 6th - Istanbul, Turkey — Travel Day  
We woke by 3:00 am to finish packing and await our 3:30 shuttle (€49). It’s about an hour to the airport, but that early we beat that time. The Airport is huge and busy even at 5:00 am. We checked three bags to Tampa and had two carry-ons and + a large purse. The first Lufthansa flight was to Frankfort Germany. The German airport security was the most detailed we have experienced in many years (Belgium after the bombing was worse). The three-hour flight to Frankfort was fine, then the same security before boarding our 10-hour flight home. We were in the air at about noon local time. We had bulkhead seats and lots of children nearby but it went fairly well…I watched four movies. We landed in Tampa just after 4:00 pm, we went through Customs and retrieved our bags, and were on the curb only a few minutes before the DD picked us up. Home to the Florida Villa by 5:30 local time.

Personal HIGHLIGHTS of the Cruise and Istanbul
Our day in Efe and Ephesus with a private guide and driver
Our day in Ljubljana
Our impromptu Istanbul street parties on Friday & Saturday nights
The old Roman Basilica Cistern
Our final Diamond Party on the ship

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