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Kusadasi and Ephesus

 Wednesday, September 21, 2022 – Kusadasi and Ephesus

 

Seabourn Encore approached the dock in pre-dawn darkness, without even a sunrise due to clouds on the horizon.  Our tours today included the Virgin Mary’s House, the ruins of Ephesus, rug weaving demonstrations and a private classical concert for Seabourn on Harbor Road in front of the Great Theater at Ephesus.

 

Approaching Kusadasi at Dawn with the Turkish Fortress lit up

Miriam and I were last here in 2008 as part of our Holland America transatlantic cruise.  Since that time the Virgin Mary’s house has been declared a Unesco “World Heritage” site and much development has taken place around the actual house.  The original ruins only went up a few feet above ground and the building that is now there is only 25% original and 75% reconstructed.  The line is clearly visible.  Like many of the sites, no photography is allowed inside the shrine.

 

Entrance to St. Mary’s House

After a short visit before most of the hoards of visitors arrived, we headed to the ruins at Ephesus.  Not much has changed except the crowds were even larger.  We walked down through the ruins to the Great Theater and Harbor Road, past the Celcus Library façade.  We were able to discern carvings of the goddess’s  Nike, Medusa and Artemis.  The guide talked about how St Paul did not actually talk in the great Theater but rather in the Jewish Synagogue next to the library.  In ancient times, Ephesus was a large and important seaport with as many as 250,000 residents, but earthquakes and filling of marshlands to combat malaria which covered the city under many feet of debris means the Harbor Road is now miles from the sea.  The site is still only 10 percent excavated, but radar and lidar surveys show extensive ruins buried under the hillsides on both sides of the city.

 

Celcuk Library

Celcuk Library

Harbor Road in Daytime

Starbucks Anyone?

The goddess Nike, can you see the swoosh?

Finishing our tour, we headed for a hand knotted silk rug weaving demonstration and sales pitch to buy rugs before we returned by foot through the Grand Bazaar to the ship.

 

After an early dinner, most of the passengers, including us, boarded buses starting at 6:40 to return to Ephesus and a private classical music concert in front of the Great Theater.  Harbor Road has been walked by St. Paul, Mark Antony and Cleopatra and many other famous historical figures.  Tonight it was lit up with candles and set with tables for us listen to the chamber orchestra as we sipped wine.  To be in that setting walking that same road knowing the amount of history that preceded us was somewhat sobering and exciting at the same time.  The distance into the concert setting was too far for Miriam to walk unaided, so the ship arranged a wheelchair transfer from the gangway to the concert and return.

Harbor Road at night
Our concert setting in front of the Great Theater

The night lighting was spectacular

The concert venue on Harbor Road

 

Miriam and Patrick at the evening concert at Ephesus

The evening was stunning with the setting and the lights, something not to be missed.  Returning to the ship, the ship’s wheelchair was delivered to the wrong port entrance so Miriam walked all the way from the port entrance to the ship, where much of the crew were on hand dockside, singing and dancing to welcome the passengers back from the concert and to join the dance in progress on the pool deck.

Patmos and Crete

 Monday, September 19, 2022 – Patmos

 

This morning we approached the island of Patmos just as the sun was rising.  Seabourn Encore anchored off the harbor below the Monastery of St. John, perched high above the small town.

 

Boarding our tour bus we headed first to the “Cave of the Apocalypse” where the Apostle John received his revelation, which was transcribed by his assistant and which became the final book of the New Testament.  The grotto has had a church built around it over the centuries and there is a chapel incorporated around the actual grotto.  Our guide did a creditable job of explaining much of the symbology and metaphors in the Book of Revelation.  We were not told ahead of time about the restrictions on photography at the religious shrines and museums in Greece, so outside pictures were allowed, but no pictures were allowed inside.

 

After the grotto of the apocalypse we went further up the hill to the Monastery of St. John which was built in the 1100’s.  The monastery is now surrounded by the town of Hora, which has grown over the centuries.  The original papal bull giving ownership of Patmos was on display, with many other artifacts and even the preserved skulls of the founders of the monastery.

Inside the courtyard of the Monastery fo St. John

Entrance to Grotto of the Apocalypse

The monastery is also a fortress

Sunrise as we approachedPatmos

 

Walking back down through the town of Hora we visited a traditional Greek house dating from the 1500’s and occupied up until the 1960’s.  Pretty primitive compared to our american standards.

 

Returning to the port area we found a taverna and relaxed with tzatziki and calamari washed down with local greek white wine and beer before returning to the ship via local tenders.

 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022 – Crete

 

As dawn approached, our ship approached Agios Nikolaos in Crete.  We had a long tour for this day and several of the group decided to opt out, including Miriam.

 

Going ashore at 0730, we boarded buses for the one hour trip to Iraklion, the site of the Minoan Palace of Knossos.  The ruins were partially excavated in the 1930’s, but most of the site is still underground.  The palace is huge, more than 40,000 square meters and up to 5 stories high.  The throne room has been partially restored.  The palace dates to 2600 BC, but was mostly destroyed in about 1450 BC, with the eruption of the volcano on Santorini, 80 miles away.  The palace was rebuilt, but not occupied after 1100 BC.

The throne room was interesting because the king sat below his subjects and on a stone throne, with a ritual washing basin in front of the throne.

 

Typical Street in Arilithos

Throne Room of the Palace of Knossos

Arilithos

Arilithos Blacksmith shop

Following the tour of Knossos we headed to Arilithos, a recreation of a typical Greek village of 100 years ago.  Here we toured the various houses and enjoyed a Cretan style lunch while we watched traditional Cretan dancing.

 

Finally we headed back to the ship after a tour lasting 8 hours and prepared for our next destination, Kusadasi, Turkey and the ruins of Ephesus.  The weather was stormy overnight, but Seabourn Encore was very stable and we did not even notice the wind and waves.

 

 

 

Athens and Embarkation Day

 Athens, Greece – September 17, 2022

 

We started the day with breakfast on the rooftop restaurant at the Grand Bretagne Hotel.  The temperature had already started to climb and was predicted to be more than 90 degrees.  The three couples gathered in the lobby at 0845 for a planned trip to Delphi.  Unfortunately the tour operator never showed up and we ended up booking a minivan from the hotel concierge.  It is a two+ hour drive to Delphi and upon arrival found out the ADA access was poor for Miriam and the temperature was now 90 degrees.  The museum had a wheelchair which helped, but it was just too hot to really explore the ruins.

 

Vahkos Restaurant in Delphi

The rugged terrain of Mt Parnassus and the Oracle ruins site

A incredibly detailed bronze sculpture in the museum

We headed into Delphi and stopped at a delightful restaurant with an open balcony perched on the hillside.  The balcony was shaded and the breeze made it pleasant as we lingered over lunch before the two hour drive back to the hotel.

 

The acropolis in the morning from the roof of our hotel

Arriving at the hotel, we had arranged for our medically observed Covid testing. The nurse comes to your room and after just a few minutes we got our “Negative” test results which they emailed to us and the hotel, so the hotel printed a hardcopy.  We are now good for boarding Seabourn Encore in the morning.

 

Dinner on a warm Saturday night in Athens was a challenge, everywhere outside was fully booked, so we ended up with a group of 8 in the Winter Garden restaurant in the hotel.  The food and drinks were good, but everyone was ready for some sleep, so we ended up back in the room by 2200.

 

Athens, Greece – September 18, 2022, Embarkation Day

 

Miriam and I headed to the rooftop breakfast venue, with more stunning views of the Acropolis.  After a leisurely breakfast we headed back to the roomed and finalized our suitcases for pickup.  We are scheduled to board the Seabourn Encore at 1240 PM and head-out out from the hotel at 1115.  The weather continues clear, sunny and very hot, with 91 degrees predicted as the high for today.  Seabourn Encore is one of the two largest Seabourn ships, with a capacity of 600 guests.

 

We actually had an early departure from the hotel and arrived at the ship before they were ready to board new guests.  There were about 150 transit passengers already on board.  After a short wait, we were cleared to board at 1130 and went to the Colonnade Restaurant to wait until our suite was ready.  Even the restaurant was not yet open, but we could sit out on the aft deck and have a glass of water while we waited.  The fresh breeze and shade made for a pleasant afternoon while we eventually had a light lunch.  Our suites were ready by 1400, so we had plenty of time to explore the ship before departure.

 

The ship is full, and guests continued to arrive all afternoon.  Departure is set for 1900, since it is only 177 NM to our first stop, the island of Patmos, where we will get a chance to visit the monastery of St. John.  Patmos is where the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation.

 

The group of eight gathered at the Keller Grill for dinner as the Seabourn Encore departed Piraeus on time for Patmos.

Greek Isles Cruise Part 1 – Getting to Athens

 Greek Isles September 2022

 

After a two year delay due to the Covid pandemic, we are finally in the air and headed to Athens.  After two days in Athens, with a trip to the Oracle at Delphi, we board Seabourn Encore for a two week voyage touching many of the famous Greek Isles and several stops on the Turkish coast, including Istanbul.

 

We are joined on this cruise by three other couples from three separate orbits in our lives.  One couple from Virginia we met on our first Seabourn cruise to Antarctica, one from Houston, Texas we met during the build and delivery and Alaska cruises on our Selene trawler and one from Bellevue we have known for more than 30 years through our church membership.  It is a diverse group, but one that should have a lot of fun as we enjoy the shoulder season weather in the Greek Isles.

 

The weather is reported to be 90 degrees when we land in Athens, but that is after a 6 hour layover in London Heathrow.  The connecting flight is purported to be full.

 

After takeoff, we proceeded right to 39000 feet  and the meal service started.  Miriam indulged on the mushroom ravioli and Patrick had the braised short ribs.  After dinner and drinks we all retired for a few hours sleep before our arrival in London Heathrow before 0700.

 

The wheelchair service lacked something when we arrived, we had to wait until everyone had disembarked and then stood in long lines with no fast track, until we said something.  Security was tighter than SEA, and it took some time to get Miriam through and into the British Airways First lounge.

 

Kent and Melody were unable to join us, they were in the business lounge, also nice.

 

The lounges were busy, the main terminal was very crowded and few masks were seen.  Apparently the pandemic is over in the UK.

 

After a 6 hour wait we finally headed to the gate for the Athens flight, now delayed by 30 minutes.  After boarding and with the doors closed we were informed by the pilot of an additional 30 minute delay due to a French Air Traffic Control strike which affected all European flights.  We finally departed from the gate more than one hour late for the 4 hour flight to Athens.  With the 2 hour time zone change we did not land until nearly 9 PM.  After getting our bags and exiting baggage claim the driver was waiting and we arrived at the hotel at 10PM, finding that Seabourn had screwed up the room reservation, which took phone calls to Seattle to straighten out.

 

Frank and Cathy were in the lobby and we joined them for a late drink at the rooftop bar/restaurant with spectacular views of the Parthenon, lit with impressive lights.  The sky was clear and the temperature still warm.



 

Kent and Melody, meanwhile were still in London, hit with the same ATC strike issues as us.  We don’t know what time they will arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seabourn Venture Photos

 We are attaching a number of photos, most provided by Daniel Fox, the photographer on board Seabourn Venture.Rather than go back and update each post, we just included these photos for your enjoyment.Our overall route is shown on the first photo;

Scoresby Sound, Greenland

 Scoresby Sound, Greenland

 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

 

Overnight we continued towards Cape Brewster at the entrance to Scoresby Sound, the largest fjord in the world, stretching more than 300 KM in length.  The sound is named after an English explorer, William Scoresby, who mapped the area in 1822.  The sides of the fjord are surrounded by mountains more than 2000 meters high, much like Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia, but on a far greater scale, with icebergs often choking the channels.  We do not know how far into the sound we can go, based on the ice and also the lack of accurate depth data.

 

The area is part of the Northeast Greenland National Park, created in 1974 and larger than France and Spain combined, and has no permanent residents.  The park stretches to the top of Greenland, the northernmost land on our planet.

 

We encountered a large berg shortly after passing Cape Brewster and the ship stopped so we could enjoy the “Caviar on the Ice” gala with the berg in the background.  Proceeding on after lunch we stopped briefly at another spectacular berg just before dinner before stopping for the evening about 70 miles into Scoresby Sound.

 

Caviar on the Ice event in front of iceberg

Since we are still well above the Arctic Circle it never really got dark, instead we had an extended sunset/sunrise that started about 12 PM midnight and ended at 0500 when the sun was again above the surrounding hills.

 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

 

As the sun fully rose, we were positioned off of Hekla Havn, which had a well sheltered harbor with two sailboats at anchor.  Both left shortly after we started zodiac operations to view the archeological ruins at Hekla Havn.  The ruins consisted mostly of dwelling foundations and food cairns.  There was also a cabin on the far side of the harbor. Seabourn also started dive operations with the two submersibles and Patrick joined the kayak excursion.

 

By noon, expedition operations were complete and the ship proceeded further into Scoresby Sound, passing numerous large icebergs before stopping at Rode O, a red island seeming out of place in the mostly tan and gray rocks.  Positioning the ship off the island, more dive, kayak and zodiac excursions began, looking at a large iceberg graveyard off the island, where the currents move the bergs into shallow water where they were grounded.  Shallow is relative, since some of the bergs were several hundred feet high and were grounded in hundreds of feet of water.

 

Iceberg Graveyard 

About 7pm operations were complete and the ship continued around Danmark Island, weaving past larger tabular icebergs which had blocked the channel just days earlier.  We spent the night in Orefjord, a narrow channel with mountains up to 2000 meters and water depths of nearly 1000 meters and spectacular glaciers everywhere.

 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

 

The ship launched 20 zodiacs and nearly passenger on the ship headed down Orefjord.  Miriam joined Patrick for this excursion, which was intended to take about one hour, but stretched into two hours.  Seabourn Venture followed the zodiacs down the fjord with stunning views of glaciers and peaks on both sides.  Returning to the ship we continued our journey around Danmark Island to the Bear Islands where dive, zodiac and kayak excursions started.  Patrick finally got his first ride in the submersible, going to a depth of 90 meters and slowly ascending along a sheer rock wall with some sea life, many strange jelly fish and a krill layer closer to the surface.

 

Zodiac Tour in Orefjord

First Dive Adventure

Submersible Control Console

After operations were complete, we headed to the small community at the north entrance of Scoresby Sound.  The community of Ittoqqortoormiit is outside the park boundary and has about 370 permanent residents who hunt, fish and have some tourism.

On the way we had a Seabourn Epicurean Event in front of a massive iceberg.  The weather was amazing, no jackets required.

 

Friday, August 19, 2022

 

Patrick took another dive excursion, shallower this time with a maximum depth of 50 meters, but good visibility and lots of interesting life (and garbage) on the bottom.  By the time the dive was over there was no time to go ashore, but from the zodiac the town looked much like the small communities we visited several years ago in Western Greenland.  The simple houses were all painted bright colors like red, blue green and even purple.  The town is ice free only about 2 months a year.

 

As we headed for Iceland, the weather deteriorated, with winds gusting to 50 knots and seas to 5 meters. The ship rode well and we gathered with several other couples for a leisurely dinner in the main restaurant.

 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

 

The seas were still rough as we headed for Patreksfjordur in the northwestern corner of Iceland.  There is a small fishing village of 750 inhabitants, with fish processing facilities, and access by road to high cliffs with some of the largest sea bird colonies in the world.

 

After breakfast we got a surprise call from the medical department and had to be tested for Covid since one of our dinner partners from the previous evening tested positive for Covid and the couple was moved to an isolation suite.  We both tested negative and were advised to just wear a mask in the public areas and get tested again after 72 hours when we return to Bellevue.

 

Arriving at Patreksfjordur the wind and seas were still high, but the ship created a lee to get zodiacs ashore for the included tours to the bird cliffs and fish tasting in town.  Since the bird cliffs were a one hour bus ride each way, we elected to not run the risk of further exposure, since too many guests were either coughing or not wearing masks.  We have seen plenty of fish processing operations so elected to just stay on board and in our suite as we finalized our packing for disembarkation in the morning.

 

Our checked bags have to be placed outside the door between 11 PM and 1 AM for transfer shoreside in the morning.

 

We disembark in Rekjavik at 0900 and have a van transfer to the airport at Keflavik, with lunch on the way for our 5 PM 8 hour non-stop flight on Iceland Airlines to Seattle.

 

 

Jan Mayen Island

 Jan Mayen Island Monday, August 15, 2022 After two days of relatively calm seas and overcast skies, and finally sunset and sunrise as we head southwest, we arrived at Jan Mayen Island at 0700. Beerenberg shrouded in mistJan Mayen I…

Svalbard Summary

 Svalbard Summary For the last two weeks we have circumnavigated the Svalbard archipelago and seen some amazing sights.  From polar bears on the beach to polar bears on the pack ice.  Walruses on the beach and swimming clo…

Last Days in Svalbard

 Thursday, August 11, 2022 The ship arrived at Ny London in Kongfjorden on schedule and Patrick was one of the kayakers who practiced paddling through brash ice coming off the nearby glacier.  Ny London was the site of a failed marb…

Return to the polar ice pack

Svalbard – second edition

 

Monday, August 8, 2022

 

After the late departure from Longyearbyen, we sailed for Gravnesodden, Svalbard near the northwestern tip of Spitzbergen Island.  The distance is not large, about 173 NM, but we have a partial day at sea before we arrive.  As we sailed north, the weather turned gray and rainy.  The morning was taken up with the mandatory AECO briefings and a bio-security inspection of all our outerwear going ashore.  There was also a repeat of the kayak operational and safety briefing.  There are a lot more people on this voyage, very noticeable in the Discovery Center and all the restaurants.

Internet service once again was non-existant deep in the fjords.

 

Gravnesodden is on Magdalenefjordet and was the site for whaling operations beginning in the 1600’s.  There are the remains of blubber furnaces and also 134 graves, hence the name Gravnes.  There is also a hunter’s hut we can visit.  Patrick will be kayaking once again, but the temperature is predicted to be only 35 degrees, so much colder than two days ago.

 

The kayaking turned out to be warmer than expected, with sightings of barnacle geese, arctic terns, fulmars, glaucous gulls, and guillamots, and even a pin tail duck.  Ashore we visited the remains of blubber ovens from the early whaling era and could view the cemetery where 134 men died during the early years.  Many of the remains are now gone due to the permafrost floating the remains to the surface where either weather or polar bears destroyed them.  The area where the graves were located is fenced off and protected from visitors, but photos can still be taken.

 

It was a busy evening, with the Captain’s welcome reception, the first formal night of this voyage, and then dinner.  We found out there are only 192 revenue passengers on board, compared to 148 on the first voyage.  The USA has the largest complement accounting for 134 guests.  The crew numbers 249, from 45 countries.  In addition, there are a number of contractors still on board to address technical issues should they arise.

 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

 

Seabourn Venture cruised overnight in calm sea conditions to Texas Bar and Monocobreen.  The final approach was in dense fog.  We passed a Hurtigruten expedition ship anchored further out in the fjord, as well as a sailboat, which eventually anchored at Texas Bar in front of our ship.  Landings were delayed due to the dense fog.

 

After about one hour, the fog cleared enough to go ashore and do Kayaking.  Today Patrick kayaked with a crew member and departed from the beach for the first time.  Weather was calm, but still a little foggy, so the excursion to Monacobreen was cancelled and the ship headed for the far north.  We arrived at 81 degrees north about 2130 but did not immediately enter the pack ice.

 

At midnight we were at 81 degrees 45 minutes north and then headed back southwest looking for the edge of the pack ice.

 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

 

Patrick was up at 0530 and in the bow lounge as Seabourn Venture entered the pack ice.  At 0600 we were out on the bow when a polar bear was spotted having just freshly killed a bearded seal.  The ship stopped and we were able to view the gory aftermath as the polar bear first stripped the blubber from the carcass and started to work on the flesh.

 

Proceeding further into the pack ice, we all searched for more polar bears, but none showed up.  At noon the ship stopped for the “polar plunge” where a number of brave souls jumped into the 29 degree water north of 81 degrees.  Patrick passed up the opportunity once again.

 

Continuing south, the ship stopped once again as another polar bear was on the ice and then, unbelievably, a third polar bear was on the ice with a fresh kill, so once again the ship stopped and we all got the opportunity to observe the rather bloody feeding scene.

 

The ship is now out of the pack ice and headed south for an encounter at Ny London in the morning and 14 July glacier in the afternoon.